Accessories to Murder

If studying killers has taught us anything, it’s that there are a lot of ways to kill people. Sure, there are the reliable standards: shooting, strangling, stabbing, bludgeoning, poisoning, and pushing (as in, off a cliff or down a flight of stairs).

But in the name of self-defense, people have invented some very creative ways to commit each of those. Mostly, they come in the form of jewelry or other accessories for women, the thinking being that packing heat was just unbecoming for a lady. So we’ll begin with the oldest, and probably still most popular, accessory to murder:

The Poison Ring

Poison Ring

One of the oldest and most recognizable accessories to murder, the poison ring.

These have been around since at least the 1400s, and the infamous poisoner and aristocrat Lucrezia Borgia is rumored to have had one. Their use is simple: a hinged lid hides a small compartment to store poison, preferably in powder form. The wearer can surreptitiously open the compartment and dump the poison into their victim’s (or their own) food or drink.

To be fair, most poison rings were actually more like lockets, designed to hold small portraits or locks of hair. However, this medieval poison ring unearthed in Bulgaria leaves no doubt what its intended use was: the tiny hole was meant to be hidden by the wearer’s finger, and the deadly dose simply tipped into the victim’s drink. In fact, archaeologists believe the ring belonged to the nobleman Dobrotitsa, and would explain the rash of mysterious deaths of other nobles close to him.

Hatpins of Peril

Hatpin-733x1024In the early 20th Century, women were subjected to much the same kinds of street harassment and groping that we’re still dealing with. Then as now, many women began to fight back, using a makeshift weapon most of them had on hand, er, head: the humble hatpin.

The style at the time was for women to wear huge, elaborate hats perched atop equally huge hairstyles. In order to hold all this construction in place, women used hatpins made of sturdy metal and 9 inches long – or longer. News stories began to appear featuring plucky women stabbing and slashing at “mashers,” or in modern terms, creeps, who attempted to grope or otherwise harrass women in public. At first the tone seemed to be positive.

But it wasn’t long before stories began to be told about innocent men being victimized by crazed, hatpin-wielding women. In fact, in Connecticut in 1906, one woman murdered her husband by drugging him, then piercing his skull through the corner of his eye orbit with her hatpin – a stealthy wound that was difficult for the medical examiner to find.

By 1909, hatpins were considered enough of a threat that the Chicago city council voted to ban hatpins longer than 9 inches. Violators faced arrest and a $50 fine. Soon other cities like Kansas City, Hamburg, Paris, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans all passed ordinances that limited hatpins’ length and/or required the pointed ends to be sheathed in public.

Women were outraged, and many refused to obey the law or pay the fines. It was quite the international controversy for a while…until the big gaudy hats went out of style, making the hatpin obsolete – at least for fashion purposes.

The Ring Gun

indexApparently these “little protectors” were primarily sold to gamblers in the 1800s. Not much is known about them, but according to Guns.com, they started appearing around the same time as other types of creative firearms like the pen gun and the cane gun. The French-made Le Petit Protector was the first documented example of this type of firearm, a tiny six-shooter mounted on a ring.

Typically, a ring gun would be worn on the index finger and the thumb used to fire the hammer. There was no barrel; each round fired simply from its individual cylinder. The revolver had to be manually rotated, and to load, unload, or reload, the wearer had to take a small, slotted jeweler’s screwdriver and remove the cylinder from the ring base.

They were sold with five-, six-, or seven-round cylinders in either 2mm or 4mm pinfire. The 4mm guns had a cylinder about as wide as a nickel, while the 2mm had one closer in size to a dime. The 2mm guns were typically marked “Femme Fatal” and sold in small, oval-shaped jewelry boxes, while the larger 4mm guns were more likely meant for men. You could also buy them as a matching his and hers set.

Despite how cool they might look, they weren’t very effective as a murder weapon. The tiny rounds, propelled by minuscule amounts of gunpowder, packed less force than a pellet gun. At best, they served at a deterrent. However, due to their rarity, they are quite collectible, with one set fetching $13,000 at auction.

Pepper Spray Sparkles

3978dcf8-52cc-4eae-b90f-d93e135cba95_1.719226c6f82f1d6c70e14c0ab2a6f74dOK, so it probably can’t kill anyone (unless they’ve got a condition like asthma), but I couldn’t leave out this newest fashion/self-defense accessory: glitter pepper spray. It’s just like regular pepper spray, but with glitter. And that’s pretty much it.

The company that sells it, blingsting, also makes bedazzled tazers and shiny personal alarms. So you can look cute while fending off a rapist, or something.

I don’t mean to hate on blingsting. Their cutsey self-defense products aren’t so different than those fancy hatpins our great-grandmothers used to fend off creepers. And that’s the really sad part – that it’s been over a century, and we’re still having to carry ever-more creative weapons just to go out in public.

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Thrill Kill Couple: Benjamin and Erika Sifrit

The Sifrits aren’t technically serial killers, but only because their stupidity got them caught before they could claim more victims.

They Seemed Like an All-American Couple

Erika Grace, perhaps the more controlling of the two, was born into privilege, the only child of a successful contractor. Throughout high school and college she was an excellent student and athlete. She played basketball and graduated cum laude from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Her friends knew her as a normal, level-headed person, active and outgoing. She didn’t seem to have a dark side.

Not much is known about Benjamin (or BJ), other than he was raised in Minnesota and was a poor student in high school. But after enlisting in the Navy, he seemed to find his calling in life. In 1997, he finished first in his elite SEALs class.

Two years later, he met Erika, then a student at Mary Washington, at a bar with friends. Though he apparently tried to dissuade her from getting into a relationship with him due to his demanding training schedule, she was relentless. Three weeks later, he spontaneously asked her to marry him, and they eloped to Las Vegas.

According to BJ’s mother, Elizabeth, her son changed after getting involved with Erika. Once close with the rest of his family, he stopped calling and visiting. “I just wanted to make [Erika] happy,” he explained at his trial. “It was extreme.” This isolation from family is also a common red flag for abusive and controlling relationships.

The relationship also seemed to affect his Navy career. Erika didn’t like that BJ would be gone for long stretches during training, and would call and harass him frequently. She claimed to have anxiety attacks and bouts of depression while he was gone. Once, while he was in Alaska for training, she flew up to visit him, a violation of the rules. They both were sent home.

BJ’s response to the stress of being torn between his wife and career was to “torpedo” his career. He became unruly and insubordinate, and even got a large swastika tattoo. Finally he was court-martialed for a variety of offenses, including going AWOL. One Navy prosecutor said BJ seemed to have developed “utter disregard for authority.” Ultimately he was drummed out of the service on a bad-conduct discharge.

So they moved back to Erika’s hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania, and her dad set them up with a scrapbooking store – a hobby that Erika was obsessed with (though not very good at, if the examples on Crime Watch Daily are any indication).

Like Gasoline and a Match

The couple thrived on excitement; many of Erika’s high-school friends said they didn’t recognize her anymore. She got tattoos, including a cross on her hip inspired by the movie Natural Born Killers. BJ, who already owned two handguns, bought Erika a .357 Magnum as a present. The couple collected pet snakes they named “Bonnie” and “Clyde,” “Hitler,” and “HIV.” They began doing drugs heavily. Before long, they started stealing from nearby stores and Hooters restaurants (another odd obsession of Erika’s), and selling the items on Ebay.

But that was not enough for the thrill-seekers. So in 2002, the couple headed for Ocean City, Maryland, for their first vacation. But they had more on the itinerary then just sunbathing and bar-hopping.

The Murders

The couple met Martha “Geney” Crutchley and Joshua Ford on a shuttle bus to the club Seacrets. The Sifrits didn’t have exact change, so Joshua offered to pay for them in exchange for the Sifrits buying him a drink at the club. The two couples seemed to hit it off, chatting and drinking through the night.

Afterwards, the Sifrits invited them to their condo for nightcap. What happened next, no one but the Sifrits know for sure, but statements and evidence paint a scene that went something like this: At some point, Erika claimed her purse was missing and accused Geney and Josh of stealing it. BJ then threatened them with his gun. The terrified couple blockaded themselves in the bathroom. Someone – it’s still not known for sure which one – shot Joshua twice through the door. Then BJ kicked the door down and shot him twice more while Geney cowered under the sink. Erika then turned on Geney, stabbing her multiple times.

BJ dismembered their bodies. At one point, he held up their severed heads and told Erika to take a picture, but she refused. They also discussed eating some of their victims’ flesh, but Erika said they didn’t go through with it.

They cleaned up the bathroom, which had so much blood on the floor, it would splash when you stepped in it, according to Erika. They put Geney and Josh’s body parts in trash bags and tossed them into dumpsters across the state line in Delaware. They replaced the bullet-riddled bathroom door and went on with their vacation. They played mini-golf, ate crab, and swam in the ocean, all smiles and happy faces. Erika wore Josh’s bloody ring on a necklace and got a tattoo on her side in the exact spot where she first stabbed Geney.

Still not satisfied, the thrill-kill couple tried it again. For a second time, they befriended a couple, Melissa Seling and Justin Wright, and invited them to their condo for a nightcap. Again, Erika claimed her purse was missing. Again, BJ brandished a gun. But one thing went differently for this couple: BJ didn’t think he and Erika had time to clean up another double homicide. So Melissa and Justin lived.

Meanwhile, when Josh and Geney didn’t return to work, their worried friends and coworkers filed a missing persons report. Ocean City PD searched their condo, but found nothing out of place. Their car was still in the lot, where it had been sitting for a while. The police put out flyers, issued BOLOs, and investigated, but found nothing.

Busted (Pun Intended)

So far, the Sifrits had committed the perfect crime. No one had connected them to the missing couple, and no bodies had been found.

But Erika’s weird addiction to Hooters merch did them in. Almost a week after the murders, the extremely drunk Sifrits broke into a Hooters, setting off a silent alarm. Police arrived on the scene and caught them red-handed. They were so drunk, BJ asked the cops if they could just put it all back and “we’ll be cool.”

Erika, however, began having a panic attack. She asked one of the cops to get her anti-anxiety pills from her purse. While going through her purse to get the medication, the cop found some very suspicious items: IDs belonging to the missing couple … and five spent rounds of ammunition.

Erika had her .357 Magnum in her waistband. They searched the Jeep and found two more handguns: BJ’s Sig Sauer 9mm and .45, along with flex cuffs, gloves, and ski masks. It was obvious there was more going on here than a simple robbery.

So the police searched the Sifrits’ condo. There they found more souveniers “Little Miss Scrapbook” had kept: two spent bullets, one of them with Josh’s blood still on it, and a stack of pictures, including pictures of Josh and Geney, and a key to their condo.

Then they searched the bathroom. Despite the Sifrits’ cleaning, there were traces of blood in the grout. In a sink stopper, they found hair and tissue. Under the sink, a bullet hole. On the window, Josh’s palm print.

Erika confessed soon after their arrest, claiming it was all BJ’s idea, and that she was a frightened, abused victim forced to play along. BJ, of course, blamed it all on Erika.

Erika tried to cop a plea deal by telling them where the bodies were, but one condition of the deal was that she had to pass a lie detector test. She didn’t. She was more involved in the murders then she had claimed.

After an extensive search of the Delaware landfill, only parts of Josh and Geney’s remains were found, so they couldn’t determine cause of death for Geney. Regardless, BJ was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 38 years. Erika was convicted of both murders and sentenced to life plus 20 years. BJ will be eligible for parole in 2021, and Erika in 2024.

 

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, serial rapists and killers

The Ken and Barbie Killers: Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were the perfect 80s power couple: they enjoyed every privilege, every benefit of the doubt, because they were pretty, white, and blonde. But there was no humanity behind their sparkling blue eyes. Together they were far more terrifying and psychotic than anything in a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

Paul was born August 27, 1964, into a deeply dysfunctional family. His father, Kenneth, was himself a rapist who even molested his own daughter. He also regularly abused his wife, Paul’s mother, verbally and physically. He often called her a “bitch” and a “fat cow,” terms Paul would later call his own victims. She became deeply depressed and gained a lot of weight, eventually isolating herself in the basement.

Despite that, Paul was known by friends and neighbors as a sweet, happy child with dimpled cheeks and curly blond hair.

When Paul was 16, he discovered that Kenneth was not his biological father. From that point on he hated his family, and once he moved out, he severed all contact with them.

After graduation he went on to attend the University of Toronto. It was there that his sadism began to bloom, and he began abusing his girlfriends. In fact, one of his ex-girlfriends went to the police several times to report him for abuse, rape, and threats, but nothing was ever done about it.

He began raping women in the Scarborough area in 1987. He would abduct them from bus stops and brutally rape them, often punching them, strangling them, cutting and penetrating them with a knife. The media dubbed him “The Scarborough Rapist.”

The Deadly Duo Meet

It was right around this time when he met Karla at a pet food convention; she was 17 and he was 23. It was instant attraction.

Karla was born May 4, 1970. The oldest of three girls, she was pretty and popular. She had normal, loving parents. She wanted to be a veterinarian and went to work for a vet clinic when she was a teenager.

Paul and Karla found they shared the same sadomasochistic desires – they fell into the role of master and slave right off the bat. As time went on, their relationship intensified, as did their sexual crimes. Meanwhile, Paul, with Karla’s full knowledge, continued raping women.

In May 1990, one victim described Paul to the police, who generated a sketch that was sent out to the public. A former coworker of Paul’s called the police after seeing the sketch, but it wasn’t followed up. Months later, the wife of an old neighbor of Paul’s also called, and this time the police finally questioned Paul. But his good looks and charm led them to believe he was innocent. Even though they collected a DNA sample from him, it wasn’t compared to the victims for another two years – time enough for him to murder three girls and rape many more.

They Take Their First Victim

Paul’s entitled attitude led him to believe he deserved to take Karla’s virginity, but since he couldn’t do that, Karla, ever the faithful slave, arranged the next best thing. Karla knew Paul had been looking at her 15-year-old sister, Tammy. He would peep into her window and masturbate to her while she slept – all with Karla’s knowledge and approval.

So Karla hatched a plan to give him what he wanted. On December 23, 1990, at a family Christmas party, Karla and Paul gave Tammy cocktails laced with a sedative. Once everyone else had gone to bed, the couple took Tammy to the basement. There Karla held a rag soaked in the anesthetic Halothane – stolen from the vet clinic where she worked – over Tammy’s nose and mouth. Once the girl was unconscious, the couple began raping her and recording it with the video recorder Paul had gotten as a Christmas gift.

Sometime during the assault, the heavily drugged Tammy vomited and aspirated it, choking to death. After carefully cleaning up the evidence of what they had done, they called the EMTs. Despite the large, unexplained burns on Tammy’s face (a result of the Halothane), the police accepted the pretty young couple’s explanation that Tammy had simply had too much to drink and had choked on her own vomit.

This brutal psychotic act seems to have only brought the two closer. Soon after Tammy’s murder, the couple moved in together. At one point, Karla dressed up in Tammy’s clothes and pretended to be her while she and Paul had sex in her bed. Again, they recorded it – something they would do for every assault they committed.

But Paul still wasn’t satisfied; he blamed Karla for Tammy’s death – which was only a problem for him because she wasn’t available for him to use her anymore.

More Victims

So they decided to get another toy for Paul, a young teenager known only as “Jane Doe.” Jane knew Karla from the pet store where they had worked together, and she idolized the pretty older woman. So Karla invited her out to dinner, and just like she had done to her sister, laced her drinks with sedatives, took her home, and administered the Halothane. Again, both of them brutally raped and tortured her and recorded it. Unlike Tammy, however, Jane survived. She woke up the next day, sore and sick, but with no memory of what had been done to her.

Meanwhile, less than six months since her sister’s death, the couple (mostly Paul) was planning their wedding, a lavish affair including a horse-drawn carriage, an expensive bridal gown, and a sit-down meal of veal-stuffed pheasant. Oddly, Paul bragged to friends that the wedding was really a moneymaking affair, and that he expected to bring in $50,000 in gifts. Even more oddly, rather then Karla taking Paul’s last name, or even keeping her own, the couple both unofficially renamed themselves Teale after the fictional serial killer Martin Thiel from the movie Criminal Law.

Only two weeks before their wedding, on June 15, 1991, the couple stepped up their sick game. Up until now, they hadn’t meant to kill anyone. Tammy’s death had been unintentional, and Paul was actually angry with Karla for causing it.

But with 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, there was no anesthetic. Paul kidnapped her, and the couple held her captive for several days, raping and torturing her – and, of course, videotaping it. Once they tired of her, they killed her, dismembered her body, and encased the pieces in cement. Karla dumped them in nearby Lake Gibson.

On June 29, as the killer couple was making their vows surrounded by friends and family, anglers and boaters on the lake discovered the blocks of concrete containing Leslie’s legs, feet, and head. The next day, another boater saw her torso floating on the water. While the police were investigating the murder, Paul and Karla were honeymooning in Hawaii.

Nearly a year went by, and the couple apparently abducted and raped at least two more women, though they survived. As an interesting side note, Karla may not have had a conscience, but something kept her up at night. Sometime after Kristen’s murder, Karla went to a psychic for advice on how to exorcise the noises she kept hearing from the basement where Leslie had been dismembered.

In April 1992, the couple abducted Kristen French from a church parking lot. For Kristen, there were no drugs, no blindfold, and no hope of survival. They subjected her to the same brutality and rape as they had Leslie before killing her. Immediately after killing her, Karla left the room to do her hair for Easter dinner with her family. Her body, they simply dumped in a ditch.

The Beginning of the End

Paul’s viciousness would be his downfall. It was around this same time that Paul began turning his abuse onto Karla, and in early 1993 her parents convinced her to leave him and press charges.

After arresting him on the abuse charges, the Green Ribbon Task Force, formed in 1992 to solve the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, wanted to question Karla more about Paul – and about a Mickey Mouse watch she was wearing that looked a lot like Kristen’s.

They questioned her for about five hours, but she didn’t divulge anything – yet. She got herself a lawyer, and he portrayed her as an abuse victim herself, forced to participate in Paul’s brutal crimes for fear of her life. They asked for a plea deal: in exchange for her testimony against Paul, she would plead guilty to manslaughter, and only be given 12 years. That deal, later called “the deal with the devil,” was quickly accepted.

The police searched Paul’s house for 71 days, but they could not find the alleged rape videos. However, Paul had told his lawyer that the videotapes were hidden in a ceiling light fixture in the upstairs bathroom. His lawyer found the tapes, but did not hand them over for evidence. Over a year later, his lawyer resigned, and a new lawyer, John Rosen, stepped in. Rosen did turn the tapes over to police – but too late. The prosecutors had already made the infamous plea bargain with Karla.

When law enforcement saw the horrific scenes on the tapes, it was obvious that Karla wasn’t the innocent bystander she pretended to be to get her plea deal. What they showed was so brutal that even seasoned detectives and reporters couldn’t hold back their emotion as the transcripts were read in court – and Karla had been a willing, and even eager, participant.

In September 1995, Paul was convicted of several offenses, including two first-degree murders and two aggravated sexual assaults. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least 25 years in Kingston Penitentiary, Canada’s toughest maximum-security prison. He was designated a dangerous offender, making him unlikely to ever be released.

He was never tried for the Scarborough rapes, of which there are 19 known victims. There may be dozens more; some put the total figure at 43 victims.

Where is Karla Now?

Karla, meanwhile, finished her sentence in July 2005. She remarried and has three children. In an effort to hide from the public, she’s gone by several names, including Leanne Teale. The conditions of her parole were dropped in 2015, and in May 2017, she was outed for volunteering at a religious school in Montreal where her children attend, to great public outrage. That was the same year Paul came up for day parole and was denied.

The media and people in general continue to be fascinated with her – the question, “Where is Karla Homolka Now?” has generated countless headlines, and numerous social media groups have been created to answer that very question.

Why is everyone so obsessed with Karla, but not Paul, who was at least 50 percent of this deadly duo? I think for one, she is out walking around free, so there’s a lot of anger and resentment toward her.

But also, women who kill – especially when they kill with such cruelty and violence – are considered somehow worse than men who do the same. It upends the old Victorian notions of “feminine nature,” that women aren’t capable of such extreme acts of violence. Indeed it is rare; only 15 percent of serial killers are female and most of them kill quietly and domestically. The few female serial killers who kill along with men usually do so out of a dependent personality disorder: they are vulnerable, have a deep fear of abandonment, have suffered abuse, and are typically not well educated. Karla fits none of these characteristics.

She is an enigma, a psychopath and sexual sadist, a serial killer who is walking around free.

 

 

 

 

All the Real Killers in American Horror Story, Pt. 4

Season six was really a fun change of pace – very meta-on-meta. As a fan of low-budget true-crime shows, I got a kick out of AHS’ treatment of them: the victim interviews, the cheesy re-enactments, and a cameo by my favorite historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin!

But were there any real killers in season six? Do you even have to ask?

The Angels of Death

Obviously, the nurses Miranda and Bridget Jane (played by Jenna Doolittle and Areana Cirina in “real” life, by Maya Rose Berko and Christian Rakes in the “re-enactment”) are dead ringers (pardon the pun) for Gwendolyn Graham and Cathy Wood. Graham and Wood were lovers who made a game of killing the elderly patients in the Alpine Manor nursing home where they worked in 1987. The object of the game was to choose victims by their initials to spell out the word “MURDER.” But that proved too difficult, so they gave up and just started just killing at random, eventually taking the lives of five victims.

They nearly got away with it, too. Since their victims were elderly and in poor health, their deaths were ruled as from natural causes.

However, Graham and Woods’ relationship did not last. They broke up, and Wood married a man whom she confessed the murders to. After he and Wood divorced, he went to the police. While Graham was given five life sentences, Wood got a lighter sentence for her cooperation, and is expected to be released in 2021.

The Bean Clan

The Polk clan gives a huge nod and wink to the Peacocks from one of the darkest and most horrifying X Files episodes, “Home.” However, their gruesome dietary practices also reflect another murderous clan who may or may not have been real: the cannibalistic Bean clan of Scotland.

Alexander “Sawney” Bean and his wife, Agnes Douglas, lived in a sea cave on Scotland’s southwest coast. Over time they had 14 children, and, through incest, 32 grandchildren. The family would rob and kill unsuspecting travelers, then bring the bodies back to their cave for dismemberment and roasting – or salting and pickling, to save for later.

It’s rumored that over a span of 25 years, the clan murdered over 1,000 people, spawning terror and rumors in the neighboring towns. Some blamed the innkeepers, some blamed evil goblins living in the wilderness or kelpies who lived in the lochs and rivers.

Legends differ on how they were caught. Some say one of their intended victims was rescued by another traveler. They brought the authorities to the Beans’ cave, led there by hunting dogs following the the odor of human decomposition. Inside, they found body parts hung up to dry as well as stolen valuables scattered throughout the cave.

Another version states a wanderer came upon them roasting a human body over an open fire and went for the authorities.

In any case, the Bean clan met a horrific end. The women and children were strangled before the stake, their last agonizing moments spent watching the men be slowly dismembered and left to bleed to death, before they (the women and children) were set on fire.

Yet it is not certain the legend is real. For one, the name “Sawney” was the popular English nickname for a stereotypical Scot, much like “Paddy” for the Irish. For another, the date of their existence isn’t known; some say the Bean clan killed in in the early 1400s, but others say it was at the turn of the 17th Century. Like with most legends, there may be a bit of truth underneath a lot of hyperbole.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to look at season seven until it comes out on Hulu, so stay tuned and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Next month is February, the month for lovers, so we’ll be looking at Couples Who Kill…

Are Female Serial Killers More Dangerous?

As recently as 1998, no less of an expert on serial killers than Roy Hazelwood stated, “There are no female serial killers.”

He was a smart man, but he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Perhaps it’s taken so long to recognize that women can be serial killers because of an unconscious bias on the part of the media and law enforcement. The popular stereotype of a serial killer is someone who kills strangers, usually women, and tortures and mutilates them to gratify some sadistic appetite for control or sex. Their work is usually wet and bloody, the stuff of Hollywood slasher flicks.

But none of those characteristics are necessary to fit the FBI’s definition of serial murder: “the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.”

While the methods of female serial killers are very different than those of males, they are no less gruesome – or deadly.

Who are female serial killers?

Female serial killers typically prey on people they know, such as family members or patients in their care. Their weapon of choice is poison, followed by smothering. They kill primarily for two reasons: financial gain (most commonly) or for the sadistic thrill of taking a life. Theirs is the stuff of the Gothic novel and the Greek tragedy: domestic, quiet, and intimate.

Because the work of female serial killers is so subtle, the deaths are often categorized as accidents, illness, or other natural causes. Therefore, female serial killers are able to evade capture twice as long as males, remaining free to kill and kill again. So despite being rarer – only 15 percent of serial murders are committed by women – their body counts tend to be higher and their “careers” longer.

Why do males and females kill differently?

Penn State psychology professor Marissa Harrison, the lead author on a 2014 study on female serial killers (full article is behind a paywall) interprets this difference as reflecting ancestral tendencies: “Female serial killers gather and male serial killers hunt.”

I submit that it’s not so much about hunting vs. gathering, but again, about power. Most serial killers prey on those who have less power than they do. Unlike most males, females experience their power over those they care for, such as family members, children, the elderly and sick.

There are exceptions, of course. Aileen Wournos killed “like a man,” targeting strangers to shoot and rob. And “Angel of Death” Charles Cullen, perhaps the most prolific serial killer in US history, was a nurse who murdered helpless elderly patients at the hospitals where he worked.

Despite that, take it to heart: never underestimate a dangerous woman.