Perhaps it’s because most people simply could not imagine committing the heinous acts that serial murderers perpetrate and are therefore compelled to find out how the minds of monsters work.
Maybe we hope that we can avoid falling prey to such predators if we study them closely and learn what warning signs to look out for. Or maybe we’re just all really morbid and can’t resist stories that involve grim outcomes (hey, who could blame us after the last 18 months?).
Whatever the reason, serial killers hold a certain allure for regular citizens, but, sometimes, that allure goes one step further and develops into love or infatuation.
Take The Nightstalker aka Richard Ramirez, for example, who became something of a sex symbol and was inundated with love letters from admirers while on trial. One such admirer was Doreen Lioy who Ramirez married in 1996, although they were never able to consummate the union per Federal law.
In hayu’s latest true-crime series Charmed to Death, viewers are taken on one hell of a journey as they follow true stories of manipulative and deceptively dangerous criminals who use their charm to cheat, steal and lure unsuspecting victims into romantic relationships — ultimately leaving a wake of devastation and death.
The docu-series certainly leaves you with a lot of questions, so we decided to chat to Award-winning true-crime writer and journalist James Phelps to get some answers.
The Latch: What is the psychology behind women loving serial killers? Does it have anything to do with their relationship with their dad?
James Phelps: A lot of experts advocate that it is because of a “saviour complex”. Some women are alleged to be attracted to damaged and often dangerous men because they believe they can “fix” them.
A more accepted theory is that some women are attracted to serial killers because of a sexual arousal trigger by danger. Called hybristophilia, it is a condition that is uncommon in men but common in females. Without getting all Freudian, parental relationships can play a role but hybristophilia is the most accepted reason for what most normal people would consider a bizarre attraction.
Personally, I think that anyone with such an attraction would almost certainly be suffering from some sort of mental health issue. No sane person would write love letters to a serial killer let alone want a relationship with one.
TL: On some level, do women feel that they can change the men? Like a romantic fixer-upper?
JP: It certainly is the case, both in relationships with criminals and law-abiding citizens.
Part of the whole attraction to “bad boys” is that they can put them on the right track. The saviour complex is common in normal relationships more so than the ones entered into with known criminals.
TL: What about women who fall in love with serial killers without realising — do they really now know or do they have an inkling?
JP: It would be difficult for them to know in most cases as serial killers, at least the successful ones, are experts at acting normal.
Either sociopaths or psychopaths, they have spent their entire lives learning to hide the behaviours and mannerisms that make them different. Often highly intelligent, they hide their true selves under an elaborate and well-rehearsed mask. Only the unlucky few get to see them unmasked.
TL: Is there an archetype of a woman who falls in love with a serial killer? What is she like?
JP: All predators, not just serial killers, target the vulnerable. They look for someone in need of something and strategically come up with a plan to fulfil that need.
What makes some of these predators so scary is the time they are willing to put into their sick endeavours. Some will spend years working their way into someone’s life — only to take it.
TL: Are they ever attracted to the fame and notoriety that comes with serial killers?
JP: I think this can only be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Some like the Zodiac killer certainly were — but others do everything and anything to avoid attention. I am certain that the worst and most frightening serial killers have never been found — and never will.
TL: Can falling in love with a serial killer bring out a murderous or criminal side to a woman that may have otherwise always lay dormant, or perhaps not existed at all?
JP: I think the type of women that fall in love with serial killers could certainly be manipulated into committing a crime, not because of some latent killing gene, but because of the reasons that made them targets in the first place.
TL: Do men fall in love with female serial killers?
JP: They do. The first episode of Charmed to Death features such a case.
James Phelps is an award-winning senior reporter for Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. He has established himself as Australia’s number-one true-crime writer with his bestselling prison series, including Australia’s Hardest Prison, Australia’s Most Murderous Prison, and Australia’s Toughest Prisons. His most recent books are Australian Heist (2018), a dramatic retelling of the true story behind Australia’s largest gold robbery, and Australian Code Breakers (2020).
Charmed to Death is now streaming on hayu.