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Women who love killers

 Ireland's Big Issue 11 June 2019

(Originally published: 07/2009) Some of the most notorious and vile killers the world has ever known find themselves pursued by women when arrested. From sixties cult leader Charles Manson to serial murderers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, these men have attracted hundreds of female admirers. Yet what is it about men who kill that attracts such legions of female fans? Jennifer May reports. (1181 words) - By Jennifer May

What is it about men who kill that attracts such legions of female fans?  Serial killers, seemingly the more violent the better, are, as soon as their crimes come to light and they are incarcerated, often inundated with love letters and offers of marriage.   From sixties cult leader Charles Manson (who receives more letters than any other prisoner in America) to serial murderers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, these men have attracted hundreds of female admirers; even Ian Huntley who murdered two ten-year-old girls in Soham, England in 2002 was inundated with fan mail and offers of marriage shortly after his arrest.

Ted Bundy confessed to the murder of over 30 women in a killing spree that lasted over four years, however experts believed that the number he actually murdered to be closer to one hundred.   He strangled or bludgeoned his victims, often committing rape or necrophilia with their bodies - not the ideal candidate for a husband then. Yet his courtroom was full of admiring women known as Ted Groupies, who would sit behind him waiting for a smile. Eventually Carol Anne Boone married Bundy while he was in prison and moved across the country to be near the man she loved even having his child. (She did later divorce him when she became convinced of his guilt).

Richard Ramirez, the killer known as The Nightstalker' who murdered more than 14 women, and beat, robbed and raped countless more, and was said to be a follower of Satan was himself stalked by a posse of female admirers after he was apprehended.  Long lines of ladies queued up to visit him in prison and letters arrived by the sack-full, causing the Nightstalker to gain a new moniker - 'Death Row Romeo'. After wooing quite a few of his desperate suitors from behind bars, Ramirez finally married magazine editor, Doreen Lioy in 1996 after she had written him over 75 letters in her desperation to meet him.

John Wayne Gacy would make even a worse spouse for any woman having been convicted of the torture, rape and murder of 33 young men, whose bodies were later found under the floorboards of his home.  However he was swamped by female admirers.  (His second wife had met him while serving an earlier prison sentence for the rape of a young man, but married him nonetheless).

Charles Manson still has a huge following although not all his admirers are women. He gets over 60,000 letters a year and there are countless web-sites dedicated to him.

And Henry Lee Lucas, the one-eyed serial killer who confessed to killing over 300 women (although since his death there is some doubt as to his guilt), despite having a male lover, was also swamped with female admirers. One of those, Phyllis Wilcox, was so desperately in love that she actually pretended to be one of his supposed victims in an effort to have him freed.

There are currently more than 100 British women engaged to men on death row in America, although not all of them would be serial killers. It looks to the outsider as if these women fall in love, not despite, but because, of these crimes.  But how can a woman love a man who has carried out such horrendous crimes?  Are they attracted by the violence, the danger, the sense of their own power that many of these killers possess?  Are they a certain type of woman, vulnerable, needy, victims of abuse themselves?  Have they convinced themselves the object of their affections is innocent? Do they believe the men to be innocent?  Are they convinced of their guilt, but believe that they possess the ability to change these men for the better?

Sheila Isenberg did an in-depth psychological analysis of women who fall in love with men who have committed violent acts, and wrote a book, 'Women Who Love Men Who Kill' based on her research.  The first interesting thing she discovered was that, contrary to public perception, most of the women who forged relationships with killers were not down-trodden, poor, uneducated members of society - indeed most of them were professional - teachers, social-workers, nurses and housewives and mothers.

But the one thing they seemed to have in common was that many of them had been victims of abuse and violence themselves at the hands of their fathers, siblings or spouses.  With a lover behind bars the women themselves are able to control the relationship, decide when to visit, when to phone and this Isenberg notes, offers them a sense of power they didn't have in previous liaisons: the fact that the man is incarcerated behind bars also means that he is incapable of physically hurting her in any way.

It is actually not that easy to make contact with a man in prison and many of these women write to many prisoners before they actually establish a connection they are able to take further. Some visit prisoners or take voluntary jobs to be near prisoners - this all suggests a desperation and a need to fulfil some need that is not being met by relationships they have had on the outside. There is no competition from other women (unless like Richard Ramirez you keep your options open and woo more than one prison visitor at a time), so any insecure woman will have found the perfect partner; someone who will focus only on her.

Isenberg also discovered that the women who fall in love with killers know exactly what kind of relationship they are getting into; know the reality of the horrendous crimes their loves have committed, but their capacity for denial, their need for their safe romantic fantasy to be played through will over-ride any other reality.  As there is usually no physical contact the women can also convince herself that the love she feels is pure, and this gives her a feeling of self-worth she may not have had in her previous abusive relationships.

However she also suggested the more interesting theory that some of these women may have the secret desire towards violence themselves, so are actually attracted to the violence side of their partners nature and live vicariously through their crimes: 'Even while she denies his culpability, it is his ability to murder that attracts her' said Isenberg. 'He acted on his rage, however unsuitably. The woman could never act on her rage, so his murder is her murder.'

Occasionally the men are actually released from jail and this is when problems can arise, as Jacqueline Wilcox-Bailey discovered and wrote about in her book, 'Dream Lovers: Women Who Marry Men Behind Bars'. Two Christian sisters in Australia, both middle-aged and bored in their marriages left their husbands and married men in prison.  One of the men bludgeoned his wife Avril to death with a hammer a week after his release (he had only been serving time for minor property offences) and the other (who had murdered his first wife) was soon back behind bars after trying to cut off his new wife's ear and take out her teeth with a pliers!

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