When you think of serial killers, some names probably come to mind: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Son of Sam, The Green River Killer, and Jack the Ripper. Many other names could come to mind, and they probably all belong to men.
However, men are not the only ones with the capacity to be serial killers. Throughout history in countries all over the world, many women have committed heinous murders that have earned them the title of “serial killer.”
10 Elizabeth Bathory
80 Victims In Transylvania
Elizabeth Bathory was born into a powerful, distinguished family with a dark side. At 15, she married Ferenc Nadasdy and moved into Csejthe Castle. Her husband shared some of her interests and built a torture chamber for her enjoyment.
Together, they tormented their young servant girls. Upon the death of her husband, Elizabeth enlisted the help of two accomplices—Ilona Joo, her former nurse, and Dorotta Szentes, a witch—to kidnap, torture, and murder local peasant girls.
Elizabeth would bite chunks of flesh from her victims and supposedly bathed in their blood to keep her looking young and healthy. However, the allegations about bathing in blood are probably a myth that grew up around her case due to the heinous and unusual nature of her crimes.
Her family was aware of her actions and protected her until Elizabeth and her helpers began taking the daughters of other local nobility as victims. These nobles complained to King Matthias, who finally learned what Elizabeth was doing.
King Matthias had Joo and Szentes arrested. They were executed by hanging after being convicted of 80 counts of murder. Elizabeth Bathory was never tried, in part to protect the reputation of her family. Instead, she was imprisoned, alone, in a room in her castle. She died there on August 21, 1614.
9 Leonarda Cianciulli
Three Victims In Italy
Leonarda Cianciulli was a superstitious woman whose beliefs led her to human sacrifice. She married Raffaele Pansardi in 1914 and became pregnant 17 times. Three of those pregnancies ended in miscarriage. Of the 14 children to whom she gave birth, 10 died young.
She was very protective of her four surviving children, especially Giuseppe, her oldest and favorite. In 1939, Giuseppe was old enough to join or be drafted into the Italian Army and trained to fight in World War II. Determined to protect her son at any cost, Leonarda turned to human sacrifice. Her victims were three neighbor women with whom she was friendly.
Leonarda’s first two victims, Faustina Setti and Francesca Soavi, were killed and cut into nine pieces. Their blood was collected, and their bodies were dissolved in caustic acid. She dumped the sludgy remains into a septic tank.
The blood was set aside and allowed to coagulate. Then the thickened blood was put in the oven, dried completely, and ground into a fine powder. Leonarda mixed this powder into tea cake batter. The cakes were fed to family, friends, and visitors to her small shop.
Her third victim, Virginia Cacioppo, was killed in the same way as the first two victims but with one difference. Leonarda was so impressed with Cacioppo’s body fat that she cooked some of it down, mixed it with a bottle of cologne, and turned it into soap.
She was caught when Cacioppo’s sister became suspicious and went to the police. Leonarda was unrepentant and confessed to all three murders. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison and three years in an insane asylum.
If you would like to learn more about this particularly gruesome crime, you can read Leonarda Cianciulli’s memoir, An Embittered Soul’s Confessions. You can also view the pot in which the body parts of victims were boiled as well as other artifacts used by Leonarda at the Criminological Museum in Rome.
8 Aileen Wuornos
Seven Victims In The US
Aileen Wuornos was born on February 29, 1956, in Rochester, Michigan. She left Michigan and went south, ending up in Florida where she became a prostitute. Wuornos shot and killed seven men over the course of a year.
The body of her first victim, Richard Mallory, was found in December 1989. The sixth body was found on November 19, 1990. Each victim had been shot, some multiple times.
Wuornos met Tyria Moore in Daytona in 1986. Although they became romantically involved, Moore did not participate in any of the murders. How much Moore knew is still debated.
Police discovered Wuornos’s involvement when they found a receipt at a pawn shop. The items on the receipt belonged to Richard Mallory, her first victim. But a fingerprint on the receipt belonged to Wuornos.
Moore had ended the relationship with Wuornos and moved back to Pennsylvania in 1990. Florida police tracked down Moore, and she helped capture Wuornos by getting her to confess to six murders in a phone call.
On January 27, 1992, Wuornos was found guilty of killing Richard Mallory. During the following months, she pleaded guilty to five more murders. Later, she admitted to killing a seventh victim, Peter Siems, whose body was never found. She was sentenced to death for every murder and executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.
Aileen Wuornos has been the subject of both books and movies, including the movie Monster, starring Charlize Theron.
7 Amelia Dyer
Over 200 Victims In Britain
Amelia Dyer was a nurse and midwife who was also one of the most prolific serial killers in British history. As a “baby farmer,” she would adopt babies from mothers who couldn’t care for them and promise them a loving home. Instead, she killed the babies.
At first, she allowed them to die of starvation and neglect. But she was caught and served six months in jail. After her release, she continued to kill babies, often by strangling them and disposing of the bodies. She is believed to have murdered over 200 babies and possibly up to 400 over a period of 20 years.
To avoid being caught again, she moved frequently and used aliases. Dyer was arrested when a baby pulled from the Thames River was linked to a baby farm run under one of her aliases. She was convicted in March 1896 and executed by hanging on Wednesday, June 10, 1896.
6 Juana Barraza
Over 11 Victims In Mexico
Juana Barraza was a professional wrestler in Mexico City whose wrestling name was La Dama del Silencio (“The Silent Lady”). Her mother was an alcoholic who had traded Juana to men for booze. All her victims were elderly women.
Juana would dress up as a social worker and target elderly women who could be eligible for social welfare programs. She was seen carrying paperwork and a stethoscope. Some victims were strangled, and others were bludgeoned. After killing her victims, Juana would steal from them.
Witnesses who saw her near the victims’ homes described her as having a manly build. This led police and others to believe that the killer was a man dressed as a woman. She was arrested as she was running away from the home of Ana Maria de los Reyes, her last victim, who had been strangled with a stethoscope.
Juana pleaded guilty to just one murder and blamed resentment for her mother as the reason for the crime. Juana was found guilty of 16 charges of murder and aggravated theft, with 11 of the charges for separate counts of murder. She was sentenced to 759 years in prison on March 31, 2008.
5 Jane Toppan
Over 30 Victims In The US
Jane Toppan was born Honora Kelley in Massachusetts in 1857. Orphaned as a young child when her mother died and her father went crazy, she was taken in by the Toppan family and eventually adopted the name Jane Toppan.
Despite showing signs of emotional instability, Jane trained as a nurse at Cambridge Hospital. There is conflicting information as to whether she completed the training. Either way, she went on to become a private nurse.
In that capacity, she first killed both of her landlords in 1895 by poisoning them. In 1899, she also gave a fatal dose of strychnine to her foster sister, Elizabeth. Her crimes seemed to go unnoticed at this time.
That changed in 1901 when Jane murdered almost the entire Davis family. While visiting Jane, Mrs. Mattie Davis died mysteriously. Jane then moved in with Mattie’s widowed husband, Alden Davis. Annie Gordon, the Davises’ oldest daughter, came to Jane for help, was given a fatal injection, and died.
Within weeks, both Alden Davis and his youngest daughter, Mary Gibbs, were dead after receiving injections from Jane. This daughter’s husband and other family members were suspicious and demanded an autopsy.
It showed that the youngest daughter had been poisoned. Toppan killed one other person before she was finally arrested on October 26, 1901. Although she confessed to 31 murders, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to the Taunton Insane Hospital for the rest of her life. She died there in 1938.
4 Nannie Doss
10 Victims In The US
Nannie Doss killed members of her own family by poisoning them with arsenic. Her first two victims were two of her own children with her first husband, Charles Braggs. After their children’s deaths, Braggs and Nannie divorced. He was the only husband to survive being married to Nannie.
Her third victim was her grandson, who died within three days of arriving at her home. Three months later, her second husband, Frank Harrelson, became ill and died within a week. These deaths occurred in 1945.
The early 1950s were when Nannie really got busy. Husband number three, Arlie Lanning, died in 1952. Nannie’s mother, two sisters, and husband number four, Richard Morton, were all poisoned in 1953.
She was finally stopped after husband number five, Samuel Doss, died four months after they were married. A required autopsy found that he had been poisoned with enough arsenic to kill 10 men.
Nannie confessed to killing 10 people but was tried and convicted for the murder of Samuel Doss only. She pleaded guilty on May 17, 1955, and was sentenced to life in prison at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. She died there of leukemia in 1965.
3 Miyuki Ishikawa
Over 85 Victims In Japan
Miyuki Ishikawa is the most prolific serial killer in Japanese history. She was a midwife and the director of the Kotobuki maternity hospital. Many babies born in this hospital belonged to poor families who could not care for them. Unfortunately, there were no social programs available.
Miyuki often killed these infants by neglecting them. Her husband, Takeshi Ishikawa, helped her. Dr. Shiro Nakayama also helped by falsifying death certificates for the murdered babies.
Miyuki was caught when two police officers from the Waseda police department inadvertently found the bodies of five infants connected to Miyuki and the hospital. Autopsies showed that none of the babies had died of natural causes.
An investigation began, and more bodies connected to Miyuki were found. Forty bodies were discovered in the house of a mortician, and another 30 were found in a temple.
At trial, Miyuki, her husband, and Dr. Nakayama argued that they were providing a service and that the parents of the babies should be blamed. Miyuki was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her husband and Dr. Nakayama were sentenced to four years each. On appeal, all had their sentences cut in half.
Outrage over this led to the limited legalization of abortion in Japan on June 24, 1949.
2 Dorothea Puente
Over Seven Victims In The US
Dorothea Puente’s first criminal activities were small-time. She was caught forging checks and served six months in jail. Later, in 1960, she was arrested in a brothel and served 90 days in jail.
Shortly after her release, she was arrested for vagrancy and imprisoned for another 90 days. After that, she went straight for a while and began working as a nurse’s aide, caring for both disabled and elderly people in private homes. She went on to manage boarding houses.
Dorothea bought a large house in Sacramento that she used as a boarding house for disabled and elderly people. Then she started stealing the Social Security checks of her residents.
At first, she would simply drug the people, steal their checks, and forge their signatures. She served three years in jail for this offense. Soon after her release, boarders in her house started disappearing.
The police became involved when two boarders were reported missing. Using shovels, officers dug up the first body in Dorothea’s backyard. A total of seven bodies were found there, but many more former boarders are still missing.
Dorothea was charged with nine murders and found guilty of three. She was given two life sentences.
1 Lavinia Fisher
Questionable Number Of Victims In The US
Lavinia Fisher is the only serial killer on this list who was never convicted of murder. She and her husband, John Fisher, were part of a group of highwaymen. They were both convicted of highway robbery, which was a capital offense in the early 1800s.
Once thought to be certain, Lavinia’s status as a serial killer is now debated. Factual details of her role are scarce, but there are many legends that surround her.
Here’s what we know. John and Lavinia Fisher owned a hotel outside Charleston, South Carolina, called the Six Mile Wayfarer House. From there, two different legends emerge.
According to the first legend, men who had last been seen at the hotel began disappearing. After a local vigilante group confronted the Fishers and were convinced that these disturbing activities had been stopped, they left behind a man named David Ross to oversee the area.
That night, Ross was attacked by a group of men . . . and Lavinia Fisher. Ross escaped and went to the police. The next night, John Peeples stopped at the Six Mile Wayfarer House looking for a room. Lavinia gave him a cup of poisoned tea. Luckily, he dumped it out when she wasn’t looking because he didn’t like tea.
Later that night, Peeples escaped an attempt on his life. He also went to the police, who arrested the Fishers and two accomplices. A search of the house turned up items belonging to the missing men and human remains in the basement.
The second legend doesn’t involve murder at all. In this version, which has more facts to support it, Lavinia and John Fisher owned the Six Mile Wayfarer House and ran it as a hotel. They were also part of a group of highwaymen who used the house as a base of operations for the robberies they committed.
The police became involved after several robberies occurred in that area. Commerce was important to Charleston, and highway robbery was a big deal. The Fishers were evicted from the hotel, and David Ross was sent there to watch it.
Later that night, David Ross was assaulted and robbed by a gang of highwaymen that included Lavinia Fisher. John Peeples was also in this version. He was traveling down the road when he was assaulted and robbed by the gang of highwaymen to which Lavinia Fisher belonged.
Either way, John and Lavinia Fisher were sentenced to death. Since South Carolina law at that time stated that a married woman could not be executed, John Fisher was hanged one day before Lavinia. This made her a widow, not a married woman, at the time of her execution. Legend says that she was wearing her wedding gown when she was hanged.
Lavinia Fisher is often called the first American female serial killer, but she might not have killed anyone at all. Which version of the legend of Lavinia Fisher is true? We’ll leave it to you to decide.