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The prisoners who got married behind bars

Levi Bellfield
Image Credit: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo | Background image: | Above: A file photograph of Levi Bellfield issued by the Metropolitan Police.

On 12th May 2022, news emerged that Levi Bellfield proposed marriage to his fiancé on bended knee. Bellfield is currently serving a whole-life tariff in Belmarsh Prison for the murder of Marsha McDonnell, Amelie Delagrange, and Milly Dowler, and attempting to murder Kate Sheedy. On 16th June, 2023, Bellfield won his bid to marry in prison.

There is often a fair amount of controversy and public outcry when a dangerous criminal is allowed to get married behind bars. Some people suggest that prisoners should be banned from marriage as part of their punishment, while others wonder who would want to tie the knot with a partner who is behind bars. Whatever your views on the subject, however, you might be surprised at how often these kinds of marriages happen.

Let’s take a look at some more high-profile prison marriages.

Charles Bronson

The British press has often referred to Charles Bronson as the 'most dangerous prisoner in Britain', largely due to his continued violent behaviour while inside. He has gained a certain amount of notoriety from this title and is often featured in the media. In 2001, Saira Ali-Ahmed began writing to Bronson after seeing a newspaper article about him. She visited him in prison 10 times before the pair got married and Bronson even converted to Islam to match his new wife's faith. Their marriage eventually broke down and the pair divorced four years later.

Bronson got married for the second time behind bars (and the third time overall) in 2017 to Paula Williamson, an aspiring actress who was almost 30 years his junior. She often claimed that her husband was "a changed man" and the couple was looking forward to spending their lives together after his release. However, Bronson reportedly asked for a divorce within seven months of the wedding and accused Paula of cheating on him.

Ted Bundy

Arguably the most notorious serial killer in US criminal history, Ted Bundy raped, murdered, and mutilated more than 30 women and girls across the US. However, throughout his incarceration, Bundy regularly received love letters and explicit photographs from besotted admirers; fans even showed up at his trial dressed like his victims.

Before his incarceration, Ted Bundy met Carole Ann Boone at the Washington State Department of Emergency Services in 1974. When he was on trial in 1979 for the murders of Margaret Elizabeth Bowman, and Lisa Levy, and the attempted murders of Kathy Kleiner, Karen Chandler, and Cheryl Thomas, Bundy proposed marriage to Boone in the courtroom and, assuming him innocent, she accepted.

It’s alleged that Boone left Bundy three weeks before his execution in Florida State Prison on 24th January 1989. Believing that her husband was having an affair with his lawyer, Diana Weiner, Boone never saw Bundy or spoke to him again, even when he called her on his final day.

Richard Ramirez

Richard Ramirez (also known as The Night Stalker) was married to Doreen Lioy from 1996 until his death from B-cell lymphoma thirteen years later. Seven years before his marriage he had received 19 death sentences for a range of crimes that included murder, rape, and child molestation.

Lioy, a former magazine editor who was 30 when she started to send Ramirez love letters, believed her husband was innocent. She claimed to have left the killer in 2009 after learning about DNA evidence that connected him to the rape and murder of 9-year-old Mei 'Linda' Leung in 2009. However, the marriage was never formally annulled.

A former friend and acquaintance of Loiy, John Stamos (better known as Jesse Katsopolis on Full House and Dr. Tony Gates on ER) remembers Loiy as a “very lonely woman”. She’s also not the only magazine editor to have become romantically involved with a murderer either.

Erik and Lyle Menendez

Before becoming an attorney, Rebecca Sneed worked as a magazine editor when she became the second wife of Lyle Menendez. Lyle and his brother, Erik, killed their wealthy parents, Kitty and Jose, in their Beverly Hills mansion on 20th August 1989. Lyle’s first wife, model Anna Eriksson, who had also married the double murderer after his conviction, left him when she discovered he was writing to other women.

Meanwhile, his younger brother had been married since 1999 when he tied the knot at Folsom Prison with his former pen pal, Tammi Saccoman. But it might be worth pointing out that not all prisoners are entitled to conjugal rights, as is the case with Erik and Tammi. However, that didn’t stop Tammi from writing a book, They Said We'd Never Make It: My Life With Erik Menendez.

Charles Manson

Between July and August 1969, Charles Manson oversaw nine notorious murders that unintentionally made him a cultural icon. He wasn’t just a popular subject for criminologists and psychologists but is still an endless source of grim fascination in film, TV, books, and websites.

Already twice married before he was given a life sentence in April 1971, Manson was contacted by 17-year-old Elaine Burton in 2005. Nine years later, Burton and Manson, obtained a license to marry, but the marriage never happened after Manson allegedly discovered that his young bride was planning on displaying his corpse in a glass coffin. Manson died on 19th November 2017 and his ashes were scattered following a private funeral in Porterville, California.

Susan Atkins

Manson family member Susan Atkins was serving a life sentence for the murder of Gary Allen Hinman, Sharon Tate, and Rosemary LaBianca when she married Donald Lee Laisure in 1981. However, Atkins had their marriage quickly annulled after she learnt that her husband had already been married some 35 times and wasn’t the millionaire he claimed to be.

Five years later, now a born-again Christian, Atkins married James Whitehouse, a rock musician, and soon-to-be Harvard law graduate. Whitehouse, who’d reached out after reading Atkins' book Child of Satan, Child of God, spent the following 21 years of their marriage, until she died in 2009, unsuccessfully attempting to get his wife paroled.

The two seemed to have a genuine affection for each other and Atkins was allowed regular conjugal visits from Whitehouse due to her good behaviour. Furthermore, Whitehouse explained following her death: “Knowing Susan got me away from where I was before. It gave me goals. Something to believe in.”