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Are true crime films and social media contributing to hybristophilia today?


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Are true crime films and social media contributing to hybristophilia today?

Anyone who’s famous enough has admirers. Then it hardly matters if they’re actors, musicians, influencers… or murderers. Hybristophilia involves sexual attraction to someone who commits crimes. It’s more common in women than in men, and in some cases they might direct this attraction at someone in prison. While it might sound absolutely absurd, multiple famous serial killers have had smitten admirers reach out to them. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez and Charles Manson all got love letters, cards and gifts from several women while they were in prison. Ramirez, Erik Menendez and Kenneth Bianchi even married women who had started writing to them in this manner.

The most recent example of this psychological condition comes from a case that shocked the United States. According to South Carolina news platform FITSNews, Alex Murdaugh, a once-eminent lawyer who has been convicted for murdering his wife and son, is now receiving love letters in prison. The nation has been closely watching the six-week trial that led to the jury finding him guilty on two counts of murder. The case also unraveled his multi-million dollar financial frauds and embezzlement. The jury found that he shot his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, to distract from the crimes he committed.

FITSNews obtained multiple letters Murdaugh received, and the contents are disturbing. Nicollete K. wrote, “I think I love you. I think about you all day everyday. I swear on my life I’ll never say a single word to anyone important or not important. I genuinely care for you.”

Another letter read, “I am just a small town girl from Missouri. I am here if you want to talk. Or vent. XXLacie.”

Some of the women writing to Murdaugh genuinely believe he is innocent, while others sympathise with him. Trials like those of Murdaugh and serial killers like Bundy receive nationwide, sometimes global publicity and attention. They’re televised, written and debated about. In fact, Ted Bundy’s trial in 1979 was the first one ever to be nationally televised. Women who watched it found him charming and handsome then, and many do now too. If, as PT Barnum said, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, being in the limelight turns criminals into celebrities.

In 2023, though, this obsession has found new ways to manifest. True crime enthusiasts today actively discuss famous murders on social media. Twitter and Instagram have communities of ‘fans’ of serial killers, rapists and school shooters. They post often about being in love with them and finding them handsome, and even make photo and video edits of them – like one would do for any celebrity.

Fictional interpretations of true crime stories in film and TV also have a significant role to play. Ryan Murphy’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was the most recent show to receive flack for glorifying Dahmer. It’s a difficult territory to navigate. It’s important to tell all kinds of stories and have some amount of creative liberty while doing so. But directors and actors must do so in a way that leaves no room for people to develop sexual and romantic fantasies.

In Murdaugh’s case too, enamoured women are not the only ones contacting him. Mike Gasparro, producer of Netflix’s docuseries The Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal, also reached out to the man himself. “Our first three episodes (were) viewed by 40 million households and also 75 million hours (were) watched in just ten days. Those numbers will continue to rise. We believe you can have the largest platform on TV if you are willing to speak to us.”

The creators of the series now have a massive responsibility on their shoulders. Even though Murdaugh’s first-hand account won’t quite be as harmful as a handsome Hollywood actor portraying him, they must exercise caution with how they tell his story. If he’s already receiving love letters mere weeks after his conviction, who’s to say what will happen when he becomes a celebrity in a more real sense, with his own Netflix series?

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