Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sex, Lies & Murder: The Pamela Smart Case

The Black Widow "Smart"

Black Widow: a poisonous spider of the genus Latrodectus, especially the female, which devours its mate.
Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

The notorious human "black widow" husband-killer is named after the deadly female spider that will kill and eat the males after mating; her venom is fifteen times more potent than an equal weight of rattlesnake venom.

Pamela Smart's case brought to the forefront a phenomenon that is increasingly gaining attention: females who kill. Compared to men, women commit very little crime. It is so rare, little is known about the female offender. Women offenders differ considerably from their male counterparts, in that, women do not commit criminal acts as often and their patterns of offending as well as their motivations are different. When a woman commits a crime it is usually a minor property offense, predominantly shoplifting and welfare fraud. Rarely do women commit violent offenses; however, when they do, murder and assault are common. Those women who have committed homicide fall into two groups: the younger offenders usually kill their children, while those middle-aged kill their abusive spouses.

Pam Smart is a typical female murderer in that she perpetrated violence in her home, murdering her husband. However, unlike most other women who kill, she did not kill an abusive spouse. Pam's motive was very different. What little is known about this rare sort of murderess is that she typically kills for money or for convenience. "Black widows" defy systematic investigation yet illicit an inordinate amount of media and public attention. Pam was only seen briefly by a psychiatrist in 1990, but never had a thorough psychological evaluation.

In reality, the case was not unique, but the media coverage managed to propel the case into history, with some 150 reporters from all over the world. It was the first time that a court case had been filmed live, with Channel 9 interrupting daily programming and rebroadcasting the highlights after midnight. A few months after the trial, the TV movie Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Smart Story starring Helen Hunt was broadcast. And in 1995, To Die For, scripted as a comedy, had Nicole Kidman playing the lead role, from the loosely based novel of Joyce Maynard.

Former Derry Police Capt. Loring Jackson, the supervisor of the investigation had this to say about the media hype: "I think the case was blown way out of proportion by the news media. They seized on sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. ...To me, the press was nothing but a royal pain in the ass, and you can quote me on that."

Pam has received thousands of letters from all over the U.S. Her only regrets are any past actions that had some effect on the outcome of her case. "Of course, I regret ever being involved with Bill Flynn," Smart said. "That was a horrible mistake that I am paying a terrible price for, as I am innocent of any involvement in the plot to murder Greg.

"Yes, I made the mistake of having an affair with Bill Flynn, but I wish the public would stop defining me by that one mistake," Smart said. "There is more to me than my worst error in judgment." She fulfills herself in prison through her educational goals. "I am very different from the media's portrayal of me," she said. "I am not a cold, uncaring individual."

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