A recent study from Penn State has put together a definitive profile of the average American female serial killer, combing through the 64 "FSKs" who committed their crimes in the US between 1821 and 2008.
It's completely fascinating. From the study's abstract:
Consistent with other studies, our data showed that FSKs were typically White, educated, have been married, and held a caregiving role (e.g. mother, health care worker). Nearly 40% of FSKs in this sample experienced some form of mental illness. Their most common motive for murder was financial gain, and their most common method of killing was poisoning. FSKs knew all or most of their victims, and most were related to their victims. In all cases, FSKs targeted at least one victim who was a child, elderly, or infirm – those who had little chance of fighting back.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Penn State psychology professor Marissa Harrison, the lead author on the study, drew interesting comparisons to the typical characteristics of male serial killers—who generally do not know their victims and whose crimes tend to involve sex. "Female serial killers gather and male serial killers hunt," Harrison said. "That was very interesting to me, as an evolutionary psychologist, that it reflects kind of ancestral tendencies."
Harrison also saw evidence of evolutionary influences in what drove women to kill. While most murders by male serial killers tend to involve sex in some way — a 1995 study found that male serial killings are characterized by a desire for domination, control, humiliation and sadistic sexual violence — women are more likely to kill for money or power.
"It struck me that women would kill for resources, which was their primary drive in the ancestral environment, and men kill for sex," she said.
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Harrison emphasized in her study that female serial killers, on average, evade arrest for twice as long as their male counterparts—possibly because our culture has a tough time believing women are capable of committing these types of atrocities.
Misogyny kills, I guess.
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