Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Groupies

Who are They?

Some people define serial killer groupies (SKGs) in narrow terms, such as women who fall in love with those killers who have been caught and are awaiting trial or are in prison. Other definitions include anyone, male or female, who shows some obsession with serial killers, to the point of extreme emotional attachment. It's not always clear whether the phrase "serial killer groupie," refers to people who just love the idea of a serial killer and would be aroused by any sort of contact, or more strictly to those who have become attached to a specific killer.

In any event, serial killers prove to be magnets for some people, mostly (but not always) females, and experts have offered a variety of reasons why. Among them are:

  • Rescue fantasies: the SKG wants to believe that she has the ability to change someone as cruel and powerful as a serial killer.
  • Need to nurture: many women have said that they see the little boy in these killers and feel an overwhelming desire to nurture and protect that part of him.
  • The perfect boyfriend: she knows where he is at all times, and while she can now claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues of most relationships; she can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time.
  • Need for drama: during the trial, the daily events in the lives of serial killers may attract women who want to get close to the adversarial atmosphere and the possibility that something surprising may occur.
  • Hybristophilia: some people are sexually excited by others who commit violence
  • Exclusivity: there's a real sense of ownership of the facts about the killers—which confers its own special status—among those who feel intimately associated with them
  • Regaining the lost male: some who have been abused, neglected or without a father figure look to the killer to fill that need
  • Vicarious fantasies: some wish to live out their own visions of violence through a person who can actually act them out
  • Low self-esteem: some women believe they cannot find a man and since men in prison are desperately lonely, it's an easy way to get involved
  • Attention: when they do something like get involved with a killer, people talk about them and often the media puts a spotlight on them
  • Eminence: they evolve from Nobodies into Somebodies
  • The chance to show their mettle: they align themselves against the world in a heated defense of their beloved
  • Beauty and the Beast syndrome: they like the idea of getting close to danger that will probably not hurt them, but there's always the slight chance

Interestingly, many SKGs are educated and attractive. Some have money, and some are already married. Quite a few are mothers, and it's often the case that they work in some related field, such as psychology or law enforcement.

In Women Who Love Men Who Kill, Sheila Isenberg quotes psychiatrist Park Dietz on prison groupies: "I would be amazed if they weren't among the neediest and most dependent of woman. As in the transference cure in psychoanalysis, the women are sucking up a part of the men's ego and that gives them the illusion of being in control."

In other words, getting involved with violent men makes them feel stronger. They can then transcend feelings of vulnerability and poor self-appraisal. That much empowerment makes them feel more vital. Add the fantasy that they are truly loved or are being truly loving, and this connection can become an addictive drive.

Isenberg also notes that a "large percentage were raised as Catholics and were severely affected by church teachings, including sexism, subjugation of women, and repressions of sexuality." She also writes that their fathers were often missing, withdrawn, or abusive, and the mothers might have been demanding. Many of these serial killer groupies also had poor relationships or marriages.

Such women devote themselves entirely to the man and make significant sacrifices, such as sitting for hours every week to await the brief face-to-face visit in prison. They may give up jobs or families to be near their true love, and they will most certainly be spending money on him — perhaps all they have. When the men are merely using them, they fail to recognize it.

A few of these women are also attracted to the celebrity status they gain—even if there is some dubious quality to it. They like going on talk shows to proclaim their love, being interviewed, and being allowed the chance to insist that the convicted murderer got a raw deal, was not capable of those crimes, or is different now. They may even take credit for "reforming" him, as if their love was the magical ingredient.

Demonic Males
Demonic Males
Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson wrote Demonic Males to examine the manner in which apes reveal much about the nature of violence in human beings. Men are the instigators of rape and war, as well as the gender most likely to be violent. They also analyzed the females of these species.

As they observed the behaviors of orangutans, these scientists realized that the female primates preferred the larger, more aggressive males, the ones that were loud and showed clear markers of their maleness. The large males were always ready to fight other males, and females often approached them after hearing them in such struggles. The subsequent sexual encounters appeared to be willing and relaxed.

Generalizing this to humans, and specifically to those women who feel compelled to be with or near serial killers, theorists have said that SKGs may be responding to the overt maleness of the man who has done the most brutal act imaginable. That is, they may be equating this sort of violence with masculine strength and then seeking it as a way to bring such a male into their lives, for protection and for producing offspring with a good chance for survival. Thus, they're responding to a biological drive that they may not even be aware of.

"Women's evolved strategic responses to male demonism," the authors state, "have included countermeasures and defiance, but they have also included collaboration. That is to say, while men have evolved to be demonic males."

They're quick to point out that this does not mean that women in general prefer the most violent males in society, or that they like crime or criminals. It only means that the marks of aggressive males—the cluster of behaviors that show dominance and success—are attractive to many women, and they'll quickly cleave to it.

"In a twisted kind of way," says Elliott Leyton in Hunting Humans, "the male who is the most strong and dominant—the most violent—will appear to be the most male." The fascination among females with multiple murders that he had witnessed struck him as the most excessive he had ever seen.

It isn't difficult to find such men, either. Anne Kingston offers a selection of Web sites, from to Romantic "Anti-death-penalty sites vie with," she says, "as places for women to meet men."

And the man doesn't have to be attractive. Henry Lee Lucas, a one-eyed serial killer who confessed to more than 300 murders, recanted, and confessed again, has had his share of female admirers. Despite his apparent sexual relationship with Ottis Toole, he's nevertheless compelling to some women as a potential mate. (One woman even came up with a plot to free him by posing as his supposedly murdered former girlfriend.)

John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy
Overweight, narcissistic and whiney, John Wayne Gacy, killer of 33 young men during homosexual encounters, married in prison as well.

As we'll see in the following examples, some women get exactly what they desire, although Isenberg insists that the "love" they believe they have is just an illusion.



We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'