Unlike snowbird murders, most female killers know their victims, experts say
By Tonya Alanez, Sun Sentinel
January 10, 2014
They don't strike as frequently as men, and it goes against the grain of how we view our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and daughters. When women kill, we're shocked and riveted to see those we traditionally view as nurturers, problem solvers and soothers tagged as murderers.
"Most kill for romance, love or finance," said Vernon Geberth, a former homicide commander with the New York Police Department who wrote the book "Practical Homicide Investigations." "They tend to kill less violently and in more passive ways, for the most part," he added.
When women kill, it's rarely random. They generally kill their lovers, spouses or children. It's intimate, it's personal and it's usually a heat-of-the-moment reaction, experts say.
In a startling South Florida turn of events, Hallandale Beach police announced Wednesday that DNA evidence shows that two women took part in the unsolved homicides of a Canadian couple in their winter home last year.
Retired snowbirds David "Donny" Pichosky, 71, and his wife, Rochelle Wise, 66, were bound and asphyxiated. Police say they likely did not know their attackers.
To see two women involved in a violent killing of ostensible strangers is a rarity, experts say.
"I don't know if I've ever heard of that," said Lori Butts, a forensic psychologist with offices in Davie and Greenacres. "It would be definitely strange and extraordinary."
In Broward County, of the 209 defendants charged with manslaughter, first- and second-degree murders, only 15 are women, said Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the Broward County State Attorney's Office.
"Men are biologically engineered to be aggressors," Geberth said. "Women have better ways of dealing with problems; they'll think it out and talk about it. They're caregivers, problem solvers, they're looking for alternatives."
Women killers traditionally fall into one of two standard categories: victims of domestic violence or so-called black widows.
"Women who kill in a domestic-violence relationship are saying, 'I'm not taking it anymore,'" Geberth said. "The other one is the cold-blooded, manipulating black-widow type who sets out to ensnare a victim for no reason other than economic gain."
In Florida, only five women sit on death row compared with 396 men.
Among the five is Ana Cardona, mother of "Baby Lollipops," whose emaciated and badly beaten 3-year-old body was discovered in the yard of a Miami Beach home in 1990.
The Sunshine State has executed only two women, Aileen Wuornos in 2002 and Judy Buenoano in 1998.
Wuornos, a predatory prostitute who inspired the 2003 film "Monster" starring Charlize Theron, killed seven men she picked up while working the highways of Central Florida.
Buenoano, dubbed a "black widow" killer, went to the electric chair for the 1971 arsenic poisoning death of her first husband. She had been previously convicted of killing her 19-year-old invalid son and trying to murder a boyfriend. She did so, prosecutors said, to try to collect on their insurance policies.
More often than not, female killers inflict death passively.
"Women are going to take action when they're not going to get hurt, often that's poisoning, or shooting or stabbing somebody while they're asleep," Geberth said. "Women are more apt to poison their partner. It doesn't require physical strength or skill; it just requires you to provide the antifreeze iced tea."
That's the route Martha Pineda took in 2003.
Pineda, then 43, slipped her 27-year-old lover a fatal dose of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and then smothered him with an open palm in her Coral Springs apartment because he was infatuated with a younger woman, prosecutors said. She is serving a life sentence.
Shara Cooper shot her victim while he slept, prosecutors say.
Cooper's murder conviction was overturned in 2012 but prosecutors are retrying her for the 2005 death of her unborn baby's father. Cooper was 18 and eight months pregnant when Samuel Norris, 25, was shot in the head in his bed. Cooper was portrayed at trial as a controlling girlfriend who balked at Norris' plans to move out of their Greenacres home.
Mental illness, often undiagnosed until after the crime, experts say, is most common among women who kill their own offspring.
"It tends to be women who have serious mental health issues and women with histories of abuse," Butts said.
Cheryl Arthur was cradling her dead 3-year-old daughter in her arms and walking along the shoulder of Interstate 95 near when a motorist stopped to give her a ride in 2010. Arthur asked to be taken to a police station where she confessed to strangling and suffocating little Makeda, police said. The 39-year-old Hollywood mother told investigators she had been feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Her case is pending.
It's love or sex that tends to spark the most violent acts, or overkill.
Catherine Pileggi, 57, authorities say, unleashed a fury of violence upon Ronald Vinci, 70, at his Fort Lauderdale home because he wanted to end their relationship. She fractured his skull, stabbed him in the chest, sliced his throat and shot him in the head, police say. Pileggi awaits trial for Vinci's 2011 death.
A battered-spouse-syndrome defense worked in Lisa Romero's favor when a judge sentenced her to five years in prison for shooting Frank Don Alvarez, 61, in the back of the head in 2006. Romero, now 43, of Davie, told the judge Alvarez had a penchant for degrading, dominating sex and gave her drugs in exchange for it. The breaking point came when he threatened the lives of her three children, she said.
Another local case involved a spurned woman who turned on her ex.
"Sometimes they can't manage the pain of rejection," Butts said. "The rejection can be overwhelming so they act out."
Donna Horwitz, 67, is serving a life sentence for the 2011 shooting of her ex-husband Lanny, 66, while he showered in the Jupiter home they shared. After he collapsed, she fired nine more times, including once in the mouth. Prosecutors said she was in an angry, jealous rage, fed up with her ex-husband's mean treatment while he wined and dined another.
And at least one South Florida case involved a daughter who killed her mother.
Martha Walker, 45, is serving a life sentence for nearly beheading her mother with an ax in 2007. The motive, prosecutors said, was Walker's frustration over her 76-year-old mother's refusal to relocate from Hollywood to North Carolina.
The motives and methods of women killers fascinate, Geberth said, but it all boils down to the unpredictable, dark side of human nature.
"The bottom line is you're dealing with people being people," he said. "And every time you think you have it figured out, along comes some two-legged deviant that pulls a switch, a twist, a turn, or something new you would never think about."