Skip to Main Content

True Crime Book Club - Past Titles: Feb. 2023

Trigger Warning: Take a look through our previous titles from our True Crime Book Club.

"Lady Killers: Deadly Women Troughout History" by Tori Telfer

  1. Have you ever heard of any of these female serial killers before reading the book?
  2. Which (if any) of the killers did you associate with most? Why?
  3. Do you believe that women are capable of crimes more or less in today’s society?
  4. Why do you think that female killers are often overlooked in true crime circles?
    1. ‘“Women like to know, so they stay ahead of the curve,” Telfer said. “It makes them feel safer to know about these incidents because women are so often the victims of these crimes.” According to Telfer, this suggests that many women exist with an inherent mechanism of mistrust, one that may be essential to their survival.’ (The Last Bookstore)
    2. Do you think that’s the reason that females read more true crime than men? 
  5. Which of the killers discussed in the book do you think was the worst? Why?
  6. Did you find yourself researching more about any of the killers? Why did they intrigue you so much?
  7. Why do you think female killers get non-threatening nomenclatures (Giggling Grandma) while men get more intense names (Night Stalker)? Where does this sexism come from?
  8. Do you think there’s an economic or personal reason for some of these killings? Or were these just sadistic women who enjoyed killing?
  9. Did you enjoy the deep dive into the historical context of each killer? Or would you rather have had more focus on the blood-and-guts murders?
  10. Did you notice any similarities between each of these killers?
    1. “Many male serial killers exhibit a common pattern of behaviors, known as the MacDonald Triad, or the triad of sociopathy when they are kids. This triad includes arson, cruelty to animals, and enuresis or bedwetting, all of which appear to contribute to the likelihood of homicidal actions in adult life. In contrast, Telfer did not find any prominent patterns in killings committed by women, only common themes of desperation or twisted senses of love and altruism”. (The Last Bookstore)

*Sorted by chapter for each female serial killer*

  1. Erzsébet Báthory
    1. Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614) was either a murderous maniac or a pawn incriminated by family and foes keen to seize her holdings. Báthory is often proclaimed the most prolific female serial killer of all time, accused of slaying more than 600 young women inside her lavish castles. According to legend, she believed bathing in their virginal blood would grant her eternal youth. Instead, it assured she lived long in infamy. Báthory’s alleged sadism has inspired films, plays, operas, television shows, even video games. What finally undid the widow countess was extending her abuse to victims of a higher class, says Rachael Bledsaw, adjunct faculty in the history department at Washington State’s Highline College. “Killing serfs and servants, who indeed had fewer rights, was gauche but not really illegal for a noble,” says Bledsaw, who wrote a thesis on Báthory. “Killing your fellow nobles, even ones of lower rank, was a far more serious problem, and not one that could be ignored.” Finally, in 1610, an investigation began into dozens of suspicious deaths and disappearances in Čachtice, launched by Matthias II, King of Hungary. With the testimony of dozens of witnesses, Báthory was arrested and imprisoned in Čachtice Castle for the murder of 80 young women, Bledsaw says. Some witnesses estimated her body count at more than 600. Yet the countess was never convicted, and her husband could not be prosecuted from his grave. Instead, four of Báthory’s servants were convicted of violence against young women in her castles. The countess, meanwhile, remained locked in her spacious jail until she died in 1614, at the age of 54.
  2. Nannie Doss
    1. Nannie Doss seemed like a sweet lady. She smiled and laughed all the time. She married, had four children, and spent time with her grandchildren. But behind the happy facade was a trail of death and murder that lasted from the 1920s to 1954. It was then that Nannie Doss confessed to killing four of her five husbands, and authorities believed she may have killed many of her blood relatives as well. At the age of 16, Nannie Doss wed a man she had only known for four months. Charley Braggs and Doss had four children together from 1921 to 1927. The marriage fell apart at that point. The happy couple lived with Braggs’ mother, but she had the same abusive type of behavior as Doss’ father. Perhaps it was her mother-in-law that kickstarted Doss’ murdering spree. Just a year after her divorce, Doss married her second husband. He was an abusive alcoholic from Jacksonville, Fla. named Frank Harrelson. The two met through a lonely hearts column. Harrelson wrote her romantic letters, while Doss responded with racy letters and photos. Despite the abuse, the marriage lasted 16 years until 1945. During this period, Doss likely killed her own newborn granddaughter a few days after the birth by using a hairpin to stab her in the brain. A few months after the granddaughter’s death, her two-year-old grandson, Robert, died of asphyxiation while in Doss’ care. These two kids belonged to Melvina, Doss’ older child with Braggs. Harrelson was next on the murderer’s list. Following a night of drunken revelry at the end of World War II, Doss mixed a secret ingredient into his hidden jar of moonshine. He died less than a week later on Sept. 15, 1945. Arlie Lanning of Lexington, N.C., died in 1952 several years after he responded to a lonely hearts classified ad placed by Doss. Playing the doting wife, Doss added poison to one of Lanning’s meals and he died shortly thereafter. He was a heavy drinker, so doctors attributed the heart attack to alcohol. Richard Morton of Emporia, Kan. was Doss’ next true love, although he spent a lot of time with other women while married to Doss. However, Doss wouldn’t discover this just yet, because she was distracted with other matters. Nannie Doss’ final victim was Samuel Doss of Tulsa, Okla. He was neither a drunk nor abusive. He simply made the mistake of telling his wife that she could only read magazines or watch television shows that were for educational purposes.
  3. Lizzie Halliday
    1. She was born Eliza Margaret McNally in County Antrim, Ireland in 1864, and came to this country with her parents three years later. She married Charles Hopkins, also known as “Ketspool” Brown, in 1879, and gave birth to a son. Hopkins died two years later, and shortly thereafter, she married Artemus Brewer, described by the New York Times as “a veteran and a pensioner.” He died after less than a year of marriage. “Her next venture was Hiram Parkinson, who deserted her within a year. She then married, Parkinson being still alive, George Smith, a veteran and a comrade of her second husband, Brewer. In a few months she tried to kill Smith by giving him a cup of poisoned tea. Failing in her design, she fled to Bellows Falls, VT, taking with her every portable article in the house.” While in Vermont, Lizzie married Charles Playstel, and lived with him for about two weeks, before disappearing. She afterward turned up in Philadelphia and arranged to stay with the McQuillan family, who had been the McNallys’ neighbors in Ireland. She opened a small shop there, and shortly thereafter burned it for the insurance money. Arrested for that crime, she served two years in prison. At some point after her release from the Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia, she turned up in Newburgh in Orange County, where she met Paul Halliday, a widower living in Burlingham (Sullivan County) with his sons. She went to work for him as a housekeeper, and he eventually married her – though neighbors later said the marriage was just his way of avoiding having to pay her. Lizzie convinced her husband to gain her release from the asylum, and she returned the favor by burning down his house, a barn and a nearby mill, killing one of his sons in the process. Then Paul Halliday disappeared. Lizzie told the neighbors that he was traveling, but suspicious, they searched the property. They did not find Halliday, but they did turn up two bodies under a haystack in a barn. The deceased turned out to be Margaret and Sarah McQuillan, the wife and daughter of the man who had provided Lizzie a home in Philadelphia. They had both been shot. Around the middle of September, just a few days after arresting Lizzie for the murders of the McQullians, authorities discovered the body of Paul Halliday under the floor boards of his house. Lizzie was charged with that crime, as well and confined to Sullivan County Jail to await trial. Her time there was not uneventful. Convicted in Sullivan County Oyer and Terminal Court of the Sarah McQuillan murder, Lizzie Halliday was sentenced to be executed, only to have that sentence commuted. She spent the rest of her life in the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where she was constantly a source of trouble, attempting to escape a number of times, and assaulting several attendants, including nurse Nellie Wickes, who was stabbed more than 200 times in 1906 after she told Lizzie of her plans to leave the hospital for other employment. Miss Wickes died from her wounds. Lizzie Halliday died at Matteawan on June 18, 1918.
  4. Elizabeth Ridgway
    1. Elizabeth Ridgeway (died 24 March 1684) was an English woman convicted of poisoning her husband. While awaiting execution by burning at the stake, she confessed to previously poisoning her mother, a fellow servant, and a lover. Ridgeway poisoned each of her victims by mixing white mercury or arsenic into her intended victim's food or drink. Elizabeth Ridgeway, née Husbands, was born in the late 17th century on a farm outside Ibstock, Leicestershire, England. She lived at home until about age 29, poisoning her mother after an argument, about a year before she took a job in town as a household servant. She poisoned a male co-worker in her household with arsenic, reportedly after developing a grudge against this individual. Ridgeway had many suitors during this time and poisoned John King in 1682 after she had backed herself into a corner romantically, having promised too much to King. She far preferred the wealthier Thomas Ridgeway and married him on 1 February 1683 after waiting through the winter. All was not bliss as Ridgeway's sister called in his £20 debt to her shortly after the marriage, which nearly bankrupted the couple. She contemplated suicide for a time, but ultimately stirred some arsenic that she had purchased earlier in Ashby-de-la-Zouch into her husband's broth while he was at church. He ate most of it although he complained to his apprentices that it was gritty. Thomas Ridgeway died that evening, three weeks and three days after their wedding. The apprentices suspected poisoning and, after her attempt to feed them arsenic-laced porridge failed, she attempted to bribe them into silence. One of them reported his suspicions to Ridgeway's in-laws and the local justice of the peace ordered an inquest by the coroner. Examination of the body confirmed that he had been poisoned and Elizabeth Ridgeway was jailed in Leicester to await trial. To test her guilt, she was supposedly forced to touch her husband's body in the belief that the body of the victim would spontaneously bleed in the presence of the murderer (cruentation) and the body gushed blood at the nose and mouth. During her trial on 14 March, she pled not guilty, but was convicted and sentenced to burn. Despite some protests over the severity of the sentence, the judge refused to relent, but did ask John Newton, a local clergyman, to counsel Ridgeway. She had no interest in making her peace with God and toyed with him by promising full confessions multiple times before changing her mind. She finally admitted on the morning of her execution that she had poisoned her mother, a fellow servant, John King, and her husband and confessed that she had thought of suicide around the time of her mother's death three years previously.
  5. Raya & Sakina
    1. The sisters lived in Alexandria, Egypt running a brothel with their families. The business prospered and the group decided to rent an entire house, that they called “Beit-el-Gamal” or the house of beauty, in which the first floor was dedicated to gatherings, in the middle was a bar and a place for smoking, amongst other things, was hashish; smoked from special long Arabic water pipes, it was stylish! They were always wealthy, well-dressed women wearing a lot of gold. Perhaps the victim stopped by a shop selling fabrics and as she was choosing which one to buy Raya or Sakina would approach and tell her “We have better quality fabric and a greater selection at our place if you want you can accompany us and have a look”, something along those lines. At their place they would offer her a drink, one became two or three and when she was drunk one of the men would come, strangle her and they would collect the gold before burying her underground. The story then continues; A policeman discovered a body in the streets of Alexandria near the neighbourhood where the two couples lived. Simultaneously the owner of one of the flats Sakina rented got an offer to rent out the entire apartment to a wealthy Italian man, but the man requested to have the water pipes changed, as they were very old. While putting in new pipes the workers found the remains of a body that was later linked back to the room Sakina Aly rented secondhand. The neighbours also complained to the police about a strong and strange smell, an excessive incense smoke originating from Sakina’s room that used to fill the hallways. As the net tightened the police discovered more and more bodies, a total of 17 victims. The news blew up in the entire country and beyond, as the crime became widely known due to the fact that it involved two women as main participants in a serial killing, something incomprehensible at the time. All the participants in the crime got the death penalty.
  6. Mary Ann Cotton
    1. British nurse and housekeeper who was believed to be Britain’s most prolific female serial killer. She allegedly poisoned up to 21 people before being executed in 1873. In 1852 she married William Mowbray, and over the next decade or so, the couple had eight or nine children. (The lack of documentation—such as birth and death certificates—leaves many details of Mary Ann’s life open to dispute.) After moving frequently, the family settled in Hendon, Durham county, in about 1856. At some point William took out a life insurance policy that covered both him and their three surviving children; the others had died from “gastric fever,” a common ailment that had symptoms similar to arsenic poisoning. Gastric fever also claimed William’s life in 1864 and the lives of two other children soon afterward. Mary Ann received the insurance money, and she then left her daughter in the care of her mother. Mary Ann subsequently worked as a hospital nurse in nearby Sunderland, and in 1865 she married a patient, George Ward. However, he died the following year, and Mary Ann reportedly collected money from another insurance policy. She then found work as a housekeeper for James Robinson, a widower. Reportedly just weeks after her arrival in 1866, one of his five children succumbed to gastric fever. The following year Mary Ann went to visit her ailing mother, who died about a week after her return. Mary Ann and her daughter with Mowbray then went to live at the Robinson home. However, in April 1867 the girl and two of Robinson’s children died. In August, Mary Ann married Robinson, and the couple had two children, though only one survived. In 1869 Robinson discovered that Mary Ann was stealing from him, and he grew suspicious of her repeated requests that he take out a life insurance policy. She soon left—or was thrown out—and was for a time homeless. However, in 1870 Mary Ann met another widower, Frederick Cotton, who was the brother of a friend. That year both Cotton’s sister and his youngest child died. In September 1870 Mary Ann and Cotton were married—though she was still wed to Robinson—and she later gave birth to a son. By the end of the following year Cotton and two more children had died; again Mary Ann reportedly received an insurance payout. Around this time she took up with a former lover, Joseph Nattrass, but later became pregnant by another man, John Quick-Manning. In 1872 Nattrass died, leaving his meagre belongings to Mary Ann. She then allegedly told a local official that she could not marry Quick-Manning because of her seven-year-old stepson, Charles Edward Cotton. However, she added, “I won’t be troubled long.” After the boy died, the official notified the police. An examination ultimately revealed the presence of arsenic in his stomach. Authorities also exhumed the bodies of Nattrass and two other Cotton children, and all were determined to have been poisoned with arsenic. Mary Ann was charged with the murder of Charles Edward Cotton, and while she was in jail, a daughter was born in January 1873; that infant—who was reportedly her 13th child—and another offspring were the only ones to outlive their mother. Mary Ann’s trial began two months later, and the defense claimed that the deceased had inhaled arsenic dust from wallpaper dye, a conceivable explanation given that arsenic was then common in many household items. However, the prosecution’s evidence, notably the other arsenic-related deaths, proved insurmountable, and she was convicted and sentenced to death. On March 24, 1873, Mary Ann was hanged in a bungled execution.
  7. Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova
    1. Was a Russian noblewoman, sadist, and serial killer from Moscow. She became notorious for torturing and killing many of her serfs, mostly females. Saltykova has been compared by many to the Hungarian "Blood Countess," Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), who allegedly committed similar crimes in her home, Čachtice Castle, against servant girls and local serfs, although historians debate the accuracy of these charges. Many early complaints to authorities about the deaths at the Saltykova estate were ignored, or resulted in punishment for complaining. Saltykova was well connected with those in power at the Russian royal court and with the Russian nobility. Eventually, relatives of the murdered women were able to bring a petition before Empress Catherine II. Catherine decided to try Saltykova publicly, in order to further her "lawfulness" initiative. Saltykova was arrested in 1762. Saltykova was held for six years, until 1768, while the authorities conducted a painstaking investigation. Catherine's Collegium of Justice questioned many witnesses and examined the records of the Saltykov estate. The investigating official counted as many as 138 suspicious deaths, of which the vast majority were attributed to Saltykova. Saltykova was found guilty of having killed 38 female serfs by beating and torturing them to death, but the Empress Catherine was unsure how to punish her; the death penalty was abolished in Russia in 1754, and the new Empress needed the support of the nobility. In 1768, Saltykova was chained on a public platform in Moscow for one hour, with a sign around her neck with the text: "This woman has tortured and murdered." Many people came to look at her while she was being scornfully ridiculed. Afterward, Saltykova was sent for life imprisonment in the cellar of Ivanovsky Convent in Moscow. Saltykova died on December 9, 1801 and was buried next to her relatives in the Donskoy Monastery necropolis.
  8. Anna Marie Hahn
    1. Was a 26-year old immigrant from Germany who offered her services in Cincinnati as a live-in attendant for elderly men. Over a period of about a year apiece, she would end up bilking 5 victims of all their assets in a variety of ingenious ways and then finally murdering them after they had nothing more to take. She was also an expert in poisons, using a different kind each time to dispatch her victims. Her activities came to the attention of meticulous bank examiners, and suspicious police exhumed the bodies of her former employers. Her mercy killing defense failed, and in 1938, she became the first woman in Ohio's history to die in the electric chair.
  9. Oum-El-Hassen
    1. This woman, known after her 1936 arrest as the “Ogress of Fez,”  was a control freak, a control freak from hell to be more precise. Oum-el-Hassen, known as Moulay Hassen, got away with torture and murder, more than a hundred times, it is said, before she slipped up. “It was this sadistic-minded woman’s diabolical joy to abduct attractive young girls, several of European nationality, and use them in staging fantastic, indescribable orgies for the entertainment of her depraved guests. Those who resisted, she shacked in her fetid, verminous dungeons to be whipped, tattooed with hot irons, and bastinadoed at leisure. Finally, if they still remained defiant, they were dismembered and smuggled out of the city for burial in the sands. It says much for the courage of Moulay Hassan’s girl victims that 100 of them at least, according to authenticated evidence, chose death even this awful form rather then yield to her demands.” “Of the fourteen girls known to have been inmates of this club in the past year [1938], three have disappeared, four are dead, and seven have been tortured so badly that they will be invalids for life. Once a girl entered this haunt she was never seen again outside.” Madame Hassen was once a famous dancer who became a madame for prostitutes. She kidnapped, tortured and serially murdered many young women (as well as boys). She was discovered to be a serial killer following the discovery bag full of of dismembered body parts of Cherifa, one of her victims. She fed human flesh to her cats. She was convicted and sentenced to death, but due to her powerful political connections she was freed to continue her criminal career. Convicted of new crimes she was sentenced to only 15 years in prison. The famous French writer, Colette, was hired by a Paris newspaper to travel to Morocco to report on the sensational trial. Collette interpreted the live story of Oum-el-Hassen through an ideological lens – in social constructionist feminist terms. The sadistic murderess was not, in the feminist thought-universe, personally responsible for her monstrous behavior. No: “the patriarchy did it” – this despite there being no explanation why other women in the region failed to develop similar sociopathic personalities.
  10. Tillie Klimek
    1. By 1895, she married Joe Mitkiewicz. The marriage appeared to be a happy one. The couple was well-liked in their community. Tillie earned a reputation as a good cook, who had the uncanny ability to predict impending deaths. These predictions came to her in dreams, she claimed, and Tillie had many of them. Usually, the dreams were of stray dogs that annoyed her or an argumentative neighbor. However, the world would come to know Tillie wasn’t really having premonitions. She was merely stating times of deaths and penciling a murder into her schedule. At the beginning of 1914, Tillie began telling friends and neighbors about a new vision. She dreamed her husband, Joe, was sick. And that he would die within weeks. It was no surprise when that dream came true on January 13, 1914. The coroner listed the cause of death as “heart trouble.” Tillie collected around $1000 in life insurance. Tillie wouldn’t remain a weeping widow for long. Tillie married Joseph Ruskowski on February 27, 1914, After a month of grieving. She once again began to tell people that her husband would die. Joseph, who was the picture of health, started to get sick by May. Just as Tillie predicted, Joseph passed on May 20. He left Tillie $1200 in cash and $722 in insurance. Shortly after Joseph’s death, Tillie sought comfort in the arms of another man, Josef Guszkowski. His sister, Stella, enjoyed candy with her brother and his new sweetheart. Both of them became violently ill, and Tillie’s latest beau died. Tillie married yet again in March of 1919. This time to Frank Joseph Kupczyk. The couple lived at 924 N. Winchester Avenue in Chicago. Tillie lived here before, with a man named “Meyers” who happened to go missing. When Frank moved in, Tillie assured neighbors that he wouldn’t live long.Known equally for her cooking, premonitions, and subsequent widowhood. So it was a surprise when she found a fourth man willing to avow himself to her. This marriage, though, would be where Tillie met her Waterloo.  Tillie celebrated her fourth wedding on July 30, 1921, to a wealthy man named Joseph Klimek. Although he was a man of means, Tillie claimed he enjoyed moonshine too much and too often for her tastes. More than that, he had a roving eye, and Tillie could not tolerate competition. She complained about this to her cousin, Nellie Koulic, who suggested Tillie get a divorce. “I will get rid of him some other way…” Tillie replied. So, Tillie had her new husband take out a life insurance policy. Weeks passed, and Joseph realized he was getting sick. He experienced shooting pains in his arms, which he dismissed quickly enough. But, his arms began to go numb, and after six weeks, his legs were paralyzed. Joseph called his doctor. The doctors saw that his symptoms were consistent with arsenic poisoning. Tests confirmed the man was suffering the effects of long-term arsenic toxicity. On October 27, 1922, Hospital officials called the police, who promptly arrested Tillie. She quipped at officer Lieutenant Willard Malone as he placed her under arrest, “The next one I want to cook dinner for is you! You made all of my troubles!” After 18 hours of interrogation, she confessed. Tillie received no acquittal. Although evidence existed to convict her of 20 murders by arsenic, only one charge resulted in a conviction. In March of 1923, Tillie was found guilty in the first-degree murder of Frank Kupczyk. Tillie lived out her years in Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet, where she died on November 3, 1936. She was 60 years old.
  11. Alice Kyteler
    1. Alice was born to wealthy Norman parents in 1263. Her first husband was William Outlawe, a local banker and they had a son, also called William, who was to feature strongly in the saga of her life. Her husband became ill and died suddenly within a few years of marriage. Shortly after the death of William Outlawe, Alice married her second wealthy husband, Adam de Blund of Cullen who soon also died suddenly and mysteriously. Alice was now substantially wealthier and married Richard de Valle and the pattern continued with his early, sudden and mysterious death. It was the fourth husband of Kilkenny’s ‘Merry Widow’ however who unwittingly began a chain of events that would lead to Alice being convicted on charges on witchcraft before an ecclesiastical court. Some years after his marriage to Alice, landowner Sir. John de Poer showed signs of illness. His hair and nails fell out and he became weak and sickly. Shortly before he succumbed to death, he changed his Will to the benefit of Alice and her son William, an act which resulted in anger and resentment among his other family members. Armed with rumours (which may have been false and inspired by local jealousy), they brought charges of witchcraft and sorcery against Alice before the English-born Franciscan Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Lederede. They claimed that Alice had ‘bewitched’ her husband and forced him to change his Will. His Lordship convened a Court of Inquisition which included five Knights and several Noblemen which heard evidence that Alice headed a coven of witches and had sex with a demon called Artissen, who is sometimes depicted as Aethiops, the mythical founder of Ethiopia. What followed next was a legal and political battle in which Bishop Lederede tried, but failed, to get the Temporal Authority to arrest and condemn Alice, her son William Outlawe and several of her friends and servants. The Bishop was himself arrested and imprisoned in Kilkenny jail, but on his release he continued his campaign, demanding that Alice appear before him. She wisely refused and promptly left for England, returning a year later to Dublin where she urged the Archbishop to condemn the Bishop of Ossory for unlawfully excommunicating her. A showdown between the Commissioner and Bishop Lederede took place in Dublin and ended with the Bishop returning to Kilkenny from where he demanded that Alice be arrested. Alice was held in the dungeons of Kilkenny Castle where in those medieval times, for one to be found guilty of witchcraft was a most serious offense and one that carried the sentence of death. Dame Alice and her disciples were condemned to be whipped through the streets, tied at the back of a horse and cart after which Alice, as chief priestess and instigator, would be burned at the stake. But by the political power of the Chancellor of all Ireland, her former brother-in-law Roger Outlawe, her escape was organized. Her guards were beaten senseless and Dame Alice was released from the dungeons beneath Kilkenny Castle and freed from the sentence of death that hung over her. The Kilkenny Witchcraft Trials did however take place. William Outlawe was convicted and ordered by Bishop Lederede to attend three Masses every day and to give alms to the poor. He was also made to repair the roof of St. Canice's Cathedral as punishment. This light sentence was in sharp contrast to the torture handed out to less wealthy friends of Alice, including her maid Petronella who was tortured, whipped and finally burned at the stake in front of a large crowd outside the Tholsel on the 3rd of November 1324. Alice disappeared from history following her second escape to England in 1324.
  12. Kate Bender
    1. Kate Bender gained the reputation as an attractive but dangerous woman in her Labette County community. She lived with her parents and brother while helping them run an isolated grocery and road house. Somewhat an alien in the midst of the other family members, she was the only one to culture social skills. She also had an alleged gift for second sight and spiritualism and distributed advertising circulars throughout the county proclaiming her abilities. Her enduring fame, however, would come from other skills, namely that of murderer, for Kate was the leading member of the "Bloody Benders." The small Bender home was divided into two rooms by a canvas cloth. There was a table, stove and grocery stores in front and beds in the back along with the pit-like cellar covered by a trap door. The Bender family's crimes were considered some of the more gruesome perpetrated on Kansas soil. John, his wife, son, and daughter Kate operated an inn outside of Parsons from 1871 to 1873. Photograph showing an advertisement for Prof. Miss Katie Bender's healing powers and a knife found in the Bender homeThe inn was located on a main road and travelers would often stop for food and rest. Many never left. While seated on the bench near the temporary wall their heads made a perfect outline on the canvas. It was a simple matter to murder the victim with a sledge hammer kept on hand for just that purpose. The bodies were then tossed into the cellar until they could be removed. When suspicions were aroused in 1873 the Benders fled. Eleven bodies were found, with crushed skulls, in the Bender garden. No one has ever been able to prove what happened to Kate and her family, even though a nationwide manhunt turned up suspects for many years after.
  13. Marie-Madeleine, the Marquise de Brinvillers
    1. Was a French aristocrat who was accused and convicted of murdering her father and two of her brothers in order to inherit their estates. After her death, there was speculation that she poisoned upwards of 30 sick people in hospitals to test out her poisons, but these rumors were never confirmed. Her alleged crimes were discovered after the death of her lover and co-conspirator, Captain Godin de Sainte-Croix, who saved letters detailing dealings of poisonings between the two. After being arrested, she was tortured, forced to confess, and finally executed. Her trial and death spawned the onset of the Affair of the Poisons, a major scandal during the reign of Louis XIV accusing aristocrats of practicing witchcraft and poisoning people. Components of her life have been adapted into various different mediums including: short stories, poems, and songs to name a few.
  • Graduated from Northwestern with B.A. in creative writing
  • Was a teachers and children’s book publisher
  • Lives in New York City
  • Written from numerous magazines (online and print)
  • Wrote an award winning screenplay, Detective in the City of Beautiful Women
  • Written, directed, and produce two plays
  • Hosted three podcasts (Criminal Broads, Red Flags, & Why Women Kill)
  • Lady Killers was first published Oct. 10, 2017 (first book)
  • Confident Women was published Feb. 23, 2021 (second book)
  • “This is my book about real, often-forgotten, pre-1950s female serial killers.” (Telfer)
  • Inspired by author Tori Telfer's Jezebel column “Lady Killers,” this thrilling and entertaining compendium investigates female serial killers and their crimes through the ages. (Bank Square Books)
  • Telfer, based in New York City, began writing an online column about criminal women in 2014. She covered women like Tillie Klimek, who became known as a husband killer in Chicago and was sentenced to life in prison in the 1920s. (Daily Gazette
  • I just stumbled into it honestly. The [website] The Awl was looking for historical columns and I had just discovered this controversial figure on Wikipedia, Erzsébet Báthory, this Hungarian countess from the 1500s who maybe killed 600 girls. Obviously, that was interesting to me, so I pitched the idea of a column on female serial killers. That’s how I got here today. It became a column in The Hairpin and I started getting interest from editors. I didn’t realize what a market it was, but that’s what led to my book. (Daily Gazette
  • There were a lot of female serial killers that I left out just because I couldn’t find enough material or they would have made the book redundant or they didn’t fit within my time period. I stopped in the 1950s, so I didn’t include Aileen Wuornos, who [killed] in the 90s. The parameters that I set for myself naturally eliminated some people. But I went down this path for a while [researching] this Japanese female serial killer from the World War II [era]. I even had a friend in Tokyo digging into Japanese sources because I couldn’t find a lot on her in English. So I had him dig into Japanese archives and he couldn’t find [very much either]. We eventually theorized that World War II must have distracted everyone, which is understandable. [But] she was really horrible. She wasn’t the only one who’s done this, but [she had] this baby hospital where the babies went missing. But there wasn’t a lot of [material on it]. To come up with 5,000 words on these women I had to have a lot of material and especially in other countries, I was not always able to access the material I needed or even know if it existed. (Daily Gazette
  • Telfer talks about how men in power have carefully constructed their own narrative around each of these female killers. Uncomfortable with the idea that a woman could kill in cold blood, they rewrite the story. For instance, the infamous Erzsebet Bathory was a “vampire” or a “seductress”, when in reality she probably just enjoyed murdering people.  Even the names given to certain killers, like Nannie Doss, the “Giggling Grandma”, is meant to lessen the impact of what they did.  Telfer provides a critical analysis of why humanity is tempted to reason away the acts of female killers, and it’s really quite fascinating a read for those interested in sociology and psychology. (Power Librarian)
  • So how do we take female serial killers seriously? “You have to see them as human,” Telfer says, “and I don’t mean treasure them as human beings but understand that a fellow person is capable of this and what may bring them to that point. Old journalists would talk about these women as if they were unholy demons or, to quote one directly, ‘beasts from the depth’ which is to laugh them off. They’re unhinged or act in extreme ways but they are still governed by their own agency and systems. These reactions to circumstances make them human and female serial killers keep getting dismissed.” (Paste Magazine)


Westwood Public Library

Main Library

660 High Street
Westwood, MA 02090
Email Main Library

Islington Branch

273 Washington Street
Westwood, MA 02090
Email Branch Library