The Serial Killer Compendium, p.2R. J. Parker
Although the time phase within which the killer is performing may be the subject of debate, criminologists and researchers usually agree on a definition of serial murderer as a person who engages in the murdering of three or more people in a period of thirty days or more.
Although this definition is adequate in the identification of a serial murderer, it does not differentiate between male and female perpetrators. There are however, differences between the sexes. The average period of vigorous killing for females is eight years. For males, it is only about four years. Female serial killers seldom torture their victims or commit any violence on their victims’ bodies. Female killers prefer weapons that are difficult to distinguish, such as poison, fatal injections, and induced accidents.
The sort of victims chosen by female serial killers further reveal a dissimilar typology from male serial murders. Male killers, usually acting as sexual predators, tend to mark adult female victims. Female killers, however, seldom choose their prey based on sex, and usually attack victims that are familiar to her, such as children, relatives, and spouses. Sometimes, if she does turn against a stranger, it is usually one who can be conquered easily, such as an older person under her care or even a child.
The average age of the female serial killer’s first victim is fourteen to sixty-four. The typical female serial murderer commences killing after the age of twenty-five. The female serial killer is more multifaceted than the male and is often harder to catch. Since the definition of the serial killer is insufficient in explaining this quiet female killer, classifying her becomes a requirement in fully comprehending both her and the temperament of her crimes.
According to FBI Profiler, Robert K. Ressler, both male and female serial killers may be classified in one of two groupings: the ‘organized’ and the ‘disorganized.’ The organized killer usually exhibits qualities of high intelligence and sociability, a stable employment history, normal sexual functioning, and an outstanding ability of controlling her emotions during the act of murder. On the contrary, the disorganized killer has average intelligence, underdeveloped social skills, a turbulent employment history, and sexual dysfunction.
Although this evaluation might be helpful, it still sheds very little light towards understanding female serial killers. As female and male serial killers have very little in common, making classifications that apply to both sexes rather futile.
Female serial killers usually come under any one of the following categories: Black Widow, Angel of Death, Sexual Predator, Revenge, Profit, Team Killer, Question of Sanity, or Unexplained and Unsolved.
The Black Widows
The Black Widow is one of the most lethal female serial killers, very organized and successful in her killings. A Black Widow is defined as a woman who systematically murders a number of spouses, family members, children, or individuals outside the family with whom she has established a close relationship. She commonly begins her deadly career in her late twenties and may be active for a whole decade before giving rise to any suspicions.
Her crimes are revealed only after the increasing number of deaths around her may no longer be discarded as coincidences. The victims of the Black Widow usually number between six and ten; their ages and sex are generally unimportant. Her methodology ranges between poison, suffocation, strangulation, and shooting, though poison is the most favored of her methods, used 87% of the time.
The Black Widow kills for two motives. The first: profit. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Black Widows are lured into murder by the proceeds of life insurance or the assets of the victim. Usually, a monetary windfall will eventually fall into the possession of the perpetrator after the victim’s death. In fact, it is not uncommon for these women to insure the victims themselves shortly before they execute a crime, thus giving substantial proof of how calculating, methodical, and devious, a female serial killer can be.
Belle Gunness is probably one of the earliest and most notorious Black Widows. Gunness was born in 1859 in Norway as Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset. At the age of twenty-one, already showing signs of her ambitions, she immigrated to the United States and changed her name to Bella.
In 1884, she met Mads Sorenson who was also a Norwegian immigrant. Marrying a year later, Gunness settled into what could be considered an uneventful decade until her love for money – and the lack of it – drove her to extremes in 1896. In that year, she and her husband opened a confectionery shop which was mysteriously destroyed by a fire caused by a kerosene lamp – a lamp that was inexplicably never found. Around that same time, their oldest child, Caroline, suddenly died of what medical personnel believed to be acute colitis.
Insurance profits from both incidents proved sufficient to alleviate the pain of the grieving mother, who used the money to buy a new house. Surprisingly enough, the new house also burned down in 1898, a misfortune that was soon followed by the death of another child, Alex. Gunness received yet another insurance settlement and this time, too, she used the money to buy a new house. In 1900, Mads Sorenson suddenly died of an undiagnosed ailment that exhibited the symptoms of strychnine poisoning.
This unexplained death also passed unobserved, and Gunness used the money from the insurance to buy a farm for her and her three surviving children. Two years later, in 1902, Gunness married another Norwegian immigrant named Peter Gunness. The marriage was short lived; in 1903 Gunness would be a widow again. Peter died when a sausage grinder happened to fall from a shelf and strike him on the head as he was passing underneath.
Shortly after this tragic event, Gunness began to hire local laborers to help her with the farm. Unfortunately, most of them disappeared mysteriously. In 1906, Gunness’ stepdaughter, Jennie Olsen, also disappeared. She was allegedly sent to a school in California. In 1908, the Gunness’ farmhouse was destroyed by a fire of, again, unexplained origin. Investigators searching the house for signs of arson found the bodies of three children and an adult female in the basement. Oddly enough, the woman’s body was decapitated and investigators could not locate the head.
The remains of other mutilated bodies were found throughout the farm. Ray Lamphere, who had worked on the Gunness’ farm, was arrested and charged with arson and murder. Even though the exact number of victims was never identified, it is believed to have numbered anywhere between sixteen and twenty-eight. Lamphere argued that Gunness was the one who had set the fire and that she was the person responsible for forty-nine murders.
According to his testimony, Gunness was alive; he had helped her escape. He further argued that the decapitated body belonged to an unfortunate woman who had been lured to the farm with money. To this day, we do not know whether Gunness died in the fire or whether she had managed to commit the perfect crime and elude being apprehended.
Even though the Black Widow, murdering for profit, might appear to be unparalleled by any other serial killer, the type of Black Widow that murders out of jealousy and rejection is equally merciless. This type of Black Widow is epitomized in the person of Vera Renczi.
Vera Renczi was born in 1903 in Hungary. She suffered from a pathological fear of rejection that eventually led to a series of murders that lasted throughout her adult life. She murdered thirty-five individuals, including her husbands, lovers, and son. By the age of sixteen, she had run away with several local men considerably her senior.
Like all her relationships, Renczi’s marriage to a local executive did not last more than a brief period. Her pathological jealousy found expression in frequent and violent fits of anger against her mate, and soon her husband disappeared mysteriously. Renczi remarried shortly afterwards, but her new husband disappeared as well after Renczi convinced herself of his infidelity.
Throughout the following years, Renczi acquired a number of lovers – thirty-two to be exact – all of whom mysteriously disappeared from her life. The vicious Black Widow became so obsessed that she did not hesitate to take the life of her own son once he had discovered the truth about her vanishing lovers and husbands.
The Angels of Death
The Angels of Death are the lethal caretakers who match, by all standards, the Black Widows in their viciousness. These are the women from whom the elderly seek support, and to whom parents trust their children. Because these women usually act in places where death is a common occurrence, such as hospitals, they not only pass unobserved, but it is often very hard to determine the exact number of victims.
One thing, however, is certain, the Angel of Death targets victims who are unable to shield or defend themselves, and who are, in her own eyes, already condemned to die. The Angel of Death, like the Black Widow, uses a weapon that is delicate and hard to detect. When the victim is an adult, she uses deadly injections of chemicals such as potassium, which will cause a heart attack. When the victims are young children, she resorts to suffocation, usually with a pillow.
She usually starts killing in her twenties, making bold decisions over who is to live and who is to die, and just might maintain this habit over a long period in her life. A classic Angel of Death exhibits two characteristics that usually make her apprehension a little easier. The first is that she is obsessive in her need to kill, and she kills repetitively within her own area of responsibility – such as a nurse or caretaker.
The second is that the Angel of Death often enjoys talking about her crimes in an attempt to gloss them over as acts of mercy, and often tries to depict herself as a heroine and caring benefactor. Angels of Death are usually highly regarded by their co-workers, supervisors, and even their own victims’ relatives.
Even though numerous Angels of Death are responsible for taking the lives of hundreds of innocent children and helpless elderly people throughout the last quarter of the century, very few of them have actually been apprehended.
One of the most villainous Angels of Death was Genene Jones, an American nurse born in 1951. She was actively criminal between the ages of twenty-seven to thirty-one, and was responsible for the death of at least eleven children, all of them injected with lethal chemicals. It was suspected that she might have been involved in the deaths of as many as forty-six children.
Having changed jobs from the Bexar County Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, to the Kerr County clinic, and then to the Sip Peterson Hospital, she allowed suspicions to rise as the numbers of infant deaths in each hospital frighteningly increased while she worked there. Unfortunately, changing location also provided her with ample time to carry out the killings that satisfied her perverted need for power, control, and recognition. She was finally caught and brought before justice in 1984. She received a sentence of ninety-nine years in prison. The exact number of her victims is still unknown to this day.
The sexual predator is the rarest crime committed by a woman. It is so rare that American criminal history has only one reported female sexual predator who was acting alone, and that is Aileen Wuornos. She was an American serial killer who, between 1989 and 1990, killed seven men in Florida. She claimed they raped her while she was working as a prostitute. Wuornos was convicted and sentenced to death for six of the murders and executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.
The term sexual predator is used critically to describe a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a figuratively predatory manner. A female sexual predator is thought to hunt for her sex prey. Rapists and child sexual abusers are usually referred to as sexual predators, particularly in the media.
Revenge Serial Killers
In contrast to the Black Widows, the Angels of Death, and the Sexual Predators, the fourth category of female serial killers is the Revenge Serial Killer. Whereas it is not hard to understand why a resentful, vengeful female, might take on a single act of murder, it is exceptionally complex to understand why she would engage in a series of murders.
Traditionally, crimes that are motivated by extreme hatred are crimes that are targeted against a particular individual or individuals, and are thus rarely serial in nature. They also take place within a limited framework of time, when the feelings involved are strong enough to motivate a murder.
There are also crimes of passion which are both deliberate and carefully calculated in their execution. In the case of serial murders, however, feelings of anger remain highly personalized even when the victims vary. That is especially so because the perpetrator holds her victims responsible for whatever may cause her hostility, and she attacks them as a symbolic act of retribution.
As a result, there is an overpowering steadiness among the revenge serial killer’s victims, which are often tragically her own children, murdered in a perverted attempt to hurt her spouse. Like the Black Widow, she prefers suffocation or poison, but her crimes are not carried out with the persistency and precision of the Black Widow. That can be attributed to the fact that the revenge serial killer is a victim of her own feelings, acting impulsively, which could explain why she shows immense remorse after she is caught.
Women Who Murder For Profit
Women who Murder for Profit must clearly kill for profit and must target victims outside their family. She is also very well organized, hard to discern, and may be active for a number of years before she is actually apprehended. The average number of her victims can be as high as thirty people, and she is usually active for ten to fifteen years unless captured before then. Usually, she begins her lethal career in her mid-twenties, and, like the Black Widow, she prefers poison.
Like the Angels of Death, she also has a highly dispassionate approach to murder. Like the sexual predator, she is fearful and vicious, and like the revenge serial killer, she is highly motivated. Nevertheless, she is distinctive in that she kills for somebody else, usually abused wives that pay her to free them from their torturing husbands.
The first known case of a female serial killer who had turned murder into a profitable business was that of a Russian, the notorious Madame Popova. Little is known about her crimes, except that she operated in Czarist Russia between 1880 and 1909. According to her own confession, Popova was responsible for the murder of three-hundred men whose spouses had paid a humble fee in order to free themselves from their brutality. Popova sent those men to death by using poison. Her business was a successful one for nearly thirty years, until one of her clients, in an attack of remorse, confessed to the police. Popova was arrested and subsequently confessed to her crimes.
Team Serial Killers
All the female serial killers that have been discussed so far are distinguished by the fact that they operate under their own initiatives and primarily carry out their deadly activities on their own. It is estimated, however, that only one third of female serial killers act alone.
The remaining two-thirds commit homicides within the context of a team. There are different types of serial killing teams: the female-male, the female-female, and the family. The male-female teams are the most common, and are usually active for a substantial period since the two members are commonly lovers and therefore tend to agree and co-operate more. Furthermore, the female subjects herself to the direction of the male who then becomes the prevailing partner.
The homicides committed by the couple are often well organized, and the female involved is considerably younger than any of her female serial killer counterparts, typically around the age of twenty at the time of her first murder.
Bonnie and Clyde, the most notorious criminal couple, were a serial killing team. Even though they were not as lethal as some modern couples, Bonnie and Clyde will always be the depr
Traditionally, female-female serial killer teams are the second most prolific of the team killers. Although their motives may vary, the killings are usually carried out for profit and use weapons such as, poison, lethal injections, and suffocation.
Gwendolyn Graham and Catherine May Wood’s crimes in the Alpine Manor Nursing Home in the 1980s are an example of the female-female killing band. In 1986, Catherine May Wood became supervisor of nurse’s aides at the Alpine Manor nursing home in Walker, Michigan. At the time she was only twenty-four and weighed 450 pounds. After her seven-year marriage had dissolved, she met Graham who had just received a job in the nursing home as Wood’s supervisor, and fell deeply in love with her new.
Wood, who once again felt both wanted and needed, immediately surrendered herself to Graham’s dominance and perverted sexual desires. Unfortunately, her desires included committing murders with the aim of enhancing their sexual encounters. Their sexual relationship had already involved rough play and choking for some time, and Graham apparently wanted to experience the real thing. Even though Wood discarded her mate’s abnormal ideas as mere talk, the ideas soon materialized as reality. In January of 1987, Graham attacked and murdered her first victim, the beginning of a macabre plan that aimed at taking the lives of six elderly people whose last names spelled ‘murder.’
The Serial Killer Compendium by R. J. Parker / History & Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes