- Professor of Psychology David Canter on Canada’s Internet Black Widow Case – Professor Canter is Director of the University’s International Research Centre for Investigative Psychology.
“Yesterday I was contacted by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation and asked to comment on ‘The Internet Black Widow’ whose misdeeds were all over the Canadian news programmes. Having never heard of this case I had to find out all I could about the perpetrator and the circumstances of her crimes and see how that related to the research we have done on analogous crimes and criminals. This was remarkably easy to do because Canada does not seem to have the same sub judice laws as the UK so the news outlets there are full of details of the criminal background of the 77-year-old woman, now known as Millie Weeks, who has just been charged with the attempted murder of her current husband, whom she married a few days ago.
These reports include claims that there are doubts about the circumstances of the death of one of her earlier husbands, even though these doubts had never resulted in a conviction. Accounts were also available of her conviction in 1991 for the manslaughter of her then husband Gordon Stewart who she had driven over twice, whilst he was heavily drugged. It is also claimed that she targeted a 73 year-old, Alex Strategos, whom she met through AmericanSinglesDating.com, which is how the ‘internet’ became part of the journalists’ nickname for her. He became ill soon after they moved in together, with a ‘strange drug’ being found in his system and his bank account emptied. It was this death/illness of her male partners that was likened to the ‘black widow’ spider that kills its mate after mating. The newspapers also reported that she had been convicted of fraud and forgery in the past and what in the USA is called ‘grand theft’. I drew on this information to give a dozen brief interviews with various local CBC stations across Canada.
In these brief interviews I mentioned two aspects of her activities that are of particular interest. One of course is that it is extremely unusual for women to be involved in violent, premeditated crime unless they are partnered with a male offender. However it is not unknown. In his classic 1926 book Murder for Profit William Bolitho considers Victorian examples of predatory women who inveigled men into their houses in order to kill them and steal their money. Poisoning, of course, tends to be the weapon of choice for murderesses who lack the physical prowess for direct violence. But it also accords with the planned, fraud-oriented nature of these crimes.
This fraudulent aspect also provides the basis the second aspect of Mrs Weeks’ criminal development that accords with processes we find in many people who end up committing serious crimes. Fraud is the origin of a process by which a woman can drift into killing over and over again. She starts off with forgery and minor frauds but is emboldened by her successes and possibly begins to justify her crimes to herself because she has been so successful. She thinks she deserves the rewards of her crimes and the victims have no right to them because they cannot see what is happening. Our research, showing how some criminals see themselves as heroes in their own adventures, fits this developing pattern. They gain excitement from getting away with their crimes. The planning and execution of the crimes becomes an end in itself.
In North America, serial criminals who move around are especially difficult to monitor. There are no central records that are complete. Millie Weeks also ensured that local communities were not aware of her past by putting such a great distance between her activities in Florida and subsequent relationships in Nova Scotia. This combined with her plausible presence as an unthreatening, white haired lady in her 70’s would not raise suspicions until a careful search of criminal records was carried out.
In the UK, her defence barristers would surely claim that she could not get a fair trial for her current charges given the public account of her past crimes. I have carried out studies of how people form judgments in criminal cases and the results show very clearly that any indication of earlier crimes greatly prejudices subsequent judgements, which is why the UK sub judice rules are so important. I did mention this when I was interviewed by the CBC and refused to comment on her current charges, rather to the consternation of the interviewer, restricting my comments to what was publically reported about her previous offences.”
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