Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Female Mass Murderers: Major Cases and Motives

Wicked Intent

Several women have attempted to become mass murderers, but their victim tolls failed to place them officially in that category.  Nevertheless, their intent was clear: They certainly had hoped to carry out a plan in the manner of a mass murderer.  Had all of their victims died from wounds these women had inflicted, they would have become known as American mass murderers.

Brenda Spencer
Brenda Spencer

We'll start with Brenda Spencer, a 17-year-old girl, who reportedly was bored the morning of Jan. 29, 1979.  In his book Kids Who Kill, author Charles Ewing describes how she came close to taking 11 lives when she shot her new semi-automatic .22 rifle into a school yard.  Her father had given her the rifle for Christmas, never dreaming that she might use it to bring harm to so many.  Alone that morning, she looked out the window of her San Diego home, saw kids on the playground of Cleveland Elementary School across the street, and decided to start shooting.  The school's janitor took a deadly hit, as did the principal, both of them using their own bodies to shield the children when they realized what was happening.

Book cover: Kids Who Kill
Book cover: Kids Who Kill

A police officer tried to help as well, and he was wounded during the 20 minute shooting spree, as were eight of the children.  Other officers responded to the emergency, surrounding the building where Spencer lived.  Soon the media arrived as well.  Spencer kept them all at bay for six hours (other sources say two), talking with negotiators on the phone, before they were finally able to arrest her and stop the shooting.  At the time, she reportedly told them that she'd started shooting for the fun of it, because she didn't like Mondays.  "Mondays always get me down."  She had done it to cheer herself up.

Spencer went through at least two psychiatric examinations and the doctors learned that this petite young girl, with a history of problem behavior and substance abuse, had long been obsessed with violent films and images of shooting police officers.  At first Spencer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but she changed her plea to guilty.  Her trial took place in Santa Ana, California, where she was convicted.  For each of the murders, she received two terms of twenty-five years to life, and for one count of assault with a deadly weapon, she got forty-eight years, to be served concurrent with the other sentences.

A few years later, another woman with an even more deadly weapon also aimed it against strangers.


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