Thanks to primarily women throughout history, female fans of the true crime genre have a difficult time making the case as to why they enjoy learning about serial killers. Those who aren’t fans often make faces and assume it’s because we’re attracted to them. Of course, this usually isn’t the case, which is why I now phrase it as me being interested in the psychology behind it.
All that to say is this idea of being attracted to those we shouldn’t is still a common thing. Shockingly, there’s many edits of serial killers wearing flower crowns and having cute sayings in bubble letters next to them. (I just wanna look at crime scene photos, not whatever this is!) It won’t be surprising if we see another spike in this behavior after the release of Netflix’s new documentary on Richard Ramirez, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, which also speaks on the crowds of fan girls who would attend his trials (and it should be noted that the series is being called into question for its accuracy and depiction of events).
Hybristophilia, also known as Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome, is, as defined by the American Psychology Association: “the sexual interest in and attraction to those who commit crimes. In some cases, this may be directed towards people in prison for various types of criminal activities.”
These fans have been around for a while. During the–as I call it–Serial Killer Boom beginning in the ’60s and reaching its peak in the ’80s, many of these fans gladly identified themselves, told news stations and wrote love letter of their feelings towards these killers.
Two fans of Ramirez admitted to San Fransisco news stations that they thought “he’s cute” and that one of them knew “he’s a nice person.” Similar comments were made during Ted Bundy’s trial, and both Bundy and Ramirez ended up marrying after being convicted of their various crimes, though it should be noted that manipulation most likely had a play into these marriages, which is why Bundy got divorced three years before his execution.
Any true crime fanatic should be familiar with these stories, though you probably can’t help but wonder how common hybristophilia is and why it exists. Believe or not, there’s no evidence to say how common it is by the numbers because no research or studies have went into it. Considering the term serial killer wasn’t coined until the late ’70s and there haven’t been many notable ones since then (though some speculate for the Boom to come back in about 10 to 25 years from now), it makes sense why this probably never crossed psychiatrists’ minds. They do know, however, this paraphilia is not common among the population.
Kevin Sullivan, an expert and author of Bundy’s life, says there’s actually women who believe they’re hybristophiliacs when really, the factor of being a criminal has nothing to do with it. Dr. Katherine Ramsland backs up this statement, saying some women are simply attracted to people who avoid love and intimacy because they believe they can be the exception and essentially coax them into experiencing a relationship. Some will even say the nurturing side of females will be exhibited because they want to heal a convict’s psychological wounds.
Dr. Ramsland also explains that primate research shows that females “prefer the larger, louder, and more aggressive males who show a clear marker for their maleness.” While this is more speculation than fact, it’s still a possible explanation.
“People want to be close to the notoriety of it,” says Dr. Ramsland. “They also get a sense that they’re special to the person, so that if the person escaped he or she wouldn’t harm…so there’s a bit of narcissism in it as well.”
Somewhat playing along with that statement, people are attracted to those who often appear in the media, and society’s ideas of what’s attractive at the time happen to be a plus. Think of any movie star or musician. While you’re likely to be charmed by their appearance, the idea of dating someone high profile while you, a normal citizen, have that sort of access is appealing.
Some people happen to fantasize about those scenarios with the wrong kind of people.
“Bundy and Ramirez were both diabolical individuals who did horrible things and all these women understand that,” says Sullivan. “They are not put off by that… What’s drawing these women is not the looks but more who they are.”