Male serial killers always hit the headlines, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any ladies out there living a life of murder and mayhem.
Female serial killers (often referred to by those that study them as FSKs) are only now starting to capture people’s attention, and to be examined in more detail. Primarily, they are a mysterious and confusing bunch with a surprisingly large number of similarities. Many are from middle and upper class backgrounds, they are usually white, and a whopping 92% of them know the people they kill. Poison is most often the method they choose, and money is most often the motive.
So, without further ado, let’s introduce you to just 10 of the most notorious female serial killers in history. Of course, these are just the ones we know about. Who knows how many more are out there.
10. Nannie Doss: Keeping it All in the Family
Span of Killings: 1927 – 1954
Apprehended: October 1954
Nannie Doss, born Nancy Hazel in 1905, was an American serial killer who had a direct hand in the deaths of 11 people, all of them her relatives. Between the 1920’s and the 1950’s, Nannie murdered four of her husbands, two of her children, her two sisters, her own mother, one of her grandsons and also her mother in law. Amazingly, nobody cottoned on to the fact that Nannie’s family were dropping dead at an alarming rate until she actually confessed in 1954. Despite attempting to argue insanity due to a childhood head injury, she was declared fit for trial and sentenced to life in prison in 1955. She died 10 years later of leukaemia.
9. Mary Bell: The 10-Year-Old Child Killer
Span of Killings: May – July 1968
Apprehended: December 17, 1968
The case of Mary Flora Bell, sometimes referred to as the Tyneside Strangler, is unusual because not only is she a female serial killer, she was also a child when she committed the murders. Born in 1957, Bell was eventually convicted of strangling two boys to death, with no reason apparent. Her first victim was four-year-old Martin Brown, killed by Bell just one day before her 11th birthday. The next was three-year-old Brian How, killed a few months later on the 31st of July 1968. Bell claimed to have suffered serious abuse at the hands of her mother, a prostitute, and she was released into anonymity after serving 12 years for her crimes.
8. Anna Maria Zwanziger: The Exemplary Poisoner
Span of Killings: 1801 – 1811
Number of Victims: 4
Anna Maria Zwanziger, born in August of 1760, was a little known Bavarian serial killer responsible for the deaths of four people, including a baby. For 10 years between 1801 and 1811, Zwanziger worked as a housekeeper for several judges in Bavaria. She confessed to murdering three adults with arsenic, which she referred to as her “truest friend”, as well as a baby. Along with her successful poisonings, she is thought to have attempted to kill a number of other people. She was executed by beheading in September of 1811, an act she felt was a good thing as she wasn’t sure she was able to stop killing.
7. Amelia Dyer: The Most Prolific Baby Reaper in History
Span of Killings: 1876 – 1896
Number of Victims: 300+ (Some estimates put her murders at plus 400)
Date Apprehended: April 3, 1896
Amelia Dyer, born in 1837, has the dubious honour of being one of the most prolific serial killers in history of any gender. She is thought to have murdered a horrifying 200-400 infants who were in her care during the 20 years she spent as a nurse. Her crimes meant she became known as the Reaping Baby Farmer as she took in women pregnant from illegitimate relationships, and then farmed the babies off for adoption or simply allowed them to die of neglect. Eventually, to speed up the process and increase her profit, Dyer simply murdered the babies who came into her care. Dyer was eventually discovered, tried for just six murders (the others being impossible to prove) and hung.
6. Dagmar Overbye: The Merciless Monster
Span of Killings: 1913 – 1920
Number of Victims: 9 – 200+
Date apprehended: 1920
Dagmar Overbye was a Danish serial killer born in April of 1887. She murdered somewhere between 9 and 25 children during a seven-year period from 1913 to 1920. One of the children was her own. Overbye worked as a professional child caretaker, but instead of looking after the children, she simply murdered them and collected the money. When she was eventually captured, her trial became one of the most noted in Danish history. There was only evidence of 9 murders, and she admitted to 20, but she was still sentenced to death. That sentence was later commuted, but she still died in prison in 1929, aged 42.
5. Genene Jones: Angel of Death
Span of Killings: 1977 – 1982
Number of Victims: Up to 40
Date Apprehended: 1982
Genene Jones was yet another female serial killer who murdered children while in a care taking role. Born in 1950 in Texas, Jones worked as a paediatric nurse and is thought to have killed somewhere between two and 46 children using drugs. Her intention initially was to receive praise by first secretly injecting the children with medications, and then miraculously bringing them back from the brink. However, many did not survive her first attack. Finally, she was caught and convicted of just one of her many murders, the death of 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan. Jones is currently serving 99 years in prison.
4. Lavinia Fisher: The High Class Highway Robbery Murderer
Span of Killings: ?
Number of Victims: Exact number not found.
Date apprehended: 1820
Thought to have been one of the first female serial killers in the United States, there’s much we don’t know about Lavinia Fisher. She is thought to have been born in 1793 and is known to have been married to John Fisher. The two of them were convicted of highway robbery, which was a capital offence, but not murder. However, Fisher is thought to have killed several people, using a mixture of drugged beverages and force. Lavinia Fisher was executed by hanging on February 18, 1820. She wore her wedding dress to the hanging. Legend says that just before she was hung, she asked the audience if they had a message for the devil, and said she’d be seeing him soon.
3. Catherine Birnie: The West Australian Witch
Span of Killings: 1986
Number of Victims: 4+
Date apprehended: November 1986
Catherine Birnie, born 1951, isn’t just a female serial killer, she’s also an Australian one. Along with her husband David Birnie, she murdered four young women and attempted to murder a fifth. The murders occurred during the 1980s at the couple’s Perth home, and became known as the Moorhouse murders after the name of the street. The girls were aged between 15 and 31, and were held at the Birnie’s home for varying amounts of time before being raped, murdered, and disposed of. Their final abductee, a 17-year-old, escaped the couple’s grasp and ensured both went to prison for their crimes. David died in 2005, while Catherine Birnie remains in prison.
2. Madame Delphine LaLaurie: The Original American Horror Story
Span of Killings: 1831 – 1834
Number of Victims: Several
Date apprehended: Not jailed
Born Marie Delphine Macarty around 1780, this female serial killer is better known as Madame LaLaurie. LaLaurie was a Creole socialite in New Orleans who became famous after she was found to have been torturing and murdering her household slaves. Her crimes were discovered when, after a fire at her mansion home, rescuers found a number of slaves bound and imprisoned in her attic, showing signs of a long and cruel treatment. Her house was looted by an angry mob and Madame LaLaurie fled to France with her family. She was never tried or punished.
1. Karla Homolka: The Barbie Doll Killer
Span of Killings: December 24, 1990 – April 19, 1992
Number of Victims: 3
Date Apprehended: 1993
Karla Leanne Homolka, sometimes known as Karla Teale or Leanne Bordelais, was born in 1970 and became infamous as a Canadian serial killer. Along with her husband, Paul Bernardo, Homolka was convicted of raping and murdering at least three young women, one of whom was her own sister. Amazingly, Homolka did a deal with prosecutors claiming that she hadn’t been a willing participant in the murders. She was given a 12-year plea deal in exchange for a guilty plea of manslaughter. Homolka went on to be released in 2005 despite later videotapes revealing her participation was much more than she had originally claimed.