Ian Brady’s death last week evoked heightened press coverage of the horrific Moors Murders, and alongside this, a number of documentaries about it.

Like so many, I find it hard to listen to the truth of how Brady and Hindley lured and tortured their young victims but I can’t deny I am intrigued at the utter depravity of their actions, and how human beings can do those things to other human beings.

In one documentary, Ann West, the mother of 10-year-old victim Lesley Ann Downey spoke about the unimaginable torment of listening to her daughter’s last moments on tape. As a mother, that must be incomprehensible.

But what I found fascinating was how differently she viewed Brady and Hindley. “I blame her more than him,” she said. “She was a woman, who should have had motherly instincts. She’s evil. It isn’t just the murders, it’s the torture, the way my innocent child died. The children would never have gone with him.”

Does the very fact she was a woman make Hindley more culpable for those dreadful crimes she and Brady committed together?

Higher standards expected?

Ann West alludes to the fact that higher standards are expected of women when it comes to children, and according to her, Hindley betrayed her gender to allow five children to be tortured and brutally murdered.

Nurse Beverley Allitt shocked the nation in 1993 when she was found guilty of murdering four children and harming several others in the Lincolnshire hospital she worked in.

A UK daily newspaper wrote the day after she was given three life sentences: “Women should nurture, not harm. By and large they do. Even today, violence is a male speciality. But nurses are supposed to be the epitome of female care.

“They are the angels of newspaper headlines. When women do things like this, it seems unnatural, evil, a perversion of their own biology.”

Allitt received one of the longest jail sentences ever given to a woman in Britain – exceeded only by those given to Hindley and Rose West.

West, arguably Britain’s most famous female killer next to Hindley, also fell far short of the higher standards expected of women. She lured, tourtured, raped and killed dozens of young women alongside her husband Fred West, including her own daughter.


That a woman is capable of doing these kind of things seems more abhorrent somehow. Indeed, around 90% of murders worldwide are carried out by men – and because of this, studies into typical characteristics in female killers is fairly limited.

Women are much less likely than men to commit crimes, but according to online reports, rates of female violence reported in the UK have increased, and the number of girls and women arrested for violence has more than doubled between 1999/2000 and 2007/2008.

And interestingly, the number of women in English and Welsh prisons nearly trebled between 1993 and 2005. Although that number is now on the decline, there are still over 2,000 more women behind bars today than in the 1990s, and around 5% of women make up the prison population.

Britain's most prolific women killers

Myra Hindley

Hindley and her lover, Ian Brady, plotted and carried out the rape and deaths of five young children in Greater Manchester during the 1960s.The pair were turned in to the police by Hindley’s brother-in-law who had witnessed Brady killing a boy with an axe. Hindley died in prison in 2002 at age 60.

Rose West

West was convicted for a killing spree with husband Fred, that saw 10 young women murdered. West’s victims included her 16-year-old daughter, her eight-year-old stepdaughter and her husband’s pregnant lover. The couple had subjected their victims to horrific sexual violence before they were killed, dismembering and burying the bodies beneath their house at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester.

Beverley Allitt

Over a 58-day period in 1991 on the children’s ward of Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire, four children died in puzzling circumstances. Many more were injured or became suddenly and inexplicably ill. It eventually emerged that all had been in the care of Allitt. Her main method of murder was to inject with lethal doses of insulin or potassium. She was given 13 life sentences and is held in a secure hospital.

Tracie Andrews

Andrews cut her boyfriend Lee Harvey’s throat and stabbed him 42 times before attending a TV press conference where she cried crocodile tears and said they’d been attacked by a ‘fat man with staring eyes’. She was later arrested, charged and jailed for life before being released in 2011.