Women Who Kill: Profiles of Female Serial Killers analyses fourteen such killers,
exploring their formative childhood and adult experiences and multiple homicides.
The serial killers profiled include under-reported cases such as Catherine Birnie
and Martha Ann Johnson as well as the unfortunate Aileen Wuornos, who has
been executed since Women Who Kill was published. Her story has been made
into a documentary by the talented Nick Broomfield and also into a film, Monster,
with Charlize Theron in the title role.
Society likes to believe that women who murder do so in a histrionic moment -
but the killers profiled here show otherwise. Several of the female killers tied up
or handcuffed their pretty girl victims before torturing and sexually assaulting them
for many hours or even days. Another repeatedly fed her male and female victims
arsenic in order to enjoy their agonised writhing. One killer told her male victims
to strip for sex then shot them at point blank range.
Several of the killers went in search of teenage virgins to assault then thrill kill.
Others targeted children as they were easier to control. Some of these women
got away with their murders for years - whilst another was caught having
abducted and tortured five female victims in as many weeks.
When the victims finally died, these women remained remorseless. One killer is believed to have dismembered a
beautiful teenage girl - whilst another shot and stabbed a man then cut off his head.
The book looks unflinchingly at what these women were capable of - but also charts the often horrendous journeys
that led them to start their killing sprees.
Paperback published 2002 and reprinted 2004, 2006 by Allison & Busby.
ISBN 0-74900-572-6 Priced £7.99
[Originally published in hardback and reprinted in 2001 by Allison & Busby, ISBN 0-74900-535-1 Priced £16.99]
Women Who Kill Reviews:
'Serial murder is a subject of perennial fascination and any number of books have been published on the subject, but
few on the small number of women who participate in this particular crime (two percent of serial killers, according to
Carol Anne Davis). Yet they do exist and this fascinating and unsettling work profiles some of the more famous
As its subtitle would suggest this book provides a series of case studies, ranging from the truly notorious, such as
Myra Hindley and Rose West, to the lesser known, such as Martha Anne Johnson and Judith Neelley. There are even
two pre-twentieth century examples, Anna Zwanziger and Jeanne Weber, to demonstrate that female serial killers are
not a uniquely contemporary phenomenon.
Each woman is profiled separately (apart from Gwen Graham and Catherine Wood, who operated as a team), with
details of her early life, probable reasons behind her nature and details of the crimes, capture and punishment. Davis
writes with an easy style and makes no attempt to sensationalise her material. These disturbing cases are described
in a matter-of-fact way, with only as much detail of the actual crimes as is necessary. This is not a book for the
Following the profiles are three chapters on the more theoretical aspects of the subject, questioning classification and
theories. Again very readable, this section provides a concise introduction to a diverse and difficult topic; each killer
has her own reasons, yet certain patterns are identifiable.
For anyone seriously interested in modern true crime Carol Anne Davis has provided an important work of reference,
aimed neither at the visceral thrill seeker or the faint hearted. Despite being understated this is still a difficult read,
detailing as it does an unrelenting catalogue of cycles of abuse, but it provides an honest reflection of an understudied
aspect of our society.'
Paul M. Chapman, Sherlock Magazine, August/September 2002
'This book is exactly what it says in the title. Davis recounts the story behind
14 of the most notorious "women who kill" in (predominantly) recent times.
When a novelist writes a non fiction book its normally impossible for them to hide their storytelling flare and this book
is no exception with Carol Anne Davis at the helm. Each of the profiles flies by in an entertaining yet obviously very
gruesome and disturbing fashion.
With the exception of two brief historic profiles the rest of the killers are from the last half of the twentieth century with
an extra focus put on the most notorious and famous of "killers" Myra Hindley and Rose West.
Although its hard to inject a book which covers individual cases so briefly with a great deal of substance, Davis has
researched properly and managed to establish some exaggerations and untruths in previous published works about
the killers profiled.
The majority of these cases are sad and Davis concludes much the same as the reader will after reading the profiles.
In the majority of cases society failed these women, in both protecting them during their upbringing and in noticing
early enough when they became involved with murder.
One of the most truly horrifying is the story of Genene Jones, a woman who is perhaps personally responsible for the
death of around fifty infants. She worked as a nurse and basically everyone was too scared for one reason or another
to act as a whistle blower.
The book also makes you question seriously whether Myra Hindley should still be in prison.
It's hard not to be sensationalistic when covering a subject like this. Indeed the packaging and title of the book lean
toward glorification and a pop culture morbidity. However the author tries her best to find middle ground. While
graphically portraying the violence and the murders, the author does tries point out what went wrong and why in the person's life.
Nothing can prepare you for the horror that was Fred and Rose West about halfway into the book. Arguably the most
despicable and depraved killers in recent British history, even the author loses here otherwise factual impartiality when
writing about them a couple of times.
WOMEN WHO KILL is an interesting but ultimately depressing read. It's well written and deeply disturbing. True crime
is far more gruesome and scary than the most extreme fictionalised horror and for me personally I fail to see the
attraction in this type of book, which even with the best of intent still manages to glorify these sad murderous misfits.'
Andy Fairclough, Horror World, June 2002
'I don't know what I expected when I opened the covers of this book, but what I discovered was an incredible work
profiling female serial killers though the ages.
There are thirteen serial killers profiled starting with Anna Marie Zwanziger born in Nuremberg in 1760 and ending with
Karla Homolka born 1970. In between we have Jeanne Weber, who killed her own children and it seems as many of
her friends children as she could get her hands on, Genene Jones who qualified with basic nursing skills, gained
employment in a hospital and attempted the murder of several children in her care, not thankfully killing all of them.
Martha Ann Johnson, who also killed her own children, Charlene Gallego, who was a shy quiet child with a talent for
the violin, but who eventually lured teenage virgins to their death. Judith Neelley, who committed armed robbery at age
16, Catherine Birnie, who had seven children, and yet assisted her husband in his quest for young sex slaves, Gwen
Graham & Catherine Wood, Carol Bundy, Aileen Wuornos and the more familiar names of Myra Hindley and Rose West.
Before reading this book, I though that Myra Hindley was possibly the most evil woman that I had come across, but
not so by a long way. This work was an eye opener.
Not only does the author present the reader with these profiles, but the book goes further, classifying female serial
killers and then presenting theories about why women kill.
This is an awesome work that delves into the darkest recesses of the abused female, as it appears most of these
women were, and provides a macabre account of their journey's through life.'
Lizzie Hayes, Mystery Women Volume 4 Issue 6, December 2001
'Carol Anne Davis sets out to destroy the myth that the only time women and serial killers get together is when
women are the victims. This has been a fairly widespread belief for a long time, and indeed it's hard to conjure up a
picture of a woman when you think of a serial killer. Those few women who have entered public consciousness as the
worst kind of murderer - Myra Hindley and Rose West - have always been seen to be working in conjunction with a
man. It's no surprise that in these cases it is argued that these women are also victims - they killed but only because
they had been perverted or coerced by their more dominant male partners.
Carol Anne Davis does a good job of profiling 12 cases of female serial killers. She looks at cases other than
Hindley's and West's, cases where there was no male partner, cases where there was a lesbian relationship or no
relationship at all.
Some of these make for chilling reading, particularly in cases where women have taken pleasure in the torture and
murder of children. It seems so against nature that we recoil even more than when the same crimes are committed by
While Davis presents her case dispassionately, at time the sheer weight of material forces her to write in a brief,
spare style that doesn't sit naturally with her talents as a novelist. Fewer cases handled in more detail might have
been a better plan, but I suspect that might have been seen as distracting from her argument.
Are there differences between male and female serial killers? The answer is a hesitant yes, in that the sexual element
is clearly more pronounced in the male of the species. However a damaged childhood seems to be common in both.
How this childhood affects the brain/psyche is clearly an important area to research, though of course it's outside the
scope of this book.
If you're interested in crime and criminals, then this makes for an interesting read.'
Black Star, November 2001
'Think "serial killer" and the vision summoned up will probably be of an icy-eyed Nielson, Christie or Ted Bundy. But
although only two percent of convicted serial killers have been women, the female can often be deadlier than the male.
Take early nineteenth-century Bavarian cook Anna Zwanziger, who poisoned two of her employers and numerous of
their dinner guests. Suspected, she fled her final job, but not before leaving large amounts of arsenic in the coffee,
salt, and sugar jars - and a dose in the baby's biscuits. Or southern American mother Martha Johnson who, between
1977 and 1982, killed all four of her infant children in a bid to win back her husband.
Equally brutal is Czech-Canadian Karla Homolka, who in the early 1990s helped her boyfriend rape, sodomize and
then murder her own 13-year-old sister and two other young girls. As expected, most of the worst cases are in
America, but the Brits are well represented by "Moors murderess" Myra Hindley and Rose West, both willing
participants in their partner's sex crimes.
In this well written, eminently readable reference work, crime writer and criminologist Carol Anne Davis tackles her
subject in a way that avoids the extremes of tacky goriness and dry-as-dust theorising that mars most true crime
books. All the facts and many of the stark details are included, but not for voyeuristic purposes; and psychological
insights into motives never become tedious or pretentious. Of the 13 women profiled here, all had one thing in
common: unhappy childhoods and/or abusive parents. Chillingly, we learn that Karla Homolka is due to be released in
Jim Driver, Time Out. 4th-11th July 2001
'In this grisly, workmanlike compendium, British crime novelist Davis (Noise Abatement) examines the lives of
(mostly) contemporary female serial killers from England, the U.S., Australia and Canada. Her case summaries
support her contention that although only 2% of known serial killers are women, they are as "cruel and
compassionless" as their male counterparts. She also recounts neglect, abuse and manipulation inflicted on her
subjects during childhood by criminalized, impoverished, drug-using adults, with a few notable exceptions such as
upper-middle class Charlene Gallego, who with her husband Gerald raped and killed ten teenagers. Some of the
women worked as caretakers of children or the infirm, such as nursing aides Gwen Graham and Catherine Wood, who
in 1987 killed at least five seniors. Others went on vicious rampages against their own gender, often in cahoots with
sociopathic males. Assessing these couples, Davis notes that the women may be seen by society and juries as less
accountable, despite evidence of their enthusiastic involvement. The seemingly harmless femininity of, for instance,
Karla Homolka, who helped her boyfriend rape and murder her sister and two others, may have abetted the murders.
Davis writes with verve, but her distanced, summary journalism and slavish attention to gory detail can have a
pummelling effect, and her insights pale alongside prominent shock-value material. Despite ample psychological
discussion (e.g. of criminal types with names like "Profit Killer" or "Angel of Death"), this book is more Grand Guignol
than academic, unlike Deborah Schurman-Kauflin's The New Predator: Women Who Kill Profiles of Female Serial
Killers (Forecasts, Jan. 1).'
Publishers Weekly, May 2001 (Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information)
'Davis, a Scottish crime novelist who holds a master's degree in criminology, follows up on Michael Kelleher's Murder
Most Rare (LJ 4/1/98), another book discussing female serial killers. Whereas Kelleher's study is presented in
research format, Davis writes in a way that keeps the reader's interest while describing the detailed lives of 14 women
who have been classified as serial killers. The women selected are from around the world and were all physically
and/or emotionally abused when they were young; some ended up in abusive relationships as adults. The details of
their crimes are grisly. To give an accurate account, Davis interviewed prison officers, police officers, and associates
of the killers. Society has a hard time believing that women committed these atrocities, and consequently women are
likely to receive lighter sentences than their male counterparts. A couple of the women mentioned have either been
paroled or will be soon. Recommended for all true-crime collections, especially those libraries that have Kelleher's
book, as it will serve as a good companion.'
Library Journal, May 2001 (Michael Sawyer, Northwestern Regional
Lib., Elkin, NC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information)
'The female of the species can be as deadly as the male, crime writer Carol Anne Davis reveals in her profiles of 13
women who have killed and killed again.
They make grisly but in some cases surprising reading. Myra Hindley, imprisoned for life for her part in the Moors
Murders, Ms Davis reveals was a soft-hearted teenager who loved children until she became besotted with Ian Brady.
What makes a female serial killer? Ms Davis concedes that her findings are contradictory but all 13 of her disturbed
women have one thing in common - an unhappy childhood and/or abusive parents. Making physical punishment illegal
would help, she believes, in reducing the number of women who find thrills in killing.'
Angela Turnbull, Salisbury Journal, 3rd May 2001
'If you thought issue 44's Murder File on Karla Homolka was hard to believe - let alone stomach - then wait until you
meet the rest of the inmates in Carol Anne Davis' Cell Block H (for Horror). As Homolka was to prove in her trial for the
rape and murder of three teenagers - one of them her sister - society doesn't like to believe that women are as
capable of monstrous behaviour as men are. Surely women have to be coerced, manipulated into committing these
acts of appalling violence by their dominating men? Surely not. From thrill killer Judith Neelley, who injected liquid
drain cleaner into one of her (female) victims, to Britain's most reviled prisoner Myra Hindley, Davis' casebook reveals
that not only do women excel at murder, but they're also even better at manipulation.'
Cathi Unsworth, BizArre, Summer 2001 issue
'Already established as one of the darker crime novelists of the 'Tartan noir' brigade, Davis turns to non-fiction in this
disturbing series of profiles of female serial killers. Myra Hindley and Rose West were spurred on by men, but other
female killers have acted alone. A chilling read and not for the faint-hearted.'
Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday, 15th April 2001