There have been a lot of classic gangsters that we all know (and kind of secretly admire for how badass they are). Al Capone, Fat Tony, Jabba the Hut, Tony Montana, and even Bugsy Malone. With their cool suits and signature fedoras, it is easy to see the appeal of being a hardcore mobster. Until you actually think about the technical side of it. The gang wars and constantly fearing for your life. Plus the violence and you know, committing crimes. Maybe we should just stick to dressing up as gangsters for Halloween.
This list, however, focuses on the usually unseen side to gangs and the mafia. It’s the few cases of women being ruthless mobsters and being just as incredibly terrifying as their male counterparts. Think about it. Women can be scary enough when they don’t get their own way, if you leave the toilet seat up it’s like hell hath no fury. Now, imagine a woman that’s the head of a gang and has access to some pretty powerful people. Yeah, female gangsters must be some of the most badass people on the planet… Some of the women on this list have some really incredible reasons behind their criminal activities, and some are just, well, ruthless...
15 Stephanie St. Clair
St. Clair, also known as Queenie or Madam Queen, was a numbers runner in the 1920s. Basically, she earned money by investing, gambling, and playing the lottery. She was a mob boss who was at the head of several criminal enterprises in Harlem, New York. She actually used her position for the good of her community— she made sure her employees were well dressed, called out police brutality, put money into community projects, and even funded legal help for new French-speaking immigrants in the area.
When the notorious Jewish gangster, Dutch Schultz, started antagonizing her with threats and even killing her men, she locked him in a closet and ordered four heavily-built men to “take care of him”. Then, she exposed him to the police and the press. When Schultz was eventually taken out, she immediately sent a telegram to his hospital bed, which read: “So You Sow — So Shall Ye Reap.” She signed it off with “Madam Queen of Policy.”
The wife of her protege, Ellsworth “Bumpy Johnson”, described St. Clair as someone who was unafraid to “kick off her expensive high heels and go toe-to-toe with any man or woman insolent enough to insult her breeding and character.”
14 Arlyne Brickman
As a young woman, Brickman looked up to Virginia Hill, gangster Bugsy Siegel’s girlfriend. As a result, she became involved with the Italian mobsters of New York, seducing them and eventually running drugs for them. Despite her awe-inspired loyalty, when she was beaten and raped at age 35 by gangsters, her mafia friends refused to help her because she was Jewish and a woman. Clearly, the loyalty did not extend both ways.
The turning point for Arlyne came 8 years later, when a loan shark threatened to rape her then 18-year-old daughter if Brickman didn’t pay off a loan. She turned to the FBI, who paid off her loan and gave her a plea deal in exchange for her wearing a wire and working as an informant. She played a crucial role in the arrest of Colombo crime family gangster Anthony Scarpati, and numerous others. She’s so badass, she actually refused the FBI’s offer of putting her into protective custody because "that's the quickest way to get killed."
13 Enedina Arellano Felix
Enedina is rumoured to be the leader of the Tijuana Cartel, which, if true, would make her the first woman to lead a Mexican drug cartel. While her male predecessors all met violent ends, Enedina is a trained accountant and is thought to be more business focused than the party animal killing machines to have come before her.
The former head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, who spent 13 years in Mexico and a lot of it undercover has said “She is not into the wars of her brothers. She is into making alliances and making money. Her beauty may also have helped her make alliances with powerful traffickers such as Chapo Guzman.”
Little is actually known about Enedina, few photographs of her exist and her current marital status is unknown. But maybe her rumoured position in the cartel is a sign that women are on their way to being treated better within the cartel world.
12 Rosetta Cutolo
Rosetta took over the main runnings of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata while her brother, Raffaele Cutolo, spent most of his time in prison, from where he delivered instructions regarding the organization. Apparently, her relationship with her brother was hit and miss. Rosetta’s lawyer recalled “They often have rows. She thinks he talks too much. She wishes he wouldn’t give interviews.”
Rosetta was so hardcore, she attempted (and only just failed) to blow up a police headquarters! Despite evading the police and managing to remain unfound for over 10 years, when she was eventually discovered she surrendered herself to the police, claiming that she was “tired of being a fugitive.”
While she might have turned herself in, she still got away with 9 counts of murder, convincing the police that she was harmless, aided by her frumpy appearance.
11 Griselda Blanco
Blanco started her life of crime at a young age. Apparently, she was a pickpocket and a prostitute when she was a pre-teen! The story goes that she climbed her way up the ladder quickly, allegedly she first killed someone in a kidnapping situation when she was 11 years old! Griselda quickly earned the alias “The Black Widow” because the fate of her lovers was always… fatal. She supposedly murdered her first lover when she was a teenager, her first husband was killed a few years after their divorce, she shot her second husband, and even her third husband wound up dead!
Blanco is most notably thought to have been behind a cocaine business, but she is also rumoured to have been responsible for around 200 murders! Her death, however, was arguably the most gangster thing on this list… After being deported back to Colombia in 2004, she was assassinated. In 2012, she was shot outside a butcher’s shop by an assassin riding a motorcycle. What a way to go!
10 Santokben Jadeja
Jadeja aka “Godmother” is one of the biggest players in the Porbandar area (this is also where Ghandi was born). She is one of the most famous and only cases of a woman leading an underground mafia in India. She got into her illegal antics through her husband, who was shot by an old rival. Jadeja is thought to have been behind the murders of 14 people that she suspected were responsible for her husband’s death. Her name is also tied to several cases of kidnapping and extortion. She attempted to involve herself in politics in order to reach the same level of success as her late husband. She didn’t quite manage it, despite having all the illegal operations of Porbandar under her control at one point, but there is a movie called Godmother based on her life, so who is really the more successful one?
9 Archana Sharma
Not to be confused with the model and actress, Archana is part of the Indian Babloo Srivastava gang. She has managed to elude police for years, having been untraceable for a long time. She is thought to be running offshoots of the gang in another country at present. There is literally so little known about her, that that’s it for this one… Talk about elusive!
Why do you think so little is known about her? How can one person just disappear for so long? You would think in cases like these, police would be more lenient with jurisdiction and focus more on finding wanted criminals rather than the glory associated with bringing them in...
8 Phoolan Devi
Devi is known as the “Bandit Queen”, and was a renowned bandit in India. She was kidnapped by a group of bandits as a young girl, since they had been sent to her village to kill someone. The bandits refused to kill a little girl, so they took her and she lived in the forest with them. Phoolan was gang-raped by a rival faction, and after she recovered, she gathered the bandits in her group that she trusted and returned to the village where she was attacked to get revenge. They lined up 22 men and shot them dead. Phoolan and her men managed to evade capture for 2 years, before eventually surrendering.
Devi was charged with forty-eight crimes, including multiple murders, plunder, arson and kidnapping for ransom. The trial remained in a pending status for 11 years, and all charges were eventually dropped against her by the state government.
Released in 1994, Devi then took an interest in politics, joining the Samajwadi Party. She was doing well, too, going as far as becoming an MP, until she was shot by the rival bandits from her past in front of her official bungalow.
7 Marllory Dadiana Chacon Rossell
The Guatemalan press referred to Rossell as the “Queen of the South”. She ran one of the largest money laundering and drug trafficking rings in Central America, supplying cocaine shipments to Mexican drug enterprises and also laundering tens of millions of US dollars each year. If true, then she was the most active money launderer in Guatemala. She turned herself in to U.S. authorities last year, seeking a plea deal in exchange for information. She is set to serve less than 10 years in prison as a result of her cooperation and pleading guilty. Her sentence and release date will also remain sealed for five years for her safety. What is interesting is that Rossell’s crime ring is still quite active as opposed to some of the others on this list, but they are dangerous on top of being rich and powerful!
6 Claudia Ochoa Felix
Claudia has been described as the “Kim Kardashian” of the mafia world. She even lives the millionaire lifestyle, except her team of body guards aren’t in place to protect her from over-eager fans, but actual assassins. It is rumoured that Claudia has become the new leader of the Los Ántrax, the world’s most ruthless hit squad, its hitmen are considered the world’s deadliest. The U.S. regards the Mexican group as “the world’s most powerful drug trafficking organization”.
When the former leader of the group, Jose Rodrigo Arechiga Gamboa, aka El Chino, was arrested, it is thought that his social media butterfly girlfriend, Claudia, took over. Before her rise to power, she regularly posted pictures online of her custom pink AK-47 and reclining against masked men. Now, she has made efforts to delete all evidence that could tie her to the Los Ántrax, and is now using social media as a platform to give off the impression of a devoted mother of three.
5 Raffaella d’Alterio
Raffaella, 46, took over her husband’s mafia dealings when he was gunned down 6 years ago. When she came under the suspicion of the police, her lawyer said “Being the wife and son of a boss does not automatically make you a criminal or the leader of a clan. My client Raffaella has one conviction for a false statement to the council while her son has been cleared of possession of a weapon.”
Raffaella is also known as “the big female kitten”, which probably implies she has quite the set of claws! D’Alterio made sure her family lived in style— she took the family to Monte Carlo for shopping trips, and when she was arrested, around £10 million worth of cars and properties were seized.
Three years after her husband’s murder, she was shot herself and received gunshot wounds from rival mobsters who had become jealous of her control of drug cartels in Naples.
4 Bonnie Parker
Even if you’re sketchy on the details, you’ve heard of Bonnie and Clyde. Well, they’re not just fictional, they were real people! Bonnie Parker dropped out of school and married before she turned 16. Though she quickly fell out of touch with her husband, she was still wearing her wedding ring when she died and they never formally divorced. She met Clyde while she was staying with a friend who had broken her arm. She was making hot chocolate when Clyde came over, and they were immediately enthralled with each other.
Clyde and his gang killed a total of 9 lawmen, although many gang members specifically recall Bonnie never firing a gun at a police officer herself. Parker actually wrote quite a bit of poetry, specifically during her brief stint in jail when she was bored.
Bonnie met her end when she and Clyde were ambushed by Texas police officers. Apparently, two of the officers recall "Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns ... There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren't taking any chances." Seems like overkill, but okay.
3 Judy Moran
Judy is the matriarch of Melbourne, Australia’s Moran criminal family. Her first husband was shot in a gang and drug related conflict in 1982. Already divorced at the time, Judy was already involved with Lewis Moran. Clearly an unfortunate family business, her partner Lewis and both of her sons were murdered at various intervals across several years. She wrote a book about her experiences, attempting to “clear her estranged partner’s name”.
After her five minutes of fame, she was arrested in association with the murder of her ex-husband’s brother, Des. She was found guilty after a wig and outfit were found in her car by police, making her altered appearance match the description of the shooter. She was sentenced to 26 years in jail in 2011, and she will serve at least 21 of those.
2 Charmaine Roman
Florida resident Charmaine Roman was arrested for her role as a bookkeeper in Jamaica’s violent marijuana-smuggling ring. Outside of her sketchy dealings, Roman helped raise her young grandson. She spent her time driving her Land Rover and living her flashy Floridian lifestyle, but it was all funded by a multi-million dollar crime ring.
As well as having drug money to pay the bills, Roman was also a renowned gambler— one time she won a cracking $100,000 on a lottery ticket and had a total of 44 winning lottery tickets from 2009. But apparently, that was just pocket change.
Police found Roman with several documents hinting at numerous aliases, and have remained unable to figure out her genuine identity. It is also thought that as well as the bookkeeper, she was actually a kingpin in the organization! The police spent 6 years surveilling Roman, which probably cost them about as much money as her total lottery winnings!
1 Gangubai Kothewali
Gangubai was a major brothel runner in Mumbai, India. She was also known as the madam of Kamathipura, and ran several brothels across Mumbai. She reportedly also peddled drugs, and is rumoured to have carried some serious weight in her day. She is said to be immortalized by the idols that were made in her image, which are still worshipped across Mumbai because of the work she did to ensure that women who were forced into the sex trade were protected. She was so adamant about the rights of these women that she met with PM at the time, Jawahar Lal Nehru and told him about the issues with Mumbai’s commercial sex workers.
Gangubai was sold into prostitution by her boyfriend, so it is easy to see where her fierce protection over women forced into similar situations comes from, regardless of how hardened she became by the Mumbai red light district. The more you learn about her, the more you can see why idols of her are still worshipped by people in Mumbai.