10 of History’s Most Infamous Female Prisoners

Prison and prison life remain a fascinating subject for us law abiders. We all know the anecdotal (and likely terrible advice) handed out to people new to the clink: fight the biggest guy and assert dominance, watch yourself in the showers, etc. Women’s prisons, while more of an unknown, have crept into the public eye bit by bit over recent years, with documentaries and streaming shows like Orange Is the New Black giving us a glimpse, albeit sensational, into what life is like behind bars.

But what are female prisoners like? Are they in jail for the same terrible crimes committed by men? Do they reach levels of notoriety like the infamous Bronson?

Here is a list of ten of the most infamous female prisoners ever.

Related: 10 Reasons Women Marry Serial Killers

10 Genene Jones

Killers are probably some of the most deserving to be behind bars. From a logical point of view, the threat of ending someone’s life should be enough to keep you from society as a whole. However, killing a child is on a whole ‘nother level.

Born in 1950, this Texan murderer was a pediatric nurse of all things, coming into contact with children and victims every day while on the job. By injecting her victims with various poisons, investigators estimate that Jones ended the lives of around 60 children, pushing her into the category of serial murderer.

Sentenced to 99 years for the murder of Chelsea Ann McLellan, it seemed as though Jones was destined for a life behind bars. In a staggering u-turn, a mandatory release law was passed, and Jones was considered for release after only serving a third of her sentence. After much effort and more deaths attributed to her coming to light, a jury decided she should remain a prisoner for life.[1]

9 Cathy Wood and Gwendolyn Graham

Who can stand against true love? The kind of love that makes you kill others to seal your love for each other.

When Graham and Wood, both aide workers at Alpine Manor, met, the new couple quickly regressed into a torrid relationship that eventually descended into murder. Wood admitted to killing five of the patients together, choosing the victims based on the first letters of their names in an attempt to spell MURDER, which would somehow bond the two together forever.

After a few murders, they abandoned the spelling, but the deaths continued. Proving that the seal didn’t work, the couple split. A few years later, Wood came clean to her husband and, in exchange for testifying against Graham, was sentenced to 40 years, receiving parole in 2018 (after being denied eight times). Graham received five life sentences.[2]

8 Nannie Doss

When you read about a serial killer, certain unsettling images spring to mind. It gets progressively worse when you read that the serial killer was a granny, also known as the Giggling Granny. A murderer with a sunny disposition.

Nancy Hazel had many such terrible nicknames: Lady Bluebeard, Jolly Black Widow, and the Lonely Hearts Killer, but that she was a gleeful psycho is all you should know. Arrested for the death of her husband in 1955, Nannie Doss confessed to murdering four more. However, speculation is rife that she ended up killing almost 12 people throughout her murderous life.

When one husband became too much, she would simply kill him off and move on to the next. At her trial, she blamed her terrible antics on her brain injury, but the jury saw through it, sentencing her to life in prison. She died while serving her sentence a few years later.[3]

7 Lindy Chamberlain

It was August 1970 when tragedy struck at a camping ground near Australia’s Ayer Rock, leaving 10-year-old Azaria Chamberlain dead.

Lindy’s defense? A dingo carried her child off and was the main cause of death. Azaria’s body was never found. Lindy was found guilty of murder and received a life sentence. Her husband, Michael, received a suspended sentence for being an accessory after the fact.

The case was a sensation, and accusations of the police feeding the media information complicated matters further. The Chamberlains exhausted every avenue available to them, and Lindy was staring at a life of jail time when Azaria’s jacket was found near an area with high dingo prevalence. The cause of death remains a mystery, but there was enough doubt to exonerate the Chamberlains.[4]

6 Mary Bell

When 10-year-old Mary Bell killed two boys aged three and four, respectively, the world was shocked. How could someone at such an innocent age commit such atrocities? Easy—psychopathy.

Mary Bell was accused of strangling the two boys. Under mounting evidence and testimony from her older sister, Anne Bell, the case was clear. Bell had taken their lives and was, therefore, to be tried for murder. Bell then proceeded to pen letters of confession to the parents of the little victims.

Court psychiatrists convinced the jury that Bell was too young to form the intent of murder, and considering her psychopathy, she could not be held responsible for her own actions. Bell was convicted of manslaughter, and during a time when juvenile detention was non-existent, she was sent to adult prison. She was let out on good behavior twelve years later.[5]

5 Joyce Mitchell

Joyce Mitchell was in prison, yes, but not for breaking the law. Employed by the Clinton Maximum Security Prison as a seamstress, she was just doing her job. That was until she decided to break the law.

Joyce gave a drill and hacksaw to two dangerous criminals named Richard Matt and David Sweat, which helped them escape prison most sensationally. The fugitives managed to evade authorities for almost three weeks, with the search culminating in a shootout, leaving Matt dead and Sweat wounded and back in custody.

Mitchell was planning on meeting the men with a getaway car once they got outside, but she got cold feet. She was charged with promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation and was sentenced to up to eight years in prison. She was released after five.[6]

4 Sister Ping

Cheng Chui Ping, known the world over as Sister Ping or the mother of snakeheads, was a ruthless business tycoon who made a living from human smuggling.

In a time when it was insanely lucrative for people to flock to the U.S. from China in the hopes of earning some top dollar (or just working wage), Ping decided to make a business of it. She smuggled as many as 3,000 people into the U.S., for a price of course. It was a dangerous and often perilous journey, and it came at a hefty price, which turned Ping into a wealthy international businesswoman.

After a collaboration with Hong Kong authorities led to her capture, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Ping, once an illegal immigrant herself, eventually died in prison of pancreatic cancer.[7]

3 Ilse Koch

Also known as the Beast, the Witch, and the Bitch of Buchenwald, Koch was the wife of Col. Karl Koch of the SS and head of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Koch is famous for some of history’s worst atrocities, beatings, rapes, and more. However, she is perhaps most famous for ordering the creation of lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the tattooed skin of the prisoners.

But by the end of the war, Koch got what was coming to her as she was tried as a war criminal, receiving a stiff sentence for her involvement. The Americans, however, during the breakout of the Cold War, released Koch due to politics. Still, she was arrested the same day by the West German authorities, who sentenced her to life behind bars. Koch eventually hanged herself with her sheets.[8]

2 The San Antonio Four

At the height of the satanic panic, four friends felt the full brunt of what paranoia, fear, homophobia, and our obsession with the Devil could do.

Four Texas women—Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez—were convicted in 1998 of sexual assault of two young girls after the alleged victims (who were seven and nine at the time) accused them of attacking them. One of the girls—Ramirez’s nieces—later testified that they lied after being upset about her aunt being a lesbian.

The women spent fifteen years behind bars before their release. Still, they had to fight another five years so that a judge could exonerate them and vacate the convictions from their records.[9]

1 Aileen Wuornos

Captured in the Oscar-winning performance by Charlize Theron in the film Monster, Aileen Wuornos was a controversial figure, even after her arrest.

Known as one of the most dangerous female serial killers in U.S. history, Aileen shot and killed six men (possibly seven) between 1989 and 1990. She was arrested and subsequently sentenced to six death sentences a year later. She was executed by lethal injection in 2002, but her time in prison was not without incident.

During her time on death row, Wuornos urged the authorities to put her out of her misery, suggesting that there was no point in delaying her execution, as she was unrepentant and would kill again. She also suggested that her prolonged incarceration was a waste of taxpayers’ money.[10]

Comments are closed.