Why Do Murderers Get Mailbags Full of Love Letters and Marriage Proposals?
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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: