WHAT drives a person to kill? There are myriad psychological and emotional explanations – some even delving into the realm of genetics.
When homing in on female serial killers, there is a distinct anomaly to the criminology behind them.
Despite the generally held belief that female killers are less capable of committing murder than their male counterparts, there have been criminal instances where women have proved to be exceptionally methodical and meticulous.
In Crime & Investigation Network’s Martina Cole’s Ladykillers, she takes viewers on a spine-tingling exploration of some of the biggest criminal cases.
The two coming to our screens involve the Britons Myra Hindley (deceased) and Rosemary West. Hindley, along with boyfriend Ian Brady, murdered five children between 1963 and 1965, which shocked Britain. Also in the epi- sode are interviews with Hindley’s lawyer and prison chaplain.
West, along with husband Fred (deceased), collaborated in the torture and murder of about 10 women at their family home. Looking at West’s history, it was discovered that she was a victim of abuse and had inflicted the same treatment on her children, along with eight other girls whose remains were found buried at her home.
With four of her novels adapted into movies, Cole jumped at the chance to be part of Ladykillers.
In one of her interviews, Cole said: “I’ve got to be honest, I’ve really enjoyed making Ladykillers, it’s something I had never done before, or really considered.
“When they initially asked me I was very drunk at my book launch and agreed! But luckily I was work- ing with a fantastic team of people who were very good to me and helped me along. I think the series has come out great and I hope people enjoy it, but for me it’s been a real learning curve.
“I found myself strangely enjoying it at one point once the nervousness calmed down a bit, so I’d be quite happy to do something like it again. I think the main thing I have learnt over the course of this series is, and this sounds very selfish, actually how to do better research.
“I have looked through the material that’s come to me and it’s clear that our research team has done a marvellous job. The other thing I’ve learnt is never to believe what you read in the papers; there is always another story, or at least another part to it.
“I think I’ve had a really good insight into serial killing, a much more personal and intimate one than I would have had if I had researched myself.”
And if you are wondering how she gets into the psyche of a female serial killer – it boils down to pain- staking research.
Cole explained: “I had researched quite a few women killers and a lot of murders in general over the years for different projects, but doing it from this standpoint became very personal. Sometimes it could be very sad, when you think of someone like Winnie Johnson (the mother of Keith Bennett, one of Hindley’s victims) still looking for her son up on the moors after all this time. And then you find out that Hindley’s ashes have been scattered up there which I think is even worse – that she’s up there with the victims.
“So sometimes it was very poignant, like going to a place where West lived. All the cases were quite poignant, each in their own way, and it really gave me a different insight. I spoke to Caroline (Owens) who was one of the people who got away from West, and that made it very personal because the person is there and talking about the situation.
“You could see in her eyes that she was so grateful she hadn’t died like the others. It really was quite an eye-opener in that respect.”
After being so immersed in the stories, Cole admitted that it is sometimes hard to switch off.
She confirmed: “Some of the sadder things stay with you. I saw the photographs of Leslie Ann Downing (the fourth victim of Hindley and Brady) when we were in the archives and I have to admit that stopped me sleeping for a couple of days; seeing her dear little face and knowing what had happened to her.
“I mean, things like that obviously are going to stay with you for a while.”
The fascination and curiosity around these serial killers are imbued with fact, documented evidence and key interviews and, as such, Ladykillers is a riveting watch.
Meanwhile, these faces of evil continue to haunt us as they remain embedded in history.
• Martina Cole’s Ladykillers airs on the Crime & Investigation Network (DStv Channel 170) on Sundays at 9pm.