Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Women Who Love Serial Killers

Why some women sacrifice so much for extreme offenders.

Rosalie Martinez, a public defender and mitigation specialist, was once married to an attorney. They had four daughters. After she met death row inmate Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. in 1995, she left her husband for him. Martinez and Bolin married that same year, over the phone.

Bolin, a former truck driver, has been convicted 10 times for raping and killing 3 women in Florida. In each case, rulings have been overturned due to errors. This week, he was back to the courtroom for another retrial. Convicted again, he received a life sentence on top of two death sentences.

Martinez, who believes Bolin is not a killer, once stated that when she met him, he left her “breathless.” She sensed his loneliness and isolation. She told a reporter, “It affected me because I felt the same way.” She decided to marry him, she said, to raise awareness of the injustice of his plight.

Plenty of serial killers have attracted mates, especially those with a high media profile. Carol Ann Boone became Ted Bundy’s girlfriend while he went through his legal proceedings in Florida. She took every opportunity to describe how he was being unfairly railroaded.

Even after he was convicted for three murders, Boone maintained her stance, and during the penalty phase of his 1980 trial, she testified on his behalf. They exploited an old law and married in the courtroom just before he received a death sentence. Boone had a child with Bundy, but eventually realized he was guilty. She took her child and moved away.

Women who have married serial killers have given several different reasons. Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer. Others “see” the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him. A few hoped to share in the media spotlight or get a book or movie deal.

Then there’s the notion of the “perfect boyfriend.” She knows where he is at all times and she knows he’s thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. There’s no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time.

These wives often make significant sacrifices, sometimes sitting for hours every week to await the brief face-to-face visit in prison. They might give up jobs or families to be near their soul mate, and they will certainly be spending money on him—perhaps all they have.

The offender need not even be attractive to hook a potential wife. One-eyed Henry Lee Lucas had his share of female admirers. Despite his supposed sexual relationship with drifter Ottis Toole, he was apparently still compelling as a mate. One woman (married) even devised a plot to free him by posing as his supposedly murdered former girlfriend—a girl that Lucas had confessed to strangling and cutting into pieces. 

Some mental health experts have compared infatuation with killers to extreme forms of fanaticism. They view such women as insecure females who cannot find love in normal ways or as “love-avoidant” females who seek romantic relationships that cannot be consummated.

Yet while this might be true in some cases, several devotees have been strikingly beautiful, educated, and even married. A few have been lawyers, psychologists, or judges.

Women attracted to killers (especially serial killers) are usually in their thirties or forties. Although their motives for getting so passionately involved vary, they share in common a fierce sense of protection over the relationship. Some know that their incarcerated spouse is guilty, but others insist on his innocence—despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Most people think such relationships defy common sense, but some theorists have hypothesized a biological impetus that operates apart from logic. Primate research finds that females prefer the larger, louder, more aggressive males who show clear markers of their maleness. In humans, then, certain women might sense in an aggressive male a larger-than-life companion who can deliver more than an ordinary man could. Through him, she subconsciously perceives, she gains status and protection.

Whatever the psychological dynamic, the most dangerous males in a prison, if also media-genic, will likely draw women who hope to become their wives. 

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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