What draws people to marry prison inmates, or more specifically, what draws them to marry infamous mass murderers? According to prison officials, inmates convicted of the most violent crimes attract the most pen pals; in other words, mass murderers have groupies, and lots of them.
Psychologists have tried to make sense of the idea. Some researchers believe individuals with a history of abuse or low self-esteem are more likely to fall in love with someone who has committed a violent crime; others state that people seek out relationships with killers because it fits their personality type –psychologist Elaine Aron calls this type the “highly sensitive person.” There are a host of other Freudian and Jungian theories attached to the idea, as well as a psychological condition known as hybristophilia, in which sexual arousal is contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed a violent crime.
However, maybe marrying a murderer has less to do with low-self esteem or Freud and more to do with seizing 15 minutes of fame. For better or for worse, here are 10 notorious murderers who married in prison.
10 10. Phil Spector
In 2006, after Phil Spector had been charged with the murder of Lana Clarkson and was out on bail awaiting trial, he married 28-year old Rachelle Short. The marriage not only caused controversy because of their age difference, which led to the widespread use of the word “gold digger,” but the ceremony is said to have taken place in the same foyer where Spector shot Clarkson. On hearing Spector’s guilty verdict, Short said, “That man couldn’t hurt a fly. I don’t believe it.” Phil Spector was responsible for a style of music known as the “Wall of Sound,” but the only thing he’s seeing these days are four walls and some bars. As for Rachelle Short: love might be blind, or it might be blinded by dollars and fame.
9 Suzane Von Richthofen and Sandra Regina Gomes
While mostly unknown outside of Brazil, Suzane Von Richthofen and Sandra Regina Gomes are two women who committed murders that shocked the country. In 2002, Von Richthofen was jailed for 38 years after arranging for her boyfriend, Daniel Cravinhos de Paula e Silva, and his brother, to kill her parents; the two men beat them to death with tire irons. Sandra Regina Gomez is serving 27 years for her role in the kidnapping and death of a child in 2006. Von Richthofen and Gomez began seeing each other after meeting in the prison clothing factory. They married in 2014.
8 Oscar Ray Bolin Jr.
Oscar Ray Bolin, accused of raping and brutally murdering three women in the mid-80s, married Rosalie Martinez, his public offender, in a telephone ceremony in 1996. Martinez, who was from a wealthy Tampa family, left her prominent husband and four daughters for Bolin after working with him on one of his rape and murder cases in 1995. According to the Los Angeles Times, Martinez recalls the first time she was escorted into Bolin’s cell. “I felt an affinity for Mr. Bolin. I felt his isolation, his confinement, his loneliness. It affected me. Because I felt the same way. And it left me breathless.”
7 Lyle Menendez
In 1989, handsome, affluent, and clean-cut brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez shot their parents while they were asleep at their Beverly Hills mansion. The brothers may have gotten away with it, too, if they hadn’t gone on a spending spree that caught the attention of the police. Erik, the younger brother, eventually confessed to his psychologist that he and his brother were responsible.
The trial was a highly publicized, national sensation. Anna Erikkson, a model and former Playboy playmate, saw Lyle on TV and decided to write to him. It led to a back and forth correspondence, and Erikkson soon moved to Los Angeles to be closer to Lyle. In 1997, on the day of Lyle’s sentencing, the couple married in a telephone ceremony at Folsom State Prison. They divorced in 2001.
6 Charles “Tex” Watson
Tex Watson, a central figure in the Manson family and often called Charles Manson’s “lieutenant for killing,” married Kristin Joan Svege in 1979 while serving a life sentence for his role in the Tate/LaBianca murders. Svege, 20, was from New Jersey, and she moved to San Luis Obispo at Watson’s request. The two were married on the prison lawn by John S. Milton, pastor of the First Assembly of God Church in Arroyo Grande. Thanks to a conjugal visit program started under Governor Ronald Reagan in 1971, Watson and Svege had four children. In 1996, conjugal visits were banned for criminals serving life sentences. Watson and Svege divorced in 2003.
5 Kenneth Bianchi
Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin, Angelo Buono, Jr., are known as the “Hillside Stranglers.” The two men raped and killed 12 women in the Los Angeles area between 1977 and 1979. Bianchi was also a suspect in the “Alphabet Murders,” a series of four unsolved murders in Rochester, New York. In 1989, Bianchi married Shirlee Joyce Book, a Louisiana pen pal who he first started corresponding with in 1986. The wedding took place in the prison chapel of Washington State Penitentiary. Before marrying Kenneth Bianchi, it is rumored that Shirlee Joyce Book tried to woo Ted Bundy.
4 Susan Atkins
Susan Atkins, otherwise known in the Manson family as “Sexy Sadie,” was married twice while serving a life sentence for her role in the Tate/LaBianca murders. In 1981, in a bizarre storyline that can only be described as helter-skelter, Atkins married Donald Lee Laisure, a self-proclaimed billionaire who liked to replace the “S” in his name with a dollar sign. Supposedly Lai$ure called Atkins “Honey Bear” and spend $6.4 million trying to free her. However, after a couple of months, Atkins had the marriage annulled when she discovered that Lai$ure wasn’t as rich as he said he was and that he’d been married 35 times. Sexy Sadie married again in 1987, this time to a Harvard law student 15 years her junior named James Whitehouse. The couple remained together until Atkins’ death in 2009.
3 Richard Ramirez: The Night Stalker
Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. “The Night Stalker,” was sentenced to death in 1989. His mid-80s crime spree terrorized residents in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he committed 13 murders, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. In 1996, Ramirez married one of his pen pal groupies, a self-proclaimed virgin and freelance magazine editor named Doreen Lioy. “He’s kind, he’s funny, he’s charming,” Lioy told CNN in 1997. These are interesting words to describe a man who yelled out “Hail Satan” in court and drew a pentagram with his own blood in his jail cell.
2 Ted Bundy
Before his execution in 1989, Ted Bundy, an admitted serial killer, rapist and necrophile, confessed to 30 homicides in seven states between 1974 and 1978. However, the true victim count remains unknown. Bundy was handsome and charismatic, and he exploited those characteristics to gain the trust of women; by the time he was captured and held in an Orlando jail, Bundy had a cult of adoring women who believed he was innocent.
Carol Anne Boone, a twice divorced mother of two, moved from Washington to be with Ted Bundy while he was standing trial in Florida. In 1980, Bundy proposed to Carol Anne Boone by taking advantage of an obscure Florida law – a law that states that a marriage declaration in court, in the presence of a judge, constitutes a legal marriage. Boone gave birth to a daughter in 1982; it is said that Bundy and Boone were given secret conjugal visits in exchange for information about Bundy’s victims. Finally, three years before the execution, Boone became convinced of Bundy’s guilt and divorced him.
1 Charles Manson
On November 7th, Charles Manson, the 80-year old mastermind of America’s most notorious mass murder, was granted a marriage license by the state of California. While the date is yet to be determined, Manson plans to wed 26-year old Elaine “Star” Burton. “Y’all can know that it’s true,” Burton said. “It’s going to happen. I love him. I’m with him.” For the past seven years, Burton has run Manson’s social media sites. If the wedding takes place, the world’s most notorious inmate and his girlfriend will be able to invite 10 guests who are not prisoners. The prison has even assigned a wedding coordinator. The couple has until February to get married before having to reapply for another marriage license.