Homicides by Gender
We Americans sure do like women who kill. That is, we like to watch them and read about them.
It’s not just a recent phenomenon. A century before Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias delivered ratings for HLN, the story of Belle Gunness, a Norwegian-American who killed her suitors, husbands, and even her own offspring, sold fanciful paperbacks for enterprising publishers.
Genuine evil. Forensic Files has brought us many a memorable modern-day murderess, including Stacey Castor (“Freeze Framed”), who poisoned her husband and then tried to blame the crime on her daughter. And Sharon Zachary (“Prints Among Thieves”), who beat to death the old man she was paid to take care of; she was in his will and couldn’t wait. Sixteen-year-old Idaho resident Sarah Johnson (“Disrobed”), who shot her parents to silence their objections over her relationship with an older boy, was another memorable one.
And Dante Sutorius (the subject of a recent blog post), the newlywed who seemed charming until she got greedy and executed her husband for life insurance money, made a colorful subject for “A Second Shot at Love.”
Not that the media coverage these types of crimes receive has ever fooled viewers into thinking that women are going berserk out there, mowing down anyone standing in the way of their ambitions. Most homicides are committed by men. But I got curious about exactly how the numbers break down by gender.
Below, the results of a little research.
Relative trouble. Only 20 percent of people who killed family members were female, according to the most recent (2005) numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Narrowing it down to spouse murderers, women committed just 17 percent of those crimes. Of those Americans who killed a boyfriend or girlfriend, women were slightly more heavily represented, at 25 percent. Most spouse murderers — of either gender — were over 35 years of age. (Maybe it takes a while to build up homicidal fury.)
Men committed 90 percent of murders overall — that is, any homicides, regardless of whether the victim was a stranger, acquaintance, friend, love interest, or spouse.
Getting quantitative. Recent statistics on male vs. female convictions for spouse homicide were hard to come by, but a 1995 BJS study of cases in the 75 most heavily populated U.S. counties reported that women were five times more likely to beat murder raps. Juries acquitted 31 percent of wives, but only 6 percent of husbands.
Please leave a comment if you find any other interesting homicide stats or have a theory about why women commit way fewer murders (and are more likely to escape conviction when they do) than men. — RR
Next week: A brand-new interview with Helga Luest, who survived a murder attempt in Miami and became an advocate for traumatized people.