Profile of the Female Serial Killer
One in six U.S. based serial killers are female and overall they are better killers than their male counterparts.
When asked to name a famous serial killer plenty come to mind: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Rader, The Zodiac Killer. Aileen Wuornos might pop up but predominantly when asked most people will name male serial killers. A former FBI profiler once stated that there are no female serial killers, but of course, there are. One in six U.S. based serial killers are female and overall they are better killers than their male counterparts.
Typically women are seen as caring nurturers, non-aggressive - “the weaker sex”. The idea of the female killer occurs only as a reactive homicide committed in self-defense, a burst of passion, or a wave of hysteria. The thought that women are capable of pre-planning the killing of numerous people is difficult to envision. According to Dr. Mike Aamodt of Radford University, there have been 514 female serial killers since 1910. The female serial killer is most likely less recognized due to the more covert and low profile methods she will employ.
Aileen Wuornos was the first recognized female serial killer because she killed more like a man. Wuornos killed seven men over a twelve-month period, her method was to shoot her victims several times and abandon the bodies in the woods. While shooting is one of the methods that a female serial killer may employ, the most common method of murder for female serials killers is poisoning, often arsenic being the weapon of choice. Between 1927 and 1954 Nannie Doss killed 11 people using rat poison, which included her four husbands, two children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson, and mother-in-law. German immigrant, Anna Maria Hahn became known as Arsenic Annie after poisoning five elderly men at the nursing home she worked. Other modus operandi for female serial killers also included suffocation, drowning, and stabbing.
In general female serial killers choose less violent methods to their male counterparts, they are also more likely to know their victims. Male serial killers hunt down their victims and are 6 times more likely to kill a stranger. A study of female serial killers by Dr. Marissa Harrison, Penn State Harrisburg reveals that approximately 92% of female serial killers know their victims. Nearly 67% of female serial related to their victims, 34% will kill their husband or significant other and around 44% kill their children. Female serial killers also take advantage of their caregiving roles, Harrison’s research found that around 40% worked in healthcare-related fields such as nursing and around 22% were direct caregivers such as babysitters or a stay-at-home mums.
Commonalities between female serial killers include:
- A history of childhood illness, physical and/or sexual abuse, and substance abuse.
- Most are well educated with at least some higher education study;
- Most are white middle to upper-class women;
- The mean age for their first murder is around 32 years old;
- Most kills in suburbia; and
- On average have been married more than once.
Similar to their male counterparts, female serial killers demonstrate psychopathic traits and according to Peter Vronsky Ph.D. “female serial killers kill for the same primary motives that males do: control. Males express their control through rape and brutalization. Females express their control directly killing their victim and seizure of their property.” Most female serial killers are classified as comfort/gain killers. A female serial killer is more likely to kill for financial profit, comfort, or revenge - generally, they kill to improve their lifestyle. Women who kill for financial profit are commonly referred to as Black Widows.
Angels of Death a category of serial killers who are often employed in the health industry do not necessarily kill for financial gain but they kill for an emotional gain such as attention, power, and control. This type of serial killer can fall into one or more of the following motives:
- The Mercy Killer who believe their victims are suffering and beyond help;
- The Sadist who uses their position as a way to exert power and control over their helpless victims, such was the case with The Lainz Angels of Death; or
- The Malignant Hero who endangers the victim's life in some way and then proceeds to "save" them. Some feign attempting resuscitation, all the while knowing their victim is already dead and beyond help, but hope to be seen as selflessly making an effort. UK serial killer Beverley Allitt would fall within this classification.
Social expectations of the role and position of women have established the idea that women can’t be serial killers. Female serial killers do walk among us and the majority are nothing like the infamous Aileen Wuornos. They are covert and low profile, but just as psychopathic as male serial killers.