Within the listing of the Bible’s ten commandments is the law ‘thou shalt not kill.’ This moral commandment has been broken by individuals for centuries and keeps being rebroken almost every day. There is an unsettlingly fascination with the people who commit these horrible crimes, enough fascination for serial killers to infest popular culture in the form of movies, television shows, and literature. Notoriously, the most infamous serial killers are male.
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Males are mostly recalled because the stigma surrounding males showcase them as being powerful, manipulative, and forceful to their weaker prey. This stereotype completely takes female killers out of the picture. Seemingly, society does not have the ability to categorize women into these aggressive, inhumane monsters, even if they are. Women are more ruthless than those of their male counterparts because of their own passive stereotype.
Homicides are not a rare phenomenon, although members of society would like them to be because of the horror of the situation. In the United States, there were 17,793 homicides, about 5.5 people per 100,000 people in 2015 (National Center for Health Statistics). Also, men perpetrate about 90 percent of the world’s homicides (Gibian). When the word serial killer comes to mind, names such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and Charles Manson immediately pop into conversation, but why not Aileen Wuornos, Myra Hindley, and Amelia Dyer? These are some of the more popular female serial killers, but their popularity is few and far between even though about one in six serial murderers is a woman (Anthes). Delving into some of the more recognized female serial killers, their stories are as chilling as those as men. Aileen Wuornos murdered at least six men in Florida from the fall of 1989 to December of 1990. Wuornos’s terror came to an end after the body of Richard Mallory was found in a junkyard, with five more men’s bodies to be discovered over subsequent months. (Aileen Wuornos). Born in 1956, in Michigan, she was raised and soon abused as a small child; consequently, she was thrown out of her home. Eventually, Wuornos started selling herself as a sex worker on Florida’s highways where she would pick these men up and kill them.
After being imprisoned, her mental health was questioned, but surely enough she was sentenced to death row. In 2002, Wuornos was given a lethal injection that ended her life (Aileen Wuornos). The fascination surrounding this specific female serial killer inspired a film entitled Monster, documentaries, and an opera. Another chilling, female killer is Myra Hindley. She was born in 1942 in Manchester, England. She lived a normal life, parented by her grandma until a close friend drowned causing her to leave school and drastically change her religion to Roman Catholic. From there, she fell in love with stock clergy, Ian Brady. Brady was in prison before meeting Hindley and to test her blind allegiance, Brady hatched plans of rape and murder. [Together the pair kidnapped and killed] Pauline Reade, 12-year-old John Kilbride, 12-year-old Keith Bennett, [and] 10-year old Lesley Ann Downey (Myra Hindley). The police were guided to the pair through Hindley’s brother who witnessed a victim being killed with an axe by Brady. Hindley was brought to trial in 1966 and was found guilty on two accounts of first degree murder, and she was imprisoned until her death in 2002. From these two case studies it is pretty evident that women are just as vile and cruel as men. What makes women such more ruthless is the fact that they are the mothers and are the wives; the people in life who are sweet, caring, and innocent. This is why they are not always given the worst punishments, or labeled with the title of serial killer therefore discounting them from the mainstream male serial killers.
Recirculating to the idea that society cannot bare to label women serial killers is supported by the case of Dorothea Puente. When an elderly man named Alvaro Montoya went missing, police officers found his remains and the remains of six other elderly individuals in his yard. The investigation found Puente guilty of poisoning the elderly tenants in order to cash out their disability and government-benefit checks. When a journalist, Eric Hickey, went on to interview the FBI involved in the case, they declined to label Puente a serial killer. (She was eventually convicted in three of the deaths.) They said, ‘Oh, that’s not serial killing,’ (Anthes). His view that women cannot simply be predators in the way that male serial killers are, led to Puente receiving easier punishments. Puente’s case was an obvious textbook case of serial killings. Of the seven bodies found, she was charged on three accounts of first degree murder. Three accounts would give any male the title of a serial killer, but for Puente it did not, she was just titled an elderly woman.
This insinuates that the stereotypes inscribed in our understanding of sociology and psychology has caused women serial killers to be treated with more empathy than male serial killers, even if their crimes are more disturbing. In specificity to disturbing cases, the name Amelia Dyer comes to mind. Dyer worked at a baby farm for twenty years in the mid-17th century. Baby farming simply means she would take in unwanted infants in order to ensure a constant income. She is one of the most prolific killers of all time, killing over four hundred infants. This woman killed innocent babies by strangling them and disposing of their bodies. Even after all of this death, Dyer was only accused of one murder, discounting the other hundreds of children that died under her care. (Gunderman). In the end, Dyer was hung for her crime, but the point is she was only charged for one murder because she was a widowed, mentally ill, nurse. The men in this time period could not label her as could none of the other men throughout history could label these women for what they really were, serial killers.
Regardless of sex, all consecutive killers should be labeled serial killers. However, the basic structural features of female killers differ from those of male killers. These differences have been observed and studied by Marissa Harrison, a psychologist at Penn State Harrisburg. She and her team created an online encyclopedia of serial killers and mass murderers. They ultimately identified sixty-four female serial killers who were active between 1821 and 2008. The researchers then used reputable news sources to compile a profile of each murderer, noting her age, birthplace, ethnicity, relationship status, religion, and more (Anthes). This database of serial killers gave theory to the quiet killers. Women serial killers most commonly target people they know, where men like to randomly select victims most ordinarily for sex purposes. However, women target for money, and this is proven by the fact that almost half of the women in Harrison’s sample killed for financial gain (Anthes). Another key feature that was observed was women’s method of killing. Whereas men’s preferred weapon is aggressive acts such as strangling or shooting, women tended to lean towards poison. One grueling finding from Harrison’s database is the recurrence of these women in caregiving roles such as nurses, teachers, or babysitters therefore allowing them easy access to their victims. All of these traits make women such low targets for blame on cruel crimes. People on the outside will think these passive, caring women could cause no harm, which only makes them more lethal and deadly than male serial killers.
Serial killings and the mental processes that function within the killers head, have intrigued society for centuries. Society may never know why these seemingly polite and mannered members of society sprawl off the rails and kill. What society does know at this instant is that male and female serial killers are a threat to the public safety as they commit cruel crimes against humanity. Serial killing sprees will always be a problem, but hopefully from studying the actions and psychological patterns from past incidents, society can spot the warning signs and bring down the rate of serial killings.
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