Killer love: Why people fall in love with murderers

Story highlights

  • Notorious convicted killers like Ted Bundy, "Hillside Stranglers," got married while in prison
  • Experts have studied why people fall in love with murderers and want to marry them
  • Some are chasing fame, others believe they see the true side of the person, one writer says
"The Seventies" airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Thursdays on CNN.

(CNN)Ted Bundy. Richard "the Night Stalker" Ramirez. "Hillside Stranglers" Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono.

They're all famous killers, and they have another thing in common: All four got married in prison, well after being convicted of their notorious crimes.
But who would marry a serial killer -- and why?
Sheila Isenberg, author of "Women Who Love Men Who Kill," spoke with dozens of women who had relationships with murderers. She found that there are two primary groups of people who end up with murderers: those who fall in love with "ordinary murderers," believing they see the "true" good side of the killer, and those who start relationships with notorious, tabloid-headlining murderers because they are drawn to the spotlight.
Serial Killer Groupies: Romance without risk?
women who love convicts serial killer groupies joy krause casey jordan don lemon cnn tonight_00033812

    JUST WATCHED

    Serial Killer Groupies: Romance without risk?

MUST WATCH

Serial Killer Groupies: Romance without risk? 05:27
"They want to be infamous too. When Scott Peterson was sent to prison, he got marriage proposals by the bucket before he even got to the prison. They know that if they get involved with these men their name or maybe their picture will get in the paper," Isenberg said.
Charles Manson was recently engaged to be married, both the Menendez brothers got married in jail and so did the "Hillside Strangler" duo.
And it's not just women. Susan Atkins, a member of the Manson Family who got a life sentence for her role in the Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders, married two different men in prison.

Blinded by love

In her research, Isenberg found that many in both groups cling to the belief that their convicted boyfriends and husbands are, in fact, innocent.
"They were deluded that the man had not committed the crimes," Isenberg said.
She points to women like Carol Ann Boone, who began her relationship with Ted Bundy while he was on trial for two murders and three assaults at Florida State University, married him and had his child. Bundy later confessed to 30 murders.
Boone, who had worked with Bundy at the Washington state Department of Emergency Services, said she "liked Ted immediately" and testified for him as a character witness because she felt like he was being "railroaded."
It wasn't until years after his conviction that she eventually became convinced of his guilt and ended their relationship.
Doreen Lioy married Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker" who killed more than a dozen people. In 1997, she told CNN that she doesn't mind if people think she's crazy. "I just believe in him completely," Lioy said. "In my opinion, there was far more evidence to convict O.J. Simpson."
In cases where the person was found guilty of only one murder, Isenberg said the women often turn to mitigating circumstances -- that the person was on drugs, for example, or that it was an accident that does not represent the person's real character.

The harsh reality

Since many states do not allow conjugal visits, for some of these couples there is never the chance to become physical. The women, for the most part, do not mind this, Isenberg says, and most are more interested in the romance.
Dating someone who's serving a life sentence often involves an intense level of courtship. Most of these prisoners have nothing but time on their hands so they shower their girlfriends with affection.
"He paints pictures for you, writes poems for you, writes long 30-, 40-, 50-page letters. It's an enormously romantic relationship," Isenberg said. For many, "it's like you are living in your own romance novel."
From her research, Isenberg concludes that for a lot of these women, a relationship like this is a power move.
"A lot of these women have come from abusive childhoods or were battered women. Some were physically, psychologically or verbally abused, but they were all victims. I came up with a theory that if you are in a relationship with a man who is behind bars for life or on death row, he can't hurt you. You are in the driver's seat and in control for maybe the first time in your life," she said.
For all the intensity, many of these relationships don't last.
Since most of these prisoners will never be released, there is no chance to move forward and live together in day-to-day life. For the women who fall in love with killers, that can seem like a "perfect boyfriend" situation. As Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, wrote in Psychology Today, "There's no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him."
Without the prison walls, the fantasy would come crashing down.
Charles Manson and the Manson Family murders
Charles Manson and the Manson Family murders

    JUST WATCHED

    Charles Manson and the Manson Family murders

MUST WATCH

Charles Manson and the Manson Family murders 01:52
Watch Episode 4 of the CNN Original Series "The Seventies" on Thursday, July 9, at 9 p.m. ET/PT for an in-depth look at the killers, crimes and cults that shook the decade.