Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Female Mass Murderers: Major Cases and Motives

Widespread Damage

Laurie Wasserman Dann
Laurie Wasserman Dann

On May 20, 1988, Laurie Wasserman Dann set out to kill an unknown number of people in Illinois.  Although she fell far short of her goals, had she achieved them, she would have had the highest victim toll of any female mass murderer to date.  But this was not the first indication that she was capable of violence.  What investigators learned after her rampage, as reported by Lane and Gregg, was that she had married in 1982, but the marriage had lasted only four years.  At some point during the divorce proceedings, someone had entered the home of her estranged husband and stabbed him with an ice pick.  He could not identify his assailant, but reportedly he believed it was his wife.  Other people, too, had apparently been the recipients of her violent retaliations.  She damaged property and engaged in shoplifting as well, and was so erratic that she finally lost her job.

As shocking as it is to learn, Dann was nevertheless able to purchase handguns.  Once she had them, her plots of vengeance took on a more sinister quality. During her deadly advance, she first drove to several homes where she had worked to deliver food laced with arsenic.  She left her packages on the front porches and continued with her fatal errands.  The next two stops were to start fires before she drove to Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, Ill.  Armed with a .357 Magnum, she entered the school, shot and missed a boy, and then went into a classroom.  She started shooting, hitting six of the kids and killing her sole victim, an 8-year-old boy.  No one tried to stop her as she left, got into her car, and drove to yet another location.

Hubbard Woods Elementary School
Hubbard Woods Elementary School

Then she left her car and knocked on the door of a house where she was clearly a stranger.  They said later that Dann had offered a story that she had been raped and had shot her rapist.  They could see she was unstable, and one member of the family attempted to apprehend her as she forced her way inside.  She shot and wounded him, then went to a room on the second floor.  Locking herself in, she waited.

The homeowners called the police, and they brought Dann's father to the scene to plead with her.  She did not respond.  Finally, the police went in to corner and confront her, but they were too late: with her .32 revolver, she had shot herself through the mouth.  Like many male mass murderers, she had been angry, had sought revenge against imagined slights, and had holed herself up to end her own life.

Dann left no explanation for her actions, but her acquaintances indicated that she had a long history of anger management issues, yet had never been hospitalized or diagnosed.

Whatever drives these women, be it inner demons, a demand for attention, or retaliation, a greater percentage have been mentally ill than their male counterparts.  Even so, as social tensions increase, we may yet see more aggression from women in the form of mass murder.


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