Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Female of the Species Part 2: The Aggressive Girls

As reviewed in the previous piece women serial killers tend to do things a little differently.  For the most part their methodology is subtler and less overtly violent - smothering, poison - and their victims are those they know, those others would expect them to care for - family, patients if they're a nurse.  But there are exceptions to every rule and, sometimes, female serial killers are just as openly aggressive and random in their kills as their male counterparts.  (For the purposes of this essay I'm leaving out those females involved in "killer couples" as there are a number of other dynamics going on that might be influencing their level of violence and choice of victim.)

The Blood Countess

Elizabeth Bathory was exceptional...exceptionally beautiful, exceptionally powerful, and exceptionally sexually sadistic.  It's the sexual sadism that sets her apart from her other female serial killing counterparts.  True that most other women serial killers got a sadistic pleasure from the deaths they caused (orgasming as they held their victims during the final death throes of a poisoning), but they were not sexual sadists.  Other women did not get a sexual release from the torturing and degradation of their victims like Countess Bathory did.  Documents found concerning her trial describe a number of shocking acts of violence that she performed on servant girls under her control - biting off pieces of their flesh, burning their genitals, and literally tearing their mouths open with her own bare hands - none of which would ever be considered the norm for a female serial killer.  Oddly though the one thing that was missing was what she's most frequently known for...bathing in blood.  In truth it would seem that the rumor started because Bathory was so aggressive and violent in her torture of her servants that their blood got all over her clothing and body giving the appearance that she'd bathed in it.

Sadly, because her crimes occurred so long ago, her trial was actually held in secret (the fact any documents were found was a miracle in and of itself), and for about one hundred years after her crimes the people of the country were virtually forbidden to mention her, there isn't as much information on her as one would like.  Most of what is believed is rumor - such as the bathing in blood - and other factors may have been overblown due to the sociopolitical influences in that time in history - she was a Protestant when Catholics were taking over the government.  That being said there were at least 50 confirmed murders based on testimony and, if she started her sadistic tortures in her adolescence as appearances would indicate, and continued until she was caught, that's 35 years of torture and murder she indulged in...more than enough to accomplish the 650 murders she's been credited with.

The "First" Female Serial Killer

Aileen Wuornos is wrongly, but frequently, proclaimed the first female serial killer.  There is a good reason that she earned this misnomer though, and it has to do with both her methodology and victimology, which sets her apart from other female serial killer just like Elizabeth Bathory was set apart.  It also likely has to do with the horrific type of childhood she shares with male serial killers.

Born in 1956 she seemed almost doomed from the start, her life a near constant experience of abuse and abandonment.  Her father (whom Aileen never actually met) spent much of his life in and out of prison before hanging himself after being charged with child molestation and her mother left her and her brother  with a babysitter when Aileen was just six months old and never returned.  Taken in by her grandparents Aileen was then kicked out at age 13 when she had a child of her own that, she claimed, was the result of a rape.  At 20 she married a 70-year-old man, but the marriage ended after a month with both of them claiming the other was abusive.  At age 22 Aileen shot herself in a suicide attempt and, while recovering, she then robbed a convenience store at gunpoint...she spent 13 months in prison for that one and, soon, other arrests for various crimes (check forgery, auto theft) followed.

Of course it's not surprising to find that many female serial killers had horrible childhoods as well - ones filled with violence, abandonment, and that caused them to be sociopaths incapable of such things as love, compassion, and trust.  It's clear though that Aileen tended towards open acts of aggression such as physical altercations and the use of weapons (in her case a .22 caliber handgun) in committing some of her crimes more in line with male antisocial behavior.  This more male-based way of interacting with others followed into her killings beginning with her first victim, Richard Mallory, on November 30, 1989.  Mallory, like the six others that followed, was murdered via multiple gunshot wounds.  Aileen also followed the more male-based act of killing those who were virtual strangers, using her profession as a prostitute to pick up and then seclude her victims before murdering them.

The Unanswerable Question

Why?  That's the one question that can't quite be answered for the women who kill "like a man".  By her adolescence Elizabeth Bathory already had a reputation for being excessively cruel in the discipline of her female servants, but there doesn't seem to be an indication as to where she'd have learned to be so over the top in her violence towards others.  Aileen Wuornos certainly seemed to reenact the aggression she experienced in her childhood on others, but it doesn't explain why she did while other female serial killers never took the same openly violent path.  It would seem, perhaps, that those killers like Bathory and Wuornos are, in fact, one of kind...an aberration even in the horrifyingly strange world of serial killers.

Side Note Trivia: There's been some debate as to whether or not Elizabeth Bathory was, in fact, related to Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes (aka Dracul, the man upon which the character Dracula was said to be based)...according to what I could find, yes, she was distantly related to him through marriage.  That being said the fact that they had similar murderous personalities is coincidence and doesn't have to do with their relation to each other.

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