Tori Telfer’s Lady Killers [Book Review]


When people think of female serial killers, they automatically think of Aileen Wuornos. Why? Because in the day and age of television and newspapers and the media just wanting to get that piece of news out, she became well known while she was alive. But she wasn’t the first female serial killer and we may never know who was the first female serial killer by the mere fact that there were so many before her and more wicked than her.


It’s hard to phantom a female being a killer, not to mention a cold blooded killer, but that’s just what these females in the Lady Killers book by Tori Telfer were: cold blooded serial killers. Their primary weapon: poison. If you were a noblewoman back in the 16th and 17th century, or any century for that matter, then beating or torturing someone to death, mostly servants or Serfs, was the way to go. When they didn’t want the cause of death to be detected, poison, particularly arsenic, was the weapon of choice.


From reading this book, it seems the rich has always gotten a way with murder, literally, as they do today. And even when they got caught years later, they have gotten away with murder or murders. As mentioned, most noblewomen resorted to beating their servants, in the case of Erzsebeth Bathory or their Serfs in the case of Daryl Nikolayevna Saltykova. Because these women came from money and then married into money or men of noble status themselves, they were able to beat, torture and murder upwards of 50 people without being questioned. It wasn’t until they fell out of a favor of those in power or, in the case of the King that owed money to the Bathory’s, the King was no longer in their dept, the crimes of these women were investigated, found guilty and sentenced to death.
Other women of means during the same time period was Marie-Madeleine who was convicted of killing her father, brothers, attempted murder of her sister and sister-in-law among other people. Her reason for killing was simple: they either stood in her way of money or disagreed with her. Unlike her counterparts who beat their victims, Marie’s method of murder was poison.


A good point that was brought up in either in this book or an episode of Deadly Women or both is how some feel that poison is a coward’s way to murder. That’s far from the truth. With poison, unlike beating someone, strangling someone or shooting/stabbing them, poison takes time to work. The poisoner has to be patient, but also have the coldness to watch their victim die a slow and painful death. Arsenic was readily available for some time and thus the perfect poison to use. Why? With arsenic poisoning, when given in small dosages over time causes the following:

It could play a role in the development of diabetes, cancer, vascular disease and lung disease. The Food and Drug Administration says that long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin cancer, bladder cancer and lung cancer, as well as heart disease (

For a long while, arsenic was easy to get. No one questioned anyone buying arsenic, no matter how much they bought because arsenic was also used to kill rats. And back in those days in which arsenic was readily available tracking who bought it and how much was not necessary.
A famous poisoner was The Giggling Grandma Nannie Doss. She was also known as the Lonely Hearts Killer for she would find lonely older men who had money, marry them, and then kill them. Her killing spree was from the 1920’s to 1954.


Serial killers being men is the popular consensus. I think it’s because men are more brutal in their acts. Men use guns or knives on their victims.They also leave a trail of blood. But when women kill, they do it silently via poison. Even today, women use poison such as antifreeze, to kill their victims including their own children.

If the woman was good looking as in the case of Erzsebet Bathory and Marie-Madeleine no one EVER suspected them of killing anyone. But if you weren’t good looking, in the case of ahem, Wuornus, it’s still hard to accept that fact that she would murder the number of people she did. And mind you, Wuornus’s murders were brutal and bloody, like the women noblewomen of the 1600’s and 1700’s.


I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in murderers or murders. But what I really enjoyed was the diverse group of women that became serial killers and their reasons. One thing they all had in common they felt they would get away with it. And when caught they maintained their innocence. Most used their feminine wiles to try to win either the judge or jury over. I was more intrigued by those from the 1600’s and 1700’s.
I find the most brutal of them all was Kate Bender of the Bender family. She wasn’t alone in the killings but she was the most brutal.
Author: Tori Telfer
Released: 10 October 2017
Publisher: Harper Perennial sold by Harper Collins
Pages: 352



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