The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

Fatal Attraction

The Chemistry Between Serial Killer Couples

Bear with me, for this true confession is part of the story.

In my early 20’s, I met an absolutely gorgeous dark-haired man at a local nightclub and was immediately smitten.  Good-looking men had always been my Achilles heel.  Looking back, I’m sure my own insecurities about my physical appearance contributed to my compensatory dating strategy where I picked men with whom I could be beautiful-by-association.  

However, this guy was in a league of his own.  Not only was he stunning, he exuded this raw, masterful confidence that, to this parental child and control-freak who had just moved 800 miles from home and had been dumped by the love of her life a few months earlier, was new and exciting.

Until our first date.  In the middle of our dinner conversation, he abruptly stopped talking and, with an unmistakable edge in his voice, asked me who I was looking at.  I had no idea what he was talking about and said so.  He attempted to laugh it off and I let him although the tightening in my gut told me it wasn’t funny.

Fast-forward through the evening, during which there were similarly minor, although alarming, signs of his emotional instability and possessiveness.  Enough so that, at the end of the evening, I was worried about how he was going to react to my goodnight outside my apartment door.  He did attempt to persuade me to let him in a little longer, and more forcefully, than seemed warranted given it was our first (and, I knew, last) date but he eventually gave up with a few barbed comments.  At two o’clock I was awakened by his screaming voice on my answering machine saying “F*** you, b****.”

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Killer First Dates

I have often wondered how serial killer couples find each other.  Is their first meeting different from couples who don’t murder together?  Are there warning signs (like those given by my charismatic-but-clearly-disturbed date) that one or the other misses?  How, and when, do they know the other one will kill?

There aren’t a lot of serial killer couples, but several of the ones I researched shared some common beginnings.  For example, most of the partners shared horrific childhoods that set the stage for dysfunctional relationships.  According to Debra Brown’s mother, her father had mental problems and severely abused his children. Her partner in crime, Alton Coleman, was neglected by his prostitute mother, who often had sex in front of him.  Rose and Fred West both came from families rife with incest and deviant sexuality.

Another common thread I found was the emotional glue that seemed to instantly bind these couples together.  Within a week of meeting each other, Gerald and Charlene Gallego had moved in together.  Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo had sex on the same day they met and were inseparable thereafter.  Debra Brown dumped her fiancé, deserted her family and moved in with Alton Colton shortly after meeting him; similarly, Alvin Neeley quickly divorced his wife and eloped with 15 year old Judith Neeley shortly after meeting her.

Serial Killer Couples:  Multiplying Motives

Fact:  Many of the women were significantly younger than their male partner.  Rosemary West met 27 year old Fred on her 15th birthday.  Alvin Neely was 12 years older than Judith.  Seventeen year old Karla Homolka was six years younger than Paul Bernardo when they first met.

Fact:  Significantly fewer of the women had criminal records before they hooked up with their mates.  Debra Brown, diagnosed as borderline mentally retarded, had never been in trouble with the law.  Unlike their male partners, neither had Charlene Gallego, Rosemary West, or Myra Hindley.

These facts can easily lead one to believe that these women were also victims who were manipulated by their sadistic, criminal partners.  However, this conclusion ignores the fact that all of these women – many of the rather quickly – morphed into fully participating partners in crime.  They recruited victims, participated in torture and rape, sometimes acted out their own torturous fantasies or desires.

I think these were women who always had the potential to act out the rage and despair already locked inside.  Would they have done so as violently if they hadn’t met their man?  Perhaps not.  Would most of us so under any circumstances?  I don’t think so.

The Bottom Line

While rare, serial killer couples have committed some of the most horrendous crimes on record.  Bound together – often instantly -  by dysfunction, each partner contributes his or her own motives to the murders that follow.  Whatever warning signs are sent out at the beginning of the relationship are likely to either be ignored, or misinterpreted as love or confidence, until it’s too late for the victims that follow.

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

more...

Subscribe to The Human Equation

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?