Scan history’s bloodiest serial killings, and you’ll find a long list of men behind the grisly deeds. Yet an equally brutal group of women serial killers have carried out their own mass slayings. Despite a significant difference in numbers, female serial killers are just as deadly. Just as dangerous as their male counterparts, the worst women killers have committed some horrifying, barbaric acts—ruthlessly murdering their victims.
Whether committing these crimes alone or with a partner, there is nothing fair about this sex when it comes to these terrifying women. From Hungarian nobles to murderous housewives, these are some of the worst women killers in all of history. Here are fifteen notorious female serial killers who used their feminine touch for evil.
Nannie Doss admitted to killing 11 people between 1920 and 1954. Among them were four of her five husbands, two children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson and a mother-in-law. The truth about this notorious woman serial killer’s spree finally emerged in October of 1954 after her fifth husband Samuel Doss died in a hospital in Oklahoma. An autopsy revealed an immense amount of arsenic in his system. Doss confessed to a long list of murders, but was only convicted of killing Samuel. Her sentence was life in prison.
Doss eventually died of leukemia in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on June 2, 1965. Known under various names (Giggling Granny, Black Widow, and Lady Blue Beard), this female serial killer was often referred to as the Lonely Hearts Killer—because of her history with the lonely hearts column. During her childhood, Doss would read her mother's romance magazines as a hobby. Those magazines would become the medium through which she met most of her husbands—the men who eventually became her victims.
Related: Nannie Doss: The Giggling Granny Next Door Who Wiped Out Her Family
The Hungarian Countess Elizabeth (Erzsébet) Báthory went down as one of the most ruthless killers in European history—woman or otherwise. Between 1585 and 1610, Báthory is believed to have tortured and killed nearly 650 girls—mostly teenage peasants.
Related: 10 Bloody Movies Based on the Countess Elizabeth Báthory
Infamous for her ruthless practices, Báthory is often cited as one of the first vampires in history. The supernatural aside, she was certainly one of the worst women killers history has ever known. Although she was born into a distinguished family, she had a few peculiar relatives. She was introduced to Satanism by one of her uncles, while an aunt taught her about sadomasochism.
During her marriage to Count Nadady, Báthory would perform torturous acts toward peasant and servant girls. After Count Nadady's death, Báthory's impulses worsened. Báthory would abduct young girls to torture and kill—sometimes she would even eat chunks of her victim's flesh because she believed it would maintain her youthfulness. Though she used her family’s influence to avoid execution after being caught, the countess—also known as "The Blood Countess"—was forced to remain in her castle, in solitary confinement, for the rest of her life.
Although Amelia Dyer was tried and hanged for only one murder, claims state that many other victims died by her hand in Victorian England. After her husband died, Dyer began to search for ways to support her daughter. Through a colleague, she learned about a harmful practice. Trained as a nurse, she eventually took the path of a “baby farmer”: someone who welcomed infants into her home and received payments for care and wet-nursing. But "The Reading Baby Farmer"—another name for Dyer—never provided a safe and loving home. Instead, this murderous woman pocketed the money and murdered the infants—either by starvation, strangulation, or the administration of an opiate-laced cordial known as Mother's Friend. Given that Dyer committed her crimes for some 30 years, it is likely the woman was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children.
Related: Amelia Dyer: Victorian England's Cruelest Baby Farmer
In 1931, Jane Toppan confessed to 31 serial murders—and she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. A sadistic nurse who manipulated hospital reports, she took to experimenting with morphine and atropin . . . on her patients. After administering a lethal dose of drugs, she would sit with and hold her patients until they died. It was reported that Toppan would fondle her victims as they died and attempt to see the inner workings of their mind. This female serial killer—often dubbed "Jolly Jane"—claimed her goal was “to have killed more people–helpless people–than any other man or woman who ever lived.”
Related: Fatal Charm: 5 Deadly Women
At the end of World War II in 1940s Japan, a midwife carried out truly disturbing infanticide. Along with accomplices, Miyuki Ishikawa murdered about 103 children. As she saw it, the children of poor people had no chance in this world; she was simply putting them out of future misery. Ishikawa perceived the victims as deserted children and insisted the parents were responsible for their deaths. Even though she only received a four-year sentence for her crimes, her killing spree remains the bloodiest in Japanese history. Though the exact death toll remains unknown, the number of dead bodies recovered—and the length of time over which the murders took place—makes the estimate nauseatingly high, meaning is Ishikawa possibly one of the worst women killers in modern history.
Dorothea Puente earned her grisly nickname ("Death House Landlady") because of the heartless crimes she carried out in her Sacramento, California boarding house. Her motive: money. Over the course of six years, Puente poisoned numerous elderly and mentally disabled boarders in order to collect their Social Security checks. She killed anyone who complained—and buried them in her yard. Neighbors finally became suspicious after a homeless alcoholic known as "Chief"—Puente's personal handyman—mysteriously disappeared. Eventually, this female serial killer was found out and was sentenced to life in prison without parole on December 11, 1993. Puente died in prison on March 27, 2011.
One of the most famous woman serial killers of all time, between 1989 and 1990, Aileen Wuornos murdered seven men. She experienced a lot of sexual abuse as a child, especially at the hands of her grandfather. Her notorious killing spree ended up on the big screen with the movie Monster.
Aileen supported herself and her lover Tyria through prostitution. She claimed her murders were carried out in self-defense, against men who were attempting rape. It is likely she killed her first victim, Richard Mallory, in self-defense; Mallory served a 10-year prison sentence for sexual assault. Nevertheless, she was found guilty and executed by the state of Florida by lethal injection in 2002.
Juana Baraza became known as “La Mataviejitas” (The Old Lady Killer) for the killing 11 elderly women—and most likely more. A professional wrestler, Barraza had a troubled childhood and an alcoholic mother who allowed a man rape her in exchange for beer. Barraza carried deep resentment toward her mother—and blamed this fractured maternal relationship for causing her to brutally murder several solitary old women, whom she also robbed. Barraza bludgeoned or strangled her victims; police reported that there was evidence that victims had been abused before their deaths in some cases. Today, she is serving a 759-year sentence in a Mexican prison.
Leonarda Cianciulli was the typical Italian housewife. Better known as the "Soap-Maker of Correggio," she baked teacakes and made homemade soap. Except her recipes included a despicable secret ingredient: human flesh. When she heard that her beloved son Giuseppe was to be drafted into the Italian Army, she believed the only way to protect him in battle was by human sacrifice. So, between 1939 and 1940, Cianciulli murdered three women in Correggio, Italy. She would offer her victims a glass of drugged wine before killing them with an axe. She then cut up the corpses to make teacakes, which were often served to her family and friends. As for the soap? She and her husband used it for bathing.
Related: Leonarda Cianciulli: The Deadly Soap-Maker of Correggio
One of Great Britain’s worst women killers was part of a double act. Myra Hindley and her lover, Ian Brady, plotted and carried out the rapes and deaths of five young children in England. The pair buried the children in Saddleworth Moor during the 1960s. Hindley and Brady were turned in to the police by Hindley's brother-in-law, who had witnessed Brady killing a boy with an axe. Shockingly, the couple kept photographs and an audio recording of one of their victims. The female serial killer known as "the Most Evil Woman in Britain" died in prison in 2002 at age 60.
Once a devoted housewife, Sharon Kinne (known as "La Pistolera" or the gunfighter) became a cold-blooded woman serial killer. As an adolescent, Sharon met James Kinne. They soon married, but just as quickly problems arose. Kinne was a heavy spender and began having affairs with other men within four years of meeting James. Soon, Kinne had killed James, Patricia Jones (the wife of her new lover), and, while out on bond for Jones's killing in Mexico, a man named Francisco Pardes Ordoñez. She escaped Mexican authorities in 1964 and has been on the run ever since.
Related: Sharon Kinne: The Housewife Turned Killer Who Vanished Without a Trace
Some legends consider Lavinia Fisher the first female serial killer in the United States. Married to John Fisher, the couple were both convicted of highway robbery—a capital offense at the time. Together they owned and operated a hotel, the Six Mile Wayfarer House, where guests began to disappear. According to legend, Lavinia would invite men to dinner and ask questions about their occupation to discover if they were wealthy. Details of the crimes Lavinia committed have been exaggerated throughout the years—from crushing her victims heads between her legs to offering them poisoned tea and having John stab them to death in their sleep.
Related: Killer Couples: 8 Books About Murderous Duos
The Fishers' reign of terror eventually ended when a traveler named John Peeples entered the Six Mile Wayfarer House to ask about vacancies. There were no rooms available, but Lavinia welcomed Peeples and offered him tea. She interrogated him for hours and then miraculously discovered an empty room which he accepted. Feeling suspicious, Peeples decided against sleeping in the bed and instead slept on a wooden chair. In the middle of the night he awoke to the bed collapsing into an empty pit below, and discovered the Fishers' plan. He jumped out the window and alerted authorities. Lavinia and John were immediately captured, tried, convicted—and soon executed for their crimes.
Carol M. Bundy
Carol M. Bundy had escaped her third abusive marriage when she met Doug Clark. After frequenting venues during her affair with part-time country singer Jack Murray, Bundy and Clark met in a bar called Little Nashville. Their relationship quickly escalated. Clark moved in and before long they were sharing dark sexual fantasies. Bundy complied with Clark’s sexual desires—she allowed him to bring sex workers to their apartment to engage in threesomes. However, Clark’s desires took a depraved turn as he took interest in an 11-year-old neighbor. Bundy lured the girl into posing for pornographic photos to appease Clark’s twisted desires, but it didn’t end there; Clark began telling Bundy about how much he wanted to kill a girl during sex.
Clark persuaded Bundy to buy two pistols to carry out his fantasy, and in the summer of 1980, they found their first victims. They became collectively known as the Sunset Strip Killers as they found their victims—usually young sex workers or runaways—in Los Angeles. They would lure the young women into their car, murder them, and then dispose of the bodies; but not before Clark committed necrophilia by raping their bodies.
Related: The Horrifying Case of the Sunset Strip Killers
Meanwhile, Bundy continued to see Murray perform, and on one of those nights, Bundy confessed to the murders. In order to prevent Murray from telling the police, Bundy lured him into her van to have sex, then shot and decapitated him. However, Bundy left several clues behind and both she and Clark were eventually arrested and charged. Bundy was charged with two murders and sentenced to 52 years-to-life imprisonment, while Clark was charged with six murders and sentenced to death.
One of 11 children, Brown was borderline mentally disabled—her IQ ranging from 59 to 74—and considered to have a dependent personality. She was never violent or in trouble with the law . . . until she met Alton Coleman.
The son of a sex worker, Coleman was under the care of his 73-year-old grandmother but was constantly in trouble and well-known to the Illinois law enforcement community. A middle school drop-out, Coleman had been charged six times with sex crimes between 1973 and 1983. Brown was engaged to another man when she met Coleman in 1983—at this point he had fled trial and began his killing spree. She became a willing participant in Coleman’s assaults and murders—the crimes were committed across six states in the Midwest where eight people were murdered. After being arrested and convicted, Brown was sentenced to death in Indiana. However, the death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment without possibility of parole in Illinois.
Born Judias Welty, this female serial killer spent her early childhood in Texas being raised by parents. When her mother passed away, Judy was sent into the care of her grandparents until her father remarried. According to Judy, her father and stepmother were abusive, treating her like a slave and starving her. At the age of 14, Judy attacked her family and was sent to prison for two months.
After being released, she decided to attend reform school and graduated in 1960. By 1971, Judy married James Goodyear, a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. After he passed away from seemingly natural causes, she moved in with Bobby Joe Morris. By January 1978, he had also passed away. Meanwhile, Buenoano’s only son Michael became inexplicably paraplegic. One day in May 1980, Buenoano took Michael out in a canoe. The canoe capsized . . . and Michael's braces dragged him down. He drowned at age 19.
Three years later, Buenoano got engaged again, this time to John Gentry. Soon after, Gentry was seriously injured when his car exploded. Police, investigating the accident, soon found that there was much more than a faulty car. Buenoano had been telling friends that Gentry was dying of a terminal disease, despite his good health. She had also been giving him pills—which, once the police got their hands on them, were revealed to be filled with arsenic and formaldehyde.
Exhumations of son Michael Goodyear, husband James Goodyear, and partner Bobby Joe Morris were conducted. Each of the men had been a victim of arsenic poisoning. Buenoano was eventually convicted of multiple murders and attempted murders—she received a 12-year sentence for the Gentry case, a life sentence for the Michael Buenoano case, and a death sentence for the James Goodyear case. On March 30, 1998, Buenoano was executed in Florida State Prison.
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Featured photo of Judy Buenoano: Murderpedia