Legend has it that “nice guys finish last”. Despite repetitive attempts to assure men otherwise, it seems that even history’s most evil men have found love. The extent to which their wives knew of their crimes is debatable but, one thing’s for sure: these women like bad boys. Their prior careers, however, are often very far from the criminal association they came to gain later in life. Heinrich Himmler’s wife, Margarete Himmler, was formerly a nurse, while Saddam Hussein’s final wife, Sajida Talfah spent the start of her life as a primary school teacher, and Idi Amin’s fifth(!!) wife, Sarah Kyolaba, met Idi while working as a go-go dancer.
How do you meet a criminal, a dictator, or an all-around bad boy? Well, wouldn’t you like to know! And what happens to you when your explosive relationship comes to end? Well, spoiler alert: three of these ten women commit suicide, two were killed, two are still alive, one died from cancer, another from a long battle with mental illness, and the final women died simply of old age. How many names do you recognize? Can you tell who their husband is without reading the article? Read on to learn more about these fascinating women.
This story is certainly an odd one: buckle up! Sarah Kyolaba was the fifth, and allegedly favorite wife, of former Ugandan President Idi Amin Dada. His rule was characterized by political repression, human rights abuses, nepotism, extrajudicial killings, and ethnic persecution. The number of those killed as a result of his regime range anywhere from a conservative estimate of 100,000 – up to a more realistic approximation of 500,000 victims.
So, where do you meet a man like Idi? Sarah Kyolaba was born in Uganda in 1955. She ended up meeting Idi at nineteen-years-old when she worked as a go-go dancer in the Revolutionary Suicide Mechanised Regiment Band of the Ugandan Army. As a result of this affiliation, she earned the nickname “Suicide Sarah”. When they met, however, Sarah had been in a relationship with a different man and became pregnant with his child. Sarah married Idi in 1975 in the Ugandan city of Kampala, and he claimed the child as his own. Though he was old enough to be her father, they went on to have three of their own children together.
When Amin was forced into exile in 1979, Sarah joined him. In 1982 the couple eventually split up. Sarah moved to Germany and began work as a lingerie model. Later, moving to London, she ran a café in West Ham in the late 1990s. After a period of time, environmental health inspectors shut it down as they found it housed mice and cockroaches in the kitchen. She was able to avoid jail by pleading guilty; Sarah received a two-year conditional discharge and was made to pay £1,000 towards prosecution costs.
When Sarah learned of Idi’s death in 2003, disagreeing with the majority of the world, she hailed him a “true African hero” and “not a monster” but a “jolly person, very entertaining and kind”. Sarah herself eventually died of cancer while living in London at age 59. Fascinatingly, at the time of her death she was quietly running a hair salon in Tottenham – from go-go dancing to the position of First Lady, to a lingerie model, café owner, and hairdresser; Sarah Kyolaba had quite a colorful life.
In the 1970s, the Cambodian politician and revolutionary Pol Pot orchestrated a genocide that led to the death of an estimated 1.5 to 3 million Cambodians; a quarter of their population. Khieu Ponnary, a characteristically quiet intellectual, was his wife during this period. Together with her husband, sister (Khieu Thirith), and brother-in-law (Ieng Sary), these four individuals came to form the heart of the Khmer Rouge elite.
Born in 1920, Khieu was fortunate to be born into a very privileged background. Ponnary’s father held a position as a judge in Cambodian. However, during the Second World War, he abandoned Khieu and her family and fled to marry a Cambodian princess. Despite this, Khieu was extremely well-educated. After finishing at the Lycee Sisowath college in Phnom Penh, in 1940 she became the first ever Cambodian woman to receive a baccalaureate degree. In 1949 she then flew to Paris with her younger sister to study Khmer linguistics.
It is in Paris that Khieu Ponnary met Saloth Sar, the man that later became known as Pol Pots, or Brother Number One. It was also in Paris that her sister, named Khieu too, met and later married Ieng Sary. Upon their return to Cambodia, Khieu taught at her former school, Lycee Sisowath, while Pol taught at a new private college nearby called Chamraon Vichea. On Bastille Day 1956, the two married. Together, the four family members became increasingly involved in politics. While in Paris, Pol and Leng plotted to end the French rule of Cambodia, and once home co-founded the Khmer Rouge, the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia. This became the group responsible for the genocide.
By 1975, Khieu was suffering from chronic schizophrenia. She became convinced that the Vietnamese were attempting to assassinate her and her husband Pol. Though her sister and brother-in-law became some of the most recognisable figures of the short-lived Communist government, Khieu Ponnary remained largely unknown as she was placed in a different house from Pol while her sister took care of her.
In 1979, after the genocide ended, Pol divorced Khieu and married another younger woman named Mea Son in 1986. Amazingly, by 1996, along with her brother-in-law and sister, she was granted amnesty from prosecution by the Cambodian government. Despite medical treatment in China, she remained mentally ill and was cared for by her sister until her death in 2003.
Ah, Nadezhda Alliluyev: the youngest child of the Russian revolutionary Sergei Alliluyev. Her father had once sheltered Lenin during his toughest times in Russia. It is then not all that surprising I suppose that she herself fell in love with a revolutionary, Joseph Stalin. When Stalin visited St Petersburg, he often lodged with the Alliluyev family. It is rumoured he saved Nadezhda from drowning when she was two-years-old.
In 1917, following the death of his wife, and the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas, Stalin returned from exile to St Petersburg/ Petrograd. Though Stalin was over twenty years older than her, during the civil war in 1918 they became lovers. By 1919 they were married. While Stalin took on the role of People’s Commissar for Nationalities, Nadezhda worked as his personal assistant. They had two children together.
Nadezhda suffered from an unknown mental illness. It is thought today that it was either bipolar disorder or a borderline personality disorder as she suffered very severe mood changes. She also endured cranial sutures and even travelled to Germany to seek advice from neurologists. While it is evident she loved Stalin, it is also clear that she was deeply unhappy at times and she threatened to commit suicide a number of times. In 1929, apparently bored of being in the Kremlin, Nadezhda went to study Chemistry at University. After her friends told her terrifying stories regarding the impact of collectivisation, Stalin allegedly had them arrested.
How does a marriage with a revolutionary dictator end? Well, in this case, her threats of suicide finally came to fruition. On 9th November 1932, after publicly arguing with Stalin over collectivization and its effects on the peasantry, she then went to her bedroom and died of appendicitis. Wait, what? I said this was a suicide. Well, it turns out the official announcement at the time was that she had contracted appendicitis. But those at the house that evening were well aware that Nadezhda had shot and killed herself. Stalin had lost his first wife, Kato, to typhus in 1907, and now he had lost his second to a suicide. It is said that he was very disturbed by the event, and he kept her family around in his close circles for the following years to come.
Born in 1914, Jiang Qing was not one to sit in the background. Also known as Madame Mao, Qing took on many different roles: Chinese actress, major political figure, and a Communist Revolutionary. She also became the fourth, and final wife, of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Though it is believed China’s population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million under his leadership, his regime also resulted in purges, forced labour, and arbitrary execution. This led to an astonishing forty to seventy million deaths, the most brutal regime to have ever taken power worldwide.
In November 1938, despite being married and divorced twice before, Jiang married Mao Zedong in the Chinese city of Yan’an; today celebrated by Chinese communists as the birthplace of the revolution. At this point, she became the inaugural “First Lady” of the People’s Republic of China. Throughout the 1940s served as Mao’s personal secretary. In the 1950s and 60s, she played a major role in the Cultural Revolution. In the 50’s she was head of the Film Section of the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department, and in 1966 she was appointed the deputy director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group. She held significant influence in state affairs, particularly when it came to culture, and in 1969 gained a seat on the Politburo.
When Mao died from a heart attack in September 1976, aged 82, Jiang’s power was significantly weakened, as she had gained most of her political legitimacy from her connection to Mao. Less than one month after Mao’s death, Jiang was arrested and subsequently condemned by party authorities as having caused significant devastation and damage from her role in the Cultural Revolution. Initially, Jiang was sentenced to death. However, her sentence was commuted in 1983 to life imprisonment.
In 1991, Jiang was released from prison early because she had been diagnosed with throat cancer. While receiving treatment in hospital, aged 77, Jiang hanged herself in the bathroom and left a note stating: “The revolution has been stolen by the revisionist clique”. She also believed she would be reunited with her husband, Mao, as she wrote: “Chairman, your student and fighter is coming to see you!” She died two days short of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution.
Ah, the infamous and romanticised couple Bonnie and Clyde. A pair of criminals that travelled across the United States with a wider gang robbing and killing people during the era of the Great Depression. Together they are believed to have killed a minimum of nine police officers, as well as a handful of civilians.
Born in Texas 1910, Bonnie Parker was the second of three children. In 1926, six days before her sixteenth birthday, she dropped out of school and married Roy Thornton. The marriage, however, was short-lived. Though they never divorced, she never saw him again after January 1929. Bonnie was wearing the wedding ring he gave her when she died. After her marriage broke down, Bonnie moved in with her mother and worked as a waitress in Texas.
Bonnie ‘worked’ alongside Clyde Barrow for two years. During this time, it is believed she was present at more than one hundred felony activities. Though there is much speculation over how the pair met, the most credible story suggests the pair met in January, 1930 at one of Clyde’s friends’ homes. It is alleged they fell deeply in love almost immediately, and Bonnie only joined Clyde on his crime spree because she was in love. This narrative, however, undermines any autonomy Bonnie had. She was most likely not as innocent as this tale suggests.
On May 23rd, 1934, the couple were ambushed and killed by six law officers on a rural road in Louisiana. Tracking the couple since February that year, the police finally fired at 9:15 am after finding them speeding in a stolen Ford V8. Researchers have argued over how many times they were both shot, but figures generally range from seventeen to fifty times each. After news of their death spread, crowds gathered at the site of their killing and they scrambled to get pieces of the pair. Bloody locks were cut from Bonnie’s head, and pieces of her dress were torn and sold as souvenirs. In the stolen ford, officers found over a dozen guns and several thousand rounds of ammunition, but evidently kids, crime does not pay.
Wife of the infamous SS leader Heinrich Himmler, Margarete Himmler started life on a very different path. Given her husband Heinrich directed the killings of countless people, it is ironic that Margarete initially trained as a nurse to help save lives in World War One. When the war ended, she moved to the German Red Cross hospital. Thanks to funding by her father, she was also able to direct a private nursing clinic. How you then end up married to one of the world’s most notorious killers is certainly a baffling question to tackle!
Margarete first met Heinrich in 1927 at one of his lecture tours. Owing to her blonde hair and blue eyes, Heinrich is said to have fallen in love immediately; they married one year later in July. Heinrich was worried to introduce Margarete to his Catholic parents – not only because he was seven years older than her but because she had been previously married and was a Protestant. Though she was eventually accepted, his family generally kept their distance. Margarete then gave birth to their only child, Gudrun, on the 8th August 1929.
Margarete was certainly not an innocent bystander in her husband’s doings. She joined the Nazi Party in 1928 and frequently hosted meetings with the wives of senior SS leaders. Despite this, she was generally disliked and during the Nuremberg Rally of 1938, she conflicted with these women and as a group, they refused to take directions from her. Further, once World War Two began, Margarete supervised German Red Cross hospitals but while on a trip to Poland wrote in a private diary that “this Jewish rabble… don’t look like human beings… it’s an incredible job trying to create order.”
In April 1945, Margarete and Heinrich Himmler saw one another for the last time before his death. They had separated years earlier, and in 1941 Margarete learned that Heinrich had secretly been engaged in a relationship with his secretary. He went on to father two children with her.
Once the war ended, several investigations were launched into Margarete to assess how likely it is that she knew of her husband’s business. She claimed to have no idea and sought to be de-nazified and held unaccountable for the crimes of her husband. Eventually, after years of debate, in 1953 she was classified as a beneficiary of the Nazi regime and sentenced to thirty days’ punitive work. With this classification, she also lost her right to vote, and the right to a pension.
Sajida Khairallah Talfah, born June 1937 in Tikrit Iraq, is most famously known for being one of Saddam Hussein’s wife from May 1963 until his death. Hussein, President of Iraq from 16 July 1979 until the 9th April 2003, was executed by hanging on 30th December 2006 aged 69. His government killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Sajida Talfah did not have to ‘meet’ Saddam Hussein; she was, in fact, his cousin. Her father, Khairallah Talfah, was the maternal uncle of Saddam Hussein. There are many rumours flying around about their marriage and nobody seems to know the precise answer. Some suggest they were married as a result of an arranged wedding at a very young age – he was five-years-old and she was seven. Other resources suggest the marriage may have occurred far later and that before marrying Saddam, she worked as a primary school teacher. These sources put the date of their marriage at either 1958 or 1963. Either way, the pair had five children together, the first born in 1964.
Now, although they never got divorced, her husband, Saddam Hussein, is thought to have married another woman named Samira Shahbandar in 1986. Rumour has it that in a fit of rage, the man who introduced and arranged meetings between Saddam to Samir, was murdered on the request of Sajida; but this has never been proven.
It is not known where exactly Sajida hid when the bombing began in Baghdad in 2003, but rumour has it she fled to Qatar with her daughter while her sons fled to Jordan. In 2004, Sajida hired a whole host of lawyers to defend her husband while he was on trial for war crimes. This was dramatically cut to only one Iraqi lawyer in 2005. Sajida herself was not innocent in the turmoil – in 2006, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security advisor, announced that Sajida and her daughter were on the government’s most wanted list as a result of financing Sunni Muslim insurgents under Saddam’s regime. It is not known what eventually happened to Sajida. In 2015, her family denied rumours that she had died, but her whereabouts remain unknown; it is thought she is still hiding in Qatar.
Ivan IV Vasilyevich, more commonly known as ‘Ivan the Terrible’, had more than five different wives throughout his life (1530-1584). His first, and longest marriage, was a lady named Anastasia Romanovna. Born in 1530, Anastasia was the daughter of a Boyar named Roman Yurievich Zakharyin-Yuriev. His name later provided the foundation for the Romanov dynasty.
Anastasia first met Ivan in the Kremlin at an event specifically designed to help him find the best bride possible. Talk about romantic! That said, all of the daughters of noble families in Russia were invited and it is alleged there were anywhere between 500 and 1,500 women to choose from. Still, hardly a Romeo and Juliet-style tale. They officially married on the 3rd February 1547 at the Cathedral of the Annunciation, located on the southwest side of the Moscow Kremlin in Russia.
With a nickname like ‘Ivan the Terrible’, what did she expect?! I mean, obviously she did not know this would become his legacy, but the warning signs were there from the outset. Anastasia went on to provide six children for Ivan, but apparently, that was not good enough. In 1581, years after Anastasia’s own death, Ivan the Terrible killed the heir and second son that Anastasia had provided him. Striking him repeatedly with a sceptre, his father accused him of inciting rebellion and punished him accordingly. It is believed, however, he regretted this move and immediately threw himself at his son and attempted to stop the bleeding. This was to no avail, he died a few days later on the 19th November 1581.
Mysterious circumstances surround poor Anastasia’s death. In 1560 she fell ill and soon died. Ivan suspected that Anastasia had been poisoned; he consequently tortured and executed some of those he believed responsible for her death. Though there was no evidence of a crime at the time, further archaeological and forensic research has revealed unusually high levels of mercury in Anastasia’s hair. While that may indict poison, mercury was also used as a medicine during this era and thus it is hard to decipher what precisely happened; we can only speculate.
Osama Bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in New York City that resulted in the untimely death of nearly 3,000 people in 2001. Between his five, possibly six wives, he fathered between twenty and twenty-six children. His first marriage was at the age of seventeen to his Syrian cousin, the daughter of his mother’s brother. However, after several more marriages (four, possibly five – though it is thought the fifth marriage was annulled within days), aged forty-four, Bin Laden decided he wanted yet another spouse.
According to one of his former aides, Bin Laden rang him up and requested a new spouse that “must be pious, dutiful, young, well-mannered, from a decent family, but above all patient.” His aide went on to match Bin Laden with Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, a seventeen-year-old Yemeni girl from Ibb whose father was a civil servant. Weeks after the proposal, Bin Laden transferred a $5,000 dowry to her family. The pair then married in 2000 in the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan.
While married, Amal initially she lived with his other wives in a Taliban stronghold location. However, after the attack on September 11th, she fled back to Yemen with her daughter Safiyah. After sufficient time had passed, she was able to re-join her husband and spent most of her time hiding in the same room in the compound where he died. Speaking of which, during the US raid that resulted in Bin Laden’s death, Amal was shot in the leg. Though US special forces wanted to take her to question her about his life, their plan was allegedly dashed when one of the Black Hawk helicopters crashed as there was no room for his wife in any aircrafts.
After Bin Laden’s death, during negotiations between Yemen, Saudi, and Pakistan, Amal Ahmed Al-Sadah lived with Bin Laden’s other widows and children in a safe house in Islamabad. Eventually, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah was deported to Saudi Arabia rather than her native country of Yemen. Officials, as well as members of her family, feared that she may be targeted by al-Qaeda militants or become a focal point for bin Laden’s followers to rally around. Little is known of her whereabouts today, but it is assumed she is still alive and in hiding.
This woman is, by far, one of the most recognizable on this list. Best known as Hitler’s secret girlfriend, Eva Braun also had an illustrious background. She trained as a photographer and as an occasional model/lab assistant at the photography studio of Heinrich Hoffman. It was here, aged seventeen, that she first met Hitler – twenty-three years her senior. They did not start meeting regularly until two years later. During their early relationship, Eva Braun attempted suicide twice. The first attempt, in August 1932, saw Eva shoot herself in the chest with her father’s pistol. The second, in May 1935, involved an abundance of sleeping pills.
Hitler treated her to a luxurious life. Though it may not have necessarily been as public as she would have liked, he did give her a lot of what she wanted materially. The couple spent a lot of time in ‘The Berghof’, Hitler’s home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps. When the Second World War began, Eva sought safety here, and the place became one of the most well-known headquarters that Hitler had during the War.
Though today many conceive of Eva as Adolf Hitler’s part-time mistress, she was in fact married to the notorious Nazi leader for around forty hours. Why only forty hours? Well, their marriage took place within the Führerbunker, an air-raid shelter located in Berlin, Germany on the 29th of April 1945. “So what”? I hear you ask. Less than two days later, after saying farewell to friends and staff, the pair committed suicide together. Eva is believed to have bitten into a capsule of cyanide while her lover, Hitler, died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Part of the misconception surrounding their relationship stems from the hidden nature of it. In general, she was kept away from the limelight. Rumour has it this was because Hitler felt being single made him more likeable and increased his popularity among German women; a demographic he was keen to keep happy. Consequently, despite being a key icon in Hitler’s inner circle, Eva did not even attend public events with him until mid-1944, less than one year before her death. Their relationship was so secret in fact, that the German public only became aware of it after their deaths.