Such a common theme in the genre of true crime is the idea of a relationship gone wrong. It is not always the case that people just end up in volatile relationships unwillingly; sometimes, people know that they are entering into a relationship with someone who is potentially dangerous, and they are attracted to lovers with violent histories.
It is likely you have heard some of the more notorious instances of women falling in love with or even agreeing to marry convicted serial killers; for instance, Ted Bundy proposed to his “love interest”, Carol Anne Boone, during his trial. Other vicious serial killers such as the Menendez brothers, “Hillside Strangler,” Kenneth Bianchi, and Richard Ramirez or “The Night Stalker,” all met and married women while in prison. So who are these women, and why do they choose such men as the objects of their affection?
Astonishingly, the women who end up in relationships of this kind come from all backgrounds and walks of life, and they all seem to have different explanations as to why and how their relationships came to be. Some women who fall into this category are well educated, with careers and families that they leave behind, while others come from a history of abusive relationships.
While this topic is still being researched, there are multiple psychological theories as to why and how women fall into this role. Hybristophilia, according to well-known sexologist Professor John Money, is a sexual paraphilia in which a person is sexually attracted to or aroused by those who have “committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.” Psychologists say that there are two types of hybristophiles: passive and aggressive.
Passive hybristophiles are people who are aroused by the thought of their partner committing acts of violence, but have no interest in partaking in the acts themselves, whereas aggressive hybristophiles often encourage their partners into performing violent acts. They may even go so far to partake in the acts, either by covering up crimes, or committing crimes themselves. A perfect example of an aggressive hybristophile would be Karla Homolka, who helped her then husband, Paul Bernardo, rape and murder at least three young girls in the early 1990’s. While she claimed to be abused herself and forced into covering up the murders, video that was released after her trial showed Homolka participating willingly in the vicious acts.
Some say – it’s biology. Whether we recognize it or not, much of the drive of finding a mate comes from our innately animal instincts. Evolutionarily, females have been attracted to more outwardly aggressive males, as outward aggression is viewed as a display of power and manliness. Some women believe that mating with such a man will provide her protection, as well as reproductive benefits; if she produces offspring with a more aggressive man, that child may be more likely to survive in the world.
Research shows that female orangutans and other primates mate most often with the louder, larger, and more aggressive males. This suggests that their reproductive instincts drive them toward males who display dominance and power more openly, and that these characteristics may provide stronger offspring. While we clearly have the ability to be rational and see past our evolutionary drive to understand that mating with a serial killer is likely not in our best interests, psychologists such as Dr. Katherine Ramsland say that some women still feel an underlying attraction to violent men based on evolutionary biology.
Others say it’s heightened insecurity. Painfully insecure women in search of validation may flock to dangerous men who flatter them. Easily manipulated, these women may live in a state of denial about her partner’s crimes, and might even delude themselves into thinking that they are somehow special, with the ability to “change” the man for the better. Carol Anne Boone, Ted Bundy’s former wife, believed in his innocence even after he was convicted of three murders. She was even willing to testify for him in trial, despite the overwhelming load of evidence stacked against him. Women with a moral motive to help can also be vulnerable to manipulation by serial killers. Their similar desire to “change” these men and teach them a set of morals puts them at risk for being manipulated, because they put too much time, responsibility, and emotion into the relationship.
Another strong motive is likely a desire for the spotlight. Attention seekers flock to notorious serial killers for their 15 minutes of fame. During Richard Ramirez’ trial, a posse of women wearing all black showed up every day to “worship” him. Many of them were interviewed by the press afterward, and it was clear that while they were all somewhat smitten with Ramirez himself, they were also enjoying the extra attention. With a fascination similar to that of celebrities, serial killers are not only easier to reach than your celebrity crush, but they also welcome the idea of having fans, as it boosts their usually narcissistic egos. Thus, groupies of all kinds are attracted to the media and attention that these men receive, regardless of what they are getting the attention for.
Lastly, some women enjoy the power and autonomy that they have in this relationship dynamic. They have complete control over how often they speak on the phone, and how often they see each other in person. If the man is imprisoned, the woman also does not have to worry about jealousy or infidelity issues. These women enjoy feeling needed and wanted, since their men likely have few other people in their lives to turn to. This could be an ideal situation for women who have felt unappreciated, lonely, or have experienced infidelity, dishonesty, or abuse in previous relationships. With their men locked behind bars, they feel safe from certain outcomes that they might fear in “normal” relationships.
Unhealthy relationships exist to varying degrees, and the psychology of attraction is incredibly complicated. This particular scenario just elevates the narrative that girls love “bad boys” to an entirely new level; one that mystifies those of us in search of storybook love and kindness. Though it seems like common sense to avoid such dangerous and deranged people; that is simply not the case. Clearly, all of these theories and these women are much more complex than many of us can understand, and there is much more research to be done into both the minds of serial killers, as well as the minds of those who are vulnerable to their manipulation.