Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Stalkers: The Psychological Terrorist

Female Stalkers

Book cover: I Know You Really Love Me
Book cover: I Know
You Really Love Me

In her book, I Know You Really Love Me, psychiatrist Doreen Orion provides a terrifying account of her ordeal when a female patient developed an obsession with her. In fact, this is one of the professions most vulnerable to this kind of victimization. Orion had agreed to see "Fran" as a referral and for the next eight years lived entangled in a nightmare.

It began in 1989 in a psychiatric institute in Arizona, only a few months after Bardo had murdered Rebecca Shaeffer. Fran, 38, was sedated when Orion met her and showed the symptoms of a schizophrenic breakdown. She remained in the hospital for 16 days, admitting that she'd had several failed lesbian relationships (which turned out to have been prior stalking incidents). While under Orion's care, Fran developed a fixation. When released, she began to show up in places where Orion went, trying to get her attention. Orion soon discovered that Fran had been diagnosed with erotomania.

The psychiatric profession has only formally acknowledged the diagnosis of erotomania for the past two years in their standard diagnostic manual. In Fran's case, she had developed a delusional belief that Orion or anyone else she targeted was in love with her and that they were meant to be together. No matter what the other person said, even if that person was married to someone else, the erotomaniac knew the "truth."

Generally the delusion becomes an obsession and even a form of harassment through phone calls, unwanted gifts, letters, and surveillance. Sometimes the obsession has fatal consequences. Orion soon realized with dismay that Fran had stalked half a dozen women before her. According to what she learned about the disorder, the typical person suffering from this delusion:

  • is single
  • is immature
  • is unable to sustain close relationships
  • has a history of obsessive attachments
  • gets attached to unattainable objects
  • attains these objects through fantasy
  • needs the fantasy in order to survive
  • mistakes feelings in the self for feelings in the other
  • has delusions that can last for years
  • will go to great lengths to rationalize why the object ignores them
  • may become predatory
  • seeks any acknowledgment, even negative, that makes them feel connected
  • has delusions that often develop after the loss of a meaningful connection
  • is devious about collecting information
  • usually requires forced separation from the object

Not all stalkers are erotomaniacsonly about 10 percentbut most erotomaniacs participate in some form of stalking.

Dr. Orion received letters and poems from Fran spelling out their psychic connection. Disturbed, she had no idea what to do about this behavior. Fran seemed to take hope in a variety of "signs," viewing everything as a means to remain attached. Orion failed to respond, hoping that would discourage Fran, but it didn't. Fran even sent a huge romantic Valentine's bouquet.

After a year, the messages became more violent in nature. One included a picture of a woman with her face severely beaten. After two years and several instances of trespassing, Orion took out a restraining order. For Fran, that meant that when she was arrested for violating the order and then appealed she managed to have a face-to-face confrontation in court. The legal process merely ensured that the stalker fulfilled her fantasy.

Orion did a great deal of research and came across another bizarre case, known as "the tunnel stalker." In that case, a woman named Mona was being stalked by a man whom she had met at a mall in Arizona. The woman thought that the man's unwanted attentions would cease when she moved to another city. But the man, known as Stephen, not only found her but also invaded her new home. Stephen went underneath her bathroom floor through a grate and drilled a hole into the floor. He also hollowed out the vanity so he could fit inside. A maintenance man caught him crawling in and he was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. All the while, he insisted Mona would have to give him another chance.

Orion learned that, short of putting them in prison, the behavior of stalkers cannot be controlled. "Fran was a professional stalker," she said. "That was her job." But even if stalkers like Fran get prison time, their obsessions often resume upon release. Some of them move on to a new object, but some never quit until they die. One case went on for 31 years.