Statistically, female killers are an anomaly. According to a global homicide study conducted by UNDOC, in 2017, 90% of all homicides were perpetrated by men, and 80% of victims were men, too. Aside from the despicably high domestic violence statistics (on average, three women a week are murdered by their current or previous intimate partner), none of our curated killers were convicted for self-defense.
What draws a woman to murder? Far from finding themselves in life-threatening ultimatums, these calculated crimes were premeditated with disturbing detail. Some operated with an equally evil accomplice, while the others acted of their own accord. Regardless, they all left devastation in their wake.
This article contains references of a graphic nature: child abuse, sexual abuse, violence, and murder.
Rose West: Born Evil?
Rosemary Letts‘ life was grim from the get-go. She was the fifth of seven children born to working-class parents with extreme mental health issues. It is reported that her father physically tormented the family, and regularly sexually abused Rose and her elder sister. In turn, a teenage Rose exhibited troubling sexually-charged behaviors, from frequent nudity in her teens to molesting her younger brothers.
Following their meeting at a bus station and his subsequent persistence, 15-year-old Rose began dating 27-year-old and father of two Fred West. Soon after, she became pregnant (father unconfirmed) and a willing minder of Fred’s daughters from his previous marriage. When Fred was sent to prison, Rose began abusing the eldest girls, which resulted in the death of Charmaine West, and the beginning of their serial killing career. The fact that Rose West‘s first murder occurred in the absence of Fred is telling of the evil she alone was capable of. Rose West: Born Evil? is available to stream on AMC+.
Ken and Barbie Killers: The Lost Murder Tapes
Often referred to as the ‘Deal with the Devil’, Karla Homolka was only convicted of manslaughter and jailed for 12 years for the horrific crimes she committed alongside her husband Paul Bernardo. This included the rape and murder of her own little sister, 15-year-old Tammy Homolka.
The conventionally attractive Canadian couple garnered worldwide media attention when they were placed under arrest for a string of sex crimes and murder. Disappointingly, Homolka’s claims of victimhood were taken seriously, and a plea deal was signed. Not long after, tapes surfaced that proved she was an active participant in the crimes, but the deal was already done. Ken and Barbie Killers: The Lost Murder Tapes is available to stream on Fubo.
Myra Hindley: Making of a monster
Any mention of the Moors murders will still garner a shudder from any British person acquainted with the crimes. From 1963 to 1965, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady abducted, tormented, and murdered five children aged 10 to 17. Most notably, they buried their bodies on Saddleworth Moor, and took posed photographs on the graves. The body of Keith Bennett is still yet to be found.
In a 2020 documentary titled Rose West & Myra Hindley: Their Untold Story with Trevor McDonald, it was reported that Hindley grew close to fellow child murderer Rose West while incarcerated at HMP Durham. The two are said to have had an affair before they became rivals for the title of “top dog.” Myra Hindley: Making of a Monster is available to watch here.
Dena Thompson – Black Widow
Likened to a female Tinder Swindler, Dena Thompson scoured the “Lonely Hearts” sections of newspapers with a devious ploy to manipulate and cash in on her victims. This resulted in the death of her second husband, Julian Webb, and the suspected murder of her ex-partner Stoyan Kostov, who has been missing since the pair dated in the 1980s.
Thompson destroyed the lives of the men who fell for her. Her first husband, Lee Wyatt, was manipulated into believing he was wanted by the mafia. He spent years homeless and on the run, with Wyatt pulling the strings. In the meantime, she committed bigamy by marrying Webb, who she poisoned on his 31st birthday. Her third husband, Richard Thompson, had a lucky escape. She bound and blindfolded her unsuspecting partner for a “sexual game” before attempting to kill him. Thankfully, Thompson was able to free himself and subdue her as she tearfully confessed to draining his bank accounts. As of 2022, Thompson is eligible for parole. Dena Thompson – Black Widow is available to watch here.
Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer
American serial killer Aileen Wuornos is one of the world’s most recognizable female perpetrators. Many documentaries and film adaptations of the killer’s life have been made, with actress Charlize Theron taking home an Academy Award for her transformation in Monster.
Wuornos lived a harrowing life. The frequent abuse she suffered resulted in the child offering her body in exchange for food, drugs, and cigarettes from age 11, and at 14 she became pregnant after being raped by a friend of her grandfather. Supporting herself through sex work, Wuornos murdered seven men who had solicited her between 1989 and 1990. She claimed attempted rape and self-defense as her reason for all of them. She was executed on October 9, 2022. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer is available to watch here.
Crimes That Shook Australia: Katherine Mary Knight
Like the plot of a horror movie, Katherine Knight‘s gruesome crime scene will go down in True Crime history as one of the most disturbing ever. The abattoir worker and serial abuser had a reputation in her small New South Wales town for violent outbursts, frequently fist-fighting locals during disagreements, and keeping an assortment of knives above her bed.
It could be said that her earlier partners had lucky escapes when the possessive and jealous Knight began having affairs and left them. Her eventual victim, John Price, filed for a restraining order after a series of attacks had led to Knight stabbing him in the chest. Price’s colleagues begged him not to go home but, scared for his children’s safety, he returned to find an empty house and his children sleeping at a friend’s. Price’s remains were found the next day. A strong stomach is advised for this one. Crimes That Shook Australia: Katherine Mary Knight is available to watch here.
The Torture and Murder of Sylvia Likens
In 1965 a crime too heinous to be believed unfolded in Indianapolis, Indiana. Two teenage daughters of traveling carnival workers, Jenny and Sylvia Likens, were entrusted to the care of a 37-year-old single mother of seven, Gertrude Baniszewski. In exchange for $20 a week, she would room and feed the girls until their parents return, “treating them as her own.”
When after two weeks the payments began arriving a day or two late, Baniszewski channeled her frustrations into beating the girls. Before long, 16-year-old Sylvia became the main target of the jealousy-fueled woman’s ever-escalating abuse. In an often-studied example of pack mentality, soon Gertrude’s other children were encouraged to join in the violence, including local teens outside the family. Sylvia Likens finally succumbed to her injuries on 26th October 1965, following two months of torture. The Torture and Murder of Sylvia Likens is available to watch here.
The Interrogation of Stephanie Lazarus
True Crime fans love when a cold case is finally solved, and the 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen was one such mystery. Thanks to advancements in DNA technology, in 2009 investigators were blindsided by a shocking discovery: the murderer was one of their own, an LAPD officer named Stephanie Lazarus.
During a fascinating interrogation, two officers expertly toy with Lazarus. Having already, unknowingly to her, matched her DNA to a bite mark on Sherri’s arm, all that’s left is to back her into a confession. While justice was eventually served in this case, it’s worth noting that Sherri’s father, Nels Rasmussen, reported his suspicion of his son-in-law’s scorned ex at the time of the crime but was allegedly told he “watched too much television.” The Interrogation of Stephanie Lazarus is available to watch here.
Murders at The Boarding House
A serial con artist and pathological liar aren’t the first terms one conjures when looking at an image of Dorothea Puente. Following a life of crime under multiple aliases, in 1975, freshly divorced for the third time, Puente decided to turn over a new leaf. With oversized glasses, vintage clothing, and graying hair, she established herself as a Sacramento community resource. Her boarding house aided the local homeless, especially those with addiction and mental health issues.
Despite the fundraisers, AA meetings, and charitable donations, Puente’s true motives were simple: gain the trust of vulnerable tenants and cash their Social Security checks. She was caught red-handed in 1978 and received five years of probation. Once it was over, the murders began. It wasn’t until 1988 that growing suspicion from neighbors resulted in police investigating the “disappearances” of previous tenants. Seven bodies were found buried on the property, and Dorothea Puente was charged with nine murders. She has also written a cookbook. Murders at The Boarding House is available to stream on Oxygen.
The Angel of Death
Those familiar with the tragic abuse of Gypsy Rose Blanchard will be familiar with the concept of Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (FDIA), formerly referred to as Munchausen by proxy. The syndrome is often attributed to cases of child abuse when a parent intentionally harms their child in order to gain attention and sympathy from others. In this 1991 case, nurse Beverley Allitt administered thirteen babies with insulin causing adverse reactions, and the death of four of them.
Dubbed the “Angel of Death” by British tabloids, Allitt displayed distressing behaviors throughout childhood, like wearing bandages over non-existent wounds and “doctor-shopping” as a teen, at one point convincing a surgeon to remove her perfectly healthy appendix. Allitt befriended the parents of each child, insisting the babies would be safe in her care. When staff reported their suspicions, she was found to be the only one on duty during all unexplained incidents. The killer confessed in a bid to be housed in a hospital, rather than prison. This backfired. As of 2021, Allitt is eligible for parole. The Angel of Death is available to watch here.
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