Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Female Serial Killers of the Jazz Age: 1920s USA

Perhaps seven of the female serial killer cases appearing in this collection may be found in the most complete lists of female serial killers that have been published in the print media (Creighton, Cunningham, Gifford, Klimek, Sorenson, Southard, Wise). TV has covered Carl and Malinsky on "Deadly Women." You will find that a good number of the cases that have fallen to the memory hole are quite amazing.

[Count: 32]


1920 – Anna Tomaskiewicz – Northhampton, Massachusetts, USA

“Mrs. Anna Tomaskiewiez, the strange woman ‘Bluebeard’ of South Hartley, was preparing for her sixth husband when her fifth spouse died. Mike Djurizzko, a boarder, was to be her next husband, according to testimony in the case. Mrs. Tomaskiewiez had already tried to obtain insurance made out in her name for Mike. The Polish insurance agent refused to accept the application and it was this fact that led to the unearthing of her tangled career.”

The press said she she was running a “murder factory.” The prosecutor charged “that the woman caused the death of two husbands, one in Connecticut and one in New York, and that suspicious circumstances attended the deaths of the other two.” The jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity. “Mrs. Tomaskiewicz, was seen to smile when the verdict was given by the jury foreman. Mrs. Tomaskiewicz was committed to the Northampton State Hospital for the Insane for life.”

1921 – Clara Carl – Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Clara Carl Murdered two husbands and a father-in-law. Convicted in 1922 and sentenced to life in prison, she escaped in 1925, but was finally captured and returned. Newspaper headlines reporting her escape described her as the most daring of women criminals.

1921 – Erminia (Big Emma) Colavito – Cleveland, Ohio, USA

1921 – Mary Demmer – Schiller Park, Illinois, USA

“Mrs. Elizabeth Harwood, of Bensonville, mother of Mrs. Kolze, told the Coroner, it is said, that Mrs. Demmer had intimated, after her daughter’s death, that ‘something was wrong.’ Shortly before Kolze died Mrs. Demmer is alleged to have told Mrs. Harwood that ‘he would not live long unless he mended his ways.’” Mrs. Mary Demmer was held for questioning in connection of three arsenic deaths was released from custody after two weeks in jail. The state had no evidence against her even though arsenic had been found in the exhumed bodies of Mrs. Demmer’s husband and Mrs. Fred Kolze. The two families made their homes together.

1921 – Dessie Keyes – Elm Mott, Texas, USA

Accused of murdering, with her paramour accomplice, her husband, his wife and his baby daughter the man was convicted, but she went free, despite the fact that the both had made signed confessions. 

1921 – Lyda Trueblood Southard – Twin Falls, Idaho, USA

Between 1915 and 1920 Lyda Trueblood Southard committed, it is suspected, a total of six murders (4 husbands, a brother-in-law, and her own child). In each case she pretended that the deceased had contracted either typhoid, influenza or had died of ptomaine poisoning. In reality they all died from arsenic poisoning,. On November 4, 1921, in Twin Falls, Idaho, Lyda was convicted of the murder of her fourth husband on and was sentenced to 10 years in prison (Boise, Idaho). On May 4, 1931, she escaped and was not captured until July 31, 1932 and by then she had tied the knot with husband No. 5; later they divorced. Lyda was pardoned in 1942 and quickly married again. She died Feb. 5, 1948. It is not known what became of her 1942 catch.

1922 – Edith Murray “The Cleveland Black Widow” – Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Edith Murray’s name was never released to the public although the details of the investigation of her alleged crimes were front page news. The Cleveland Enquirer wrote that: “A divorced husband of a Cleveland woman suspected of having poisoned three of her husbands told Red Cross investigators in Pittsburgh he thought the woman had a mania for collecting insurance. The woman, who has been married five times, divorced twice, and three of whose husbands died suddenly under mysterious circumstances, while two of her children died of poison, told Prosecutor Edward C. Stanton she intended last week to become a bride for the sixth time.” The case was never prosecuted. It was only many decades later that a historian managed to turn up the name of the suspect.

1922 – Tillie Klimek – Chicago, Illinois, USA

Ottilie “Tillie” Klimek (or Tillie Gburek), a Polish immigrant to Chicago, was a serial killer whose suspected victims numbered, in some estimates, twenty, all of whom were relatives or lovers, including three husbands. She pretended to have precognitive dreams, accurately predicting the dates of death of her victims. The crime for which she was eventually tried was the murder of Frank Kupczyk, her third husband. In June 1923 she was sentenced to life in prison, the harshest sentence that had ever been leveled against a woman in Cook County. Her fourth husband, whom she was in the process of slow-poisoning at the time of her arrest, survived.

1922 – Nellie Sturmer Koulik – Chicago, Illinois, USA

Tillie Klimek’s cousin and accomplice, Nellie Sturmer Koulik, was never prosecuted, although the list of her probable victims was very impressive. : 1 – Wojcik Stermer, Nellie’s first husband, died in 1918. Body, exhumed, disclosed arsenic. 2 and 3 – Sophie and Benjamin Stermer, Nellie’s 7-month-old twins, who died within a month of each other in 1917. 4 –  Dorothy Spera, 2 year old granddaughter, who died in 1921, after her grandmother insisted that she be brought to her home for a simple cold. 5 – John Stermer, 22, Nellie’s son, who became ill in 1918 when his father died, but recovered. He declared he thought his mother had poisoned him.

1923 – Mary Frances Creighton – Newark, New Jersey, USA

Frances Mary Creighton was suspected of four persons and the concerted attempt to murder another. She was tried along with her lover for the murder of the man’s wife – who was the murderess’s “best friend” – and both were convicted and executed for that crime.

1923 – Eliza Potigian (Potegian) – Fresno, California, USA

Eliza Potegian, an Armenian immigrant living in central California, was accused of murdering her husband, two stepchildren. Mrs. Potegian under arrest, accused her mother, Mrs. Maria Torosian. When the police went to arrest the woman they found her body dangling from a rafter in her home. She had hanged herself. On the same day Mrs. Potegian tried to kill herself in her jail cell, slashing her wrists. During the investigation it was learned that while living in Armenia, Mrs. Torosian had been married six times, each husband meeting his death under mysterious circumstances. Mrs. Potegian was tried for the murder of her step-daughter, with her surviving son, Gordon, as the principal prosecution witness, and was found guilty.

1924 – Annie Hauptrief – San Marcos, Texas, USA

Annie Hauptrief poisoned four step-children, who died, and husband, who survived. Murdered previous husband. The first murder involved a suicide pact with a husband. The husband drank the poison draught – and died – Annie did not. She committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial.

1924 – Euphemia Mondich – Detroit, Michigan, USA

Euphemia Mondich married nine times. Her second and fourth husbands once met to congratulate each other on being alive. Mrs. Mondich’s first husband died mysteriously. The skeleton of her lover, John Urdovich, was dug up by police under a house she once owned. She admitted shooting Urdovich. The body of her third husband, Joe Sokolsky, never was found. She said she and Urdovich had buried it where a building now stands.
“Mrs. Mondich under grilling, confessed she had killed a man named "John" with his own revolver, a week after she had seen him club her eighth husband, John Sokoloski, to death in an automobile.” She was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

1925 – Leila Banks – New York, New York, USA

Leila Banks was a Harlem child care provider who, like the much more publicized “baby farmer,” Helen Geisen-Volk, killed babies for profit.

1925 – Anna Cunningham – Crown Point, Indiana, USA

Anna Cunningham murdered her husband, three teenaged children, and attempted to murder another, who survived but was partially crippled. In her own words: “Something told me to draw in my head and told me I had to get rid of them. I thought that I was going to die and wanted to take them with me. I only poisoned the ones I loved best and I poisoned the ones I like best in turn because I wanted them with me.” She was intending suicide, she claimed.

1925 – Helen Geisen-Volk – New York, New York, USA

She is New York City’s worst serial killer.

Helen Geisen-Volk was a child care provider and child trafficker who abused, battered and murdered scores of children, mostly babies. In her own words: “Babies and animals should be disciplined all the same. When they become unruly, I hold them under water or push them in closets or bang them. I’ve trained children for 20 years that way.” An exchange at her trial: “Didn’t fifty-three infants die in your place?” asked District Attorney Pecora. “No,” was Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s reply. “There were only twelve or fourteen deaths.”
A neighbor, Mrs. Josephine Kass, of the murderess saw such “harrowing sights” that she suffered a nervous breakdown and moved away to California. Another woman, the mother of one of the baby farmer’s victims, little William Angerer, suffered a nervous breakdown as well.

1925 – Pearl Jackson – Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Pearl and Odell Jackson, a black couple living in Birmingham, Alabama, were convicted of an axe-murder. “The killing was one of Birmingham’s long series of axe crimes which covered a period of three years and claimed 26 lives in addition to the serious wounding of 21 other persons, both white and negroes.” The state’s star witness, testified that the couple had confided in her that they “planned to go out and rob some white man for money. They took an axe, she said, and declared they were going ‘skulling.’” They had both confessed, yet their statements, and thus their acutal guilt, was challenged since they had been given scopolamine (“truth serum”) before the confessions had been made. Yet the confessions of the five were consistent with one another and with statements made about details that were made when not drugged. They were convicted and sentenced to death. On three occasions, they were given a reprieve for the death sentence just before they were to be hanged.

1925 – Julia Shepherd – Chicago, Illinois, USA

From a 1925 news report : Chicago police, on the recommendation of a coroner’s jury, arrested Mrs. Julia Shepherd, who was characterized by Mr. Justice Olsen as the Lady Macbeth of a series of alleged murders designed to secure for herself and her husband a fortune of £500,000.

1925 – Della Sorenson – Dannenborg, Nebraska, USA

Della Sorenson murdered 8 relatives and neighbors, including 3 of her own children. In her own words:
“They bothered me, so I decided to kill them.”
“Every time I gave poison to one of Mrs. Cooper’s children, I said to myself, “Now I’m going to get even with you (Mrs. Cooper) for what you have said about me,” the confession said.
“After the death of my little daughter, Minnie, I had a feeling of elation and happiness. Then, after I got to thinking about what I had done, I was afraid and tried to hide it. I had the same feeling after the death of every one of those I poisoned.”
“I had feelings which would steal over me at times forcing me to destroy and kill. I felt funny and happy. I like to attend funerals.”

1925 – Birdie Strome – Springfield, Ohio, USA

Esta Strome, Birdie’s 14-year-old step-daughter, “died under mysterious circumstances after predicting that she would succumb at a certain date and on a specific hour.” An autopsy showed evidence of strychnine poisoning. Birdie was arrested and tried for murder. At the trial witnesses testified that Esta was in perfect health a few hours before her death. Mrs. Strome gave her tea, which, the prosecutor, contained strychnine. The prosecutor asserted that Mrs. Strome poisoned Esta, because, of an intense hatred for the girl and because the child lavished a wealth of affection upon her father. Other testimony revealed that Mrs. Strome’s first husband, George Frock, died under similar of strychnine poisoning 1922, and a sister in law of his died the same manner. Birdie was convicted of murdering Esta and sentenced to life in prison.

1925 – Alsa Thompson – Hollywood, California, USA

Alsa Thompson was 7-years-old at time she was apprehended. She had been caught poisoning family members, and wielding a razor blade against the children (including her toddler sister), at the Hollywood, California home in which her separated parents had temporarily placed her. Alsa confessed and added that she murdered her 2-year old twin sisters when her family lived in Canada.

1925 – Martha Wise – Valley City, Ohio, USA

From a 1926 newspaper: “Mrs. Martha Wise, whose “funeral complex” resulted in the poisoning of seventeen persons, three of whom died, made a supplemental confession today. Under the questioning of Joseph Seymour, county prosecutor, the Hardscrabble widow, admitted setting fire to ten houses and barns in the neighborhood of her home in the last few months. The confession clears up a series of arson plots on which authorities have been working. Mrs. Wise also said that she had stolen numerous pieces of jewelry from neighbors and relatives. In each case she wept bitterly and gave the same explanation offered for the poisonings: “The devil made me do it – he told me so.” Mrs. Wise will probably be sent to the Lima hospital for the criminally insane. She said the lure of funerals and suffering caused her to poison her relatives.” … “I liked their funerals. I could get dressed up and see folks and talk to them. I didn’t miss a funeral in twenty years. The only fun I ever had was after I kilt people.”

1926 – Rennette Cure Bussey – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

From a newspaper account of the trial: “Though there is but the one charge against her, police accuse her of causing the deaths of her husband and two other children. Lawrence Bussey, the father and husband, a city fireman, died April 3, 1925. Clarence, 3, died on Dec. 5, 1925, at 3 years of age. Esther, a baby [of] 16 months, died Jan. 1, 1926. Verdia, 5 years old, died Feb. 21, 1926. Physicians attributed the deaths at the time to various maladies – peritonitis, acute indigestion, liver and kidney maladies. The three bodies were exhumed by order of court after Mrs. Bussey’s arrest on the charge of  giving poison to Verdia. Chemists declare traces of mercurial poison were found in badly decomposed organs of all three. Verdia told court attaches just before her death: ‘Mamma gave me something to eat on a piece of bread and told me to eat it. In a little while I was spitting up blood. She said she’d whip me if I told anybody.’”

1926 – Mae Hamilton – Okmulgee, Oklahoma, USA

Mae Hamilton was formally charged with three murders and an additional three suspicious deaths investigated. Her trial for murder ended with a hung jury – 7 to 5 for conviction – after 43-and-a-half hours’ deliberation, on May 3, 1927. Although a retrial  was intended no newspaper reports of a second trial have been yet located.

1926 – Elsie Bible Malinsky – Flora, Illinois, USA

Elsie Bible Malinsky was a wife in the way killer. She murdered her female fiend so she could marry her husband Mr. Bible. Then she murdered him. Next she targeted another married man foir the same routine, murdering the wife and marrying him. Mr. Malinsky had no knowledge of the scheming of the murderess wife number two. In passing sentence of life imprisonment, Circuit Judge Thomas M. Jett unleashed a scathing denunciation of the woman and her crime.  “If you were a man I would hang you. The fact that you are a woman is all that saves you.”

1927 – Alma McClavey (Theede) – Memphis, Tennessee, USA

“Vance Avenue Alma” was a prostitute. She had seven husbands. Some she divorced, one died in a car wreck and others she murdered, three of them. She murdered No. 2 in 1919, and No. 4 in 1927 and no. 6 in 1946. Even numbers were unlucky.

1928 – Nora Edwards – Poplar Bluff, Missouri, USA

Mrs. Nora Edwards was suspected of murdering 15-year-old step-son, her 12-year-old daughter and two husbands. When she was arrested, at the age of 38, for attempting to murder her third husband she was under a two-year prison sentence for burglarizing the home of a neighbor. She was convicted of attempting to kill her third husband, J. W. Edwards, 60, by administering poison to him. Her punishment for that crime was fixed at five years imprisonment.

1928 – Bertha Gifford – Catawissa, Missouri, USA

From a news report: “The ‘good samaritan,’ Mrs. Bertha Gifford, who was always ready to “sit up” with the sick and who watched eighteen persons die in paroxysms of pain caused, the state believes, by the poison she administered, must spend the rest of her life in an insane asylum. A jury … found the ‘poison woman’ not guilty of the murder of Ed Brinley ‘on the sole ground that she was insane at the time of the commission of the offense and has not recovered from such insanity.’ The verdict was reached after three hours and twenty-five minutes deliberation over the testimony that showed that she had calmly poisoned one man and two small children.”

1929 – Maude Dieden – Chicago, Illinois, USA

Mrs. Maude Dieden operated a baby farm in Chicago, where ten babies died within a three month period. She was arrested and 27 living infants were removed from her home and sent to juvenile institutions.

1929 – Okal Gorham & Ethel Lewis – St. Joseph, Michigan, USA

“A confession signed by Mrs. Okal Gorham, 25, said the babies were poisoned or strangled to death by herself and her mother, Mrs. Ethel Lewis, 57. She could give no reason for the acts but said she and her mother frequently quarreled over family matters.” “Mrs. Gorham, in one confession said seven babies had been killed but later changed her story saying only five were murdered. Three of those were her own and the other two her mother’s she said. One of her babies she wheeled 12 miles to Eau Claire, Wis., in a baby carriage to commit the murder, the confession said. “The murders were revealed when the coroner became suspicious over the death of the last infant.”

1929 – Sarah Elizabeth Powers – Macon, Georgia, USA

1929 – Ethel Lewis – St. Joseph, Michigan, USA

1929 – Hattie Stone – Belair, Maryland, USA

Hattie Stone was convicted of murdering her 15-year-old son and suspected of murdering four others as well: another son, her husband and her parents-in-law. Hattie took the insurance proceeds and spent them on her boyfriends who she took to Atlantic City for amusement.


SEE: Female Serial Killer Collections: MASTER LIST



  1. Wow - very interesting blog. I have spent hours reading your articles, and I have only made a dent in your archives. Keep up the good work!

  2. I am writing a 1920's detective story about a detective named Quinn Tinsley who is after a murderer who i have not decided yet but when he is stopped by a time traveler who kills the murderer and brings it to the future Quinn then goes after the time traveler to get answers on what happened. but to continue the story i need a murderer in New York City who preferably did not rape their victims and and was in the 20's please help me as the story is going good so far