Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 14: Female Killers
Q. What happened at these addresses?
924 Belmont Avenue, Lincoln, Nebraska
South 24th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska
Superior Street, North of Lincoln, Nebraska
August Meyer Farm, Lincoln, Nebraska
Highway 87, off Ayers Road, Wyoming
A. Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Fugate murdered a series of people in these locations starting in January 1958.
Q. Are female serial killers more efficient than male serial killers?
A. Most experts say yes. Females are quiet killers with low visibility. In 1998, Kelleher and Kelleher examined the careers of one hundred female serial killers and found that, in one hundred murders since 1900, it took eight years to catch a female serial killer-double that of a male.
Q. What percentage of serial killers are female?
A. Female serial killers account for only 8 percent of all American serial killers, but American females account for 76 percent of all female serial killers worldwide.
Uniquely Feminine Killers
There are two types of killers that are overwhelmingly female.
1. Black Widow. Someone who kills her spouse or other family member, usually for financial gain.
2. Angel of Death. Nurse or other medical worker who kills patients.
The name, of course, comes from the black widow spider, who kills her mate after mating. Human black widows do the same thing.
Black widows usually start killing after the age of twenty-five, beginning a decade or longer cycle of systematically killing spouses, partners, family members, and indeed, anyone with whom they develop a personal relationship. They usually claim six to eight victims over period of ten to fifteen years, although in places where law enforcement is lax, the victim count could go as high as thirteen or fourteen. Poison that can't be detected easily is the preferred method of murder. Following are some infamous black widows and the years they were active.
1. Belle Gunness (18961908) lived on a farm outside Chicago and was known as "Lady Bluebeard." She was the first known twentieth-century black widow. She murdered forty-nine people, she but was never prosecuted. She killed adults, children, ranch workers-anyone. Most of them were poisoned.
2. Amy Gilligan (19011914) ran a private nursing home in Windsor, Connecticut, and married and killed five older men and got herself named in the wills of nine elderly women before killing them. Eventually her crimes were discovered, and she died in prison.
3. Lydia Trueblood (19151919) operated in Pocatello, Idaho, and poisoned her only child as well as her brother-in-law-not to mention five husbands.
4. Rhonda Bell Martin (19321956) murdered her mother, two husbands, and five of her children in Birmingham, Alabama. She was caught and died in the electric chair.
5. Waneta Hoyt (19651971) suffocated five of her six children in Oswego, New York. She claimed sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was responsible for the deaths, but she was convicted of murder in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison.
6.Margie Velma Barfield (19691978), of Lumbetton, North Carolina, killed seven husbands, a handful of fiancés, and her mother. She burned some victims to death while they slept (made to look like smoking in bed), arranged prescription drug overdoses for others, and occasionally used arsenic made to look like gastroenteritis. She was finally caught for the murder of her boyfriend, Stuart Taylor, when an autopsy found traces of arsenic in his system. She was sentenced to and died by lethal injection in 1984, the first woman to be executed in the U.S. since 1976.
7. Blanche Taylor Moore (19661989) of Burlington, North Carolina, varied her M.O., doing away with lovers, husbands, her pastor, her father, and her mother-in-law. Men, it was said, were all symbols to her of her abusive father. She also died by lethal injection.
Angels of Death
These killers usually start killing in their early twenties and typically kill about eight people over a one- or two-year period. They tend to brag about their murderous achievements, which leads to their arrest.
1. Genene Jones (1950) was a vocational nurse who loved to work with terminally ill children. She was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in San Antonio, Texas for eleven child murders in 1984. She used heart medication to kill. After she was convicted, the hospitals and clinics where she worked destroyed her records so no one could examine them and discover more murders, which cops were convinced she had committed.
2. Terri Rachals was an old intensive care nurse in Albany, Georgia, indicted on six counts of murder in 1986. However, she was only sentenced to seventeen years in prison for aggravated assault because of her mental state. She murdered by injecting patients with potassium chloride, stopping their hearts.
3. Madame Popova (18791909) ran a contract murder service in Russia that freed women from abusive husbands. She had at least three hundred victims and was known to kill by using poison, her own hands, a weapon, or assassins. She was caught and executed.
Female Serial Murderers
1. Aileen Wuornos is undoubtedly the most famous female serial killer. She was born in the Midwest and by the time she was fourteen, she was working as a prostitute. She had developed a profound hatred of men, and in 1992 in Florida, she started picking them up, leading them into the woods-ostensibly for sex-and then shooting them to death. She claimed that they tried to rape her, but this didn't hold water. All told, she murdered seven men and ultimately died in the electric chair. Ironically, it was not a man but a woman, her obese, gap-toothed lesbian lover, who set her up to be arrested by taping incriminating telephone conversations. Charlize Theron gave an Academy award-winning performance as Wuornos in the motion picture Monster.
2. Lila Young (19271947) was a twenty-eight-year-old midwife who operated a baby farm in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She and her husband, both devoted Seventh Day Adventists, catered to unwed mothers who wanted to give their babies up for adoption. When business got slow, they simply cut back on the babies up for adoption, killing, sometimes by starvation, over one hundred infants. They were never brought to justice and died in the 1960s.
3. Anna Marie Hahn (19321937) was a twenty-six-year old German immigrant who cared for elderly men, bilking them of their money and then killing them when the money ran out. She offered a "mercy killing" defense but the jury didn't buy it, and in 1938 she became the first woman to go to Ohio's electric chair.
4. Dorothea Puente (19861990) was a charming and attractive fifty-seven-year-old woman who got Social Services to refer clients to her for care. She killed at least twenty-five, but she kept their Social Security checks long after they were gone. She was finally caught when the stench of the seven bodies she buried in the backyard called the neighbors' attention to her. There was a protracted trial, and she came close to being sentenced to death, but at age sixty-four she was finally sentenced to life in prison.