James Alan Fox
November 19, 2014
Wedding bells are about to ring for convicted multiple murderer Charles Manson, arguably America's most notorious of his ilk. Of course, Manson, the pied piper of the 1960s hippie movement, is not the first multiple killer to stand at the altar behind prison walls.
Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi and Night Stalker Richard Ramirez are just two of many serial killers who had their pick from flocks of young women who competed for their hand in not so holy matrimony. And many condemned killers awaiting execution have found love and companionship (on visiting days, that is), giving the traditional vow " 'til death do us part" an ironic twist.
While the likes of Bianchi and Ramirez offered their paramours relative handsomeness and charm, at least by conventional standards, Old Charlie is precisely that: a gray-haired octogenarian who has little to give his 26-year-old bride-to-be except his unique brand of celebrity.
Often characterized as "killer groupies," this pattern of attraction is sufficiently common to have been assigned a clinical label: hybristophilia, a paraphilia in which someone is sexually aroused or attracted to a person who has committed a particularly vicious or gruesome crime. In its more common form, hybristophiles merely seek to be close to some "bad boy." Occasionally, however, it can lead to behaviors far more dangerous than mere adoration and devotion.
So why would someone in her right mind correspond with, visit, or even fall in love with a man who has raped, tortured and mutilated innocent victims? Why would dozens of women have sent love letters to Danny Rolling, who brutally murdered five college students in Florida? One lovesick fan wrote to the killer, "I fell in love the first time I saw you. I have even seen you in my dreams." Of course, Rolling's 2006 execution put an end to her romantic fantasies.
Some groupies are drawn to their idol's controlling, manipulative personalities. A Freudian might attempt to trace this attraction to a woman's need to resurrect her relationship with a cruel, domineering father figure. At least a few killer groupies strive to prove that their lover is a victim of injustice. These women's fight for right gives their otherwise unfulfilling lives a strong sense of purpose.
Others wish to break through the killer's vicious façade with warm feelings of being special, in effect believing that the whole world sees him as a sadistic monster, but only I see the kindness in him; he shares that only with me. Still other devotees might simply be content in always knowing where their man is at 2 o'clock in the morning, that he may be behind bars, but at least he's not out in the bars with some other woman.
Underlying all these motivations, however, is the glamor and celebrity status that killer groupies find exciting. Unlike rock stars and actors, serial killers are fairly accessible. All she would have to do is write a few gushy love letters and she might even get to meet him and perhaps even marry him.
The institution of marriage is supposed to enrich the lives of both partners, however unusual the form. In his bride, Manson will find yet another young and adoring woman he can manipulate and exploit. And she will command bragging rights in the prison visiting room for having landed the biggest fish.
For these newlyweds, of course, there will be no honeymoon, just a kiss and an embrace. But, in the words of Bianchi's mother, Frances Piccione, who didn't particularly like her new daughter-in-law, "At least there won't be any of those congenial visits." That is something for which we can all rejoice.
James Alan Fox of Northeastern University is co-author of Extreme Killing and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.