What am I reading? Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer

I feel like we’re all friends now so I can tell you things without you thinking that I’m a danger to those around me. I love serial killers. Not like I admire them or want to be them, but I find them fascinating. How do they commit such grisly crimes? What happened to them that removed so much of their humanity? Or were they born with the ability to maim, torture and kill? It’s the classic question of nature or nurture.

The overwhelming majority of serial killers are men. This is an indisputable fact. It’s part of the reason why we’re all extra horrified when a woman goes on a killing spree. The most intriguing part, I think, is the reasons that women commit this type of crime. Men seem to do it because they like it, or it fulfills some sort of sexual need. Female killers are more pragmatic; they have an inconvenient husband or children, so they kill them. They’ve been wronged in some way, so the perpetrator has to go.


When Aileen Wuornos was apprehended in 1991, the media called her the first female serial killer, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Women have been killing for as long as humans have been keeping records. I knew about a few of the women profiled in this book, like Erzsébet Báthory, but so far most of the women presented are new to me.

No, I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m loving it, and felt like I needed to share. The author doesn’t take sides but she does explore each killer’s motivations. I like that she doesn’t flatly condemn the crimes committed by these women; I imagine that it’s easy to take a moral stance when writing about objectively terrible people, but she also wants the reader to understand that these crimes weren’t pointless. They had reasons.

She also talks about societal norms and the roles of women at the time each killer lived, and she explores the possibility that some of these convictions and the court cases that resulted were motivated not by a sense of justice, but by money, power and misogyny.

For example, Erzsébet Báthory, most widely known as the Blood Countess, was born into a noble family in 17th century Hungary. She married a nobleman, of course, and upon his death became one of the richest and most powerful people in the entire country. She was intelligent, calculating and ruled as well as (if not better than) her husband. The Hapsburg King of Hungary owed her piles of money, which he’d borrowed to finance endless wars against the invading Turks. You know what’s a convenient way of canceling a debt? Have the person that’s owed money accused of murder, withcraft, lesbianism, etc. When she’s convicted, as she inevitably will be, her lands, castles and titles can be siezed by the crown. Easy peasy.

We’ll never really know what happened in the lives of these women, as their stories have been recorded by the men who condemned them, but this book is well written and clearly researched in depth. If you’re into serial killers or the way society has treated women over the course of history, this might be for you.

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