True Crime Stories – Women who kill

February 5, 2008

Most True Crime Stories you read involve men.  That’s because 93% of murders are committed by men but women are also capable of horrific acts.  Women are less violent then men due to brain anatomy.   The amygdala is used to assess threats and the Orbital Frontal Region is used to act on them. Men have a smaller Orbital Frontal Regions. 

Mothers and caregivers who are expected to nurture, but they murder instead. 

Jean Harris, a headmistress at a girl’s school, killed her lover in a crime of passion.  The majority of female killers kill loved ones.

MaryBeth Tinning killed her own children, three in the span of two months.  She thrived on the outpouring of sympathy she received.  As a child she received little attention, especially from her father.  He died without ever showing her the affection she craved.  Over the next three years, four more children would die, the cause of death deemed Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  By 1981, suspicious grows when an adopted son dies and one more biological child. Nine Tinning Children died in 14 years.  She suffered from Munchausen by Proxy.  

According to KidshealthIn MBPS, an individual – usually a mother – deliberately makes another person (most often his or her own preschool child) sick or convinces others that the person is sick….Typically, the perpetrator feels satisfied when he or she has the attention and sympathy of doctors, nurses, and others who come into contact with him or her and the child. Some experts believe that it isn’t just the attention that’s gained from the “illness” of the child that drives this behavior, but there is satisfaction gained by the perpetrator in being able to deceive individuals that they consider to be more important and powerful than themselves.”

Susan Smith killed her two small boys and claimed they had been taken in a carjacking.  Smith exploited public sympathy but police were suspicious of her story.  Nine days after her sons’ disappearance, she confessed to drowning her sons by strapping them into their car seats and driving her car into a lake.  Susan Smith killed her children to continue an affair. 

Cathy Wood and Gwen Graham played a vicious game. The two work in as nurses in an elderly care center and begin to have an affair.  They planned to murder victims whose initials would spell MURDER.  The game was meant to draw the two together forever; however, Gwen left Cathy for another woman.  Cathy confessed their crimes to her ex husband and he went to the authorities.  Cathy testified for the persecution claiming Gwen was the mastermind behind the game.

Aileen Wuornos is the first female serial killer according to FBI profiles. She is unique for her method of killing and targeting stranger victims.  Many violent women studied had troubled childhoods, anti social behavior disorder and a history of substance abuse.  Wuornos was motivated by revenge against men, perhaps in response to rage from her adolescence, in which she claimed to have been raped.  

Belle Gunness murdered for financial benefit, murdering suitors and burying their dismembered bodies.

Nanny Doss poisoned four husbands. She is also suspected of killing her mother and two children.

Women are rarely sadistic killers. Teresa Knorr was an exception.  She was a controlling wife and mother. She shot her first husband during an argument and claimed self defense.  She married three more times and had five children.  Her children suffered torture at her hands, burned with cigarettes, stabbed, shot or locked in a freezer.  Suesan was shot and the wound became infected. Knorr took Susan to a field and set her on fire, burning her to death. Sheila was locked in a freezer and starved to death.     


True Crime Stories – Revenge Killers

February 3, 2008

Writers know there is a wealth of story ideas in daily headlines. True Crime Stories fascinate audiences and inspire writers who interweave fact with fiction.  Revenge killers are not satisfied until the objects of their anger are destroyed.   Coy Wayne Westbrook killed his estranged wife, Gloria, driven to a point of no return.  He was overcome with jealousy and rage when he witnessed Gloria having sex with a party guest.  He had no previous violent tendencies, yet the humiliation he endured that night resulted in the deaths of five people.    Coy suffered from dyslexia and dropped out of school, as a result, he suffered from low self esteem as an adult.    Anger that builds to uncontrollable rage may be a result of diminished brain function.  As areas of the brain are activated they use more oxygen.  Researchers can identify brain activity by monitoring isotopes delivered with oxygen to regions of the brain. The Orbital Frontal Cortex (OFC) is activated when subjects visualize their angriest moments.  However, some people have reduced levels of functionality in the OFC and they are unable to control their actions.  Revenge is a need to punish those who have hurt us.  In 1973, Archie Mccafferty discovered his infant son accidentally smothered to death by his wife, who rolled over on him in the night.  He fantasized about killing others to relieve his overwhelming grief.  He planned to kill seven people in a spree of vengeance.   He abducted and killed three victims, with no sympathy.  He planned to finish his spree by killing his wife and her family, but instead, he turned on one of his own gang members.  The gang member turned him in to authorities. Even incarcerated, he wanted to complete his mission to kill seven victims believing it would bring his son back to life.  Unlike Westbrook, Mccafferty had a history of violence. He was abused as a child and seemed destined for a life of crime. He was a thief and had been incarcerated for much of his youth. Mccafferty was released after 25 years in prison and is deported to Scotland, where he lives today.    Love seems to have destroyed and saved Mccafferty.  The connection between love and revenge is strong.  Having a loved one near by has been shown to help subject regulate stress and anxiety.      

Public Enemy # 1 – John Dillinger

January 25, 2008

We’ve all heard of the FBI, the agents depicted in books, movies and television. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the fact from fiction.  There was a time when the FBI was just a small, unknown department of the government instead of the law enforcement entity that creeps along the edges of our civil liberties.  Here is a little history about the FBI that writers can incorporate into their next novel.  At the very least, they’ll be able to impress friends at the next dinner party. 

Based on the documentary: 18 Months of Mayhem, January 2008  

June 17 1933, convicted bank robber, Frank Nash was on his way back to prison after he escaped. He never made it. Gunmen shot down Nash at the Kansas City Union Station, along with four officers and 2 others were injured.  Newspapers called it the Kansas City Massacre.  It was just the beginning of an 18 month crime spree.   The government appeared helpless to stem the tide of crime or the depression.  Law enforcement was local, town and county, with few state agencies and no Federal law enforcement. President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned to an understaffed unit of the government, the Federal Bureau of Investigations. 

J. Edgar Hoover was appointed head of the FBI and he staffed the bureau with agents who had little or no law enforcement experience. John Dillinger was an experienced criminal by the time he walked into a bank in Daleville, Indiana on July 17, 1933.  He was a high school drop out and military deserter when he robbed a shopkeeper.  He received 10 years in prison and he used the time to fine tune his criminal skills. He learned to case a bank for days or weeks, gathering information on security rounds, vault systems and escape routes.  Dillinger robbed small town banks, putting many out of business.   

John Dillinger

Oklahoma City July 22, 1933, Charles Hirshel was kidnapped by George Barnes, AKA Machine Gun Kelly.  Barnes was a college educated, middle class man who got involved in boot legging during the depression.  He and his wife, Katherine, collected $200,000 for Charles Hirshel just 8 days later.  Katherine’s mother was arrested in connection with the crime, so Katherine tried to make a deal to exchange George for her mother.  Even though the deal was refused, the FBI had a lead on the couple’s whereabouts. They were captured in Memphis, on September 26, 1933. 

George (Machine Gun Kelly) and Katherine Barnes

On September 22 in Dayton Ohio police moved in on a tip to apprehend Dillinger and he was taken in without a fight.  On October 12, he was busted out of jail by friends from prison. The men took police issue weapons and bullet proof vests from the police station.  Dillinger settled in Chicago, going to nightclubs and spending money lavishly.  He continued to rob banks in surrounding towns to finance his lifestyle. 

Masses of people were out of work and homeless. Farmers fled to the West, their farms seized by banks, their crops destroyed by drought.  The public began to romanticize the criminals and Dillinger made a point of keeping the people on his side, tearing up deeds and giving patrons cash from the robbery.  Movie heroes of the day were gangsters.  In January 1934, the nation got its first look at John Dillinger in movie theater news reels. He became a rock star of the era.  He had a likeable demeanor and played to the cameras. Dillinger was taken into custody again, but like Houdini, he was master escape artist.  He was on the cover of every newspaper in America.  Hoover and his national police force became a laughing stock and enhanced Dillinger’s legendary status.  Hoover issued a kill order for Dillinger.   

Without his gang, Dillinger began robbing banks with Baby Face Nelson. George Baby Face Nelson robbed banks, using a Thompson Sub Machine Gun and he didn’t hesitate to use it.   He was born Lester Gillis and spent most of his life institutionalized.  He earned an illegal living, moving moonshine and mugging people on the street.   

The FBI’s Chicago office became the largest field office, headed by Agent Melvin Purvis.  Receiving a tip that Dillinger was Wisconsin, a dozen agents were assembled and sent to apprehend him.  Three innocent bystanders were shot by overzealous agents, which alerted Dillinger and Nelson to the FBI’s presence.  After a brief shoot out, the criminals escaped.   Gangsters tried to remove their fingerprints with acid or attempt to reconstruct their faces to hide their identities.  Dillinger had surgery, and felt confident appearing in public, despite being named Public Enemy Number One and having a $15,000 reward issued for his capture.  

 Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were notorious partners in crime.  The two robbed mom and pop establishments, killing six men along the way. Clyde had spent hard time in prison and he vowed he would never go back. On July 19, 1933, in Platte City, Missouri, Bonnie and Clyde were armed with assault rifles and plenty of ammunition during a stand off with police.  They were able to escape. A local farmer spotted the gang days later in Iowa and notified law enforcement of the gang’s whereabouts.  Once again, the high fire power allows to the gang to escape capture.  

Bonnie and Clyde took on legendary status when photos of the two were leaked to the press. Tired of running, Bonnie and Clyde settled down, hoping for a new start.  Instead, a former gang member set a trap for Bonnie and Clyde in exchange for parole.  The two were killed in an ambush on May 23, 1934. 

Bonnie and Clyde

 Dillinger was shot execution style on July 22, 1934, by an agent coming out of a movie theater.  His death marked the end of the 18 month crime spree that swept through the nation.  The FBI became a recognized force in America. Only Machine Kelly wasn’t killed by law enforcement. 

Melvin Purvis resigned from the FBI after Dillinger’s death.        

Spree Killers

January 23, 2008

Spree killers target innocent bystanders, thrilling in the destruction of the public’s well being. Their acts of violence are motivated by revenge or a misguided need to be noticed.

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire at a popular café.  He killed 35 people and wounded 19 others in a single day.  Bryant was a troubled and tormented youth, lashing out in anger.   He lashed out in defense against bullying and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and mild retardation.  As a young adult he became isolated and desperate sought companionship, striking up conversations with random women.  His attempts were thwarted and he became angry at society in general and planned revenge.    After the shootings, Bryant fled to a nearby inn and was surrounded by police.  He set the inn on fire and was badly burned.  He recovered from his injuries and was sentenced to 35 life sentences after pleading guilty to murder.  

Martin Bryant

Social exclusion seems to be a common indicator in spree killers. Test subjects were tested to see the impact of social isolation and rejection.   After being rejected, subjects were asked to fill in blanks on several words.  Rejected subjects repeatedly choose violent words. 

On August 1st 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then packed a footlocker full of weapons and drove to the University of Austin.  From a clock tower on the college’s campus Whitman killed 15 people and wounded 31 others.  Whitman was raised in a physically abusive home. He left home at 15, joining the Army and was sent to the University of Texas on scholarship.  He married but struggled to overcome the violence of this past.   He was court martialed after a violent public outburst and his scholarship revoked.  He is ashamed of his behavior, but unable to control them. He wrote about his struggles in his journal and confessed his desire to kill bystanders from the clock tower to a psychiatrist.  After the attack, an autopsy was performed and a tumor was discovered.  

Charles Whitman

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that can cause impulsive behaviors, fits of rage or inappropriate emotions.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates fear and anger.  Those with borderline personality disorder have heightened activity in the amygdala, which may inhibit an individual’s ability to control their rage.


19 year old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old accomplice, Carol Fugate embarked on a killing spree after Starkweather killed Carol’s parents.  They claimed 10 victims, lashing out at any one who crossed their path.  Starkweather was an outcast at school, bullied and teased, he fantasized about revenge. Carol and Charles had a passionate affair and planned to marry, but her family stood in their way, so they were eliminated.  Starkweather shot Carol’s mother, stepfather and 2 year old sister then took their blood lust on the road.   They killed seven more people before they were apprehended. Carol Fugate claimed she was a hostage but both were convicted.

Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate

Spree killers are becoming more deadly and methodical, attacking at schools, malls or other crowded public places.  Understanding the motives and traits will hopefully help law enforcement prevent tragic blood shed in the future.  

Mind of Manson

January 14, 2008

“Mr. and Mrs. America–you are wrong.  I am not the King of the Jews nor am I a hippie cult leader.  I am what you have made me and the mad dog devil killer fiend leper is a reflection of your society. . .Whatever the outcome of this madness that you call a fair trial or Christian justice, you can know this: In my mind’s eye my thoughts light fires in your cities.”  (1)

Charles Manson’s statement after his conviction 

Manson didn’t weld the weapons in murders of Sharon Tate, her unborn child or six other victims; however, it was at his instigation these innocent people lost their lives. Charles Manson has remained unapologetic of his crimes.  He has no guilt or remorse for his actions, instead he condemns society.  

 “The children that come at you with knives are your children.  You taught them.  I didn’t teach them.  I just tried to help them stand up….”  

Manson claims he never had followers, they were only friends. Manson encouraged the use of mind altering drugs with Family members in order to warp reality and manipulate.  He would stand on a pulpit, preaching about the end of days brought about by a race war. Manson planned the Tate and LaBianca murders to ignite the war, supposedly prophesied in the lyrics of Helter Skelter.  

According to prosecutors, “Manson saw verse 15 as a prophecy of the imminent Helter Skelter in which a revolt by blacks would result in a killing of one-third of the population.   “And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men.”  Manson may have believed that he was setting this revolt in motion in August of 1969 when he loosed from Spahn ranch his Family members with instructions to kill.” (1)  

Manson has been institutionalized most of his life.  He was born, No Name Maddox to a 16 year old prostitute.  Manson was repeatedly given away by his mother – once he was even “sold” for a six pack of beer.  He spent his childhood on the street, fighting for survival. He was a petty thief.  “School officials described young Manson as moody and suffering a persecution complex–but “likable” during those periods he was feeling happy.” (2) 

Manson is a psychopath, a personality disorder characterized by amoral and antisocial behavior. He is delusional, believing himself entitled and exempt from society’s laws because society has perpetuated evil upon him. 

 1. Book of Revelation (Chapter 9) and the Ideology of Charles Manson 2. Charles Manson (Tate-LaBianca Murder) Trial: The Defendants