Do Hitwomen Really Wear Ballgowns? 4 Things To Know About Real-Life Female Assassins

In real life, they span a range of ages and family types — and some have young children at home.

April 09, 2019

Photo by: Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer, in an image from 'Killing Eve' [BBC America/screenshot]

Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer, in an image from 'Killing Eve' [BBC America/screenshot]

By: Catherine Townsend

The hit BBC TV show may be called Killing Eve, but the real star is female assassin Villanelle.

As the series follows the assassin, played by Jodie Comer, and her cat-and-mouse game with Sandra Oh’s intelligence officer Eve, it's young, beautiful, glamorous, and single Villanelle who captivates audiences.

But in real life, if they want to survive, female assassins have to be much more low-key — and even frumpy.

Here are four things to know about real-life female assassins:

1. They don’t wear high fashion.

In the series, Villanelle is known for her signature high-fashion looks as well as her signature kills, according to Vanity Fair.

She stabs an intelligence officer in Berlin while wearing a Dries van Noten suit, and heads to a psychiatric evaluation in a Molly Goddard hot pink tulle dress paired with Balenciega biker boots. But in real life, female assassins have to blend in if they want to succeed.

Sara Jane Moore, who attempted to kill President Ford in 1975, looked like a suburban soccer mom. Indeed, The New York Times would later describe her as “matronly.”

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of cult leader Charles Manson, also attempted to assassinate Ford. Fromme was able to commit many of her crimes, which included attacking a fellow inmate with a hammer after she was convicted, due to her girl-next-door looks.

Christine Granville, a spy for Britain who was trained to kill, became one of the country’s most highly decorated agents. In order to travel through the Alps undetected, she dressed as a peasant.

The two women who allegedly participated in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, as he walked through the Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017, recently made headlines because of their ability to blend seamlessly into the crowd.

The first woman was wearing ripped jeans and a gray sleeveless top when she got close enough to smear something, most likely the poisoning nerve agent VX2, on his face. Then a woman wearing a white shirt with “LOL” on the front was able to hit him with the activating ingredient, according to The Guardian.

The women, who were allegedly recruited by North Korean agents, have stated that they believed that they were merely playing a prank for a reality-TV show.

In 2019, the murder charges were dropped against one of the women, who was freed. The other suspect, Đoàn Thị Hương, pleaded guilty to "voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means" and was sentenced to three years and four months in prison.

Exactly how the murder was masterminded may remain unclear. But Kim was dead in 20 minutes partly because, according to The Guardian, “a girl wearing a silly shirt is often overlooked and underestimated.”

2. Female assassins come in all ages.

On TV or in movies like Kill Bill, female assassins are almost always portrayed as young, single, and powerful. In real life, they span a range of ages and family types — and some even have young children at home.

Many of Colombia’s female assassins or “Sicarias” lead double lives as stay-at-home moms even though they are the most dangerous women in the country. They are hired by local gangs to carry out contract killings precisely because of their “angelic” looks.

One of the women interviewed said that she was just 12 years old and pregnant, when she assassinated her first victim. Another woman, who had a stockpile of weapons under her bed during her interview, was in her seventies.

3. A lot of them have tragic backstories.

They may be cool and collected on the outside, but many female assassins are hiding some serious inner turmoil.

When Chinese military officer Shi Congbin was murdered by Zhili warlord Sun Chuanfang in 1925, his daughter Shi Jianqiao took it upon herself to avenge him.

Photo by: Shi Jianqiao [Wikimedia Commons]

Shi Jianqiao [Wikimedia Commons]

She grew up, tracked down the man who decapitated her father, and shot him three times. Then, rather than fleeing the scene, she passed out leaflets to justify her actions.

In the end, the Supreme Court in Nanjing took pity on her and she was granted a full pardon in 1936 for “filial piety.”

Marie Sukloff was a young peasant in early 20th-century Russia when she watched Governor General Fyodor Dubasov murder Jews. She turned the tables on him and assassinated him in 1914 by throwing a bomb through his window.

Angela Simpson, the woman who tortured a man to death over a three-day period in 2009 — and who the show creator of Killing Eve cited as an inspiration for fictional female assassin Villanelle — said in an interview that she had been in and out of mental-health facilities since she was 10 years old.

4. Their love lives are often complicated.

Melissa Margarita Calderon Ojeda, dubbed Mexico’s "murder queen" or La China, is said to be responsible for more than 150 killings.

According to The Daily Beast, she worked her way up from being a regular hitwoman to leading a hit squad of 50 murderers. She killed, dismembered, and terrorized many of her enemies — until she was turned in by a source widely believed to be her most recent boyfriend. She's now in a maximum-security prison.

In 2008, a man wrote about his affair with a real-life Colombian hit woman in The Independent.He wrote that although his girlfriend, Marilyn, told him that she had joined a paramilitary private militia, he “somehow couldn't quite equate the woman in my arms with the bodies I had seen in the local morgue, their heads shattered by gunshots at close range, murders she confessed to having committed.”

Indeed, he admitted to initially romanticizing their encounters. “High on a combination of the heady tropical climate, local rum, grade A cocaine, and in the arms of nubile 22-year-old, fantasy and reality became blurred,” he wrote. “It felt like I was living in a Quentin Tarantino movie.”

Later though, after his girlfriend told him how she persuaded a friend to help dismember and decapitate a female friend of theirs, he began to have second thoughts.

He wrote: “The romantic light started to fade fast. She no longer seemed to be a legitimate part of a civil conflict, but had evolved into a freelance killer, taking life in exchange for money — no more, no less.”

Read more: The New York Times, Racked

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