Loving a Murderer: Why Are Women Drawn to Extremely Dangerous Men

Nikolas Cruz
19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018.

“No one else is dealing with your demons, meaning maybe defeating them could be the beginning of your meaning, friend,” the lyrics of the “Kitchen Sink” song of “Twenty One Pilots” musical duo read. The phrase is written in pink ink on a card with a cartoon monkey hanging from a tree that says, “Hang in there.”  “I know you could use a good friend right now. Hang in there. Keep your head up!” The above message is addressed to one of the most infamous mass shooters in the United States.

Nikolas Cruz has been sent over 200 love letters and other pieces of “fan mail” in jail, but since he is on suicide watch, he can’t have access to them. On February 14, 2018, 17 people were killed, and 17 more were wounded in one of the world’s deadliest school massacres. After confessing his horrendous crime, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 attempted killings.

Cruz is one of the several dangerous criminals who, although locked away in prison, get women’s hearts thumping. But why are so many women attracted to extremely violent and psychopathic men, such as Ted Bundy, the notorious American serial killer who raped and murdered more than 30 women, or California serial killer, rapist, and burglar Richard Ramirez? What causes such young, fertile, nubile women to camp out of the courtrooms of cold-blooded murderers, such as the Columbine High School shooters, Norway’s mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, or the cult leader Charles Manson?

“Hybristophilia,” derived from the Greek word “ὑβρίζειν” (to commit an outrage against someone) and “φίλο” (having a strong affinity for), is defined as a paraphilia involving being attracted to people who have committed atrocious crimes. The phenomenon is also known as “Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome.” Women who share the characteristics of hybristophiliacs often send sexual or amorous “fan mail,” and in some cases even marriage proposals to inmates who have committed heinous crimes. There have been several cases where such hybristophiliacs managed to marry the objects of their obsession.

Charles Manson and Afton Elaine Burton
Charles Manson and his fiancée, 27-year-old Afton Elaine Burton who sought to wed him so that she could gain possession of his corpse.

The motives of women attracted by men behind prison bars vary depending on the person, ranging from an uncritical fascination over the criminal to utter infatuation. Some of the hybristophiliacs are intrigued by the fact that they could “change” the criminal they obsess over. Others seem willing to try to “nurture” the problematic part of the criminal’s personality that is attributed to his abusive childhood, while others simply seek to gain public attention. In other cases, some women seek to “tame” their beloved criminals leveraging their money for their legal representation tipping the scale of power to their advantage. Although the spectrum of hybristophilia spans multiple different scenarios, all cases share a twisted yearning for a murderous “alpha male” who by his demonstration of brutality activates their instincts of self-preservation and induces their utter devotion.