Women Who Kill: World’s 27 Most Prolific Female Serial Killers

When male serial killers are on the loose they tend to make headlines, for example, Ted Bundy and Ed Gein. Men like these are infamous for the terror that they inflicted in the general population. Many of these men are diagnosed as psychopaths. For many, a general perception is quite common; that there is no such thing as women serial killers and psychopaths. Yes, there are some limited records of such crimes in human history but they exist in this world.

© Wikimedia Commons

In fact, women killers can sometimes be more lethal, and the murders that they have committed can be just as cold and calculated as a man’s. When women (and men) turn to murder and crime, they leave a wake of disappearances and blood in their path, a path that may be discovered after years have passed. Here, in this article, are some female serial killers who have actually terrorized the world.

1 | Elizabeth Báthory

Elizabeth Báthory © MRU

The most prolific female serial killer in all of history is allegedly Elizabeth Báthory, a countess from the renowned Báthory family of Hungary. After her husband’s death, between 1585 and 1609, Elizabeth and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women, with one witness attributing to them over 600 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80.

At first, Elizabeth only murdered peasants, luring them in by hiring them as serving girls in her castle and then beating and torturing them to death. When she started to realize that she was getting away with it, though, she started to lure in some of the lesser gentries, as well.

The atrocities described most consistently included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, torturing with honey and ants, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death. In 1610, the defendants were found guilty and three of them – Semtész, Jó and Ficko – condemned to death, the sentence being carried out immediately and Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Csejte Castle, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until she died four years later.

2 | Amelia Dyer

Amelia Dyer © MRU

In the 1800s, Amelia Dyer made a living as a “baby farmer.” Parents with unwanted children would drop their kids off at her home and pay her a small fee to adopt them. In exchange, she promised, she’d take good care of their kids.

Instead, Dyer discarded the children, made them overdose on opioids, and hid their bodies. It took 30 horrifying years before anybody figured out her crimes. By the time she was caught, Dyer had murdered an estimated 400 children.

3 | Judy Buenoano

Judy Buenoano © MRU

Judy Buenoano was known as the “Black Widow” and was executed in the electric chair in 1998. She had been convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic, drowning her son who was partially paralyzed (who began needing leg braces after showing signs of arsenic poisoning), and attempting to kill her fiancé with a car bomb.

The motive appeared to be insurance money, as she received around $240,000 for the deaths of her husband, son, and a former boyfriend. Although Buenoano never admitted to any of the killings, she was nevertheless the first woman to be executed in the state of Florida since 1848.

4 | Jane Toppan

Jane Toppan (seen at age 24) was a nurse who went on a killing spree that started in 1885, with patients and friends, and had claimed up to 30 victims by its end in 1901.
Jane Toppan (seen at age 24) was a nurse who went on a killing spree that started in 1885, with patients and friends, and had claimed up to 30 victims by its end in 1901.

Toppan was a nurse who killed dozens of patients, according to NBC. She was nicknamed “Jolly Jane.” She once said that her ambition was “to have killed more people – helpless people – than any other man or woman who ever lived.”

Jane Toppan confessed to 31 murders after her arrest in 1901. She would kill the victims with different combinations of medicine and chemicals and even climb into bed with them after administering the dose. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the Taunton Insane Hospital for life.

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5 | Karla Homolka

One of Canada’s most brutal murder sprees started when Karla Homolka gave her boyfriend, Paul Bernardo, a horrifying Christmas gift: her 15-year-old sister! Karla Homolka let Bernardo violently rape her sister Tammy until she choked to death on her own vomit. From there, Bernardo and Homolka rained havoc on the country, working together to violently rape and murder young girls.

In 1993, Karla pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter in exchange for a reduced prison sentence, as she claimed that she was an unwilling accomplice to the murders. Homolka was released from prison in 2005 and relocated to Quebec, Canada, under a new name. Bernardo is serving a life sentence.

6 | Gwen Graham And Cathy Wood

Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood
Gwen Graham (left) and Cathy Wood (right) © MRU

This killer couple met when they were working in a nursing home in Michigan in the 1980s. To prove their love for one another, the pair started murdering patients by smothering them in their sleep. By the time they’d been caught, they’d killed five elderly patients, all as some twisted love game.

7 | Aileen Wuornos

Aileen Wuornos, who was working as a sex worker, was convicted and executed for the murders of six different men between December 1989 to November 1990. She confessed to shooting men who picked her up hitchhiking in self-defence after she claimed they beat or raped her, a claim that she later recanted. Wuornos was sentenced to death in 1992 and was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002. Her story was portrayed in the film “Monster,” with Charlize Theron playing Wuornos.

8 | Lavinia Fisher

America’s first female serial killer was Lavinia Fisher. Between 1818 and 1819, she and her husband John made their living by luring people into their homes and murdering them. Legend has it that Lavinia would feed their visitors poisoned tea and invite them to lie down when they didn’t feel well. Then, while they rested, her husband John would stab them to death and rob them blind.

9 | Nannie Doss

Doss killed 11 people between the 1920s and 1954, including four of her husbands, two children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson, and a mother-in-law. She was known as the “Giggling Granny,” the “Lonely Hearts Killer,” the “Black Widow,” and “Lady Blue Beard.” Her main method of murder was rat poison. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She died in 1965.

10 | Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova

Darya Saltykova, an 18th-century Russian noblewoman, would brutally beat and torture the young girls who worked for her so badly that more than 100 of them died at her hands. Their families cried out for justice, but because they were just peasants and Saltykova was connected with royalty, it took years before anyone even bothered to look into it. When they finally checked her home, they found 138 of the serfs under her care had died, all under suspicious and brutal circumstances.

11 | Mary Bell

Mary Bell was only 10-years-old when she killed for the first time. She lured a four-year-old boy into an abandoned home and then strangled him to death with her bare hands. After getting away with his first murder, Bell teamed up with a friend named Norma Bell to kill again. The pair attacked a three-year-old this time; cutting his flesh with scissors, mutilating his penis, and carving an “M” for “Mary” into his stomach.

12 | Myra Hindley

In the early 1960s, Myra Hindley and her lover, Ian Brady, plotted and carried out the rapes and deaths of five young children in England. Hindley would lure young children into their home so that Brady could brutally rape and murder them, sometimes, while she photographed or recorded the horrors.

The pair then buried the children in Saddleworth Moor during the 1960s. Hindley and Brady turned in to the police by Hindley’s brother-in-law who had witnessed Brady killing a boy with an axe. “The Most Evil Woman in Britain” died in prison in 2002 at age 60.

13 | Gesche Gottfried

In the early 19th century, German serial killer Gesche Gottfried poisoned over 15 people — including her parents, children, two husbands, one fiancé and even some of her friends. She’d kill those closest to her by slipping them rat poison or arsenic in their food.

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After her victims began to feel sick, she’d tend to them and then continue to poison them. She was eventually caught and sentenced to death in 1831. Gottfried was beheaded in front of a crowd of 35,000 people in Bremen, Germany, and was the last person to be publicly beheaded in the city.

14 | Rosemary West

Fred and Rosemary West’s murder spree started when Rosemary lost her temper with her eight-year-old stepdaughter and beat her death, hiding the body under the family’s porch. After getting her first taste of murder, she developed a taste for sadism.

Afterward, Rosemary started luring women into the house so that she and her husband, Fred, could rape and murder them. They didn’t stop with strangers, either as the pair sexually abused their own children, as well.

15 | Dorothea Puente

Dorothea Puente was known as the “Death House Landlady.” During the 1980s, she would invite tenants to move into her boarding house and would end up giving them a place to rest underneath her backyard.

Puente would load up her tenants up pills and drugs until they overdosed, then suffocate them while they were unconscious and bury them out back. By the time she was caught, Puente had already killed at least nine people.

16 | Leonarda Cianciulli

In Correggio, Italy in the 1930s, Leonarda Cianciulli ran a small shop. Here she killed three women with an axe after her son went off to war, because she believed the only way to save her son from the danger ― foretold by a fortune teller ― was to make human sacrifices. And so she lured her victims into her home, drugged them, and hacked their bodies into pieces. To dispose of the bodies Cianciulli boiled the remains in caustic soda.

Cianciulli was arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison and time in a mental asylum when it was discovered she suffered from mania. One gruesome detail from the case is the fact that Cianciulli made soap and teacakes from the body of one of her victims which she gave out to her neighbours.

17 | Helene Jegado

In mid-19th century France, a domestic servant named Hélène Jégado managed to murder 27 people over the course of 18 years. Jégado murdered the people she was asked to care for by sneaking arsenic into their food. She slaughtered her own family and nearly every person who dared to employ her.

18 | Juana Barraza

By day, Juana Barraza was a Mexican professional wrestler called “The Silent Lady.” But by night, she was a mass-murderer. Barraza was dubbed the “Mataviejitas,” or “Little Old Lady Killer” after 16 elderly women were found strangled to death in Mexico City in 2005. Between 1998 and 2006, Barraza killed an estimated 40 elderly women.

She would trick her victims into thinking that she was going to help them sign up for welfare programs, and then either bludgeon or strangle them to death. She later explained that she killed the women because they reminded her of her alcoholic mother, who gave her away at age 12 to a man who abused her.

Barraza used objects such as phone cables, tights, or her stethoscope to strangle her victims. She became one of Mexico’s most prolific serial killers and was eventually sentenced to 759 years in prison for 11 separate counts of murder. She is still in prison today.

19 | Genene Jones

Between 1977 and 1982, Texas nurse Genene Jones killed upwards of 42 babies under her care. She injected the children with a paralyzing drug called succinylcholine, causing their little hearts to stop.

She’d killed them, as Jones would later tell the police, because she thought the hospital needed a pediatric intensive care unit and, apparently, that was worth the lives of 46 babies.

20 | Miyuki Ishikawa

Miyuki Ishikawa was a Japanese midwife. In the early 1940s, Ishikawa killed an estimated 103 newborn babies and sometimes, made their parents pay for the service. While working in a maternity hospital, she became convinced that some of the babies of the poor would be better off if they were never born at all.

She started deliberately neglecting children and letting them die, often with the parents’ support. She’d quote them a fee to murder their babies, then tell them how much more it would cost if they tried to raise them alive. Despite having massacred more than 100 children, Ishikawa was only given four years in prison.

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21 | Amelia Sach And Annie Walters

Amelia Sach and Annie Walters put out ads letting people know that they could quietly leave unwanted children on their steps. Any babies left in their charge, the women promised, would be given the best of care.

In reality, though, the twisted women poisoned every baby they were given and disposed of their bodies. They massacred at least a dozen infants before they were finally caught. The paired died together, hanging side-by-side.

22 | Waneta Hoyt

Over the course of three years in the 1960s, Waneta Hoyt murdered five children, every one of them her own flesh and blood.

Hoyt reported the deaths of her children, pretending that they’d been tragically lost through Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At the time, nobody questioned her story. However, about 30 years later in 1994, a forensic pathologist named Dr. Linda Norton looked over Hoyt’s case while studying SIDS and realized that these deaths had been no accident.

23 | Belle Gunness

Belle Gunness’s first victim was her own husband. In 1900, she poisoned him, strategically ending his life on a day two life insurance policies overlapped so that she could collect double the money.

For Gunness, though, murder wasn’t a one-time thing. She made it a living, luring in men with ads that called herself a “comely widow” and then murdering them for their money. Over the course of eight years, she murdered upwards to 40 people including several children.

24 | Kristen Gilbert

Gilbert was a nurse who was convicted of four murders and two attempted murders of patients admitted to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Massachusetts. She would inject patients with massive doses of epinephrine, which is an untraceable heart stimulant. This would cause cardiac arrest, and she would respond to the coded emergency herself. She was convicted in 1998. She is serving a life sentence at Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.

25 | Delphine LaLaurie

Nobody knew the extent of the horrors Delphine LaLaurie extracted upon her slaves until 1834 when her house in New Orleans went up in flames. Inside, a slave was chained to the stove. She’d started the fire in an attempt to kill herself. If she didn’t, Madame LaLaurie was going to take her up to the attic, where horrible things happened.

Up in the attic, they found slaves were chained and bound to the walls, all horribly beaten and tortured, some with their skin flayed off. For years, Madame LaLaurie had been torturing her slaves to death and the pain had been so unendurable that some would rather burn alive than go through it. Madame Lalaurie’s story was featured in the third season of American Horror Story.

26 | Maria Swanenburg

Before she was caught, Maria Swanenburg’s neighbours thought she was a saint. Swanenburg had a reputation for taking care of the sick during their last moments. Instead of caring for them, though, Swanenburg would slowly poison them while she got them to set up their insurance or inheritance in her name.

It took three years before the people of Leiden, in the Netherlands, figured out what she was doing. By the time they’d caught her, Maria Swanenburg had already killed 90 people.

27 | Dagmar Overbye

Dagmar Overbye lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, and made money by helping women find homes for their babies. But instead of finding families for the children, she would strangle them. She was caught in 1920 after one mother changed her mind and grew suspicious when Overbye said she didn’t know where the baby was. Authorities later found bones in Overbye’s stove.

Overbye confessed to the murders of 16 infants (though due to lack of evidence, she was only convicted of murdering nine) and was sentenced to death. She would have been the first woman to receive the death penalty had King Christian X not commuted the sentence to life imprisonment due to Overbye’s gender.

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