When people think of serial killers they think of men. Hardly a surprise since a vast majority of serial killers are, in fact, male. However, it would be a mistake to think that women, “the fairer sex” as it the old saying goes, aren’t every bit as capable of multiple murders as their male counterparts. They tend to go about their murders a little differently and select different kinds of victims to prey upon, but they are no less guilty of their crimes and get no less of a thrill in causing the death of others. And to those chosen to be their victims they are no less terrifyingly dangerous.
Male serial killers are well known for being abhorrently violent towards their victims. They stab, shoot, and bludgeon. Their kills are unmistakably aggressive, there’s no hiding a serial murder done by a man should the body be found. This isn’t the case with women killers. They kill in much more quiet, far less detectable, methods, but whether they are “gentler” methods is really a moot point: Would you rather be shot in the head or smothered by a pillow?
More than even those that smother, female serial killers are known as poisoners. It’s hardly a surprise…poisons are easily accessible, difficult to detect (compared to a knife wound), and incredibly effective. Nannie Doss, aka the “Giggling Granny”, killed four husbands, two children, a grandchild, two sisters, and her mother between the years of 1929 and 1953 by slipping rat poison in their whiskey, coffee, or stewed prunes. Rat poison, by the way, generally includes the rather infamous ingredient of arsenic also found in wallpaper, paint, weed killer, pesticides, and tanning products. So it’s almost natural that women aiming to kill should end up using arsenic, it’s likely already in their home or an easily excusable purchase (“Well of course I bought a large supply of bug spray, I have a garden and whole backyard to tend to!”)
I Love You To Death
Another major, and somewhat frightening, difference between male and female serial killers is their victim choice. Male serial killers select victims they don’t know and a great deal of their efforts go into trolling for victims that suit their needs. (This is outside, of course, the few that sometimes start or end their killings with a relation such as Ed Kemper with his grandparents and mother.) For the most part, if able, they tend to gear their victimology towards their sexual preference; straight male killers go for women, gay male killers go for men, bisexual killers will attack either, and pedophile killers target children. But no matter what they tend towards targeting strangers. None of these circumstances are true with female serial killers.
Victims of women serial killers are close to them; they’re related, dating, or otherwise under the care of the killer. Because of the victims they select these killers have earned themselves rather catchy names such as Blackwidows for those women who marry and then kill men over and over (frequently having the secondary motive of gaining life insurance money from them as with Mary Ann Cotton who killed 20-21 people, including 4 husbands) and Angels of Death for those nurses choosing to prey upon their helpless patients. One most recent Angel of Death was Genene Jones of Texas who killed as many as 46 infants and toddlers from 1971 to 1984. Using injections of heparin and succinylcholine to induce medical crises in her patients she would then try to revive them in order to receive praise and attention…sadly most the little ones in her care never survived that first injection.
So, with all these keys differences in male and female serial killers it’s only natural to wonder if there are any similarities? Yes, there’s one core similarity…They both get a sick, sadistic, sexual thrill out of their kills. Jane Toppan played nurse as she killed 31 people via poison from 1885 to1901 and, once caught, confessed that killing gave her a “voluptuous delight”. She went on to admit that her murders were motivated by “an irresistible sexual impulse” and that she would climb into the beds of her victims as they were in their death throes in order to achieve orgasm. …Man or woman it’s clear that a serial killer will have that same underlying motive of getting off. So why the differences in methodology and victimology?
It’s somewhat related to the cliche of men having to “stick it wherever they can” and women needing to “settle down and nest”. Male sexuality is penetration-based, it’s promiscuous and rather undiscriminating and, in the serial killer, that relates to weapons that enter or batter the body, killing as many individuals of their preference (male/female/child) as possible and making whatever strangers they can their prey. Women serial killers, on the other hand, need to have a relationship with the victim before they kill. Their pleasure comes not from violating some stranger’s body with a penile substitute (such a knife or bullet), but from perverting the very concept of love into a gruesome show of tenderness and intimacy.
(End Note: There is an exception to the rules above: Aileen Wuornos. But, since she’s the exception and not the rule in female serial killers she’ll be covered separately at another point in time.)