Why Do Murderers Get Mailbags Full of Love Letters and Marriage Proposals?
Murder suspect Joran van der Sloot says women are begging to bed him. He bragged to reporters this week about receiving love letters and marriage proposals since confessing to the murder of Stephany Flores, whose battered corpse was found in the young Dutchman's Lima hotel room on June 2.
Not everyone thinks murderers make bad company. To some women -- and a smaller share of men -- extinguish a life and you become a fetish object. What drives women to cruise Web sites such as PrisonPenPals.com, WriteaPrisoner.com, ConvictMailbag.com, and Meet-an-Inmate.com, where prisoners (granted, only some are killers) post pictures and pleas?
"Hello beautiful, thank you for taking time out of your life to bless me with your presence," writes terrifying-looking Anthony in Texas, his entire neck tattooed with a flaming "A." Peering into his half-shut eyes, you wonder what they've seen. Six-foot, 220-pound Anthony wants to "make you smile. ... At this point, there's only three actions left for you, to take down my information, create your own biography ... then mail it along with a picture of yourself. There's no need to search any further, I honestly believe we've both found what we've been looking for. I'll be waiting."
"Send a picture of yourself so I may be able to see the beautiful rose in your friendship garden," pleads Kyon in New York.
"My favorite subject is revisionist history," offers Joel in Wisconsin.
"I have a very good sense of humor," proclaims Oregon lifer Eugene.
Part of this is about power. And then there's the common attraction to bad-boys that can go way overboard. "Being associated with someone bad gives you a chance to consider yourself a rebel," says Radford University forensic psychologist Mike Aamodt, who has researched this fetish. "You see it in junior high and high school," where thugs are chick magnets. "When you're talking about killers, that ups the bad-boy ante."
"If you have a dull life, this gives you a purpose," Aamodt says. "At parties, people ask who you're dating. If instead of saying that you're dating an accountant you can say you're dating a serial killer, doesn't that make you sound a lot more exciting?"
In a celebrity-driven culture, newsmaking murderers get the most mail. Van der Sloot's would-be baby-mamas "want to share his celebrity status and become celebrities with him. They want their fifteen minutes," Aamodt says. That's why "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez, who killed 13 in a 1985 reign of terror that included rape, torture and the gouging out of eyes, still receives bags full of mail 21 years after entering San Quentin's death row — and 13 years after marrying someone who wrote him 75 letters. A friend of mine who works with the prison system says she watched Ramirez being "mobbed" with applications from women wanting to visit him. Wife-killer Scott Peterson got a marriage proposal during his first hour on death row.
Crime writer Diane Fanning isn't surprised. She has seen love letters flooding the inboxes of serial killers about whom she's written books. "A lot of women know that they'll never get a one-on-one communication with a movie star or a sports star. But contact a killer and hey, he might write back."
For some women, it's a self-esteem issue, Fanning says. "They believe that they don't deserve anything better than a social reject. They look at someone who is hated by the world, and they can relate."
Some women surprise themselves by genuinely bonding with men who happen to be convicted killers. That's what happened to Publishers Weekly editor Bridget Kinsella, who fell in love with an inmate after reading his unpublished memoir. Her memoir is the poignant Visiting Life(Harmony, 2007).
Yet others aim to change and save the killers they embrace — a fruitless mission, psychologist Aamodt warns. "They feel like redeeming angels," says my friend who works with the prison system. "It's so sad."
Katrina Montgomery was an intelligent, beautiful, 20-year-old college student — "yet she was attracted to Justin Merriman, who was everything she wasn't," says Robert Scott, who wrote about the pair in his book Dangerous Attraction (Pinnacle, 2003). "She had been raised in an upper-middle-class home, went to Catholic schools ... and was surrounded by all the comforts of an upwardly mobile Southern California lifestyle. Justin came from a broken home on the 'other side of the tracks' and was deeply into the angry world of a neo-Nazi gang called the Skin Head Dogs." Given to praising Hitler, Merriman was okay-looking, if you like roundish heads and thick mustaches.
"He could also often be funny, with a wry sense of humor," Scott says. While incarcerated for battering another woman and displaying a deadly weapon, Merriman — nicknamed Mumbles — issued a request for letters. Montgomery complied.
"Their correspondence flourished. Justin got her to send him racy photos of herself and some 'smutty' tales, as he put it," Scott recalls. In one letter, Justin fantasizes about meeting her:
All is about lost for [Katrina] when out of nowhere comes a real handsome white man with hair on his barrel chest and a heart of gold. He pulls up drinking Night Train and smoking non-filtered cigs, looking very manly, like Babyface Malone. Slick dog written all over him. She spots him. She knows deep down this is worth living for. Worth killing for! He sweeps her off her feet. They fall deeply in love, have kinky sex, make five pure white Nazi lowrider kids, living happily ever after.
They became a couple after his release, but one night in 1992 Merriman raped her in front of two fellow skinheads, then stabbed her in the neck. Today he's on death row.
Katrina Montgomery fetishized a killer before he became a killer — her killer. But unlike Stephany Flores and Laci Peterson, who didn't realize that the men they craved were capable of violence, Montgomery pursued Merriman while he was in prison for violent crimes. Unlike Carole Boone, who married Ted Bundy and conceived his baby after he was convicted for serial murder because she believed he was innocent, Montgomery knew Merriman was dangerous. That's what got her hot.
My friend who works with the prison system knew a female attorney "who was barred from San Quentin because she developed an intimate relationship with one of her incarcerated clients." The pair made sexual contact through a mail slot, my friend says. "They were observed by guards, she was sent home, and the warden denied her future access."
Ever since being sentenced to death in 2000 for slashing a 13-year-old girl's throat, Tommy Lynn Sells "has received tons of letters from women who want to proclaim their love for him, talk sexy with him or have phone sex," says Diane Fanning, who got to know Sells while researching her book about him, Through the Window(St. Martin's, 2007). "It baffles me a little, because he's not your typical good-looking killer. He's just your good-old-boy rednecky type" — who claims to have slain dozens of men, women and children since he was 16.
Sells showed Fanning the letters.
"They were all 'your body' this and 'your body' that and 'I want to do this to you' and 'I want you to do that' — your typical soft porn. But you could see that each of these women thought she was his one and only."
The senders were clearly responding to detailed erotic missives from Sells. Fanning says some of these women sent her death threats when they learned how much access she had to Sells while researching her book. She wonders what else he told them about her.
"It's hard to tell where the truth ends with these psychopaths. They're such liars and manipulators."
Those lies convince correspondents to aid in escape plans, commit other crimes, and send cash — all in the name of what looks like love and the antidote to loneliness.
"These women think, 'He's mine and since he's in prison there's no possible way he could cheat on me,'" says my friend who works with the prison system, "although of course he can."
According to Fanning and Aamodt, victims of domestic violence are among the most avid seekers of relationships with incarcerated killers. Why? Shouldn't they of all people condemn the amoral, the violent, the vile? Are they conditioned to repeat their pain?
With incarcerated killers, abused women "get a chance to control a relationship, maybe for the first time ever," Aamodt explains. "When you're dating an inmate, he needs you more than you need him. You can leverage power over him by threatening not to visit or write. This is interesting because it reflects mixed motives: the desire to nurture, but also to control. And if he's on death row, it's forever."