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Why do people fall in love with serial killers?

Charles Manson mugshot
Image: Charles Manson's mugshot from April 1968 | Image Credit: PBH / Alamy Stock Photo | Background:

Since their imprisonment, some of the world's most notorious serial killers have received ‘fan mail’ and marriage proposals. What could cause ordinary people to become infatuated with individuals who have committed such heinous crimes?

Hybristophilia derives from the Greek ‘hybridzein’, meaning ‘to commit an outrage against someone’. The term was coined by sexologist Dr John Money, who defined paraphilia in 1986 as ‘an individual is sexuoerotically turned on only by a partner who has a predatory history of outrages perpetrated on others’.

Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome

In popular culture, the phenomenon has the moniker ‘Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome’. During the height of the Great Depression, the lovers committed a spree of bank robberies, kidnappings and murders between 1932 and 1934.

The couple became synonymous with their dedication to each other until their death. It was well known the couple were attracted to each other’s criminal behaviour.

Passive hybristophilia

Often labelled serial killer ‘groupies’, passive hybristophiles do not seek to engage in criminal activity. Instead, these individuals are sexually attracted to the criminals and fantasise about developing a relationship.

Mainly through letters, passive hybristophiles will feel special after embarking on a relationship with an inmate. Even if the criminal has murdered several people, the individuals believe they would not harm them and will try to find excuses for what they did. Passive hybristophiles often have rescue fantasies and hope to change the criminal.

Aggressive hybristophilia

The aggressive hybristophile is considered to be the most dangerous type. These individuals actively participate in crime by luring victims, disposing of their bodies, or even committing crimes themselves. The violent actions of the criminal are what attracts the aggressive hybristophile. However, whilst they want to receive love, they are unable to understand that their lover is a psychopath and that they are being manipulated.

What causes hybristophilia?

Research into paraphilia is still in its infancy and little is known about its causes. However, psychologists have proposed that biological and sociological factors might be behind it.

What has been established so far is hybristophilia is commonly found among women, but it can also affect men. Evidence suggests that hybristophiles may have low self-esteem and may have been the victim of physical or sexual abuse. Another possibility is the need for attention and the desire to become famous.

4 famous cases of hybristophilia

1. Charles Manson

Cult leader Charles Manson was responsible for orchestrating a string of brutal murders in the late 1960s, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate. After his conviction, Manson still had women pursuing him, hoping for a romantic relationship.

Whilst in prison in 2014, the nearly 80-year-old Manson became engaged to 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton and obtained a marriage licence. She visited him for nearly a decade before their engagement and ran a website which proclaimed his innocence.

The following year, their relationship came to an end amid rumours that Burton wanted to put Manson’s body on display for profit following his death.

2. Ted Bundy

Despite Ted Bundy’s violent crimes towards women, his female admirers arrived at court to watch his trial, with some even dressing as his victims. He was bombarded with fan mail and naked pictures from his admirers. Whilst questioned on the stand, Bundy proposed to his girlfriend, Carole Ann Boone. She was aware of his crimes and remained loyal to him.

The couple divorced in 1986 and Boone reportedly moved back to Washington with her children.

3. Richard Ramirez

In similar scenes, at Richard Ramirez’s 1989 trial, his admirers attended court with some smiling and waving at him. Given the nickname the 'Night Stalker', Ramirez killed 13 people across Los Angeles between 1984 and 1985.

During his time on death row, Ramirez received a large amount of love letters, but one woman caught his attention. Editor Doreen Lioy had sent Ramirez 75 letters over 11 years. She always believed Ramirez was innocent and they got married in 1996.

4. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

Over the past decade, a subculture known as ‘Columbiners’ has emerged on social media. Those who identify are infatuated with school shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 13 people at Columbine High School before taking their own lives in April 1999.

At its peak, these individuals shared their love for the shooters on Tumblr, where they also discussed their sexual fantasies about the killers.