Halloween season is in full swing at The Last Bookstore on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, over 100 people gathered to learn about and participate in discussion of female serial killers, led by Tori Telfer, author of Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History. So often, the public hears of women as victims of violent crime, perpetrated by killers like Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper. However, there is another side to the narrative, one that places women at the center of the atrocious action, which the book captures.
Telfer began the event with an excerpt from the nonfiction book detailing the life and grisly murders committed by Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, a Russian noblewoman. Saltykova inherited a great deal of property and serfs, particularly girls, whom she then tortured and killed. Arraigned in 1762, she awaited the investigation for six years in a windowless cellar until finally being convicted of the torture and murder of 38 female serfs and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In light of recent events, Telfer noted it is important to clarify the difference between serial killers and mass murderers. The FBI defines homicidal actions as when a serial killer commits three or more killings in a month-long period with an emotional cooling-off interval in between, often accompanied by an element of sexual gratification. This is in contrast with the definition of mass murder, which is the illegal killing of a group of people, suggesting that mass murders are typically isolated incidents.
Telfer pointed out that a majority of the audience at The Last Bookstore was female, the same as the demographic of most true crime readers.
“Women like to know, so they stay ahead of the curve,” Telfer said. “It makes them feel safer to know about these incidents because women are so often the victims of these crimes.”
According to Telfer, this suggests that many women exist with an inherent mechanism of mistrust, one that may be essential to their survival.
“Humans like true crime because they are real and scary stories, but ones we read from the safety of our own homes,” Telfer said. “It’s a very primal narrative of the hunter and the hunted.”
Many male serial killers exhibit a common pattern of behaviors, known as the MacDonald Triad, or the triad of sociopathy, when they are kids. This triad includes arson, cruelty to animals and enuresis or bedwetting, all of which appear to contribute to the likelihood of homicidal actions in adult life. In contrast, Telfer did not find any prominent patterns in killings committed by women, only common themes of desperation or twisted senses of love and altruism. She desribed the Angels of Death, a phenomenon in which those in a caregiving position use their power to kill people under their care, believing their patients are either suffering or ill beyond recovery.
As a whole, female serial killers are known for being more pragmatic and can go undetected for much longer periods of time than their male counterparts. Nannie Doss, known as “The Giggling Grandma,” was a serial killer who murdered four of her five husbands and went undiscovered by the media because of the intense cognitive dissonance that stemmed from stereotyping her as a grandmotherly woman rather than a brutal killer.
The Last Bookstore will host more Halloween-related events this month, including The Last Bookstore: Lost Souls Costume Ball.