Monstruous beings have always fascinated us. Even the etymology of the word “monster” clarifies that it has the same root of “monitus”, a prodigy to be contemplated and investigated, as it is a sign that reveals the will of Gods. But monsters also whet our aesthetical sense: they belong to that wide and mysterious category that is called “the sublime”. You can’t help being attracted by all things dreadful, horrible and even dangerous because they are “productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling” (Burke).
You can even go as far as to fall in love with a monster. Sexologist John Money has called it Hybristophilia: the phenomenon of women that fall in love with serial killers. Sometimes the so-called Serial Killer Groupies (SKG) become famous: Victoria Redstall bribed the prison guards to be alone with Wayne Adam Ford (a multiple homicide who had murdered and chopped four women), and underwent several breast surgeries in order to please her man. Sondra London, the “queen of SKG”, an American writer who has engaged a long-lasting correspondence with several serial killers, has disclosed in her books the details of these more or less long-distance “flirts”. While in prison, Ted Bundy, who committed more than 30 murders, used to receive heaps of letters from his fans on a daily basis until in 1980 Carol Anne Boone won the fierce competition among the suitors and married him in jail. In 1982 the couple had a daughter and seven years later Ted Bundy was executed by electric chair. Richard Ramirez too, 14 murders, has married one of his countless fans, Doreen Lioy. John Wayne Gacy, 33 confirmed victims, had a huge number of groupies in spite of his homosexuality. And even David Berkowitz, 6 murders, is very successful with women since he is in prison – in spite of being not as beautiful and charming as Bundy or Ramirez. In Italy a great sensation was caused by the marriage (that would last only one year) of journalist Donatella Papi and the “monster of Circeo” Angelo Izzo, serial killer and rapist.
It should be noted that some SKG are not just obsessed with one criminal, they usually court several at once, maybe in order to get more chances to draw attention.
What drives a woman to take a fancy to a man who is responsible for murders, tortures and rapes? Of course they want to be the centre of attention and are attracted by the idea of ceasing to be completely unknown people and becoming personalities that are interviewed and invited to talk shows. But, apart from being cynical, these women are willing to wait for several weeks, to spend endless hours in prisons in order to have a brief talk with their beloved killer; and they are often ready to sacrifice everything, included their family and their money, to their passion.
According to many psychologists, even if the motivations vary for each person, this kind of relationship is mainly based on daydreams, on the ideal crystallization of serial killers and on the mythical aura that surrounds them. Some women suppose they can save them, because nobody else really understands the wounded children that hide behind the mask of violence; some other consider prisoners as perfect fiancés because, in the absence of a daily relationship, they can keep on daydreaming without incurring any risk; there is a feeling of exclusiveness, the idea of the “forbidden” romance of two lovers fighting together against a cruel world that opposes their love. There are also SKG that have undergone abuses and violence themselves and recognize in the serial killer a part of themselves they can’t speak about.
Nevertheless, according to primatologist Richard Wrangham, there is something more to it. Female orang-utans are sexually attracted by the most aggressive males: as soon as a male orang-utan wins a physical duel, even a lethal one, females start to call him, as if they were excited by violence; after the sexual intercourse, which is extremely violent as well, they feel satisfied and relaxed. Maybe SKG are particularly susceptible to the call of our original genes: to love a monster could be their unconscious biological response to the need to pick up the strongest male.