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8 Prolific Female Serial Killers

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Few people think of women as serial killers. Perhaps this misconception is based on the stereotype of women being sensitive and compassionate. For these brutal killers, sometimes the guise of nurturing helped them get in the door, but these ladies are just as depraved as their male counterparts.

1. Delphine LaLaurie

Estimated Body Count: At least 10 (but possibly as many as 90)

Story: Delphine LaLaurie was the wife of a wealthy New Orleans physician in the early 1800s. With long black hair and porcelain skin, all eyes focused on her when she threw glamorous parties. Little did anyone know that the slightest mistake from a slave caused Madame LaLaurie to explode in rage. She was charged with cruelty against one of her slaves—when the slave allegedly pulled her hair while brushing it, LaLaurie beat her mercilessly in the garden. Another slave girl jumped to her death from a second floor window to escape Madame LaLaurie. In 1834, a fire ravaged the LaLaurie estate and after the firemen put out the flames, they smelled rotting bodies. Pushing open the attic door, they were startled to see dead slaves chained to the walls, a woman with her lips sewn shut, half-dead slaves in cages, a man who received a forced sex change, women without skin, eviscerated slaves, and body parts strewn about the attic.

Capture:

The LaLauries escaped and were never seen again. Years later, during renovations, contractors discovered the bodies of slaves that allegedly had been buried alive.

Punishment: None, though superstitious locals claim Madame LaLaurie suffers the otherworldly punishment of haunting her home, wailing for relief in French.

2. Juana "La Mataviejitas" Barraza

Estimated Body Count: At least 10 (but possibly as many as 40)

Story: Juana Barraza ruled the Mexican women's wrestling circuit as "The Silent Lady," but she became infamous for another moniker, "La Mataviejitas"—the old-lady killer. Starting in the 1990s, Barraza knocked on the doors of Mexico City's elderly women, pretending to be a social worker. Once inside, she grabbed a sock, piece of string or phone cord—whatever was handy—and strangled her victims to death (until blood oozed from their ears).


Capture: In 2006, after strangling 82-year-old Ana Maria Reyes with a stethoscope, Barraza fled from the scene, only to be captured close by. Her prints matched those at 10 of approximately 40 crime scenes attributed to La Mataviejitas. It took police a long time to find her because they were unsure if she was a man or a woman—or a man dressed as a woman, or a woman dressed as a man. Her broad shoulders and the force she used to cause blood to seep from victims' ears made police think she was a man.

Punishment: 759 years, though she may serve less than 50 years

3. Amelia "The Baby Farmer" Dyer

Estimated Body Count: Police found 12 babies linked to Dyer, but could only confirm she killed six. They believed she murdered as many as 50.

Story: In Victorian England, when a single woman found herself in a family way, she searched for a baby farmer, who raised the child. In the late 1800s, women answered ads placed by Amelia Dyer, a married woman in her 50s who lived with her Christian husband in the Thames Valley region, and would raise the babies (no one saw her husband because they were separated). As soon as Dyer returned to her flat, she would strangle the infant. Placing the baby in a bag, she dumped her victim into the Thames.

Capture: As bargemen rowed across the river on March 30, 1896, they spotted a package. When they opened it, they discovered a dead infant girl. As the police examined the paper, they spotted a faintly written address. Fearing the murderer would run, the police organized a sting operation where a female pretended to need Dyer's services. When Dyer opened the door for the woman, she found the police instead. The police found 12 infants in the river, many with the same string around their necks. Her house was full of baby items and as her crimes were publicized more women came forward saying they gave her their babies.

Punishment: Death. On June 10, 1896, Dyer died by hanging at the Newgate Gallows.

4. Marie Noe

Estimated Body Count: Eight—although she had 10 children, two died of natural causes

serial2.jpgStory: In 1948, Philadelphia newlyweds Marie and Arthur Noe welcomed their first son, Richard, on March 7. On April 7, Noe rushed her newborn to the hospital—he wasn't breathing. Doctors attributed it to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Noe had a second child, Elizabeth, in September 1950. In February 1951, Noe returned to the hospital, clutching a dead infant. SIDS again. There weren't any marks on the child, broken bones, or bruises, or signs of neglect. Year after year, Noe had a child and a few months later, she arrived at the hospital with a dead infant. Nurses noticed Noe never mourned her children. After the birth of one of her sons, a nurse overheard Noe threaten him while trying to feed him, "If you don't take this, I'll kill you." Some suspected foul play, but no one acted. While giving birth to her last child, Arthur Joseph in 1968, Noe had an emergency hysterectomy. None of her children lived to age 2.

Capture: In 1998, a reporter from Philadelphia magazine wrote a book and said Noe should be investigated because eight children from one family couldn't all possibly die of SIDS. When police interviewed her she admitted to smothering four of her children, but wasn't sure what happened to the other four.

Punishment: She pleaded guilty in June 1999. She was sentenced to 20 years of probation with the first five years under house arrest.

5. Aileen Wuornos

Estimated Body count: 7

serial3.jpgStory: By the time Aileen Wuornos was in high school in Michigan, she was working as a prostitute. After moving to Florida, she was married and divorced and spent time in jail for grand theft auto before she met Tyria Moore, a 24-year-old motel maid. Moore quit her job and Wuornos supported them by hooking. When Wuornos met with Richard Malloy in 1989, she shot him three times with a .22 caliber after he allegedly tried to rape her. A few weeks later, police discovered another naked man shot to death with a .22. In all, police found four more naked men, all murdered with a .22, and a car of a man who was never found.

Capture: Wuornos and Moore were driving in a victim's car when they were in an accident. The duo refused treatment even though Wuornos was bleeding. After discovering the car belonged to one of the murdered men, the police circulated sketches of the women and began gathering evidence against Wuornos. Authorities found some of Malloy's possessions in a pawnshop with Wuornos' thumbprints on them, and after a few weeks of surveillance, the police detained Wuornos on an outstanding weapons charge. The investigators tracked down Moore, living with her sister in Pennsylvania. They offered her immunity if she could convince Wuornos to confess, which she did. Wuornos remained indignant and at her trial, she screamed belligerently. Always her own worst enemy, she shrieked at Assistant State Attorney General Ric Ridgeway, "I hope your wife and children get raped."

Punishment: The State of Florida sentenced her to six death sentences (police never found the body of Peter Siems and didn't charge her for the crime) and she was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.

6. Belle Gunness

Estimated Body Count: 40

Story: As a 17-year-old farmhand in Norway during the late 1800s, Belle Gunness learned she was pregnant by the son of the landlord. Unwilling to marry her, he beat her until she miscarried. He died a year later of an illness that resembled poisoning, and soon Gunness left for America.

Within three years of emigrating, she married Mads Sorenson. In 1890, Mads became violently ill and died—his death occurred on the only day two life insurance policies on him overlapped, netting his wife $8,500. A physician suspected strychnine poisoning, but the family doctor claimed he treated Mads for an enlarged heart and that caused his death. Belle took the money and moved to LaPorte, Indiana, where she married Peter Gunness in April 1900 and became stepmother to his children. Soon his young son died (mostly likely caused by poisoning) while he was alone with Belle. In December 1900, an iron meat grinder fell and cracked open Peter's skull. Soon after, suitors began arriving with money in hand to marry Belle Gunness and pay off her mortgage. Man after man arrived, always leaving Gunness in the middle of the night. When Gunness secured the money from her potential lovers, she killed them, dismembered them, and buried them in the yard. It was suspected she might have fed some to the pigs.

Capture: None. Gunness fired her handyman, Ray Lamphere—who was often seen digging holes around the house and in the pigpen. She told her lawyer that Lamphere threatened to kill her and her children and burn down her house. On April 28, 1908, fire broke out at the Gunness farm and authorities found four bodies in the basement—all decapitated. Neighbors said the body wasn't her; Gunness was about 5'8 and 200 pounds and the headless corpse was about 5'3 and 150 pounds. Later police found a piece of bridgework, which Gunness' dentist said was hers, but there was no conclusive evidence she died there. The police dug up the yard and found body parts from as many as 40 different people. Police confirmed the decapitated bodies were Gunness' children and stepchildren. Soon families arrived in LaPorte, claiming their loved ones came to Gunness' farm to marry her and never returned.

Punishment: None

7. Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzales

Estimated Body count: 91 (80 women and 11 men)

Story: In the early 20th century, Delfina and Maria ran Ranchero El Angel, a bordello in Guanajuato (200 miles north of Mexico City). The two recruited prostitutes with help wanted ads in the local paper. When a woman became ill, lost her looks, or was worn out, the sisters killed her, dismembered her, and buried her on the property. If a wealthy john arrived, the duo would kill him and keep his money.

Capture: In 1964, police raided what had become known as "the Bordello from Hell," dug up the yard, and discovered the bodies.

Punishment: Each received 40 years in prison.

8. Enriqueta "The Vampire of Barcelona" Marti

Estimated Body Count: At least 12

Story: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when wealthy Barcelona residents wanted help with love or a cure for TB or syphilis, they visited Enriqueta Marti, who sold expensive curatives. Meanwhile, Marti lured children to her home. Before killing them—she used the rendered fat, bones, skin, muscles, and hair in her elixirs—Marti often prostituted the children.

Capture: In March 1912, two young girls, Angelita and Teresita, escaped from Marti's flat and told the police they witnessed Martin butchering a young boy. Police searched Marti's properties and found body parts, jars of blood, fat, and recipe books written in Marti's hand, specifying the horrific ingredients she used in her potions.

Punishment: Marti's cellmates killed her before she went to trial.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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