Of course the vast majority of gun massacres, in schools, at colleges and universities, and where have you, have and will always be committed by men. This, however, doesn’t restrict women from committing the same tragically violent rampages. Women and massacres have a malignant history of their own.
Patty Hearst – Stockholm Socialite
Patricia Campbell Hearst is a bit of an exception in this blog, as she didn’t technically kill anyone. However, the severity and notoriety of her crime make her a good nominee. She is an American newspaper heiress, socialite, actress, kidnap victim, and convicted bank robber. Her kidnapping case is held by many as an example of Stockholm syndrome. On February 4, 1974, the 19-year-old Hearst was kidnapped from the Berkeley, California apartment, she shared with her fiancé Steven Weed by a left-wing urban guerrilla group called the Symbionese Liberation Army. When the attempt to swap Hearst for jailed SLA members failed, the SLA demanded that the captive’s family distribute $70 worth of food to every needy Californian – an operation that would cost an estimated $400 million. In response, Hearst’s father arranged the immediate donation of $6 million worth of food to the poor of the Bay Area. After the distribution of food, the SLA refused to release Hearst because they deemed the food to have been of poor quality. Picky eaters are so annoying.
On April 15, 1974, she was photographed wielding an M1 carbine while robbing the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank at 1450 Noriega Street in San Francisco. Later communications from her were issued under the pseudonym Tania and asserted that she was committed to the goals of the SLA. A warrant was issued for her arrest and in September 1975, she was arrested by the FBI and SFPD in a San Francisco apartment with other SLA member Wendy Yoshimura. While being booked into jail, she listed her occupation as “Urban Guerilla” (has a rather nice ring to it), and asked her attorney to relay the following message: “Tell everybody that I’m smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings and love to all the sisters and brothers out there.”However, according to Hearst interviewer Margaret Singer, a noted authority on prisoner of war and other victims, Hearst’s behaviour was not unusual in such cases. It was thought that the SLA movement members used a coarse version of Maoist formula for thought control; Hearst was young and apolitical enough to be at extreme risk. I tend to side with Hearst. We know brainwashing of cult members serves as a means of recruitment and imprisonment. Why not bank robbing and guerilla-ing too?
Ultimately, Hearst was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years in prison. However, Hearst was imprisoned for almost two years before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. (Nice to have money, eh?) She was later granted a presidential pardon by President Bill Clinton in his last official act before leaving office. Good old, Bill. He always did have a soft spot in his heart for the ladies.
Brenda Spencer – I Don’t Like Mondays
I’ve blogged about the notorious Spencer prior to this blog, but I shall offer the Coles notes version. Before there was Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was Cleveland Elementary School. Ms. Spencer at the ripe old age of 16, carried out a shooting spree from her bedroom in her home in San Diego, California, on January 29, 1979. She was a peculiar girl with few friends, a bad hairstyle, and weird parents, (something about the apple and the tree there, I guess). During the shooting spree, she killed one administrator and a janitor, and injured eight children and a policeman, at Cleveland Elementary School, located across the street from her home. Spencer showed no remorse for her crime, and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays; this livens up the day.” The explanation inspired the song “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Irish New Wave band The Boomtown Rats, led by none other than Sir Bob Geldof of Live-Aid fame. The song was a number-one single in the United Kingdom for four weeks in mid-1979. So some good came of the shooting after all.
In 1999, Spencer told her parole board that her father had given her a gun instead of the radio she claimed she wanted. When asked by the parole board why she felt he had given her the gun, she answered: “I felt like he wanted me to kill myself.” Bad aim, you might say. She was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life imprisonment. Had she been as connected as our Miss Hearst, she might have served a whopping 2 years before being released. Hey, only a paranoid schizophrenic would say life was fair. Which brings us to our next rampage…
Sylvia Seegrist – Schizophrenic Shopping Mall Slaughterer (that’s called an alliteration)
25-year-old Sylvia Seegrist suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and was found frequently wandering around shopping malls and streets muttering to her inner voices. The voices weren’t pleasant. They were angry voices that insulted and condemned her, and ordered her to go on a shooting rampage in order to prevent others from hurting her. With paranoid schizophrenia, delusions centre around being persecuted and a firm belief that people are after them. However, there are many paranoid schizophrenics who do not commit serious crime and do not murder people. Sylvia refused to take her medication, believing it would hurt her. She felt that her mother was trying to send her back into one of the mental hospitals she had been in and out of for years. Oddly, Sylvia believed that life in prison would serve as a better place than life in a mental institution. Her strange reasoning is further proof that Sylvia was indeed delusional.
On October 30, 1985 opened fire at a Springfield, Pennsylvania shopping mall and began shooting her semi automatic at random. Sylvia shot randomly at people. Ultimately, she ended 3 lives and critically injured 7 other people, who survived. It was an extraordinary accident that stopped her. John Laufer, a 24-year-old volunteer firefighter and EMT, thought she was a prankster. What he felt was her ignorant idea of a joke angered him and when she aimed the semi-automatic at him, he simply took the gun from her hands.
“You’ve messed with the wrong person,” he was heard to say. John however was an accidental hero. It was only later when police arrived at the mall that he became aware the rampage had been real and that he had placed himself in great danger. Somehow John broke through Sylvia’s delusion. She let him take the gun and meekly surrendered. Sylvia was found guilty but mentally ill on 3 counts of murder. She received 3 life sentences for the murders and 7 attempted murders. Sylvia Seeegrist will never she get out of prison. The Pennsylvania Correctional System ensures its violent prisoners do not get released on parole, for any reason. Over the years, Sylvia suffered great remorse for her actions. One of the loudest critiques in the Sylvia Seegrist case was the ease with which she bought a gun, in spite of her severe mental illness. When she purchased her $104.00 22 semi-automatic gun, she wrote on the form that she wasn’t mentally ill. Years later from prison, Sylvia wrote “I shouldn’t have been able to get this gun.” Too little, too late.
Penny Bjorkland – Blonde Bomber
Penny Bjorkland, or Rosemarie Diane Bjorkland, wasn’t a massacre killer, but she was as cold-blooded as any of them. At 16, the pretty blonde was an unhappy loner who lived with a strictly religious mother. Penny hated her mother. Rather than entertaining girlie pursuits like shopping and dating, Penny fantasized for years about killing her mother, and killing other people just to see how it felt. Penny got a hold of a 38 calibre revolver and began target practice in her spare time out in the hills. Strangely, her mother seemed oblivious to this ambiguous past-time. On the morning of Sunday, February 1, 1959, Penny woke up and decided she was going to kill somebody. Later in the day, well-meaning August Norry saw Penny walking alone up a steep hill and jovially offered her a ride to the top. Once inside his cab, Penny produced her gun and started shooting out the window. Alarmed,Oggie told her to put it away and stop shooting. Instead, Penny turned the gun at Oggie and shot him several times. Oggie was already dead, but Penny wasn’t satisfied to leave any bullets in her gun. She got out of the truck, walked around to the driver’s side and shot Oggie all over his body until she emptied her gun.
At first police believed it was a crime of passion since 18 bullets filled Oggie’s body. A young boy who witnessed the crime, informed police he saw a blonde girl driving her truck erratically. Ballistic tests led police to Penny. When police visited her at home, they found several newspaper articles about her crime in her bedroom. Penny readily admitted to the crime and, under arrest for first degree murder, willingly accompanied police to the local jail. Eager to tell her story, Penny led police on a tour of the area where she killed, showing how she shot and killed Oggie. Unable to articulate where her pathological desires came from, her only explanation was “I wanted to know how it felt. No need for a trial. Just take me to prison, I guess.” Penny killed Oggie and deprived his unborn child, Cindy, of her father, as his wife, discovered she was pregnant soon after her husband’s murder.
There are conflicting accounts as to whether Penny was convicted of first degree or second degree murder. However, 9 years after her crime, it is Penny was released on parole because she was convicted of the lesser crime of second degree murder. Today, no one knows of Penny’s creepy whereabouts. Just as well.
Laura Wasserman Dann
On May 20, 1988, Laurie Wasserman Dann set out to kill an unknown number of people in Illinois. Although she fell far short of her goals, had she achieved them, she would have had the highest victim toll of any female mass murderer to date. But this was not the first indication that she was capable of violence. She married in 1982 to a man named Russell Dann, but the marriage had lasted only four years due to her strange behaviours, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. She damaged other people’s property and engaged in shoplifting. Her behaviour was so erratic, she lost her job.
Dann was nevertheless able to purchase handguns. In August 1986, she contacted her ex-boyfriend, who was a resident at a hospital, and claimed to have had his child. Dann called the hospital where he worked and claimed he raped her in the emergency room.Just before her divorce was finalized in April 1987, Laurie accused Russell of raping her with a steak knife. There were no physical signs supporting Laurie’s claim, although she passed two polygraph tests. Laurie worked as a babysitter and some of her clients made complaints to the police about damage to their furniture and theft of food and clothes. Laurie father paid for damages in one case. Nice of him, really.
On May 20, 1988, she drove to several homes where she delivered food laced with diluted arsenic. The next two stops were to start fires before she drove to Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, Ill. Armed with a .357 Magnum, she entered the school, shot and missed a boy, and went into a classroom. She started shooting, killing an 8-year-old boy. Laura got into her car, and drove to the house of people she didn’t know. She went to a room on the second floor and locked herself in. Police went in to confront her, but were too late: she shot herself through the mouth. Like many male mass murderers, she had been angry, sought revenge against imagined slights, and holed herself up to end her own life. Gender didn’t seem to matter in Laura Dann’s case.
Aileen Wuornos – Serial Psycho
True, Aileen also didn’t commit a one-time massacre but she was a female serial killer who used a gun as her weapon of choice…very unusual for a woman. But then again, Aileen was a very unusual woman. Personally I pitied Aileen. Born in 1956, in Rochester, Michigan, she endured a horrid childhood, beginning with a mother who abandoned her daughter when she was 4-years-old to her maternal grandparents. This was not a good thing; Wuornos claimed that she was sexually assaulted and beaten by her grandfather, Lauri Wuornos, who was in the habit of sharing her with his pedophile friends. His wife, Britta, was an abusive alcoholic. In 1970, at age 14, she became pregnant,having been raped by a friend of her grandfather. Wuornos claimed the child could have been fathered by her grandfather or her brother. Such close family ties. Wuornos gave birth at a home for unwed mothers, and the child, a boy, was placed for adoption. Lucky kid. Within months of Wuornos returning to the family home, her grandfather threw her out of the house during a frigid winter. Wuornos hitchhiked to Florida (no more frigid winters) where she met wealthy yacht club president, 69-year old Lewis Fell, who fell in love and married her in 1976. Wuornos soon began fighting in bars, and was sent to jail for assault as a result. She also beat Fell with his own cane. Fell was horrified and he had the marriage annulled.
In 1986, Aileen met 24-year-old Tyria Moore at a Daytona gay bar. The couple began a volatile and intense relationship that lasted for four years, and Moore was drawn into Wuornos’ cycle of vandalism, violence and harassment. Working as a prostitute to support herself and Moore, Wuornos eventually murdered 6 men by shotgun. By February 1993, Wuornos pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. After 12 years on death row, Wuornos pleaded with the Florida Supreme Court for the right to stop all of her appeals and be permitted to die. To seal the deal she stated, “I killed those men, robbed them as cold as ice. And I’d do it again, too. There’s no chance in keeping me alive or anything, because I’d kill again. I have hate crawling through my system…I am so sick of hearing this ‘she’s crazy’ stuff. I’ve been evaluated so many times. I’m competent, sane, and I’m trying to tell the truth. I’m one who seriously hates human life and would kill again.”
Her last words before the execution were, “Yes, I would just like to say I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back, like Independence Day with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mother ship and all, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.”
Betty Broderick – Bitter Battle with a Bullet
Ah, trophy wives. They cause so many problems for wealthy families. You might even say they end marriages due to their youthful beauty, while the original hard-working wife begins using botox and collagen. Betty Broderick could teach a thing or two about that humbling experience. Betty is a former American suburban housewife convicted of the November 5, 1989 murdersof her former husband Daniel T. Broderick III and his second wife, Linda Kolkena, a youthful version of Betty. After a second trial, she was convicted on December 11, 1991 of two counts of second-degree murder, and later sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.
Betty and Daniel met in 1965. The couple were married on April 12, 1969 and over the years they had 4 children. When Dan attended medical school, it was Betty who had to work full-time to pay the rent and feed her children. By the time he attended law school, Dan dressed well and placed his image ahead of his family’s financial needs. When he graduated and was hired by a distinguished law firm, Dan decided his attendance at top-echelon social functions was integral to his future. Betty seldom saw her husband. Over time his attitude became one of, “women are waiting in line to replace you!” There was indeed a woman in that line named Linda Kolkena. In bed, she would hear Dan muttering Linda’s name over and over, as if dreaming of her but, she could tell, he was not asleep, merely pretending. The last day of February, 1984, Dan confessed his affair and told Betty he wanted a separation.
Betty had indeed been Dan’s victim, and she also victimized herself. She secured William Hargreaves as her lawyer, and Dan even paid Betty’s legal fees. Hargreaves who would not last long as Betty’s counsel, made an interesting observation in the short time he was involved with Betty: he apprised that Betty was beyond legal help since she “couldn’t understand that life was possible without Dan.” As for his opinion of Dan, he found his drive to control everyone and everything “obsessive”. Betty badgered Dan and Linda with obscene, harrassing phone calls that her children often heard, causing them much distress. Dan had to resort to restraining orders to keep Betty from breaking into his house and doing damage. As the months passed, Betty’s behaviour became increasingly bizarre. On November 5, 1989, at 5:00 a.m.,Betty, armed with a loaded gun, drove to Dan and Linda’s estate and managed to get inside. She went up to their bedroom where the pair slept. Aiming the gun with incredible precision she shot Dan in the back and Linda twice in the head, killing them both. Clearly her aim was so precise there was no question Betty had been practicing at a gun range. She had not expected to walk out free from her criminal trial, and the two consecutive fifteen-years-to-life sentences she received wouldn’t allow her parole for nineteen years. While serving her sentence, Betty made the bizarre statement, “Goddamn shame you can only feel safe and free in prison! Nice society we have!” For a time female advocates for women’s rights and abused women used Betty Broderick as the poster girl for abused ex-wives. Over time however, that image faded as Betty’s history became revealed in more detail to the public.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, gun control laws in America just aren’t strict enough.