Unspeakable Times

10 Ruthless Black Widow Killers Whose Crimes Made History  

Robert F Mason
116.6k views 10 items

The most ruthless or prolific female murderers become famous black widows, ladies assumed to have used their feminine nature in some way to lure their victims.

Deadly black widows hold a particular fascination for crime buffs, and horror fans, so it's only fitting that we examine some of them in a historical context. This list looks at high-profile cases of female murderers from times past, giving a rundown of their alleged crimes, body counts, and ultimate fates.

Aileen Wuornos is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 Ruthless Black Widow Killers Whose Crimes Made History
Photo:  Florida Department of Corrections/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Aileen Wuornos was the first woman to fit the FBI's official definition of a serial killer.

Between 1989 and 1990, Wuornos killed seven men along Florida and southern Georgia highways whom she later claimed had been trying to rape her (she was a sex worker at the time, supporting herself and her girlfriend, Tyria Moore, with the money she earned). But the fact that she robbed her victims' bodies and went out of her way to hide them helped convince a jury that the killings were more sinister.

Wuornos's killing career came to an end when investigators were able to track her and Moore down using fingerprints and palm prints left behind in one of Wuornos's victims' cars.

Moore cut a deal with police, and eventually got Wuornos to confess over the phone to all seven murders, taking sole responsibility for them.

She was convicted of first-degree murder in one of the victim's cases, and sentenced to death in 1992. During the next 10 years on death row, she eventually confessed to all of the murders she'd been accused of, and was put to death in 2002.

Body Count: 7

Fate: Death by lethal injection. Her story was the subject of the 2003 film Monster, starring Charlize Theron (who won an Oscar for her performance) in the role of Wuornos.

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Lucrezia Borgia is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 Ruthless Black Widow Killers Whose Crimes Made History
Photo: Bartolomeo Veneto/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Reviled through the ages as a Renaissance femme fatale who carried poison in her ring and used it to kill husbands and political rivals, Lucrezia Borgia's image has recently undergone a revision.  Historians now largely consider her a scapegoat who was actually quite pleasant, especially compared to her kinfolk, Spanish nobles who emigrated to Italy in the 15th century and swiftly gained control of the Vatican.

Married three times, Borgia was often a pawn in the schemes of her father and brothers, and she is likely the only woman on this list who never actually killed anyone (though she has been accused of doing so for centuries).

Body Count: Unknown; likely zero.

Fate: Died June 24, 1519 at the age of 39.

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Marie Manning
Marie Manning is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 10 Ruthless Black Widow Killers Whose Crimes Made History
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

A Swiss immigrant to England, Manning is on our list not so much for the scope of her crimes (she had only one victim) as much as she is for the sensation her crime spawned.

Marie had two suitors - a young man close to her age named Frederick Manning and an older gentleman named Patrick O'Connor - who both proposed marriage. She chose Manning, who had promised he had an inheritance coming, but she maintained a "friendship" with O'Connor than many believe to have been sexual.

When it became clear that Frederick's inheritance was not forthcoming (he may have lied about that part), Marie hatched a plan with him to murder O'Connor and rob his house of everything they could find. She invited O'Connor to dinner one night, where Marie shot him in the back of the head, and Frederick finished him off with a chisel. They then stashed his body in a hole they'd dug under the kitchen flagstones ahead of time and packed it with quicklime to speed up the body's decomposition.

Over the next two days, Marie gathered whatever valuables and stock certificates she could find at O'Connor's residence. Two of O'Connor's colleagues came to their house asking about him, so they both had to flee London. Marie went to Edinburgh, where she was arrested after trying to sell some of O'Connor's stock certificates.

The couple blamed one another at trial and both were found guilty and publicly executed in 1849. Their case was such a sensation that an estimated 50,000 people showed up to witness their deaths. One of those people was Charles Dickens, whose letter of disgust to the Times of London helped pave the way for the abolition of public executions in Britain.

Body Count: 1

Fate: Publicly hanged alongside her husband and accomplice. Marie became the inspiration for one of Dickens's characters, Hortense, the maid in his novel Bleak House.

Marie Besnard
Marie Besnard is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 Ruthless Black Widow Killers Whose Crimes Made History
Photo: Maurice Tournade/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Dubbed "the Queen of Poisoners" by the French press, Marie Besnard was ultimately charged with 13 counts of murder, including killing both her husbands, her father, her mother, a father-in-law, a mother-in-law, two friends, and a handful of relatives who left her their estate. Her second husband, Leon, confided to his mistress (both he and Marie had lovers on the side) that he was certain Marie was planning to kill him. When he finally died, Marie became a suspect. Leon's body tested positive for arsenic poisoning, and several other bodies associated with Marie were exhumed and also tested positive for arsenic.

Marie was tried three times over 10 years in French courts. Her first two trials were declared mistrials, and her third got her an acquittal, even though few people doubted her guilt.

Body Count: Possibly 13.

Fate: Died a free woman in 1980.