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America’s most notorious female criminals

There have been a few bad apples throughout history. Really bad apples

Most people who are asked to name off a few female criminals will automatically name Bonnie, of the bank-robbing duo Bonnie and Clyde, and perhaps “that chick from Monster.”

It is true, that men are more likely to commit crimes. In fact, women constitute less than 20 percent of arrests for most crime categories in the United States. However, even if women are less likely to become convicts, there have still been a few bad apples throughout history. Really bad apples.

Here are some of America’s most notorious female criminals:

1. Aileen Wuornos, 1956-2002


Crime: Found guilty of killing six men between the years of 1989-1990

Aileen Wuornos had a tragic childhood, having been abandoned by her mother and raised by her grandparents. Her father, an accused child molester, hung himself in prison. It must’ve run in the family, because Wuornos claimed her grandfather sexually abused her growing up. At the age of 15, she was thrown out of the house and lived in the woods. She prostituted herself in order to survive. She then hitchhiked to Florida, and at the age of 20, married Lewis Fell, a 69-year-old yacht club owner. The marriage only lasted nine weeks and ended with a restraining order against her. Ten years later she met the love of her life, Tyria Moore, a hotel maid that would become her partner in crime.

Since Wuornos’ meager income was not enough for the couple to survive on, they took to murdering Wuornos’ clients and robbing them. She shot her six victims and police found the bodies in various areas in Florida. She also killed another man, but his body was never found. Instead, witnesses identified her and Moore driving the victim’s car. His items, found in pawnshops, had fingerprints linking to Wuornos. She was arrested in 1991 and put to death in 2002.

2. Genene Jones, 1950-Present


Crime: Found guilty of killing two infants, although she possibly killed eleven to forty-six children

Genene Jones was a pediatric nurse in Texas who had a taste for drama. She loved being put in life and death scenarios, where she would save the child and be praised as a hero for her actions. Her involuntary actors would be injected with igoxin, heparin and later succinylcholine to make them gravely ill and unfortunately many of them would not survive long enough for Jones to “save” them. So much so that the first hospital she worked for noticed the alarming death rate of children under her care and forced her to resign. It was at her next job that her crimes would be discovered.

The hospital began noticing a number of children having breathing problems and other strange illnesses, although these weren’t fatal. However, when 14-month-old Chelsea McClellan was brought to the hospital for a regular immunization for mumps and measles and died from cardiac arrest, suspicions rose even more. Even the media started to report these mysterious deaths and following the discovery of succinylcholine in McClellan’s body, Jones was charged with murder. She was also convicted of attempted murder when heparin was found in another child’s system. She now serves 99 years in prison, but is scheduled to receive parole in 2017.

Christopher Berry-Dee, criminologist and bestselling author of books about the serial killers Aileen Wuornos and Joanne Dennehy, examines women who kill.

3. Griselda Blanco, 1943-2012


Crime: Trafficked cocaine and was suspected of committing more than two-hundred murders

Griselda Blanco, dubbed such nicknames as “The Godmother,” “Queen of Cocaine” and “The Black Widow,” was raised by an abusive mother in Colombia and resorted to a life of crime and prostitution at an early age. After the death of her first husband she became involved with a drug trafficker named Alberto Bravo. They moved to New York in the early 70’s and ran a successful narcotics trade, where Blanco designed lingerie to smuggle in cocaine. After being indicted with thirty others for what was at the time the biggest cocaine case in history, she and Bravo fled to Colombia. They later returned to the US in the late 70’s, with their new base in Miami.

Being involved in the narcotics trade, Blanco was involved in many other crimes. She was a ruthless woman, and was notorious for her drive-by shootings by motorcycle. She is said to have invented this killing method. In 1979, she orchestrated the Dade County Shopping Mall Massacre, where four people were killed. Alberto Bravo met his end when he got into a dispute with Blanco regarding drug money. In turn, she shot him and his six bodyguards dead. She was also not opposed to killing children, and being a bi-sexual, would conduct female orgies where she would sometimes execute the strippers afterwards for her pleasure. Because of her cruelty, the millionaire made many enemies and to avoid the assassination attempts, moved to California. In 1985 she was arrested and eventually deported to Colombia in 2004, where one of her enemies finally got their revenge. In 2012, she was killed while walking out of a butcher shop, ironically, by a motorcycle drive-by shooting.

4. Delphine LaLaurie, 1775-1842


Crime: Tortured and murdered black slaves

For American Horror Story: Coven fans, you may not have known that the vicious female slave owner was actually based on a person in real life. Delphine LaLaurie, often referred to as Madame LaLaurie, was a prominent and wealthy socialite in New Orleans. Like many of the rich, she owned slaves and rumors ran rampant about her cruelty towards them. In one incident, a slave girl jumped to her death after LaLaurie, with a whip in hand, was furious at the slave catching a snag in her hair while combing. An investigation was held and LaLaurie was forced to give up nine slaves, although they were returned by relatives later on. Even her daughters received beatings from her for attempting to feed the slaves.

All of LaLaurie’s evil deeds came into light in 1834, when a fire broke out in the kitchen of her home. Authorities found a suicidal slave chained to the stove, deciding she’d rather take her own life than be taken to the uppermost room to be punished. Bystanders broke open the door to the slave quarters and found seven horribly mutilated slaves, still alive, all suspended from their necks with limbs that appeared to have been stretched. Subsequently, an angry mob broke into the house destroying everything in sight. The mutilated slaves were taken to jail, where it was estimated over 4,000 people visited to bear witness to their sufferings. Bodies were also uncovered in the backyard. LaLaurie fled to Paris where she later died.

5. Nannie Doss, 1905-1965


Crime: Poisoned eight to eleven of her husbands, children and relatives in order to collect insurance money

Born in Alabama, Nannie Doss grew up working at a farm under her strict and controlling father. One of her few joys in life involved reading her mother’s romance magazines and daydreaming of her own romantic future. However, her future would be stained with blood as she sought out the “perfect love.” During her first marriage at age 16, she bore four children, two of which died within months apart from one another. Suspicious, her husband left with one of the remaining daughters, leaving the newborn, Florine, behind. As Florine got older and bore a child of her own, she made a quick trip to her father’s and returned to find that the infant died under Doss’ care. A few months later, Doss’ second husband fell ill and also died. Now with more insurance money in her hands, Doss bought ten acres of land and built a house.

In the early 1950’s, Doss’ family were mysteriously dropping off like flies. Husband three and four were both sent to an early grave, along with her mother and two sisters. Her fifth husband died a month after their marriage, which led to an autopsy revealing arsenic in his system, enough to kill twenty men. With such evidence, Doss confessed to at least ten murders spanning three decades and received life in prison in 1955. She died ten years later, of leukemia.

6. Jane Toppan, 1857-1938

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Crime: Accused of murdering over thirty-one hospital patients and relatives

With her mother dying during infancy and her father committed to an insane asylum after trying to stitch his eyelids together, young Jane Toppan was adopted. Unfortunately, her father’s unstableness would be a trait Toppan and her sister would share. After being dumped by her fiancé, her behavior became more erratic but stabilized as she became a student nurse in 1880. She had an obsession with autopsies, and after two mysterious deaths under her care, she was dismissed. She became a private nurse by forging documents and serving homes all over New England. However, few of her patients survived her care. Her old friend Jane Toppan’s mother, and Jane herself, died at her hands, but she still was designated as the family nurse by Alden Davis, her friend’s father. As a result of this, in less than a month, his two daughters died, along with himself.

The husband of her deceased friend demanded autopsies and found that lethal doses of morphine was found in three of the victims. Toppan was convicted of murder, but she wasn’t quite through yet. She managed to bump off her foster sister by feeding her a lethal “tonic.” She was also working on another patient when she was arrested in New Hampshire. Although it is rumored that she killed up to one-hundred people, she confessed to thirty-one murders. She testified, “That is my ambition, to have killed more people — more helpless people — than any man or woman who has ever lived.” She was committed to an insane asylum.

7. Andrea Yates, 1964-Present


Crime: Drowned five of her children in a bathtub

Andrea Yates grew up in Texas and was an intelligent child, earning the title of valedictorian at her high school. She married in 1993, to a man who was a disciple of an extreme Christian minister who believed in married couples bearing as many children as possible. In 1999, Yates was diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis after being admitted to the hospital several times for attempted suicide. It was a trait that ran in her family. After being urged by her psychiatrist not to conceive any more children, she had her fifth child, and in turn suffered severe depression. She didn’t feed her children, mutilated herself, and read the bible obsessively, prompting her husband to send her once again to the hospital.

In 2001, although it was advised that Yates be placed under supervision at all times, she was left alone with her children for an hour when her husband left for work. In a psychotic state, she started a bath and proceeded to drown each of her children one by one. After the grisly deed, she called up the police and then her husband repeating, “It’s time.” Yates was found guilty of first degree murder, sentencing her to life in prison. This verdict changed to not guilty in 2006 by reason of insanity and she was committed to a hospital.

8. Patty Hearst, 1954-Present

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Crime: Armed robbery and extortion

Patty Hearst, the daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher who lived in California, was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a small American leftist group. They demanded that the Hearst family give seventy dollars in foodstuffs to every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. Hearst’s father complied and gave two million dollars worth of food. Not satisfied, the SLA asked for six million more, but the Hearst family said they’d only donate more if their girl was released. They didn’t see their daughter until two months later, when a surveillance camera caught Patty Hearst participating in an armed robbery at a bank. Then audiotapes of Hearst speaking emerged, revealing that she had become part of the SLA. She actively participated in criminal activity in California, even extorting an estimated two million from her own father.

In 1975, after nineteen months in the SLA, Hearst was captured by the FBI. Although she claimed she was brainwashed, she was sentenced to seven years in jail. However, after serving twenty-one months, her sentence was commuted by President Carter and she was released. She returned to normal life, and became an actress, appearing in movies such as Cry Baby and TV shows such as Veronica Mars and Frasier. Her case has been studied by many psychologists. It’s thought that she suffered from “Stockholm syndrome,” in which hostages think positively about their captors as a result of the captors acting compassionately towards them after a frightening experience.

9. Gwendolyn Graham & Catherine May Wood, 1963-Present, 1962-Present

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Crime: Smothering five elderly patients (possibly more)

Gwendolyn Graham and Catherine May Wood met one another at a nursing home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wood supervised Graham, who was a nurse’s aide, but their relationship became more personal as they became lovers. More wild than the usual couple, they tried sexual asphyxia for sexual pleasure, but grew bored and sought out a greater thrill. They thought murdering would be a more fun sexual game. In 1987, their first attempt at killing failed when their elderly patients were able to fight back. They then targeted a woman with Alzheimer’s and Graham smothered her to death. For the next three months, they murdered their victims and then made love, with the memory of their kill fresh in their minds. They even took little souvenirs from their victims, showing them to their co-workers and boasting of their acts. None of their co-workers believed them, dismissing the confessions as a sick joke.

Wood transferred after her refusal to kill someone herself to prove her love to Graham. They broke up, with Graham meeting another woman and moving to Texas. Wood then confessed to her ex-husband about the killings, and after a year of holding it in, he contacted police. Wood testified against her former lover, and with a plea deal in place, got twenty to forty years while Graham received life in prison.

10. Belle Gunness, 1859-Never Confirmed

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Crime: Killing over forty husbands, children and rich suitors for insurance money

Belle Gunness immigrated from Norway to the United States in 1881 and worked as a servent. In pursuit of wealth, she married a man in Chicago in 1884, and together she and her husband ran a confectionary store. The business was unsuccessful, and within a year the store mysteriously burned down, leaving the pair with insurance money. No one knows how it burned down, but Gunness either caused it, or it gave her the idea of insurance fraud. Not long afterwards, her husband died of heart failure. It is widely believed that their union produced four children, two of which died during infancy, awarding her with even more insurance money. She used the money to purchase an Indiana farm that also had some of its property burn down. Her next husband and his two daughters would share the same fate as her previous family.

With a lack of family members to bump off, Gunness turned to finding wealthy men through a lovelorn column of the newspaper. They came to her bearing gifts and money, and she greeted them by taking what they had and making sure they never made it out alive. With so many suitors going missing, people were starting to get suspicious. One man whose brother disappeared went to investigate. He found that Gunness’ farmhouse had been burnt down. In it were the remains of four skeletons. Three were children and the last was a decapitated woman. Buried in shallow grounds across the property were over forty men and children. Ray Lamphere, Gunness’ hired hand was arrested for arson and later confessed that the body they uncovered was not that of Gunness and that she planned the whole thing to make her escape. She was never found again.

This article, originally published October 14, 2016, has been updated.

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