Julie Burchill

Why do some women find killers irresistible?

Why do some women find killers irresistible?
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Women who fall in love with killers have always fascinated and repulsed me. What drives them? Do they think they can ‘save’ these men? Are they secret sadists, acting by proxy? Are they masochists, getting a cheap thrill from communicating with someone who has tortured a fellow woman to death? Bonnie and Clyde syndrome, also known as hybristophilia, puts the case that, as an evolutionary reproductive trait, some women can be drawn to ‘bad boys’ who are prepared to break rules/laws and are therefore ‘stronger’.

I was pleased to see that Denmark has now banned prisoners serving life sentences from starting romantic relationships while in jail. The ban was introduced after a 17-year-old fell in love with 50-year-old Peter Madsen, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2018 for killing, sexually assaulting and dismembering a young woman named Kim Wall. The country’s justice minister said last week: ‘We have seen disgusting examples in recent years of prisoners who have committed abominable crimes contacting young people in order to gain their sympathy and attention… lifers should not be able to use our prisons as dating centres or media platforms to brag about their crimes.’

My views on prison dating are hardline. I wouldn’t even allow a petting session with a pickpocket or a fondle with a fraudster. The idea that a prison would permit murderers to have what are essentially ‘dates’ — let alone ‘conjugal rights’ — makes my very flesh crawl. It’s not ruddy Butlin’s!

Denmark’s bill also ends long-term prisoners being allowed to broadcast freely their offences on social media or on podcasts. This seems very sensible. I wonder how many of the new generation of murderer-groupies have been encouraged by true crime, a genre which grows ever more popular — particularly stories about the murder of women by men, preferably involving dismemberment. In the past we would have dismissed those who hung around the true crime shelves as weirdos; now the killings of people who were someone’s mother or daughter are binge-worthy, like the latest box set of some Scandinavian whodunnit. But we know who done it when we watch true crime shows; we’re just picking over the bones.

Those who indulge in this particular guilty pleasure should, indeed, feel guilty. I’ll never forget the grande dame restaurant owner who told me that her favourite way to spend an evening was with something eggy on a tray ‘and something fascinating on TV, like the O.J. trial’ as if it were some superior soap. My current bête noire in this overcrowded field is a podcast called My Favourite Murder. It says of itself: ‘My Favourite Murder is the hit true crime comedy podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. Since its inception in early 2016, the show has broken download records and sparked an enthusiastic, interactive “Murderino” fan base who come out in droves for their sold-out worldwide tours.’

True crime comedy! Lose a loved one and give the Murderinos a laugh! Whenever I hear about these murder aficionados, I wonder: if they had lost a loved one through murder, would they be happy if people were entertained by it — bingeing on episodes like a packet of cupcakes?

I have been in favour of capital punishment all my life. My feminism has informed my belief. I grew up with the smiling faces of the legions of lost little girls branded on my brain: girls like the two raped and murdered by Colin Pitchfork, who is now walking the streets again. When two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners and a man can be sentenced to just four years and eight months for killing a woman — as Sam Pybus was this month for the murder of Sophie Moss, a young woman with mental and physical health problems, during sex — something in the process of crime and punishment is rotten. The attacker is treated with more humanity by many judges than the victim.

So keep on fancying ‘bad boys’ and getting excited by the latest murder podcast, but please don’t drag the rest of us into your weird fantasies.