The 7 Most Fascinating Female Serial Killers Of All Time

illusustrated by liz riccardi

the accused and confirmed serial killers we just can’t stop thinking about.

Despite what you see in theaters and on TV, there’s nothing good, funny, or entertaining about real-life murder or, for that matter, real-life murderers. And, yet, it’s undeniable that so many of us find famous killers fascinating—particularly when they’re women.

Whether it’s because they’re the transgressive in the worst of ways, fulfill some morbid curiosity, or upturn conventional notions of femininity, women who either kill or find themselves accused of such draw us in, sparking dark, addictive conversations. So here, we collect the seven female murderers—be they innocent or guilty—that we can’t stop thinking (and talking) about and explain why they continue to haunt us.

Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614)
You’ve probably already heard of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, the preeminent figure in a clutch of female aristocrats accused of mistreating and killing commoners for their own gratification (see La Quintrala, Delphine LaLaurie, and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova for other examples). 

According to legend, she bathed in the blood of young girls to preserve her beauty and froze her servants to death to fulfill her perverse desires in a reign of terror said to have taken over 600 lives. And, yet, it’s so hard to pin down what, if anything, actually happened. It may be that she’s one of history’s most prolific serial killers as the hundreds who testified at her trial claimed. It may be that she was the victim of a class-informed, misogynist witch hunt, sentenced to be walled up in her own castle because of society's disapproval of powerful women. 

With Báthory, it is not only the image of a regal, reserved woman overseeing cruel, bloody tableaus that attracts us—it is the mystery of her guilt or innocence, as well. Also, she inspired Julie Delpy's The Countesswhich we love.

illusustration by liz riccardi

Phoolan Devi (1963-2001)
Like Báthory, Phoolan Devi’s legend sometimes overruns her reality. It would be easy to say her story is that of an impoverished girl from rural India who hunted down and killed her rapists in an act of revenge, then became a sort of female Robin Hood and eventual political leader, assassinated  for her beliefs. 

The fascinating truth, however, is far more nuanced. Yes, Devi fled her life of subjugation to join a group of bandits. Yes, she was indeed gang raped. Her revenge, however, may have involved the murder of innocent men and her actions in Uttar Pradesh were often far from noble. 

What is undeniable is that this lower-caste woman fought and clawed her way into independence and an eventual seat in the Indian Parliament. Whatever its truth, her story—both the fiction and the fact—is one of the most fascinating we’ve ever heard.

For a fictionalized account of her life, watch Bandit Queen.

illusustration by liz riccardi

Caril Ann Fugate (born 1943)
In terms of spree-killing lovers, you have the glamorous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Darrow or the brutal Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. We’ll take Caril Ann Fugate and Charles Starkweather. Their relationship and murder spree in the 1950s spawned several, wildly different films—Badlands, Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia—each of them a radical take on one aspect of this complicated story. 

Fugate, 13, and Starkweather, 18, were most likely lovers, but the exact nature of their relationship is unclear. What we know is that Starkweather—already a killer—executed Fugate’s family and then embarked with her on a murderous flight across Nebraska and Wyoming that took nine lives all told. Fugate, still the youngest woman ever convicted of first-degree murder in the U.S., claimed she was a hostage. Starkweather, who got the electric chair, claimed she was as much a murderer as he. Today, she lives in seclusion. 

The films the incident inspired, all the unanswered questions about the case, and its various issues of sexual power dynamics make it very hard to forget about Caril Ann Fugate, as much as she’d like us to.

illusustration by liz riccardi

Christine and Léa Papin (1901-1937 and 1911-2001)
By the time the Papin sisters wound up as live-in maids in the fairly upper-class household of Monsieur René Lancelin in Le Mans, France, they’d spent years from house to house, following the work—sometimes together, sometimes apart, but always outside of mainstream society. 

There’s an ongoing question as to whether the sisters were lovers, but we do know that they became exceedingly withdrawn in the winter of 1932-1933—a condition that they both claimed only caused the already abusive Lancelin family to treat them more harshly. Fearing that they would be separated again, Christine and Léa lashed out, savagely killing Madame Lancelin and her daughter. 

The murders were a sensation in the press and the sisters’ motivations, psychological states, possible sexual relationship, and the social significance of their actions became ripe for analysis and interpretation  by the tabloids, serious academics, and creative media. It's easy to see why.

illusustration by liz riccardi

Sada Abe (1905-?)
The inspiration for the beautiful, highly explicit film In the Realm of the Senses, there’s no question that Sada Abe killed someone. Was she guilty of murder, though?

In Pre-World War II Japan, the teenaged Abe found herself sold into a geisha house by her parents (a not-uncommon thing). After leaving the house and spending some time as a prostitute, she fell into restaurant work, where she met her eventual lover, Kichizo Ishida. The two spent weeks holed up in “love hotels” doing little more than eating, drinking, and having sex. Toward the end, she choked Ishida to death—the consensual result of autoerotic asphyxiation, she claimed—and was found later roaming the streets in a trance, holding her lover's severed penis in a pouch. 

Abe and some in Japanese society saw it as an act of love and dedication. Many, many more saw her as a deluded murderer. We still can’t decide ourselves.

illusustration by liz riccardi

Magdalena Solís (born 1930s)
It’s with good reason that Magdalena Solís is known as the “High Priestess of Blood.”

In the early 1960s, brothers Santos and Cayetano Hernandez conned an entire town in rural northern Mexico into believing they were prophets. To cement their power, they brought in Solís, a prostitute at the time, to serve as the high priestess of their own religious sect. It’s then that things escalated as ceremonies became orgies and orgies led way to human sacrifices—all of them with Solís at the center.

When an intended victim of the cult made an escape, he alerted police who killed many of the sect members in a dramatic shootout. Solís survived, only to find herself facing a 50-year prison sentence. Theoretically, the Mexican legend and subject of many, many Internet fan pages should be eligible for parole any day now.

For a similar, equally blood-curdling story, look up Sara Aldrete.

illusustration by liz riccardi

Miyuki Ishikawa (1897-?)
Throughout modern history, there have been many cases of mass infanticides carried out by caretakers, nurses, and nannies. Indeed, the best candidate for the most prolific female serial killer of all time ran a nursery. Japan’s Miyuki Ishikawa, however, is the only one who we can think of that, through her despicable actions, caused positive change.

Like many mass infant killers, Ishikawa was faced with the problem of caring for scores of illegitimate and legitimate children that her society could not raise or simply did not want. Her solution was the simple one that others have turned to—murder. 

When authorities discovered her crimes, she became the target of hate and fear in Japan. Yet, there seemed to be some sort of official recognition that she was responding to a larger social crisis beyond her control. Prosecutors were relatively lenient on Ishikawa, and the government responded to the incident by eventually legalizing abortion—a positive response to an unimaginably horrible series of actions.


illusustration by liz riccardi

Photo by Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images.

It marks her third duet with Nas

Here are some words that I never expected to read or hear again: There is a new song with Amy Winehouse. But here we are in 2019, and Salaam Remi has granted me a wish. On Valentine's Day, the Grammy-nominated producer and frequent Winehouse collaborator (also responsible for hits like Miguel's "Come Through & Chill") released "Find My Love" which features rapper Nas and that powerful and haunting voice that I have come to love and cherish so dearly.

Representatives for Remi said that the Winehouse vocals were from an old jam session the two had. Remi was a producer on both of Winehouse's albums, Frank and Back to Black. "Find My Love" marks the third time Winehouse and Nas have done duets under the direction of Remi. They were previously heard together on "Like Smoke," a single from her 2011 posthumous album Amy Winehouse Lioness: Hidden Treasures, and "Cherry Wine" from Nas' 2012 album Life Is Good. Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, before they could complete production on her third album. My heart is still broken about it as she is by far my favorite artist.

"Find My Love" is set to appear on Remi's Do It for the Culture 2, a collection of songs curated by him. Check it out, below.



Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

"In the midst of chaos there's opportunity"

Following the travesty that was Fyre Festival, Ja Rule wants to take another stab at creating a music festival. Good luck getting that off the ground.

On Thursday, the rapper spoke to TMZ, where he revealed that he was planning to relaunch Icon, an app used to book entertainers, which is similar to Billy McFarland's Fyre app. He told the outlet that he wanted to create a festival similar to Fyre to support it.

"[Fyre Festival] is heartbreaking to me. It was something that I really, really wanted to be special and amazing, and it just didn't turn out that way, but in the midst of chaos there's opportunity, so I'm working on a lot of new things," he says. He then gets into the fact that he wants to form a music festival. "[Fyre] is the most iconic festival that never was... I have plans to create the iconic music festival, but you didn't hear it from me."

Ja Rule actually doesn't seem to think he is at all responsible for what came from Fyre Fest, claiming in a Twitter post that he was "hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood winked, led astray." Even if that's his feeling, he should realize that anyone involved with Fyre shouldn't ever try their hand at music festivals again.