The Sexual Attraction of a Killer

Joran van der Sloot is the latest jailbird to get romantic attention from women. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the allure of the ultimate bad boy.

For some women, there is nothing quite as sexy as a suspected killer.

Take Joran van der Sloot, the 22-year-old Dutch native awaiting trial for the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores. Apparently, Van der Sloot has been biding his time in a Lima jail cell, poring over love letters from a flood of women. “I get more letters every day,” he bragged to the Dutch paper, De Telegraaf. “One of them even wanted me to get her pregnant.”

Van der Sloot, who is also the prime suspect in the 2005 disappearance of American teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba, received moderate female attention when he was a suspect in that case. But his sex appeal has apparently skyrocketed since confessing to killing Flores earlier this month, even though he has since retracted his confession. The Dutch paper, which reportedly pays Van der Sloot to talk, says he is getting about 50 letters a day, including marriage proposals and promises to wait for him when he is released from prison.

“If you are in a relationship with a man behind bars for life or a man on death row, then you have a lot of control over the relationship.”

(The Daily Beast, too, has received several letters from women, asking for Van der Sloot’s address at the Miguel Castro Castro prison.)

Barbie Latza Nadeau: Van der Sloot Denies MurderFalling for felons is nothing new. In her 1991 book, Women Who Love Men Who Kill, author and journalist Sheila Isenberg interviewed three dozen women who fell in love with men who had been convicted of murder, or had confessed.

Isenberg believes that the attraction of Van Der Sloot and other murderers has to do with their media celebrity and that, culturally, bad guys are seen as macho. “We have always made media stars out of murderers,” she told The Daily Beast. “Anyone who gets noted in the media can become an object of hero worship. Then as a murderer he has the added notoriety. It makes him sexier to some people.”

Women and men who are desperate for attention also find captive criminals easier to love. Isenberg notes that real celebrities are less likely to respond to fan mail than someone in prison, making it easier to actually develop a relationship with the often-dangerous criminals. “Any guy sitting in jail or on death row will focus attention out of boredom,” she says. “But that romantic focus is like a blazing light to some women.”

Melody Granadillo, Joran van der Sloot's ex-girlfriend, tells 20/20 Joran was an "amazing" boyfriend.

A frisson of danger also seems part of the allure. But dating a suspected killer obviously holds real danger. Through her extensive research that also included talking to inmates, psychologists and social workers, she found that most of the women were victims of sexual or violent abuse, and many others were just interested in a relationship that could never be normal. Ultimately, the women sought out these relationships because the man couldn’t hurt her if he was locked away. “Their capacity for denial and their need for a safe, idealized, romantic fantasy of love transcend judgment,” she writes.

In other words: women who pursue a relationship with someone who is captive have the ultimate control. “If you are in a relationship with a man behind bars for life, or a man on death row, then you have a lot of control over the relationship,” she says. “You can decide when to make the visit, when to accept the phone call, or if you will accept the call, and you are that man's primary link with the outside world…it's a very powerful position to be in.”

Van Der Sloot, who confessed in the Holloway case and then retracted countless stories about the Alabama teen’s disappearance, is just the latest in a long list of not-so-eligible bachelors behind bars. Before he was executed in 1989, Ted Bundy confessed to killing 30 women –bludgeoning some of his victims with a crowbar and then decapitating them with a hacksaw. Yet, he received hundreds of letters from women who claimed they loved him and wanted to marry him. More recently, Scott Peterson, currently on death row in San Quentin for murdering his pregnant wife Laci Peterson in 2002, has said he receives dozens of letters every day from would-be paramours. Peterson has even inspired a now satire blog where one besotted woman posts her love-struck messages to the convicted killer.

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Apparently, this fatal attraction afflicts men as well as women. Casey Anthony, awaiting trial for the murder of her 3-year-old daughter, has complained to her friends about the countless letters she receives from men who detail their sexual desire for her. And Amanda Knox, serving a 26-year sentence in an Italian jail for the murder of her British roommate, gets what she describes as “fan letters” from men. In a prison diary, she wrote that the letters say: "I love you, marry me. Write to me, because I want to finally know 'the girl with the face of an angel.'"

Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek Magazine since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.