23 Of History’s Most Ruthless Female Serial Killers

Published May 17, 2018
Updated April 22, 2021

From wives to nurses to even children, these 23 female serial killers show that murder isn't just a man's world.

Amelia Dyer Female Serial Killers
Karla Homolka
Gwen Graham And Cathy Wood Female Serial Killers
Aileen Wuornos Female Serial Killers
23 Of History’s Most Ruthless Female Serial Killers
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Humanity is capable of some horrifying things. Across the history of our species, there have been women who have done unimaginable things. Women in whom a malice and evil exists that twists them into the completely incomprehensible — female serial killers who show the darkness possible inside a human being.

Some do it for love.

Like Karla Homolka, who tried to impress her boyfriend, Paul Bernardo, by helping him violently rape and murder a string of women in Scarborough, Ontario. Her massacre started with the twisted Christmas gift of letting Bernardo rape her 15-year-old sister Tammy so violently that she died from the brutality, choking on her vomit. "Be a perfect girlfriend for Paul," Homolka wrote in a letter to herself. "Remember you're stupid; Remember you're ugly; Remember you're fat; Save yourself. Kill them all."

Some do it to get rid of unwanted children. Like Amelia Dyer, who took in the unwanted babies of other women and promised to take them into her care. But, as she put it herself: "After I got a baby something seemed to say in my ears, 'Get rid of it.'" Dyer made the babies overdose on opioids and threw their bodies in the river, slaughtering 400 infants before anyone stopped her.

Some do it with poison. Like Jane Toppan, a nurse who poisoned her patients and gazed into their eyes, trying to "see the inner workings of the soul" as they painfully died.

And some use more violent means. Like Mary Bell, the ten-year-old who horribly mutilated a three-year-old boy and carved her first initial on his belly. To her, his life was nothing. "Murder isn't that bad, we all die sometimes anyway," the young killer told her prison guards. "And anyway, I like hurting little things that can't fight back."

In every case, the horror these female serial killers give us is the same. It's not just the murder, it's that terrifying realization of just how wrong the human mind can turn.

It's that glimpse into the strange, incomprehensible darkness that lies in the heart of man; the dark bile that can corrupt a man beyond what we want to believe is within a human capacity. It's the horror of the thought that this darkness might not lie in a few bad men alone, but that it might be there, hidden, dormant, inside of all of humanity.

After learning about some of history's worst female serial killers, find out the horrifying stories about history's worst child murderers and how these serial killers meet their ends. Then, read about the most terrifying female villains in horror movies.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.