by Jean Henry Mead
We rarely hear about female serial killers. They usually maintain a lower profile than their male counterparts, and they’re generally more efficient, according to Sean Mactire's book, Malicious Intent. They’re also just as lethal. Mactire lists them in four categories: black widows, nurses, terrorists and assassins.
Black widows murder their own husbands and children, as well as other relatives. They’ve also been known to kill their employees and tenants. Remember the Sacramento landlady who planted her boarders instead of flowers? And the film, "Arsenic and Old Lace"?
Nurses are the most prolific serial killers, Mactire says, because of their unlimited opportunities to murder without detection. Many consider themselves angels of mercy. Terrorists, on the other hand, kill for political reasons while assassins murder for money. The latter categories have increased in numbers at an alarming rate.
Body counts average 8-14 victims, higher than the male serial killer’s tally of 8-11, and they’ve been known to kill for as long as 30 years. The average age of FSKs is 32, and they’re intelligent. In fact, most are white, middle to upper class women. Surprisingly, they’re not only nurses, but debutantes, housewives, farmers, waitresses, college students, business owners, housekeepers and career criminals.
Women murderers have been recorded throughout history, but none more frequently than during the Roman era. Prior to the advent of Christianity, women held positions of near equality with men and, in matriarchal societies, even higher because their wisdom and skills were considered superior. When emerging western societies gradually eliminated women’s influence and power, the murder rate increased. During the ninth through eleventh centuries in Normandy, poison was known as the “widow maker” because it was frequently used by disgruntled wives, who preferred widowhood to divorce. Poisons still account for half the murders committed by FSKs in this country today. We'll never know how many.
The primary reason female killers have escaped attention is that society’s perception of women is one of caretakers and nurturers. Many find it difficult to believe that women are capable of murder, other than an impromptu domestic killing. Known FSKs are few because they’re almost impossible to detect. They’re quiet killers and usually don't take part in wild killing sprees unless they’re suffering from severe psychosis.
Serial killers, regardless of gender, prefer to prey on the weak and helpless: children, elderly women, and hospitalized patients, but they’ve also been known to kill politicians, policemen, hitchhikers and landlords. Many have killed husbands for their insurance payoffs. One black widow killed a number of her husbands with stewed prunes generously seasoned with rat poison. When she ran out of husbands, she poisoned her mother, sisters, grandson and nephew. By then she had probably run out of prunes.