10 Most Notorious Female Serial Killers

Updated June 13, 2022 9:00 am

Since men perpetrate about 90% of the world’s homicides, it makes sense that nearly all of history’s most notorious serial killers are men. But they do have a small number of counterparts, and they are just as deadly. We look at some of the most horrifyingly ruthless female serial killers ever. Many used arsenic as their deadly weapon, and some killed over 100 people. Here’s a list of the 10 most famous female serial killers:

1. Aileen Wuornos
2. Judias Buenoano
3. Juana Barraza
4. Jane Toppan
5. Gesche Gottfried
6. Amelia Dyer
7. Kristen Gilbert
8. Nannie Doss
9. Dorothea Puente
10. Miyuki Ishikawa

Aileen Wuornos, Damsel of Death. American Female Serial Killer
Aileen Wuornos (Handout)

Aileen Wuornos

Born in 1956, Wuornos killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. She shot each of the seven at point-blank range, according to The New York Daily News She was captured after a minor traffic accident in one of her victims’ cars. She told the police that she murdered the men in self-defense because they raped her while she worked as a prostitute. However, she was sentenced to death for six of the murders. In 2003, a movie about her life, titled Monster and starring Charlize Theron, was released to high praise.

Judy Buenoano: Woman Serial Killer
Judy Buenoano, was nicknamed the “Black Widow” for poisoning her husband, killing her son and trying to blow up her boyfriend. (Handout)
© Ho New / Reuters

Judias “Judy” Buenoano

Buenoano killed her husband James Goodyear, according to NBC News, her son Michael Buenoano, her boyfriend Bobby Joe Morris, and potentially her boyfriend Gerald Dossett. She was also believed to have been involved in a 1974 murder in Alabama and attempted to murder her fiancé John Gentry.

Buenoano was executed in 1971 for the murder of her husband. She was later linked to many of the other murders. She was the first woman to be executed in Florida since 1848 and was the third woman to be executed in the U.S. since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976.

Juana Barraza: Women Serial Killers
Juana Barraza (Handout)

Juana Barraza

Barraza was a Mexican professional wrestler. She was born in 1957 and was known as “The Old Lady Killer.” She murdered between 42 and 48 elderly women and was later sentenced to 759 years in prison. She would beat or strangle her victims and steal their possessions. She was caught in 2006 and found guilty of 16 counts of murder and aggravated burglary in 2008, according to the New York Daily News.

Jane Toppan: Woman Serial Killer
Jane Toppan at the age of twenty-four. She was a nurse who went on a killing spree that started with her family friends and by the end had thirty-one victims. Her method was poison through injection and upon confessing, was declared insane and committed. Female Serial Killers (Getty Images)
Bettmann Archive

Jane Toppan

Toppan was a nurse who killed dozens of patients, according to NBC She was nicknamed “Jolly Jane.” She confessed to 31 murders after her arrest in 1901. She would kill the victims with different combinations of medicine and chemicals and even climb into bed with them after administering the dose. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the Taunton Insane Hospital for life.

Gesche Gottfried: Female Serial Killers
Gesche Gottfried (Public Domain)

Gesche Gottfried

Gottfried was a German female serial killer who was the last person publicly executed in the city of Bremen. She killed 15 people using arsenic, probably between the years 1813 and 1827. She would mix the poison in with her victims’ food while caring for them as a nurse, reports New York Daily News She killed her parents, her two husbands, her fiancé, and her children.

Amelia Dyer: Female Serial Killer
Amelia Dyer (Public Domain)

Amelia Dyer

Dyer is only convicted of one murder, but her name is attached to the murder of hundreds of infants and children. She worked for 20 years at the “baby farm,” according to the New York Daily News It is suspected that she killed over 400 infants, which would make her among history’s most prolific female serial killers. She was tried for murder in 1896 and convicted and hanged.

Kristen Gilbert: Famous Female Serial Killer
Former VA hospital nurse Kristen Gilbert in an undated yearbook photo (Getty Images)

Kristen Gilbert

Gilbert was a nurse who was convicted of four murders and two attempted murders of patients admitted to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Massachusetts. She would inject patients with massive doses of epinephrine, which is an untraceable heart stimulant. This would cause cardiac arrest, and she would respond to the coded emergency herself. She was convicted in 1998. She is serving a life sentence at Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.

Nannie Doss: Women Serial Killers
Mrs. Nannie Doss, confessed rat poison slayer of four of her five husbands. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Mrs. Nannie Lanning Morton Doss. (Getty Images)
Bettmann Archive

Nannie Doss

Doss killed 11 people between the 1920s and 1954, including four of her husbands, two children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson, and a mother-in-law. She was known as the “Giggling Granny,” the “Lonely Hearts Killer,” the “Black Widow,” and “Lady Blue Beard.” Her main method of murder was rat poison. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She died in 1965.

Dorothea Helen Puente Female Serial Killer
Dorothea Puente at the Central California Women’s Facility in 2009 (Central California Women’s Facility)

Dorothea Puente

Puente ran a boarding house in Sacramento, California, and murdered her elderly and mentally disabled boarders. She would then cash in their Social Security checks. She was often called the “Death House Landlady.” She was charged with a total of nine murders. Puente was convicted of three and sentenced to two life sentences. She died in 2011 in a prison in Chowchilla at the age of 82.

Miyuki Ishikawa
Miyuki Ishikawa surrounded by police officers at the Waseda police station (United States Armed Forces)

Miyuki Ishikawa

Ishikawa was a Japanese midwife. She murdered infants with the help of accomplices during the 1940s, reports New York Daily News Estimates suggest that she murdered between 85 and 169 people, but the general estimate is 103. She sought payment for the murders since many of her victims were deserted children, and she said her services cost less than raising an unwanted child. She received a four-year sentence.

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