The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

The Making of a Serial Killer Groupie

How Good Women Hook Up with Bad Men

My seventeen-year-old son is convinced that teenage girls are turned on by bad boys.  No matter how much I argue with him, he tells me that, when it comes to romance, nice guys finish last; he typically backs up his opinion with a few tales of hot girls in his class who put up with guys who treat them like dirt.  While I think his view is a huge generalization (that will hopefully change over time), I confess that, during my adolescence, I had a few crushes on guys whom I wouldn’t be too happy to see my daughters going to the prom with.

Luckily for me, I outgrew this fascination and have been married to a great man for over 20 years.  However, apparently not all grown women lose their fascination with the dark side.  Ted Bundy, Ken Bianchi, and Richard Ramirez are just a few of the serial killers who received tons of adoring fan mail and multiple marriage proposals.

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Fatal Attraction  

Virtually all of these women became enamored with their violent paramours after they have committed their crimes.  Some of them meet through the legal system; Chloe Kelcher was on Cortland Bryce Ryan’s jury.  Rosalie Martinez, a mitigation specialist, left her successful attorney-husband and comfortable lifestyle to marry Oscar Ray Bolin, a low life convicted of raping and murdering three young women.  And Christine Kizuka married serial killer Angelo Buono (one-half of the Hillside Strangler duo) after meeting him while visiting her then-husband in Folsom State Prison.

Some women, though, go the pen-pal route to romance.  Doreen Lioy started writing to Ramirez after falling for his picture in the paper. They were married in 1996 in the prison waiting room.  Some women write a number of prisoners before they finally make a sustainable connection. They may even take on voluntary jobs in prison, or go on blind-date visits with men they know only by reputation.

However, not all of them had romance on their minds when they sent their first letter (curiosity seekers beware).  Veronica Lynn Compton, for example, wrote Ken Bianchi a letter asking his advice about a female serial killer character in one of her screenplays.

Who ARE these Women?

Many people think women who fall for serial killers must either be a) lonely, unattractive, and unable to find love in the “real world” or b) mentally unstable women who have some kind of strange fixation.  The reality is much more complicated.

First of all, these women come from all sectors of society. Some of them are beautiful; others are not.  Some of them are highly educated; others are not.  And, based on interviews with these, their motives are just as diverse.

For the majority of these women, moral activism is the primary driver – at least initially.  Several were heavily involved in anti-death penalty campaigns before they met their significant others.  Some were moved by Christian conviction to contact – and save – these doomed souls, only to discover that they ultimately were the ones who needed saving.  (I am reminded of a story in Jacquelynne Wilcox-Bailey’s book about two middle-aged Christian sisters from Australia who left stable marriages to marry recently released violent offenders with whom they had romanced in prison.  One was bludgeoned to death with a hammer and the other one narrowly escaped death after her new hubby tried to cut off her ear and pull out her teeth with pliars).

Of course, many of these men will never be released from jail, which, for some women, may be the best thing about them.  These are men who can’t cheat and who have endless amounts of time to devote to their distant paramours.  In addition, unlike relationships on the outside, the fantasy and emotional intensity that we all feel in the honeymoon phase of a new relationship never has to end.  Add a strong capacity for denial and a fascination with violence and you’ve got the makings of a serial killer groupie.

The Bottom Line

Women’s fascination with men behind bars is a lot more complex than would seem on the surface.  But whether the drive is danger-by-association or misguided compassion, the serial killer groupie often bites off more than she can chew.  And while some serial killer groupies go through a series of death-row inmates looking for that perfect partner, more than one has been bewildered by the discovery that what started as a mission wound up a match.

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

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