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Personality characteristics of the female serial murderer

Meagen M. Hildebrand (School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany, State University of New York, New York, NY, USA)
Scott E. Culhane (Department of Criminal Justice, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to review and compare information obtained for four female serial murder perpetrators, exploring possible personality features that make the female serial killer unique. As this is the first project to explore the personalities of female serial murderers through data collected from the offenders themselves, it is primarily an exploratory study.


The data presented were collected as part of a larger project, which solicited participation from incarcerated, suspected serial murderers. Upon agreeing to participate, each potential participant's background was searched to ensure they met the definition of a serial murderer. The participants were sent a survey packet containing measures related to demographics, psychopathology, psychopathy, and personality features. These packets were sent to participants at their respective prisons, with a return envelope provided. Upon return, surveys were scored and analyzed to create a comprehensive profile of each offender.


The subjects of this study each presented a unique personality profile as measured by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 and Millon Clinical Multiaxial Invetory-III. Three of the four participants did not appear to by psychopathic, which is not surprising given the low incidence of psychopathy in women.


This study, while limited by the small sample size, provides the first data set of valid psychological measures collected through first-hand accounts with female serial murderers. Although the data presented did not display a single comprehensive profile indicative of a female serial murderer, it does provide a foundation for further research.



This research was supported in part by the Arts and Sciences Dean's Office at the University of Wyoming, President Tom Buchanan's Foundation Fund at the University of Wyoming, and the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Wyoming. Thanks are extended to Matt J. Gray for his assistance in clinical data interpretation.


Hildebrand, M.M. and Culhane, S.E. (2015), "Personality characteristics of the female serial murderer", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 34-50.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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