Netflix’s true crime offering, American Murder: The Family Next Door, has catapulted the public’s true-crime curiosity and obsession with convicted murderers.
With its popularity, now at Netflix’s No. 1 spot in the Philippines, comes a curious reality: women’s attraction to high-profile convicted killers.
People said in its recent report that Chris Watts—who mercilessly murdered his 34-year-old wife Shanann and two daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3—is currently corresponding with multiple women. He is reportedly receiving more mail (and marriage proposals) since the documentary came out in early September. He has been receiving love letters from women since he was jailed following his conviction of the murders of his family in 2018.
Watts is currently serving his five life sentences (without the possibility of parole) at the Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Waupun, Wisconsin.
The phenomenon of being sexually attracted to notorious killers is called hybristophilia (often associated with women), and has been around for many years as seen in the long list of high-profile convicted killers who are getting love letters and marriage proposals from women.
In the book Sex Crimes and Paraphilia written by California State University Criminal Psychology professor Eric W. Hickey, hybristophilia is a paraphilia (disorders are recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviors that are distressing or disabling) in which “sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities, or crime—such as rape or murder.”
Many convicted killers like Chris Watts of ‘American Murder’ have groupies who visit them—as though these despicable criminals were rock stars.
In 1979, the infamous American serial killer Ted Bundy wed Carole Ann Boone while he was in prison and even fathered her child. Boone was just one of the many women who fell for Bundy during his murder trials.
Parkland School shooter Nikolas Cruz, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Scott Peterson (who killed his pregnant wife in 2004), Lyle Menendez (who committed double parricide and conspired with his brother Eric to kill their parents in 1989), the night Stalker Richard Ramirez (who died in 2013), and the cult leader-murderer Charles Manson all have reportedly received numerous love letters and marriage proposals since they have been convicted.
There have been reports that these convicted serial killers had/have “groupies” who visit them, like these despicable criminals were rock stars.
In an interview with the HuffPost, Sheila Isenberg, a journalist and author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, revealed that women being attracted to killers is remarkably understudied and ignored.
Thirty years ago, Isenberg completed “one of the most substantial surveys of women who fall for killers” and revealed in the interview that most of these women had jobs and many of them had families. One woman even had a PhD and was a college professor.
These women were intelligent and friendly and there they had one thing in common—they were all abused in the past.
According to Dr. Todd Grande of Wilmington University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in Delaware, there has been a lot of speculation about what causes hybristophilia, including two types of it: passive and aggressive.
The passive type is said to be a woman who is romantically interested in a murderer but not interested in committing any crime. The aggressive type is a woman who’s interested in that man getting out of prison—or whether he does not—still committing crimes and continuing that behavior.
There are a number of theories as to what causes this phenomenon based on studies.
First is that a murderer is interpreted as strong. Somebody who kills must be strong and women can be attracted to someone who is strong.
Another one is the idea that some women want to change these men and the bigger the potential for change, the more rewarding it would be. They consider changing a murderer’s behavior a great accomplishment and somehow romantically fulfilling.
A popular theory according to Grande is the idea that being near someone that's high profile is appealing to women precisely because that person is someoneone who has already attracted attention—even if for the wrong reasons—and now you've got theirs.
Grande also mentioned the fantasy that women may have—the criminal is eventually found innocent and they’ll be together. One of Chris Watts’ “admirers” fits this description.
“In my heart you are a great guy,” writes a certain Candace to Watts. “If you’ll be alive, I’ll be the happiest girl for sure.” She signed the letter with hashthags #teamchris, #chrisisinnocent, #lovehim, and #soooocute.
“These women have created fantasy lives for themselves, especially with their pretend relationship with these men behind bars,” says clinical and forensic neuropsychologist Judy Ho, the host of Face The Truth, in an interview with Inside Edition in 2018.
“It’s something that we talk about when women are attracted to bad boys because they want to be the special person that can turn his life around and be able to contribute that to their own self-esteem.”
It may be confusing to many how someone would be sexually attracted to unremorseful monsters like Chris Watts and why they pursue these criminals.
Experts admit that it is hard to say exactly why some women are attracted to killers with the absence of research, hence the general theories and speculations.
In an interview with HuffPost, Sheila Isenberg had this to say, “These women are not crazy. [Writing to serial killers] is filling some kind of need… One of the basic human needs is to be acknowledged. Who would you write to who’s famous that you know will write you back? A convicted murderer. They will write you back.”