When it comes to famous killers, more often than not the crime is connected to a man. However, there are plenty of notorious female killers that you might not be aware of. In fact, one of the most well-known types of killings performed by women is against their husbands, boyfriends or lovers. These women are known as black widows, a term that takes inspiration from black widow spiders. There have been many black widows of note throughout true crime history, but we’ve curated the top 13 deadliest of the bunch. Take a peek at 13 of the most notorious black widows in true crime in the gallery below, then let us know your thoughts on this story in the comments section on social media.
In 2000, Katherine Knight made history as Australia’s first woman to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Knight was born into an extremely dysfunctional family and became violent early into her childhood. She continued to be violent throughout her adult life, physically attacking her ex-husband and numerous boyfriends over the years. In February 2000, Knight murdered her then boyfriend and skinned him, hanging his skin on a meat hook. She’d decapitated him and cooked parts of his body, intending to feed the meat to his children. She was sentenced to life in prison in November 2001 and is currently incarcerated at the Silverwater Correctional Complex in New South Wales, Australia.
Mary Elizabeth Wilson
Mary Elizabeth Wilson was born in Durham, England in 1889. She married her first husband in 1914 and they moved into a house in Gateshead. At some point, Wilson’s lover moved into the home with them. Then, in 1955 Wilson’s husband passed away and five months later Wilson married her lover. Just a year later, Wilson’s second husband passed away and she inherited their money. A year later, she married a third husband in 1957 and he died just 12 days later, leaving her an inheritance. Soon after the death of her third husband, she married a fourth man and he passed away within the year, leaving her a cash inheritance, bungalow and life insurance. After news spread, the bodies of her third and fourth husbands were exhumed and they found high levels of phosphorus. Wilson was later convicted of murdering two of her four husbands using beetle poison and she passed away while serving a life sentence in 1963.
Perhaps one of the most well-known women on this list, Jodi Arias’s story is one of the most heavily discussed in the true crime community. Arias was born in Salinas, California in 1980 and in 2006 she met a man named Travis Alexander at a Pre-Paid Legal conference in Las Vegas. The two soon began a long distance relationship, with Arias in California and Alexander in Arizona. Friends of Alexander were concerned by their relationship, stating that Arias was showing troubling behavior early on. Then, in June 2008, Alexander’s body was discovered in his home by a group of his friends. It was discovered that he’d been murdered a few days earlier, sustaining dozens of stab wounds, a slit throat and a gunshot wound to the head. Arias was the prime suspect in the case because of a digital camera that had been left at the house with photographs of her in Alexander’s home on the day of his death. Arias was convicted of first degree murder in May 2013 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in April 2015.
Betty Lou Beets
Betty Lou Beets was born in Roxboro, North Carolina in 1937 and experienced trauma during her childhood. During her lifetime, she was married six times (twice to the same man) and had an extensive criminal history. Some of her crimes included public lewdness, shooting her second husband (first in the abdomen and later in the back of the head) and attempting to run over her third husband with her car. In 1983, she reported that her then husband (her fifth in total) was missing and her son discovered his body in the home. Beets had shot her husband twice in the head and then she, along with her son, abandoned his body in a fishing boat the next day. She was convicted and later executed by lethal injection February 2000.
Stacey Castor was born in July 1967 in Clay, New York and married her first husband in 1988 at just 17. The couple had two children and then in 2000 her first husband passed away after a short struggle with an inexplicable illness. In 2003, Castor married her second husband (whose surname she took) and in 2005 she called the police to report that he’d locked himself in a bedroom at their home and was unresponsive. After police kicked in the door, her second husband’s body was discovered alongside a container of antifreeze. His death was initially reported as a suicide, however police soon discovered Castor’s DNA on the glass of antifreeze and her husband’s DNA on a turkey baster found in the garbage. Investigators had her first husband’s body exhumed and discovered that he’d also been poisoned by antifreeze. Castor later attempted to murder her daughter in 2007, crafted a suicide and murder confession note after poisoning her daughter with fatal painkillers. Castor was ultimately connected to all three crimes and was given a 51 year prison sentence. She died of a heart attack in her cell in 2016.
Nicknamed the Giggling Granny, Nannie Doss was a serial killer who was responsible for 11 deaths during her lifetime. Doss was born in November 1904 in Blue Mountain, Alabama and was first married at the age of 16. She went on to marry four more times and later admitted to killing each of these husbands. But that’s not all, in addition to killing four of her husbands, she also admitted to killing her mother, her sister, her grandson and her mother-in-law. She used the murder of her final husband to collect the two life insurances policies she’d taken out on him, which promoted a doctor to do an autopsy on his body. Doss was arrested for the murder of her fourth husband and plead guilty in 1955. She was given a life sentence in prison, however the state didn’t pursue the death penalty because she was a woman. She died in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1965 at the age of 59.
Susan Wright was born in April 1976 in Houston, Texas and married her husband in 1998. The pair had two children and then in January 2003, Wright tied her husband to their bed and stabbed him 193 times. She buried his body in their backyard and attempted to cover up the murder by painting their bedroom the next day. Wright turned herself in and testified in her own defense at the trial, claiming that her husband was abusive and she’d stabbed him in self-defense. Wright was sentenced to 25 years in prison and was approved for parole in 2020, being released in December at the age of 44.
Betty Broderick was born in November 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. She was raised in a traditional Catholic household and married her first husband in 1965. They had five children together and in 1982 the family moved to San Diego. In 1982, while working at a law firm, her husband hired a 21-year-old woman to be his legal assistant and Broderick soon suspected that they were having an affair. The two wound up going through a lengthy and messy divorce, which was finalized in 1989. That year, Broderick’s husband married his legal assistant and seven months later, Broderick broke into their home. She used a revolver to shoot and kill them in their home in November 1989. Broderick ultimately turned herself in and was given two consecutive terms of 15 years to life plus two years for illegal use of a firearm after being found guilty of two counts of second degree murder. She’s currently serving her sentence at the California Institute for Women and will not be eligible for parole until 2032.
Tillie Klimek was born in 1876 in Poland and her family immigrated to the United States when she was an infant. She married her first husband in 1895 and he passed away in 1914 after struggling with a short illness. She soon remarried and her second husband shortly passed, as well as a boyfriend she had soon after. People began paying attention to her story during her marriage to her third husband, as she began telling neighbors that her husband was going to die. Her third husband died in 1921 and she remarried to another man (whose surname she took) soon after. After her fourth husband became ill, doctors confirmed arsenic poisoning and she was quickly arrested. The bodies of her other husbands were soon exhumed and they were found with high amounts of arsenic. After her arrest, others came forward claiming their neighbors and relatives had passed away from arsenic poisoning after interacting with Klimek. Klimek was found guilty of murdering her third husband and sentenced to life in prison. She died in prison at the Joliet Correctional Center in November 1936.
Black Widows of Liverpool
Catherine Flannagan and Margaret Higgins were sisters born in Ireland in 1829 and 1843. Together, they ran a boarding house in Liverpool, Lancashire and in 1880, Catherine’s 22-year-old son died suddenly. Catherine collected a sizeable sum of money from his death from the burial society. Two years later, Margaret married a man living in the household and just months after their marriage, his 8-year-old daughter died from an illness and Marget collected the money from the burial society. Just a year later, Margaret’s husband became ill and died just two days later. After his death, it was discovered that Margaret’s husband had been insured by five different burial societies and an autopsy revealed that he’d died from arsenic poisoning. Margaret was connected to the crime and Catherine was later taken into custody. The sisters were later charged for the three murders that happened in the house and were hanged in March 1884 at the Kirkdale Prison.
Pamela Smart was born in August 1967 in Windham, New Hampshire. She married her husband (whose surname she took) in 1989 and shortly into their marriage, she met a high school sophomore named Billy Flynn. Smart and Flynn began having an affair, then in May 1990, Smart discovered that her home had been burgled and her husband had been murdered. It was uncovered that Flynn had committed the murder, however, during the trial prosecutors painted Smart as a manipulator who’d forced Flynn to kill her husband so that she could avoid an expensive divorce and take his life insurance. In March 1991, Smart was found guilty as an accomplice to to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and witness tampering. She’s currently serving a life sentence without parole at the Bedford Hills Correctional Center.
Amy Gilligan was born in October 1873 in Milton, Connecticut and married her first husband in 1897. The pair became caretakers of an elderly widower in 1901 and after his death in 1904, his estate was turned into a boarding house for the elderly, which was run by Gilligan and her husband. Her first husband died in 1910, just a few weeks after Gilligan had taken a life insurance policy out on him. She continued to run the boarding house and in 1913, she married her second husband. After only three months of marriage, her second husband died and his will left his entire estate to Gilligan. Between 1907 and 1917, there were 60 deaths in Gilligan’s boarding house and soon people became suspicious. Several of the bodies were exhumed and large traces of arsenic and strychnine were found. Evidence soon pointed back to Gilligan and after a trial, she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. She died in 1962 at the age of 88.