The female serial killer deemed so dangerous she received a whole life sentence
31-year-old Joanne Dennehy is one of only three women in English criminal history to be assessed to be so dangerous she can never be released from prison. (She shares this notoriety with Moors murderer Myra Hindley – now deceased – and Rosemary West, who murdered at least 10 people with her husband, Fred.)
Dennehy, a mother of two, was driven by a “sadistic lust” for blood. She stabbed three men she knew to death in Peterborough, England during a ten day killing spree before traveling to Hereford, where she knifed two men at random in broad daylight within nine minutes of one another as they walked their dogs.
Dennehy had wanted to kill nine men in total. She claimed to hunt and stab men for the purpose of entertainment, telling an accomplice, “I want my fun. I need you to get my fun.” She later told a psychiatrist that she had found murder to be “moreish,” and that after the first killing she “got a taste for it.” During sentencing, Dennehy laughed, smiled and swore as she was told she would die in jail.
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The French child killer who kept evading justice
French child killer Jeanne Weber strangled at least 10 kids, including two of her own. With each killing, Weber, for one reason or another, skirted justice before being convicted of murder and declared insane in 1908:
• In 1905 two of Weber’s three children died. No red flags were raised – they were thought to have died of natural causes.
• While babysitting her sister-in-law’s daughters, her 18-month-old niece suddenly “fell ill” and died. The bruises on her neck were ignored by the examining physician.
• Weber continued to babysit her surviving niece. The two-year-old died while in her care. The doctor blamed her death on “convulsions.”
• Weber also babysat for her brother. His daughter, 7-year-old Germaine, suffered a “chocking attack,” complete with red marks on her throat. She survived, but was less fortunate the following day when Weber returned. Her death was blamed on diphtheria. Her brother’s death, which occurred only four days later, was also blamed on the disease.
• A month later, while babysitting yet another nephew, Weber was caught in the act of strangling the child by family members. She was soon charged with multiple murders. However, Weber was defended by a brilliant defense attorney, and jurors were reluctant to believe the worst about a grieving mother. She was soon acquitted.
• 14 months passed before Weber (now going by Madame Moulinet) was once again on the radar of authorities. Another child was dead in her care. His death was initially also blamed on convulsions. However, the doctor changed his opinion once he discovered Madame Moulinet was Weber, but the autopsy listed the child’s death as typhoid. Weber was once again free.
• Weber resurfaced as an orderly at a children’s hospital, moving on from there to a children’s home. She was discovered strangling a child, but the owner of the home quietly dismissed her and covered it up.
In 1908, after months of vagrancy, prostitution and a short stint in an insane asylum (doctors found her sane and set her free), Weber was again found in the act of strangling an inkeeper’s son. She was finally declared insane and survived ten more years in an another asylum before hanging herself in 1918.
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The social outcast and prostitute who was responsible for the deaths of seven men
More than a decade after her execution, the public is still fascinated with hitchhiking prostitute and Florida serial killer, Aileen Wuornos.
It seems Wuornos never had a chance at a normal life. She was raped and abused while growing up in Michigan. Her father, a sex offender, committed suicide in prison. Her mother abandoned her altogether. She was kicked out of her grandparents home by age 15, and made her way to Florida where she survived as a prostitute.
Wuornos was frequently in trouble with the law. By the time of her arrest in 1991, her record included (among other felonies and misdemeanors) arrests for illegal possession of a firearm, forgery, assault, and robbery.
Between December 1989 and September 1990, the bodies of several men were found murdered along Florida highways. Items belonging to the men were pawned near where they were discovered and the alias names used were traced to her through thumbprints left on the pawn shop cards.
Wuornos confessed to the murders of seven men. She claimed she was was picked up by them when she was working as a highway prostitute, and shot them in self defense after they attempted to sexually assault her. The jury didn’t buy it, however. She was found guilty and received a death sentence for six of the seven men. (No charges were brought against her for the murder of the seventh man, as his body was never found.)
Wuornos was executed October 9, 2002. Her last words before the execution were, “Yes, I would just like to say I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back, like Independence Day with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mother ship and all, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.”
The Estonian mother and daughter serial killers who lured people to their deaths
Little is known about Estonian mother and daughter Ivanova and Olga Tamarin, but the ladies appear to be bandits and serial killers with cannibalistic tendencies.
The women were tracked down in 1912 following the discovery of a number of corpses “mutilated beyond recognition.” After this discovery, the house was surrounded by authorities and the women were arrested. A search inside resulted the discovery of another 27 corpses in a storehouse, as well as a great number of watches, purses and other articles of value, and a quantity of male and female garments.
According to the July 21, 1912 issue of the San Francisco Call newspaper, 17-year-old Olga lured victims into their home. “The eating room of the house was furnished with a trap door, through which the victims were precipitated into the cellar. In the cellar murderous instruments and fetters of all sorts were found. The women confessed to being at the head of a band which, during recent months, had robbed and murdered 40 people who had been decoyed to the house by Olga, and mentioned thirty other peasants belonging to the band, who were also arrested, while nine others escaped.”
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The burly woman who murdered more than 40 people for money
Wherever Belle Gunness went, trouble seemed to follow. The burly Norwegian woman, who stood at imposing 6′ and weighed 200 pounds, came to the States in search of wealth. What followed were a series of insurance frauds and crimes, escalating in size and danger.
After marrying Mads Albert Sorenson in 1884, the couple’s store and home mysteriously burned down. They claimed the insurance money for both. On the one day Mads’ insurance polices overlapped, he suddenly died of heart failure. Belle’s two infant children were also believed poisoned for an insurance payout.
Belle married again and gave birth to another child, but her second family went the way of the first. A succession of suitors (who answered her ads in the matrimonial columns of all the Chicago daily newspapers), became her next victims.
By the time family members of the missing gentlemen callers started becoming suspicious, a lovelorn, jealous farmhand, Ray Lamphere, burned her farm to the ground. In the ruins, workmen discovered four skeletons. Three were identified as her foster children. However, the fourth was inexplicably missing its skull, and though thought to be Gunness, was never formally identified. Her victims were recovered from shallow graves around the farm, with more than 40 bodies of men and children exhumed.
The pediatric nurse who murdered children in her care
Some say Beverly Allitt is afflicted with Münchausen syndrome by proxy, in which a perpetrator ascribes to, or physically falsifies illnesses in someone under their care to attract attention. Others believe she merely has a “pre-disposition to kill.”
While her motives are still unclear, her guilt is not in question. She is responsible for the murder of four children, the attempted murder of three other children, and grievous bodily harm to a further six children while working at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital, Lincolnshire, during a 59 day period in 1991.
Allitt, born in 1968, had a normal upbringing. She had two sisters and a brother, her father Richard worked in an off-licence and her mother worked as a school cleaner. She volunteered for babysitting jobs prior to taking a course in nursing at Grantham College.
Over a 59 day time period in 1991, medical staff became suspicious of the number of cardiac arrests on the children’s ward and police were called in. It was soon discovered that Allitt was the only nurse on duty for all the attacks.
The cash crazy serial killer who preyed upon elderly women
Before selling her panties to murderabilia websites, Dana Sue Gray made her money by murdering old ladies and stealing their credit cards.
By all accounts, Gray also had a normal upbringing. Despite her mother’s death from cancer at an early age, Gray was athletic and popular in school, and succeeded in achieving her ambition of becoming a nurse in five years.
While on the job, she met husband William Gray, and the couple were married in 1990. They made good money (William was a machine operator), but spent it as fast it came in. Soon they were bankrupt, and filed for divorce.
By 1994, Gray was left with a 5-year-old son and lingering expensive tastes. She turned to murder, and later told detectives, “I got desperate to buy things. Shopping puts me at rest.”
Four women were attacked. One, Dorinda Hawkins, survived, and gave police a description of her attacker. The stolen credit cards in Gray’s possession also left a trail.
Police arrested Gray at her home. She at first denied she had the cards, but later recanted her story, saying she only robbed the women. That story changed yet again after she entered a plea of insanity, which would have meant the possibility of a death sentence. She finally plead guilty to the murders and is now serving a life sentence at the California Women’s Prison in Chowchilla.
The Creole socialite who tortured and murdered her slaves
Meet Marie Delphine Lalaurie. This 19th century murderess has been brought back into the current cultural consciousness by the FX TV series American Horror Story, with actress Kathy Bates playing the wealthy Creole socialite.
Lalaurie is believed to be America’s first female serial killer and is known for the torture and murder of slaves. Her cruelty was widely known, even for the era in which she lived.
In 1833, it was rumored a neighbor saw a 12-year-old slave fall to her death from the roof of the LaLaurie mansion while trying to avoid punishment from the whip-wielding lady of the house. The household was fined $300 dollars for the incident and ordered to give up their slaves. LaLaurie paid off a relative to buy them back and return them to the residence.
A year a later, a fire broke out at the mansion. When rescuers got there, they were met by a 70-year-old cook chained to the stove, who later confessed she had set the fire to commit suicide. She said her fear of being punished and sent to the uppermost rooms in the mansion drove her to the act, as those that were taken there never came back.
As rescuers made their way through the mansion, they discovered “seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated … suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.” Many were emaciated and tied with spiked iron collars. As many as 100 people were rumored to have suffered and died at the hands of the Lalauries.
When word got around, an angry mob descended upon the mansion, and systematically destroyed most of it. Lalaurie and her husband escaped, and were rumored to have taken up residence in Paris. It is believed Madame Lalaurie died there in 1842.
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The Dutch woman who poisoned 100 people for money
Maria Catherina Swanenburg has a higher body count than most of the ladies on this list. This Dutch serial killer murdered at least 27 people, but her tally could be as high as 90. Her motive? Money, in the form of insurance payouts or inheritances.
Outwardly, Swanenburg was well liked. She was affectionately nicknamed “Goeie Mie” ( Dutch for “Good Me”), which she got for taking care of children and the sickly in the poor neighborhood of Leiden in which she lived. However, it’s been established that she poisoned 102 people – 16 were relatives, including her mother and father –between 1880 and 1883. Of the survivors, 45 sustained life long health problems from the poison.
The jig was up finally for Swanenburg after she was caught attempting to poison the Frankhuizen family in December 1883. She was tried and convicted of her last three murders in 1885. After receiving a life sentence, she died in prison in 1915.