Tuesday 10 November 2009

Women and Crime (Part 1)

What follows is an article that I wrote forty years ago for a police magazine. Alas, much hasn’t changed since then with respect to women criminals. WARNING: This article is not for those who are squeamish.

In October 1989, Ameenah Abdus-Salaam, a 32-year-old mother of two, pushed her 6-year old daughter and her 3-year-old son out of the window of their tenth-floor New York City apartment. Her daughter was killed and her son was critically wounded. Her motive? The mother was heard crying out to her children as they plunged downwards to the street below; "God is waiting for you."

Maria King, a Miami 32-year-old woman, the mother of four children-two girls and two boys, stabbed her two daughters, 4 and 3 years, to death, then she ordered her 8-year-old son to stab her to death which the unfortunate boy finally did. Her motive? She was angry with the girls.

In 1984, Shiela Smith, 26, and her lover, Ricky Irby, 29, both of Illinois, held their three-month-old son's nose closed and then poured sulfuric acid down the helpless baby's throat--something akin to shoving a red-hot poker down its throat. After suffering horribly, the baby died. Their motive? They wanted to sue a baby food company for product liability.

In October 1989, a Gulfport, Mississippi mother, Sylvia Payton, mixed ground glass with dry cereal and fed it to her 8-month-old daughter. Her motive? To lure her estranged husband back to their home.

I apologize to my readers for opening this article with these four heart-wrenching tales but I couldn't think of a more explicit way in which to bring to the attention of my readers, what they have just read, is an all too common occurrence in our present day and age. For the most part, it is mothers who kill their children rather than their fathers. It is not my intention however to explain why mothers kill their children in this particular article. Fortunately the killing of children by their mothers represents a small segment of crimes committed by women.

There has been a steady increase in female crime in the past twenty-five years. Women offenders doubled from seven percent to fourteen percent of all persons charged with Canadian Criminal Code offences. In 1965, forty-five percent of all charges against women were for property offences and by 1985; this proportion had increased to sixty percent. More than half of all women charged with Criminal Code offences in Canada were charged with theft and fraud.

The ratio between women and men offenders in 1985 for committing crimes of theft and fraud is as follows; theft by women, 40.4%, theft by men, 16.3%; fraud by women, 13.1%, fraud by men, 6.1%: It is only these two offences where the women exceed in numbers of offences over that of the men.

A typical theft charge is not unlike that which has been perpetrated by the 'Catwoman' of Atlanta. Since 1979 to 1989, this elusive Canadian was suspected of breaking into 50 homes of Atlanta through unlocked windows and doors and stealing as much as one million dollars worth of goods.

Another typical crime of theft is when a couple of women knock on someone's door and ask to use the phone or use the bathroom. While the owner is watching one of the visitors use the phone, or watching the other one waiting downstairs, the unwatched visitor is stealing jewelry etc.

Shoplifting is of course a very common offence committed by women who for the most part, are petty pilferers, and who on the spur of the moment, will slip something unseen into their large bags. There is quite a gap between them and the professional boosters who wear special clothes to conceal the stolen items as they walk from store to store.

Fraud is for the most part, a female crime and there are basically three kinds of fraud committed by women. The first kind is indeed the most insidious. I am speaking of female employees who are placed in positions of trust. A typical fraud by a female employee is similar to that of the middle-aged woman in Chicago who in 1972, was arrested and charged with embezzling $122,000 from her employers in a complicated scheme which involved phony bank accounts, non-existent vendor companies and never-made deliveries. She was an assistant purchasing agent with a large equipment supply firm and she made a decent salary at the time but she felt that she deserved more and since her requests for a raise were denied, she decided to give herself an increase in pay. I remember assisting a lawyer in Ontario who was defending a woman who was charged with embezzlement. After repeatedly being rebuffed when asking for a raise, she simply increased her pay anyhow and since she was the bookkeeper in charge of payroll, she got away with it for six months. She also got six months in jail for her crime.

Another kind of fraud involves the uttering of bad cheques. The women open bank accounts and then with little or no money in their accounts, they begin purchasing what they want with their worthless cheques.

And of course, there is the fortune teller kind of fraud perpetrated on uneducated and highly superstitious victims, such as the case of 19-year-old Samantha Demitro of Toronto who attempted to con a man out of $4,600 by telling him that he was under an evil curse and that it could be removed when he brought the money in a glass jar filled with water.

Women also have an aptitude for violence. There is no getting away from that fact. Women do not commit the large numbers of violent crimes that are committed by men but despite this, there is an increase in the number of violent crimes by women. In 1965, there were 1,176 Canadian women charged with violent crimes, in 1975, as many as 3,455 were charged and in 1985, the numbers jumped to 6,891.

In 1965, there were 22 women charged with murder or manslaughter. In 1975, the number dramatically jumped to 71 and in 1985, the number increased to 81. In 1965, as many as 1,006 women were charged with attempted murder, wounding or grievous assault. In 1975, the number had jumped to 2,942 and in 1985, the number made a dramatic leap to 6,168. It should be kept in mind that these figures are related to only three years in the twenty-year period. If the mean numbers were applied to each year and multiplied by twenty years, it could conceivably mean that as many as (3372 times 20 years) 67,440 Canadian women have been charged with murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, wounding or grievous bodily assault.

Often those women who commit the crimes of murder, manslaughter or attempted murderer, have themselves been victims of the very men they are charged with killing or attempting to kill. There have been incidences however where women have killed other women in a fit of jealousy such as the case of Kim Blinkhorn, 28, of Waterloo, Ontario who was charged with the murder of her 21-year-old rival who lived with their mutual boyfriend. Blinkhorn stabbed her rival 70 times while the victim's three-year-old daughter watched helplessly. Some, as previously noted, have killed their children in a fit of revenge and on several occasions, some have even killed their robbery victims.

It is no surprise to anyone that there are women who commit multiple murders. In September 1989, a 56-year-old woman in Burlington, North Carolina was arrested as a suspect in the deaths by arsenic poisoning, of as many as eight people. The victims include her former husband, boyfriends, a mother-in-law and her father. Of course, there has been no woman in recorded history that can match the murderous record of Countess Elizabeth Bathroy. It has been said that she had as many as 650 peasant girls murdered so that she could have her daily bath in their blood.

Some women of today are committing kinky murders, such as the four Australian lesbians in their early 20s, who in October 1989, lured a 47-year-old man to his death. They drank animal blood and then, while three of them held him down, the fourth stabbed him 14 times. In June, 1989, three Milwaukee women in their 20s were charged with the attempted axe murder of a 25-year-old man they lured to an apartment. They planned to dismember him and eat his kidneys.

Two lesbian nurse's aides, Gwendolyn Graham, 25 and Mary Wood, 27, of Walter, Michigan, were arrested in September 1989 for the murder of five patients in a nursing home. They smothered their victims to death in order to cement their lesbian relationship.

In December 1989, Lilianne Sella St. Couer, 33, of Montreal was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for smothering her 11-year-old daughter to death and trying to murder her other daughter and her husband.

Robbery by women is on the increase. In 1965, there were only 125 women charged with robbery, and the number jumped to 474 in 1985. This means that in the twenty-year period, there were conceivably as many as (333 times 20 years) 6660 robberies committed by women in the twenty-year period between 1965 and 1985. Of course, many of these women would have been working alongside their male counterparts but recently, there have been gangs of women committing muggings, purse snatching and other robberies on their own.

A number of mothers have been convicted of rape in the sense that they have permitted men to rape their children. In Allegan, Michigan, two mothers, Annette Sanford, 34 and Carolyn Wilson, 42, forced their six young children to have sex with various men over a three-year-period. One boy told the court that his mother forced him to have sex with six different men in one day alone. In Toronto, in 1989, three women lured a young man into a van and then at gunpoint, sexually assaulted him.

This kind of sexual deviancy is not rare in Canada when you consider that in 1985, as many as 168 women were convicted of rape and sexual assault. Admittedly, these figures pale when you consider that in the same year, as many as 7,120 men were convicted of the same offences but nevertheless, 168 is very high when you look at the figures for twenty years earlier. In 1965, only 23 women were convicted of those crimes.

Drunk driving charges are on the increase. In 1985, as many as 10,000 women were charged with impaired driving.

The criminality of so many women may be explained as a symptom of a sense of futility with a desperate life situation, such as poverty, homelessness and abuse. Further, in the past, crimes by women were less likely to be reported by police than crimes by men, and criminal justice officials, who were predominantly male, gave preferential treatment to women who came in contact with the law. But now, women are treated as equals (or at least they should be) and those who have a propensity to commit crimes, are finding themselves having to do time. This was brought out in a July 1, 1975 Globe and Mail story which was headlined, "Equality equals equal jail for pregnant woman."

A 1977 federal report brought this possibility to the fore when it said in part; "With the pressure for equality for the sexes, is coming reduced paternalism on the part of the police and the judiciary. This could lead to increased charges against women and longer sentences if convicted." It certainly has led to an attitude of police, prosecutors and judges alike that implies that if 'equality is what they want, then equality is what they'll get' even to the extent of giving them, equal time for equal crime. Of course, crimes by men are also on the upsweep.

With the police increasing their level of competence, it follows that more female criminals are being detected in their acts of criminality than before.

There is a belief by some, that as a result of women's lib, its impact has been felt by women offenders who are now being punished for their supposed acts of liberation. In August 7, 1975, the Toronto Star even went so far as to headline a story with, "Women's Lib linked to soaring crime." Others believe that the upsweep in female crime is the direct result of premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, post partum depression and menopause. Others believe that many female criminals lack 'female' qualities and that the 'masculinization' of many women is the cause of the increase in female crime. In April 12, 1978, the Daily Mail in London, England, began a story with "A tough new breed of criminal is emerging---young women whose behaviour is increasingly masculine." Many years ago, I was invited to visit a woman’s prison and I was amazed at how many of the women prisoners were ‘butches’. (masculine lesbians) I don’t know if this was because judges were prone to sending them to prison more than non lesbian women.

Adolescent female crime is on the increase also. In the past, both teenage boys and girls were involved in minor criminal activity more or less equally, and yet the girls were less likely to be charged with criminal acts. The Young Offenders Act in Canada now makes it possible for the authorities to treat all youthful offenders equally. The prime reason is because under the previous Juvenile Delinquency Act, the young offenders were treated more or less as persons in need of help (Status Offenders) whereas the Young Offenders Act has the protection of society as one of its main aims. (Criminal Code Offenders)

Women are changing. They no longer expect to be treated as subservient beings to male masters and rightly so. Medical, educational, economic, political and technological advances have freed women from unwanted pregnancies, provided them with male occupational skills and proven to them that they have the ability to govern. Is it any wonder that when women learned to accept male responsibilities, they should strive for status in the criminal world as well? The question that we are forced to ask is not why women are surging so readily into crimes once dominated only by males, but rather, what has taken them so long to start? Crimes such as mugging, robbery, extortion, loan sharking, kidnapping, murder and especially terrorism, once the sole domain of males, are now being committed my women also.

Society must not look upon criminal women as mere wayward waifs who have gone astray. Many of these women are vicious killers who kill out of the need for power, revenge or for satanic purposes. Others are women who think nothing of sneaking into the homes of elderly people and hammering them unconscious while robbing them.

We, as a society, must accept the fact that female criminality is here to stay and if we want protection from female predators, then we must treat them no differently then we treat men who sink to the same levels of criminality. They must be treated just as harshly as their male compatriots in crime. Consider what the fate of Carletha Stewart, 22, should have been, who after being fired by a Big Boy restaurant in Los Angeles, planned the robbery of the restaurant which resulted in four patrons and staff being murdered during the robbery. Consider the fate of Priscilla Ford, a former school teacher who deliberately ran down 29 persons on a sidewalk in Reno, Nevada, killing six of them. Consider the fate of Christine Falling, of Perry, Florida who not only murdered 3 children, she was also suspected of murdering her employer for his money.

Although women have inhabited the earth as long as men, benign and despotic paternalisms have made them something of a stranger to themselves. But like rivers diverted by dams and dykes from their original beds, the flood of liberation has carried them over the walls of servitude and into the male dominated plains of financial security and wellbeing. They are imitating men's roles because identification is the most expedient way to learn and to many of them, crime is the easiest lesson of all.

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