The Black Widow–the woman who kills her husband or lover to get her hands on his money or to escape an unhappy marriage–has become something of a cliché in popular culture, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t real Black Widows out there, using murder to get rid of their ‘better’ halves.
Murder by women is, however, still pretty rare, regardless of who the victim is. A major study carried out in 1992 found that, despite women making up half of the US population, they are responsible for just 15% of homicides. And while men are more likely to kill distant acquaintances or strangers, 60% of the victims of female killers are their spouse or another close family member.
While some women do kill for money, most kill out of fear, particularly the fear of an abusive partner. Yet, despite these extenuating circumstances, women who kill their partners serve an average of 15 years in prison compared to the sentences of between 2 and 6 years handed down to men who kill their female partners.
Now, let’s look at the women in the list below who definitely fit more into the Black Widow category than that of women killing to protect themselves. Which story do you find most shocking?
15 Evelyn Dick
In 1946, hikers in Canada found a headless torso, which was eventually identified as the body of 39-year-old John Dick. Suspicion soon fell on his beautiful and very unfaithful 25-year-old wife, Evelyn. When police arrested her, they also found the body of a young infant hidden in a suitcase at their home. Dick was found guilty of murdering her husband and sentenced to death. But dramatically, her lawyer managed to have this first verdict overturned on appeal, and the second trial was thrown out because of errors in police procedure. Dick nevertheless served 12 years in prison for the murder of her baby.
14 Katherine Knight
In 2001, Katherine Knight became the first woman in Australia to be sentenced to life in prison with no parole for the murder of her lover, John Price. Price and Knight had a volatile relationship, and he took out a restraining order against her after she stabbed him in the chest. On the night of February 29, 2000, Knight stabbed her former lover 37 times, decapitated him, and then cooked parts of his body. When police arrived at their home, they found Knight comatose after attempting to take an overdose of pills, while Price’s headless body had been posed in a chair with its legs crossed.
13 Griselda Blanco
Griselda Blanco was known as the Godmother of Cocaine throughout her long and successful career smuggling drugs from her native Colombia into the U.S. She was also linked to over 200 murders in connection with her work in the drug trade. In court, it was revealed that Blanco had killed three of her previous husbands, including Dario Sepulveda, who was killed by a hitman after he and Blanco argued over who would have custody of their son, Michael. Blanco herself met a violent end, when she was shot dead in her home city of Medellin at the age of 69.
12 Mary Ann Cotton
When Mary Ann Cotton was sentenced to death by hanging in 1873, it was for the murder of her 7-year-old stepson. Cotton was also suspected of killing many more people in a poisoning spree that could have lasted as long as 20 years. In fact, historians now believe that she could have had a hand in the deaths of as many as 20 people–three husbands and one lover–as well as other children and even her own mother. Arsenic was Cotton’s weapon of choice, and it is thought that she killed her family members as she was the beneficiary of their insurance policies.
11 Betty Lou Beets
Betty Lou Beets of Texas was another woman who killed for the insurance payout. She killed two husbands–her fourth and fifth–by shooting them before burying their bodies on her property and making it look as though they had skipped town. She nearly got away with it too. It took two years for the authorities to become suspicious after her fifth husband disappeared in 1983 and only then because Beets’ own son told the authorities his mother had planned on killing Jimmy Don Beets. Betty Lou was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas in 2004.
10 Linda Calvey
Police nicknamed Linda Calvey “the Black Widow” after observing that every man she was involved with turned up dead. In fact, Calvey was only ever found guilty of murdering one of her three husbands, serving 18 years for the murder of her gangster boyfriend, Ronnie Cook, in 1990. The fate of her lovers might have had more to do with the circles Calvey moved in than her own murderous intentions. She turned down marriage proposals from British mobsters Ronnie Kray and Mad Frankie Fraser, and her first husband was shot dead in a police raid in 1978.
9 Stacey Castor
Stacey Castor was sentenced to at least 51 years in prison for the murder of her husband, David Castor, in 2005 and the attempted murder of her own daughter two years later, as well as charges relating to the forgery of her husband’s will. Castor poisoned her husband with anti-freeze in an effort to get her hands on his cash, and she nearly got away with it as his death was initially ruled to be a suicide. When police started asking questions, she tried to kill her daughter, Ashley, as part of a complicated plot to try and make her appear guilty of the original crime.
8 Mary Queen Of Scots
It didn’t take long for Mary Queen of Scots’ marriage to Lord Darnley to go sour. Married in 1565 and falling pregnant soon after, she turned against her husband when he killed one her favorites at court, a musician named David Rizzio. Deciding that divorce wasn’t an option, as it would make their child illegitimate, historians have long suspected that Mary ordered her right hand man, the Earl of Bothwell, to look at “other means” of getting rid of her husband. Darnley survived the explosion which had been set to kill him, but he was beaten and strangled to death as he tried to escape.
7 Chisako Kakehi
Murder proved to be a very profitable line of work for Chisako Kakehi, who was charged with murdering three men–including one husband–and the attempted murder of another, all in a bid to cash in on their life insurance. Kakehi, who was 70 by the time she faced trial in 2017, had collected an estimated $9 million in the preceding ten years, targeting the elderly and men without children and persuading them to make her the beneficiary of their insurance policies. Investigators believe that Kakehi used cyanide to kill her victims, after traces of the poison were found in the trash at her home.
6 Pamela Smart
Pamela Smart was 22 years old and working at her local high school in New Hampshire when she met 15-year-old Billy Flynn in 1990. The two started an affair, and Smart soon realised that young Billy would do anything to keep her happy, including killing her husband, Gregg. Flynn recruited three friends to help him with the grisly deed, shooting his love rival at point blank range. And although Smart had always denied that she had anything to do with planning her husband’s death, she was eventually sentenced to a life in prison without the chance of parole.
5 Belle Gunness
Belle Gunness was born in Norway in 1859 but emigrated to the US in the 1880’s, at which point her killing spree began. Gunness is known to have killed at least two of her children, Lucy and Myrtle, whose bodies were found in their home in 1908 along with a headless corpse assumed to be Gunness herself. However, it is thought that she may have killed as many as 42 people–husbands, suitors, and other members of her family–between 1880. And her death or disappearance, cashing in on the insurance policies, she had taken out on all of those close to her.
4 Omana Edadan
Accused of killing her lover, P Muraleedharan, in Sri Lanka in 1996, Dr. Omanan Edadan is still at large, having escaped the authorities (and probably the country) while she was out on bail. Before she disappeared, she confessed to the police that she had decided to kill her partner as he was thinking of leaving her, poisoning him before cutting his body into small pieces which she stuffed in a suitcase. Amazingly, despite her confession and the fact that she was found still in possession of the suitcase and Muraleedharan’s remains, Edadan was given bail and was never seen again.
3 Jean Harris
Jean Harris was the headmistress of a prestigious girls’ school in Virginia when she met and started dating Dr. Herman Tarnower, an eminent cardiologist. At first, things seemed to be going well for the older couple. But behind the scenes, Tarnower was unfaithful and Harris was depressed and addicted to prescription drugs. On 10th of March in 1980, Harris drove to her lover’s home, armed with a pistol and intending to commit suicide after she confronted him. Her plans obviously changed, as it was Tarnower who ended up dead and Harris who was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in jail.
2 Zatoon Bibi
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That is definitely true of Zatoon Bibi who hatched an evil plot to take revenge on ex-lover Tanveer Iqbal after he broke off their relationship. Bibi even managed to persuade her ex-husband and teenage son to help her kill Mr. Iqbal in 2016, after she lured him to her home in Birmingham, UK. The three plotters proceeded to attack and beat their 33-year-old victim, before dumping his body in a cardboard box in the trunk of an abandoned car. All three were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
1 Betty Neumar
Betty Neumar was the epitome of the Black Widow as she was married five times, and four of her husbands died in mysterious circumstances. It was the death of her fifth husband, John Neumar, which almost proved to be her undoing. He died in 2007 of apparent natural causes, but police started to investigate when there was evidence of foul play. Relatives of the fourth husband, who was shot in their home in 1986, had been calling for Betty to be investigated for years, but she died of an illness in 2011 before she could face charges for any of her husbands’ deaths.
Sources: murderpedia.org, birminghammail.co.uk, nypost.com, theguardian.com, dailymail.co.uk