The Black Widows Veiled in Their Web of Darkness and Murder

The Black Widows Veiled in Their Web of Darkness and Murder
© Photograph by Tony Fograss

While most of the violent crime committed since the beginning of time rightfully belongs to men, women have not been the wilting flowers promoted so heartily by Victorian adorers and (right or wrong) often evident in today’s society. Before we get into detail about the fascinating phenomenon of the Black Widow, it is worth a brief overview of women’s escalating role in the world of violent crime, particularly in the United States.

Since 1970, there has been an increasing and alarming rise — 138 percent — of violent crimes committed by women. Still, while the equivalent percentage compared to male violence is small — 15 percent to 85 percent — the fact that the numbers have elevated so drastically points to something changing in society.

Sociologists try to explain it, so do criminologists, theologists, politicians and world historians, but the resulting message is clear, and that message is that females are not alien to committing violent acts. In recent years, women have committed some of the most heinous crimes.

Darlie Routier killed her two sons for reasons blamed on personal economics. Diane Downs killed one of her three children (she tried to kill all of them) in order to win back a lover who did not want kids.

Susan Smith drowned her boys in a neighbourhood lake because her boyfriend did not want the responsibility of raising some other man’s children. Karla Homolka and husband Paul Bernardo sexually assaulted, tortured and killed several young women for thrills.

There are now 130 women on death row in prisons across America. Both Betty Lou Beets and Christina Riggs were put to death this year: Beets by lethal injection in February for her husband’s murder, and Riggs by lethal injection in May for killing two offspring.

Throughout history, violent women and women with violent intent have starkly emerged from many countries, carving their niches in myths and legends. The creation of these stories suggests that men began to notice lethality in feminine charm centuries back.

Delilah snipped Samson’s locks to make a weakling out of a superman. Agrippina, Emperor Nero’s mother, taught sonny boy the attributes of ruling Rome with an unforgiving heart. Salome stripped for the head of John the Baptist. Also, there were other men whose fortunes were adversely affected when beguiled by perfume and puckered lips, from Marc Antony to William Tell to John Dillinger.

American history tells of many femme fatales, of witches in Salem, Massachusetts; lady pirates on the seven seas; bandit empresses in old New York. Basheba Spooner was hanged for killing a Minuteman during the American Revolution. Madame Lalaurie was suspected of torturing tens of Negro slaves in antebellum New Orleans.

The federal government in 1865 executed Mary Eugenia Surratt for her role in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. Belle Starr held up stagecoaches and tortured cowpokes in the Wild West. Martha Place killed a stepdaughter in the 1880s and made history by becoming the first woman to fry in the electric chair.

During the Depression years of the 1930s, Bonnie Parker robbed banks and blew away law enforcement officers willy-nilly until Texas Rangers blasted her and boyfriend Clyde Barrow to hell in Louisiana. Bonnie Heady died by gas in 1953 after slaughtering a child.

Beginning with colonial Miss Spooner, American courts have sentenced to death 539 women.

In his book, ‘Serial Murderers and their Victims’, author Eric Hickey probably best describes females who murder as “quiet killers.” His study of these women throughout the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries has led him to believe — and his peers agree with him — that, unlike their bombastic and zealously motivated male counterparts, female serial killers are much more subtle. They are sly, deliberate and careful in plotting their murders and performing them. Scenes of bloody rampages are rare, replaced by such modus operandi as poisoned foodstuff and staged domestic accidents.

There are a variety of female serial killer types, the most notorious and shifty being the aptly termed Black Widows, whose nickname recalls the toxic spiders who destroy their mates when their usefulness is over. These are the women who wear the Betty Crocker apron and the June Cleaver façade of wife and mother to hide their murderous instinct.

Three-quarters of the time, they kill strictly for profit. They live off life insurance policies, pensions, and other assets gained from “sudden” deaths of close relations — husbands, children, grandchildren, stepchildren, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers.

Judias Buenoano, who at this writing sits on death row in Texas, masqueraded under various pseudonyms for years while she went about killing a couple of husbands, a fiancée and a son for their loot.

Diana Lumbrera, between 1977 and 1990, smothered her six children to death, one at a time, including a three-month-old daughter. Eventually, Texas doctors got wise, realising they were not dealing with an unfortunate mother with a streak of bad luck. Lydia Trueblood of Pocatello, Iowa, poisoned an offspring, five husbands and an in-law earlier in the 20th Century. During the 1960s and 1970s, Germany’s Maria Velten poisoned two husbands, a lover, an aunt and even her father.

A study done by Christiana Evripidou of the University of Virginia finds, however, that the traditional targets of the Black Widow may be changing. “An increase in strangers as victims has occurred in recent years,” says she.

Black Widows are a category of multiple female murderers. Whether they should be called serial killers is open to debate. Generally, multiple female murderers do not kill for the same sexual motives associated with male serial killers.

If one accepts a frequently proposed definition that requires sexual motivation and a murderous quest for power over another individual as the definition of the term serial killer, then this is not the appropriate term for most female multiple murderers, including Black Widows. The goal here is not to debate terminology, but to present this unusual class of female criminal in its larger framework of females who commit murder more than once.

We have already touched on some of the infamous names in the history of female killers. It is convenient, but confusing to label these women serial killers. There is a significant difference between the Countess Elizabeth Bathory who openly bathed in the blood of a hundred virgins to retain her youth (it did not work) and a Genene Jones who asphyxiated perhaps as many as forty youngsters while posing as a caring nurse in a children’s hospital.

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