"In 1998, an FBI profiler infamously declared in a homicide conference, 'There are no female serial killers'--but Lady Killers offers fourteen creepy examples to the contrary."--Page 4 of cover.Serial killers are thought to be so universally, overwhelmingly male that in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared in a homicide conference, "There are no female serial killers." Telfer delves into the reality of female aggression and predation with this compendium of female serial killers and their crimes through the ages.
In Lady Killers, Telfer tells the true stories of fourteen female serial killers from history, ranging from groups of women who banded together to poison the men in their lives, to a woman who kept finding her way to elderly men and their money. Telfer has a wonderfully wry writing style, and manages to find moments of subtle humor amidst the darkness, making her book very accessible, while never losing sight of her subject matter.
I have read a lot of true crime, and I hadn't heard of many of these women. And that is one of Telfer's main points. That whatever media existed at their time marveled at how a woman could commit such heinous crimes, and then history promptly forgot them, proclaiming every time that this was the first female serial killer.
I would absolutely recommend this book for true crime readers, as well as people interested in history and women's studies.
The most recent lady killer mentioned was in the 1950's, which I appreciated. Lady killers may not be a thing of the past only, but I feel I'm better off not knowing popular contemporary ways to get rid of people. It also helps that not one of these women didn't really get away with it. I don't consider that a spoiler because there's no other way to get the details without extensive documentation plus the detail that it was definitively a woman. I think one did elude the police, though.
The tales collected are incredibly detailed, including methods of murder, motives, rumors, lore, sentences, and what alerted people to their deeds. The women themselves are from many countries and eras and of every class. They were in a variety of circumstances and their actions were the result of situations from excessive abuse to excessive privilege. The author admits in the end, though, that she was unable to find sufficient information to include women of color and mentions a few she had looked into along with a caveat that this does not mean they didn't exist among other races.
The book itself was written to not just refute the idea that women can't kill even their own children but to combat the erasure that happens when women do kill. The point is not to glorify this sort of behavior, nor to excuse it, but acknowledge that it is there, despite popular belief. Many of these women got away with murder for as long as tbey did because no one around them could fathom that a woman was capable of such a thing.
It was likewise interesting to read about the preferred methods of murder for women over the years, especially having seen several mentioned in some of my favorite fiction, like Etiquette and Espionage. We continue to forget what women can be capable of when push comes to shove and while I nor the author condone murder, we recognize that women should not be underestimated in this regard either.
The author considers, too, how female killers are represented entirely differently to men...our need to paint their crimes with comprehensible motives- money, love, witchcraft- and their very existence a bit of a joke, since to envisage the nurturing gender as truly psychopathic, relishing suffering, is too scary to contemplate.