This year saw the release of yet two more movies based on the life and crimes of serial killer Ted Bundy: No Man of God and Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman. This no doubt caused at least a few true crime lovers to heave an exasperated sigh and say something to the effect of, “Aren’t there some female murderers we can talk about?”
In her new book She Kills Me: The True Stories of History’s Deadliest Women, Jennifer Wright chronicles the riveting tales of more than three dozen. A few names will likely sound familiar. Lizzie Borden, for example, is well-known for allegedly axing her parents to death in 1892, though she was acquitted the following year. And you may recall briefly learning about Charlotte Corday—who knifed radical Jacobin writer Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub nearly a century earlier—during a high school history unit on the French Revolution. (Unlike Borden, Corday didn’t deny the crime, and she met her own death at the hands of Madame Guillotine mere days later.)
But for every literal femme fatale you’ve heard about before, Wright has unearthed a trove of women whose homicidal histories have flown far below the radar. Take Freddie Oversteegen, a Dutch teenager who, together with her older sister, spent World War II inviting unsuspecting Nazis on romantic walks in the woods, where she’d assassinate them.
Not all the killers exhibited such upstanding morals. A late-19th-century nurse named “Jolly Jane” Toppan poisoned her least favorite patients simply because witnessing death slowly overtake a person brought her “voluptuous delight.”
The book is organized into categories like “Killer Queens” and “Murderous Mercenaries,” so you can see which women were united in motive, though separated by space and time. Corday and Oversteegen can both be found in the last section: “Avenging Angels.” Borden, meanwhile, falls under “Bad Fam,” a group that also hosts Leonarda Cianciulli—a misguided mother who believed her murders would protect her children. Cianciulli didn’t waste the bodies; in a move that would surely impress Sweeney Todd’s Mrs. Lovett, she used them as ingredients in teacakes and soap.