As reviewed in the previous piece female serial killers tend to do things a little differently from their male counterparts. For the most part their methodology – smothering, poison – is subtler and less overtly violent and victims are those they know, those others would expect them to care for – family, patients if they’re a nurse. Yet there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes female serial killers are just as openly aggressive and random in their kills as their male counterparts. (For the purposes of this essay I’m leaving out those females involved in “killer couples” as there are a number of other dynamics going on that might be influencing their violence level and victim choice.)
The Blood Countess
Elizabeth Bathory was exceptional…exceptionally beautiful, exceptionally powerful, and exceptionally sadistic. It’s her sexual sadism that sets her apart from other female serial killers. True, most other women serial killers got a sadistic pleasure from the deaths they caused (orgasming as they held their victims during the final death throes of a poisoning like Jane Toppan), but they were not sexual sadists. They did not get sexual release from torturing and degradation their victims like Countess Bathory did. Documents concerning her trial describe a number of shocking acts of violence she performed on servant girls under her control – biting off pieces of their flesh, burning their genitals, and literally tearing their mouths open with her bare hands – none of which would ever be considered the norm for a female serial killer. Oddly the one thing missing from the found documents was mention of what she’s most known for…bathing in blood. In truth it would seem it was a rumor due to the blood of her victims’ getting all over her clothing and body during her torturing them, thus giving the appearance that she’d bathed in it.
Sadly, because her crimes occurred so long ago, her trial was actually held in secret – the fact any documents were found was a miracle – and there isn’t as much information on her as one would like. (In fact, for about one hundred years after her crimes the people of the country were virtually forbidden to mention her.) Most of what is believed is rumor and other factors may have been overblown due to the sociopolitical influences during that time in history – she was a Protestant when Catholics were taking over the government. That being said there were at least 50 confirmed murders based on testimony and, if she started her sadistic tortures in her adolescence as appearances would indicate and continued until she was caught, that’s 35 years of torture and murder she indulged in…more than enough to accomplish the 650 murders she’s been credited with.
The “First” Female Serial Killer
Aileen Wuornos is wrongly, but frequently, proclaimed the first female serial killer. It is understandable how she might’ve earned this misnomer given both her methodology and victimology, which sets her apart from other female serial killers just as Elizabeth Bathory was set apart.
Born in 1956 she seemed doomed from the start, her life a near constant experience of abuse and abandonment. Her father (whom Aileen never actually met) spent much of his life in and out of prison before hanging himself after being charged with child molestation; her mother left her and her brother with a babysitter when Aileen was just six-months-old and never returned. Taken in by her grandparents Aileen was kicked out at age 13 when she had a child of her own that, she claimed, was the result of a rape. At 20 she married a 70-year-old man, but the marriage ended after a month with both of them claiming the other was abusive. At age 22 Aileen shot herself in a suicide attempt and, while recovering, she robbed a convenience store at gunpoint…she spent 13 months in prison and other arrests for various crimes (check forgery, auto theft) quickly followed.
Of course it’s not surprising to find that many serial killers (male or female) had horrible childhoods – those filled with violence, abandonment, and caused them to be sociopaths incapable of such things as selfless love, compassion, and trust. What’s different with Aileen is that she clearly tended towards open acts of aggression such as physical altercations and the use of weapons (in her case a .22 caliber handgun) in committing crimes, which is more in line with male antisocial behavior. This more male-based way of interacting with others followed into her killings beginning with her first victim, Richard Mallory, on November 30, 1989. Mallory, like the six others that followed, was murdered via multiple gunshot wounds. Aileen also followed the more male-based act of killing those who were virtual strangers, using her profession as a prostitute to pick up and seclude her victims before murdering them.
The Unanswerable Question
Why? That’s the one question that can’t quite be answered for the women who kill “like a man”. By her adolescence Elizabeth Bathory already had a reputation for being excessively cruel in the discipline of her female servants, but there doesn’t seem to be an indication as to where she’d have learned to be so extreme in her violence towards others. Aileen Wuornos certainly seemed to reenact the aggression she experienced in her childhood on others, but it doesn’t explain why she chose bloody violence while other female serial killers never took the same openly aggressive path. It would seem killers like Bathory and Wuornos are, in fact, one of kind…an aberration even in the horrifyingly strange world of serial killers.
Side Note Trivia: There’s been some debate as to whether or not Elizabeth Bathory was related to Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes (aka Dracul, the man upon which the character Dracula was said to be based)…According to what I could find, yes, she was distantly related to him through marriage. That being said, the fact they had similar murderous personalities doesn’t have to do with their relation to each other and is mere coincidence.