We tend to think of assassins as being men, but there were plenty of historical assassins who were women. Women throughout history have held lower statuses than men, but that often gave them an edge in espionage or assassin work – few people suspected that women were capable of such things when they were looked upon as being inferior. But societal expectations didn’t stop any of these women assassins, with many of them changing the course of history through a well-placed poisoning or strategic stabbing. Though some of their assassination strategies may have been bizarre, all of these women were effective in their mission to take someone – or more than just one – out.
Of course, not all female assassins in history were fighting for causes one could truly call noble. Some were downright nasty, and the people they killed were those who could have had a great positive influence on the world. Still, any person who resorts to killing others for political influence or social gain is a captivating figure, especially when so many deliberately used the fact that they were women to avoid suspicion or achieve their ends.
• Photo: Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Charlotte Corday’s Assassination Of Marat Changed The Perception Of Women
Charlotte Corday, a French revolutionary, was known as the Angel of Assassination for killing her target, the Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat on July 13, 1793. Marat had been in power during the Reign of Terror, and specifically the September Massacres, in which some 1,300 people were executed as potential enemies of the state.
Corday entered Marat’s apartment by claiming she had information of an uprising elsewhere in France and stabbed him with a kitchen knife in revenge for the massacres, knowing she’d be put to death for it. She was executed just four days after the assassination, with her actions consolidating a new era in gender relations in France.
• • Photo: Attributed to Dosso Dossi / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Lucrezia Borgia’s Machinations May All Be Fiction
Though it’s possible that Lucrezia Borgia – a member of the inimitable 15th-century Borgia clan – never actually murdered anybody, she’s long been painted as a homicidal woman known for poisoning her enemies and unwanted husbands alike. Her family’s enemies spread stories that she had a hollow ring that she would use to poison people at dinner parties when she could not persuade them to her position through more peaceful means.
There’s no historical evidence for any of this other than rumors, but they paint a fascinating picture of a woman whose outward persona was one of piety and purity to conceal her power-hungry nature.
• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Shi Jianqiao Assassinated Her Father’s Killer In Public And Wasn’t Punished
Shi Jianqiao isn’t famous for killing loads of people; rather, she’s known for offing one specific person who had wronged her family. In 1925, Sun Chuanfang, a warlord in China, beheaded Shi Jianqiao’s father for leading an opposition force against him and paraded the head in public. Shi Jianqiao tracked Sun Chuanfang for 10 years before shooting him three times.
Instead of fleeing, she stuck around the scene to explain her actions by means of pamphlets, and, instead of being punished, she was freed because the act was determined to be an example of filial piety.
• • Idoia Lopez Riano’s Reputation Earned Her A Fearsome Nickname
Though Idoia Lopez Riano has since renounced violence, that doesn’t erase the 23 people she’s accused of assassinating in the 1980s in her quest for Basque independence from Spain. Lopez was given the nickname La Tigresa – the tigress – because of her rumored sexual prowess, as she was known to seduce policemen prior to attacks.
Her numerous killings led to a 1,500-year prison sentence in 2003 (when she was finally apprehended in France and tried for her crimes). ETA, the organization to which Lopez belonged, has since disbanded.
• • Mistress Marcia Helped Murder A Roman Emperor
Marcia was not solely responsible for the death of Emperor Commodus, an inept leader of ancient Rome, on New Years Day in 193 CE, but her actions as part of a murder plot proved important nonetheless. Commodus, believing himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules, planned to fight in the arena despite his advisors’ urgings. He threatened to accuse them – including his mistress, Marcia – and add them to a list of people he wanted executed for subversion.
Their response was to launch an orchestrated assassination attempt. Marcia slipped him poison in his wine, which failed to kill him as he vomited it up, but, in his weakened state, he was strangled by his fitness coach.
• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Fanny Kaplan Was A Revolutionary From A Young Age
A member of the “Socialist Revolutionaries” in Russia, Fanny Kaplan was a political activist from a young age. She was arrested for her involvement with a bomb plot at just 16 years old. After serving time in a Serbian work camp, she lost most of her sight but not her desire to make change.
Because of the conflict between the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks, she gained a great dislike for Vladimir Lenin. After a meeting at the Hammer and Sickle, Kaplan shot Lenin three times, with two of the bullets doing serious damage. He survived, and Kaplan refused to name any accomplices, leading to her execution in 1918.
• • Photo: Cristofano Allori / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Judith Of Bethulia Killed A Man To Prove A Point
Though the Biblical Book of Judith is generally considered to be a parable rather than a historical account, the titular Judith is still a fascinating example of a historical female assassin. Judith, who believed that God would save her fellow countrymen from their conquerors, set out with a maid to dispatch Holofernes, an enemy general.
By promising to provide him with information, she gained his trust and entered his tent one night while he was passed out drunk. Judith cut off his head and returned it to her home, and the general’s death caused the dissolution of the Assyrian army, saving her country from their occupation.
• • Photo: Italian Ministry of the Interior / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Violet Gibson’s Attempted Assassination Was Forgiven
Unlike many assassins, Anglo-Irish aristocrat Violet Gibson’s motivations remain something of a mystery. Gibson attempted to shoot Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy, after he finished a speech he’d made on modern medicine in Rome, Italy, in 1926. She fired twice, but the first shot only grazed him, and the second misfired.
Some people believe that she was insane at the time of the shooting and that she had no clear motive, especially because she lived the remainder of her life in a mental asylum after her deportation for the attempted assassination. Mussolini himself requested that she be released without charge.
• • Brigitte Mohnhaupt Killed Several Important Politicians Without Remorse
Brigette Mohnhaupt, a German woman associated with organizations like the Socialist Patients’ Collective and the Red Army Faction, was accused of the assassinations and assassination attempts of at least four high-ranking people, including a banker, a US general, and a chief federal prosecutor. The Red Army Faction believed in rampant corruption in the German government and moved from anti-capitalist-based arson and other activities to kidnapping and murder, such as those in which Mohnhaupt participated.
One assassination – that of Juergen Ponto, the chief executive of a major bank, which took place on July 30, 1977 – involved Mohnhaupt, along with two co-conspirators, ringing the target’s doorstep and offering a bouquet of roses and an invitation to tea.Upon being invited in, the three shot the target and fled. Mohnhaupt has expressed no remorse and never applied for clemency, but she was released from prison in 2007 after 24 years.
• • Kim Hyon-hui Bombed A Plane After Government Brainwashing
Kim Hyon-hui, like many of the assassins on this list, is a fascinating person who committed deplorable actions. In 1987, as part of the North Korean spy network, she was tasked with blowing up Korean Air Flight 858, which was flying between Baghdad, Iraq, and Seoul, South Korea. She was told that this would be her last assignment, and that, if she was able to pull it off, she could live in peace with her family.
She, along with another spy, successfully left a bomb aboard the plane and disembarked in Abu Dhabi. The two were apprehended, and Kim was unable to commit suicide with cyanide, unlike her co-conspirator. She was sentenced to death but ultimately pardoned as she was believed to be brainwashed by the North Korean government.
• Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair use
Valerie Solanas Shot Andy Warhol Because She Believed He Was Stealing Her Work
Valier Solanas, a radical feminist writer of the late 1960s, became involved with artist Andy Warhol after she pitched a play to him. He rejected it but did not return the copy, paying her $25 to appear in one of his films as compensation. Later, Solanas entered into a bad contract with the owner of Olympia Press that she believed foreced her to sign over all of her rights, leading her to believe that the owner of the press and Warhol were conspiring to steal her work.
The day of the assassination attempt, Solanas visited several people to talk about her play, even telling one that she would shoot Warhol to make herself famous in order to get her play produced.
When she finally got in contact with Warhol, she fired three shots at him, one of which hit. She was found to be mentally unstable and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, shortening her sentence to three years, of which she served only one before release.
• • Sara Jane Moore Tried To Shoot The President Just 17 Days After Another Assassination Attempt
A mere 17 days after Lynette Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, Sara Jane Moore also attempted to shoot him. She’d previously been a target of the Secret Service but had been found not to be a threat and had had her weapon and ammunition confiscated by police just one day before the assassination attempt.
Moore fired once but missed due to her gun being faulty, and a bystander attempted to take the gun from her, causing a second shot to fire and hit someone else, who survived. She pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, but was released after 32 years in 2007.
• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Khioniya Guseva Said She Killed The Antichrist
Khioniya Guseva is famous not just for her attempt on the life of Gregori Rasputin, but also for the fact that she apparently had no nose at the time, either due to advanced syphilis or damage from medications. In 1914, Guseva attacked Rasputin as he was leaving his home, stabbing him in the abdomen with a knife.
She reportedly shouted that she had killed the Antichrist. Rasputin didn’t die, and Guseva was turned into the police and placed in an asylum for three years.
• • Photo: Student of Redondo Union High School / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Lynette Fromme’s Failed Assassination Landed Her A Life Sentence
Lynette Fromme, also known as Squeaky, was a member of Charles Manson’s infamous Manson Gang. She’d previously been involved in murder cases but had never been jailed for them. In 1975, Fromme went to Capitol Park in Sacramento purportedly to discuss the California Redwoods with President Gerald Ford.
In reality, she went to the Park to assassinate him. Fromme pointed the weapon at President Ford but was immediately stopped by Secret Service agents. Though she received a life sentence, she was released in 2009.
• • Photo: Arnold Genthe / Wikimedia Co