Why do women love serial killers? Groundbreaking author Sheila Isenberg talks to Four Nine
While it might be uncomfortable to admit, everyone has their own deal-breaker when it comes to who they’ll fall in love with, and apparently, some women love serial killers.
For some, the idea of being with someone who gambles isn’t a problem, and for others, it just seems like an unnecessary risk.
But there’s one line that the broad majority of people probably wouldn't cross: a partner in jail for a violent crime. Yet, now and again we hear of women doing just that. They strike up relationships with those convicted of what many people would consider the most heinous of crimes.
Charles Bronson is known as one of England's most violent prisoners. He has been incarcerated consistently since the 1970s.
However, he married 36-year-old actress Paula Williamson in a behind-bars ceremony, in November 2017.
Prior to this relationship, Williamson had also exchanged love letters with a perhaps even more notorious inmate. We know him as paedophile and child killer, Ian Brady.
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Likewise, infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, married his second wife while on trial for raping and killing a 12-year-old girl. He even went on to father a daughter from behind bars. This criminal was responsible for the murders of at least 30 women.
So what drives women to fall in love with those whom many of us wouldn't dream of going near?
Why do women love serial killers?
One individual who has looked into this matter extensively is Sheila Isenberg. The author has interviewed women in this situation, as well as psychiatrists, lawyers, social workers and prison guards in her book Women Who Love Men Who Kill.
Speaking to Four Nine, she explained that while each woman is undoubtedly different, they do have one thing in common: "It's the human need to be considered important, whatever this is driven by."
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However, she believes that exactly who these women fall for is important in narrowing down their reasons.
Women who love serial killers could be driven by a desire for fame
Isenberg claims that the women who seek out notorious figures are largely driven by celebrity culture. This, and the media attention that comes with them.
"We live in a world obsessed with celebrity culture, where we worship people who are famous for doing nothing. I mean, even our President is a reality TV star. A woman who reaches out to a man like that is someone who, whether she realises it or not, wants her own fame."
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However, it is different when women seek love from murderers with less notoriety:
"I've spoken to a lot of these women and again and again you find that these are victims of abuse in some way," she says.
"Be it by parents, family members, husbands, boyfriends or whoever, whether it's physical, sexual, psychological, emotional. By having a relationship with a man that is in prison they are in a position of power, making all the decisions. As strange as it sounds, it is a safe relationship."
This, combined with the romantic attention that these men are in a position to offer, can be an alluring prospect:
"These men have the time to worship them, to write them poems and songs, to create art for them. They can give an obsessive attention in a way that men in the outside world cannot because of the demands of work and real life."
But it's not always so straightforward...
But this perception of a damaged or abused woman doesn't always present itself in the way you might expect.
Take Diane Schoemperlen for example, an award-winning author who seems to be the walking definition of having your s*** together.
Sure, she'd had a heartbreak or two along the way, but who among us hasn't? She met Shane, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence for second-degree murder while volunteering at a soup kitchen that he frequented when on escorted temporary absence from jail.
Before long, they were spending more and more time together as she upped her volunteering commitments: "I could always see the good in him," she recounted in her 2016 memoir, This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications.
Diane admitted that she never thought she would find herself falling for a murderer. "It is safe to say that never once in my life had I dreamed of being in bed with a convicted killer", she writes.
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Nonetheless, within a year of meeting, the duo was swapping love letters and engaging in conjugal visits. When Shane was eventually released on parole, their relationship lasted just 49 days. The reality of his dark moods and often manipulative behaviour quickly set in.
Dian now puts the relationship down to something that many of us are guilty of:
"I didn't realize at the time how much I wanted to be wanted, how deeply I needed to be needed."
Hybristophilia may be a reason why women fall for such individuals
Another explanation may be the disturbing phenomenon of hybristophilia. It has been described by sexologist Professor John Money as sexual arousal or attraction driven by the knowledge that the individual has:
"Committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery."
It is better known as "Bonnie and Clyde" syndrome. While it is not present in all women who fall in love with violent prisoners, it does account for some.
Perhaps the best example of this is Ted Bundy. When he was on trial, he received hundreds of letters from women professing their love for him. He was also offered marriage proposals and nude photographs.
According to Bundy biographer Stephen Michaud, women would even wait outside the court dressed in a similar fashion to his alleged victims.
But while the Bundy trial may have been some 40 years ago now, it was far from the first example of women being drawn to notorious prisoners:
"It's been going on for a long time - you can even find examples of it back into the 1800s - but we just didn't know about it as much. It used to be that women had to reach out through pen and paper. Even when I started my book there were no prison pen pal sites around. Now there are tons so it's becoming easier and more available."
The bottom line
So does this mean we're set to see more of it in the future? Isenberg thinks so: "Yes, I think it will increase. We live in a world where people just want to be famous, whatever that means."
However you look at it, the phenomenon and the women who live it are both products of society. As Isenberg puts it: "You really have to ask the question of why they need to be noticed in the first place."