The romanticization of serial killers

Why some people lust for psychopaths


Tim Marshall

Charlize Ocon and Olivia Papanicolaou

Every few years or so, the arrival of a sinister new serial killer makes the news. Usually, the news of vicious crimes sends chills down people’s backs. However, there is a subset of the population that romanticizes the idea of such a criminal. 

According to Oxford Dictionary, a serial killer is, “a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and typically following a characteristic, predictable behavior pattern.” These murders are not only committed more than once but they are often inflicted on innocent individuals. They are unexpected cruel attacks with often no motive other than insanity. 

Recently, streaming platforms like Netflix have taken to producing series based on notorious serial killers. Because of  this content, there have been numerous people fantasizing about romantic relationships with these people. A few years ago, Netflix released the movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”, starring Zac Efron. Though the film depicted incredibly gruesome and manipulative accounts of Ted Bundy’s actions, the casting of Efron created more of a fan base for Bundy. Fangirls, at the time of his trial, were attempting to marry him, with one even succeeding. Bundy famously received loads of fan mail, with lewd photographs. Fans would arrive at the courtroom dressed as his victims, in an attempt to attract attention from the killer. 

Richard Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker, also married one of his fangirls. In a similar fashion to Bundy, fans would show up to the trial wearing scandalous clothing in hopes of catching Ramirez’s eye. In a docuseries called, “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer,” a reporter named Tony Valdez, mentioned, “In all my years of covering trials in Los Angeles, I never saw a defendant with more sex appeal than Richard Ramirez.”

Most recently, with the release of “Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” a new wave of fans has surfaced. Evan Peters was cast as Dahmer, once again producing an effect on certain individuals. On Tiktok, some users have taken to making fan accounts of Dahmer, ardently defending him. Some even proudly idolize Dahmer, with popular T-shirts saying, “What would Dahmer do”. Other shirts clearly sympathize with the killer, with a shirt reading, “I just wanted to be loved” over a picture of young Dahmer. Most recently, Ebay had to ban the sale of Dahmer costumes, as it violated their guidelines. 

It’s important to note that a common denominator that influences the spike of interest in these serial killers would be the series that covers them. Perhaps even more of an incentive would be casting conventionally attractive actors to play the killers. Whether this is done on purpose is not known, however, it is certain that these actors are able to garner more of an audience based on their looks alone. 

All of this, in defense of convicted criminals. This undeniably odd behavior begs the question: Why?

In what world would anyone idolize such people? 

Well, a superficial one. 

Studies show that you are more likely to trust someone who you deem attractive. This, disturbingly, would make these serial killers appealing to anyone who finds them somewhat good-looking. 

According to a study done by the City University of New York, titled “The Romanticization of Violent Male Offenders: How Trauma and Internalized Sexism Can Explain Women’s Fascination with Serial Killers,” a darker theory is presented. Ella R. Johson, the author, explains that women’s experiences with PTSD could contribute to their fascination with serial killers, as a way to “regulate their symptoms.” Another finding was that women who have more internalized misogyny are more likely to be enamored with these killers. Women who rated themselves ‘higher’ on the misogyny scale, were more compelled to fantasize or romanticize serial killers. 

A culmination of society’s effects, including sexism and the normalization of assault against females, compel certain women to have this harmful obsession.