Idiots Guide: Femme Fatale – Notorious Female Serial Killers

Human beings typically don’t think of women when they think about serial killers, however the reality is that many women in history have been equally, if not worse, in their murderous activities to their male counterparts. To be honest, some of the women on this list are far more devious and evil than any male that I’ve researched. Idiots Guide presents a look at 12 of history’s worst and/or best examples of female serial killers. Hold on to your coats, as some of these stories might turn your blood very cold and provoke long, extended hugs of your children.


#12./#11.   Gwendolyn Graham and Cathy Wood  /  Victims: 5 Old Ladies

Gwendolyn Graham and Cathy Wood

I’ve alway been of the opinion that the worst examples of human evil are people who commit crimes against children. The second worst would be people who commit crimes against the elderly. Nurse’s ‘aides’ Gwendolyn Graham and Cathy Wood fall into the category of the latter, they are American serial killers who were convicted for the murder of five elderly women who were supposed to be in their care. These two lovers, yes lovers, used their employment at the Alpine Manor nursing home in Grand Rapids, Michigan to smother their unsuspecting blue haired victims, as part of a twisted ‘love ritual’. I know, truth is often stranger than fiction. For their villainous efforts Graham received a Life Sentence and Wood received 20 to 40 years in the hoosegow.

#10. Belle Sorenson Gunness  /   Victims: 40 (+)

Belle Sorensen Gunness

In many ways  Belle Sorenson Gunness was the ‘Black Widow’ of the early 1900’s…with the added caveat that she murdered two of her own daughters, Myrtle and Lucy in addition to her male suitors. It’s been alleged that she also killed two of her husbands and their children as well, in separate cases. Her reign of terror lasted the better part of 20 years. Her motives? Money of course. She murdered to collect life insurance, she killed for cash and victim’s valuables and she was good at eliminating witnesses, by killing them as well. It’s impossible to know the exact number of death her tyranny was responsible for, but it’s estimated that she killed between 25 and over 40 people. Belle Gunness was as evil as human beings come.

#9.  Leonarda Cianciulli   /   Victims: 3 Women who she turned into soap & tea cakes


Most Italian mothers make amazing sauce for their Sunday family dinners. This Italian mother made soap and tea cakes from the flesh of her murder victims. In 1939, Leonarda Cianciulli was beside herself because her oldest son and favorite child, Giuseppe, was joining the Italian army for military action in World War II. In a bizarre twist of fate she decided to intervene using witchcraft and the paranormal. She decided to cast a protection spell on his behalf, the problem is that this required human sacrifice(s) and cannabalism to be effective. Enter her murderous killing spree that resulted in the deaths of three innocent women. The victims were her neighbors and clients of her fortune telling business. Your guess is as good as mine what murdering civilians has to do with protecting a soldier. The unwitting victims had come to her seeking help/advice with things ranging from finding a man to finding a job. Upon her arrest, she confessed to the macabre slayings and their gruesome aftermath. In the end Leonarda Cianciulli was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

#8.  Juana Barraza   /   Victims: 11 Old Ladies, Possibly as many as 40 unknown victims.


Juana Barraza inexplicably turned a life as a professional Mexican wrestler ‘The Silent Lady’, into that of a  notorious serial killer. Worst still were her choice of victims. Barraza murdered 11 old ladies between 1990 and 2006 with total killing estimates numbering in the 20’s to 40’s. Her modus operandi was to target women 60 years of age or older for robbery and she would either bludgeon or strangle her victims to oblivion. Evil much? She was finally captured in 2006 while trying to flee the home of Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro 82, in Mexico City. After strangling her with a stethoscope. An ironic choice of weapon for a human being with no apparent heart to speak of. The good news is that she was sentenced to 759 years in prison. The bad news is that she won’t live long enough to fulfill the entire sentence.

#7.   Aileen Wuornos /   Victims: At least 7 Men. 


Aileen Carol Wuornos was the worst kind of prostitute, the kind that murders her clients. I’m not a moralist so I view voluntary prostitution as a business transaction. Aileen Wuornos routinely violated that agreement in the worst possible way. A certain stretch of roadway in Florida between 1989 and 1990 became a killing field for Wuornos’s victims. Male victims that she would later claim had either raped her or attempted to rape her.  To my knowledge ‘self-defense’ isn’t a habitual defense claim, in her case 7 separate times. The reality is that she had contempt and hatred for her ‘John’s’ and wanted to kill them, dead. Prosecutors say it that way and she was eventually convicted and given the death penalty for six of her seven alleged murders. Aileen Wournos was put to death by the state of Florida on October 9, 2002 using lethal injection. Her life story became part of Hollywood lore as the film Monster (2003) with Charlize Theron portraying Wuornos, helped Theron win an Academy Award for Best Actress.

#6. Dorothea Puente  /   Victims:  Murdered 9 Old People (Tenants)  


Dorothea Helen Puente was the kind of serial killer that used her murders to further a criminal enterprise. She’s still a sick bastard, just a different kind. Puente ran a boarding house of horrors in Sacramento, California during the 1980’s. She was running a Social Security check scheme using her elderly and mentally disabled tenants, as victims. Any of them who got curious and/or started asking unfortunate questions, got dead in a hurry. Her modus operandi was to feed her victims lots of sleeping pills, then suffocated them with pillows once they were asleep. She would then hire ex-cons to dig burial holes in her backyard. This ‘Death House Landlady’ was tried for nine murders, eventually convicted of three murders and then sentenced to multiple life sentences in the hoosegow. Moral of the story? Sometimes a nursing home isn’t the worst idea in the world.

#5. Miyuki Ishikawa  /  Victims: The Infanticide of 85 to 150 (+) Children


Miyuki Ishikawa was a Japanese midwife who would eventually become the most prolific serial killer in Japanese history. What made this woman especially evil beyond reproach was that her victims were mainly infant children. The 1940’s were a time of homicidal indecency in Japan. Ishikawa, using several accomplices, murdered somewhere between 85 to 169 human beings, again mostly small children. It gets worse, if you can believe it. When she was captured and charged, the Tokyo High Court only sentenced her to a mind-bogglingly short 4-year prison sentence. I’m not sure what was going on in the Japanese justice system at the time, or now to be honest, but…wow, really? 4 years for the ‘Infanticide’ of over 80, probably 103, infant children? My guess is that because the parents of these infants lived in extreme poverty and were unable to raise their children properly without aid they weren’t afforded proper justice. Despicable regardless.

#4.   Jane Toppan   /   Victims:  The Murder of at least 31 Hospital Patients. 


Jane Toppan aka ‘Jolly Jane’ was a bonafide sadist. She used her position as a Cambridge Hospital nurse to use her patients in diabolical fashion as guinea pigs in horrible, unsanctioned experiments using atropine. Making making up fake medical charts, she would alter her patients nervous systems and watch the devastating effects. Why you ask? I’ve already told you that she’s a sadist, her attitude was as she stated “To have killed more people — helpless people — than any other man or woman to have ever lived.” Questions? In 1901, Toppan confessed to the murder of 31 separate innocent patents. Sweet lady, I know. It was observed that Toppan gained a form of sexual satisfaction from watching her ‘patients’ drift to near death, then come back to life, only to eventually perish. A big, terrible, murderous party in her pants. Needless to say, evil personified.

#3.   Ameila Dyer   /   Victims: Approximately 400 Infant Murders. 


You would think that the aforementioned Miyuki Ishikawa was the worst child murderer in the history of the world, but you’d be mistaken. Amelia Elizabeth Dyer certainly has something to say about that. She was probably the most prolific child serial-killer in history. In just over 20 years she is estimated to have murdered approximately 400 infants. Yes, the number after 399. Her reign of terror happened in Old Victorian Britain, the same place that she was eventually charged, tried and hanged for her heinous crimes. This despicable example of human waste was something called ‘baby farmer’ a now extinct job that helped families with their infant children while they got their shit together. Dyer would then kill them after she got paid and before the parents could get their child back. Her method was starvation and neglect at first, then she just went ahead and murdered them shortly after receiving them to save money and time. Wonderfully evil, I know. This savage beast was finally caught in 1879 after a doctor figured out the strange, large and suspicious number of child deaths in her care. Amelia Elizabeth Dyer was put to death by hanging at Newgate Prison on June 10th 1896 and not a day too soon.


#2.  Nannie Doss   /   Victims: 11 Husbands and Children (Her Own) 


Nannie Doss is the worst mother and/or grandmother the world has ever known. This American serial killer was responsible for over 11 murders of her husbands, children and various family members in the years between the 1920s and the 1950’s. To be a part of this evil woman’s family was to have a mark of death attached to your forehead. Doss murdered no less than 4 husbands, 2 children (her own), 2 of her sisters, her mother, a grandson, and of course, a mother-in-law. Cookies, anyone? Doss confessed to all of her murders in October of 1954. Nannie Doss pleaded guilty on May 17, 1955, which led to a  sentence of life in prison, no parole. Ironically, the state of Oklahoma did not put the death penalty on the table because she was a woman. Whatever, works I guess.

#1.   Elizabeth Balthory   /  Victims: Tortured and Murdered 650 Young Women. 


The full extent of the murderous rampage of the Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed will never be fully known for certain. She was the scourge of the noble Hungarian Báthory family. The Guinness World Records has her listed as the most prolific female murderer, of all-time. The years between 1585 and 1610 were not a good time to be a young woman in the Kingdom of Hungary. Báthory and four additional accomplices are thought to have tortured and murdered young Hungarian women in the many hundreds (650 claimed at her trial). She had no intention of stopping either, there were said to be hundreds of tortured, mutilated, dead and dying women found on her property at the time of her well overdue arrest. Evil doesn’t quite encompass the level of depravity she is responsible for. Her vampire-like tendencies made her simply the worst female human being of the ages. She lived up to her ‘Blood Countess’ name to the fullest extent. Báthory sentenced to life imprisonment, with solitary confinement in Čachtice Castle. With only small slits in a brick room for limited food and air to breathe. Suitable punishment, no? Sje remained there until her death. Good riddance. Seriously, bye.