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Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History

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When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are likely Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, and Kate Bender? The narrative we're comfortable with is one where women are the victims of violent crime-not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally male When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are likely Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, and Kate Bender? The narrative we're comfortable with is one where women are the victims of violent crime-not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally male that, in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared that There are no female serial killers. Inspired by Telfer's Jezebel column of the same name, Lady Killers disputes that claim and offers fourteen gruesome examples as evidence. Although largely forgotten by history, female serial killers rival their male counterparts in cunning, cruelty, and appetite. Each chapter explores the crimes and history of a different female serial killer and then proceeds to unpack her legacy and her portrayal in the media as well as the stereotypes and sexist cliches that inevitably surround her.


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When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are likely Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, and Kate Bender? The narrative we're comfortable with is one where women are the victims of violent crime-not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally male When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are likely Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, and Kate Bender? The narrative we're comfortable with is one where women are the victims of violent crime-not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally male that, in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared that There are no female serial killers. Inspired by Telfer's Jezebel column of the same name, Lady Killers disputes that claim and offers fourteen gruesome examples as evidence. Although largely forgotten by history, female serial killers rival their male counterparts in cunning, cruelty, and appetite. Each chapter explores the crimes and history of a different female serial killer and then proceeds to unpack her legacy and her portrayal in the media as well as the stereotypes and sexist cliches that inevitably surround her.

30 review for Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Stay sexy, read about murderers.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katie B

    3.5 stars I've read many true crime books over the years but this is actually only the second or third time I have had the opportunity to read one featuring female serial killers. There's just not that many books like that on the market so I am glad the author decided this was a subject worth writing about. For the most part I thought the author chose an interesting group of women to feature in this book. The women were from all over the globe and represented many different time periods. I don't 3.5 stars I've read many true crime books over the years but this is actually only the second or third time I have had the opportunity to read one featuring female serial killers. There's just not that many books like that on the market so I am glad the author decided this was a subject worth writing about. For the most part I thought the author chose an interesting group of women to feature in this book. The women were from all over the globe and represented many different time periods. I don't have a copy of the book in front of me to double check but I believe one of the women featured was from the 1200s and quite a few cases took place in the 19th or 20th century. Arsenic by far was the preferred weapon of choice by these females. It was interesting to see that so many women would have gotten away with murder if they just would have dialed it back a few notches. Instead it was like they had to kill anyone who had ever done them wrong. After awhile people started to catch on and that's how they would eventually get caught. The topic of how society views female serial killers vs. male serial killers is discussed but for me the real appeal of the book was learning about each woman. The vast majority of the book contained cases I had never heard of before and that was certainly a factor in why this book held my interest. If you enjoy books from the true crime genre, you might want to take a look at this one.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I wanted to enjoy this more than I did. This book has a lot of positives. Its a very fast read, I learned about murders I had never heard of, the book was written in a very easy to understand way and I liked the way the author pointed out the sexist manner in which female murderers are portrayed. So why didn't I like it more? I'm really not sure. I guess I found the book to be a little too shallow, since most of this women have been dead for anywhere from 50- 300 years its hard to tell if any of th I wanted to enjoy this more than I did. This book has a lot of positives. Its a very fast read, I learned about murders I had never heard of, the book was written in a very easy to understand way and I liked the way the author pointed out the sexist manner in which female murderers are portrayed. So why didn't I like it more? I'm really not sure. I guess I found the book to be a little too shallow, since most of this women have been dead for anywhere from 50- 300 years its hard to tell if any of these stories are even true. Several woman in this book were described as being witches in their official court transcripts. I understand why she chose such ancient murders but I think in making that choice she sacrificed cold hard facts. I'm still recommending Lady Killers because I still found this book to be fun and entertaining.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Helen Power

    This review appeared first at: https://powerlibrarian.wordpress.com/... Tori Telfer has compiled this compelling compendium that features female serial killers throughout history.  Each murderess is illustrated with an absolutely gorgeous pen-and-ink portrait done by Dame Darcy. Telfer opens the book with a well-researched discussion of female serial killers. In 1998, it was infamously stated by an FBI profiler that female serial killers simply do not exist. This is clearly not the case. Telfer ta This review appeared first at: https://powerlibrarian.wordpress.com/... Tori Telfer has compiled this compelling compendium that features female serial killers throughout history.  Each murderess is illustrated with an absolutely gorgeous pen-and-ink portrait done by Dame Darcy. Telfer opens the book with a well-researched discussion of female serial killers. In 1998, it was infamously stated by an FBI profiler that female serial killers simply do not exist. This is clearly not the case. Telfer talks about how men in power have carefully constructed their own narrative around each of these female killers. Uncomfortable with the idea that a woman could kill in cold blood, they rewrite the story. For instance, infamous Erzsebet Bathory was a "vampire" or a "seductress", when in reality she probably just enjoyed murdering people.  Even the names given to certain killers, like Nannie Doss, the "Giggling Grandma", is meant to lessen the impact of what they did.  Telfer provides a critical analysis of why humanity is tempted to reason away the acts of female killers, and it's really quite fascinating a read for those interested in sociology and psychology. Telfer doesn't just write about the murderesses, what they did, and the punishment they may or may not have faced for it. She delves into the historical context, providing information about the world that the women grew up in, which in more times than not, greatly impacts the decisions each killer made. Telfer dives in to the potential motives for each of the killers.  Some of the killers were trying to survive economically, and others could have been simply sadistic. This is likely the case for certain murderesses, like the aristocratic killers Erzsebet Bathory and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova. Some reviews complain about the book having excessive amounts of detail, but I must argue against this point. The detail provides critical information about what could possibly have motivated these women to kill.  It gives us the full picture. It's what makes reading a book like this different from scrolling through a Buzzfeed article.  Readers can come to their own conclusions, because they know more than just a cursory amount of information about the situation. I personally enjoyed the little tidbits of information about each time period. For instance, how aristocratic women living in Erzsebet Bathory's time period plucked their hairlines, so that they would have high foreheads. This little detail is something that will stay with me for a while, as a woman in 2019 with an unusually high hairline.  I would have been aristocratic back then. Sigh. Some parts of this book got a little grotesque.  Telfer does not shy away from describing what some of the more disturbing murderesses were accused of doing.  She does not mute the effects of arsenic on the body. I'd had no idea how painful it was, having grown up watching movies like Arsenic and Old Lace, which romanticize a horrible poison so commonly used by women throughout history.   I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, but wants to know more about female serial killers.  As I said before, it's highly detailed, so if you're not interested in learning about the time periods that each murderess lived in, this might not be the book for you.  There's a broad selection of women throughout history, including infamous killers like Elizabeth Bathory and Mary Ann Cotton, to lesser known killers, like Raya and Sakina, sister killers in 1920s Egypt. *Thank you to Harper Perennial for the book for review*

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelli

    This was okay for me. Unlike others, I found the sarcastic tone a little odd and offputting. The cases were old, so there was a lot of conjecture and poison. If I’m being honest, I was bored. I guess historical true crime isn’t my thing. 2 stars

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This book proves that not all serial killers are men. Contained herein are the tales of 14 murderous women through the ages who, for the most part, used poison as the weapon of choice. It was difficult to prove the existence of poison in the body before the science of medical testing and forensics were developed and since many people died at young ages most of these deaths were determined to be due to "natural causes". The majority of the women profiled here committed their crimes prior to the b This book proves that not all serial killers are men. Contained herein are the tales of 14 murderous women through the ages who, for the most part, used poison as the weapon of choice. It was difficult to prove the existence of poison in the body before the science of medical testing and forensics were developed and since many people died at young ages most of these deaths were determined to be due to "natural causes". The majority of the women profiled here committed their crimes prior to the beginning of the 20th century and very few are well known in the present day. But, oh they were evil and killed husbands, children and other relatives with dispatch, and usually for money and property. The stories are interesting and tragic but the author's style gave me a bit of a problem. She is a magazine writer and this book appears to be lifted from her columns in various publications.....in other words, the book reads like a magazine article and lacks the certain punch expected from an experienced novelist. Regardless, it is worth reading and can be read at leisure since each chapter stands alone.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pooja

    "The ladies have raised their whips, where will they descend?" A compilation of women who abused their power (position in society, trustworthy nature, money) and talent (baking delicious cakes, making poisons, charming behaviour). Killing husbands after husbands, children, relatives and even strangers, these women will make Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper sigh. The motive? There are many, but the one that stood out the most was for 'improving' their situations. This side of the history would have b "The ladies have raised their whips, where will they descend?" A compilation of women who abused their power (position in society, trustworthy nature, money) and talent (baking delicious cakes, making poisons, charming behaviour). Killing husbands after husbands, children, relatives and even strangers, these women will make Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper sigh. The motive? There are many, but the one that stood out the most was for 'improving' their situations. This side of the history would have been forever concealed from me had it not for the amazing readers on Goodreads and my own curiosity to keep looking for such amazing, peculiar things. Reading about murderesses is the new sexy.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    Interesting but lacks any real look at sexism, racism, social standing, etc. There's no nuanced look at the crimes. In some cases the women are just cold blooded killers. In some cases killing develops as a way of coping with crushing poverty. Women have been killing infants since forever and for a multitude of valid if horrifying reasons. All of that would need to be looked at in the analysis of some of these murders. Fun

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/0... I am still mulling over why I didn't enjoy this more. A book about female serial killers is surely innovative and I am a sucker for the twisted human mind. After so much fiction about this topic, I was thrilled to begin a non-fiction, realistic account. The writing is engaging and witty and the author brings the right amount of humour to balance the wickedness in those pages. However, that said humour, paired with the fact that none of the women portrayed w https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/0... I am still mulling over why I didn't enjoy this more. A book about female serial killers is surely innovative and I am a sucker for the twisted human mind. After so much fiction about this topic, I was thrilled to begin a non-fiction, realistic account. The writing is engaging and witty and the author brings the right amount of humour to balance the wickedness in those pages. However, that said humour, paired with the fact that none of the women portrayed were contemporary, bought an air of myth to the narrative that did not help prove the author's point - that women could be just as wicked as men -, because it felt that there wasn't much substantial proof behind it. The events in these women's stories were studied long after the acts, and there were plenty of rumours as well. So, I don't know, I guess my main issue is that it did not feel very 'real' to me. The one story that chilled me the most was the most current one, the Giggling Grannie. I could definitely picture such a character and it chilled me to the bone - even more than reading about women who poisoned men or children in the dark ages or a couple of centuries after. Also, constantly reading about poison grew tiresome and at some point I struggled to keep reading. I began to wonder if I would ever finish the book. All in all, Lady Killers was an interesting read, but I would have enjoyed it more had the cases been more contemporary. Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Edelweiss for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I love that this book exists. The realm of serial killers is so one-sided, what with all the crazy white guys running around, finding victims to rape, torture, kill, maybe eat, maybe skin. But here's what I've learned about female serial killers from this book: they do not grab the imagination. They're not terrifying. In the last chapter, the author addresses this very point right after she mentions telling someone that she empathizes but doesn't sympathize with all the ladies in this volume. And I love that this book exists. The realm of serial killers is so one-sided, what with all the crazy white guys running around, finding victims to rape, torture, kill, maybe eat, maybe skin. But here's what I've learned about female serial killers from this book: they do not grab the imagination. They're not terrifying. In the last chapter, the author addresses this very point right after she mentions telling someone that she empathizes but doesn't sympathize with all the ladies in this volume. And that's just it. I totally get why these women ran around killing people, mostly with poison, usually husbands/lovers and other family members. I know what they did was awful but I understand why they did it. The murderers examined here are predominantly white (there's not much information about women serial killers, in the first place, and hardly anything on women serial killers of color, as evidenced by the brief, unfleshed chapter on Oum-El-Hassen) and mostly passive in their murdering (arsenic did all the work for them). The ones who were ridiculously rich and harder to apply laws to were the more violent ones; they're the ones who killed for entertainment rather than for some sort of gain. They were the more hands-on, violent killers but their motives weren't mysterious, just horrifying in their lack of humanity. The violent women who weren't rich were simply murdering with practicality - get it done quickly, rifle through the pockets, dispose of the body. Male serial killers (also predominantly white) get all the attention because they are more intriguing, because they're so far removed from anything comprehensible. I read about them and have this deep need to know why they killed people, why they stalked their prey, why they kept little mementos, why they let some members of families live but not others, WHY? There's such a disconnect between my understanding of the world and theirs' and it gives me that creepy frisson in realizing there really are monsters among us and that I am in constant danger. But these women? I know the why, I feel their motivation. It's all logical and sensical and while I like to believe I live on the right side of doing the right things for the right reasons, I can't honestly say I wouldn't snap one day and start poisoning the people who piss me off. I mean, I haven't stabbed Gabe yet so everyone is probably safe from my machinations; I'm just saying I understand how these women did what they did, regardless of how horrible their actions were. No creepy frissons from them. Also, several of these women were on murder teams, they weren't solo killers; it’s so much easier to do bad stuff if you’re being goaded and supported by others doing bad stuff. One chapter is about an entire town of poisoners, all the women passing their knowledge along, helping to take out abusive men and needy children, a whole sisterhood of the fly paper poison. As a result, some of these female serial killers shared page space with others, many of whom weren't women. So, really, this is about lady killers and their killing buddies. #squadgoals This is definitely well-written, well-researched, and interesting. I had not heard of the brigandly Bender family of Cherryvale, Kansas, and that was the closest I came to getting that “Holy crap, that’s awful! What is WRONG with these people?” thrill. But I still wasn’t worried for the safety of my fellow human, I was just shocked that there was a family of murderers hanging out, murdering, in the 1870’s. Oh, I and also learned that it is really really unsafe to be a sex worker; everyone is out to get you, not just the crazy dudes. As an addition to a true-crime library, this book is wonderful. As a look into a specific type of serial killer, it doesn’t have a lot of impact. I'm glad I listened to this but I'm not going to recommend it to people who aren't already interested in murder and feminism.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura Noggle

    Probably more of a 3.5 — it wasn't bad at all, very entertaining, just a decent amount of speculation and "crazy, psychopath" nomenclature. If you're interested in the topic, I recommend it—so many murderesses! “But I believe in the healing and illuminating power of narrative, and I think there’s something to be gleaned from looking at evil, trying to understand it, wondering if perhaps we are all a little bit responsible. Should anything human be alien to us? That question is terrifying, and be Probably more of a 3.5 — it wasn't bad at all, very entertaining, just a decent amount of speculation and "crazy, psychopath" nomenclature. If you're interested in the topic, I recommend it—so many murderesses! “But I believe in the healing and illuminating power of narrative, and I think there’s something to be gleaned from looking at evil, trying to understand it, wondering if perhaps we are all a little bit responsible. Should anything human be alien to us? That question is terrifying, and beautiful.” Many of these women killed to improve their lives, a surprising amount used poison, and in some cases, conviction of the crime depended on how attractive the woman was. “These lady killers were clever, bad tempered, conniving, seductive, reckless, self-serving, delusional, and willing to do whatever it took to claw their way into what they saw as a better life. They were ruthless and inflexible. They were lost and confused. They were psychopaths and child slayers. But they were not wolves. They were not vampires. They were not men. Time and again, the record shows: they were horrifyingly, quintessentially, inescapably human.” “If crimes reflect the anxieties of our time, then today is the era of the mass murderer, the terrorist. Our violent delights still lead to violent ends, but the ends change as the decades ebb and flow.”

  12. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    I wanted to like this one more than I did, but it's too breezy and repetitive for me. While I appreciated the author's point that female murderers are often dismissed or diminished by a public that wants to make them more palatable, she undercuts that argument by using a cutesy, conversational tone that doesn't seem to take these crimes seriously. She also includes all the same scandalous rumors and descriptions of age or beauty that she criticizes previous reports for focusing on. I'd love to see I wanted to like this one more than I did, but it's too breezy and repetitive for me. While I appreciated the author's point that female murderers are often dismissed or diminished by a public that wants to make them more palatable, she undercuts that argument by using a cutesy, conversational tone that doesn't seem to take these crimes seriously. She also includes all the same scandalous rumors and descriptions of age or beauty that she criticizes previous reports for focusing on. I'd love to see a more buttoned-up take on how the public has talked and written about female serial killers over the years. But this book wags its finger at those tropes even as it invokes them, which is too strange a mix to be enjoyable.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    It was significantly awkward to have this book on my work desk for 3 days in a row, and more than a few people asked me, "Are you reading that to get ideas?" Well, yeah, I guess if I'm reading about women serial killers it's rational to assume I want to become one... ??? Ugh. After the first few chapters, I was 75% positive I was going to rate this 5 stars. Which I don't think I do very often. So I obviously was entranced at the beginning. Seeing as how I clearly did not rate this 5 stars, the e It was significantly awkward to have this book on my work desk for 3 days in a row, and more than a few people asked me, "Are you reading that to get ideas?" Well, yeah, I guess if I'm reading about women serial killers it's rational to assume I want to become one... ??? Ugh. After the first few chapters, I was 75% positive I was going to rate this 5 stars. Which I don't think I do very often. So I obviously was entranced at the beginning. Seeing as how I clearly did not rate this 5 stars, the excitement gradually diminished. I loved the style of writing and found this book very easy to read and comprehend. The author is witty and a bit humorous, but also repeatedly pointed out that the crimes these women committed were serious, and we should not become desensitized simply because they are females. We need to take their crimes for what they are -- murder. We can't tack on excuses, make them seem erotic, exotic, or, simply, anything other than the cold hearted killers they are. I really like the cover art, and the illustrations in the book. In fact, I actually wish there had been more illustrations... But I think the artistic aspect helps to draw people in. Now for what I didn't like... The stories became rather repetitive, even though they were obviously all different stories. The most recent story was set in the 1950's, and if I remember correctly, this dates as far back as the 1620's. I would've enjoyed reading stories old and new. (For the record, she does explain why she chose not to include more recent cases in the Conclusion of the book.) Given that, not many concrete facts or data were included, and there seems to have been a lot of speculation surrounding each case. So, in the end, I'm left feeling like perhaps I shouldn't 100% believe what I'm being told in this book, and that sort of defeats the purpose, does it not? I have to be honest guys, I did not even want to write a review of this... I don't regret reading it, and don't honestly know if I'd recommend it. I didn't dislike it, but I didn't really enjoy it very much either, at least not past the first few chapters. It was just an okay reading experience.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lata

    With wry humour and grim facts, Tori Telfer describes a series of female serial killers throughout history. While Telfer’s tone might be light, she points out the economic and/or societal pressures that did play a part behind some of the women’s exploits. The author does not diminish their horrific acts, but provides some context for how why they did what they did, and also how these women were perceived during their strings of murder, and the combination of leering and befuddlement they were at With wry humour and grim facts, Tori Telfer describes a series of female serial killers throughout history. While Telfer’s tone might be light, she points out the economic and/or societal pressures that did play a part behind some of the women’s exploits. The author does not diminish their horrific acts, but provides some context for how why they did what they did, and also how these women were perceived during their strings of murder, and the combination of leering and befuddlement they were at times viewed after they were apprehended. It is hard to not automatically men when we say "serial killers", and one almost resists the need to widen the definition. And that’s exactly what Telfer reminds us to do. Though there haven’t been many female serial killers apprehended through the years, there have been women who have murdered many without any seeming qualms. Telfer’s book was, dare I say it, entertaining, even while it got me thinking about how we remember male serial killers, who are, in effect, memorialized in books and other media , while female serial killers are mostly forgotten. Interesting comment by the author.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    I got this book because Telfer wasn't satisfied with retreading the same Caucasian Anglophone ground over again. She avoided the standard line-up, including American serial killers I'd never heard of, and branched out and found female serial killers in Morocco and Russia and Hungary (and not just the Countess Bathory, either, although she's in here) and Egypt. (She has a note at the end that says she was thwarted in her attempts to include "Clementine Barnabet, a young black girl from New Orlean I got this book because Telfer wasn't satisfied with retreading the same Caucasian Anglophone ground over again. She avoided the standard line-up, including American serial killers I'd never heard of, and branched out and found female serial killers in Morocco and Russia and Hungary (and not just the Countess Bathory, either, although she's in here) and Egypt. (She has a note at the end that says she was thwarted in her attempts to include "Clementine Barnabet, a young black girl from New Orleans, and Miyuki Ishikawa, a Japanese midwife" because she simply couldn't find enough information (271-2). Telfer includes chapters on: Erzsebet Bathory Nannie Doss Lizzie Halliday Elizabeth Ridgeway Raya & Sakina Mary Ann Cotton Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova Anna Marie Hahn Oum-El-Hassen Tillie Klimek Alice Kyteler Kate Bender The Angel-Makers of Nagyrev Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d'Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers In fact, of the women in this book, I knew about Erzsebet Bathory, Mary Ann Cotton, Kate Bender, and the Marquise de Brinvilliers, so it definitely broadened my horizons. (I'm not sure how reliable Telfer's research is; she and Wikipedia disagree about what evidence the Marquise de Brinvilliers was convicted: Telfer says it was the testimony of a person the Wikipedia article doesn't seem to know existed, and while I don't trust Wikipedia, I'm also dubious about something that it completely doesn't know about. Also, a quick Google of this witness, Jean-Baptiste Briancourt, brings him up--so he did historically exist--but one of the two books in Google Books' repertoire is the one Telfer cites and the other says that Briancourt's evidence was short and not new and damning testimony. So proceed with caution.) This is an easy read; Telfer's style is light, colloquial, and morbidly humorous, and she does a good job of presenting her subjects as three-dimensionally as she can. She is interested in the question of evil and humanity, although she never really goes much farther than ankle-deep.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I've long said that the reason why more female serial killers don't make the news is because they don't get caught. Telfer gives you a brief over of the various female serial killers who did caught, and who in some cases might have gotten away with it. In part, this is to show how society functioned and in part it is to show how women worked around society while being bitches. The book is entertaining It is more of a crime history than a social history. You will either enjoy the writing style or I've long said that the reason why more female serial killers don't make the news is because they don't get caught. Telfer gives you a brief over of the various female serial killers who did caught, and who in some cases might have gotten away with it. In part, this is to show how society functioned and in part it is to show how women worked around society while being bitches. The book is entertaining It is more of a crime history than a social history. You will either enjoy the writing style or hate it. I enjoyed it. My friend found it strange.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jaimie

    Unlike the infamous Bundy or Gacy or Dahmer, chances are good you've never heard of Tillie Klimek or Daryl Nikolayevna Saltykova or Nannie Doss. They each have many, many murders to their credit. And they are all female. Does it then follow that they were less vicious? Less monstrous? Less cruel? Does it mean they should be forgotten, buried as odd footnotes to tales belonging primarily to their male counterparts? In 1998 a criminal profiler for the FBI is famously quoted saying "There are no fe Unlike the infamous Bundy or Gacy or Dahmer, chances are good you've never heard of Tillie Klimek or Daryl Nikolayevna Saltykova or Nannie Doss. They each have many, many murders to their credit. And they are all female. Does it then follow that they were less vicious? Less monstrous? Less cruel? Does it mean they should be forgotten, buried as odd footnotes to tales belonging primarily to their male counterparts? In 1998 a criminal profiler for the FBI is famously quoted saying "There are no female serial killers." In Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History Tori Telfer sets out to prove that this is not only untrue, it's patently ridiculous. This is a quick and easy dive into the fascinating topic of history's female serial killers and for someone not obsessed with true crime and well-read on the topic, I imagine it will be quite enjoyable. However, I was constantly aware of how little time we were spending on each woman and how few proven facts (with cited sources) are included. It reads like gossip and here say. This is not helped by the most recent of the women having been convicted in the 1950s. Others lived as far back as the 12th century. Not shockingly, there’s not a lot of actual evidence to back up what is primarily, at this point, folklore or legend. If you have any serious interest in true crime- the psychology of serial killers, the methodology of evidence-based investigation, etc. - this is probably not what you’re looking for. But If you go into Lady Killers looking for the gruesome stories of mostly unknown murderesses told in a quippy, sarcastic voice, this is sure to please. 3 stars

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really enjoyed reading about these female serial killers!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova but your Dad just calls me Tormentor

  20. 4 out of 5

    Trin

    Stories of a seemingly random assortment of murderous ladies throughout history. Telfer doesn't offer any insight into why she chose these particular women (except to say that she finds modern cases too gruesome, and thus omitted them) and I wish that had been a factor; instead, reading this book kind of feels like going on an obsessive Wikipedia deep dive, where you're just clicking from page to page to page. It's an entertaining way to eat up some time -- but it's never anything more than that Stories of a seemingly random assortment of murderous ladies throughout history. Telfer doesn't offer any insight into why she chose these particular women (except to say that she finds modern cases too gruesome, and thus omitted them) and I wish that had been a factor; instead, reading this book kind of feels like going on an obsessive Wikipedia deep dive, where you're just clicking from page to page to page. It's an entertaining way to eat up some time -- but it's never anything more than that.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    This is better than the usual true-crime dross - Telfer is clearly a good writer, and I really liked her attempts to reframe how we think of female killers. I wish the essays had all gone a little more in-depth. But it’s still a fun, easy read that’s not too trashy, but not super-serious either.

  22. 4 out of 5

    L. McCoy

    WARNING: THIS REVIEW IS SLIGHTLY POLITICAL! Okay... this was even more fascinating than I expected. What’s it about? Basically this book tells about various female serial killers throughout history. Not just their murders and hearings but also their lives in general. Pros: The people talked about in this book are all interesting. My interest ranged from “Hmm okay interesting” to “HOLY SHIT THIS MIGHT EVEN HELP INSPIRE SOME OF MY FICTITIOUS VILLAINS!” This book is well written. I often complain of nonf WARNING: THIS REVIEW IS SLIGHTLY POLITICAL! Okay... this was even more fascinating than I expected. What’s it about? Basically this book tells about various female serial killers throughout history. Not just their murders and hearings but also their lives in general. Pros: The people talked about in this book are all interesting. My interest ranged from “Hmm okay interesting” to “HOLY SHIT THIS MIGHT EVEN HELP INSPIRE SOME OF MY FICTITIOUS VILLAINS!” This book is well written. I often complain of nonfiction being too dry, that’s not the case here. The author tells of these events in history like it’s a story, not a class, I think that’s the right approach. This book has a couple of brief quips and bits of humor sprinkled throughout. This book reveals some stereotypes and such I never noticed before that leads me to think society is sexist when it comes to serial killers. Everyone just assumes serial killers are male based on stereotypes and beliefs that are kinda bigoted towards both males and females so I found that very interesting. The narrator of the audio edition I listened to did a good job. Cons: So at a few points this author complains about sexualization of female serial killers in art, saying that it’s to make them seem “less scary” and a lot of what she’s on about is a stretch. A particularly notable example is when she notes a horror manga with an extremely sexualized character based on Elizabeth Bathory... I couldn’t help but shake my head because there’s a big difference between artistic expression, especially a fictional horror story inspired by true events vs. a history book. If the History Channel depicted Bathory that way I’d agree but in non-education artistic expression it is a big stretch. Another poor argument is that joking about female serial killers is the same thing, this I actually have to be completely blunt and say it’s stupid. So I have a pretty fucked since of humor, there’s several jokes, memes, episodes of certain cartoons (especially South Park, one of my favorite shows) that joke about various things such as school shootings, Hitler, rape, racism, pedophilia, sexism, suicide, 9/11, homophobia, and a wide variety of other fucked up things but just because I find a twisted joke funny doesn’t mean I’m trying to make these things seem less bad, I acknowledge that they’re awful. I always get annoyed when someone tries to analyze people’s since of humor, it’s kinda dumb IMO. The last argument that I found flawed is when talking about nicknames for female serial killers, how they supposedly are meant to make them seem less scary. This falls apart the second you really start to think about crime history though, almost every gangster has a nickname and most of any gangsters I’ve heard of are male so... yeah, I’m gonna have to go ahead and say no to that argument. Overall: Good but expect a few very flawed arguments about society’s interpretation of female serial killers. While I agree that society has some terrible gender stereotypes, it is quite silly to think that artistic expression, dark humor and nicknames have some sorta sinister anti-female agenda as this book more-or-less suggests. Other than that this is a fascinating and educational book about some very interesting parts of history. I would definitely recommend it to fans of true crime stuff, if that’s not your thing though this might not be for you. For someone like me who is sometimes interested in true crime even if not obsessed this is definitely interesting. I can’t help but place it into a good, not great category though I think I would be interested in more books similar to this one. 4/5

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachelle

    "When one feels desperate, she can do many things." What a truly macabre collection of vintage true crime! These cases pack a punch and are well researched. Telfer really delves into how we as a society try to romanticize the reasons females kill, when ultimately their motives to kill are anything but... Highly recommend this book and just an fyi but the illustrations at the beginning of each section are haunting and beautifully done.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alex (Hey Little Thrifter)

    3.5 stars I particularly liked the introduction where the author talks about female killers and how they are portrayed so differently to their male counterparts. The individual cases seemed to be well researched but I did have a hard time telling some of them apart since there were similarities to quite a few of them and it felt somewhat repetitive. It was still an interesting read overall.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paloma

    Review in English | Reseña en Español The book addresses an unexplored topic –the existence of female serial killers. I believe the introduction is quite interesting as it points out how women are swept up constantly from history and their roles often minimized. Certainly being a psychopath is nothing to be proud of; however, why the male serial killers have acquired a sort of “celebrity” status and their crimes remembered and studied? As in many other areas, women have often been written out of Review in English | Reseña en Español The book addresses an unexplored topic –the existence of female serial killers. I believe the introduction is quite interesting as it points out how women are swept up constantly from history and their roles often minimized. Certainly being a psychopath is nothing to be proud of; however, why the male serial killers have acquired a sort of “celebrity” status and their crimes remembered and studied? As in many other areas, women have often been written out of history, even when talking about awful crimes, except for a few cases like the Countess Elizabeth Bathory –whose biography actually opens this book. The author presents a biography of each women and then explains her crimes. I was unaware of the great majority of these women and their crimes so then this reading became quite interesting. I was particularly shook by the lives of Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova (a Russian woman who tortured more than a 100 of her serfs in the times of Catherine the Great), Egyptian sisters Raya and Skina (who ran a brothel and then began cutting the young prostitutes and burying them alive on walls); and Anne Marie Hahn (a German immigrant who killed her husbands in the United States and who was forgotten by her family back home). Though this book is not an in-depth psychological portrait of these women, it does a good job by bringing them back from oblivion. While it is true one cannot sympathize with them only because they are girls, it is also important to acknowledge that mental illness also exist and affect women, and most of their crimes were linked to that –either by their harsh conditions while young, accidents or some major trauma that changed them. The narrative is agile and it keeps the reader interested at all times and it is a must read for those interested in true crimes. _____ Este libro aborda un tema pocas veces explorado – la existencia de asesinas seriales. La introducción es muy buena e interesante, ya que resalta cómo las mujeres son constantemente olvidadas y sacadas de la historia y su papel ha sido minimizado. Si bien ser una psicópata no es nada de lo que enorgullecerse, la pregunta que plantea la autora es, ¿por qué los asesinos seriales masculinos sí son recordados e incluso han obtenido una especie de estatus de celebridad, siendo sus crímenes y personalidades objeto de estudio? Al igual que en otros ámbitos, las mujeres asesinas seriales parecieran haber sido borradas de la historia, excepto por algunos pocos casos, como la condesa Elizabeth Bathory, con cuyo caso abre el libro. La autora presenta una mini biografía de cada mujer y describe sus crímenes a detalle. La verdad es que conocía a pocas y la mayoría de los casos fueron nuevos para mí. En particular quedé sorprendida por las vidas de Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova (una noble rusa que torturó a más de 100 de sus siervos en la época de Catalina la Grande); las hermanas egipcias Raya y Skina (quienes eran dueñas de un burdel y empezaron a desmembrar a las jóvenes prostitutas que trabajaban con ellas y a enterrarlas vivas tras las paredes); y Anne Marie Hahn (una alemana emigrada a EUA y asesinó a todos sus maridos, al grado que hasta su familia renegó de ella). Este libro no presenta un retrato psicológico a profundidad de las mujeres, pero es valioso porque las rescata del olvido. Es cierto que uno no puede empatizar con ellas solo porque son mujeres, pero creo que un tema que rescata este texto es que muchas de ellas sufrieron de enfermedades mentales o traumas de la infancia que las llevaron a ser como fueron, y nunca se reconoció. A veces su comportamiento se atribuía a la “inestabilidad” que siempre se ha atribuido a las mujeres por cuestiones de género, por discriminación y misoginia. Es en resumen un libro interesante que mantiene la atención del lector y es una lectura que vale la pena para los interesados en los crímenes reales.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Liza Fireman

    Women killers and especially women serial killers are not considered very reasonable in our society mind. Thus the infamous 1998 quote from Roy Hazelwood of the FBI: “There are no female serial killers.” But they exist, and they can be very cruel, more than we would like or can imagine. This book surveys close to 20 of them, which murdered many many people, in many cases they poisoned them, but there are other ways and the women used any terrible way possible. Some of them murdered their loved o Women killers and especially women serial killers are not considered very reasonable in our society mind. Thus the infamous 1998 quote from Roy Hazelwood of the FBI: “There are no female serial killers.” But they exist, and they can be very cruel, more than we would like or can imagine. This book surveys close to 20 of them, which murdered many many people, in many cases they poisoned them, but there are other ways and the women used any terrible way possible. Some of them murdered their loved ones, some of them murdered strangers. So we underestimate women being killers, since it is not comfortable for us to accept it. During the past hundred years, less than 10 percent of serial murderers were women—or so we think. (The records are far from immaculate. In 2007, an exhaustively researched book listed 140 known female serial killers. A blog for the men’s rights movement lists almost 1,000. We do know that the number, whatever it is, has increased in the US since the 1970s.) But women can kill in cold blood: It’s not that society doesn’t recognize the existence of evil in women, because women have been portrayed as conniving and malevolent and the bringers of the apocalypse since Eve ate the apple. But we seem to prefer evil women ensconced in our fiction. They might lead men onto the rocks (the Sirens), frame them for murder (Gone Girl), or suck out their breath in a poem (“La Belle Dame sans Merci”); it’s when they enter real life and start slaying real people that our imaginations balk. We can’t imagine that they did it, you know, on purpose. Typically, women are seen as solely capable of reactive homicide—murder done in self-defense, a burst of passion, an imbalance of hormones, a wave of hysteria—and not instrumental homicide, which can be plotted, calculated, and performed in cold blood. And as granny Doss said: ““He got on my nerves,” said Nannie, when asked to explain why she tried to kill Doss two separate times., as if this is reasonable to kill someone because of this. Many many serial killers seem to be normal, completely normal. Many serial killers—Ted Bundy comes to mind—make waves not just for their crimes but for their ability to pass as normal, nonviolent, even charming. (Direct from Bundy: “I was a normal person. I had good friends. I led a normal life, except for this one small but very potent and destructive segment that I kept very secret and close to myself.”) When they’re not committing their monstrous crimes, they walk among us, looking perfectly innocent and, in Nannie’s case, plump, cute, and grandmotherly. Isn’t that part of what’s so horrifying about serial killers? The idea that Bundy could have been your next-door neighbor, that Nannie could have fixed you a cup of coffee? It is scary how easily they react even after being convicted: Chewing gum, chuckling, smiling to the cameras. In a photo taken after her long confession was over, Nannie Doss is leaving the courthouse with the homicide captain. She is smiling broadly and looks perfectly at home. The concept of a killer is physically strong, usually male, follows his victims down dark alleyways, crawls through bedroom windows, and the gap between that and a woman killer is huge, maybe too much to reconcile. They are not sweet old ladies or “rosy-cheeked killer.” It is scary how easily they could get out of it in the past, especially if they were young and beautiful If you were a woman who wanted to kill her husband, Chicago in the 1920s was the place to be. All you had to do was shoot the cheating bastard in the back of the head and then show up in court, fragrant with perfume and biting your lip in remorse. Overall, very interesting. But it's just a bit too long, so at some point I lost sensitivity and there were yet another killing and another and another. There are a few that I will remember forever though. 4 stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    jess ✨

    3.5 stars Wish this was more detailed, even though I understand some was impossible to, as were too old to have a lot of facts rather than rumors and guessing, but was still an interesting read nonetheless. Even though I found more interesting all the topics the author brought up such as sexualization of female serial killers, sexism in it, the necessity of society (men in particular) either turning them into sweet old ladies that didn't look like could hurt anyone or hypersexualized version of t 3.5 stars Wish this was more detailed, even though I understand some was impossible to, as were too old to have a lot of facts rather than rumors and guessing, but was still an interesting read nonetheless. Even though I found more interesting all the topics the author brought up such as sexualization of female serial killers, sexism in it, the necessity of society (men in particular) either turning them into sweet old ladies that didn't look like could hurt anyone or hypersexualized version of themselves. Even though it was explained why the author chose to stick to older cases (newest one being of 1950) I think this could benefit of a look through modern ones and differences between the cases there's barely information and new ones with more available information, as well as the differences of how society reacted to such women. Recommend to who's interested in the topic, the author makes sure to treat is as sensibly and as carefully as they could.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mayda

    The subject of female serial killers is not one that comes up often in literature, but this book handled the subject well and is aptly named. Many of these killers were ladies in the strictest sense. Some came from well-to-do families. They looked liked society people, or like hard-working innkeepers, or like loving relatives, or even like a kindly grandmother. But in reality, they were cool, conniving, cold-blooded killers. They beat their servants, poisoned their husbands, and buried the bodie The subject of female serial killers is not one that comes up often in literature, but this book handled the subject well and is aptly named. Many of these killers were ladies in the strictest sense. Some came from well-to-do families. They looked liked society people, or like hard-working innkeepers, or like loving relatives, or even like a kindly grandmother. But in reality, they were cool, conniving, cold-blooded killers. They beat their servants, poisoned their husbands, and buried the bodies without losing a wink of sleep. Author Tori Telfer does an excellent job of breathing life into killers who come from different countries and are spread over several centuries. You will be appalled by their cruelty and horrendous crimes even as you are compelled to read about them. This audio version is well performed by Sarah Mollo-Christensen.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erin Wilson

    I was surprised by how much emotion I felt while reading this. I mean, yeah these women did awful and horrible things but I felt for them? Is that weird? The author admits that she empathizes with these women and I get it. These (all true and well researched) accounts really paint an interesting picture of misogyny. Shocking I know. Even in their most heinous acts women are still forgotten, discounted, over sexualized and under estimated. Why have I heard an infinite amount of stories about the I was surprised by how much emotion I felt while reading this. I mean, yeah these women did awful and horrible things but I felt for them? Is that weird? The author admits that she empathizes with these women and I get it. These (all true and well researched) accounts really paint an interesting picture of misogyny. Shocking I know. Even in their most heinous acts women are still forgotten, discounted, over sexualized and under estimated. Why have I heard an infinite amount of stories about the zodiac killer, Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper but nothing about Nannie Doss or Erzsebet Bathory, who’s kill count was in the hundreds. HUNDREDS. Where’s her movie? Regardless, this was a really interesting read and left me thinking well after the last page.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Devann

    This was pretty good but just not entirely what i was expecting / am used to. There are only 14 women featured so each section is a pretty in-depth look at their life and crimes, and I probably would have preferred to have more women featured but a little less detail overall. Still, it is a very interesting read because it discusses not only their crimes but also their lives in general, their legacy in history, and which parts of the story are fact vs. which have been embellished over the ages. This was pretty good but just not entirely what i was expecting / am used to. There are only 14 women featured so each section is a pretty in-depth look at their life and crimes, and I probably would have preferred to have more women featured but a little less detail overall. Still, it is a very interesting read because it discusses not only their crimes but also their lives in general, their legacy in history, and which parts of the story are fact vs. which have been embellished over the ages. I thought this book did a good job of exploring the possible reason for these women's crimes without necessarily making excuses for them; they are serial killers after all. I think the author said it best in some of her notes at the end where she says that she “empathized but didn’t sympathize with every woman in this book", and that's definitely an important distinction to make. I would have also liked to have some more modern examples. There were are few at the beginning of the 20th century but many were several hundred years ago, but the author explains at the end that she picked older ones because they felt less raw since there is some distance between them and us and also because it allows for better historical perspective, which is a big part of this novel. Also [and I know this sounds awful because this book is about real people who actually got killed in real life] I would have liked a bit more ...variety ...with the murders? I mean I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it, but also there's only so many times I can read about a woman poisoning her family members with arsenic. Overall an interesting read, but maybe a bit more in-depth than I would have liked. Also just as a note, I have shelved this under 'girls helping girls' because that's my general 'feminism' and adjacent issues tag and although in this particular case 'girls killing girls' would definitely be more appropriate, this book does spend a lot of time discussing the differences in the public's reaction to male vs. female serial killers so it is definitely down the 'gender studies' route at the very least.

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