Studies show female serial killers are not as prolific as males, but may be more dangerous as they are harder to detect.
Between 1976-2005, the Bureau of Justice completed a study on serial homicide and discovered women make up 6.5% of serial killers. A study conducted by criminologist Eric Hickey (2002) of 399 serial killers revealed female serial killers account for 8% of serial killers in the U.S. and American female serial killers account for 76% of female serial killers internationally. One third of all female serial killers are members of a team. Although women are a small portion of known serial killers, some studies reveal they may be twice as dangerous as male serial killers.
Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., is a criminal profiler and has conducted a study of 25 female serial killers. Dr. Kauflin explains, “Female killers can actually be more lethal than their male counterparts because they use covert murder methods. That is, often, there is little to no evidence that a homicide has been committed.” Murdering women escape detection for an average of ten years as, “Female serial killers fantasize in detail about how to kill while avoiding detection.” Female serial killers commit murder because they have intense feelings of helplessness and lack of control. Through killing, female serial killers create power and importance in their lives” (source). According to a 1998 study by Patricia L. Kirby, “They decide that by creating an equivocal death scenario, they are less likely to be caught … if a death is equivocal at best, many times, especially in smaller jurisdictions, there is no investigation” (source). Criminologist Eric Hickey (1991): “These are the quiet killers, every bit as lethal as male serial murderers, but we are seldom aware of one in our midst because of their low visibility” (source).
Perhaps it is the methodology and motive that keep female serial killers from early detection. Hickey’s study of 62 women out of 399 serial killers used the following methods and motives:
Methods: 1. Poison (80%), 2. Shooting (20%), 3. Bludgeoning (16%), 4. Suffocation (16%), 5. Stabbing (11%), 6. Drowning (5%). Because 53.6% of U.S. women abuse their children (source), and because of childhood deaths that often defy proof (i.e. SIDS), women may go undetected.
Motives: 1. Money (74%), 2. Control (13%), 3. Enjoyment (11%), 4. Sex (10%). It is difficult for people to believe women actually may enjoy taking lives, as they have been deemed “the weaker sex” for generations. The incarceration of women also reflects both the political and personal (jury, prosecution) reflections in the past.
Regardless if she were half of a dangerous duo (Karla Homolka), was politically motivated by the times (Erzsbet Bathory), or had a horrific childhood (Aileen Wuornos), female serial killers have existed since the beginning of time. They are just difficult to detect and, possibly, more difficult to prosecute.
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Photo of J. Yates courtesy R. Stephens
Photo: L to R starting on top row: Sara Aldrete, Juana Barraza, Erzsbet Bathory, Marie Alexandra Becker, Marie Besnard, Elfriede Blauensteiner, Mary Ann Cotton, Nanny Doss, Amelia Dyer, Kristin Gilbert, Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzalez, Dana Sue Gray, Belle Gunness, Anna Hahn, Myra Hindley, Karla Homolka, Hlne Jgado, Delphine, LaLaurie Enriqueta, Mart Dagmar Overbye, Dorothea Puente Raya, Sakina Darya Saltykova, Jane Toppan, Rosemary West, Aileen Wuornos.