In the UK, up to one hundred women are emotionally involved with convicted killers in prison. There are numerous stories of love separated by prison walls.
Nobody suspected that behind Josef Fritzl’s innocent and passive glare lurked a history of violence and kidnapping. The Austrian held his daughter in captivity for 24 years. The eight children his firstborn gave birth to are the legacy of their forced sexual relationship.
In Norway, Anders Behring Breivik planted explosives in the centre of Oslo, and then went on a shooting spree on the island of Utoya, killing 77 people.
Fritzl, Behring Breivik and Bundy are known for their violent and bloody histories. They live (or lived) in prison isolation, their acts condemned by virtually all of society.
But in spite of the terror and deaths they caused and the drama they left in their wake, these individuals are admired by certain people. There are even fan clubs dedicated to them.
Thousands of women across the world are attracted to individuals who have been accused of murder, abuse, and rape. Prison records show that Fritzel and Behring Breivik, receive hundreds of messages from their admirers, and a large proportion of the letters contain romantic proposals.
In her book “Women who love men who kill”, journalism professor Sheila Isenberg claims that in the UK alone there are “100 women who are emotionally involved with men on death row”.
Why do they love these men?
The attitudes of women such as Edith Casas can be explained, according to several experts, in terms of psychological motives. Edith, an Argentinian woman, married Víctor Cingolani, the presumed murderer of her own twin sister, Joana Casas.
For her family and everyone she knew, the romantic involvement unleashed feelings of sheer disbelief. Katherine Ramsland has carried out studies in this field, and concludes that the attraction women feel is due in large part to psychological issues.
Psychologists Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson add the biological perspective to Ramsland’s conclusions.
Their arguments, backed up by studies carried out on primates, confirm that “women tend to seek a dominant and strong man, one who will protect, and even kill”.
The profile of the admirer is a woman whose past has been marked by abuse. As Wrangham and Peterson point out: “Women are in control in these relationships: it is up to them to decide when to visit, and whether to answer calls from their lovers”.
Their partners are locked up, putting the women in the dominant position: it gives the women the opportunity to “restructure and erase their past”, they say.
Prison cell bars are no barrier for the love these fans have for their convicts.
Sheila Isenberg’s book gathers together the stories of thirty women. One of those is narrated by Sandie Blanton, widow of Reginald Blanton, who was executed by lethal injection in a high security prison in Texas in 2010.
Blanton, who was imprisoned in Texas’ Polunsky Unit, embarked on a relationship with a woman who would later become his widow. They met on the website writeaprisoner.com, where prisoners tell their stories and seek legal assistance and friendship.
Sandie, a human rights enthusiast, came forward, and eventually left her family to defend Blanton, continuing to do so even years after his death.
Patrick Kennedy, forensic psychologist, states that women respond to the powers of attraction common to many criminals. “Prisoners have an almost sexual presence, traditional and masculine. They are very intelligent, and use all in their powers to get what they need”, he says.
Many of these cases have made headlines in the media. One of them was the wedding of Carole Ann Boone and the infamous criminal, Ted Bundy.
The union was consolidated with the birth of their daughter. Even his 36 victims did not put the brakes on her saying “I do”.
Another case was that of Charles Manson, a man who carried out multiple murders. He wrote songs in prison which went on to be released by famous singers. He was considered the leader of the criminal gang ‘The Family’.
Some members of the same gang are accused of plotting to assassinate the ex-American president Gerald Ford, and of the murder of Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski’s wife.
From his cell, John Wayne Gacy received messages of compassion, support, and love letters from his fans, now edited and available to read in book form.
Box office success
The fan effect has reached such extreme levels that in the US there have been cases of merchandising ‘cashing in’ on the acts of murderers. Up until a few years ago there were tours to visit the house of Edward Gein, better known as ‘The Butcher of Plainfield’. He was the inspiration behind several films, including Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
In reaction to such films, and to prevent murderers from profiting from the sale of the rights of their crimes, the ‘The Son of Sam Law’ was introduced in the US.
Some prisoners sell locks of their hair; others narrate their life behind bars for books by major publishers: testament that for many people, behind a criminal lays a character to be revered.
(Translated by Claudia Rennie)