The announcement that popular heartthrob Zac Efron would be playing the infamous murderer Ted Bundy in a movie about the serial killer’s life sparked a conversation about the glorification of serial killers and mass murders as a means of entertainment. While critics pointed out that the movie focused on showing Bundy as an extremely charming and appealing character instead of the ordinary man that he was, supporters of the movie pointed out that it was Bundy’s charm that allowed him to murder more than 30 victims. one side strongly argued that the only thing that made Bundy stand out from the crowd was the fact that he had killed more than 30 people. If this wasn’t the case, there was nothing about him that would make people notice him or pay attention to him. His charm wasn’t exactly seducing women and then killing them. His charm was making young women believe that they could trust him, a stranger that they would’ve just met. He would sometimes pretend to be injured and ask for help as he said in court people don’t question an injured man. So the outrage over the romanticisation and glorification of a cold-hearted killer is understandable. But on the other hand, supporters of the movie argue that Bundy betrayed people, especially people who were close to him and the feeling that people got after realising his reality is what the movie is aiming to bring to the audience. The movie makes you sympathise with him and see him as someone very human who had his own turmoils and uncertainties. It makes you want to root for him, but at the end of the movie you remember that he is just a killer.
This conversation that sparked due to the movie, however, revealed a very lengthy and detailed history of serial killer fandoms existing long before movies were made about them. Even before being portrayed by Zac Efron; Ted Bundy, who has a reputation for killing young women by lulling them into a sense of security by his slightly above average good looks and charm had already become somewhat of a heartthrob in a whole different world. In the serial killer fandoms, famous murders like Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez and the Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the equivalent of the likes of Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and even Zac Efron. Records show that killers like Richard Ramirez and Ted Bundy used to have courtrooms full of fangirls & girlfriends cheering them on during their trials and sending them love letter in prison. Bundy, who represented himself, would hear cheers every time he stepped up to speak. There would be long lines to meet them in prison, so much so that some of them would have to be turned away.
Richard Ramirez court appearance in California Supreme Court, Los Angeles
One such killer, known to have murdered at least 14 people, and till date the most popular of all, Richard Ramirez, also known as the night stalker, had thousand of fans. His execution was delayed continuously due to hundred of appeals being filed for its stay. He eventually married one of his fans and was married for 12 years before he died. Ramirez was hyped for his good looks and tragic backstory where women tried to find excuses for his actions and painted him as someone who was forced by society and his environment to do what he did.
This phenomenon of being sexually attracted to serial killers and mass murderers is called hybristophilia by experts. It is not only limited to a fascination or daydreaming obsession with these dangerous men but is a very real sexual attraction that the person may act upon by contacting the said killer. Not much research has been done upon this phenomenon but it is more commonly observable in women and is usually directed towards white male murderers. This obsession may be due to the thrill of being with someone dangerous or due to a saviour complex where the person may be led to believe that they can help fix what they think is a damaged person. People, in particular women, start empathising with the killer due to their past and imagining that they are just misunderstood and need someone to love and care for them.
Teen Girls Obsessed with Serial Killers
An article by Joshua Surtees written for vice talks about the virtual fandoms that have become popular for murderers and serial killers, some of whom aren’t even alive. These include trending hashtags and imaginary scenarios. While in the past affection to them was shown by letters and prison visits, the age of social media has allowed fandoms to form and like-minded people to come together. Fandoms in forms of social media pages attract thousands of followers most of which are teenage girls and surprisingly a lot of these women identified themselves as feminists even though the victims of most of these killers were women. They seem to think it is easy to separate these two since they can’t control their sexual attraction to these people. In interviews taken of these girls, it was discovered that they find it thrilling to be with someone who is capable of killing. Their obsession is taken very lightly by their families and peers and isn’t usually seen as something to be worried about.
This obsession isn’t always harmless. On one hand, it is worrying how only white cis male killers receive large amounts of support. It points to people’s tendency to try to humanize white males and not just label them as killers and murders. They are excused for their actions much like they always have been throughout history. They are seen as troubled men instead of heartless demons. Their victims are forgotten and dehumanised, seen only as stories, while they themselves are glorified and given the attention and popularity that they were looking for in the first place.
On the other hand, a lot of times, this obsession is not about sexual attraction and is instead of idealisation. Gullible trouble teens easily fall prey to a fascination with the crimes committed by these criminals and are inspired to try it themselves. Such was a case of a 14-year-old girl obsessed with Ted Bundy who tried to murder her girlfriend and even created a list of people she wanted to kill. And the fact that it is seen as normal and accepted by families poses a question of worry, could the next Ted Bundy be a fangirl who got too carried away?