What Drives A Woman To Murder A Loved One?

Photo: Courtesy of Channel 4
Amber Hilberling
A new Channel 4 documentary called Women Who Kill opens with a chilling, real-life phone call to the police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "I just saw someone jump out the window of the, probably 17th or 19th floor University Club Tower Apartments," relays a shocked voice.

Except the person the caller had identified had not jumped, they had been pushed. The victim was 23-year-old Josh Hilberling. The person who pushed him? His 19-year-old wife, Amber.

One third of the world's female prison population is in America and there are 5,000 women serving long sentences for murder there.

Unlike men, female killers tend to know their victims. They are usually partners or loved ones. And there are estimates that between 40 and 80% of women who murder are acting in self-defence at the time.

Judy Gomez, a woman serving 20 years for shooting her husband dead after she found him abusing her children, tells the camera: "It's like I was in prison at home and I came to prison to be free."

Rather than simply sensationally retelling some of these grisly stories, this two-part documentary tries to uncover exactly what pushes ordinary women to kill people they know and love by following the trials of three women. Women who kill tend not to have criminal histories and 7 out of 10 have children. "How does a moment of madness become murder?" it asks.

Amber Hilberling
was seven months pregnant when she pushed her husband out of the high-rise apartment they shared. She has always maintained her innocence. From the prison where she was serving a 25-year sentence, she recalls her relationship with Josh. She describes him as "charming and irritating and smart and funny and annoying... a good man."

between 40 and 80% of women who murder are acting in self-defence

But she goes on to paint a picture of a two-way violent relationship, with them both assaulting each other over time. Insisting the incident that resulted in Josh's death was an ordinary fight that got out of hand, Amber's mother says: "Did she push him? Yes. Did she mean to? No." Despite trying to convince the jury she was acting in self-defence, they found her guilty of second-degree murder.

The couple's son was born in prison and now lives with Amber's mother. At the end of the documentary we are informed that Amber killed herself in her jail cell last October, after filming had finished. Was she a cold-blooded murderer or a woman let down by the legal system? The documentary forces you to ask these questions.

Patricia Ignacio admits bludgeoning her cousin to death with a rock. Brought up in Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation in America, Patricia's is a familiar story.

New Mexico has one of the highest rates of domestic abuse and violent crime in the US and is one of the most deprived parts of the country. Patricia's mother was an alcoholic and she was raised by different families. At 19, she met the man she would marry, had three children in three years, and found herself in an abusive relationship with her husband, who drank heavily.

When social services took away her children, Patricia's life spiralled, and she started drinking, getting high and getting into fights. She says her life was "going too fast". The day she was released from a 21-day jail sentence for fighting, in November 2008, she went drinking with her cousin Irene. Six hours after they met, police were called to the scene of a brutal attack. Patricia had bludgeoned Irene with a huge rock following a fight in which Irene called Patricia a "bad mother" and "worthless". Blood was found 16 feet away from the body and an official described it as "akin to a boxing match".
Photo: Courtesy of Channel 4
Patricia Ignacio
She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

"Every day I think about it. Like, was I really capable of doing that? Or was it something that came out of my anger of everything?" Patricia asks. "If I could, I would trade my spot with her and she could still be here."

Ana Trujillo murdered her boyfriend by stabbing him 25 times with her stiletto shoe. Formerly an exec at Coca Cola and a mother of two, the 45-year-old's life plummeted and she found herself homeless. In 2009 she moved to Houston where she started to use men for money. She soon met 59-year-old Stefan Andersson and moved in with him.

She tells us that he had a foot fetish and liked her wearing high heels. Then, in 2013, Ana and Stefan had an argument in the back of a taxi after which she desperately called the police, telling them that she had been attacked. A jury later found her guilty of killing her boyfriend using a blue stiletto with a five-and-a-half inch heel, likening it to "an ice pick".

Although Ana claimed self-defence and that she had been abused physically, mentally and emotionally in the relationship, forensics determined that Ana had hit him with her heel 25 times. It was promptly dubbed the "stiletto murder".

"Female murderers are much harder to prosecute because society doesn't want to believe that they are the aggressor," says prosecutor Sarah Seeley.

Nevertheless, Ana was convicted of first-degree murder and is currently serving life.

"Ana Trujillo was not a victim of domestic violence. Ana was not a victim of anything," says Seeley. "And my fear was that she was going to set all victims of domestic violence back and that people may not believe a woman that comes forward and says that."
This fascinating two-part documentary points out that many women are driven to murder because of domestic violence. But it also points out that it is all-too-easy a claim for a woman to make. It concludes next week.
Episode 1 of Women Who Kill airs on Channel 4 on 25th January at 10pm
Photo: Courtesy of Channel 4
Ana Trujillo

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