The mention of the word serial killer will conjure images of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez and John Wayne Gacy for most people. In these following cases, the female of the species was just as deadly as the male.
Based on kill count, these ruthless women have topped the list as the deadliest of their kind. Just like their cold-blooded male counterparts – they showed little or no remorse for their crimes.
10. Aileen Wuornos: 7 Victims
Aileen Wuornos was convicted of murdering seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. She claimed that her victims – who she would lure away with the promise of sex – had either raped or attempted to rape her and the murders were in self-defense. They were shot with a .22-caliber automatic revolver and personal items were also robbed.
Wuornos had a deeply troubled childhood, her grandfather abused her and she was a teenage runaway who began supporting herself by drifting and working as a prostitute. In 1991, her killing spree came to an end when she was finally caught after fingerprints were found in a victim’s car.
She showed little remorse for her victims, later revealing to investigators:
“I robbed them, and I killed them as cold as ice, and I would do it again, and I know I would kill another person because I’ve hated humans for a long time.”
Wuornos confessed to the murders and was executed by lethal injection on October 9th, 2002.
9. Nannie Doss: 11 victims
Born in 1905, Nannie Doss, known also as the ‘Giggling Granny’, murdered 11 victims in Alabama, North Carolina, Kansas and Oklahoma between the 1920s and 1950s. She was married four times; using lonely hearts ads to trap a new husband before poisoning them with arsenic and collecting the insurance money.
Her murderous rampage only came to an end when a doctor became suspicious of such sudden deaths. Then the bodies of her previous husbands, two of her sisters, and even two of her own infant children were all exhumed and it was confirmed they had also been killed by arsenic poisoning.
Despite the insurance payouts, Doss claimed that she killed off each husband because she was searching for true love, explaining, “I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life.” In 1965, she died of leukemia in Oklahoma State Penitentiary age 60-years-old.
8. Dorothea Puente: 9 – 13 victims
Dorothea Puente became known as the Boarding House Killer as she killed her elderly tenants, many who were mentally ill or disabled, and cashed in their Social Security checks. She then buried the bodies in the yard at her home in Sacramento, California. Her evil crimes netted her around $5,000 a month.
In 1988, police inquired after the disappearance of one of Puente’s tenants who suffered from schizophrenia. Arriving at the boarding house, they discovered the first body. Sacramento Police Department’s lead homicide detective said, “I pulled the carpet and saw there were stains. I knew right away it was body fluid.” The bodies of seven more victims were also uncovered.
The death penalty was expected for Puente but her lawyers pleaded with the jury and declared:
“Executing Puente would be like executing mine or your Grandma.”
She was charged with a total of nine murders, convicted of three and sentenced to two life sentences at Central California Women’s Facility.
7. Mary Ann Cotton: 21 victims
Mary Ann Cotton became known as Britain’s first serial killer following a 20-year-long poisoning spree. Amongst her 21 victims was her own mother, several of her children and stepchildren, three husbands, a lover, and a friend. Staggeringly, nobody connected the dots and her crimes went undetected for two decades.
Cotton’s murder spree came to an end when she began living with Charles Edward, the son of her fourth husband, but she had plans to marry another suitor. She told a parish official, “I won’t be troubled long. He’ll go like all the rest of the Cottons.” Police investigated and her long poisoning spree was uncovered.
In 1873, she was hanged at Durham Jail watched by 20 reporters. One Dundee Courier reporter wrote:
“Mrs Cotton, who scowled fiercely and with an air of defiance at the crowd, and who muttered constantly but indistinctly, took her place upon the drop with remarkable composure… the wretched woman was launched into eternity.”
6. Jane Toppan: 31 victims
Born in 1857, Jane ‘The Nightmare Nurse’ Toppan lived in poverty after her mother died and she was left to live alone with her alcoholic father. She began working as a nurse in 1885 and was often unsupervised, leaving her to do whatever she pleased. Toppan used the patients as part of her own twisted experiments as she administered fatal doses of morphine.
Nobody knew of her crimes, her work colleagues would call her “Jolly Jane” because of her lively and (seemingly) kind personality. The real Jane Toppan would fake the medical charts and use drugs to bring her victims in and out of consciousness. Often when she killed them, she would climb into bed beside them as this provided her with a sexual thrill.
“To have killed more people – helpless people – than any other man or woman who ever lived.”
31 patients are known to have been killed through her sick games. She was eventually caught when a victim’s family member became concerned so many healthy people were dying under her care. A few months later, Toppan was arrested and she pleaded insanity. Sentenced to live out the rest of her years in an asylum, she died aged 84-years-old in 1938.
5. Belle Gunness: 40+ victims
Belle Gunness was born in Norway before emigrating to America in 1881. Gunness stood 6-feet tall and weighed 200 lbs; she used her physical strength to carry out a series of murders, killing at least 40 people before disappearing mysteriously.
Gunness supported herself and her surviving children by advertising herself as a ‘comely widow’ seeking a companion in the Victorian equivalent of lonely hearts’ columns. Rich suitors would come to visit and disappear mysteriously once Gunness had deposited their money into her bank account.
One night, the farm burned to the ground, with the bodies of Gunness’s three children and a decapitated woman found among the debris. Ray Lamphere, the farmhand, was arrested and charged with murder and arson. However, the fact that the decapitated woman found in the rubble was quite clearly too short and thin to be Gunness herself raised further questions.
When the farm was searched, body parts of around twelve victims were discovered under the hog pen, with many more in the fields around the farm, including the corpse of her step-daughter Jennie. When questioned, Lamphere finally confessed to helping Gunness bury the bodies of her suitors, who would be given poisoned coffee and then dissected, before being fed to her hogs.
Although officially declared dead in 1908, given Lamphere’s confession it seems obvious that Gunness did not die in the fire but instead succeeded in skipping town and making a new life for herself. Several unconfirmed sightings of her were later reported in the Chicago area. To this day, the whereabouts of the rest of her life – and death – are unknown. Clearly, she did not want to be found.
4. Juana Barraza: 42 – 48 victims
Juana Barraza was a former wrestler turned serial killer who was named ‘The Little Old Lady Killer’ by the media. In 2008, she was sentenced to 759 years in jail for killing 16 elderly women in Mexico City although her actual victim count is believed to be between 42-48 people.
During the trial, it was heard that she would cruise the streets searching for little old ladies to become her next victim. Barraza would gain their trust by carrying shopping into their homes before strangling them with anything from phone cables to pairs of tights. She would then steal any items she could resell.
Her arrest came after a lodger returned home just as Barraza was leaving the house where she had left the body of an 82-year-old landlady behind. After hearing her sentencing she told the judge, “May God forgive you and not forget me.”
3. Miyuki Ishikawa: 103 – 169 victims
In 1948, two police officers in the Waseda district of Tokyo discovered the remains of five infants and an autopsy sadly showed these deaths were no accident. Following on investigation, Miyuki Ishikawa was arrested and it was believed she had caused the deaths of more than 100 infants.
Ishikawa worked as a midwife at the Kotobuki maternity hospital before she eventually became the director. Abortion wasn’t illegal in Japan, but many couples were giving their infants to the hospital due to financial struggles. Ishikawa decided it was best just to have the infants killed and it is believed she is responsible for the deaths of between 103 and 169 infants.
While the other staff at the hospital knew what was really going on they chose to turn a blind eye to the real horror happening at the hospital. False death certificates were made and the parents of the infants were asked for large sums of money – told it would be cheaper to pay this one sum than raising a child.
During the trial, Ishikawa argued that the deaths of the infants were really caused by the parents who let them behind. She was sentenced to just eight years in prison and managed to appeal so her sentence was halved.
2. Amelia Dyer: 200-400+ victims
The exact number of Amelia Dyer’s victims is unknown; it is thought, however, that over her sinister career as a ‘baby farmer’ – a common enough profession in Victorian England – she was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of infants.
Born in Bristol, England, Dyer trained as a nurse where she learned from a midwife of the existence of ‘baby farmers’ – people who opened their homes to young women pregnant out of wedlock who then promised to find adoptive homes for their babies – for a fee. The infants would then be starved to death or smothered.
She told her own children, curious what happened to the babies in their household, that she was an ‘angel-maker’, ‘sending little children to Jesus’. She was only caught when, in 1896, the body of a baby was discovered, wrapped in parcel paper that still bore her address. When police raided her house, they discovered the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh.
The Thames river was drained and this resulted in the discovery of more than 50 infant bodies each with tape still wrapped around their necks.
Dyer was later quoted as saying about the white tape, “(That) was how you could tell it was one of mine.” She is now known as one of the most prolific female murderers in history.
1. Elizabeth Bathory: 650+ victims
Countess Elizabeth Bathory was a Hungarian contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Unlike Elizabeth I, however, Bathory used her status to command a team of servants to bring local peasant girls to her castle where they were killed in cold blood.
The victims would be lured to her castle with the expectation of employment, and then tortured and killed in the most horrific ways. Witness accounts describe the Countess biting pieces of flesh from the girls’ faces and bodies, mutilating their genitals and sticking needles under their fingernails and cutting fingers off; some girls were soaked in water and left outside in the snow to freeze.
One of the most enduring rumors about the Countess is that she murdered her victims in order to be able to bathe in their virginal blood to retain eternal youth. This image has led some to speculate that she was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Countess’ crimes went largely unnoticed until she began shifting her murderous ambitions further up the social ladder. Unsatisfied with peasant girls, Bathory sent her accomplices to kidnap the daughters of local nobles, who eventually found themselves unable to ignore her activities.
In 1610, the local authorities raided her castle. They found the grounds strewn with dead and dying girls, burned, beaten and stabbed. Servants in the castle testified that she had killed at least 200 girls, a figure which has been disputed, sometimes set as low as dozens, and others as high as 600 (earning her the Guinness World Records title of ‘Most Prolific Female Serial Killer’).
Bathory died under house arrest a few years later, taking the truth about her crimes with her to the grave; regardless of the exact number of victims who died at her hands, she has been remembered in history as one of the greatest monsters of all time.