Madame Popova

In this piece we are heading to Russia in the 1800’s, looking at a historical case looking at possibly one of the most prolific female killers in history. Alexe Katherina Popova aka Madame Popova.

Little is known about the early life of Popova, but it is traced that she was born in Samara, southwest of the country in the Volga federal District around the mid-1800s. She was married according to the newspapers at the time and it was described as an unhappy marriage that led her to the idea of woman’s liberation, the cause was not widely recognised at the time making her an early advocate for women’s liberation in Russia.

As well as her own marriage Popova was also distressed by the marriages around her with other local women, she believed that many women in these marriages were treated as “peasants held captive” by brutish husbands, this eventually led her to start her infamous business.

an illustration depicting Popova feeding an unsuspecting man

She advertised her new business to unhappy wives she would charge a fee to “free unhappy wives of their tyrant husbands” their crimes against their wives could range from cheating to abuse or even the wives being “fed up” of their husbands. Popova would take a small fee from her employers and acquaint herself with the husbands then discreetly poison their food or drink with arsenic.

Popova remained in business successfully for 30 years ranging from 1879-1909 until one of her employers started to feel guilty for hiring Popova to kill her husband, she started by sending the police letters confessing what she had paid Popova to do, after numerous letters with no result she decided to go and give a statement to the police.

Upon her confession the police descended on Popova while she sat in her mansion and arrested her, news of the arrest of a notorious female wholesale killer reached the public they became disgusted by her acts and formed an angry mob as police transported her, the mob insisted that due to the magnitude of her crimes she should be handed over to them with threats of burning her at the stake. The situation got so aggressive that police with weapons draw had to keep the mob at bay for soldiers to come and transport her.

While in court Madame Popova confessed to her actions and explained that she was “engaged in killing men who treated their partners as slaves” and that her actions were “acts of charity”, she defended herself further by acknowledging that she did in fact cause the deaths, but she was not a murderer since she used poison and the deaths were slow and natural with most of the victims dying without knowledge they had been poisoned. The trial and deliberation were quick, she was found guilty of the murders and sentenced to death by firing squad with her execution taking place the same year in St. Petersburg in 1909.

Popova claimed that she had killed a total of around 40 people, but due to her long reign of murdering the total is reported at being around a massive 300 victims. Many of the women who had hired Popova were charged and found guilty of being accomplices to murder, but by the time the trials came to court many of the women had either died or left for the US.

Article detailing Popova’s arrest and confessions

Popova is an interesting case as she seems to staddle both behaving as an assassin and a serial killer, like many assassins she would kill people she didn’t have a personal connection with and was as organised and tactical as an assassin, but unlike assassins she had a specific victim type as oppose to killing just anyone, she specifically advertised to vulnerable women in order to kill abusive men and seemed to have a dislike or even hatred toward the men she killed, whereas a paid assassin would not be that emotional about their kills.

Newspaper showing court sketches of the Popova trial

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