“Lady Killers” is a much-needed spotlight on female serial killers. It’s often believed that there are either 1. No women serial killers or 2. The ones that do exist aren’t nearly as scary or worth remembering as their male counterparts. While this book takes a look at fourteen different women serial killers—the methods they used, and a little bit about why in the context of the place and era they lived—this book is also part feminist study as to the language used around reporting and discussing women murderers. It, oddly, gave the book a sarcastic tone which I didn’t mind, but is a little… weird for a book with this kind of subject matter.
This book is mainly an introduction to each of the killers. You essentially get the SparkNotes version of everything; broad, sweeping overviews of what these women did, how they were raised, and a bit on how they were caught—if they in fact were. Some of the cases are well known, others not so much, and it was those little-known women and their stories that I wish had more than just the standard twenty pages. But, if nothing else, this book did inspire me to look more into those women on my own. But, truly, the most interesting aspect of this novel was how each of these women had their crimes diminished in the press or in their communities in some capacity. They got passed off as “not as serious” because they used poison instead of a gun—though many of these women were very “hands on”, shall we say, when it came to their crimes. Or were hyper sexualized to the point where they are remembered later as sexual deviants rather than cold blooded killers.
Often if the woman was pretty then her crimes were diminished through a sexual lens, tying her crimes more to passion or an overactive libido. You’ll see these women on Buzzfeed style lists of “world’s hottest serial killers” like that makes it some how ok for them to do what they did. Or, if she happens to be old or ugly, then the press often gives these women infantile nick-names (the Giggling Grandma, anyone?) which then colors their crimes as more of a joke, brushing off female aggression entirely. Compare that to how male serial killers are spoken about, feared, and in some cases, revered. You get terrifying names for them: The Boston Strangler, The Greenriver Killer, The Toy Box Killer, just to name a few off the top of my head. The press goes nuts warning women to hide, lock their doors, don’t go out at night, change your hair color so you don’t look like the victims. Whereas when a woman does nearly the same thing it’s met more with a shrug and a cute quip about how attractive she is. Men (usually their victims) aren’t told to be wary of traveling alone at night, of taking a drink from a stranger. I found those brief discussions in this book to be fascinating! I wish more time had been spent on the psychological reasons as to why that’s typically the case when it comes to female serial killers, but alas, this book is less than 300 pages of content, so there was only so much that could be discussed alongside the cases themselves. Which is why I’m giving this 4 stars, the content is fascinating, just a little sparse all around.
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