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Hybristophilia is a paraphilia involving sexual interest in and attraction to those who commit crimes.[1] The term is derived from the Greek word hubrizein (ὑβρίζειν), meaning "to commit an outrage against someone" (ultimately derived from hubris ὕβρις, "hubris"), and philo, meaning "having a strong affinity/preference for".[2]

Many high-profile criminals, particularly those who have committed atrocious crimes, receive "fan mail" in prison that is sometimes amorous or sexual, presumably because of this phenomenon. While less common, the aggressive type of hybristophilia can occur in men with female serial killers. In some cases, admirers of these criminals have gone on to marry the object of their affections in prison.[3][4] In popular culture, this phenomenon is also known as "Bonnie and Clyde syndrome".[5]


Some speculations have been offered as to the cause of hybristophilia. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University, discusses the condition in females and mentions that some of the women in particular who have married or dated male serial killers have offered the following reasons:[3]

  • Low self-esteem and the lack of a father figure
  • "Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer."
  • "Others 'see' the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him."
  • "A few hoped to share in the media spotlight or get a book or movie deal."
  • "Then there's the notion of the 'perfect boyfriend'. She knows where he is at all times, and she knows he's thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. There's no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time."

Others offered reasons along the lines of:[3]

  • "Some mental health experts have compared infatuation with killers to extreme forms of fanaticism. They view such individuals as insecure people who cannot find love in normal ways or as 'love-avoidant' females who seek romantic relationships that cannot be consummated."

Psychologist Leon F. Seltzer proposes the condition could be related to the riskiness involved with dating a criminal, the desire to tame or fix them, and primitive instincts based on evolutionary psychology. In the latter theory, he mentions dominance is attractive as it would mean such men could protect women and their offspring, according to evolutionary history. Seltzer says women today may consciously realize that it is unwise to date a serial killer, but they are nevertheless attracted to them; he stated, "as a therapist I've encountered many women who bemoaned their vulnerability toward dominant men who, consciously, they recognized were all wrong for them".[4]

As evidence of women's fantasy preference for dominant men, he refers to the book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam. Seltzer discusses Ogas and Gaddam's argument that this fantasy is the dominant plot of most erotic/romantic books and movies written for women, but the fantasy always holds that this male dominance is conditional, "it doesn't really represent the man's innermost reality". He also says in reality, very few women are actually swayed by these "primitive instincts".[4]

Women who write love letters to or even pursue men who are incarcerated for a crime are sometimes referred to as a prison groupie.[6][7]

Notable examples[edit]

  • One of the most infamous examples of hybristophilia is the large number of women attracted to Ted Bundy after his arrest.[8][9] He often drew scores of women at the jammed courtrooms of his trials each day.[10] Bundy allegedly received hundreds of love letters from women while he was incarcerated, and married a woman, Carole Ann Boone, whom he had met while both were working in Washington. He proposed to her in the middle of proceedings while Boone was on the witness stand. Boone gave birth to a daughter whom it was believed Bundy had fathered.[11][12]
  • Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer, is said to have had amorous women sending him letters, money, and other gifts during his time in prison despite being a gay man and a cannibal.[13]
  • Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker" who killed 13 people and had "more than a passing interest" in Satanism, had fans who would write him letters and pay him visits. This included Doreen Lioy, who married him in California's San Quentin State Prison on October 3, 1996.[14] However, Lioy eventually broke ties with Ramirez in 2009 after DNA confirmed he had raped and murdered 9-year-old Mei Leung, though it seems she never legally filed for divorce.
  • Charles Manson's fangirls are also examples.[15]
  • Terrorists such as Ted Kaczynski,[16] Timothy McVeigh, Anders Behring Breivik,[17] and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev[18] have also been the objects of hybristophilia.
  • School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have been posthumously subjected to hybristophilia.[19]
  • Karla Homolka, a serial killer who acted as an accomplice to her husband Paul Bernardo, is considered to be a hybristophile by some forensic psychiatrists.[20]
  • Jeremy Meeks, following his 2014 arrest for felony weapon charges, went viral on Facebook for his appearance in his mugshot. After his release, he became a fashion model.[21][22]

References [edit]

  1. ^ Hybristophilia definition, American Psychological Association
  2. ^ Eric W. Hickey, ed. (2006). Sex crimes and paraphilia. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education. pp. 197–9. ISBN 978-0-13-170350-6.
  3. ^ a b c Ramsland, Katherine (20 April 2012). "Women Who Love Serial Killers". Psychology Today. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Seltzer, Leon F. (24 April 2012). "Why Do Women Fall for Serial Killers?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  5. ^ "Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome Is a Real Thing - Nerve". Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 2017-11-13.
  6. ^ Poniewozik, James (Apr 2, 2018). "Review: 'The Last O.G.' Searches for Brooklyn, and Itself (Published 2018)" – via NYTimes.com.
  7. ^ Mailhot, Terese. "Paul Simon Money." Transmotion 2.1&2 (2016): 131.
  8. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2007). Serial Killers and Mass Murderers: Profiles of the World's Most Barbaric Criminals. Ulysses Press.
  9. ^ "Seriously Though, Why Were So Many Women Obsessed With Ted Bundy?". Women's Health. 7 May 2019.
  10. ^ Michaud, Stephen G. "The Only Living Witness: The True Story Of Ted Bundy". Crime Library.
  11. ^ "Bundy's wife is pregnant – but she refuses to kiss, tell". Deseret News. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Publishing Company. Associated Press. September 30, 1981. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  12. ^ Levenson, Bob (January 24, 1989). "Courtroom Wife Fades Out of Sight, Not A Recent Visitor". Orlando Sentinel.
  13. ^ Barnard, Ian. "The Racialization of Sexuality: The Queer Case of Jeffrey Dahmer". Thamyris. 7 (1 & 2). Rodopi: 88. ISSN 1381-1312.
  14. ^ Fimrite, Peter; Taylor, Michael (March 27, 2005). "No shortage of women who dream of snaring a husband on Death Row". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Corporation. Archived from the original on July 10, 2013. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  15. ^ Corsini, Raymond Joseph (1999). The Dictionary of Psychology. Psychology Press. p. 692. ISBN 1-58391-028-X.
  16. ^ Bailey, Holly (January 26, 2016). "Falling in love with the Unabomber". Yahoo! News. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  17. ^ "Breivik 'gets love letters from 16-year-old girls'". The Local. June 18, 2012.
  18. ^ Allen, Charlotte (May 22, 2013). "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his fangirls". Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ Beaumont, Hilary (2015-02-24). "Inside the World of Columbine-Obsessed Tumblr Bloggers". www.vice.com. Archived from the original on 2019-06-23. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  20. ^ "Karla the victim?". Canada.com. 30 May 2005. Archived from the original on 17 August 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  21. ^ Rocha, Veronica (March 9, 2016). "'Hot Felon' Jeremy Meeks released from federal prison and gets job offers" – via LA Times.
  22. ^ "The 'hot felon' is now a successful model". independent.co.uk. June 19, 2017. Archived from the original on June 8, 2022.

Further reading[edit]