Women Who Kill



Characters Robert Goren and Female Serial Killer, Nicole Wallace from the television show Law and Order Criminal Intent

In my Victims of Love series, my villain Jillian Black is a prolific serial killer who has killed since her early teens. She is a true psychopath who uses her charms to convince people she is a victim. Killing her own family is no more difficult than killing a stranger or deciding what dress to wear a cocktail party. She has no attachment to anyone. The only thing she feels is the excitement of the fantasy of having complete control over her victims.

In the 1960s Dr. Robert Hare was at the psychology department of the University of British Columbia. There his interest in psychopathy merged with his experience as he worked with over 100 male psychopaths in prison to form what was to become his life’s work. He began to see a pattern emerge among these types of criminals and came up with a checklist which is now accepted by the World Health Organization, the international organization responsible for classification of diseases.

Psychopaths, according to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R), have been identified as sharing the following common twenty characteristic personality traits:

  • Glib and superficial charm
  • Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • Need for stimulation
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning and manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • Callousness and lack of empathy
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Early behavior problems
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Criminal versatility

A female serial killer is rare, but don’t kid yourself, they do exist.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics for the years 1976-2005 compiled data and determined the overall rating of female serial (multiple) homicide at just 6.5%. This compares to their male counterparts who rated at 93.5%.  http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/gender.cfm.

In fact, little study has gone into the rare butterflies called female serial killers. Even Roy Hazelwood of the FBI who started the Behavioral Science Unit was quoted at a conference in 1998 as saying, “There are no female serial killers.” Not true. There are a few out there.

 Real Female Serial Killers

From L to R; starting on top row: Sara Aldrete, Juana Barraza, Erzsébet Bathory, Marie Alexandra Becker, Marie Besnard, Elfriede Blauensteiner, Mary Ann Cotton, Nanny Doss, Amelia Dyer, Kristin Gilbert, Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzalez, Dana Sue Gray, Belle Gunness, Anna Hahn, Myra Hindley, Karla Homolka, Hélène Jégado, Delphine LaLaurie, Enriqueta Martí, Dagmar Overbye, Dorothea Puente, Raya and Sakina, Darya Saltykova, Jane Toppan, Rosemary West, and Aileen Wuornos.
Picture courtesy of Photobucket, by By Dorotea. http://photobucket.com/images/female%20serial%20killers/

According to Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., a criminal profiler who claims to be an expert on female serial killers and who is the only person to interview a large group (25) of female serial killers, “Female killers can actually be more lethal than their male counterparts because they use covert murder methods. That is, often, there is little to no evidence that a homicide has been committed.”

One of the main studies on them has produced what was named the Kelleher Typology which divides these killers into five groups: Black Widows, Angels of Death, Sexual Predators, Revenge Killers, and Profit Killers.

The Black Widows and Angels of Death are the most common type of female serial killer. Revenge Killers that are repeat offenders are rare because most are one-time crimes of true passion. Profit Killers are also rare, but they are considered the most intelligent and resourceful.

Many serial killers, both male and female, work as part of a team. One third of all female serial killers are members of a team.

White women are much more likely to be a serial killer than African-American, Asian, or Hispanic women.

Alice from BBC Luther, the award-winning BBC One crime series. http://www.bbc.co.uk/luther.

Hickey (2002) studied 399 serial killers and compiled a rank order of the most often used methods and motives. Women serial killers account for only 8% of all American serial killers, but American females account for 76% of all female serial killers worldwide.  Hickey’s (2002) subsample of 62 women out of 399 serial killers used the following methods and motives:



  • 1. Poison (80%)
  • 2. Shooting (20%)
  • 3. Bludgeoning (16%)
  • 4. Suffocation (16%)
  • 5. Stabbing (11%)
  • 6. Drowning (5%)


  • 1. Money (74%)
  • 2. Control (13%)
  • 3. Enjoyment (11%)
  • 4. Sex (10%)

Women also tend to get away with the murders for an average of 10 years before they are detected. Why? According to Dr. Deborah , “Female serial killers commit murder because they have intense feelings of helplessness and lack of control. Through killing, female serial killers create power and importance in their lives. They tend to come from terrible backgrounds filled with high levels of abuse and emotional cruelty, isolation, lack of stability, and abandonment.

Being unable to defend themselves, the females turn this anger inward and begin fantasizing about killing. The fantasy serves as an escape from the powerlessness. As time passes, the serial killer creates more vivid and more grotesque fantasies. The tolerance increases thereby allowing the offender to create ever-more heinous acts within her mind.

“This is very important as female serial killers fantasize in detail about how to kill while avoiding detection (Schurman-Kauflin, 2000). They decide that by creating an equivocal death scenario, they are less likely to be caught (Kirby, 1999). If a death is equivocal at best, many times, especially in smaller jurisdictions, there is no investigation.”

So why did I pick a woman to be my villain? Because I believe a woman can be just as lethal as a man. Society’s gender role expectation of women being passive, gentle and the meeker sex only makes them scarier because we don’t suspect woman of being so deviant, ruthless and as capable as a man when it comes to killing.

I don’t know why society deems woman meeker when according to a 1998 report from the Department of Health and Human Services on Child Maltreatment in the United States, 53.6% of women abuse their children.


I don’t believe woman as serial killers is that far of a stretch. I’m tired of reading about alpha male heroes saving a poor, defenseless woman from the big bad wolf. Why not make a woman a villain? That’s the fun of writing fiction. And my villain, Jillian Black, is an alpha villain!  I hope this blog article has convinced you to think about women in a more realistic view.

Happy Writing,

Diane Kratz

Web Resources:

Bureau of Justice Statistics, Homicide Tends In The U.S.


Female Serial Killers

Web Page Project by: Jeanne Nikki Gilbert, Heather Thone, Gregory Mouton, and Martin Millien. 11/28/2003.


Lethal Ladies: Revisiting What We Know About Female Serial Murderers Amanda L. Farrell, Robert D. Keppel, and Victoria B. Titterington. Homicide Studies, August 2011; vol. 15, 3: pp. 228-252.

Amicus Curiae, The blog for Professor Corcos’ classes at LSU Law Center A Murderous Phenomenon: Female Serial Killers, by March 15, 2011


Violent Crimes Institute, LLC, Your Guide Into The Deviant Mind. Article, Why Females Get Away with Murder, by Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., Behavioral Profiler, July 6, 2011.


The New Predator–Women Who Kill:‪Profiles of Female Serial Killers by, Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Algora Publishing, Jan 1, 2000.

Murder Most Rare, Michael D. Kelleher and C. L. Kelleher, Dell Publishing, January 12, 1999.

The Feminization of Serial Killing: A Gender Identity Study of Male and Female Serialists Using Covert Methods of Murder, dissertation by Patricia Lee Kirby. Published by, UMI Dissertation Services, 1998.

The US Department of health and Human Services, Statistics and Research, Child Maltreatment 2010.






31 thoughts on “Women Who Kill

  1. What an interesting and detailed post, Diane. I think we like much of the same on TV; I loved the series Luther. I’ve been fascinated with psychopathic behavior for awhile now and have been reading more lately about neuroscience. I write about international intrigue, but I have the beginnings of a serial killer novel running around my head. I might just have to tackle that one in the near future. Thanks for sharing and, as usual, for providing such detailed resources.
    Will share this with my Twitter followers. All the best!

    • dianekratz says:


      Psychopaths have always fascinated me as well. Many commit horrific crimes that people can’t understand. Many were abused as children, women especially. They grew up in homes whit no affection, and its there in there teens when they start planning out their murders on the world. Childhood abuse counts for more half of all genders of serial killers. The others had a wonderful supportive family, no abuse. They were just born this way. Its the same old nature vs nurture debate. Truth is we just don’t know enough about them, to know for sure. It’s especially hard to treat a psychopath. There hasn’t been a successful treatment invented for these types of personalities. Some studies have also suggested therapy actually makes them more dangerous, because they learn how to “appear” normal. But we need find something neuroscience is making some strides. Thanks so much for stopping by James and leaving a comment.

  2. Misty Dietz says:

    Excellent–creepy!–post! I too gravitate toward female villains…now I think I know why. It just seems to go against the natural order of things, right? You 20 point psychopath checklist was especially fascinating.

    • dianekratz says:

      Yes they do, despite all of our forward thinking about equal rights, we still view women as the nurturing sex. We can’t imagine them as stone hard killers! I think they would add in as a plus in anyones book as a villain. because we don’t suspect them as one. Thanks for stopping by Misty!

  3. Great article, Diane! Very interesting topic. Don’t often think of female serial killers. And I love the picture from Luther–one of my favorite shows! Alice was scary!

  4. Sherry Isaac says:

    Another sizzling post! It’s really not a big surprise that only 10% of psychopathic women kill because of sex, because to kill for sexual reasons would (most logically) require emotional attachment, the crime of passion, as it were. If you have no emotional attachment, a sexual motive would be, I imagine, more because of a blow to ego.

    I admit that sometimes I think, how lovely it would be to just not care, to just do whatever I want. But how hollow a life. One could say psychopaths are victims of their lack of feeling.

    • dianekratz says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more on your last statement. There are many functioning psychopaths out there, who reek havoc on others without killing. They don’t know why they are the way they are. There are no therapies yet invented to help them. They are very lonely people. But in all truth, most don’t think about their loneliness. The use other people to fill that void. They crave excitement to self examination. Thanks Sherry for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  5. Gabrielle says:

    This is a very fascinating blog post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. That list of characteristics shared by psychopaths that help detectives distinguish who’s a psychopath and who isn’t is very helpful for my novel. So again thank you for doing this post.

  6. gayemack says:

    Diane, thanks for this really fascinating info. I’m just beginning the 3rd book in my historical mystery series(12thc England) and had been contemplating a female serial killer…timing is perfect here and I will be following your blog in future. If you are interested, my address:

    • dianekratz says:

      Your book sounds wonderful Gaye! Gender expectations back in those days were pretty set in stone. And a female serial killer could get away with murder for YEARS! I will definitely stop by and take a peek! Thanks for stopping by mine.

      • gayemack says:

        thanks, Diane! You make a good point about gender expectations…actually for the 12th century it’s a powerful point regarding a perp…the unexpected is the foundation for my unusual female protagonist in the series. FYI 2 of the books are finished, polished and agent represented with hopes of finding a perfect home-fingers crossed as the Brits say.

      • dianekratz says:

        Best of luck to you Gaye! Let me know when its out!
        Diane Kratz

  7. Diane,
    Great post as usual. I have a story. When I was teaching high school we had a group of young girls who came from broken homes, mainly in trailer parks, some of whom had been abused by fathers/stepfathers/mother’s boyfriends. Some developed sexual relationships with each other. One of these girl couples murdered the grandparents of one girl and fled the state. They were later caught, I believe. These girls were only in Middle School. I was reminded of the movie Monster, more of Christina Ricci’s character.

    • dianekratz says:

      Many female serial killers were sexually abused as children. These group of girls used their survival skills to adapt. Misery loves company. They attached to each other. Its so sad when you see this happen. Wonder what they are doing now? Another question Larissa, whats trailer parks have to do with this? LOL! Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Great post. I love that you used a female as your serial killer and enjoyed reading the research.

  9. Warren Bull says:

    I loved the character of “Maggie” on the television show “Justified.” She reminded me of Ma Baker, running a family crime business.

  10. Jo-Ann Carson says:

    Fascinating post. There’s something extra creepy about a woman being a serial killer.

  11. Patricia/Cait says:

    I was happy to see a photo of my hands-down favorite female sociopathic character on TV–Alice Morgan from the wonderful BBC production “Luther.” The actress playing her is subtle and chillingly real, unlike many other actors, who broadly overplay their sociopathic characters. I now watch each episode of Luther twice–once to (really) enjoy as entertainment and once as a writer, to try to figure out how the heck they put together such addictive stories.

    • dianekratz says:

      You can learn bunches by watching those shows. L&O CI is actually where I got the idea to write. Detective Goren and Nicole Wallace relationship was magnetic. I started with Fan Fiction when they took the show off the air. Now its turned into four books for me. So I see what you mean! Thanks for stopping by Pat Cait!

      • Patricia/Cait says:

        That’s really interesting–I’ve run into other published authors who started out in fan-fic. Twenty years back, I used to write and illustrate sci-fi fan-fic that was published in zines and sold at conventions. And when Alcatraz was cancelled, I thought about going back to that world, but haven’t had the time…yet!

      • dianekratz says:

        Inspiration can come from all sorts of places!

  12. Patty H. says:

    I always learn so much from your posts! So fascinating and disturbing, which always helps me with my romantic suspense. I think the stat that bothered me the most is the high number of women that abuse their children. Not sure why, but in my mind I expect that number to be associated with the father–not the mother.

    • dianekratz says:

      Hi Patty!
      I know many people believe that fathers are more likely to abuse. But if you stop and think about things logically, mothers are around their children more than fathers are. I’m sure if fathers spent as much time as mothers do with their children those stats would rise. The stats for single mom who abuse are even higher. Most of the time they have no social supports to help them. If any one knows a single mom, give her a hug, they have it tuff! Here is a great link to find all this out: The US Department of Health and Human Services, Statistics and Research, Child Maltreatment 2010.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and for leaving a comment.

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