Female Serial Do women commit murder for different reasons than men do? In Lifetime movies, they kill to escape abuse, for revenge, or to cash in on a big life insurance policy. But for these real-life female serial killers, the motives are far more sinister.
In 1911 and 1912, brutal ax killings were terrorizing Louisiana. Entire families were slaughtered while they slept, and horrific, bloody crime scenes were left behind. A young African-American woman, Clementine Barnabet, confessed to participating in the murders. She claimed that she possessed a voodoo charm that would protect her from detection by the police. The 19-year-old said that she was the one who killed the children of the slain families so they wouldn’t be left as orphans. But Barnabet changed her story so many times that the police didn’t know what to believe.
She killed at least 35 people and was sentenced to life at Louisiana Penitentiary. While in prison, Barnabet reportedly received a procedure that “restored her to normal conditions.” She was released on good behavior after serving 10 years.
Linda Hazzard ran a sanitarium in the early 20th century. Her specialty was a fasting treatment that she used to the extreme. Despite having no formal medical training, she was licensed as a “fasting specialist” in Washington. Hazzard believed that food, particularly too much food, caused disease. She treated patients with tiny portions of vegetable broth, daily enemas, and vigorous massages that witnesses likened to beatings. Patient Claire Williamson was fed two cups of tomato broth per day and given hours-long enemas in the bathtub. She weighed less than 70 pounds when she died, and Hazzard was charged with first-degree murder for starving her to death.
Hazzard took no responsibility for the deaths of any of her patients. At least 15 died in her care. She believed, “Death in the fast never results from deprivation of food”—if someone died during a fast, it was because they had something that would soon have killed them anyway. Hazzard was sentenced to hard labor at the Walla Walla penitentiary, and her medical license was revoked. She served just two years.
Martha Ann Johnson
Martha Ann Johnson smothered three of her own children between 1977 and 1982. Each of the murders followed a domestic dispute with her husband. Each time he walked out, a child died. In September 1977, 21-year-old Johnson and her third husband lived with Johnson’s children from previous marriages. Shortly after her husband stormed out after a fight, Johnson brought her 2-year-old to the hospital. The child was pronounced dead, and doctors listed sudden infant death syndrome as the cause. Johnson and her husband reconciled and had two additional children. In 1980, they fought again, and this time their 3-month-old died. This death was also blamed on cot death. Not long after, their young son died after yet another fight between the couple.
One year later, Johnson’s eldest daughter was dead—asphyxiated from an undetermined cause. In 1989, Johnson (now married to husband No. 4) confessed. She described how she had smothered two children by rolling her 250-pound body onto them and suffocating them to death. She said she did it to punish her husband and, ultimately, to make him come back home. She denied killing her other two children. Johnson is serving a life sentence at Pulaski State Prison.
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Tillie Klimek was well-known in her neighborhood for her uncanny ability to predict deaths. The Polish-American claimed that her dreams told her when a neighbor or even a stray dog would die. But these weren’t visions or premonitions, they were to-dos: Klimek caused deaths she predicted. In 1914, Klimek told friends that she dreamed that her husband was sick and would die within weeks. Sure enough, he died just as she had predicted. Within a month, Klimek was remarried and receiving “visions” of her new husband’s demise. Hubby No. 2 died just three months later. A new beau was soon on the scene. He became violently ill and died soon after eating some candy given to him by Klimek. A few years later, Klimek wed again. The newlyweds moved into an apartment that Klimek had lived in before with another gentleman who had mysteriously disappeared. Klimek assured neighbors that her third husband wasn’t long for this world. (She even kept a coffin on hand!)
The mister died in April 1921, and Klimek married for the fourth time. Unlike the men who preceded him, husband No. 4 reached out to a doctor when he fell sick. Tests confirmed that he was suffering from arsenic poisoning. Klimek was arrested and confessed to poisoning her husband with soot-and-arsenic rat poison. Investigators exhumed Klimek’s dead husbands and confirmed that they all had lethal quantities of arsenic in their bodies. At her trial, Klimek confirmed that she had killed 20 people (and several animals). She was convicted of one murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 1936, she died at age 60 in the Illinois State Penitentiary.
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Jane Toppan was a well-respected nurse—one of the best, according to the doctors who hired her. But unlike most nurses who to pledge to help others, Toppan aspired to “kill more helpless people than any other man or woman who ever lived.” Toppan’s outgoing personality initially earned her the title of “Jolly Jane” among her nursing classmates. Hospital administrators had noticed that talented nursing student was obsessed with autopsies. But what they didn’t notice was that she experimented with drugs on her elderly patients. Toppan completed her studies but lost her first hospital job because she was reckless with opiate prescriptions. Nevertheless, doctors recommended skilled caregiver as a private nurse to their wealthy clients. One by one, she began murdering her clients. She administered drugs to her patients and then held them close.
She fondled her victims as they died and watched “with delight as [they] gasped [their] life out.” She was arrested in 1901 and confessed to killing at least 31 people (but there were perhaps 100 victims in all). She admitted that she derived a sexual thrill from patients being near death, coming back to life, and then dying again. After an eight-hour trial and 27-minute jury deliberation, Toppan was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She spent the rest of her life at a state hospital and died in 1938.