Skip to main content

Britain's most prolific female serial killers

A photograph of the dictionary entry for 'Serial Killer' with the Union Flag in the background
Image Credit:

The majority of the most prolific serial killers from modern times are male. However, Peter Vronsky, the author of Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters, has revealed that almost one in six serial killers in the United States since the early 19th century have been female. This is potentially a higher figure than many people would naturally guess.

Specific data has never been compiled in the United Kingdom, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to imagine that a similar trend occurs on this side of the Atlantic. Here are Britain’s most prolific modern-day female serial killers.

Rose West - 10 victims

Alongside her husband, Rosemary West is responsible for the murders of at least 10 young women in the 1970s and 80s.

The victims were subjected to prolonged beating, rape, forced bondage, torture and mutilation until they were eventually murdered. Their dismembered bodies were often buried in the cellar or garden of the Gloucester home of the Wests, which became known as ‘The House of Horrors’.

At the time, the assumption was that Fred West was the killer and Rose had merely been swept up in it all, a vulnerable - albeit complicit - woman. Some even thought that she was a victim of domestic abuse who was forced to help her husband commit the murders. This turned out, very much, not to be the case. In fact, it’s generally believed now that Rose West was the crueller of the two killers.

Myra Hindley - 5 victims

The mugshot photograph of Moors Murderer Myra Hindley is perhaps the most recognisable image of a female criminal in British history. Along with her partner, Ian Brady, Hindley was responsible for the murders of five children between 1963 and 1965.

It isn’t believed that Hindley ever physically killed any of the five victims herself, but she did help lure them in, knowing full well what would happen to them. Once captured, sentenced and behind bars, Hindley didn’t try and play down her involvement, admitting her guilt. She once remarked:

‘I ought to have been hanged. I deserved it. My crime was worse than Brady's because I enticed the children and they would never have entered the car without my role... I have always regarded myself as worse than Brady.’

Hindley received a whole life tariff in 1966 (as did Brady) and died in prison 36 years later.

Beverley Allitt - 4 victims

In a case eerily similar to that of Lucy Letby’s, child killer nurse Beverley Allitt was convicted of murdering four newborns, attempting to murder three more and causing severe bodily harm to a further six at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire. The murders took place between February and April 1991.

No motive has been formally ascribed to Allitt’s crimes. One supported theory puts her crimes down to a form of Munchausen’s by proxy, medical child abuse made to look like care, which is carried out to garner attention and sympathy.

Sandra Riley (3 victims)

Cheshire-born Sandra Riley does technically qualify for serial killer status, but her case is a little different to most multiple murderers.

During a 1983 trial, Riley confessed to having killed her two newborn babies. Two years later, while on probation, Riley drowned her eight-year-old son. It later emerged that Riley had had a child before she killed her newborns, another young son who - apparently - died because of cot death. It’s thought by many that Riley was responsible for his death as well.

After her second trial, in 1986, Sandra Riley was ‘detained indefinitely’ in a secured psychiatric hospital.

Joanna Dennehy (3 victims)

Joanna Dennehy, also known as the ‘Peterborough Ditch Killer’, could be considered by some to be more of a ‘spree’ killer. Her three murders took place over just 10 days and she later admitted that her goal was to take the lives of nine men in total.

She was assisted in her crimes by two male accomplices but was the only one to be found guilty of murder. Her motives are particularly shocking because she admitted to killing simply because she enjoyed it. Dennehy was sentenced to a whole life order, a punishment that only three other British women (Hindley, West and Letby) have ever received.