Earlier this year, Charles Manson called off his engagement to a 27-year-old woman named “Star” when her cunning plot to display his corpse after his death was revealed. (Hey, even Manson has standards.) But a surprising number of other famous criminals have made it to the altar while behind bars.
There’s a term to describe a person who is attracted to criminals: hybristophiliac. Not to presume to diagnose anyone of anything, but this condition likely applies to many of the women on this list. According to Psychology Today:
Hybristophilia was defined by the sexologist Professor John Money as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a sexual partner who is known to have “committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.”
This type of paraphilic behaviour is sometimes colloquially known as ‘Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome.’ In some cases, the person who is the focus of the sexual desire is someone who has been imprisoned. In some cases, the hybristophile may urge and coerce their partner to commit a crime. In other cases, the hybritophile may contact someone who is already in prison that they do not know except by reputation and/or what the have read or seen in the media.
For instance, it is well known that serial killers — particularly those who have received lots of media publicity — receive lots of fan mail from female admirers (some of who are likely to be genuine hybristophiles) ... Compared to other paraphilic behaviours, hybristophilia is quite unusual in that it is more common in women than in men.
1. Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez
Richard Ramirez received a death sentence in 1989, four years after he went on a rampage up and down California, committing 13 murders, 11 sexual assaults, five attempted murders, and 14 burglaries. He claimed to worship Satan and made proclamations like this in open court:
“I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all.”
Despite the brutality of his crimes, he attracted fangirls galore, including a woman who attended his trial and showered him with letters after. Eventually, and despite being confined to San Quentin’s death row, Ramirez married her; not long after, A Los Angeles Times journalist made these observations about their relationship:
[Ramirez] had more than his share of female groupies.
Among them was journalist Doreen Lioy, who had seen his mug shot on TV and perceived what she called his “vulnerability.”
They fell in love through prison Plexiglass and were allowed to touch – and marry – in 1996.
In the inmate visiting room, it was common to see the newlyweds nuzzling while they enjoyed vending-machine snacks.
Ardently devoted to him, she visited him four times a week and was often among the first in the visiting line. She made it a point to pack breath mints, explaining: “So I can be able to kiss with confidence.”
When people pointed out the strangeness of her choice of spouses, she rolled her eyes.
“Hometown girl makes bad,” she would say.
Another Los Angeles Times story described how Doreen first became attracted to a serial killer:
“This is a feeling that began for me as long ago as that Friday, Aug. 30, 1985, the night before he was arrested and police broke into the television show I was watching to broadcast his picture.
Looking back, I see it was a turning point for me. They showed his mug shot in the middle of ‘Dallas,’ and I saw something in his eyes. Something that captivated me. It wasn’t as if I knew him. But there was something in his eyes . . . maybe the vulnerability, I don’t really know.”
“He’s kind, he’s funny, he’s charming. I think he’s a really great person. He’s my best friend; he’s my buddy.”
There were rumors that the pair split up at some point (this San Francisco Chronicle story on San Quentin groupies, written in 2005, notes that she hadn’t been seen visiting the prison in some time), but the marriage was certainly ended in June 2013, when Ramirez died of natural causes in Marin General Hospital.
2. Charles “Tex” Watson
Manson, who was actually married a couple of times prior to becoming internationally notorious, may not have ended up taking the vows in prison, but another Family member who was an active participant in the 1969 murder spree did: Charles “Tex” Watson, Manson’s “lieutenant for killing” who was said to have announced “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business” upon bursting into Sharon Tate’s Cielo Drive mansion.
Watson wasn’t part of the sensational trial chronicled in prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter; he left California for his native Texas after the killings, where he was arrested and fought extradition for months. When his time in court finally came, in 1971 — with Bugliosi once again prosecuting — Watson was convicted of charges that included seven counts of first-degree murder. He was handed a death sentence, later commuted to life when California laws briefly changed.
Behind bars, Watson found religion, and he also found a wife, Kristen Joan Svega, whom he married in 1979; she began sending letters to him after reading his prison-penned autobiography. They divorced in 2003, but not before having four children together, born before California ended conjugal visits for prisoners with life sentences in 1995.
3. Susan Atkins
On a related note, Tex Watson’s fellow Manson Family member/convicted murderer Susan Atkins also got married in prison — twice, actually — as Rolling Stone reports:
[Atkins] married eccentric self-described multi-millionaire Donald Lee Laisure — or Lai$ure, as he preferred it spelled — in a 1981 ceremony at the California Institution for Women in Frontera, California. Atkins had their marriage annulled soon after, when she reportedly learned that he wasn’t as rich as he had claimed and that he had been previously married some 35 times. In 1987, she tied the knot again, to Harvard law student James Whitehouse, who was 15 years her junior. They remained together until her death in 2009.
Whitehouse still runs Atkins’ website.
4. and 5. Erik and Lyle Menendez
After the Menendez Brothers became a national obsession thanks to Court TV’s broadcast of their trial, it almost made sense that the young, photogenic duo — convicted of killing their parents to hasten their multi-million dollar inheritances — would attract admirers.
Despite a matching pair of life sentences, both Erik and Lyle Menendez have gotten hitched; Lyle’s done it twice. Erik married wife Tammi in 1998; sources vary, but their wedding cake was either a vending-machine chocolate bar or a Twinkie. (She had a troubled past, including a previous husband who committed suicide after admitting he was abusing Tammi’s teenaged daughter, his stepdaughter). In 2005 she released a book, They Said We’d Never Make It: My Life With Erik Menendez, and went on MSNBC to discuss her unorthodox marriage with host Dan Abrams.
DAN ABRAMS: All right, Tammi, we will get into the legal issues in a moment but first just take us through this for a moment. People are going to look at you and they‘re going to say there is an attractive young woman who is marrying a guy behind bars for life. Why?
TAMMI MENENDEZ: Right. Right. Well, with Erik, I never expected it. You know I wrote one letter to him and he wrote back and I went to visit him in prison and our relationship developed. And I didn‘t set out to have a relationship with Erik, but it‘s something that happened. And you know, it‘s a very good relationship that I have with him.
More insight, a little later in the interview:
ABRAMS: Does it bother you that he admittedly shot his parents? And we‘ll talk about the issues that come up on appeal as to why, but, there is no question, it seems, that he and his brother shot his parents. Does that in and of itself trouble you?
MENENDEZ: It troubles me, but I do know the person that Erik is and I know his heart, I know his soul, and I do know what happened that night. And I do understand. I believe that within everybody put in certain circumstances, you will, you know, be able to kill somebody. I mean I do believe that Erik is a very good person. And you know now we‘re speaking out to try to you know get that out in the public, so...
Also in 2005, People did a follow-up piece on Erik’s life in jail. Tammi featured heavily in the narrative, which also included this bit of information:
There is also reason to suspect that Menendez’s marriage has contributed to a cooling of his relationship with Lyle, who is now in Mule Creek State Prison in lone, Calif., and is himself on his second prison marriage. According to Tammi, the brothers, who still correspond, have drifted apart partly because “I wasn’t getting along with Lyle’s wife,” who briefly lived with her.
Lyle — who’s doing his time in the same facility as Tex Watson, Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California — first married “pen pal and former model” Anna Eriksson in 1997; they divorced a year later. In 2003, he married Rebecca Sneed, a “magazine editor who has since become an attorney.” A 2012 People article noted that visits (non-conjugal, natch) from his wife are a high point of his prison routine, which also consists of “shooting hoops, lifting weights and catching bugs for his pet lizard.”
6. Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy raped and murdered more than 30 women (probably more). That same charm that helped him get close to his unsuspecting victims fueled his robust fan club once his horrible crimes were exposed. The de facto president was, of course, his future wife, Carole Ann Boone, to whom the law-student-turned-serial-killer proposed in open court during the penalty phase of his trial:
They married in 1980, but divorced in 1986, and she didn’t visit him in the months leading up to his 1989 execution. The couple did, however, manage to conceive a child despite not being allowed conjugal visits; true-crime author Ann Rule, who knew Bundy personally and wrote The Stranger Beside Me about his crimes, offers this update on her website:
The child they had together, allegedly conceived in the Visiting Area of Death Row, is about 29 now. I have deliberately avoided knowing anything about Ted’s ex-wife and daughter’s whereabouts because they deserve privacy. I don’t want to know where they are; I never want to be caught off guard by some reporter’s question about them. All I know is that Ted’s daughter has grown up to be a fine young woman.
7. Joran Van der Sloot
Joran Van der Sloot pled guilty to brutally killing 21-year-old Stephany Flores Ramirez in 2012 in a Lima, Peru hotel room. He’s also known for being the top suspect in the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, presumed dead after vanishing while on a trip to Aruba in 2005.
Van der Sloot told Lima police that he had left Flores in the hotel room while he went to get them coffee. When he returned, the woman was on his laptop — supposedly looking at evidence that may have tied him to the Holloway murder. Van der Sloot flew into a rage, then allegedly snapped Flores’ neck. He also admitted to emptying the girl’s wallet, then fleeing the scene.
In November 2014, a CNN report noted that Van der Sloot’s wife, Leidy Figueroa, made headlines by claiming he’d been stabbed in the Peruvian prison where he’ll be spending the next two decades or so, which prison officials denied:
Jose Perez Guadalupe, director of Peru’s National Penitentiary Institute, which oversees the country’s prisons, told a 24-hour television station that Figueroa’s assertions were untrue and further labeled her a “compulsive liar.”
He continued with an assault on her character, telling Peru’s Channel N, “For starters, no woman in her right mind goes to a maximum-security prison and marries the biggest killer there.”
The two married in July 2014, having met when Figueroa was visiting another inmate, a relative. There was some speculation at the time that Van der Sloot married the Peruvian to protect himself from eventual extradition to the United States, where he’s been indicted for attempting to extort $250,000 from Natalee Holloway’s mother.
His defense lawyer disagreed:
“He’s getting married because he’s in love and is having a child ... there are no hidden agendas.”
A child, you say? Yep. Baby girl born in October 2014.
From top: Richard Ramirez displays a pentagram symbol on his hand inside a Los Angeles courtroom, Oct. 24, 1985; credit: AP Photo by Lennox McLendon. Charles Watson being extradited from Texas to Los Angeles for his trial, Sept. 11, 1970; credit: AP Photo. Joran Van der Sloot during a press conference in Lima, Peru, June 5, 2010; credit: AP photo by Karel Navarro.