Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Matches Made in Hell

Despite tendency to excuse them, females can be criminal equals.

This month, a murder trial concluded, in which Terri Lyne McClintic testified against partner-in-crime Michael Rafferty for the 2009 rape-murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford. McClintic had lured the girl for Rafferty to rape. At some point, she says, she placed a garbage bag over the child’s head, kicked her, and bludgeoned her with a hammer.

“I savagely murdered that little girl,” she admitted. Although McClintic had promised Rafferty she’d take the rap, during her confession she turned on him. She then became the star witness against him. But she had clearly been a willing partner.

Several females have lured victims for their male companions. During the 1980s, Carol Bundy enticed young girls for Doug Clark and they murdered five. He got the death penalty, while she got life with parole. Charlene Gallego ensnared victims for her husband, who received a death sentence, while she, the “battered wife,” went to prison for just 16 years. Survivors of Judith and Alvin Neelley’s torture fatal spree fingered her as the sadistic mastermind.

There’s a tendency to think of the male as the aggressor and the female as someone who just goes along, perhaps even bullied into criminal acts she’s reluctant to do. Some experts have speculated that with a different partner, the female would not have acted thus. In more than one study they have been labeled “compliant accomplices.” That is, they are generally good people who were influenced toward crime by a bad man. 

Former FBI Special Agent Robert Hazelwood, Dr. Park Dietz, and Dr. Janet Warren interviewed twenty women who had been the wives and girlfriends of sexual predators. Seven of the males had killed people, and four of the females had fully participated.

The female subjects in this study were middle class and most had no criminal record. They were not mentally ill. The study concluded that the males had targeted females with low self-esteem, then isolated them and gradually reformed their thinking. Once joined together, "the sadistic fantasy of the male becomes an organizing principle in the behavior of the women." In other words, the girls were more or less brainwashed. 

Society, too, tends to view females as so dependent on men that they can be persuaded through their need for love or their fear of abandonment to do diabolical things. Thus, it’s easier to excuse them. Yet a detailed analysis of each case above reveals not reluctant participation but equal partnership and even outright enthusiasm.

Look at the case of 15-year-old Justina Morley. In 2003, she posed as Jason Sweeney’s “girlfriend,” to lure him to an isolated spot in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Three boys killed him there with a hatchet, rock, and hammer, just to get his paycheck. Two of them implicated Morley as the mastermind. She had even chastised the boys, calling them names, when they initially abandoned the plan. She also “group-hugged” them over the body.

Then there’s Karla Homolka, the notorious accomplice to husband, Paul Bernardo. She was confident, educated, and in regular contact with her family. She drugged her younger sister to offer to Paul as a Christmas gift, and in the process killed her. She covered up the crime and suggested they do more, but when the heat was on after they killed two more girls, she played the role of battered wife and turned her husband in. For her “compliance” in three murders, she got twelve years and he got life.

Yes, she was battered, but she was also an equal participant, with plenty of chances to turn him in. She did so only when she spotted an advantage for herself. Bernardo, for his part, had been a rapist before he met Karla, but not a killer. The supposed team chemistry might as easily have influenced him as her to become more violent. Yet no one calls Bernardo compliant.

Psychiatrists who evaluated some of these women on a regular basis, not just as part of a single-session study, concluded that they could be dangerous even on their own. Their acts had evolved from their resonance to a man who shared their desire to harm others and who could enact their violent fantasies. (We even have some all-female couples who have killed—viciously—together.)

When it comes to violence, we should accept that females can be as vile and diabolical as males. McClintic admitted to a history of vengeful fantasies that predated Rafferty and she once had microwaved a dog. Although the percentage of females who participate in assault and murder is lower than for males, sterotypes about gender differences should not become automatic mitigating factors. 

 

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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