I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
What is it about the female killer that fascinates us? There are plenty of theories serving as the alleged answer to the question, but there's no one definite reason why they captivate us even more so than their male counterparts.
From black widows to murderous mothers, the following list describes 50 American female killers and tells their intriguing stories in 50 words or less.
1. Anjette Lyles of Macon, Georgia
In 1950s downtown Macon, Georgia, restaurateur Anjette Lyles was well-liked among patrons. It would be a shock when her young husband grew mysteriously ill and died, quickly followed by his mother in-law and oldest daughter. Many townsfolk gasped in surprise when Anjette was sentenced to death for their murders.
2. Betty Lou Beets of Athens, Texas
Betty Lou Beets never had much luck with men, and it would seem that tragedy had struck her life again when her fifth husband allegedly drowned in a nearby lake. When her sixth husband vanished without a trace, police took a second look. She'd deny her guilt until her execution.
3. Jill Coit of Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Jill Coit loved men and their money, so much so that she got married ten times to nine different men. All of the men would be unable to financially keep up with Jill's spending habits; two of them would be murdered. Today, she's single and serving life without parole in a Denver prison.
4. Sharon Nelson of Denver, Colorado
Sharon Fuller Nelson had a long-time secret boyfriend—so long he lasted through all her marriages. His name was Gary Starr Adams. He would do anything for Sharon, including murdering two of her three husbands before she finally made a commitment to him just before being sentenced to life in prison.
5. Lyda Trueblood of Twin Falls, Idaho
After settling with her husband, daughter, and brother-in-law in Twin Falls, Idaho, Lyda Trueblood set about the business of murdering each of them, plus more men. She was sentenced to ten years in prison but was released after nine. Lyda died of a heart attack 17 years after release.
6. Judy Buenoano of Pensacola, Florida
Judy Buenoano needed money. After poisoning a boyfriend and drowning her physically disabled son, Judy collected $240,000 in proceeds, which she quickly disposed. She decided to collect another policy by killing her boyfriend with a car bomb. Instead, she was executed by the state of Florida.
7. Jodi Arias of Yreka, California
Jodi Arias was hurt and angry when boyfriend Travis Alexander broke up with her. She traveled to Arizona to win him back but killed him while he was showering instead. The most damning evidence at her trial were the photos captured during the crime. Jodi is now serving life without parole.
8. Audrey Marie Hilley of Anniston, Alabama
Audrey Marie Hilley loved spending money. Murder and arson were quick payouts. Wanted for attempted murder, Audrey Marie took on a new identity; later, she faked the death of that identity and assumed the role of a twin sister. Convicted of attempted murder, she escaped prison then died while AWOL.
9. Diane Downs of Springfield, Oregon
Diane Downs' married boyfriend didn't want children, so she decided to dispose of them. As Hungry Like the Wolf played on the car radio, she shot them, claiming it was the work of an unidentified car jacker. No one believed her, and she's serving life in a California state prison.
10. Stella Nickell of Auburn, Washington
Stella Nickell always spent more than she could afford. After a life of petty crime and financial difficulties, Stella poisoned her husband's Excedrin. To collect double indemnity, she poisoned another bottle of the medicine and killed a random stranger. Today, she's serving two 90-year sentences in a Washington prison.
Gregg Olsen's 1993 book Bitter Almonds: Mothers, Daughters, and the Seattle Cyanide Murders is a riveting 585-page book about Stella Nickell, a woman who changed over-the-counter medications' marketing forever.
11. Rachel Wade of Pinellas Park, Florida
Rachel Wade was in love with poser thug Josh Comacho. So was Sarah Ludemann. Both girls fought constantly over the loser. During a confrontation one night, Rachel stabbed Sarah to death. Today, Rachel is without the pathetic man, serving a 27-year sentence in a Florida Department of Corrections prison.
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12. Kristin Rossum of La Jolla, California
Kristin Rossum had a drug problem and a boyfriend, neither of which her husband Greg approved of. She staged her husband's death to look like a suicide, but most said it looked like a scene out of the movie American Beauty. Now she's serving life without parole in a California Prison.
13. Dorothea Puente of Sacramento, Calfornia
She may have looked like someone's grandmother, but Dorothea Puente had bodies in the yard of her boarding house. Dorothea would murder her residents in order to collect their social security checks. She was sentenced to life in prison. She published a cookbook before dying of natural causes in 2011.
14. Melinda Loveless of New Albany, Indiana
Melinda Loveless was a lesbian, and so was 12-year-old Shanda Sharer. When Shanda started dating Melinda's ex-girlfriend, Melinda was outraged. She publicly declared her desire to kill Shanda. Melinda followed through, murdering Shanda with the help of her friends. Today, she is serving a 60-year prison sentence.
15. Belle Gunness of La Porte, Indiana
In the latter half of the 19th century, widow Belle Gunness would seduce men through lonely heart letters, and most would disappear without a trace. When Belle's house suddenly burned and a headless body was found, detectives declared her dead—but many people suspect she faked her own death.
16. Michelle Theer of Fayetteville, North Carolina
Michelle Theer was cheating on her husband with a fellow soldier, John Diamond. Rather than divorce, she and John conspired to murder. When detectives arrested John, Michelle went on the run, even undergoing surgery to change her looks. It was to no avail as now she's serving life in prison.
17. Judith Neelley of Scottsboro, Alabama
When 16-year-old Judith met 25-year-old Alvin Neelley, it was a hellish pairing. They enjoyed raping, torturing, and killing young women. When they abducted a couple, however, it would prove their undoing. Alvin died of a heart attack in prison while Judith serves her time in Alabama.
18. Jane Toppan of Lowell, Massachusetts
Nurse Jane Toppan is believed to have killed more than thirty people for money or simply for her own amusement. When her murders were uncovered by the family of a victim, she was found guilty by reason of insanity. Jane remained in a mental asylum until her death in 1938.
19. Celeste Beard Johnson of Jollyville, Texas
Celeste Beard was in love with another woman, but she didn't want to give up her husband's money. Wanting it all, Celeste convinced her lover to kill the unsuspecting man. From the beginning, police didn't believe the home invasion story Celeste told, and now she's doing life in prison.
20. Clara Harris of Houston, Texas
Clara Harris knew her husband was cheating and wanted private investigators to prove it. When she learned they were at a hotel, Clara rushed to confront her husband and his mistress. Once there, she ran over her husband with her Mercedes. She's serving a 20-year sentence in a Texas prison.
21. Betty Broderick of Redding, California
Betty Broderick had worked hard and raised a family while putting her husband through law school. A few years later, he rewarded her by leaving her for his much younger mistress. Betty snapped and killed them both as they lay sleeping. Today, she is serving life in a California prison.
22. Marie Noe of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Marie Noe gave birth to ten children; none survived. She got away with murdering eight of them until an investigative reporter published an article more than 20 years later questioning the deaths. She was sentenced to 20 years probation. Now in her 80s, Marie continues to live in her Philadelphia home.
23. Susie Newsom of Greensboro, North Carolina
Susie Newsom was in love with her first cousin, Fritz. Her ex-husband planned to gain custody of their sons because of the relationship. When she learned their families supported him, Fritz murdered them. Nearing capture by police, the incestuous couple detonated a car bomb, killing them and Susie's sons.
24. Jessica McCord of Birmingham, Alabama
Jessica McCord was angry when Alan Bates divorced her. In retaliation, she used their children as pawns and interfered with his visitation. When he remarried and sought custody, Jessica decided Alan and his new wife had to die. Jessica is now serving life without parole in an Alabama prison.
25. Barbara Stager of Durham, North Carolina
Both of Barbara Stager's husbands died in nearly identical yet very strange handgun accidents. Unfortunately, it seemed Barbara would get away with murder until her second husband's ex-wife gave police audio recordings left behind by the recently departed. Today, Barbara is serving life in a North Carolina prison.
Jerry Bledsoe's 1994 book Before He Wakes: A True Story of Money, Marriage, Sex and Murder is a spellbinding 486-page read about Barbara Stager and how she almost got away with murder—twice!
26. Genene Jones of San Antonio, Texas
While working as a pediatric nurse in the 1970s, Genene Jones killed as many as 46 infants while they were in her care in the hospital. She would finally be caught when she murdered a child while working in a private practice. Genene was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
27. Cindy Campbell Ray of Houston, Texas
In 1982, Cindy Campbell Ray conspired with her boyfriend David West to kill her parents—as they lay sleeping with Cindy's children nearby in the same room—so she could inherit her family's money. Now she sits in a Texas prison serving life and posting on prison penpal websites.
28. Amy Bosley of Newport, Kentucky
In May 2005, Amy Bosley had a problem: Her cheating husband was going to find out she had embezzled millions of dollars from his business. Murder blamed on a home invasion seemed like a good solution to Amy. She's currently serving a 20-year sentence in a Kentucky prison.
29. Piper Rountree of Richmond, Virginia
In the midst of a nasty child custody dispute, attorney Piper Rountree flew from Texas to Virginia using her sister's identification. On October 30, 2004, she shot her husband as he retrieved his morning newspaper. Piper was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole after 20 years.
30. Nannie Doss of Tulsa, Oklahoma
If Nannie Doss had a life insurance policy on you, chances are your days were numbered. Finally caught after murdering her fifth husband in 1953, Nannie confessed to them all: husbands, two daughters, and a grandchild. She died of cancer while incarcerated in an Oklahoma prison in 1958.
31. Mary Winkler of Selmer, Tennessee
In March 2006, Mary Winkler shot her husband, Matthew, as he lay sleeping, then fled with their three daughters. When found hours later, Mary told detectives she was an abused woman, but evidence pointed to serious financial troubles. Mary served one year for her crime and was released in 2008.
32. Velma Barfield of Fayetteville, North Carolina
In the 1970s, Velma Barfield poisoned to death two husbands, a boyfriend, her mother, and three of her elderly employers. With no motive other than she felt offended by the victims in some way, Velma was sentenced to death in 1978. She was executed by lethal injection in November 1984.
33. Paula Sims of Brighton, Illinois
In 1986, Paula Sims frantically told police about a masked intruder who took her baby whose body was discovered nearby. Three years later, Paula Sims calls police with the same exact story. No one believed her and she was sentenced to life in prison with the Illinois Department of Corrections.
34. Andrea Yates of Clear Lake City, Texas
Against doctors' advice, Andrea Yate's husband Rusty left her alone to care for their five small children. When her mother-in-law arrived later, she discovered all of the children had been drowned in the bathtub. Following her trial, Andrea was admitted to a mental health facility where she remains.
35. Dr. Linda Hazzard of Olalla, Washington
Linda Hazzard didn't have a medical degree but she wasn't required to have one in early 20th century. She starved several patients to death but stealing their valuables would what sent her to prison. Once released, she opened a new clinic and then intentionally starved herself to death in 1938.
36. Diane O'Dell of Montecello, New York
Diane O'Dell murdered three of her newborns out of the eight to whom she would give birth and carried their decaying corpses in suitcases across the US when she moved. In 2003, their bodies would be discovered in unclaimed storage in Arizona. Diane is currently serving a life sentence.
37. Amy Archer-Gilligan of Windsor, Connecticut
In 1907, Amy Archer-Gilligan purchased a large house and opened a boarding home for the elderly and infirm. As such a residence, death wasn't an uncommon visitor but the frequency with which it happened was questionable. Eventually Amy was sentenced to prison until declared insane. She died in 1962.
38. Ellen Boehm of Saint Louis, Missouri
In the 1980s, when Ellen Boehm couldn't pay her debt, she turned to the quickest payout she knew: life insurance. She murdered her two sons and attempted to kill her daughter. In 1992, Ellen was sentenced to two life terms in prison and is currently incarcerated in Vandalia.
39. Carol Bundy of Los Angeles, California
In 1980, Carol Bundy had killed with her boyfriend but when she told another guy about their activities, he said he should tell police. Carol seduced him before murdering him. In 1981, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Carol died of a heart attack in 2003.
40. Lydia Sherman of Burlington, New Jersey
In the 1870's, Lydia Sherman poisoned three husbands and two step-children. Money was the motive for murdering her husbands but the death of her step-children could only be assumed to be because Lydia cared not for them. In 1872, she was sentenced to life. She died in 1878.
41. Stacy Castor of Syracuse, New York
Stacy Castor murdered two husbands for the life insurance then tried to stage her teenage daughter's suicide, having written a note claim responsibility for the men's deaths. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison but died of a heart attack in her cell on June 11, 2016.
42. Marybeth Tinning of Schenectady, New York
When Marybeth Tinning's children kept dying, doctors of the 1970s believed it to be a genetic issue; that is, until Marybeth's adopted son died under similar circumstances. Genetics wasn't to blame. She was sentenced to life in prison is currently housed at the Bedford Hills women's prison in New York.
43. Susan Wright of Houston, Texas
When Susan Wright grew tired of her husband's drug-fueled rages, she lured him to bed, tied him to the posts and then stabbed him 193 times. Susan buried Jeff in the backyard but the dog dug him up. She's currently serving a 20 year sentence in a Texas prison.
44. Kristin Gilbert of Northampton, Massachusetts
Veteran's Administration nurse Kristin Gilbert was having an affair with a hospital security guard. Wanting to see him more, she murdered four patients to initiate a "Code Blue" which required attendance by security. Kristin was sentenced to four life sentences. She is presently incarcerated at Carswell's Federal Medical Center.
45. Aileen Wuornos of Daytona, Florida
Aileen Wuornos was a lesbian but she worked as a prostitute to support her drug and alcohol addictions. She murdered seven of her "johns" before robbing them of any valuables. When caught, Aileen defense was all had to rape her. She was executed by the state of Florida in 2002.
46. Susan Smith of Union, South Carolina
In October 1994, Susan Smith said she was carjacked and her sons were in the car. An investigation uncovered Susan had pushed the car into a lake to rid herself of her toddlers to win back a former boyfriend who did not want children. She's now serving life in prison.
47. Charlene Gallego of Sacramento, California
Charlene Gallego helped her husband abduct, assault, and murder nine young women before they were stopped in November 1980. Charlene testified against her husband in exchange for a leniency in sentencing . She was released in July 1997 and is believed to live in California under the alias Mary Martinez.
48. Dana Sue Gray of Riverside, California
Dana Sue Gray had left her husband for a man who couldn't afford her addiction to spending. Spending less wasn't an option but killing elderly women apparently was for Dana. She attacked and robbed four women but one victim survived. Dana has been incarcerated in a California prison since 1998.
49. Sylvia Ipock of Kinston, North Carolina
In 1973, Sylvia Ipock hated her preschool stepson and resented caring for him. So she strangled him. In 1992, she hired two wanna-be hitman to kill her husband. Sylvia testified against the men she had hired in order to avoid the death penalty. She's presently serving life without parole.
50. Diana Lumbrera of Lubbock, Texas
Between 1976 and 1990, Diana Lumbrera systematically murdered six of her own children. Hospital staff grew increasingly concerned with each child Diana brought to the emergency room. Their suspicions led to Diana being sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. She's presently incarcerated with the Kansas Department of Corrections.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2017 Kim Bryan