As promised, FBI Profiler Pete Klismet is back to profile women serial killers…

Pete Klismet

Pete Klismet

Pete, a few months ago you piqued my curiosity when you mentioned female serial killers.  In the book I’m currently working on, Victims of Love, my villain, Jillian Black, is a female serial killer. Now that the holidays are over, I’m going to prevail on you yet again, because I found what you had to say very interesting and I’m curious to know if I got the female aspects of her profile down.  So where do we start?

Good question, Diane.  Maybe we start with you!

Me?  What have I done?

Diane Kratz

Diane Kratz

Well, you ARE a woman, and the last time I checked, everything about women is different than men.  And when we launch into the virtually-unknown realm of female serial killers, the first stopping off point we arrive at is just that – those differences.  Everything about men and women is different, including their thinking, their methods, and when it comes to this dark area of murder, even their motives.

Alright, now you’ve really got me wondering.  If it’s fair to say there is a sexual or power and control component involved for men, then where are we headed with women?

You’re right about men.  Pretty much.  In the past interviews we’ve done, we’ve kicked that down the road a few times.  But when it comes to women, it is very rare when we have those factors involved in any manner.

So why don’t you find a good starting point, and let’s launch ourselves into this.

Photo by: www.telegraph.co.uk

Aileen Wuornos Photo by: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Let’s do it.  I think a good start might be to talk a little bit about the only female killer we know whose motive was related to sex.  That would be Aileen Wuornos.  She was a prostitute who killed seven men in Florida in 1989 and 1990.  She claimed until her execution by lethal injection in 2002 that she killed the men because all of them tried to rape her.  Thus, her belief—and I think it was delusional—was that she was killing in self-defense.  I’ve spent a little bit of time studying her, and I think she was driven by a deep-seated anger for men.  She was physically abused as a child, and I don’t think that’s something that ever leaves us.

Aileen as a child. Photo by: twistedminds.creativescapism.com

Aileen as a child. Photo by: twistedminds.creativescapism.com

But, Pete, other prostitutes have been raped.  How many of them have killed seven men?

Good question, Diane.  And the answer is, none. That’s why this case has always been so interesting to me.  I think this anger developed inside her. While she was working as a prostitute, I think she had a lot of bad encounters on the roads.  That’s the nature of her business.  And I think this anger just spilled out from inside her and finally exploded into incredible violence. It was her way of surviving. I think Aileen really believed that she had killed in self-defense. I think someone who’s deeply psychotic can’t really tell the difference between something that is life-threatening and something that is a minor disagreement.  She would get into a screaming black rage about it. And I think that’s what caused these things to happen.

Photo by: www.picstopin.com

Aileen Wuornos Photo by: http://www.picstopin.com

But she’s one in a million, right?

Or more than that, really.  Unless there’s another one out there I don’t know about, she’s it, and there are about three billion women in the world now.  Plus an equal or far greater number that have lived over history.  Speaking of which, there is some history of a European countess or someone of similar rank (!) – I never could figure out what a duchess or a countess was.  Anyway, this woman lived in a huge castle on a hill above a town.  She had a delusional belief that if she would bathe in the blood of virgins, she could maintain her youth.  From what I’ve read, she may have killed over 600 women, drained their blood and bathed in it.

 http://www.theresabathory.com/legend_of_elizabeth_bathory.html

Elizabeth Bathory
Picture from: http://www.theresabathory.com

Ok, time out.  Where is the sexual motive in that?

Good catch by you.  A lot of people would hear those facts and immediately conclude sex.  But the way I see it, they were probably dealing with someone who was driven by her delusions.  And if we take that to the next step, we’re looking at someone who was probably psychotic…schizophrenic.  There are probably some other similar things in past history, but I can’t think of one right now.

But it’s fair to assume none of them involved 600 victims.

Probably not.  In fact, if we think about what this woman did, she could well be the worst serial killer in history.

And there you have it.  The world’s most prolific serial killer was a woman.

Yup.  Unless someone knows something different.  I suppose one could argue for Stalin or Hitler, Pol Pot, or some of those politically-driven power fiends, but in terms of what you and I are talking about right now, she’s a clear-cut winner, so to speak.  Probably not a good way to put that.

Pete, you are a rascal because you’re good at getting me off topic.

Thanks, Diane. I do that with my wife all the time too.  Drives her crazy.  But you’re right, we’ve gone a little far afield, and I know what you want to focus on.  In a manner of speaking, we’ve actually done some of that.  Let me get us back on track with a couple of quotes I’ve found over the years in doing some research on this.  And l want to make a parenthetical note here – while I have done some research on this topic, it has not been as much of a focus to me as male serial killers. 

Photo from: http://www.erichickey.com

Dr. Eric Hickey
Photo from: http://www.erichickey.com

Dr. Eric Hickey taught criminology at Fresno State for quite a few years.  Eric did a lot of research on this topic, and I found an interesting quote in a paper he wrote.  He says, “They’re every bit as lethal as their male counterparts, but we’re rarely aware of one because of their low visibility.”  I know Eric, and I respect the work he’s done over the years.

Interesting.  It sounds like “low visibility” is the key here, right?

Absolutely.  When men are doing it, you see headlines in the paper every day.  Another author, whom I don’t know, Michael Kelleher, did a book titled “Murder most Rare:  The Female Serial Killer.”  Kelleher searched back for many years and researched over 100 different cases involving women.  What he says “…..they are more successful, careful, precise, methodical and quiet in committing their crimes.”

Okay, so now we’re going right back to what you were saying when we started this conversation – women are very different from men.  And here again a word is key –methodical.”  Am I right?

Exactly.  And here’s one way to best exemplify that.  On average, male serial killers’ “careers” last four years.  Women, on the other hand, average eight years.  Let me play professor here.  What does that tell you?

I’m not sure, but perhaps the word I’d use would be “patience”?

Photo taken from: ocarm.org

Photo from: ocarm.org

Perfect.  I wish I had you in my college classes.  You pay attention rather than texting!  If you look at the nature of men and women, the latter are far more patient as a whole.  I know my wife is much more than me.  If she wants to take a trip, she slowly tosses something out over a period of time.  Then some more, and finally she has the hook set and I’m trapped with no way out.

LOL! And this is related, how?

You really do ask good questions, and once again you’re right on point.  Guess what – studies show that the most common means of killing by women is poison in slow doses over a period of time.  This is what I’ve found in research, so I’m not making it up all by my own bad self.  Men?  Do you think we’d have the patience to persist with this over a period of many months?  Forget it.  We just go down and buy a gun and, bang, it’s over in a hurry.

Okay.  Well and good.  Now what I want to know is what the primary motive is for women.

You know, Diane, I think I’m going to un-retire from teaching and make you be in all my classes, because that’s probably the best question you’ve asked me yet.  Let me do what I did in my classes. I’ll throw that question right back at you.  What do YOU think the primary motive would be?

Oh my.  I wasn’t ready for that.  Let’s see.  I guess I’d have to go with revenge?

Picture taken from: commons.wikimedia.org

Picture from: commons.wikimedia.org

I’m glad you said that like a question, because that’s far and away the most common answer I’ve gotten.  But here’s the truth, and I don’t want you to hit me in the head with a hatchet.  In over seventy five percent of the cases, women’s motivation was money.

goggle

Picture from goggle.com

Money.

Yup.  Revenge is in the other twenty five percent along with control and anger, but it comes right down to the dollar bill in most instances.

You mentioned anger.  How about the women who have been abuse victims and finally have had enough?  There have been quite a few cases of that happening.

You’re right, and several pretty famous ones, like the one which the movie “Burning Bed” with Farah Fawcett was based on.  But if you think about it, those are one-time things.  It’s easy to figure them out and I can’t think about an occasion where a woman has gotten away with it more than once.  More common are the types of cases where women find what looks like an accidental way to kill their spouses. 

We had one when I was stationed in Grand Junction, Colorado.  This woman was on her third husband in about ten years, I believe.  They took a trip to the Grand Canyon and she pushed him off a cliff to his death.  She’d done something similar with the first two husbands, but they couldn’t prove it.  So she collected their life insurance and went on her merry way.

So we’re back to money again?

Back to money.  But there are some other odd things, and most of us have heard about some of them.  We have what we call the “Angels of Mercy,” sometimes called “The Angels of Death.”

I’ve heard of them, but can you give me an example?

 Picture taken from: www.thesteampunkempire.com

Jane Toppan
Picture from: http://www.thesteampunkempire.com

Sure.  One I remember is a woman named Jane Toppan.  She was a nurse at Mass General Hospital some years back.  I believe it was in the forties.  Her own statement was, “It would be safe to say that I killed over 100 persons.”  When the police asked her why she did it, her answer was, “I thought it was fun.”

Fun?

Yeah, fun.  I’d rather go to a movie or watch a Broncos game (just a little dig there at you and your Chiefs).  But I do think her statement is instructive in a way.  I personally believe she was one who was driven by control.  In other words, it was her decision when these persons would die.  Sort of a god-like feeling, I suppose.  There are a lot of men who have exactly the same motive.  Ted Bundy would be a good example.

Ted Bundy-Picture taken from: www.biography.com

Ted Bundy
Picture from: http://www.biography.com

Interesting parallel right there.  But Pete, you’re the profiler, so I want to pin you down and ask you if there is a profile for women serial killers.

A great question right there.  As you know, with men we can usually put them in the category of “Organized” or “Disorganized” killers.  But with women, it’s here we part ways, big-time.

And why would that be?

Picture from: www.giaba.org

Picture from: http://www.giaba.org

Because all women are organized.  Well most, anyhow.  When Eric Hickey looked at this phenomenon, he said what you have to do is look at “typologies” rather than “profiles” when it comes to women.

Which means?

Very simple.  You categorize them in one of two ways – they acted alone or they acted in partnership.

Picture taken from: imrozsworld.blogspot.com

Picture from: imrozsworld.blogspot.com

And that would be with a man?

Yup.  Just that easy.

But can’t you say the same thing about men?

In some rare cases, yes.  But don’t forget, with the men we have deeper psychological motives.  With women, it comes down to much simpler motives.

And that would most often be money.

That’s right.  It sounds like that would make it easy, but it’s anything but.

How about someone like Andrea Yates who, I believe, killed all five of her kids by drowning?  I think that was in Houston.

image.img

Andrea Yates and her family
Picture from: 2010.newsweek.com

You’re right, it was.  In her case, it was what I believe they characterized as a temporary mental illness.  I don’t know if I understand that.  It seems like pregnancy, you either are mentally ill or you’re not.  Evidently they seemed to think they’d cured her, and from what I remember, she’s back in society once again.  But we can’t call her a serial killer because she drowned all of her kids at the same time.  So she’d be what we’d classify as a mass killer.  There is a difference.

And hopefully someone who would have no more children, or at least recognized the symptoms of postpartum despression, could get some help and had family who made sure she was taking medication.

Hopefully.  There was another woman down in Texas by the name of Otty Sanchez.  She killed her infant child and started to eat it before she was caught.  I know this is gross, but she was eating the child’s brain about the time she was arrested.

Picture from: abclocal.go.com

Picture from: abclocal.go.com

EWWW! Sounds like Hannibal Lecter.

Pretty much.  But she was deemed to be psychotic, and in her case it wasn’t a temporary condition.  I think she wound up with a full-ride scholarship to the Rubber Ramada and is still there.

Alright, can you give me an example of a female serial killer who went on for years without being caught?

Sure can.  A woman by the name of Belle Gunness comes immediately to mind.   She started out by burning down her house and then a business she owned.  There was some money.  Then she killed two husbands and two of her children.  Did they have insurance?  Of course.  However, an interesting part of this is all four of them died of colitis which has symptoms similar to poisoning.

Belle Gunness picture from: en.wikipedia.org

Belle Gunness picture from: en.wikipedia.org

But it was back in the thirties, right? I know because I researched female serial killers with gusto, trying to get Jillian Black’s profile right.   I used  Belle’s name along with hordes of others in my book. Belle was something!

Yup, and medical science hadn’t reached the point where it’s at now.  For the next part of her act, she started putting personal ads in papers that would lure men of means down to her farm in southern Indiana, as I recall.  She’d marry them, bump them off and collect yet more insurance.

So what’s the estimate for the number of people she killed?

They now think it’s up around twenty.  That would make her pretty prolific.  But I’ll make this, as they like to say on TV, “Breaking News.”  Belle isn’t someone you’d want as a girlfriend or a friend at all.  She was definitely the most prolific female serial killer I know of.

Other than the countess.

Yeah, or the duchess or goddess.  Whatever she was.

Pete, let me ask you this.  Do you think in modern society there are more women like Aileen Wournos that will crop up?

I doubt it.  I read some research a few months ago that may help explain why.  Women are brought up much differently than men.  They’re taught to control their feelings and to work things out by talking.  I know that’s not a hundred percent true, but it’s much different with men.  By and large, we’re taught to be tough and even to work our feelings out with our fists.  So there’s a huge gap there.

Well, Pete, I don’t know if your last statement is right, although I hope it is. I tend to think we are just finding out more about these creatures and we will see more of them in our future. But you’re the profiler, and I know you know your stuff!

I can’t thank you enough for enlightening us on this topic!

So, folks, if you’re writing about a woman killer in your book, remember, it’s all about the money, honey!

Until next time,

Happy Writing,

Diane Kratz

To find out more about Pete Klismet and his experiences as one of the eariler FBI profilers, check out his book: FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil available at  www.amazon.com

FBI Diary Profiles of Evil

FBI Diary Profiles of Evil

To find out more about Pete Klismet and his experiences as one of the eariler FBI profilers, check out his book: FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil available at  www.amazon.com

Or visit him on his Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pete-Klismet-FBI-Diary-Profiles-of-Evil/425047067608997 .

Blog edited by: Sally Berneathy

About this site:

This site contains information about violent crimes. The contents include murder,  and crimes of a sexual nature. It is not intended for anyone under the age of 18.

Disclaimer: I am a crime fiction writer, not a profiler. However, I do have a background in mental health and a master degree in social work. I’m also licensed with the Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board in Kansas.

I have researched these topics over two years, to be included in my series of novels. This site was created for entertainment and promotional purposes only. It is all the information I’ve gathered throughout my two years of research.

I wanted to have everything in one spot so other writers can use the information for their books. The information is available to anyone everywhere who ventures to look. Each post includes information on where the information came from.

information hydrant

information hydrant (Photo credit: Will Lion)

This blogging stuff is new for me. I will eventually add monthly profiles and snippets of my book, but I felt I needed to post the history of profiling, those who contributed to the field, and how it has evolved. It also great information for anyone who writes historical novels.

A lot of people don’t understand certain mental health terms as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked what the difference between a sociopath and psychopath is. These terms are used loosely and most people don’t know that they mean the same thing in the USA. But if you travel to the United Kingdom, they are viewed quite differently.

And when we are talking about the FBI-well, they are tight-lipped and give conflicting information. I’ve weeded through hours of information trying to figure out what the BAU really did, and hope to talk about this here on my blog.

I know when I first wanted to write about a profiler, I didn’t know exactly what a profile was, except what I saw on TV. A lot of people think its like mind reading or fortune-telling. The simple truth of it is, it’s not. Profiling is looking at the behavioral “tells” of the crime scene, the victims, the forensic evidence, and making deductions from them.

I have always been fascinated with the criminal mind and I hope to connect with others who have the same interests. I hope you find this blog interesting and can use it as a resource.

Happy Writing,

Diane Kratz

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