More women who prey on others have shown up in recent media.
In South Africa, Sheree Prince, 19, broke into the home of 74-year-old Sandra Malcolm, waking her. When Malcolm threatened to call police, Prince pretended to be hurt and in need of help. Malcolm invited her in and put salve on a burn. She even fixed the young woman some tea. Then Prince grabbed a large knife, stabbed her 24 times, decapitated her (possibly while still alive) and tried dismembering the body.
Under arrest, an unremorseful Prince told a psychologist that she’d been fantasizing about murder since she was quite young. She’d wanted the woman’s home so she’d decided to kill her and take it. She told the psychologist that the woman “had had her life. She was old.”
British news this month ran an article that featured one female serial killer threatening another, as if they were vying for some Queen of the Hill title. When Joanna Dennehy, the admitted thrill-killer of three (possibly four) men was taken to the same prison as “House of Horrors” murderess Rosemary West in 2014, she bragged that she’d kill West. Officials hastily moved West to another facility.
Recently in the U.S., Lois Riess fatally shot her husband, David, on March 23. Transferring money from his business, she forged his signature to acquire $10,000 before taking off in a white Cadillac Escalade. Police discovered that Riess had also taken at least $78,000 from funds intended for her disabled sister to support her gambling habit. After killing David, Riess drove to a casino in Iowa before heading to Fort Myers, FL. There, she schmoozed and killed Pamela Hutchinson merely because Hutchinson resembled her. Riess assumed her identity and stole her car to try to escape, but police apprehended her in Texas. (Officials believe she'd targeted a third victim.)
On TV, a number of multi-part documentaries have featured predatory females. Among them was the two-night airing of Dead North, which followed the trail of a missing man, Chris Regan, to the door of a married woman, Kelly Cochran, who admitted to openly having an affair with him. Her possessive husband knew about it. Kelly was initially helpful, but pretty much everything she said to police was a lie.
Another of her sex partners supplied intriguing details, which triggered a search of the Cochrans’ home. Inside, police found numerous weapons. Neighbors recalled the sound of power tools used all night around the time of Regan’s disappearance, as well as an unusual barbecue. A few who were invited for hamburgers said the meat had tasted odd.
After the search, the Cochrans fled to Indiana, where Jason soon died. It looked like a heroin overdose, but there was evidence of asphyxiation. Kelly was arrested, charged with helping Jason to kill Regan. She admitted they'd killed Regan but that she’d only helped to cut up his body, out of fear for her own life. She said she’d made a pact with Jason to “kill off” those involved in extramarital affairs. So, Regan had to die. They’d lured Regan to their home, where Jason fatally shot him. They’d dismembered him together before dumping his body parts in the woods.
The jury didn’t believe her, so she was convicted. Eventually, Kelly admitted to killing Jason with a lethal dose of heroin and smothering him. The source of the barbecue meat remains a mystery, but many suspect they'd cooked some of Regan's flesh.
Kelly has also hinted at her involvement in murders in four states. She told an interviewer that she had no feelings about taking someone’s life. When she spoke with her mother from prison, she said she’d been like this for as long as she could remember. She figured she was born this way. She kept trying to get one of her interrogators to call her a psychopath, as if this would explain everything.article continues after advertisement
Recently, she wrote a four-page “poor me” letter to the Post-Tribune, the contents of which focused solely on her. She never mentioned her victims, never said she was sorry. She seemed interested only in controlling the narrative about her, denouncing unfair treatment by officials, and attracting fans once her story was told accurately. As a liar, manipulator, remorseless killer, and exploiter who accepts no responsibility and who engaged in serial relationships, Kelly has what it takes to be diagnosed as a psychopath. This disorder, along with her greed and cruelty, enhanced her predatory ability.
Most of the research on psychopathy has involved adult incarcerated males, because while not all offenders are psychopaths, it seemed probable to researchers that psychopaths would comprise a solid percentage of criminals, most of which were male. Robert Hare and his colleagues developed the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) for this research, and it has become a standard for distinguishing psychopaths from non-psychopaths. The predator's tools of deception, charm and manipulation are on this instrument.
Eventually, researchers focused on incarcerated females. Some still claim that there are fewer female psychopaths, but a point of dispute revolves around the research subjects. If women are better at staying under the radar and not getting caught, as some believe, a significant percentage of psychopathic females won't be in the research populations.
It also depends on the scoring system. In one study involving 199 females in a large prison, 6 percent scored between 30 and 40 on the PCL-R. When the psychopath-inclusive score was lowered to 25, about one in five were identified as psychopathic. The traits and behaviors that stood out for females included impulsivity, lack of behavioral controls, sexual promiscuity, criminal diversity, deceitfulness and a lack of realistic goals. In relationships, they offer no emotional support, have no conflict resolution skills and automatically blame others for things that go wrong.article continues after advertisement
To see a masterful female predator in action, watch Netflix’s four-part documentary, Evil Genius, about the bizarre pizza-bomber case in Erie, PA, in 2003 and the pack of losers who plotted it. Among them, seemingly the mastermind, was Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, who'd murdered two other men with whom she was involved. Somehow, she “got into the skin” of a friend, Bill Rothstein, who agreed to move one of the bodies. Although he dumped it in his own freezer, he went to the police and started the long process of unpeeling what had happened to the pizza deliveryman killed by the bomb placed around his neck.
Throughout this documentary, Diehl-Armstrong’s whiny narcissism, grandiosity, nastiness and remorseless cruelty are on display. She blames her bipolar disorder or her “stupid” associates for everything that happens, but it’s clear that she'd enjoyed manipulating and even killing men in her orbit. Whether or not the bomb plot was about getting money to pay a hit man to kill her father, her approach to life was wholly self-entitled and predatory.
If we study female predators closely, we might develop tools for improved detection.
Mallett, X. (2017, Oct. 31). Women can be psychopaths too – they're just better at hiding their true natures. Newsweek.com.
Jackson, R., Rogers, R., Neumann, C., & Lambert, P. (2002). Psychopathy in females offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 29(6), 692-704.
About the Author
Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University and the author of 60 books.