Serial killers are some of the most horrifying things to walk the earth, and yet we're somehow still fascinated by these humans displaying the most inhuman tendancies. You've most likely heard all about Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper or the Zodiac Killer, but chances are, you've never heard much about a female serial killer.

But make no mistake, women kill (although usually in different — but equally terrifying — ways). Here are some of the scariest female serial killers in history.


Leonarda Cianciulli (1893-1970)

leonarda cianciulli female serial killer
photo: Wikimedia

This Italian woman didn't just kill her victims — she used their bodies to make soap. And tea cakes. Which she used and ate. And gave to her neighbors. Yeah, she was really something.

Cianciulli was deeply superstitious. Apparently, multiple fortune tellers warned her about her dark fate: She was told all her children would die, and was warned she would either end up in a prison or a criminal asylum. 

When her son was sent off to war, she decided she would do anything to protect him. Allegedly, this meant following fortune tellers' advice and making a human sacrifice. She lured three different young women to her home, where she drugged them, cut them into pieces with an axe, and turned them into assorted goods.

Much like the fortune-teller predicted, she ended up spending time in both a prison and an asylum.


Maria Swanenburg (1839-1915)

female serial killer maria swanenburg
photo: Wikimedia

Maria Swanenburg was a Dutch woman who killed at least 27 people (although the real number could be more than 90). Her weapon of choice? Arsenic.

Under the guise of helping sick people, Swanenburg would poison her victims. Her motive was the insurance money she'd collect after their death. Swanenburg managed to poison a whopping 102 people (although she only succeeded in killing 27). In fact, her parents were the first to go.

Swanenburg was eventually caught, and sent to a correctional facility where she lived for the rest of her life.


Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood (1963 and 1962, respectively)

gwen graham and cathy wood
photo: Wikimedia

Following the pattern of female serial killers throughout time, these two used their positions as caretakers to murder their victims. But their story is anything but usual.

The two Michigan women worked at a nursing home throughout the '80s, and it was at this nursing home the friends-turned-lovers smothered five different patients. This much we know, but the motive — and who was the mastermind — is unclear.

Wood totally turned on Graham after Graham confessed to her ex-husband, who went to the police. Wood insisted it was Graham's idea to murder the first woman, as a method to release stress. From there it spiraled. Per the Wikipedia entry: "Wood testified that the couple turned the selection of victims into a game, first trying to choose their victims by their initials to spell M-U-R-D-E. R. But when that became difficult, they began counting each murder as a "day," as in the phrase, 'I will love you for forever and a day.' A poem by Wood to Graham, and introduced in the trial, concluded, 'You'll be mine forever and five days.'"

Of course, others who knew the pair allege Wood is the real mastermind, that she was a psychopath who planned the murders to ensure Graham could never leave her. Rumor has it she's also confessed to fellow inmates that she actually framed Graham as a way to get revenge on her for leaving her for another woman. Both are currently still alive and serving prison terms.


Elizabeth Bathory, 1560-1614

Elizabeth bathory serial killer
photo: Wikimedia

You've heard about vampires. But these monsters (who, let's face it, "Twilight" basically completely defanged) have absolutely nothing on this Slovakian countess.

Bathory might just be the most vicious female serial killer of all time. Hiding away in her castle, the countess was rumored to be torturing and murdering young girls for fun. Servant girls, local peasants young nobility sent to her for mentoring — supposedly no one was off the hook.

And why was she murdering all these young women? For vanity. She wanted to drink their blood, believing it would keep her youthful and beautiful. Stories started spreading about the women she tortured with pins and scissors and hot knives, before starving and beating them to death, all to drink their blood.

The authorities got involved, but because she was a noble, she didn't have to worry about execution. Instead she was locked up in solitary confinement in her castle until she died, at the relatively youthful age of 54.


Aileen Wuornos, 1956-2002

aileen wuornos
photo: Wikimedia

Aileen Wuornos is maybe the most well-known female serial killer, thanks to Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning portrayal of the murderer in the film "Monster."

Wuornos had a tough life. She never knew her father, her mother abandoned her at a young age, and she alleged her grandfather, who raised her, sexually assaulted her. When she was 14, an accomplice of her grandfather raped her, resulting in a pregnancy. She gave the baby up, but was still kicked out of her home, becoming a sex worker to support herself.

Wuornos would go on to murder six men on the Florida highways from 1989 to 1990. She claimed she shot the men in self-defense, and there were doubts raised about her sanity, but she still ended up being the 10th woman to be executed in the US.


Gesche Gottfried, 1785-1831

gesche gottfried
photo: Wikimedia

Gottfried was yet another woman who turned to arsenic to poison a mass of people. The German woman killed 15 people through the poison, and ironically enough she was known as "The Angel of Bremen" (the town she lived in) until she was exposed as a murderess.

She apparently thrived off the sympathy she got, as many of her victims were friends or family close to her, including two husbands, all of her children, and her parents. Shockingly, no one suspected for awhile that this woman surrounded by so much death was responsible — but she was eventually apprehended. She made a fatal error: Her friends noticed the powdery white substance in their food.


Darya Saltykova, 1730-1801

darya saltykova
photo: Wikimedia

This Russian noblewoman is particularly remembered for her sadism — and her shockingly huge number of victims. It's thought that she murdered at least 100 people, all of them her serfs. Even worse, her victims of choice were typically children.

She didn't just murder — she tortured. She beat her victims, whipped them, threw them naked into the cold, poured boiling water on them, and generally put them through hellish experiments before murdering them. She took great joy in making her serfs as unhappy as possible, and saw this as a way to punish them.

Her own punishment was also incredibly unusual: Catherine the Great, the Empress at the time, had her chained to a platform in a public space holding a sign that read, "This woman tortured and murdered." For one hour. Yes, I'm sure that realllllly got her. Anyway, she was also sentenced to life in a convent afterward.


Delphine LaLaurie, 1775-1849

delphine lalaurie
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Thanks to "American Horror Story," this New Orleans socialite is infamous. She used her mansion to torture and murder her slaves, putting them through shockingly inhumane treatment. They were mutilated and left hanging from chains, with rumors alleging some had their eyes gouged out and their skin peeled off. These slaves were all left starving and in pain until their death, trapped in her home.

However, one slave chained to a stove managed to set a fire that exposed the socialite for the horrifying madwoman she was. While fighting the fire, the slaves were discovered — and it was so horrifying even 1700s Southern white slaveowners were shocked and furious enough to set up a mob to go after her and burn her house for real. LaLaurie, however, managed to evade justice and escape to Paris.

You can visit her supposedly haunted house today on tours in New Orleans. In fact, Nicolas Cage even owned the home at one point.