When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold by Alia Trabucco Zerán (Translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes) - review by Joan Smith

Joan Smith

Not Without Cause

When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold


And Other Stories 248pp £11.99

A great deal has been written about female killers. They are far outnumbered by male ones. Cases involving female serial killers are particularly rare. When women kill their partners it is often after years of domestic abuse, something that has recently led to a re-evaluation of what should happen to them. We already know all this, so Alia Trabucco Zerán has set herself a challenge in finding something new to say about the subject. Her approach is promising at first sight, focusing on four cases that took place in Chile, a country with strong religious and patriarchal traditions, in the 20th century. They span a period of almost fifty years, potentially offering glimpses into the way the attitudes of the press, prosecutors and the public changed over time.

In 1916, Corina Rojas hired a hitman to kill her husband in an upper-class neighbourhood in Santiago. Seven years later, a working-class woman named Rosa Faúndez Cavieres was arrested for the murder and dismemberment of her husband. Just over three decades later, on a spring afternoon in 1955, a minor literary figure called María Carolina Geel shot her lover as they were having tea at the Hotel Crillón in Santiago. Finally, between 1960 and 1962, a domestic worker called María Teresa Alfaro killed her employers’ three infant children using a combination of rat poison and strychnine. In 1963, Alfaro murdered her employer’s mother, yet no one suspected foul play until she tried (and failed) to kill a baby whose parents had come to lunch.

The Alfaro case is all the more astonishing because the couple she targeted, Sergio España and Magaly Ramírez, were a doctor and a midwife respectively, and their suspicions were not aroused; tragically, they believed that the loss of their infant children was down to a genetic condition. Trabucco

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