There are both male and female serial killers, but what differentiates them from one another?

When most people picture a serial killer, they see a white male who looks relatively average but one in five are actually women. For many years, investigators did not consider women as possible serial killers because the way male and female serial killers work is so vastly different. Almost every aspect of the crimes committed including the who, the how and the why, are different when you compare the actions of men and women who kill multiple people. Explore the differences and gain some insight about why each separate group of serial killers acts as they do.

Differences in Methods Used to Kill

While men who kill multiple victims tend to do so in more messy, obvious ways, women serial killers are covert. Men it seems are not afraid of getting messy or bloody and male serial killers often take pleasure in the more physical aspects of the killing. Historically, women use poisoning or suffocating to kill their victims and are apt to try to hide their victims if they have the means at their disposal. Female serial killer Dorothea Puente buried her victims in her own backyard.

Differences in the Victims

While male serial killers usually kill strangers, women typically kill those close to them like their spouses, children or other family members. Men choose their victims in a more random fashion, making it harder to pin down a suspect, or even link crimes together in some cases. Women will kill multiple members of the same family, or multiple spouses in the case of “black widow” serial killers, they often hide their crimes well. Such a small fraction of serial killers are women, which helps them evade suspicion because many investigators simply do not think women are capable of crimes as heinous as serial killing. One of the few women who defied this trend was Aileen Wuornos. Charlize Theron portrayed Wuornos in the movie Monster.

Differences in the Modus Operandi

Women typically kill for money or revenge, versus men who do so for sexual pleasure. These differences also show in how the genders typically kill their victims, whether it is in the heat of passion or in a colder more calculated way like poisoning. The emotions and drive behind the killings is typically very different between the genders. Often times investigators will not consider women as true serial killers because the reason behind the killings is so different from the reasons behind why men kill. In this way the modus operandi, or the M.O., is sometimes considered to be one of the things that actually earns an individual the title of serial killer.

Differences in the Amount of Time They Actively Kill

If you consider a few of the most notorious serial killers, very few of the men that make the list are actively killing for more than a year. Because women tend to kill those close to them, there is usually a longer period between each killing. This means they are considered to be actively killing for years at a time, instead of just months like men.