Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers

Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers

Patrick Lynch - February 23, 2017

Detailed statistics show that only 11.4% of serial killers around the world since 1900 have been female. This percentage has dwindled dramatically since the early part of the 20th century when it was around 30%. In fact, since 1980, a little over 7% of serial killers have been women, which is why they attract such interest on the rare occasion one is discovered.

Aileen Wuornos is one of the most famous recent examples in the United States, while older worldwide examples include Elizabeth Bathory and Mary Ann Cotton. Despite famous cases involving the likes of Myra Hindley and Rosemary West who killed as part of a male and female team, the majority of female serial killers act alone. They tend to be more subtle than their male counterparts with poisoning and suffocation as their favored kill methods.

In this piece, however, I will look at 6 female serial killers you may not have heard about. As you will read, their MOs differed drastically from strangulation to torture, although poisoning does make a couple of appearances too.

Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers
India Times

1 – Maria Swanenburg (1839-1915)

Swanenburg was one of Europe’s most prolific serial killers; she is suspected of murdering over 90 people although there are 27 confirmed kills. She was born in Leiden, Netherlands in 1839 ,and received the nickname ‘Goeie Mie’ which means ‘Good Me’ due to her reputation for helping the children and sick people of her neighborhood. However, it later transpired that she was poisoning the individuals that apparently ‘fell ill’ and once they died, she collected their inheritance.

The precise dates of her reign of terror are unclear, but most research shows that she began her murder spree in 1880. During that period, Swanenburg poisoned at least 102 people with arsenic, and 27 of them died. However, an investigation revealed a total of 90 suspicious deaths although they haven’t been conclusively attributed to Swanenburg. Her first known victim was her mother in 1880, swiftly followed by her father.

Swanenburg’s luck ran out in December 1883 when she was caught attempting to poison the Frankhuizen family. Her trial (for just three murders) began in April 1885, and the court heard how “she tried to poison everybody who came in her way.” Swanenburg apparently tried to murder one of her sisters-in-law on six separate occasions! Although her main motivation was money, she also poisoned several people with no financial incentive. Three different medical professionals examined Swanenburg and found her to be sane.

The trial lasted just two days as Swanenburg confessed to two of the three murders but claimed that she didn’t intend to kill them. Even her lawyer at the trial acknowledged that she was a monster, and the judge had no hesitation in handing down a life sentence after finding Swanenburg guilty of all three crimes. She spent the rest of her life in a correctional facility and died in 1915.

Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers
Les Recettes d’Hojemaennel

2 – Helene Jegado (1803-1852)

Also known as the ‘pious poisoner,’ Jegado murdered up to 36 people with arsenic in an 18 year period (1833-1851). She was born on a small farm near Lorient, France in 1803, and after her mother died when Jegado was 7-years-old, she lived and worked with her aunts in Bubry. Jegado moved to Seglien with an aunt in 1827 and quickly displayed her tendencies while working as a cook. Jegado was accused of adding hemp to his soup by the Curé although there are no records of any punishment.

Jegado is unusual for a serial killer insofar as her murders took place in two separate spells some 10 years apart. The first spree began in 1833 when she allegedly poisoned seven people (including her sister and her employer Fr. Francois Le Drogo) in the village of Guern. All seven victims died from arsenic poisoning in the period from late June to early October 1833. Jegado avoided suspicion because she grieved so convincingly for the loss of her sister and the others. Also, there had been a cholera epidemic the previous year, so most people assumed the deaths came as a result of residual infection.

She returned to Bubry to bury her sister, and another three people died in the next three months. Soon after, Jegado moved to Locmine where she lived with a woman called Marie-Jeanne Leboucher. The lady and her daughter died, and while her son also became ill, he refused to accept Jegado’s care and he survived. She moved from house to house, and while people always mysteriously died soon after her arrival, Jegado managed to avoid suspicion. This pattern continued until 1841 when it appears that she stopped for approximately a decade. During that period, she was dismissed from several jobs after being caught stealing.

The final phase of her murderous life began in 1849 when she moved to Rennes. In 1850 and 1851, two maids in the household of Theophile Bidard died, and doctors noticed a similarity between the deaths. A forensic examination revealed arsenic poisoning as the cause of death and Jegado foolishly aroused suspicion by declaring her innocence without being asked. She was arrested and charged with murder on July 1, 1851.

Her trial began in December, but she was only charged with three murders, three attempted murders and several counts of theft. Jegado constantly claimed to have no idea what arsenic was despite all evidence to the contrary. Exhumation of the most recent victims showed strong traces of antimony and arsenic. Her lawyer said Jegado should be spared the death penalty because she was dying of cancer, but she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Jegado was guillotined in February 1862.

Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers
Rebel Circus

3 – Leonarda Cianciulli (1894 – 1970)

The Soap-Maker of Correggio doesn’t make the list due to the scale of her crimes, but because of the bizarre nature of her deeds. Cianciulli pushed the boundaries of what a mother would do to protect her son by resorting to murder. Devastated that her son was called up to the army in World War II, she decided that human sacrifice was the only way to protect him, so she killed three women in the space of a year.

Cianciulli was born in Montella, Italy in 1894 and apparently attempted suicide twice while still a young woman. Her parents didn’t approve of her marriage in 1917, and she claimed they placed a curse on her new family. She moved to Lauria in 1921, but was imprisoned for fraud six years later. Upon her release, Cianciulli moved to Lacedonia, but an earthquake destroyed the family home in 1930.

Earlier in her life, Cianciulli visited a fortune teller who told her that while she would marry and have children, all of the kids would die. A later visit to a palm reader offered more terrible news; Cianciulli was apparently destined to go to prison and a criminal asylum. Although she was a superstitious woman by nature, even a skeptic would have been concerned by the way things went after being told this news. She had 17 pregnancies in total, three ended in miscarriage, and another ten children died young. As a consequence, Cianciulli was incredibly protective of her remaining four kids.

She received bad news in 1939; her eldest son Giuseppe was called into the Italian Army and would fight in World War II. Of all her children, Giuseppe was her favorite, so she resolved to keep him safe no matter what. For some reason, she decided that human sacrifice was the only option. Giaciuilli was a fortune teller in her own right and regularly offered readings to women in her village.

This position enabled her to lure three gullible women into her trap. She gave each woman a reason to leave town but swore them to secrecy. Additionally, she convinced the first two victims to write a letter to friends and family; these letters were postmarked from their ‘new’ destinations to tell their loved ones that they were okay. Faustina Setti was the first victim; Giaciuilli drugged her wine and beat the unfortunate victim to death with an ax. Francesca Soavi was dispatched in a similar fashion, and the crazed killer cut Setti’s body into nine pieces; collected the blood and put the body parts in a giant pot with caustic soda. Giaciuilli poured the resulting goo into a septic tank, dried the blood in an oven, mixed with flour, chocolate, and other ingredients and served them to neighbors as teacakes!

Virginia Cacioppo was the third and final victim, and her flesh was made into soap. Once again, the dead body was turned into delicacies, but unlike the other victims, Cacioppo’s disappearance drew suspicion. Her sister-in-law told police that the victim was last seen entering Giaciuilli’s home and after her arrest, the triple murderer quickly confessed to her crimes.

Not only did she remain unrepentant, but she also corrected lawyers over grisly details during the trial! The court found her guilty of all three murders and she was sentenced to 30 years in prison and three years in a criminal asylum. While in jail, she wrote ‘An Embittered Soul’s Confessions’ where she outlined her crimes. Giaciuilli died in prison in 1970 from cerebral apoplexy.

Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers

4 – Daria Saltykova (1730 – 1801)

Saltykova is yet another relatively unknown female serial killer but is compared to Elizabeth Bathory due to the similarities of their crimes. Saltykova was a Russian noblewoman who tortured and murdered over 100 of her serfs over a seven year period. The majority of her victims were women and girls.

She was the daughter of Russian nobles and married into the famous Saltykov family, but was widowed in 1755. Upon the death of her husband, Saltykova inherited a massive estate with up to 600 serfs. The trigger for her murderous spree may have been rejection by a man named Nikolay Tyutchev who she had an affair with. Tyutchev fell for a young woman and married her in secret. The jilted Saltykova wanted him dead, but he fled to Moscow with his wife. After missing the opportunity for revenge, she took out her frustrations on her serfs.

Saltykova hated females; the younger they were, the more she despised them. The killings would begin with the noblewoman flying into a rage before she beat, whipped and tortured her victims to death. She murdered in a variety of ways; breaking people’s bones, throwing them naked outside in the snow, and pouring boiling water on their bodies were among her favored methods. Saltykova only killed three male serfs, and these deaths were apparently accidents. Instead, she would kill a man’s loved ones. According to reports, she took a dislike to a male serf but rather than kill him, she murdered his wife, then his second wife and finally, his third.

Her noble status allowed her to get away with her deeds for far too long. Early complaints were ignored, and it was only after seven years, and countless complaints from serfs who lost family to her twisted hand, that Saltykova was charged with 38 counts of murder (although she probably murdered at least 100 serfs).

Although she was arrested in 1762, Saltykova was only found guilty after a six-year investigation and sentenced in 1768. While most serfs were too scared of the killer to testify, Saltykova was eventually found guilty of 38 murders; forensic detectives put the real figure at 138 or 139. As Russia had abolished the death penalty in 1754, the only option was to hand down a life sentence. Saltykova was beaten in public in Red Square, Moscow and forced to wear a sign that said ‘This woman has tortured and murdered’ for an hour. She spent the next 11 years in a convent basement before being moved to a monastery building. Saltykova reportedly spat at and cursed visitors as she exhibited clear signs of mental illness. She died in December 1801 and was buried beside her relatives.

Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers
NY Daily News

5 – Dagmar Overbye (1887 – 1929)

Danish serial killer Overbye murdered anywhere between 9 and 25 children during a seven-year period (1913-1920) although some historians believe the figure could be as high as 200. She was born in 1887 and little is known about her early life. Overbye worked as a professional child caretaker where she was supposed to look after children born outside of marriage. It was known as a ‘babyfarm’ or an unofficial adoption agency, and it was the scene of her serial killing spree.

All of the murders happened in Copenhagen, Denmark and she killed the unfortunate victims via strangulation and drowning or else she burned them to death. Overbye buried and burned the corpses or else she hid them in the loft. There are scant details regarding her arrest in terms of how she was eventually caught. It is remarkable that she was able to murder so many children over such an extended period without arousing suspicion. Her trial was one of the most talked about in the history of Denmark and her actions resulted in changes to the nation’s childcare legislation.

During the trial, Overbye’s lawyer tried to defend his client by saying she was abused as a child. This cut no ice with the jury as she was found guilty of nine murders and the judge had no hesitation in sentencing her to death. Only three women received the death penalty in Denmark during the 20th century, but like the other two, Overbye’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

After her arrest, over 180 children were reported missing from her ‘baby farm’. There is a possibility that these reports came from parents who committed their own misdeeds and they sought to cover things up, but one has to assume that Overbye almost certainly killed more than 25 children. She never spoke about her reasons for murdering the children; perhaps she saw herself as a missionary whose job was to get rid of unwanted babies. Whatever the reason, Overbye took it with her to the grave as she died in prison in 1929.

Wicked Women: 6 Lesser-Known Female Serial Killers
Barraza Behind Bars. NNC MX

6 – Juana Barraza (1957 – )

The ‘Old Lady Killer’ is the only living member of this list. The former professional wrestler murdered at least 11 women between the ages of 64 and 79, although some estimates go as high as 48 killings. Barraza was born in Epazoyucan, Mexico in 1957 and had a horrific upbringing. Her alcoholic mother apparently exchanged her for three beers, and the ‘buyer’ repeatedly raped her. She became pregnant after one of these sexual assaults and had four children in total.

As an adult, Barraza forged a career as a professional wrestler and had the name ‘The Silent Lady’ (La Dama del Silencio). She committed her first murder in the late 1990s (probably 1998) and embarked on her deadly spree until her arrest in January 2006. Barraza used to travel around public places and seek lonely elderly women. She gained their trust by either requesting a cleaning job or volunteering to help them with their shopping. For other murders, she pretended to be a nurse offering a free check up or a social worker looking to discuss elderly benefits.

Upon gaining access to their homes, Barraza proceeded to strangle her victims with tights, phone cables or a stethoscope she brought with her. After committing dozens of murders, she was finally apprehended on January 25, 2006. Barraza was seen leaving the home of Ana Maria de Los Reyes after strangling the woman with a stethoscope. Her trial took place in 2008, and she was found guilty on 16 charges including 11 separate murders.

Barraza was sentenced to 759 years in prison, but as sentences are served concurrently in Mexico, the maximum term is 60 years. Since Barraza was 50 years old at the time of sentencing, she will spend the rest of her life in prison. The exact number of murders committed by Barraza is unknown although she is linked to at least 32 deaths since 2003. Despite the evidence against her, Barraza has only admitted committing one murder; that of Reyes.