While stories about male murderers abound, one in six serial killers is female. Since their methods are usually quieter -- poisoning and smothering are most popular -- female killers have longer careers, wreaking havoc for an average of eight to eleven years as opposed to the two or three men get away with. Here are 10 of the most prolific female serial killers of all time.
Approximate Body Count: 11
Not much of a family woman, Doss killed four husbands, two sisters, two children, one grandchild, a mother-in-law and her own mother, all by poisoning. Despite a longer-than 30-year career, during which she collected insurance money from the deaths of several family members, Doss wasn’t suspected of any wrongdoing until the death of her fifth husband in 1954. His untimely death and the insurance money she collected shortly thereafter tipped police off to her murder mania. Doss confessed to all of the murders and served about 10 years before dying in prison.
Enriqueta “The Vampire of Barcelona” Marti
Approximate Body Count: at least 12
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, affluent Barcelonans sent sick relatives to Marti for her pricey but allegedly restorative elixirs. What these customers didn’t know was that the ingredients in her potions included the fat, bones, skin, muscles and hair of children she lured, prostituted out and then murdered. Two kids captured by “The Vampire of Barcelona” managed to escape and contacted the cops. Police raided Marti’s home and found body parts, jars of blood, canisters of fat and a recipe book detailing the disgusting ingredients that went into each of her curatives. Cellmates murdered Marti before she ever made it to trial.
Amelia “The Baby Farmer” Dyer
Approximate Body Count: 50
Amelia Dyer was officially linked to 12 deaths, but is thought to be responsible for at least 50. Disturbingly, all of her victims were infants. She worked in England’s baby-farming system in the mid-to-late 1800s, taking in infants for a fee when their mothers couldn’t afford to feed or raise them. Most of the babies Dyer accepted were suffocated immediately to open up cribs and turn a greater profit. She was eventually captured and as the case became known, numerous women stepped forward claiming that they’d given infants to the heartless murderess.
Approximate Body Count: At least 10 (but possibly up to 90)
The wife of a wealthy physician in the early 1800s, Delphine was known to fly off the handle at the smallest mistake, beating her slaves so ruthlessly that one opted for suicide rather than withstand a lashing. When firemen were called to the LaLaurie estate to put out a fire, they noticed a strange odor. Upon checking the attic, they found dead slaves chained to the walls, a woman with her lips sewn shut, starving slaves in cages, a man who received a forced sex change, women without skin, eviscerated corpses and body parts all over the place. Delphine escaped authorities and was never seen post-fire. Contractors undertaking renovations years later found a number of deceased slaves in the yard, all of whom had been buried alive. You can read more about this terrible woman.
Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzales
Approximate Body Count: 91
This pair of sick sisters ran a bordello just north of Mexico City in the early 1900s. When the prostitutes they recruited became ill, lost their luster or got old, they were murdered, dismembered and buried on the property. If a wealthy guy looking to get laid happened to come along, he was killed in the same manner and robbed of his money and possessions. Police raided the “Bordello from Hell” in 1964, and upon digging up the yard came across 80 female and 11 male bodies. Each sister was sentenced to 40 years in prison, which is probably a thousand years shorter than it should have been.
Approximate Body Count: 40
After her first husband died in the late 19th century from a peculiar illness that hinted at a poisoning, Gunness moved from Norway to America. Her second hubby managed to die mysteriously on the single day that his two life insurance policies overlapped, netting Belle some serious dinero. Shortly thereafter, her children died under questionable circumstances and her wealthy suitors began disappearing. When her house went up in flames in 1908, the wreckage revealed the bodies of her children and a headless corpse. Upon inspecting the yard, authorities were shocked to find over 35 more stiffs. Gunness was declared missing at the scene and never seen again.
Juana “La Mataviejitas” Barraza
Approximate Body Count: 10 (but possibly up to 40)
“La Mataviejitas,” or “The Old Lady Killer,” spent the 1990s and the early 2000s murdering elderly women in Mexico City. Posing as a social worker, Juana would convince her victims to let her inside, at which point she would strangle them with whatever was available, including a phone chord, sock or string. Jauna used so much force that her victims’ ears seeped blood, leading police to conclude a man was responsible for the murders. Captured in 2006 after killing an 82-year-old with a stethoscope, La Mataviejas was sentenced to 759 years in prison, but could be paroled in less than 50.
Approximate Body Count: 7
Wuornos, the subject of the 2003 film "Monster" starring Charlize Theron, robbed, shot and killed seven middle-aged white men between 1989 and 1990. Abused as a child, and a prostitute since her early teens, she’d racked up an impressive criminal record, including assault, armed robbery, forgery and grand theft auto prior to her first murder. Wuornos and her girlfriend were driving in a victim’s car when they got into an accident and fled the scene. After learning the car was stolen and that its owner had been killed, the cops mounted a case against Aileen that landed her on death row. She was killed by lethal injection in 2002.
Approximate Body Count: 20–25
At the turn of the century, this Missourian was known for taking in and caring for sick friends and family members. While her good deeds seemed to be motivated by a heart of gold, Bertha had far darker desires. When patients with minor illnesses began dropping by the dozen, townspeople became suspicious. Those who died under her care were exhumed and examined. Instead of helping her patients recover, Bertha had slowly poisoned them with arsenic. Declared not guilty by insanity, she spent the rest of her life in a mental institution.
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Approximate Body Count: 31
After confessing to 31 murders in 1901, Toppan revealed that her lifelong ambition was “to have killed more people -- helpless people -- than any other man or woman who ever lived.” A British nurse, Toppan experimented on her patients using drugs and chemicals to bring them close to death and back to life over and over again before killing them for good. Eventually, a victim’s family requested a toxicology report and Jane's psychosis was discovered. Declared insane at trial, she spent the remaining 36 years of her life in a state mental hospital.