There is little doubt the male species dominate the serial killer landscape, accounting for approximately 90%. However 10% of female serial killers is still a significant figure and it would be unwise to completely neglect this species of evildoers. It’s not like they don’t exist. But how many names can you rattle off the top of your head? Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ivan Milat, Andrei Chikatilo, Richard Ramirez – we all know their male counterparts, the evil atrocities they committed, and for those of us even remotely interested in crime and serial killers, we can imagine their smirking faces without too much trouble. What about the women? Aileen Wuornos? Arguably it was the movie “Monster” that lifted her notoriety. For some of us in Australia, we may cast our mind in the direction of Katherine Folbigg. Maybe.
The majority of female serial killers tend to kill differently to their violent male colleagues. While Ramirez bludgeoned one of his victims with a hammer, Martha Needle found it easier to slip some arsenic into a cup of Earl Grey. While Dahmer was drilling a hole in the skull of a young boy, Yvonne Fletcher served her husband up a meal of meat and three veg, with a side of thallium (or rat poison). It went down so well, she did the same to her second husband. Women serial killers often operate from the powerful position of caregiver. As a nurse, looking after the elderly, or running a boarding home of some sort. The most ghastly of the female serial killer species are those that take advantage of their own family while in the position of mother and wife, earning the media-driven reputation as a ‘Black Widow’. Biology 101: Black widow spiders are named as such from the female consuming the male as a prey item directly following sexual intercourse, although it’s worth noting at this point that the human species don’t completely mimic the act of the spider and turn cannibal.
So what causes the rubber band to snap? Why are these women so close and intimate to these men for months and years, before deciding they’ve had enough? Is it domestic violence and they feel they need to rid the earth of their abuser? Have they always been killers? Is it simply an opportunistic money grab by becoming the beneficiary of their loved ones hard-earned money or material possessions? The cold-blooded, cold-hearted reality is the appeal of the cold-hard cash. Black widows are long-term planners. Organised, calculating, manipulative, conniving, and patiently waiting for the right opportunity to stick their fangs in. There’s no violent rage or impulsive outburst. They slowly win the trust and love of their companion. This may take months, or even years. When the unsuspecting husband relaxes she strikes. The poison is casually slipped into some mashed potato or a warm cup of tea, and the husband meets his end. The widow mourns while the police unsuccessfully attempt to solve the case. As they’re filing the details under ‘cold case’, Ms Black Widow is already in the process of seducing the next victim, while reaping the rewards of her previous prey’s life insurance payout.
So how does Australia fare on the Black Widow scale of 0 to Serious Infestation? Australia has been light on with the brutal male serial killers that a country like the United States can boast, however for a country that is known for it’s wide variety of dangerous critters, us Aussies appropriately hold our own when it comes to the woven webs of the widows. In the late 1800’s, Martha Needle killed her husband Henry, and her 3 children. She was caught and executed. I’m guessing the Old Melbourne Gaol didn’t find it amusing enough to kill her by lethal injection (needle… get it?) and chose the oh-so-boring method of noose + neck. Yawn. Where’s your sense of humour Victoria? Around the same time, Harriet Fletcher killed her two husbands. Poisoning husbands must have been the trendy thing in the late 19th century, before haute couture hit Australian shores. Yvonne Fletcher was a latecomer to the black widow scene but duly obliged when she killed her two husbands in the space on 4 months in 1952, both by poisoning. Patricia Byers killed one husband, although the body has never been found, and attempted to kill the second by shooting him in the head. He survived. Maybe poison was the way to go Pat?
While the moniker of a black widow is used in the media to refer to women who kill multiple husbands/partners, we have the curious case of Katherine Knight who imitated the actual spider in the closest way possible. She came home from work, had sex with her husband John Price, and then proceeded to stab him with a butcher’s knife 37 times. Ms Knight continued on with her spider-like behaviour by decapitating poor Mr Price and cooking up parts of his body for a hearty meal, to serve to Mr Price’s kids of all people. So the burning question. How do all of you innocent bachelors and lonely hearts out there avoid the next Ms Black Widow? Here are a few helpful hints:
- Learn to cook, and cook every meal. That way, the box of rat poison out in the back shed can be used on… you know, actual rats.
- File for bankruptcy. Sell your assets and give up the fancy car. Hell, even hide your wallet. If there’s nothing to gain from topping you, she might actually learn to love you, the person. Maybe.
- Don your deerstalker and get your Sherlock Holmes on. Be inquisitive. Slip some subtle questions into everyday conversation. “So honey, how was your day? Remind me, how did your last husband die again?”
And last but certainly not least, if the new love of your life starts requesting that you take out a life insurance policy, run for the hills!