20 Most EVIL Women in History
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
When it comes to these women, evil barely scratches the surface. For this list, we'll be discussing the most vile, violent, and infamous women to have ever lived. Our countdown includes Catherine de' Medici, Karla Homolka, Belle Gunness, Ilse Koch, Elizabeth Báthory, and more!
Top 20 Most Evil Women in History
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re looking at the 20 most evil women in history.
For this list, we’ll be discussing the most vile, violent, and infamous women to have ever lived.
Which of these stories do you find the most outrageous? Let us know in the comments below!
Catherine de' Medici
Serving as the Queen of France from 1547 to 1559, Catherine de' Medici had enormous political sway over her sons, the French Kings Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. They reigned through the French Wars of Religion and faced problems with a group of Calvinist Protestants called the Huguenots. It is widely believed by historians that de' Medici attempted to have their leader, Gaspard II de Coligny, assassinated. The attempt failed, and fearing retaliation from the most powerful Huguenots, de' Medici planned to kill them all before they could take action. The result was the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, which resulted in the deaths of between 5,000 and 30,000 Huguenots.
A teenager named Sylvia Likens and her sister Jenny made friends with sisters Paula and Stephanie Baniszewski. When the Likens’ mother was imprisoned for shoplifting, the sisters were sent to live with the Baniszewskis. Their mother, Gertrude Baniszewski, soon began a system of abuse against Sylvia Likens and forced Sylvia’s sister Jenny to participate in response to the Likens’ late payments for the kids’ boarding and care. With the help of her children and some neighbors, Baniszewski tortured Likens for three months. On October 26, 1965, Likens’ body effectively shut down from the severe mistreatment, and she died from a combination of injuries, shock, and malnourishment. Gertrude Baniszewski was given life in prison but was paroled on December 4, 1985. She remained free until her death in 1990.
One of the most infamous serial killers in Canadian history, Karla Homolka worked with her husband, Paul Bernardo, and killed three young girls throughout the early ‘90s. Homolka’s first victim was her own younger sister, Tammy. Just two days before Christmas, Tammy Homolka was drugged and assaulted by her older sister and Bernardo and died after choking on her vomit. The couple then proceeded to kidnap both Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. Both were horrifically mistreated before they were killed. After Homolka was arrested, she conned the investigators and tricked them into believing that Bernardo was primarily responsible. She testified against him and was given a very lenient sentence in return, though videotapes later revealed the extent of the atrocities in which she participated. Homolka was released from prison in 2005.
Known as The Soap Maker of Correggio, Leonarda Cianciulli was a serial killer from Italy. Cianciulli was devastated after learning that her son was going off to prepare to fight in World War II. To keep him safe, Cianciulli offered human sacrifices. She killed three of her neighbors with an axe and made tea cakes out of their remains. Not only would Cianciulli eat these cakes, but she also served them to visiting guests. Cianciulli’s third victim, Virginia Cacioppo, was made into both tea cakes and bars of soap. Once again, this soap was gifted to friends and neighbors. Cianciulli was eventually sentenced to thirty years in prison.
In January of 1961, 18-year-old Myra Hindley met a man with a criminal record named Ian Brady. The two would develop a relationship and go on to commit what are known as The Moors Murders. Between July 1963 and October 1965, Hindley and Brady killed five youths, the youngest of which was Lesley Ann Downey. They were kidnapped around the general Manchester area and forced to endure horrible acts before they were killed. Three of the five victims have been found buried in England’s Saddleworth Moor, leading to the name The Moors Murders. “The most evil woman in Britain” was given life in prison and died of pneumonia in 2002 at the age of 60.
Mary Ann Cotton
Not much is known about the criminal career of Mary Ann Cotton, who lived in the 1800s. Document-keeping was not a regular practice at the time, so it’s hard to get an exact measure of Cotton’s crimes. But thanks to some investigative techniques, it’s believed that Cotton took the lives of up to 21 people. Of these 21 victims, three were her husbands and eleven were her own offspring. Cotton poisoned most of these people with arsenic and proceeded to claim their insurance policies for her own self-interest. Cotton was eventually caught after poisoning her stepson, Charles Edward Cotton, and was ordered to be executed. It’s possible that Cotton was intentionally given a short rope, as it did not break her neck. Instead, she was left to strangle to death.
This Spanish woman is often referred to as a “vampire” owing to the nature of her crimes. It is generally believed that Martí kidnapped kids off the streets of Barcelona and put them to work in her brothel. It’s also believed that Martí killed minors and used their blood and remains in various elixirs. She then sold these elixirs to the rich, claiming that they treated dangerous ailments like tuberculosis. Twelve victims have been linked to Martí, although it’s suspected that she killed many more. However, some historians defend Martí and argue that her crimes weren’t as bad or as many as the traditional story suggests.
There is much about Belle Gunness that we do not know. For example, the extent of her crimes. What is known is that Gunness was a serial killer who most often targeted wealthy men looking for marriage. She would lure these men to her farm in Indiana, kill them, and take their money. Many young children also died under Gunness’s care, some of whom carried large insurance payouts that were cashed by Gunness. Many graves were found on her property containing human remains, and it’s believed that Gunness may have killed up to 40 people. Gunness’s fate is also shrouded in mystery. While she supposedly died in a fire, it’s widely believed that she faked her death and fled town with her money.
A serial killing couple from the Gloucester area of England, Rose and Fred West killed at least nine young women together throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. After torturing these people, the Wests would kill their victims and bury their remains in their yard and basement. As a result, their house would later become known as a House of Horrors. Rose West also acted independently and killed her stepdaughter through Fred in June of 1971. West was convicted of ten homicides in 1995, and as of 2022, remains imprisoned. Fred West took his own life shortly after being arrested.
Throughout World War II and the German occupation of Europe, Ilse Koch ran various concentration camps with her husband, Karl-Otto Koch. She worked at Buchenwald from 1937 to 1941 and Majdanek from ‘41 to ‘43. Koch quickly developed a reputation for being sadistic and inhumanely cruel towards her prisoners. It was alleged that Koch made artifacts out of her victims’ skin, but this was never proven in court. Koch subsequently became one of the first Nazis to be tried for war crimes and was given a life sentence by the U.S. Military. She was controversially released in 1949 but was quickly arrested by West German authorities and sent back to prison. She took her own life in 1967.
Mary I of England
Daughter of the famous Henry VIII, Mary I of England became known as Bloody Mary for her widespread violence aimed against Protestants. Mary I ruled England and Ireland from 1553 to 1558 and hoped to restore Roman Catholicism following the English Reformation. She targeted Protestants shortly after her accession (despite promising not to do so), and many fled the country in response. Heresy laws were eventually drafted against Protestants and hundreds were burned at the stake. While Mary I was persistent, these executions were very unpopular throughout England and festered anti-Catholic sentiments. Elizabeth I attempted to undo the damage that was caused by Mary I following her death in 1558.
Proving one of the Victorian era’s most infamous criminals, Amelia Dyer could be one of the most prolific serial killers in human history. Back in Victorian England, people were paid for adopting babies in a practice known as “baby farming.” Amelia Dyer turned this into her profession and adopted numerous children. She began by keeping them for a time until they passed of “natural” causes, but ultimately turned to disposing of them shortly after adopting them, thereby keeping the money without having to raise them. One of Dyer’s victims was found floating in the River Thames on March 30, 1896, leading to her arrest and eventual execution. While six victims have been confirmed, it’s believed that Dyer may have killed up to 400 throughout her life.
Between 665 and 690, Wu Zetian ruled China through her husband and sons. But she then made world history and became empress regnant in 690, making her the country’s first and only official female ruler. She remained in power from 690 until her death in 705. However, her reign was filled with violence and bloodshed. Wu Zetian killed political rivals, had opponents and dissenters silenced, and launched many wars to gain territory. She built an empire and turned China into one of the world’s most powerful territories. While this aspect of her reign is generally praised, Wu Zetian has long received criticism for her merciless machinations.
Born in Cartagena, Colombia, Griselda Blanco moved to Miami in the late 1970s and worked with the Medellín Cartel to import cocaine into the United States. This began a very violent period in Miami’s history, as the city was soon plagued with gang and drug-related violence. Hundreds were killed each year as drugs spilled into the streets and criminals vied for power. Legend states that Blanco would order her hitmen to kill everyone in a room, not just the intended victim. As a result, the lives of many innocent people were claimed during these drug wars. One of these hitmen, Jorge Ayala, is believed to have killed roughly 40 people alone. After serving time in prison, Blanco was shot and killed on September 3, 2012.
In 1971, communist Fusako Shigenobu started a militant organization known as the Japanese Red Army. While living in the Middle East, Shigenobu hoped to overthrow Japanese institutions through the JRA. This organization proceeded to embark on a spree of terrorist activity, like hijacking airplanes, storming embassies, and committing the Lod Airport massacre. In the latter attack, 26 were killed and a further 79 injured. Shigenobu was arrested in 2000 and accused of planning at least one of these terrorist attacks. The Red Army disbanded soon after. Shigenobu was sentenced to twenty years in prison and was released in May 2022.
Capital punishment is abolished in New Zealand. As a result, Minnie Dean was the only woman in the country’s history to be executed for her alleged crimes. Like Amelia Dyer, Minnie Dean was a prominent baby farmer who was paid to adopt children. Many died or went missing under Dean’s care, and while she was not found responsible, some people suspected that she was killing them. Her downfall came in 1895, when she was finally arrested for the death of Eva. Following this arrest, three bodies were found buried on Dean’s property, including Eva’s. One was found to have overdosed on laudanum, and Dean was found guilty of her death. She was subsequently hanged on August 12, 1895.
A prominent socialite from New Orleans, Delphine Macarty married physician Louis LaLaurie in 1825 and took her now infamous name. She claimed property at 1140 Royal Street and lived in a mansion with her family and slaves. Rumors circulated that LaLaurie treated her slaves in a sadistic manner, and this was proven in 1834 when a fire was set at their house. Along with one chained up in the kitchen, responders found seven more chained up in the attic, and they were marked with extensive physical injuries. It was immediately obvious that they were being tortured. The LaLaurie residence experienced violent backlash, after which LaLaurie fled the city in response, and various bodies were subsequently found on her property.
This Hungarian noblewoman was the subject of some malicious rumors. Young girls were sent to Báthory in order to learn proper etiquette, and some died while under her care. Following an investigation, Báthory and four accomplices were arrested on December 30, 1610. Many people testified against Báthory, but most stories were based on rumor rather than verifiable fact. It was claimed that Báthory tortured and killed more than 600 girls, but these were never confirmed - she was eventually confined to her castle until her death. However, it’s also important to note that Báthory may have been a victim of political machinations and therefore innocent of the crimes levied against her. The issue remains divisive and ambiguous.
A young volunteer of the SS, Irma Grese acted as a guard at various Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Grese was known to have harassed the prisoners she was ordered to watch, and she routinely attacked the female prisoners with a whip. Grese also helped select the prisoners that would be sent to the gas chambers and ultimately executed. Following the war, Grese was convicted of war crimes and hanged. In the process, she became the youngest woman of the 20th century to be executed under British law. She was 22 years old.
Between 1996 and 1998, Biljana Plavšić acted as President of Republika Srpska. Shortly before the presidency, Plavšić played an integral role in the Bosnian War, which spanned from 1992 to ‘95. During the war, Plavšić endorsed the violent targeting of non-Serbs. It’s believed that thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were killed during the war, and a further million were forced out of the country. Plavšić was later indicted for her role in the exodus and charged with committing crimes against humanity. She pled guilty and was sentenced to eleven years in prison but was released early on October 27, 2009.