An Armchair Analysis of Female Serial Killer Dana Sue Gray

Joni E. Johnston, Psy. D.
8 min readJul 30, 2021

It is impossible to see someone clearly after she has committed premeditated murder. Whoever she was is forever tainted by what she did. Inevitably, friends and family who knew her beforehand will describe someone who is loving or generous or carefree, someone incapable of committing the crimes for which she is charged. Her victims, if any survive, know better.

Not one person who knew Dana Sue Gray before she murdered three elderly women in 1994 thought she was capable of it. She had never been in jail. She had been a respected surgical nurse. She was attractive, smart, outgoing and kind to her boyfriend’s 5-year-old son. But there were plenty of clues that, if not pointing to serial murder, certainly pointed to a certain darkness underneath her shiny veneer. According to numerous sources, throughout much of her life, Dana had a self-centered obsession with money and control that superseded any and all of her relationships.

Dana’s Childhood

Dana Sue Gray was born on December 6, 1957, in Pasadena, California to Beverly Arnett Armbrust, a former Tournament of Roses princess and occasional model, and Russell Armbrust, a hair stylist. They were both 39 years old when Dana was born. People who knew Beverly described her in mixed terms; volatile, fun-loving, self-centered, vain, and adventurous. Later, friends of Dana’s would use these same words to describe her. Dana’s parents divorced when she was two, at least in part due to her mother’s excessive spending, and she had little contact with her father for several years. Beverly’s parenting style appeared to be a combination of material overindulgence and emotional neglect.

The relationship between mother and daughter was intense and conflicted, especially as Dana entered adolescence. Whenever she was disciplined by her mother, Dana would retaliate by stealing money for candy or flying into a fit of rage. Even as a child, when Dana didn’t get the attention she wanted or felt neglected or put down, she got revenge; she cut holes in one of her mother’s dresses, wet her half-brother’s bed, trashed her teacher’s classroom. She showed little interest in school, making mediocre grades, getting into occasional fights with peers, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and earning several school suspensions for…

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Joni E. Johnston, Psy. D.

Forensic psychologist/private investigator//author of serial killer book. Passionate about victim’s rights, the psychology of true crime, and criminal justice.