Serial killers are interesting.
We are at once fascinated and repulsed by the study of sociopaths out for blood – and most often, men out for the blood of women. The idea of the “good” serial killer à la Dexter is a relatively new one, but it’s a long-known fact that women flooded Ted Bundy with love letters, a woman married Richard Ramirez while he was in jail, and there are countless other examples of lesser-known criminals and their groupies.
A few years ago I encountered a girl who was around sixteen that self-identified as a Ted-Head (a Ted Bundy groupie). It was easy to dismiss that as the romanticization of a man whose horror she had never experienced. Her other interests were, like many of mine, dark and subversive.
My thinking at the time was that some day she would grow up and realize that finding a person interesting is not the same as finding them emotionally or sexually attractive. After all, Bundy used the fact that he was a handsome man to kill women. He’s not exactly the kind of guy you would want to date (you wouldn’t want to date Rodney James Alcala, either, but he famously won The Dating Game).
I wanted to write a bit about the Ted Bundy phenomenon and how it continues in a new generation. I started at a website titled Bundyphile, hoping to start right at the source in my efforts to write about and gain some understanding of the young women embracing Bundy (one Facebook page referred to him as “The misunderstood voice of a generation”). The themes featured on these sites were repetitive:
Bundy wasn’t “all bad.” Bundy was misunderstood. Yes, what Bundy did was wrong, but you can love and admire him without idolizing his crimes.
Many of the women and girls obsessing over Bundy and other serial killers seem to think they could be the person to change them, or nurture them, or be “the one” that was there for them and kept all the bad things from happening. In one blog entry, a woman calling herself “Lolita” proclaims, in all caps of course, “ANYWAY, IF MY OWN DEATH COULD FILL THE HOLLOW SOUL OF TED BUNDY, I [WOULD] HAVE REALLY LOVED TO BE HIS LAST VICTIM.”
She claimed they were similar, she claimed to understand him. He was “different” from other killers (remember, Ted Bundy was likely dead before this woman was born). A few minutes into my research it became clear that one cannot look for Ted-Heads without finding Dahmer “fangirls” and the obsession many internet fangirls have with gay male sex. Specifically, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer engaged in gay sex.
This was around the time my research took a sharp left turn. Up to this point, the women seemed emotionally invested, and yes, obsessed. They seemed to believe that the love of a woman like themselves could have saved the violent men they idolized.
When I hit Mrs. Dahmer’s Infinityland, it became clear that there was much more to this phenomenon than the tendency of high school/college aged girls to fall for “misunderstood,” “dark” men. This was about sex. Okay, yeah. I guess we knew that, but it was about some seriously dark, disturbing sex based completely on how violent and terrible these men were. A tumblr post reads:
Most girls: Have you seen his body, though?
Me: Have you seen his body count though?
“Mrs. Dahmer’s” page features several photos of Dahmer, most mug shots or photos of him in prison jumpsuits. The photos are captioned lovingly, the way you might imagine a middle school girl might caption a photo of her favorite Disney heart-throb in her diary, but it devolves from there rather quickly:
-Haha, Awwh! -This was one he was charged for Disorderly conduct! Well, actually he was just pissing in public and people and their families saw. lul
-He was only 26 I believe?..
-Gah, how can you be this cute, Jeff? I love you. I just wanna ruffle your hair!
-personally, ID like to pull the shit out of it, suck your tung outta your mouth and fuck u 7 ways to sunday jeff, but, thats just me.
Once I discover the “hybristerotica” tag on tumblr, things get decidedly dark, fast.
A tumblr dedicated to the celebration of hybristophilia drags me deep into a corner of the internet I never expected to find. Sex and Crime All The Time features, among other things, photos of famous serial killers with sexually explicit “confessions” plastered over them and a serial erotica story called Stockholm Syndrome focusing on Richard Ramirez.
I want to take a moment to state that I understand that rape fantasy is not the same as wanting to be raped and that plenty of women with healthy sex lives are into rough play – however, I think this fantasy becomes a little different when the fantasies are focused on men known to prey on women violently.
I also wonder about the line in the sand as these women proudly identify as “hybristophiliacs” and defend the legitimacy of this attraction, though the profile of women who fit the definition isn’t a list of positive personality traits and many of them admit to sexual dysfunction outside of situations where they are fantasizing about killers.
The hardcore hybristophiliacs don’t often bother with claiming the men they obsess over are “misunderstood,” or “only part bad.” When an anonymous fan of the tumblr asks if Ted Bundy loved his wife and child, the owner of the blog answers, “I don’t think he did.”
There do seem to be limits, though. One anon says she’s “sad” because Eric Harris’s diary featured homophobic sentiment. The owner of the blog comforts her by assuming he would have outgrown those sentiments if he had lived. The “line,” however, doesn’t have anything to do with the way the men treated women.
It seems the worse the offense, the more these women are drawn to them, the more violent the fantasy.
For some reason, I find the obsession with men like Bundy and Ramirez less disturbing than the sexual and romantic fantasies associated with more recent killers. There is a good chance the women idolizing Bundy, wearing his face on pendants, and staring at his picture weren’t alive when Bundy died in 1989. He can be a “character” like Loki from the Avengers or yes, even Dexter. No one they know has had contact with him, they didn’t feel the fear and horror he caused personally.
But the women fantasizing about Elliot Rodger were most definitely alive when he opened fire in Santa Barbara in May of this year. Their obsession goes deeper than his looks – these women have studied his hateful videos and so-called manifesto. His vitriol toward women does nothing to push these hybristophiliacs away. In fact, it seems to do the opposite; all the women drawn to Rodger have a common desire – to be his first girlfriend.
They want to be the girl that calms the anger in him. Some fantasize about Rodger with Dylan Kleibold and Eric Harris of the Columbine shooting, positing that they could show him how to get women. Hybristerotica features two erotic “fan-fiction” pieces on Eliot Rodger, one written from his point of view, and another told from a woman’s point of view – In Come Over and Fuck Me, she imagines herself as his lifelong friend, unaware of his lust for her.
The erotica isn’t well-written, but that’s not the point. It doesn’t have to be. The very thought of fucking these dangerous men is what entraps the women participating on the hybristophilia tags on tumblr. The serial killer fandom and hybristophiliacs receive a lot of negative attention from other tumblr users, particularly those who enjoy true crime but do not want to associate with people they feel fetishize and idolize murderers.
If you go through any of the popular hybristophilia tags you will see defenses of hybristophilia again and again. They insist they are not mocking the victims or supporting the crime, they respect the victims – they just also find themselves attracted to the murderer. The most interesting case is the group of young women obsessed with high school shooter TJ Lane.
While his fans insist they respect the victims and the families of the victims, they also praise him for wearing shirts that say ‘KILLER’ on them in court and pass around GIFs of him saying, to the parents of his victims, “The hand that pulled the trigger to kill your sons now masturbates to the memory. Fuck all of you,” while flipping them off.
They brand this as “sass” and tag photos of him with “the king of sass.” Almost all the memes, GIFs, and collages of TJ Lane involve that quote in whole or in part. They love him, in large part, because he was disrespectful to the families of his victims.
It seems the worse the offense, the more these women are drawn to them, the more violent the fantasy.
Some hybristophiliacs claim that they are completely normal, one even citing her therapist in defense of her obsession with TJ Lane. Others claim it is no different from any other paraphilia (a condition in which a person’s sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about and engaging in sexual behavior that is atypical and extreme) and as such should be respected.
It is worth noting that pedophilia is the most common type of paraphilia and no one is suggesting we support pedophiles as normal – not even the hybristophiliacs that are into men who have abused children. The four most common types of paraphilia involve a dismissal of consent – pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and frotteurism – the act of rubbing oneself on non-consenting persons.
Another fact worth considering in “respecting” hybristophiliacs as “normal” is that paraphilia often leads to sexual dysfunction – needing the thing they are attracted to for sexual gratification. If hybristophilia makes women who love serial killers unable to have healthy sex lives with men who don’t want to rape or kill them, I would dare say it isn’t normal. These observations aren’t meant as judgment on the hybristophilia communities, per se, but to be fair to them also means showing the side that doesn’t support their claims of normalcy.
So why do women want sociopaths? Why is a half-decent face and a high body count a draw for them? Even Timothy McVeigh had entries under hybristophilia tags – there seems to be no limit. Some are purely sexual, some are borderline romantic, and some are downright disturbing given the men they are discussing. Here Is one from the Jahar (Dzhokhar) Tsarnaev tag.
The deeper I got into the hybristophilia tags and websites the less sense it seemed to make. Going into this, I admit, I figured I would find a few groups of misfits that were still into Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez. Like many, I read the articles that came out showing that the Tsarnaevs, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza had attracted a female following – but most of the quoted content seemed to be “Oh he’s hot,” which can be an objective opinion—although most people have a harder time separating a person’s attractiveness from their actions.
The longing, claims of love, unending support, and hero-worship definitely shook me. When I hit the graphic sex, I felt like I was spinning out. My brain can’t really make sense of it, especially in cases like that of TJ Lane, who is not only remorseless, but took such glee in rubbing his crimes in the faces of the families of those he killed.
I have always viewed Halloween, horror movies and books, and a fascination of the dark and disturbing a healthy reaction to a terrifying world. People study serial killers because we know that though they behave like monsters, they are human. By learning about them we gain knowledge and that helps us feel proactive and therefore, safe.
When we get into horror and the supernatural, it’s a terror we can control.
It’s a skull made of papier mache you can hold in your hand and know it’s not so bad. What’s disturbing about the hybristophiliacs on the internet, what is so unsettling, is that they’ve crossed the line somehow. They’ve gone beyond a desire to understand, beyond a fascination, and right into an uncontrolled obsession.