Crime is mostly associated with gangsters and mobsters who are just as vicious as they are calculating. When asked to think of a gang leader, many will conjure up ideas of nasty-looking men in suits who you wouldn’t want to ever cross paths with. It’s often a shock, then, when a mother or wife is arrested for violent mob activity.
When a meek, mature lady walks up the steps to the courtroom, for example, many can’t help but feel sympathetic. Don’t be fooled, because female crime bosses are beginning to make their own name when it comes to underground dealings.
The ten women profiled below have joined what is often seen as a boys club and have earned themselves an extortionate amount of money along the way. Everyone has heard of the infamous Bonnie Parker; well, these are the modern day madams who would make even the hardiest man shake in their boots. Of course, a life of crime is bound to catch up with you; almost all these mob bosses have been served justice, and the court didn’t go lightly when it came to the sentencing.
These women are here to prove that female mobsters should not be underestimated. They can make just as much money as their male counterparts – and they certainly aren’t afraid to break the law, intimidate and even kill to get it.
10. Sandra Ávila Beltrán
Sandra Ávila Beltrán, born 11 October 1960, gained herself the nickname “The Queen of the Pacific” when she became the leader of a Mexican drug cartel. She was married twice, both her husbands were ex-police turned drug traffickers and were eventually killed by hired hitmen. Beltrán was very clever at leaving no evidence or arousing police suspicions, this was until 2002 when her son was kidnapped and there was a $5 million ransom for his safe return. After her son was returned to her, police launched an investigation.
In 2007, she was charged with organized crime and drug trafficking offences. Although some of the charges were dropped throughout the trial, she was still charged with possession of illegal weapons and money laundering. During interrogation she described herself as a housewife who makes her money by selling clothes on the side but her story was not bought by officials. She remains behind bars today.
9. Claudia Ochoa Felix
Claudia Ochoa Felix has earned herself the reputation as “The Kim Kardashian of Organised Crime”, thanks to her ever-pouting image that she has been known to flaunt on Instagram. In 2014, it was reported by several British tabloids that Felix had become the new head of the Mexican gang known as Los Ántrax, who have been labelled responsible for hundreds of gruesome murders.
US intelligence has reported that the gang is “the world’s most powerful trafficking organization” as they are formed by a group made up of deadly hitmen. Felix gained the head position of the Los Ántrax after the previous leader, her boyfriend Jose Rodrigo Arechiga “El Chino” Gamboa, got arrested. El Chino was accused of the death of three men who were found hanging from a bridge in Mexico nearly four years ago.
Although Felix likes to play the part of a loving mother to her three children from a previous relationship, there aren’t many women like her who have access to unlimited funds and a custom AK-47.
8. Judy Moran
Judy Moran, who was born 18 December 1944, is known as the matriarch of the Moran family – a group of infamous criminals based in Melbourne, Australia. The Moran family were drug traffickers whose name became feared both publicly and amongst the criminal underworld. Judy’s first husband, Leslie “Johnny” Cole, died during a gangland shooting in 1982. Her son, Mark Cole, was then murdered in 2000.
She then remarried Lewis Moran and they had a son together, Jason Moran, who was shot dead in 2003. Her brother-in-law, Des Moran, was also shot dead in June 2009. Judy and three others were arrested on suspicion of the murder. The police alleged that Moran had hid the getaway car in her own garage and then disposed of it later, they had everything they needed on surveillance to finally see her spend time behind bars.
During the trial, Moran’s house was set ablaze in an arson attack and finally she was sentenced to 26 years in jail with a minimum service of 21 years.
7. Thelma Wright
Thelma Wright’s husband, Jackie Wright, was one of the biggest names in the Philadelphia drug game. He was murdered in 1986, his body found rolled up in a rug with a gunshot wound to the head. After the murder, Thelma took over the family business and became the new boss transporting Class A drugs between Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
The couple had a son together and she wrote in her memoir: “People are assuming Jackie left me all this money. Nope. I got this child. I can’t lay down and die, so we just resumed business as normal. Made a lot of money. A lot of money.” Wright claimed that she would make as much as $400,000 each month. In 1991, she left a late-night club called Studio West and was caught up in a gangland shootout. It was at this point that Wright decided to turn her back on crime for good.
In 2011, she became a writer and an inspirational speaker for those who have had run-ins with the law. She said of her new line of work, “when I go around and I speak to people, I’m letting them know that you need to stay away from this game. You’re not going to win. It is a ‘no win.’ Two options: death or jail. That’s it. Would I do it again? No. No, absolutely not”.
6. Maria Leon
It’s a tough life trying to manage being mother to thirteen children while running a criminal empire, but Maria Leon was able to do it. Leon was the head boss of a gang that was responsible for drug smuggling, murders and human trafficking. She also received the backing of the Mexican Mafia, securing her position as one of the most feared gangsters in Los Angeles. The police reported that her gang had turned whole neighbourhoods into “hell” and shots would be fired into the air if they ever entered.
In 2008, her son Danny “Clever” Leon, died in a police shoot-out when he was caught wielding an AK-47. Leon heard the news during the time she was in hiding in a Mexican suburb and decided to attend the funeral in the United States. Leon was not allowed to re-enter the United States so she arranged with the help of her criminal contacts to be smuggled past the border. Unaware they were all under surveillance, the gang were overheard by police and their plans to attempt a crossing at the border by scaling the fence.
The surveillance also heard of several other human trafficking missions which was enough evidence to see Leon and other members of the gang arrested. Leon was sentenced to eight years in jail but other members got lesser sentences.
5. Maria Licciardi
Maria Licciardi, was born 24 March 1951, was the former head of the Licciardi clan, based in Secondigliano, north Naples. She was a crime boss for nearly eight years until her arrest in 2001. Maria became the first female boss of the Licciardi clan after her husband and two brothers were arrested. She was often labelled “The Godmother” by her gang who controlled drug trafficking and extortion rackets throughout north Naples.
Before she became leader the clan had never been involved with sex work. Licciardi introduced a new revenue stream where her gang would buy young girls, many underage, from the Albanian mafia for $2,000 each. The girls would be promised work in another country and they were more than happy to escape the poverty of their own homeland. When they arrived in north Naples they were enslaved, doped to avoid escape and then forced into sex work. When they were no longer required for service in the sex trade they were murdered.
In 1999, her reign came to an end over a disagreement with heroin. A new shipment of the drug had been received, but she claimed it was too pure to be sold as it would kill the purchaser. Another gang, Lo Russo clan, sold the shipment anyway and eleven addicts were killed. This caused such public outrage that the police began a crackdown on gangs who were operating in the area. Licciardi went on the run until she was arrested in 2001, and she remains behind bars today – although it’s believed she still commands the clan from her cell.
4. Rosetta Cutolo
Rosetta Cutolo, born in 1937, is known as the sister of notorious criminal and crime boss Raffaele Cutolo, former head of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata (NCO). As her brother spent the majority of his life behind bars and she was the only person he could trust with instructions for the business, she was promoted to the new boss. She wasn’t very fond of her brother as she believed he spoke to the press too much, often giving interviews from his own cell.
Rosetta operated from within Castello Mediceo, a 16th-century palace with 365 rooms, tennis courts and a swimming pool. It was in the early 1980s that her bad temper finally got the better of her, and she ordered a local police station to be blown up. After this event, the castle was raided and she spent ten years on the run until her eventual arrest in 1993. Cutolo gave herself up to police, telling them “I am tired of being a fugitive”.
She was originally sentenced to nine years in prison. Her brother claimed she knew nothing of his operations and Rosetta herself pleaded to the courtroom that she was innocent. Her image as a frail, helpless and pleasant old lady worked, and her sentence was reduced to five years. She was acquitted on nine murder charges.
3. Jemeker Thompson
Jemeker “Queen Pin” Thompson came from a very impoverished background which encouraged her to turn crime into big finances so she could live without fear of constant eviction. She met her husband Anthony Mosley, and together they had a son. The couple became an unstoppable team and began selling huge amounts of crack cocaine. They became the biggest drug traffickers in Los Angeles throughout the 1980s.
They soon paid for their life of crime as one day when he was cleaning his car, Mosley was shot and killed. The death of her husband left Thompson devastated but she continued to traffic drugs which made her hundreds of thousands of dollars each month. She became partners with a new dealer and continued her rein, until her partner was arrested and he named Thompson.
Thompson then went on the run for five years but she returned to Los Angeles for her son’s sixth-grade graduation. She was arrested at the ceremony and sent to a maximum security prison for 15 years. She released a memoir of her journey, “Queen Pin: A Memoir”, through crime to rehabilitation.
2. Raffaella D’Alterio
The Italian Godmother, Raffaella D’Alterio, who was known as “The Big Kitten” became the new Camorra boss in Naples after her husband, Nicola Pianese, was murdered.
D’Alterio was arrested in 2012 alongside 65 other suspects during raids at dawn by armed officers in Italy. Police seized over $10 million worth of vehicles from D’Alterio including a Ferrari with solid gold number plate.
The Godmother was no stranger to violence, as she suffered from three gun shot wounds after a previous shooting took place by a rival gang who were jealous of her leadership. The Camorra mob are believed to be responsible for more than 4,000 killings in the past 30 years. D’Alterio’s charges include extortion, money laundering, fake money trafficking, robbery, possession of illegal arms and dealing drugs. The gang have been estimated to make more than $200 billion a year.
1. Anna Gristina
In September 2012, Anna Gristina made headlines all over the world when she was convicted as the leader of a high-class sex trade ring. Gristina was set up by an undercover officer who posed as a client and was able to hire two prostitutes in July 2011. She could be seen on hidden camera footage arranging for the officer to watch the two women have sex in front of him at a brothel in New York. During the trial she claimed that she ran a dating service but then later admitted to being an illegal madam as part of a plea deal.
She was sentenced to six months imprisonment and five years’ probation. The court heard that following a five-year investigation she had earned an estimated $10 million from her wealthy clients. Her employees included Playboy and Penthouse models. Manhattan District Attorney, Erin Duggan said of the ruling:
“There is nothing glamorous about prostitution. Anna Gristina rented women’s bodies for profit, which makes her a pimp. That also makes her a felon, and the court has now issued that judgment”.