Police come to me when they have cases where they suspect a woman of serial murder. I am the expert on the topic having interviewed a large group of female serial killers back in the 1990's. From those interviews and studying their murders, I created the profiles of female serial killers. To this day, such a case is the most difficult type of homicide to work. People are reluctant to believe a woman could be so violent, and these women offenders are careful in the way they kill. They use covert murder methods such as asphyxiation or poisoning to kill, and they chose victims who are easy to kill.

People are even less likely to consider that females fantasize about killing. However they do! When I interviewed the female serial offenders, I learned a great deal. First, fantasy is an elaborate set of cognitions that stimulate emotion. We all fantasize to relieve stress, and serial killers are no different. I found that prior to actually committing murders, women serial killers fantasize for years.

The fantasies are very vivid, with the females planning out every way in which their murders could take place. Women plan meticulously. They study about ways in which they can dispose of victims without getting caught. They work their knowledge into their fantasies and rehearse them over and over again. Their cognitions are graphic, including the sounds a victim would make when dying. One female serial killer stated:

I knew he would grunt when I strangled him because the cats did. I practiced on the cats for months....they all grunted before they died....I liked the way I felt when I strangled them, so I dreamed about it. I made my victims grunt in my fantasy life.

This female began killing when she was seventeen years old. Prior to that, she had a history of killing cats as a type of practice. She told me she thought about killing a lot. In fact, she said she spent most of her days daydreaming and getting into trouble because she would not focus on the work in front of her. She was always thinking about killing.

At first their fantasies do not revolve around one particular victim. It could be anyone. The point of fantasizing is for the women to feel powerful and relieve their high stress levels. What they find is that they become more stressed because they realize that their thoughts are violent and different. However, this propels them to fantasize even more. They become very angry with the realization that they are so different. They do not fit in.

This is the point at which they begin targeting specific victims in their fantasies. They plan carefully and include pre-murder, murder, and post-murder behaviors into their daydreams. They select a victim who they believe would be an easy kill. They may target a child within their care, a sick patient in a hospital, a loved one at home, or anyone who is vulnerable. Fantasies have become second nature to them, and they know them by rote. This allows them to commit the murder with relative ease since they have lived the crimes in their minds for years. Most women told me their fantasies were better than the actual murders. The homicides never really lived up to their ideas of how the victims would suffer. In other words, the offenders wanted the victims to experience more pain, and they could control that in their fantasies.

Interestingly, female serial killers continue to fantasize about new and better ways to kill while they are in their serial murder phase. They never stop. The fantasies tend to become more gruesome with time. Though most female serial offenders use non-bloody means to kill, that does not mean that they do not fantasize about cutting or stabbing their victims. In fact, the majority I interviewed said they wished they could use a knife. However, they did not believe that they could physically do it with most of their victims, and they desperately wanted to avoid having the murders look like murders. They wanted the deaths to be equivocal in nature. That way, often, there were no autopsies. One woman who had been in prison for 18 years told me she still has fantasies of killing so many years after she was caught. She just doesn't tell anyone about them. I asked her why she told no one to see if she would be truthful. Her reply was, "if I tell people I dream of killing, they will never let me out."

About the Author

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D.

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., is a criminal profiler and expert on serial crimes.

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