No need for horror stories this Halloween when there are lady killers who will sufficiently scare the crap out of you. Reading about female killers is a guilty pleasure of mine, especially when the Halloween season rolls around. Why am I so attracted to the idea of a lady killer? Are murderers feminist icons? OMG, no. But in pop culture we are met with the constant image of women as victims. There are so many crime shows featuring far too many high heels in pools of blood.
The reality is that women largely, are not the ones who kill and those who do, usually do so out of self-defense. The stats say that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than half of women in jail were abused by a spouse prior to conviction. Watching those high-gloss, TV depictions of women getting abused and killed doesn’t feel like its helping anything — even if it comes closer to mirroring reality than “Snapped.”
For your Halloween reading pleasure, I’ve put together the frighteningly true tales of the female killers who fascinate me the most.
Countess of Bathory
The Countess Elizabeth Báthory– AKA The Blood Countess— is the inspiration for most of our favorite, fictional villainesses. The Countess spent her days admiring her legendary looks in a mirror, changing into new gowns and bathing in the blood of virgins.(Okay that last part is lore. But it did inspire some greats like Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty”, the Evil Queen from “Snow White”, and the witch in “Return to Oz.”)
Elizabeth grew up in a royal family in a castle in Hungary. Wiki also included some info about how her cousin was an evil prince in Transylvania. Wow. I don’t know that I believe any of this.
When Elizabeth was 15 she married Count Ferencz Nadasdy, who took Elizabeth’s name because, at the time, her family was considered more noble than his. While her husband was away at war, Elizabeth managed the castle and practiced witchcraft. As the legend goes, she carried around a parchment made of the hide of a baby. Also she could read and write in four languages and was, by all accounts, an incredibly educated woman.
The Investigations of Elizabeth started in 1610. In a handful of years that followed over 300 witnesses testified that Elizabeth brutally murdered many adolescent girls from the town. According to testimony, some were peasant girls who had been lured into the castle by being offered jobs. Others came from noble classes and had been brought via their families to Elizabeth for etiquette lessons. Others were said to have been abducted. Elizabeth allegedly had many people working for her, bringing the young women. The number of women has been estimated to be as high as 650 girls.
Countess of Bathory Continued
It gets gory here. The young women were beaten, starved and abused with needles and sometimes, sexually abused. Two court officials testified that Elizabeth sometimes tortured the girls herself, changing their dresses when they became blood soaked and starting again.
In the trial, there was the argument that the Countess was innocent and this was a political conspiracy, but that was not a popular view. In the end, Elizabeth’s servants, who were said to have helped with the murders, were burned at the stake. Elizabeth herself was sentenced to house arrest in a small room with only slit for food and drink. She died four years later.
Elizabeth’s story become a huge part of lore, usually meant to impart some lesson about the vanity of women. And maybe that is why I like reading about the real Elizabeth. Maybe she did believe that bathing in the blood of virgins kept her young, but it wasn’t vanity that drove her to that. It seems more likely that mental illness did. (Which you may imagining me saying as I check my face in a compact.)
Sada Abe is a japanese murderess known for carrying her lover’s severed penis with her in a handbag. Out of love.
Beginning in the 1922, a teenage Sada worked as a geisha. But since many geishas apprentice starting in childhood, Sada was stuck in a low level. She tried working in the legalized sex industry for a while, but ended up working in an illegal operation. In 1935 she decided to leave sex work and start a small restaurant. She began apprenticing for 40-year-old Kichizo Ishida who owned a successful restaurant known for its eel dishes. The two were rumored to have began their affair in his restaurant while a geisha sang for them.
They then had a massive rendezvous. For two weeks they went from tea house to tea house (tea houses are sort of like sex hotels) lazing in bed, drinking sake and making love, which they would allegedly do in front of singing geishas and maids.
Sada Abe Continued
After the romp, Kichizo went back to his wife and Sada grew depressed. When they met again, Sada acted out a scene from a play. Playing the part of a jealous lover, she threatened Kichizo with a knife. He was amused by this.
Later, when they were in bed together, she put the knife at the base of his penis, threatening to cut it if he cheated on her. He found this amusing, too. The pair enjoyed playing sexual games with asphyxiation– taking turns choking each other during sex– but when Kichizo fell asleep, she choked him to death, cut off his penis with the knife and wrapped it in a magazine paper to carry with her.
When she was caught, police reported that she became excited talking about the murder and that her eyes sparkled. She told police why she had committed the act: “I loved him so much, I wanted him all to myself. But since we were not husband and wife, as long as he lived, he could be embraced by other women. I knew that if I killed him no other woman could ever touch him again, so I killed him.”
Holly Harvey and Sandra Ketchum
This pair was called the teenage Thelma and Louise by one newspaper. Yes, they did flee in a pickup truck after a murder. .. but the details are a bit more gruesome than that.
Holly’s mother was a petty criminal who was in and out of jail, so Holly was raised by her grandparents.
Sandy met Holly when they were 13. A note online from Holly to Sandy reads:
“I’m glad I found U. God sent U to me (I don’t care what it says about gay people in the Bible).”
The girls started dating, though Holly’s grandparents forbade it. Small-town Georgia was, unsurprisingly, hostile to the girls. One account of their story says the girls were regularly called derogatory names from moving cars and picked on. The two started skipping school regularly hanging out in the woods together, smoking pot and cuddling. They also did harder drugs — speed and meth — and ran away once but came back after four days of sleeping in a car.
When Holly fought with her grandmother she told her over and over that she would kill her. This was something that she said often, and would talk about to Sandy, according to some reports online.
Holly Harvey and Sandra Ketchum Continued
And then, there was a cracked-out night when they got serious about it. According to one source they had been smoking joints laced with crack, (sources here vary about whether or not crack was involved) and came up with the plan. They decided to lure Holly’s grandparents downstairs by smoking weed, then kill them. Holly even wrote the to-do list on her arm: “Kill, keys, money, jewelry.” They practiced by stabbing pillows.
The murder was brutal. First, Holly stabbed her grandmother and when her grandfather came barreling down the stairs, she fought and stabbed him as he ran to the phone and lobbed a coffee cup at her. She killed both of them. Holly reported having to jump over a pool of blood to leave the house.
After the girls found some jewelry, grabbed the keys and they took the truck on a joyride. They chain-smoked Newports and drove to a beach town. It wasn’t long until they were found. Both girls admitted to the crime.
Sandra received a life sentence and Holly two life sentences. When the judge demanded to know why they killed Holly’s grandparents she said she did it for Sandy, so they could be together. Just anywhere, together.
“Long Island Lolita” was the headline splashed on tabloids. Because what does the media love more than sexualizing a female killer? Sexualizing an underage one, naturally. Actually, it is kind of fitting. Lolita as a character was sexually abused by her caretaker. Amy was also sexually abused as a child. And I think I like the media narrative about Amy for the same reason I liked the character of Lolita, both were broken by the men around them but somehow strong. Both survived.
Sixteen-year-old Amy Fisher met almost-40 car mechanic, Joey Buttafuoco, after she’d dinged her parent’s car. She didn’t want her parents to find out and figured she could get the car fixed up before she went home. But the estimate was out of her price range. Joey suggested that Amy just tell her parents someone else sideswiped the car. So she did and it worked. Cool.
Amy took the cars for repair at his shop and then decided to get some speakers installed as well, according to some site on the Internet that did not source how they knew all these fantastic details. This is how the two started an affair, which was consensual though illegal because Amy was 16.
This relationship seemed pretty messed up. Joey — who was married– didn’t want Amy dating anyone else and harassed her about guys she was seeing. But when she needed money, he suggested she become an escort. Which she did and which he apparently didn’t mind. The relationship went on, it was abusive and spiraling and eventually led up to the day when Amy showed up on Joey’s doorstep with a gun.
Amy Fisher Continued
Joey’s wife Mary Jo answered the door. Amy told her that her 16-year-old sister was having an affair with Joey. Mary Jo didn’t believe her and the two argued over this. And then, Amy pulled the gun from her pocket as Mary was turning her face to leave, shooting her right in the side of the face. Amy ran back to the car, ran back to get the gun and fled. There is evidence that Joey had urged her to do this, Amy says he talked often about “getting rid’ of his wife, Mary.”
But Mary didn’t die. The question during the trial was about whether or not Joey had urged Amy to do this. Joey said no, Amy said yes. Joey served six months in prison for statutory rape and Amy served seven years for attempted murder.
And then Amy became a journalist. Which is awesome. She got a column at the Long Island Press and wrote some memoirs. Following that she embarked on a career in the adult movie industry. Maybe porn and media are two industries not as far apart.
Aileen killed seven men while working as a sex worker in Florida. At least once of these men raped her, but possibly all of them assaulted her.
Aileen had a really screwed up childhood. She was sexually assaulted by her grandfather. At the age of 14, she became pregnant after being raped by a family friend. (The child was placed for adoption.) Soon after Wuornos was kicked out of her home and she began living in the woods, supporting herself with prostitution.
At age 20 Aileen hitch hiked to Florida and met a man she would marry. He was 69 years old and the president of a yacht club. Their marriage was announced in the local newspaper. The marriage didn’t last. As famously depicted in the film “Monster,” AIleen’s major relationship was with Tyria Moore, a hotel maid she met a Daytona gay bar.
Aileen Wuornos Continued
Richard Mallow was a convicted rapist who picked up Aileen. This was the first man she shot and killed out of self-defense. And then, there were more. A construction worker. A sausage salesman. A part time rodeo worker. They had names like Peter and Walter and David and Dick.
At first Aileen said she they had all raped her, but through the trial she said that only the first guy did and the others just started to. However, she later she told a documentarian–when the cameras were off– that all of the murders were committed in self-defense. She allegedly changed her story because she didn’t want to be on death row anymore. She’d been there for 12 years.
And this is where my feminist outrage comes in. Aileen received six death sentences. She would be executed by the state of Florida. Six death sentences? I am convinced that homophobia, stigma towards sex workers, ableism and plain sexism played a part here. For her last dinner, Aileen ordered Kentucky Fried Chicken. Her last words were something along the lines of “I’ll be back.”
Carolyn Warmus was labeled a “Femme Fatal” in the tabloids. The media salivated over her. I’ve found endless descriptions of the 25-year-old Warmus entering the courtroom in her “tight” and “sexy” outfits.
Warmus, a rich girl whose Detroit father made millions in the insurance business, was quite stylish, think Fran Drescher meets Princess Di. Warmus lived in New York City and worked at a school in outer suburbs of Scarsdale, New York. At the school she met Paul Solomon, a fifth grade teacher who she began having an affair with.
Carolyn Warmus Continued
After Carolyn’s birthday party, she met up for drinks with Paul to celebrate. But first, Paul went to a bowling alley (an alibi that checked out, I guess.) While Paul was entering the bowling alley, his wife was calling 911, the dispatcher heard her say, “Help he is trying to kill me!” She was shot and killed. It was later argued that the dispatcher could have misheard the “he” part.
After Paul left the bowling alley, he went out for dinner with Carolyn. The two enjoyed a few rounds of drinks at the bar, then, retired to a corner booth where they had dinner, more drinks and sex in Paul’s car. When Paul came home he found his wife dead.
This happened not long after the movie “Fatal Attraction” came out and newspapers ate this up declaring “Real Life Fatal Attraction!” The question was whether Paul killed his wife or Carolyn did.
During the first trial, the judge was not able to arrive a unanimous verdict. A second trial was scheduled this time with new evidence — a bloody glove of Carolyn’s left at the scene. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Carolyn is up for parole in 2017 and a website about her innocence is one of the first things you come across when you Google her name.
I can’t help but think, when reading about the Warmus case, that her case was so popular because she spoke to the Virgin/Whore dichotomy. Warmus is clearly guilty because she is the Slut, sleeping with a taken man, parading around the courtroom in a miniskirt. But was she guilty?