Updated: Apr 12, 2022
Who do you think of when you think serial killers? Ted Bundy? Jeffrey Dahmer? John Wayne Gacy? Whoever it is, they're likely male. 85 percent of serial killers are men, but the rare female ones can be just as brutal. Here are five female serial killers.
1. Belle Gunness
Even in the 1800's, it wasn't uncommon for people to immigrate to the United States. Norwegian born Belle Gunness came to the U.S. in 1881 in a quest for wealth, but went about it in an unusual -- and deadly -- way.
In 1884, Gunness married her first husband, Mads Albert Sorenson. The couple settled in Chicago and opened up a candy store, but it didn't do well. When both the store and their house soon burned down, they collected the insurance money and used it to buy a new home.
The couple went on to have four children together. Two of the children would die from acute colitis, the symptoms of which are similar to those of poisoning.
In 1900, on the day two of Sorenson's life insurance policies overlapped, he died of heart failure. His family was suspicious and wanted an inquiry into his death, but no charges were ever filed.
In 1902, Belle married widower Peter Gunness. Within months, Peter and his infant daughter from his first marriage were both dead. After their deaths, Belle began posting personal ads, but many of the men who answered were never seen again.
Then, on April 28, 1908, Belle's farmhouse burned to the ground. One of her farmhands, Joe Maxson, fell to his death while attempting to escape through his second story window. The bodies of all four of Belle's children were also found in the rubble...along with more than 40 additional unidentified bodies.
One of the bodies was initially believed to be Gunness; however, most of the remains didn't match her description. In fact, the only thing they seemed to have in common with Gunness was a set of gold teeth her dentist claimed she had.
Belle's surviving farmhand, Ray Lamphere, was found guilty of arson but acquitted of murder. He would spend the rest of his life in prison...but not before confessing the awful truth.
Lamphere had been an accomplice to Gunness's many murders at the farmhouse. He claimed she would drug victims' coffee before hitting them over the head with a meat cleaver, dismembering their bodies in the basement, and dumping the remains in the hog pen. He also said the body believed to be Gunness's was really that of her maid. Gunness had planned the fire, withdrawn most of her money from the bank and skipped town. She was still alive out there somewhere, doing God only knew what. Although she's likely dead by now, her body has never been found.
2. Delphine LaLaurie
Many know of Delphine LaLaurie from Kathy Bates's portrayal of her on season three of American Horror Story. But the real Madame LaLaurie's legacy was a little different -- and a lot more brutal.
After marrying Dr. Louis LaLaurie in 1825, the new Madame LaLaurie moved into his estate at 1140 Royal Street in New Orleans. It wasn't long before rumors began that the newlywed woman was abusive -- not to her husband, but to his slaves. The rumors prompted investigation, but she wasn't charged with anything until 1833.
As the story goes, a slave girl named Lia accidentally hit a snag while brushing LaLaurie's hair. Angered, she chased Lia around the room until the 12-year-old jumped out the window to her death. Witnesses reported the incident, but LaLaurie was only charged a $300 fine and ordered to sell her remaining slaves. However, she made secret arrangements for her family and friends to buy the slaves, then snuck them back into the mansion.
But on April 10, 1834, everything fell apart. There are various accounts of what happened that night, and it's hard to say how much of it is true. But here's what seems to be the timeline, whether fact or legend.
According to one story, after the fire broke out witnesses saw Madame LaLaurie running out of the house, carrying jewelry. They thought it was unusual that she was trying to save her possessions without the help of her slaves. When confronted about it, LaLaurie dismissed the questions, allegedly saying "Nevermind the servants, save my valuables. This way gentlemen, this way."
Others reported hearing screams coming from the attic. A mob broke into the house and, when they reached the attic, found a gruesome site.
The attic was filled with corpses -- heads, organs and limbs. Other slaves were still alive, but suffering horribly. The ones not pinned to tables or locked in cages often had their eyes gouged out, mouths sewn shut, or intestines torn out and knotted around their waist. Some estimates put the victim toll as high as 100.
Despite a reluctance to report on the incident due to its graphic nature, the press wanted Madame LaLaurie held accountable for her actions. But that was unlikely to happen, as by the time the slaves were discovered, the LaLauries were nowhere to be found. Many believe they fled to Paris, where Madame LaLaurie reportedly died. Some say her body was returned to New Orleans, but its true whereabouts are unknown.
Rumors and sensation concerning Madame LaLaurie continue to this day. Numerous stories abound of alleged hauntings inside the old LaLaurie mansion, and ghost tours often include it on their stops (though public access to the inside isn't permitted). In 2007, actor Nicolas Cage bought the mansion for $3.5 million in the hopes it would be a great place to write a horror novel, but he never finished it.
3. Waneta Hoyt
In 1972, Dr. Alfred Steinschneider of Syracuse, New York was working on a paper about sleep apnea. In order to prove it was a risk factor for SIDS, the doctor studied two siblings in his lab. Their mother, known then as 'Mrs. H,' had turned to Dr. Steinschneider in 1968 after losing three of her children to SIDS.
During the study, both surviving children showed signs of sleep apnea and, shortly after being released from the clinic, died of SIDS. Steinschneider concluded that SIDS was both genetic and connected to sleep apnea.
But others weren't convinced. Nurses in Steinschneider's laboratory reportedly witnessed 'Mrs. H' being a "menace" to her children. When they brought up these concerns to him, he shrugged them off, seemingly too wrapped up in his own confirmation bias to see any evidence that his theory was incorrect.
Steinschneider's paper was often cited by pediatricians, but went largely unnoticed by the public for years. Then, in 1992, a forensic pathologist named Linda Norton read it and became suspicious. Five deaths from SIDS in one family is rare -- and the childrens' mother had always been alone with them when they died.
Norton brought up her suspicions to a prosecutor in Syracuse, who opened an investigation. In 1994, 'Mrs. H,' whose real name was Waneta Hoyt, confessed to murdering five of her six children by suffocating them. The children ranged in age from just over a month old to two years.
Hoyt later recanted her confession, saying it was coerced, but stood trial for the murders. During the trial, nurses and an ambulance worker claimed they had been suspicious of Hoyt, saying she didn't seem to want to bond with her children and that three children in a row dying of SIDS was unusual.
In 1995, Hoyt was convicted and sentence to 75 years to life. She died in prison in 1998. After her death, she was exonerated because her appeal had not yet been heard.
4. Genene Jones
1981, Bexar County Hospital, San Antonio, Texas. Between May and December, on the 3 pm to 11 pm shift, an unusually high number of children were dying. Many of them had entered the hospital with non life threatening injuries but later died of "sudden and unexplained" complications. All died when nurse Genene Jones was on shift.
Because of these oddities, rumors began to spread and an investigation was open. No wrongdoing was initially uncovered, but rumors persisted -- nurses who worked with Jones even referred to the 3 to 11 shift as "the death shift."
In March 1982, following the controversy and growing cloud of suspicion over her, Jones left Bexar. She eventually ended up as a pediatrician at a new clinic in Kerrville, about an hour away. From August 23 to September 23, eight separate medical emergencies occurred among children at the clinic. One of them resulted in the death of 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan on September 17.
Naturally, the medical community in Kerrville took notice. On September 24, Dr. Kathy Holland, who operated the clinic where Jones worked, was questioned by an administrator at the nearby Sid Peterson Hospital. The following Monday, September 27, Holland found holes in a bottle of Anectine, a muscle relaxant suspected in at least one of the medical emergencies they were under investigation for. Later that afternoon, Jones was admitted to the hospital after a drug overdose. The next day, Dr. Holland fired her.
Grand jury proceedings in the case began on October 4. Initially, Jones only faced one murder charge (in the death of Chelsea McLelland). She was convicted of one count of injury to a child, as well as the murder charge, the latter of which earned her a 99 year sentence. Although this is the only murder she's been convicted of thusfar, estimates of her total count are as low as 12 and as high as 60.
Jones wasn't tried for any other murders at the time, due to the presumption that she'd never be out of prison anyway. But in 2017, she was set to be released due to overcrowding. In order to keep her behind bars, new charges were brought up, this time in the death of 2-year-old Rosemary Vega in San Antonio. She was eventually charged with four more murders, and she faces life in prison for each count. She has pled not guilty.
(Because this is an ongoing case, I’ll try to keep you guys updated. Check back for any updates in the future.)
5. Terri Rachals
Babies and young children aren't the only ones who have been harmed by those hired to protect them. In 1986, Georgia nurse Terri Rachals, who was just 25 at the time, was convicted of the murders of six of her patients (who ranged in age from 3 to 72) by injecting them with potassium chloride. The prosecutor in her trial called her the "murderess of the century."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation taped a confession where Rachels admitted to killing three of the patients. In that confession, she also claimed to have committed the murders because she didn't want to see the patients suffer anymore.
However, Rachels later said she didn't remember committing the murders at all. Her husband gave further evidence to this idea -- he claimed she would initiate sexual encounters between them, then look puzzled when he brought them up the next day.
Regardless of her motive or mental state, Rachels was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the murders. She was released in April 2003. There's not much news about her after this, so maybe she hasn't reoffended.
These are just a few of the female serial killers out there. What are your thoughts on these cases? Let me know below.