As long as there has been murder there have been partners in crime. This blog explores murderous couples of both genders, that is male-female, male-male and female-female. Regardless of gender, the coupling of these killers carries a continuous thread through all of the cases. Killing couples are a curiosity for many people, possibly more than people who kill as individual. What happens in their first meeting different from couples who don’t murder together? Are there warning signs that one or the other misses? How, and when, do they know the other one will kill? It seems weird that two people would meet and conspire to murder someone, however after researching the concept of coincidence, it isn’t that such people are drawn together by fate. Rather, twisted people are bound to meet and recognize an affinity in one another, quite the same way that “normal” people will do. I don’t believe this is based on coincidence. A coincidence has an oddball definition: a collection of two or more events or conditions, closely related by time, space, form, or other associations that occur at once. Meh. I’m of a mind that people are indeed as birds of a feather. We recognize ourselves in others. That’s why we like them and that is how bonds are formed.
Consider healthy people who are repulsed or experience a “warning flag” upon meeting a pathological person. These may not necessarily be criminals or psychopaths; merely those with an unhealthy perspective of the world and themselves. Most healthy people immediately reject this person; they recognize abnormality and avoid it. Unhealthy people, those who may be pathological, those who may simple have extremely low self-esteem and other issues, are attracted to this type of individual. Those of us who run, not walk, from weirdos display basic human instinct hailing back thousands of years and essential for human survival. Animals behave in this manner and their reaction ranges from casting out the member of a group, to killing the oddball in its midst. This isn’t bloodthirsty behaviour. It is done for the survival of the group.
Back to deadly duos. There aren’t a lot of serial killer couples, but several of those I researched shared some common beginnings: most of the partners shared horrific childhoods that set the stage for dysfunctional relationships. According to Debra Brown’s mother, her father had mental problems and severely abused his children. Her partner in crime, Alton Coleman, was neglected by his prostitute mother, who often had sex in front of him. Rose and Fred West both came from families rife with incest and deviant sexuality.
Male-Female Criminal Couples
A male criminal (not necessarily a killer) who dominates a female into serving his murderous whim is the ultimate misogynist. He does not tolerate challenges to his authority. In fact, he may refer to a female as “his” woman as though she is a possession. And he treats her as such. There are 2 sub-types within this weird group:
Male Dominant Pathological Relationships
Some criminals find women who are very much like themselves; excitement seekers and controllers. These relationships are unstable and explosive as each struggles to control the other. The relationships are short-lived. Domestic violence is common. If such a couple has children, the offspring are often neglected or mistreated. If a divorce occurs with an ensuing child custody battle, the tactics are ferocious by which each seeks to gain the upper hand. The second, and more common, pattern is the criminal finding a female who is insecure and emotionally needy. Such a woman may be swept off her feet, so to speak, by a man who is charismatic, charming, and exciting. In short order, her world revolves him.
Linda wasn’t a criminal, but somehow became enmeshed in a pathological relationship. She grew up in a small town and had little experience with men. She quickly fell in love with Douglas, so captivated was she by his gregarious personality and his good looks. She learned not to question anything else that he said or did. One day Linda received a call. Douglas had been arrested for rape. Linda believed it must have been something that she had done or failed to do that “caused” her boyfriend to do what he did. She would have to do better next time.
An infamous and sickening example of the submissive, pathological female and dominant, hideously pathological male was that of Terri Lyne McClintic and her partner-in-crime Michael Rafferty, for the 2009 rape-murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford. McClintic lured the girl for Rafferty to rape then shouldered the blame for the child’s murder. “I savagely murdered that little girl.” Although McClintic had promised Rafferty she’d take the rap, during her confession she turned on him. She then became the star witness against him for a number of reasons, one being that the DA warned her if she wanted a chance at parole she’d better testify. Still she had been a willing partner. McClintic however admitted to a history of vengeful fantasies that predated Rafferty and that she once microwaved a dog (not a hot dog – bad pun). Her relationship with Rafferty was submissive in the sense of being told her role and following orders. She was not a victim and not a good person. Several females in the supposed submissive role, have lured victims for their male companions. During the 1980s, Carol Bundy enticed young girls for Doug Clark and they murdered five. He got the death penalty, she got life with parole.
Female Dominant Killer Couples
There’s a tendency to think of the male as the aggressor and the female as someone who just goes along, bullied into criminal acts. Some experts have speculated that with a different partner, the female would not have acted thus. In more than one study they have been labeled “compliant accomplices.” That is, they are good people who were influenced toward crime by a bad man. Well, now. Lest we believe that females are always the intimidated, battered victim, there are a plethora of cases that prove the opposite. Psychiatrists who evaluated some of these women on a regular basis, not just as part of a single-session study, concluded that they could be dangerous even on their own. Their acts evolved from their resonance to a man who shared their desire to harm others and who could enact their violent fantasies. Death groupies, women without criminal histories who worship and even enter into relationships with violent men, are the closest non-criminal link to this disturbing phenomenon.
Former FBI Special Agent Robert Hazelwood, Dr. Park Dietz, interviewed twenty women who had been the wives and girlfriends of sexual predators. Seven of the males had killed people, and four of the females had fully participated. The female subjects in this study were middle class and had no criminal record. They were not mentally ill. The study concluded that the males had targeted females with low self-esteem, isolated them and reformed their thinking. Once joined together, “the sadistic fantasy of the male becomes an organizing principle in the behavior of the women.” The happless women then, were brainwashed. This analysis may hold up in male-dominant and female-submissive criminal couples, yet there are concrete examples of the opposite. Of murderous women, Charlene Gallego ensnared victims for her husband, who received a death sentence, while she, the “battered wife,” went to prison for just 16 years. However, survivors of Judith and Alvin Neelley’s torture fatal spree fingered her as the sadistic mastermind. Look at the case of 15-year-old Justina Morley. In 2003, she posed as Jason Sweeney’s “girlfriend,” to lure him to an isolated spot in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Three boys killed him there with a hatchet, rock, and hammer, just to get his paycheck. Two of them implicated Morley as the mastermind. She had even chastised the boys, calling them names, when they initially abandoned the plan. She also “group-hugged” them over the body. She doesn’t sound like a submissive female criminal to me.
Karla Homolka, the notorious “better half” (terrible joke) to husband, Paul Bernardo and truly one of the most vile women to live on this earth, is another example of a leader of sorts in a criminal relationship. Her name still makes my skin crawl. She was confident, educated, and in regular contact with her family. She drugged her younger sister to offer to Paul as a Christmas gift, and in the process killed her. She covered up the crime and suggested they do more. Bernardo, for his part, had been a rapist before he met Karla, but not a killer. Clearly he was a pathological man, but the killing spree only began with his coupling to Homolka. The supposed team chemistry might have influenced him as her demands to become more violent increased. It is believed Homolka wanted the girls dead since she couldn’t tolerate her conceived idea of sexual competition for her husband. but when the heat was on after they killed two more girls, she played the role of battered wife and turned her husband in. She got twelve years and he got life. Frankly, they both should have got the chair.
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
The 10-year-old killers of James Bulger, were also a mismatch in terms of power and control. It was Thompson who proved to be the dominant of the two. Although Venerables was clearly culpable and committed atrocities against little James, he did so at Thompson’s urging and under his direction. Venables insisted the abduction, torture and murder were Thompson’s idea and that he along with his friend’s plan. It would appear this was the case: during his police interrogation Venables was the emotional of the two, crying and seeking comfort in a detective’s embrace. Thompson on the other hand acted streetwise and demonstrated no emotion whatsoever. In fact when Venables and Thompson met, Thompson bullied Venables for several weeks before they became friends. It is unlikely that the weaker of the two, Venables, was the mastermind behind James’ murder. Sexual chemistry can be a link between child offenders even when there is no sexual contact between the two. In the Venables and Thompson case, there was an element of sexuality to the murder. Thompson sexually mutilated James after his death. He may have been sexually aroused by the murder, Venables, or both.
Holly Harvey and Sandra Ketchum were teenage lesbian lovers with a deadly mission: the murder of Holly’s grandparents. Holly lived with her grandparents for only 4 months when she decided they had to die. Angered by their rules and expectations, Holly began telling friends she was going to kill her grandparents. She recruited Sandy to help her obtain a gun. So frightened were Holly’s grandparents that they approached her father, Kevin, and informed him of what they believed were Holly’s intentions. In spite of their failure to obtain a gun, on August 2, 2004, the two girls finally decided to act out their threats. The girls smoked marijuana to lure the Colliers down into the basement with the smell. It didn’t take long for Holly’s grandparents to proceed to the basement. An argument ensued, and Holly stabbed her grandmother in the back. Carl and Sarah managed to wrestle her to the bed, trying to prevent her from stabbing her grandmother again, but Holly shouted for assistance. Sandy then leapt from behind the bed and got involved in the struggle. During the attack, Sarah suffered more than 20 stab wounds to her chest and back before dying. Although Carl had also been stabbed repeatedly, he was able to run upstairs to the kitchen, where he tried to call the police. Holly chased after him and cut the phone lines then turned on Carl. He sustained 15 stab wounds to the chest and neck.
Holly Harvey – the dominant partner
- recruited her lover to murder her grandparents
- assigned Sandy’s role in the murder
- Sandy followed all of Carla’s demands, including the murder of her grandparents
- displayed no remorse to police upon arrest
- criminal history in the family
- constant runaway
- severe depression before the murders
- convinced Sandra to commit armed robbery with her
Sandy Ketchum – the submissive partner
- a troubled childhood
- abandoned by her biological mother at 15 months old and had a succession of stepmothers, one of whom physically abused her
- seeking female acceptance outside her “family”
- Holly’s love was so important she “would do anything” to keep it
- showed regret for what she had done
Seldom is there equality in motive, intent and sadism between murderous couples. It is far more common to discover complacency in one partner and cunning manipulation in the other. In many “normal” relationships, one partner tends to be more dominant in decision-making and the overall family dynamic. The interaction between criminal couples is more complicated than simply dominance and submission, since many “submissive” partners have a disturbing criminal history. However, deadly duos exhibit partner inequality to a pathological degree, that is, the submissive is willing to murder to satisfy the psychotic whim of the dominant other.