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
- 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
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.
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.
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.