At times, a mother-in-law can be a handful. Words may be said, fights may ensue, and family dynamics may be difficult. But when bitterness spirals out of control, all of the lives in a family can change in an instant.
10 Anne Fisher
David Russell Cain was a 28-year-old father of two infant children. He and his wife, Elizabeth, divorced in May 2015, and David was granted full custody of their kids.
The couple had a stormy past. At the time of their divorce, Elizabeth was on one year of probation for a November 2014 incident in which she had been charged with misdemeanor assault against David.
Despite the couple’s tumultuous past, Elizabeth and her mother, Anne Fisher, were granted visits with Elizabeth’s children. In fact, David was quite liberal in allowing his former mother-in-law to spend time with her grandchildren. On many occasions, the kids even stayed overnight at the Fishers’ house.
On July 22, 2015, Anne telephoned David to tell him that she was going to stop by his place of work, a pre-owned car dealership where David was a manager. Supposedly, she wanted to drop off lunch as well as items belonging to his son, who had spent the previous night with Fisher.
As David stood in the parking lot at his place of work, Fisher stepped out of her car holding a Ruger .380 pistol and fired at him, emptying the magazine. David fell to the asphalt.
As he lay bleeding and struggled to survive, Fisher reloaded her firearm, stood over David, and shot him at point-blank range. Witnesses to the murder followed Fisher and provided her location to police. They arrested her less than one hour later.
Although her trial was initially scheduled for March 2016, it was put on hold after a psychologist determined that Fisher was not mentally fit to stand trial. A court order specified that Fisher had to take all doctor-prescribed medications to return to competency.
When that occurs, Fisher’s trial will resume. If convicted of murder, she could receive life in prison.
9 Bachan Kaur
Bachan Kaur, an elderly woman from India who had immigrated to England with her two sons, ruled her children’s lives with an iron fist. At age 16, Surjit Athwal had been forced into an arranged marriage with Sukhdave, Kaur’s son. However, Surjit began to rebel after years of suppression by her mother-in-law and husband.
At age 27, Surjit, a mother of two, insisted on wearing Western clothes, going out with her own friends at night, wearing makeup, cutting her hair, and drinking. Her husband and mother-in-law responded to Surjit’s disobedience by beating her. But that only made the young woman more defiant.
In December 1998, Bachan Kaur convinced Surjit to accompany her to India to attend a family wedding. Kaur claimed that it would be disrespectful for Surjit to refuse. Kaur also promised to give Surjit money upon arrival in India so that she could go on a shopping spree. However, when Kaur returned to England, she was alone. Surjit was never seen again.
While in India, Kaur had arranged for two men to pick up Surjit in a car under the pretense of going shopping. The men drugged Surjit and took her to a remote area. There, they strangled her, stripped her body of her belongings, and discarded her corpse in the Ravi River.
In April 2007, nine years after Surjit’s death, Kaur and Sukhdave were charged with murder. Fearing that she would be Kaur’s next victim, Surjit’s sister-in-law had come forward and told the police everything she knew, ultimately testifying against Kaur and Sukhdave in court.
Kaur was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years without parole, and Sukhdave was given a minimum of 15–20 years.
Mahgul, a 20-year-old Afghan woman, had only been married for four months when her mother-in-law, Parigul, ended it all. Living in southwestern Afghanistan, Mahgul was married to a baker who would leave for work around 2:00 AM.
Following his departure, Parigul began her attempts to force Mahgul into prostitution. But Mahgul strongly objected, infuriating her mother-in-law. The demands continued throughout the four months of marriage, ultimately coming to an abrupt end in October 2012.
While Mahgul’s husband was at work, Parigul demanded that her daughter-in-law have sex with Parigul’s 18-year-old nephew, Najibullah. When Mahgul refused, Najibullah and Parigul ambushed the young woman, holding her down while muffling her screams. Parigul held her daughter-in-law by the legs while Najibullah beheaded her.
Najibullah claimed that Parigul had forced him to commit the act. Parigul claimed that she “hated [Mahgul] because she never listened to me.” In the end, Parigul, Najibullah, Mahgul’s husband, and Mahgul’s father-in-law were arrested for her murder. As of April 2016, the case is still pending.
7 Graciela Guerra
In jailhouse letters addressed to her son, Graciela Guerra, a 50-year-old grandmother, described her 27-year-old daughter-in-law, Brenda, as “trash” and “worthless.”
Brenda had recently separated from Graciela’s son, Christian, after countless reports of domestic violence and infidelity. In fact, Christian had recently fathered a child with another woman.
The separation was met with bliss from Graciela as she had always despised Brenda. However, Graciela’s jubilation was short-lived when Christian and Brenda decided to reconcile and halt their divorce proceedings.
Guerra became furious that the couple was rebuilding their marriage. On May 13, 2008, she surreptitiously followed her son to the Alamogordo Economy Inn where he was meeting Brenda.
After Graciela forced her way into the room, a fight quickly ensued. In the commotion, Graciela pulled two knives that she had brought with her from home, stabbing Brenda a total of 31 times in front of her son and Brenda’s two children.
Instead of defending Brenda, Christian fled the scene with the kids. He left his wife completely defenseless. Graciela was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
6 Dr. Alice Wynekoop
Dr. Alice Wynekoop was a respected physician, a strong advocate for women’s rights, and a promoter of the suffrage movement. She lived with her son, Earle, and daughter-in-law, Rheta, on Chicago’s West Side in a 16-room brick mansion.
Dr. Wynekoop practiced medicine from the basement of her home and financially supported both her son and daughter-in-law. This living situation created tension in the household. In fact, Rheta had once told her father that the romance in her marriage had gone cold during the honeymoon.
To make the situation worse, Dr. Wynekoop was broke and falling deeper into debt. Afraid that she would lose the practice that she had built over the last 30 years, Dr. Wynekoop took out two life insurance policies on Rheta for a total of $12,000.
On the morning of November 21, 1933, Rheta’s lifeless body was found in the basement of the mansion. She had been shot once in the back with a .32-caliber revolver that was lying beside her body. Although Dr. Wynekoop admitted that the revolver was hers, she insisted that a robber had broken in, stolen her gun, and committed the horrendous crime.
Police immediately became suspicious of Dr. Wynekoop. After a lengthy interrogation, she confessed to the murder. She said that she had accidentally administered an overdose of the anesthetic chloroform while attempting to treat Rheta for pain.
After realizing that Rheta had died, Dr. Wynekoop said that she had panicked. To save her practice and reputation, she shot Rheta and staged a break-in to cover up the evidence.
The jury didn’t buy it and convicted Dr. Wynekoop of murder. She was sentenced to a fixed term of 25 years in prison but only served 14 years of her sentence. Several years after her release, she died at age 84 in 1955.
5 Styllou Pantopiou Christofi
Hella Christofi was a 36-year-old mother of three who had been happily married for 15 years to Stavros Christofi. In 1953, Stavros’s 53-year-old mother, Styllou Pantopiou Christofi, moved from Cyprus to live with her son and his family in Hampstead, England.
Immediately, Hella and Styllou did not get along. In addition to speaking no English, Styllou was demanding and extremely jealous of Hella’s relationship with Stavros.
As the tension grew, Hella gave Stavros an ultimatum: If he didn’t ship his mother back to Cyprus, Hella would leave with the kids. Stavros spoke with his mother about his wife’s concerns, and Styllou understood what needed to be done—Hella had to go.
On the night of July 29, 1954, Styllou bashed Hella over the head with an ashpan from the oven while Stavros was at work. Then Styllou strangled Hella, dragged her body into the garden, and set her ablaze.
Afterward, Styllou ran into the street and flagged down a passing car. She informed the driver that she had found Hella on fire in the backyard and asked him to call the police.
When the police arrived, they immediately became suspicious because they found bloodstains throughout the house. Styllou was charged with murder and ultimately found guilty after her “innocent by reason of insanity” defense was thrown out by the jury. She was sentenced to death and hanged on December 13, 1954.
Sadly, Hella may not have been Styllou’s first victim. In 1925, Styllou was acquitted of the murder of her own mother-in-law. In that case, she had been charged with ramming a burning torch down her mother-in-law’s throat.
4 Cynthia Cdebaca
Cynthia Kaye Cdebaca lived with her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren in Fallbrook, California. According to Cdebaca, her 53-year-old son-in-law, Geoward Flores Eustaquio, did not work and forced her daughter to be the sole provider for the family.
On her 63rd birthday, Cdebaca made her way downstairs following her daughter’s morning departure with the children. While on the staircase, Cdebaca encountered Eustaquio, who made a rude comment regarding her clothing choice.
After that remark, Cdebaca went back to her room and retrieved a pistol. Then she returned to the staircase and shot Eustaquio five times. Realizing that he was not dead, Cdebaca walked outside to her car where she kept ammunition. After reloading her five-shot revolver, she entered the home and shot Eustaquio five more times.
Still clinging to life, he began crawling to the bathroom for safety. In the meantime, Cdebaca returned to her car, reloaded, and made her way inside again to finish the job. This time proved fatal as she stood over Eustaquio and shot him point-blank five more times.
After the murder, Cdebaca treated herself to a birthday breakfast at Denny’s. Then she went gambling at the local casino and finished her day with coffee at her favorite cafe.
Later, Cdebaca was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
3 Huajiao Zhuang
Huajiao Zhuang was a 50-year-old Chinese immigrant who moved to Melbourne, Australia, to be closer to her son, Peter. He was married to Dan “Selina” Lin, a 21-year-old woman whom Zhuang deeply resented for not paying her enough respect, a common practice in Zhuang’s culture.
Zhuang also felt that Lin was a negative influence on her son and was limiting her contact with him. Zhuang wanted to live with the couple, but Lin was strongly against the idea.
Zhuang desperately wanted her son to divorce Lin and marry a woman that Zhuang had chosen from China. According to Zhuang, Peter would have received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the bride’s family because he had permanent Australian residency.
On May 3, 2012, Zhuang attacked Lin with a hammer, bashing her in the head 33 times in front of Lin’s two-year-old son. After the murder, Zhuang wrapped her daughter-in-law’s corpse in a nylon bag and dumped the body in a creek later that night.
Zhuang was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
2 Heather Emmonds
Tina Casey was 42 years old when she decided to move back to her hometown with her son. The decision came after Casey could no longer tolerate 58-year-old Heather Emmonds, the mother of her ex-partner and the grandmother of their child. Emmonds was demanding and emotionally draining, which caused a great deal of anxiety in Casey’s life.
Casey had told her sister that Emmonds had given her poisoned food on two occasions. Later, it was revealed in court that Emmonds had put crushed sleeping pills into the food. Although it’s not clear if Casey knew about the sleeping pills, these two incidents were enough to make her move with her son 320 kilometers (200 mi) away.
As Casey was lying on her couch on February 3, 2013, Emmonds entered the residence and attacked Casey from behind. Emmonds stabbed the younger woman 15 times in the neck, head, and abdomen while her 10-year-old son played upstairs.
The following day, police discovered Emmonds slumped over in her car in a failed suicide attempt. She was found with an empty bottle of sleeping pills, the murder weapon, and 10 confession notes. In November 2013, Emmonds was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
In the end, though, it appeared that Emmonds got what she wanted all along—her grandson living with his father.
1 Ma Duncan
Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan was the epitome of an overbearing and possessive mother. On first hearing of her son’s marriage, she broke down hysterically and begged him not to leave. Ma Duncan referred to her son, Frank, as “Mama’s little boy” and demanded that he spend all his time with her instead of his pregnant wife.
It has been said that Ma Duncan had a perverse relationship with her son. Throughout the day, she would harass Frank’s wife, Olga, in the hopes of driving Olga out of town so that she could have her son all to herself. Although Olga told her husband of the constant threats, he dismissed them in defense of his mother.
On November 18, 1958, two thugs hired by Ma Duncan lured Olga outside her apartment building by saying that her husband was intoxicated and passed out in the backseat of their car. After shoving Olga into the car, the men choked and pistol-whipped her, hitting her so hard that the handle of the pistol broke. Afterward, the men dumped her body in a shallow grave.
The two thugs, Moya and Baldonado, were arrested several weeks later and soon confessed to the murder. They also implicated Ma Duncan. Eventually, she was convicted of first-degree murder.
After three years of appeals, Ma Duncan walked into the gas chamber for execution on August 8, 1962. Three hours later, her accomplices were executed together in the same gas chamber.
Adam’s interests lie in writing, medicine, and stand-up comedy.