Why are women so infatuated with serial killers?
by Emma Cownley
Who doesn’t love a dangerous man? A handsome, brooding stranger with a dark past and violent tendencies. Like many other women across the globe, I’m infatuated with dangerous men, but I’m equally intrigued by the women who are infatuated with them. What is it that makes killers so magnetic? Why do so many of us lust after people who would probably murder us in a dark alley? Doesn’t it go against every basic survival instinct?
The recent release of the new Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the newest in a recent series of ‘homicidal hottie’ films that seem intent on getting us all flustered. Although I’d like to believe the fascination is solely down to Zac Efron’s performance, it can’t be denied that the female obsession with dangerous men goes far deeper than crushy memories of High School Musical.
Who among us can’t truthfully raise her hand and say she didn’t sit down to salivate over Ross Lynch in My Friend Dahmer, Evan Peters in American Horror Story or Penn Badgley in You? The more attractive and depraved, the better.
There’s a reason Richard Ramirez, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer all received floods of prison fan mail and underwear Polaroids. Experts call it ‘hybristophilia’ or the ‘Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome’. It’s defined as sexual arousal triggered by a partner who is known to have committed a serious crime. Experts agree that unlike all the other paraphilic behaviours, hybristophilia is most common in women.
Let’s be real here — most of us have a smattering of hybristophilia or, at the very least, a morbid fascination with the individuals capable of such heinous crimes. It’s in our nature to dwell on the things we can’t easily explain. But how many of us would go as far as founding an online fan community or getting a tattoo of our killer crush? How many of us would actually make contact with these men or go as far as to marry them on death row?
Under the sheets with serial killer fandoms
Welcome to the disturbing world of serial killer fandoms. In dark recesses of the internet, women from all over the globe come together to share their wanton fantasies of notorious serial killers, school shooters, Satanists, rapists and cannibals. I wish I were lying.
Tumblr is a hotbed for these particular communities. Although there are fandoms for every prolific criminal, the Columbine school shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, seem to hold the monopoly. The ‘Columbiners’ use Tumblr to come together and share photos, fan art, and handwritten diary entries from the shooters themselves. Fans even go as far as writing worryingly girlish ‘imagines’ about fictional encounters with the boys.
There’s a #PrisonBae and #FelonCrushFriday hashtag knocking around on Twitter and Instagram, sparked by the incarceration of model-like felon, Jeremy Meeks. If you look hard enough, you’ll also find a few women showing off their serial killer tattoos. Hell, there’s even merch!
Women have been obsessing over dangerous men long before the birth of the internet or Zac Efron. The original 1979 Florida trial of Ted Bundy attracted scores of young women, many of whom were happy to tell local reporters how much they fancied the man who was eventually convicted of raping and butchering women and girls who might easily have been their peers. Doesn’t say much for female solidarity, does it?
Convicted murderer and Satanist, Richard Ramirez, is reported to have received fan mail during his 1989 trial and eventually married one of his fans from prison. The 1966 trial of notorious child murderer, Charles Schmid, was besieged by young girls who hoped to catch a glimpse of the baby-faced killer (it was even covered in Playboy and Life Magazine).
So, why do we all have such a death wish?
The psychology behind the obsession
The Byronic hero has always been considered a romantic ideal. The character archetype has dominated romantic literature since Lord Byron rocked up in the 1800s. Dark, brooding, dangerous—Georgian women couldn’t get enough, and neither can we. This is fine when we’re drooling over fictional characters like Patrick Bateman or my personal favourite, Jason Dean, but what about real people?
In her video Why Do We Get Columbine So Wrong?, Caitlin Doughty reveals that much of the romanticised culture around Columbine school shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris is founded on misinformation.
“They became the poster boys for ‘goth loner, unlucky with the ladies, racist revenge’, when the evidence shows that was inaccurate”, she says, “in fact, there’s evidence that Dylan and Eric were much bigger bullies than they were victims of bullying.”
Watching films like My Friend Dahmer and Extremely Wicked allows us to neatly sidestep the grisly facts in favour of a sympathetic, romantic narrative which narrows in on one single aspect of the killers’ lives. They’re easier to empathise with and therefore easier to love.
Serial killer obsession could also be attributed to the Saviour Complex: a persistent need to heal or rescue damaged individuals. As the “gentler” sex, we women see it as our job to tame the roughness of dangerous men with our understanding and kindness. We want to heal these wounded outsiders. We want to be the one who is different from all the rest. Let’s face it — in a real-world scenario, you’d probably end up in a body bag.
Another explanation for our infatuation could be an attraction to the stories themselves. In their true crime podcast, My Favourite Murder, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark believe it isn’t an obsession with serial killers, but an obsession with stories. And yeah, why not? These individuals have the most riveting stories: double lives, secret agendas, hiding places, prison breaks. It’s the stuff of fiction! Erotic fan fiction, that is.
How do you plea?
There isn’t a lot of research on hybristophilia at present, so it’s not easy to pinpoint exactly why we women are so into dangerous men. To say the cause is subjective to each individual would be too easy, especially with so many women admitting to harbouring the same tendencies. It might be hard to admit, but perhaps there’s a touch of darkness in all of us and we can’t help but flirt with it.
Title image of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Netflix