15 Biographies That Tell The True Stories Of Infamous Women Killers
Because of their elusivity, female killers tend to captivate and horrify news-watchers across the globe. I've picked out 15 biographies of women who killed, both in cold blood and in the heat of the moment, and perhaps reading them will give you some insight into the stories behind the legends.
There's a reason almost all of Biography's "Infamous Serial Killers" are men. Women perpetrate just 10 percent of the total murders in the U.S., and only 17 percent of the serial killings, which means that women either 1) kill less often than men, or 2) are better at eluding capture. One thing that's pretty clear is that women don't tend to kill men who reject them, and don't tend to go on killing sprees because they can't find a mate — two qualities of murders perpetrated by men, particularly in recent years.
The truth is, women kill for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it's revenge, or self-defense. Other times, it's because they're in the military, or in some other situation in which killing becomes necessary for their survival. And, yes, there are those women who kill for the thrill of it.
The 15 biographies on the list below tell the stories of women who killed for all of these reasons, and more:
'The Trial of Lizzie Borden' by Cara Robertson
This new biography of the infamous Lizzie Borden focuses on her trial for axe-murder in the case of her father and stepmother's deaths. The court case captured international attention, but left many wondering: Was Lizzie Borden guilty or innocent?
'Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men' by Harold Schechter
Just after the turn of the 20th century, a Norwegian immigrant named Belle Gunness lured more than a dozen men to their deaths by placing ads depicting herself as a lonely widow looking for male companionship. Her crimes were discovered in 1908, when her farmhouse burned down with her children inside. Authorities believed the decapitated female body they found in the ruins was Belle's, but her hired farmhand told a different story.
'Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health' by Judith Walzer Leavitt
Held in captivity for almost 30 years after her latent typhoid infection passed to others through her cooking, Mary Mallon — more commonly known as "Typhoid Mary" — has become a symbol of death and disease into the modern day. Read a modern-day analysis of her story in Judith Walzer Leavitt's Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health.
'The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival' by Kate Williams
When Catholic dissenters threatened the rule of England's first Protestant queen, Elizabeth I, with their support of her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth was compelled to sign orders to execute both Mary Stuart — who was suspected in the murder of her own husband — and hundreds of other Catholics.
'Grace O'Malley: The Biography of Ireland's Pirate Queen 1530–1603' by Anne Chambers
A pirate queen of Elizabethan Ireland, Grace O'Malley inherited her father's land and waters, and grew her wealth through two marriages and the utter dominion of her territory. Legend has it that shortly after giving birth to her son at sea, Grace took up a blunderbuss and defended her ship from marauders.
'The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire' by Jack Weatherford
For years, Genghis Khan's daughters maintained his empire, and they fought over how to divide control of it in the wake of his death. Soon, however, their male family members began to fight against them for control, and when they emerged victorious, the men erased their matriarchs from history. Jack Weatherford revives the story of the Mongol queens in this microhistory.
'Sins of the Mother: The Heartbreaking True Story Behind the Susan Smith Murder Case' by Maria Eftimiades
In 1994, a white woman from Union, South Carolina told police that a black man had hijacked her car, kidnapping her two young sons. For nine days, the community searched in vain for the boys and their alleged kidnapper — a man who never existed.
'Dear Dawn: Aileen Wuornos in Her Own Words,' edited by Lisa Kester and Daphne Gottlieb
Compiling 10 years of letters from Aileen Wuornos to her childhood friend, Dear Dawn offers new insight into the life of the convicted spree killer, who shot a handful of middle-aged men she encountered while working as a prostitute in Florida.
'The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II' by Svetlana Alexievich
From Nobel Prize in Literature winner Svetlana Alexievich comes this oral history that focuses on Soviet women's experiences during the Second World War. Including combatants and caregivers, The Unwomanly Face of War gives readers a new perspective on the world's largest conflict.
'The Darkest Night: Two Sisters, a Brutal Murder, and the Loss of Innocence in a Small Town' by Ron Franscell
Written by the victims' childhood friend, The Darkest Night recounts the horrific events of a 1973 night that left one sister dead, another brutally traumatized, and their small town reeling in search of answers.
'The Myth of "Bloody Mary": A Biography of Queen Mary I of England' by Linda Porter
Put down in history as a merciless executioner who sent hundreds of Protestants to their deaths for heresy, Queen Mary I of England's legacy has been largely overlooked in favor of those of her father, Henry VIII, and sister, Elizabeth I. Linda Porter rediscovers Mary I in The Myth of "Bloody Mary."
'Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie' by Harold Schechter
Not far from the Ingalls family's prairie home, the Bender family farm was the site of a series of grisly murders committed by John and Elvira Bender, with their children, John, Jr. and Kate. Charles "Pa" Ingalls may have put an end to the Benders' killings once and for all, but their legacy lives on in true-crime books like this one.
'Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History' by Tori Telfer
If the rest of the murderesses on this list haven't sated your desire for femme-slanted true-crime, check out Tori Telfer's Lady Killers. Based on the author's Jezebel column of the same name, this book explores the lives and gruesome legacies of 14 female serial killers, including Erzsébet Báthory and Darya Nikolayevna.
'Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs' by John Bloom and Jim Atkinson
In 1980, friendship turned to murder in Dallas. Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore were members of the same church, the mothers of two beloved daughters who had become best friends, and wives to successful men in a burgeoning tech industry. But one of them had a secret, and it was about to explode.
'My Mother, a Serial Killer' by Hazel Baron and Janet Fife-Yeomans
After Dulcie Bodsworth murdered three men, one of them her children's father, Ted Baron, her daughter Hazel knew she had to speak out. Hazel knew her mother was not to be trusted, but would anyone believe her?