Charles Manson’s Marriage – why women marry murderers
Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen
Notorious murderer Charles Manson is 80 years old and in a Californian state prison for a series of killings (by members of a cult/commune ‘Manson Family’), yet he has recently been granted a marriage license to wed 26 year old Afton Burton.
Because he is serving a life sentence, the two are not allowed conjugal visits.
Manson orchestrated a group of followers who went on a murder spree that took place between July and August 1969. They killed actress Sharon Tate, who was 8½ months pregnant and married to movie director Roman Polanski, but was stabbed multiple times as she begged for the life of her unborn child.
This phenomenon of women becoming drawn to and even eventually marrying infamous killers is well known.
Sheila Isenberg proposed various intriguing psychological theories in her book “Women Who Love Men Who Kill”; she interviewed 30 women who were married to Death Row inmates. She contended that such women had been abused in their earlier lives, so that a relationship with a man behind bars becomes, paradoxically, perhaps the safest possible relationship.
Sheila Isenberg suggests that marriage to notorious serial killers – like Charles Manson – also offers some women suffering from low self-esteem, the thrill of fame. Perhaps a killer’s notoriety provides a sense of worth. The bigger the impact of his crime, the more important she feels.
Charlyne Gelt, a Californian psychologist, has studied in depth 26 women, who started relationships with prison lifers and death row inmates, after they were incarcerated.
Her study was not of high profile mass murderers, such as Charles Manson, a crime which is relatively rare. Gelt’s research has been published as a book entitled ‘Hades’ Angels’, probing the hidden forces behind such a magnetic draw and demystifying destructive relationships.
Dr Gelt found these women were often successful, educated, nurturing and confident, not fitting the popular stereotype of being ‘dysfunctional’. They experienced, in their view, genuine love and emotional intimacy from the prisoner, and this was the first time they had such attraction. Many of the women explained that when they met the prisoner, they had the sense of connecting with their soul mate.
Dr Gelt argues that all the restrictions in prison to physical contact seem to unintentionally contribute towards an even more intense previously unmet intimacy. She proposes that some women are driven by strong unconscious forces to fix or save a criminal from their flaws, because this is one unconscious way of dealing with a childhood emotional wound within the women themselves.
Dr Gelt contends that the prison environment, may in some way, even replicate the emotionally charged, sometimes dangerous atmosphere of these women’s early childhood family environment.
Others will argue that becoming apparently indispensible to someone who is completely dependent on them, just perhaps like a baby, means that this very primitive drive in some women is how they become healed from a childhood trauma.
Perhaps these women are often ‘groomed’ even from prison, or seduced, by the imprisoned men’s apparent vulnerability, and the prisoners can be very manipulative, explaining that the case against them is flawed, which brings out the maternal and rescue instinct in some women.
Micael Dahlén and Magnus Söderlund from the Stockholm School of Economics propose that murderers can be idolised and found attractive precisely because of their homicidal behaviour.
Their study, published in the ‘Journal of Social Psychology’, is titled, ‘The Homicidol Effect: Investigating Murder as a Fitness Signal’ – ‘Homicidol’ being a merger of ‘Homicide’ and ‘Idol’.
Micael Dahlén and Magnus Söderlund point out that surveys find 91% of men and 84% of women have had vivid fantasies about killing someone, and that human beings probably have an evolved adaptation for carnage, because in our ancestral environments the ability to commit murder could be considered one kind of genetic or evolutionary ‘fitness’, in terms of survival.
In ancient times murder could enable acquisition of rivals’ territory, sexual access to a competitor’s mate, protection of one’s own resources, cultivation of a fierce reputation deterring mobilization of enemies, and prevention of interlopers from mating with one’s partner.
If the ability to commit murder is a kind of genetic fitness, Dahlén and Söderlund tested a prediction that a murderer is perceived by modern observers as a fit competitor and, thereby, as an attractive partner. This is because our brains evolved to survive in ancient conditions, not in those of the much more recent modern world.
In two experiments a total of 460 subjects rated their perceptions of a person, where half of the descriptions included information about a committed murder in the form of one single sentence: “some time ago, John (Jane) murdered a person.”
The extraordinary study found that killing enhanced observers’ attitudes toward, and even inclination to interact with a person. Opposite sex observers were found more inclined to associate benign intent with the act of murder, such as thinking that the homicide was not the person’s fault.
Micael Dahlén and Magnus Söderlund point to numerous examples of the ‘Homicidol Effect’.
Amanda Knox became “Foxy Knoxy” with teens everywhere and received fan mail from across the globe after she was accused of murdering her room-mate in Italy in 2007; the “Japanese Cannibal” Issei Sagawa, who after committing a high-profiled murder in the 1980’s launched a career as a popular author and TV talk show host; and Charles Manson inspired musical artists such as Guns n’ Roses (who recorded one of his songs) and Marilyn Manson (who took his name).
But Russil Durrant, from the Institute of Criminology, University of Wellington, New Zealand, points out that the evolutionary psychology idea that we somehow evolved to kill is problematic.
In his study entitled ‘Born to kill? A critical evaluation of homicide adaptation theory’, Russil Durrant argues that amongst many problems with the theory, is the question of just how common killing was in our evolutionary past.
His analysis, published in the journal ‘Aggression and Violent Behaviour’, quotes figures that globally, approximately 520, 000 people are now victims of homicide every year. Based on data for the United States, the overall current annual rate of homicide of about 5.6 per 100,000 individuals, translates to a lifetime risk of being killed of approximately 1 in 225.
From that perspective, maybe homicide doesn’t seem that rare an event.
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