Evil or Insane? The Female Serial Killer and Her Doubly Deviant Femininity

Helen Gavin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


It is 16th century Hungary, and young peasant girls are going missing. They have been offered well paid work in the Castle Czejte, Transylvania and then never seen again. The king sends an army to the castle where they report finding mayhem and bloodshed. There are witnesses aplenty to testify against the Countess Elizabeta Bathory; the villagers certainly thought she was evil. Describing atrocities over a twenty-five year period, it sounds like the peasants were happy to get their own back on a woman who was probably medically and legally insane, and just possibly the nobles were happy to accept this testimony as fact, because she was the heir to the throne. Leap forward a few hundred years, and modern cinema sees us depicting Elizabeta and her modern day sisters-in-blood as truly evil or as monsters. These women are not monsters, but people who have done monstrous things. The evil epithet is the result of being members of a very rare class, one of history’s least understood but perpetually fascinating creatures, the female serial killer. Women who kill multiple times are guilty not just of serial murder, but of being women who step outside of the persona that society creates for them. This doubly deviant position makes exploring the minds of these women important, not just because they have killed, but also in order to understand the ways in which aberrant femininity is constructed as evil. This paper examines women who kill, then kill again.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransgressive Womanhood
Subtitle of host publicationInvestigating Vamps, Witches, Whores, Serial Killers and Monsters
EditorsManon Hedenborg-White, Bridget Sandhoff
PublisherInter-Disciplinary Press
ISBN (Print)9781848882836
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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