Female Gangsters That Stole And Killed Their Way Into The Underworld

Published February 9, 2017
Updated August 3, 2021

From the "Mack Truck" to the "Kissing Bandit" these cold-blooded female gangsters prove that you don't need a Y chromosome to be vicious.

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie Parker
As half of the notorious crime duo Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie Parker is perhaps the most well-known of all history's female gangsters. Together with Clyde Barrow, Parker terrorized America in the early 1930s until fate struck them down in 1934 (with a little help from gunpowder).Wikimedia Commons

Stephanie St. Clair

Stephanie St Clair
Known as Madame St. Clair in Harlem, and "Queenie" elsewhere, this immigrant of French and African descent beat back the incursions of Jewish and Italian-American gangsters desperate for a quick buck after the end of Prohibition. Offering cheap lottery bets to the poverty-stricken area, she ran the numbers racket in Harlem and even used some of the profits to advocate for political and civil rights reforms.Wikimedia

Kathryn Kelly

Kathryn Kelly
Married to George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Kathryn Kelly was the brains behind the famous kidnapping of oil baron Charley Urschel, whom the couple held a for ransom of $200,000. Kathryn Kelly was more brutal than her husband, wanting to kill Urschel even after the ransom was paid. Some say she's the one who pushed her husband into a life a crime to begin with.Pinterest

Mary O'Dare

Mary O Dare
The Barrow Gang called Mary O'Dare "washerwoman" to mock her, but she was an enterprising gun moll. As the girlfriend of gang member Raymond Hamilton, O'Dare got caught up in narcotics trafficking. However, her best idea came when she tried to convince Bonnie Parker to drug Clyde Barrow and steal all the loot with her. Parker, decided against the idea.Pinterest

Arlyne Brickman

Gun Face
A Virginia Hill acolyte -- "In my eyes, here was a broad that really made good," she later said of Hill -- Arlyne Brickman worked as a drug dealer, loan shark, and numbers runner for a Sicilian crime syndicate in New York City. Unfortunately, Brickman found that her Jewish heritage slowed her ascent among the mafia. Brickman later turned informant when a loan shark threatened her daughter, and her testimony helped convict mobster Anthony Scarpati.Pinterest

Ma Barker

Barker Face
Matriarch of the notorious Barker gang, Kate "Ma" Barker, along with her husband and four sons, terrorized Middle America's highways throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Ultimately, she was killed alongside one of her sons in 1935 when the FBI raided their hideout. According to the FBI, when they found her body, she was still clutching a Tommy gun in her hands. And as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said upon her death, Barker was "the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade."Wikimedia Commons

Phoolan Devi

Phoolan Devi
Born into an incredibly poor family, Phoolan Devi was kidnapped by a gang of bandits at a young age. She eventually became romantically involved with the gang's leader and secured her place in the hierarchy, but when a fight broke out and he was murdered, the rival faction gang-raped her and left her for dead. Enraged, Devi enlisted the remaining men that she could trust, lined up 22 of her attackers and compatriots and had them shot dead. Then known as the "Bandit Queen" in India, Devi drew press attention and would even become a member of parliament before she was murdered outside her home in 2001 by associates of the men she'd had killed all those years ago.RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

Blanche Barrow

Blanche Barrow
Although she lost sight in her left eye after a deadly shootout that left multiple officers dead and the Barrow gang decimated, Blanche Barrow, unlike her compatriots Bonnie and Clyde, made it out of her twenties alive.Wikimedia Commons

Helen Godman

Helen Godman
Once married to the 1910s pop sensation Tell Taylor, Helen "Buda" Godman was most notoriously busted in 1916 for her part as the seductress in a badger game, which is when a wealthy businessman, caught in a compromising situation, is extorted. She jumped bail, however, and went on to become the protege of Charles A. Stoneham's, notorious gambler and owner of the New York Giants baseball team.

However, Godman got busted again in 1932 for fencing $305,000 worth of stolen jewels and that time the charges stuck.
Wikimedia Commons

Billie Frechette

Billie Frechette Portrait
Evelyn "Billie" Frechette met infamous gangster John Dillinger after her first husband was jailed for robbing a post office. She and Dillinger proceeded to go on a cross-country crime spree together, managing to live through several gun battles and robberies. Frechette eventually served two years in prison for harboring a fugitive. When she was released, she went on a lecture tour called "Crime Does Not Pay."Pinterest

Judy Moran

Judy Moran
Judy Moran may not be very well known in the United States, but she is the matriarch of one of Australia's most infamous criminal dynasties. She is currently serving at least 21 years in prison for ordering the gangland slaying of her own brother-in-law in 2009.Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Helen Gillis

Helen Gillis
Helen Wawrzyniak married infamous gangster Lester Gillis, better known as Baby Face Nelson, when she was 16. By the time she was 20, she had given birth to two children and was wanted by the police. She even took part in the "Battle of Barrington," where Nelson was shot to death. Newspapers at the time described her as a "public enemy," and J. Edgar Hoover told his FBI agents to "find the woman and give her no quarter." She was eventually caught but, unlike so many of her kind, lived into old age.Pinterest

Mae Capone

Mae Capone Plank
Married to Al Capone, Mae Capone may not have been a true gangster -- she once told their son "Don’t do as your father did, he broke my heart" -- but she did help cover up her husband's many crimes.

Pictured: Mae Capone boards the boat to visit her husband inside the prison on Alcatraz Island in 1938.
OFF/AFP/Getty Images

Edna Murray

Edna Murray
The American public best knew Murray as the "Kissing Bandit," a nickname she earned from kissing her male robbery victims. However, she was also known as "Rabbit" in the criminal underworld, due to her talents in breaking out of prison. She joined up with Barker's gang and eventually got busted for highway robbery in 1935 and paroled her way to freedom by 1940.Pinterest

Pearl Elliott

Pearl Elliott
Pearl Elliott ran a brothel in Kokomo, Indiana where gangsters would often hide out. She also served as John Dillinger's treasurer, which earned her a spot on the federal shoot-to-kill list. Unfortunately for any trigger-happy police officers, cancer took her first in 1935.Pinterest

Virginia Hill

Virginia Hill
Also known as The Flamingo, Virgina Hill found notoriety and riches as the girlfriend of mobster Bugsy Siegel. He even named the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel in her honor, as she loved to gamble.

Unfortunately, the hotel proved to be their undoing. Siegel was killed in Hill's Beverly Hills home thanks to a suspicion that Hill was skimming money off the top. She later said, "If anyone or anything was his mistress, it was that Las Vegas hotel. I never knew Ben was involved in all that gang stuff. I can't imagine who shot him or why."
Pinterest

Cheng Ping

Sister Ping
During her sentencing, Cheng "Sister" Ping told a pregnant federal prosecutor that, "Once you become a mother you will understand me." Ping's crime was smuggling illegal Chinese immigrants into New York, ultimately charging about 3,000 people as much as $40,000 a head -- and enlisting gangster enforcers to ensure payment. She was caught when a ship ran aground on New York City's Rockaway Beach containing 286 of them. The judge sentenced Cheng to 35 years in prison, where she died in 2014.Pinterest

Mary Kinder

Mary Kinder
Alongside Pearl Elliott, Mary Kinder was one of the two women that the Chicago Police Department listed on their Public Enemies list in 1933. Part of the Dillinger gang, she is known for being gang member Harry Pierpont's girlfriend. She even helped the gang escape from the Indiana State Prison (Dillinger smuggled in pistols) by driving the getaway car.Pinterest

Opal Long

Opal Long
With her heftiness earning her the nickname "Mack Truck," Opal Long (born Bernice Clark) was involved with John Dillinger's notorious Terror Gang, chiefly as the wife of gang member Russell Clark and as caretaker of the group's hideout. Dillinger kicked her out of the group after her husband was arrested, which she soon was herself -- although she never turned on her old gang.Pinterest

Sandra Beltran

Sandra Beltran
Known as the "The Queen of the Pacific," Sandra Avila Beltran was the head of a powerful Mexican drug cartel, attracting considerable media attention due to her expensive clothes and lavish lifestyle. She was eventually arrested by Mexican police for drug trafficking, money laundering, and possessing illegal weapons in 2007, then extradited to the U.S. However, nowhere along the line did she serve any serious jail time and now lives free in Mexico.Attorney General of Mexico

On the morning of May 23, 1934, infamous gangsters Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were driving their stolen Ford through Bienville Parish, Louisiana. They had no idea that six lawmen with rifles and shotguns had been camped out in the bushes alongside the road since the night before.

As the car approached, the officers rose up and fired a combined 100-plus rounds, hitting the pair several dozen times, and bringing their headline-grabbing multi-year crime spree to a dramatic end.

As their bodies lay dead and the coroner arrived on the scene, he noticed bystanders who had begun collecting souvenirs from the bodies including shell casings and clothing. One man, he noted, even reached over with a pocket knife and tried to remove Barrow's left ear.

Such is the bizarre type of fame that Parker and Barrow achieved -- and the strange hold that the gangster has had in the American imagination in the decades since.

But as much as we immortalize men like Al Capone and John Dillinger, and as much as we flock to films like The Godfather and Scarface, seldom do we think of the female gangsters that have stood at the center of violent, prosperous crime rings as well.

Although many still know the name Bonnie Parker -- herself immortalized in the film Bonnie and Clyde -- dozens of equally ruthless and successful female gangsters have since left their mark on the underworld.

From the "Mack Truck" to the "Kissing Bandit," meet some of these women in the gallery above.


Fascinated by these female gangsters? Next, check out three of the most ruthless, powerful gangsters alive today, before looking at the most brutal gangs around the world.

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