When people think of serial killers, men like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer are probably some of the first people who come to mind. While it’s true that there have been more documented male serial killers than there have been females, there have also been some very deadly women out there. Throughout history, quite a few women have earned the title of serial killer, and some of their crimes will literally send chills down your spine. Surprisingly, however, many of these women’s stories haven’t gotten a lot of attention. In reality, though, there are several female serial killers whose crimes will make you cringe. As the true crime genre continues to grow, we believe that many of these should be told. Keep reading to learn more about five female serial killers who we think deserve their own documentaries.
1. Jane Toppan
The name Jane Toppan is one you’ve probably never heard before, but after learning more about her you’ll probably never forget. Jane, whose real name was Honora Kelley, was born in Boston in 1854. Unfortunately for Jane, she didn’t have the best upbringing. Her mother passed away when Jane was young, and her father was known to be abusive. When she was around six years old, her father abandoned her at a local orphanage. Within a couple of years, Jane became an indentured servant to the Toppan family which is where she got her last name. Despite her life getting off to a very rocky start, Jane seemed to be on a productive path. By the 1880s, she had become a nurse. Little did everyone around her know that there was something very sinister brewing underneath the surface. In her role as a nurse, it didn’t take long for Jane to start doing more harm than good. Jane seemed obsessed with death and secretly started experimenting with atropine and morphine on elderly patients. Things quickly started to escalate from there. In 1895, Jane’s killing spree began. According to the New England Historical Society, Jane “befriended her elderly landlord and his wife, but killed them one by one. She later explained they had gotten ‘feeble and fussy’ and ‘old and cranky.’ Her colleagues in nursing school remembered her saying there was no use keeping old people alive.”
Between 1895 and 1901, Jane murdered a dozen people, many of whom were her patients. After being apprehended for her crimes, Jane was sent to a mental hospital where she remained until her death in 1938. Since some people are under the impression that serial killing is a relatively new phenomenon, it would be interesting to see a documentary about a serial killer who committed crimes well over 100 years ago – especially since she was a woman.
2. Miyuki Ishikawa
Being a serial killer is one thing, but being a serial killer who kills babies is a different story. Miyuki Ishikawa was born in Japan in the late 1890s but there isn’t much information on her family life or upbringing. However, what we do know is that she attended the University of Tokyo where she studied midwifery. Initially Miyuki gained the respect of her colleuges and she was good at her job. Unfortunately, however, there was much more to Miyuki than people realized. Instead of helping to bring life into the world the way a midwife is supposed to, Miyuki was actually doing the opposite. According to Absolute Crime, “As abortion wasn’t legal in Japan during this time, many couples were having children they were not able to financially take care of. Miyuki saw this, and also knew that charitable resources were sparse. Through cold calculation, she decided it would be best if the children were killed.” Miyuki went on a killing spree in which she killed more than 100 babies. Miyuki wasn’t operating alone, though. She had the help of her husband as well as one of the doctors in the hospital. There were likely other people who were involved in this as well.
Miyuki was arrested in early 1948 after the police accidentally stumbled across the bodies of five of her victims. While most people would agree that Miyuki’s crimes were horrible, that wasn’t exactly how they were perceived. Absolute Crime noted, “During trial, Miyuki argued that the parents who deserted the children were responsible for their deaths. This defense received support from a large section of the public- a fact that was reflected in Japanese law, which gave infants almost no rights.” However, this case eventually led to changes in laws protecting babies in Japan. Miyuki was ultimately sentenced to just eight years in prison. After appealing the decision, Miyuki’s sentence was reduced to four years. After her release, she went on to become a real estate agent. She passed away in 1987. Miyuki’s case is a prime example of how what it means to be a serial killer doesn’t always look the same. Surprisingly, there has never been a documentary made about Miyuki’s story, but we believe it would make for a very interesting project.
3. Juana Barraza
Having a difficult upbringing is not a pre-requesting for being a serial killer, however, there are many serial killers who have very traumatic upbringings. Juana Barraza is one of them. Born and raised in Mexico, Juana came from a poor family. Her mother was an alcoholic who essentially pimped Juana out in exchange for beer. Outside of that, there aren’t many details known about her upbringing. During the 1980s, she had a brief wrestling career. She competed under the name La Dama del Silencio which translates to “The Lady of Silence” in English. By the 1990s, Juana had fallen on hard times and she began breaking into people’s homes. She and a friend eventually devised a plan to target elderly people by pretending to be nurses. In the late 90s, Juana’s crimes escalated to murder. She specifically preyed on elderly victims and was eventually nicknamed “The Little Old Lady Killer”. That said, it took Mexican authorities quite a while before they were willing to acknowledge that they had a serial killer on their hands. Additionally, they originally thought the killer was a man.
Juana was arrested in 2006. Authorities believed that she was responsible for more than 40 murders, but she only admitted to four. According to TWN, Juana was quoted saying, “I know it’s a crime, I did it and I will pay for it. But just because I’m going to pay for it, that doesn’t mean they’re going to hang all the other crimes on me.” Juana was sentenced to 759 years in prison and she remains behind bars today. Juana’s story has been included in larger documentary projects, and she was also the inspiration behind an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. However, Juana has never had a full-length documentary of her own.
4. Debra Brown
Debra Brown’s situation is a little different from the other women on the list. Technically, Debra was an accomplice more so than an actual serial killer, but we believe her story warrants a documentary none the less. In the spring and summer of 1984, Debra Brown accompanied a man named Alton Coleman as he went on a killing spree. Over the course of just a few months, the pair killed eight people. Debra had no history of violence before she became connected to Alton. However, she was found to be a willing participant on all of the murders. It’s important to note that many of the victims were minors and these murders often included kidnapping and sexual assault.
Many serial killers are arrogant enough to think that they’ll never get caught. In Debra and Alton’s case, a surprise spotting is what ultimately got them arrested. While Debra and Alton were walking, they were seen by one of Alton’s former neighbors who recognized him and called the police. Both Debra and Alton were given the death penalty. He was executed in 2002. However, Debra’s death sentence was eventually overturned. When this case is discussed Alton Coleman is often at the center. It would be interesting to see a documentary that digs deeper into Debra’s story. Since she is still alive, she could also be interviewed.
5. Amy Archer-Gilligan
As true crime fan who was born and raised in Connecticut, I was surprised that I’d never heard of Amy Archer-Gilligan until I started making this list. Like many of the other killers we’ve talked about, Amy also preyed on sick and elderly people. This seems to be a trend among female serial killers. Amy and her husband, Michael, operated a nursing home called the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm. In the period between 1907 and 1917, 60 deaths were reported at the Archer Home which started to make people suspicious. It was later determined that Amy had poisoned and killed at least five people. One of them was her second husband, Michael. There is also some suspicious that she murdered her first husband, James.
Amy was arrested in 1917 and convicted that same year. She was originally sentenced to death although this decision was later appealed and overturned. She instead was declared insane and sent to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane where she stayed until her death in 1962. Amy’s story is interesting because there’s still some mystery surrounding it. A documentary would provide the perfect opportunity to explore her case further.