Serial killing isn't just a man's game. There are plenty of women murderers out there too.
While women serial killers are much less common than their male counterparts, history is full of killers of the fairer sex.
In this article, we've put together the 13 most famous women serial killers of all time.
Our list of female serial killers includes:
- Aileen Wuornos
- Lizzie Borden
- Belle Gunness
- Myra Hindley
- Jane Toppan
- Juana Barraza
- Rosemary West
- Amelia Dyer
- Joanna Dennehy
- Dorothea Puente
- Nannie Doss
- Judy Buenoano
- Amy Archer-Gilligan
From the Old Lady Killer to a professional wrestler serial killer, what you find below might surprise you.
Feminist icon or serial killer, Aileen Wuornos is one of the most infamous names in modern true crime.
Operating as a sex worker throughout Florida in the late eighties, Wuornos was responsible for the deaths of seven men in total, all of whom were shot at point blank range.
All of the men who Wuornos killed were clients who'd enlisted her services, but according to Wuornos, all of the clients turned violent. Her murders were allegedly all acts of self defense, although Wuornos later retracted these claims.
Wuornos was arrested in 1991 and sentenced to death. She was executed by lethal injection in 2002. To this day, she's one of the most culturally relevant serial killers in history.
Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.
While this poem might not be completely factually accurate, it's enough to give you an overview of Lizzie Borden's atrocious crimes.
In 1892, 32-year-old Lizzie Borden was accused of killing her father and stepmother after both were found murdered with an axe in their home.
Lizzie was immediately placed as a suspect as evidence showed she'd burned some of her clothing in the days following the deaths, not to mention she had a strained relationship with both carers.
A very public trial followed, and while many people assumed Lizzie's guilt, she was acquited of the murders in 1893. The case remains officially unsolved, and the Borden boarding house murders remain a staple of popular and true crime culture to this day.
"Hell's Belle", Belle Gunness was a violent murderer who may have slain a total of around 40 people, including her husbands and children, up and down Illinois and Indiana.
Gunness was a Norwegian immigrant who came to America in 1881 in search of wealth. In 1884, Gunness married her first husband, and very quickly he died of heart failure. A second husband followed, along with a baby daughter, both of whom suffered the same fate.
Gunness began posting lonely hearts columns in local magazines to entice men to her farmhouse. Once there, she would take their money and kill them. It was only after her farmhouse burnt down that authorities discovered the bodies of 40 men and children.
Mysteriously, Gunness vanished, never to be heard from again. In 1908, one of Gunness's farmhands revealed that the whole arson incident had been planned and Gunness had fled with her money.
Along with her partner Ian Brady, Myra Hindley was one half of the infamous Moors Murderers from Manchester, UK.
Between 1963 and 1965, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley abducted and killed a total of five children or teenagers, stabbing or strangling them and then burying their bodies on the Manchester moors. The killers regularly returned to the burial sites to pose for photographs.
They were caught in October 1965 and both sentenced to life imprisonment (narrowly missing the death penalty due it to being abolished the same year). A mountain of evidence confirmed their guilt, including a 16-minute tape of them torturing one of their victims.
The case became one of the most widespread murder cases in UK history, and still to this day, Myra Hindley is considered to be the gold standard of evil women in the UK. She passed away in 2002 from a brain aneurysm.
Jane Toppan, also known as Jolly Jane due to her cheerful attitude, was a nurse who moved her way through families throughout the New England area.
Quite mysteriously, many of her patients died under care. Unbeknownst to the families of her patients, Toppan was injecting lethal amounts of morphine and atropine into them, both for hedonistic and experimental purposes.
After an entire family was wiped out under her care, authorities became suspicious and carried out autopsies on the victims. There, they discovered the true extent of Toppan's activities.
Over the course of 20 years, Toppan carried out at least 31 murders, although she confessed to killing somewhere in the region of 70.
Dubbed the Old Lady Killer, Juana Barraza was a professional wrestler and serial killer from Mexico City, Mexico.
Between 1998 and 2006, 16 elderly women were found strangled to death throughout Mexico City. All of the victims were aged 60 or over, lived alone and were specifically targeted by Barraza.
She would knock on their doors and pretend to be a government worker. Once she gained the trust of her victims, Barraza would attack and strangle them with phone cables or items of clothing.
Barraza was apprehended in 2006 and sentenced to a staggering 759 years in prison, where she still remains to this day. Her motivation to kill allegedly stems from her hatred of her mother, who allowed men to rape Barraza as a child.
Along with her husband Fred, the Wests were a serial killer duo who committed a series of heinous acts, including killing several of their own children.
Between 1967 and 1987 in Gloucestershire, England, Fred and Rose West ran what later became known as the House of Horrors. The home was a den of domestic violence, cruel beatings, incest, torture and murder. After police were tipped off the Wests' own daughter, the real extent of their crimes became known.
Nine sets of human remains were discovered in the Wests' garden. More bodies then turned up around the area, including at the Wests' previous home where police found the body of Fred's stepdaughter. In a nearby field, the remains of Fred's ex-wife and mistress were also discovered.
Both Fred and Rose were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, where Rose remains to this day. She denies any involvement with the murders, although there exists a good amount of evidence and witness testimony against her.
Amelia Dyer was a nurse and midwife turned baby farmer and serial killer. She operated in Britain during the mid-to-late 1800s.
Baby farming was a lucrative trade in the Victorian era. For a fee, 'carers' would adopt unwanted children under the pretense of looking after them, but would actually mistreat and often murder them.
This was Dyer's M.O., taking in babies and then starving them to death, allowing her to pocket the fees for her supposed care work. Later, Dyer progressed to faster methods of killing, allowing her to pick up more cash.
A local doctor became suspicious of the number of deaths under Dyer's care and ordered an inquest. Eventually, the remains of a number of murdered infants were found in the Thames River and traced back to Dyer. She was hanged for her crimes in 1896.
Joanna Dennehy is unique in that her murders weren't motivated by finance, revenge or to ease her life. Dennehy killed because she liked it.
In 2013, 31-year-old Joanna Dennehy stabbed three people to death and wounded more within mere days of each other in Peterborough, United Kingdom.
Her first victim she lured into her home, blindfolded him under the pretense of a sex game and stabbed him to death. Two more victims were murdered in the same manner only ten days later.
Dennehy was easily discovered and she pleaded guilty to all three murders and two further attempted murders. She was sentenced to life in prison; making her one of two living women to be serving a life sentence in Britain (the other being Rose West).
Much like Lizzie Borden, Dorothea Puente also ran a boarding house, but there's no mystery about who was responsible for the crimes that took place in hers.
Known as the Death House Landlady, Puente's killing spree began around 1982 after she began renting out her apartment in Sacramento, California.
Puente would take in elderly men and sometimes drug addicts, wear them down with sleeping pills and then suffocate them. Afterwards, she'd cash their social security checks and pocket the money.
Police were alerted to the property after a local disabled man was reported missing. They found seven bodies on the property, and Puente was charged for nine in total.
Nancy Hazle, or Nannie Doss was a serial killer responsible for the deaths of 11 people over a 30 year period, including her partners and children.
Like a lot of women murderers, Doss favored poison to dispatch her victims. Her first murders were of that of her own children, whom Doss's husband returned home one afternoon in 1920 to find them dead.
In a similar fashion, relatives of Doss continued to pass away under suspicious circumstances, until a local doctor ordered an autopsy on the recently deceased. Soon, it came to light they all had traces of arensic in their system.
In total, it was discovered that Doss had killed 4 husbands, 2 children, two sisters, her mother, two grandkids and a mother-in-law.
Known as the Black Widow, Judy Buenoano was a devious serial killer who murdered her husband, son and boyfriend over the span of 12 years.
In 1963, Buenoano married her husband, James Goodyear. Over the next 8 years, Buenoano gradually slipped arsenic into Goodyear's meals until the poison gradually wore down his body. He died in 1971, allowing Buenoano to collect a large insurance payout.
The next year, Buenoano met a new boyfriend, Bobby Morris. After taking out a series of life insurance policies on him, Morris began to suffer the same symptoms as Goodyear. In 1977, he endured the same fate.
Finally in 1980, Buenoano did the same thing to her son. Michael. After being weakened by the poison, Buenoano took Michael out rowing and capsized the boat. Michael, took weak to keep himself afloat, drowned.
Buenoano's crimes were uncoveredin 1984. She was sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair in 1998, making her the first woman to be executed in Florida in 150 years.
Amy Archer-Gilligan was an angel of death; the Harold Shipman of her day. She ran a nursing home in Windsor, Connecticut and used her medical role to kill off elderly women and men for profit.
Gilligan opened up her care home in 1901, and over the ensuing 13 years, she married five different male residents, all of whom died shortly after marrying.
After insuring their lives, Gilligan would use arsenic or strychnine to gradually poison her lovers. When they passed away, Gilligan would collect the life insurance payout.
Furthermore, a number of elderly women died under Gilligan's care too, many of which had named Gilligan as their beneficiary in their will in the months priorto their deaths. In total, authorities found 48 deaths from her activities.
Female Killer FAQs
Who was the most prolific female serial killer?
The most prolific female serial killer is Aileen Wuornos. Having killed a total of seven men during her spree, her life and crimes are the most culturally significant one of all famous female serial killers.
While her victim count isn't the highest, she might be the most famous of all female killers due to the sheer number of books, documentaries and films covering her tragic story.
Who was the first female serial killer in the United States?
Lavinia Fisher is considered to be the first woman serial killer in the U.S, reportedly active during the early 1800s. Lavinia Fisher was a South Carolina serial killer who would lure men into the inn she ran with her husband. There, she would poison her guest's tea to weaken them, then her husband would kill them.
What is the most common motivation for female serial killers?
Financial gain is the most common motivation for female killers. Shortly following financial gain is revenge, followed by hedonistic pursuits such as power or thrill-seeking. Very few women, other than a handful of noticable exceptions, kill out of lust or sexual deviance.
How many female serial killers are there?
There has been around 60 notorious female serial killers in United States history. Currently, there are no women serial killers active that we know of. Estimates suggest that only one girl serial killer is operating in the country at any one time.
Why are female serial killers so rare?
Female killers are rare because they're not motivated by the same factors as male serial killers. Women kill for financial gain or to improve their lifestyle and tend to target people who are close to them.
We hope you've enjoyed our extensive list of the most famous female serial killers in history. Have we missed any? Which case creeps you out the most?
Make sure to check out our serial killer t-shirts, then read about the most famous male serial killers!
this was super interesting i liked it a lot
I have a feeling that the person who did the Idaho killings is a female! Either killing a rival or past lover!
These cases were so crazy and I love how they were written. They gave us a brief understanding of what happened but didn’t give too many details! Super cool and I love the mixture of old and new crimes… it gives it so much personality. I am doing Juana Barraza for a school project!