Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Women Aroused by Murder

Some experts deny that female killers can be sexually addicted.

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

I’ve studied serial killers for over two decades, which includes reading what other experts say. Some criminologists and sexologists have stated that female sexual desire is too weak to fuel a predatory drive. Yet, in October, we had a news story about the sentencing of a killer in Russia who'd claimed that the murder of homeless people gave her sexual pleasure.

Elena Lobacheva, 27, was part of a gang that murdered fourteen people in Moscow. The victims were generally stabbed multiple times or battered with a hammer. Lobacheva liked to stab them. She said she’d been inspired by a horror movie, Bride of Chucky, and by another sexually motivated serial killer, Alexander Pichushkin. Upon arrest, she stated that “randomly stabbing the body of a dying human brought her sexual pleasure.” On her computer were photos of the victims with their stomachs cut open or dismembered. In a journal, she had recorded the number of knife wounds she’d inflicted. If not caught, she would have kept going.

Like sexually stimulated male killers, females can be orgasmically conditioned toward sexual predation. It’s a developmental process involving fantasies and a specific type of stimulation. If sexual satisfaction occurs, the person is likely to repeat the act, incorporating the source of stimulation. Eventually, the person depends on it for arousal.

Just because we see more male lust killers does not exclude the possibility of such a stimulus for females. Women certainly have sexual fantasies, and those fantasies can involve assault and murder. The sense of power and excitement can be just as compelling.

Nurse Jane Toppan experimented on patients with a mixture of drugs that killed slowly. As they gradually lost consciousness, she would climb into bed to cradle them while they slipped into oblivion. She said that during this intimate contact, she'd achieved orgasms. As a private nurse, she kept killing. Finally, someone grew suspicious, leading to “Jolly Jane’s” arrest. During her legal proceedings, Toppan admitted to being aroused by death.

Frenchwoman Jeanne Weber loved to strangle children. She was suspected in numerous deaths, but a renowned pathologist, Dr. Leon Thoinot, resisted viewing Weber as a killer. She continued to choke children and get arrested, and in each case, Thoinot assisted with her acquittals. But then Weber was caught red-handed, choking a seven-year-old boy. It was clear from witnesses that Weber had derived sexual ecstasy from the act, so Thoinot declared her psychotic. No one during the early twentieth century could imagine a woman as a serial sexual predator unless she was crazy.

Erotic motivation also shows up in women who kill in partnerships. Over the past few years, several females have led their male partners into murder. British killer Joanna Dennehy is a good example. She murdered men to "have my fun" and took selfies of herself laughing over the bodies. When arrested, she showed no remorse. She bragged that she would do it again. Her three male partners in crime, who helped to drive her around or dump the bodies, said they were afraid of her. Psychologists identified the desire for stimulation as a motivator; Dennehy loved the heat and wanted more.

Catherine Wood was a supervisor at the Alpine Manor in Michigan, where she became lovers with Gwendolyn Graham. During a session of rough sex, Graham suggested killing patients as a game. The eldercare facility recorded the names of deceased or discharged patients in a book. Wood and Graham selected victims from among people whose first initial of their last name, when read down the list, spelled MURDER. So, someone named “Malone” might be first. The “game” enhanced their sexual thrills. They killed five patients.

The number of female lust killers is low, so there has been no focused scientific study. Thus, it’s difficult to know how females and males differ or overlap in their development and behavior. Still, if females do develop a sexual addiction based in fantasy, as these cases suggest, the concept of orgasmic conditioning applies.

Given the popularity of serial killers and the constant exposure to true crime content on TV – including such series as Deadly Women – more females could view 'murderess' as an attractive identity. As such fantasies become rooted, they can lead to a dangerous sexual addiction. What was once unthinkable is clearly possible.

More from Psychology Today
4 Min Read
A recent study reveals some new insights into the psychology and functioning of "incels," individuals who identify as involuntarily celibate.

More from Katherine Ramsland Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today