Instead of a Breakup, Consider Black Widowhood

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Photo: SCOTT CAMAZINE/Getty Images

Yesterday, 67-year-old Chisako Kakehi was arrested by the Kyoto police for poisoning her 75-year-old husband with cyanide. This might not have been an isolated case. It turns out, she’s now under investigation for potentially murdering six other husbands for money and has racked up $6.8 million in insurance paydays. 

According to the Japanese press, Kakehi is a black widow: the rare female serial killer who attracts and then kills her lovers — maybe for money, maybe for fun, or maybe because murder is sometimes easier to pull off than a breakup. Kakehi joins the ranks of other infamous weapons of mass misandry who have bitten their victims and moved on. We don't actually consider murder as an appropriate end to a relationship — maybe try communicating first? — but for your consideration, a list of five of the most notorious black widows in history:

1. Kanae Kijima: As this Daily Beast post points out, black widows are something of a trend in Japan. The site points to point Kijima, a housekeeper turned kept woman turned murderer, as one of the standouts. She met three men of various ages (41, 53, and 80) through online dating sites, drugged them, and burned charcoal until they died from carbon-dioxide poisoning. The murders were disguised as suicide, but her run ended in 2012 when she was sentenced to death, though she’s currently awaiting an appeal.

2. Tillie Klimek: She was a Chicago psychic who was really good at predicting deaths, including the death of her husband, John, who died in 1914. What a coincidence. After collecting life insurance, she found a new husband, also named John, who died after three short months of marriage — a death foretold, of course. Klimek then correctly predicted the deaths of her third and fourth husbands. And all of her children. Despite what you think, Klimek was not an accomplished, yet unfortunate, psychic. She was a black widow, and was arrested after botching her final attempt at poisoning husband No. 5.

3. Mary Ann Cotton: She’s the subject of a charming nursery rhyme that begins: “Mary Ann Cotton, She’s dead and she’s rotten." And for good reason, as her involvement in the death of her three husbands and 12 children between the years of 1852 and 1872 lives on in English history. Sure it was suspicious that so many of her loved ones died of the same “gastric illness,” but by moving around she was able to avoid suspicion. She was finally caught in 1872 when she “predicted” (a psychic, just like dear Tillie) the death of one of her children (who was healthy): After he died a few days later and she tried to collect the insurance, the jig was up. She was found guilty of murder and hanged.

4. Marie Besnard: Known as the “Queen of Poisoners” in France, Besnard is probably the most successful black widow — she got away with it. She wasn’t only targeting her lovers: After her first husband died in 1927 and she remarried, Besnard was at the center of several mysterious deaths, including those of her in-laws, distant relatives, sister-in-law, and lovers (who boarded at her estate). Eventually, her then-husband Leon began to notice all of the death around him and started to suspect that maybe his beloved wife was trying to kill him. He died in 1947, and Besnard inherited all of his  money. Later, it was found that he died of arsenic poisoning, as did the 13 victims. In the end, Besnard was charged with 13 counts of murder, but after two mistrials and an acquittal, she died a free woman in 1980.

5. Shirley Allen:  Shirley Elizabeth Allen was married six times, but only two of her husbands died of mysterious causes — the other four were your run-of-the-mill divorces. Her first husband, John Gregg, died mysteriously a year after they were married, but left her nothing in his will. Rather than admit defeat, she tried again, with her sixth husband, poisoning him by putting anti-freeze in his coffee until he died in 1982. She was caught, by her daughter, and sentenced to life in prison.