Why Women Love Men Who Kill

Elise Solé

When most people hear the name James Holmes— the "Dark Knight" shooter who killed 12 people and injured 58 others in July at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado—images of horror and sadness are evoked. But one Colorado woman feels not only sympathy for Holmes, she feels sexual attraction.

30-year-old Misty Benjamin of Aurora, Colorado is one of Holmes' biggest supporters. “When I first saw him, I was physically attracted to him,” she told The Daily Beast. “I thought, oh crap. I think he is cute. I want to say it upset me, but I was conflicted. It was like a burden. I don’t want this. I went into my bedroom and poured out my heart to the Heavenly Father. I didn’t want to like him. I stood up and said, it’s OK. I need to learn something from this.”

She's even dyed her hair bright red as a gesture of solidarity. “It seems crazy, but I’m not crazy,” says Benjamin. “I wanted something that if he saw me he knew it would be me—a supporter.”

“Even after everything I heard, I can still say I can still support this human being. He is not an animal. I don’t think he is a bad guy. What he did was bad.”

Benjamin, who started a Facebook page called "We Care About James Holmes" says she even keeps photos of Holmes in her wallet and on her bedroom wall. “When I get upset, I look at his picture and I calm down.”

Surprisingly, Benjamin is not an anomaly. In 2010 while awaiting trial for the murder of Stephany Flores, Joran van der Sloot told reporters that he was being inundated with love letters and offers to bear his children. Scott Peterson who sits on death row for the murder of his wife Laci, received countless letters from women proposing marriage. Even serial killer Ted Bundy reportedly had hundreds of romantic pen pals while incarcerated. And today, a disturbing crop of websites like PrisonPenPals, WriteaPrisoner.com, and ConvictMailbag.com has even emerged for women attracted to inmates.

Why, why, would a woman be sexually attracted to a murder? For starters, the desire to be associated with dangerous men may have evolutionary roots. Back in caveman days, men who placed themselves in dangerous situations (i.e.: fighting a saber-toothed tiger) were thought to have valuable sperm. And there's a chemical component too:  When people engage in fearful or scary situations they experience a rush of dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical that can feel addicting. Such as, when one is fantasizing about or obsessed with a murderer.

Then there's the fame factor, a consequence of living in our celebrity-obsessed world. According to Sheila Isenberg, author of "Women Who Love Men Who Kill", some women get a high from making contact with men who murder. "If you want to get together with a celebrity, Brad Pitt won't answer your letters but Scott Peterson might well," she says.

And finally, for women who have suffered domestic abuse, crushing on a killer could be a victim's way of re-writing their past. Says retired Radford University forensic psychologist: Abused women, "get a chance to control a relationship, maybe for the first time ever. When you're dating an inmate, he needs you more than you need him. You can leverage power over him by threatening to not visit or write. This is interesting because it reflects mixed motives: The desire to nurture, but also to control. And if he's on death row, it's forever."

But it's not just women who are looking for marriage that are drawn to dangerous men. One recent study conducted by New Mexico University found that men who possess narcissistic qualities and are deceitful thrill-seekers have more short-term sexual partners than their more stable counterparts. Researchers credit the success of these men to a mating strategy which allows them to increase their reproductive potential by having sex with many women, without bothering to stick around and help with child-rearing.

Women like Benjamin chalk up their obsessions to a harmless crush. Benjamin says: “Maybe down the road I won’t think of him as much, but he will always be with me. I think of it as a crush. It ain’t going to go anywhere, and that is what crushes are: things that don’t go anywhere. I had crushes on ’N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. I still have a crush on Nick Carter. As James isn’t in the news as much, it will dissipate, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care anymore. Life changes, and it doesn’t mean you don’t give a damn anymore.”