Dying for Love
One such killer that seemingly fits prevailing stereotypes is Canadian-born Karla Homolka who assisted her husband, Paul Bernardo, in the rape and murder of at least three minors in Ontario, Canada between 1991 and 1992. As the result of a plea bargain, Homolka served only 12 years for two of the murders after stating she was an unwilling accomplice. After her sentencing, a video surfaced to the contrary, and the deal she had struck with prosecutors was dubbed “the deal with the devil.” Martha Beck, along with her partner, Raymond Martinez Fernandez, predates the dynamic duo as the “lonely hearts killers” responsible for seducing, robbing, and killing four women through personal newspaper ads.
Black widow serial killers like Judy Buenoano were arrested after attempting to kill her fiancé by a car explosion to benefit from $100,000 in insurance money. It was later discovered that she killed her former husband, boyfriend, and even her son for the same reason in the 1970s and 1980s.
Just a Pinch of Arsenic Will Do
Some historical female murderers, such as Gesche Gottfried (born in the late eighteenth century), were successful based on appearances as well as the subtlety of their crimes. Gottfried responded to an unhappy marriage by adding poison to her husband’s breakfast. Not long after, he died. A year later, she would go on to poison both of her parents and two of her children, and went on to kill her third child, second husband, and another love interest. Based on her attractive, strong, steadfast persona in the face of adversity, she would be praised as “The Angel of Bremen.” It was a neighbor’s discovery of arsenic on a salad that ultimately led to her public execution. In the nineteenth century, history seemingly repeated itself when Tilley Klimek, a Polish American "fortune teller" predicted, then murdered husbands, relatives, and neighbors, including a neighborhood dog by poisoning them with arsenic.
Caregivers in Crime
Murderer Madame Delphine LaLaurie came from a privileged background and relied on her position and status as a slave owner to cover her crimes. Over a four-year period (also in the eighteenth century) the deaths of twelve slaves in her charge were registered without cause. A fire, caused because a female slave was chained to a stove, led to the discovery of other victims who were imprisoned in LaLaurie’s care, including evidence of scars and mutilations. A mob scene ensued, during which the mansion was torn down. LaLaurie escaped, ironically with the help of a slave, during the chaos.
Others engaged in female crime posed as caregivers to gain access to their victims. Among the most notorious women serial killers in history, Amelia Dyer was accused of infanticide. The Victorian nurse and baby farmer starved, strangled, and drugged hundreds of babies in the nineteenth century. Likewise, Danish serial killer Dagmar Overbye strangled, drowned, or burned between nine and 25 children to death in a seven-year period during the early twentieth century, then cremated their bodies. There was also an English nurse, known as “Jolly” Jane Toppan, who killed more than 31 of her patients by poison between 1880 and 1901. Similarly, Genene Jones, a licensed vocational nurse, injected 60 infants and children in her care with a deadly cocktail to induce medical crises leading to their deaths.
Historically, the favored punishment for murder has often been the death penalty, especially in Christian nations where religion is often the foundation for the legal system and “An eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23–27) is considered appropriate punishment for a wrong, especially personal injury. Martha M. Place (September 18, 1849–March 20, 1899) was an American murderer and the first woman to die in the electric chair. She was executed on March 20, 1899, at Sing Sing Correctional Facility for the murder of her stepdaughter Ida Place. Ruth Ellis (October 9, 1926–July 13, 1955) was a British nightclub hostess and convicted murderer who became the last woman to be hanged in the United Kingdom at HM Prison Holloway following the fatal shooting of her lover, David Blakely.
Experts say that women are much less likely to torture their victims or engage in acts of cannibalism or necrophilia. Yet, there are plenty of examples of women acting alone who are equally effective in committing premeditated, violent murders. Aileen Wuornos, an abused woman, and highway prostitute was considered to be one of America’s most prolific female serial killers in history. Her crime—shooting dead point-blank and robbing seven of her male clients between 1989 and 1990 born out of rage and vengeance for her victims after a lifetime of rape and beatings. Her punishment: death by lethal injection.
Many of the most notorious women serial killers in the history of female criminality have tended to fly under the radar. To this day, not much is known about female serial killer tendencies, which stands in stark contrast to men. Experts believe that they are greater in number precisely because of their tendency to blend in, rather than stand out from the backdrop of everyday life.