The 13th Floor

Deadlier Than the Male: The Five Most Notorious Female Serial Killers

While Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Ed Gein are best known for their murderous proclivities, this quintet of deadly female serial killers also made their mark in the annals of homicidal lore.


Elizabeth Bathory, aka “The Countess of Blood”

Bathory tops our list of nasty nobles as one of the deadliest slay queens ever to reign.

The Hungarian countess reputedly killed nearly 650 virgin girls — mostly from peasant stock from 1585-1610 in a series of brutal, savage murders. Over 300 witnesses testified that Bathory mercilessly tortured the girls, before ending their young lives. According to folklore, she bathed in their virginal blood in a quest for immortality. After being tried and found guilty, she eluded the hangman’s knot because of her family’s vast wealth and influence. She spent the remainder of her wicked, wicked life, entombed behind a labyrinth of brick walls within her castle until dying in 1614.

Aileen Wournos, aka “The Florida Highway Killer”

A modern-day murderess, Wournos, a seemingly deranged prostitute, was found guilty of killing no less than seven men in cold calculating blood in a two-year slay spree between 1989 and 1990.

During her blockbuster trial, the defense claimed that she supported herself and her female lover by prostitution and that she had killed the victims in self-defense. Painting a picture of abuse and degradation, her lawyers claimed she defended herself from attempted rape. But prosecutors pointed out the victims’ bullet ridden corpses and the deliberate attempt to hide the evidence along the interstate. Among the victims a sausage salesman, a part-time rodeo worker and a former police chief.

Wournos was found guilty by a jury. “I killed those men,” she wrote in a 2001 petition to dismiss her lawyer and appeal chances, “robbed them as cold as ice. And I’d do it again, too. There’s no chance in keeping me alive or anything, because I’d kill again. I am so sick of hearing this ‘she’s crazy’ stuff. I’ve been evaluated so many times. I’m competent, sane, and I’m trying to tell the truth. I’m one who seriously hates human life and would kill again.”

Wournos was executed in 2002 by lethal injection by the state of Florida.

Nannie Doss, aka “The Giggling Granny”

11 of Doss’s family members met an untimely death at her hands between 1920 and 1954. A confirmer poisoner — her favorite being arsenic — Doss murdered four of her five hubbies, her mother, a sister, her grandson and mother-in-law.

A devotee of pulpy romance mags, Doss had found one of her husbands – and future victim – in the pages of a newspaper “lonely hearts” column.  She finally confessed to the familial carnage after her fifth husband, Samuel Doss, croaked in a Tulsa, Oklahoma hospital. Snagging a huge pay out on two large life insurance policies her late husband had taken out, she attracted investigators. They soon determined Samuel’s death to be no accident due to a copious ingestion of arsenic.  Doss quickly pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life — dying behind bars in 1955.  Newspaper tabloids dubbed her the “Giggling Granny” because of her penchant for giggling uncontrollably during police questioning.


Jane Toppan, aka “The Angel of Death”

A sadistic nurse who derived sexual pleasure from murder, Jane Toppan confessed to at least 30 murders and may have killed up to 100 patients under her psychopathic “care” in 1931.

Not content to dose victims with morphine, she would sit and comfort the victims until they died. She told police that she wanted “to have killed more people — helpless people — than any other man or woman who ever lived.” She conducted sick experiments to determine which drug killed best and caused the most torment. Not content to ply her evil trade in the sick wards, Toppan also confessed to killing her landlords and her foster sister with strychnine. Her killing spree came to an abrupt end when one of her victims’ relatives requested a toxicology report.  Brought to justice, Toppan was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She died behind the walls of a Massachusetts madhouse in 1938.


Belle Gunness, aka “Queen of the Black Widow Killers”

The Norwegian temptress, Belle Gunness, used her feminine wiles to kill for profit. After killing her first husband and two of her four children, she collected the payoff on their life insurance policies in 1900.

She then wed Peter Gunness — who met with a life-ending “mishap.” According to a bereaved Belle, a sausage grinding machine had fallen on his head.  After she received an insurance payout, Gunness went to work in deadly earnest. Advertising in matrimonial classifieds and painting herself as a woman of substantial means, she sought similar gentleman. And she got them — in droves. An untold score of suitors appeared at her farm, flowers in hand and lust in their hearts. Naturally, Gunness promptly robbed and murdered them.

Helping in her homicidal handiwork was a lovesick farmhand who was enthralled by Gunness. Promised marriage by the duplicitous killer after assisting her, he was spurned and then “fired.”  He went to the police and spilled his guts but not before setting the farmhouse ablaze.

When police arrived, the house was burned to the ground with two of her children found dead in their beds.  A woman’s body was discovered missing a head which the coroner claimed was Gunness.  Dozens of victims were unearthed by detectives.   The farmhand/lover was found guilty of arson, but was acquitted on murder charges.  It is believed Gunness may have killed as many as 40 people during her long reign as “Queen of the Black Widow Killers.”