Serial killer Richard Ramirez wasn't exactly a catch. After all, he molested children, raped women and was convicted of killing 13 people across the Los Angeles area from 1984 to 1985. And yet a small group of fangirls flocked to him in the same manner that women were once drawn to fellow serial killer Ted Bundy.
Netflix’s new docuseries “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer” explores Ramirez's case, including how he gained the unlikely affection of certain women, several of whom were present during his trial and were on the receiving end of the murderer's flirty glances from across the room.
“I think he’s cute,” one admirer told KRON4 in San Francisco during his trial.
“I know that he’s a nice person,” another said.
The Los Angeles Times reported Ramirez had “apparent fans” at his 1989 sentencing hearing, including a woman wearing “skin-tight black spandex jumpsuit’ who “smiled and waved” at the killer. And, as the docuseries shows, he'd smile and wave back to his fans in the courtroom.
"In all my years of covering trials in Los Angeles, I never saw a defendant with more sex appeal than Richard Ramirez," Tony Valdez, a KTTV reporter said in the docuseries.
The phenomenon is nothing new.
Bundy received fan mail, including naked photos and marriage proposals, from women all over the world. Multiple women even showed up at the courthouse during Bundy's trial in the same manner that groupies show up for concerts. Several were dressed like his victims.
Dr. Scott Bonn, author and criminologist, tells Oxygen.com that “Ramirez certainly did have groupies and even married one of them.”
That would be Doreen Lioy, who began writing to Ramirez after seeing him on television following his arrest.
"He's kind, he's funny, he's charming," she told CNN in 1997. "I just believe in him completely. In my opinion, there was far more evidence to convict O.J. Simpson, and we all know how that turned out."
Philip Carlo, author of “The Night Stalker: The Disturbing Life and Chilling Crimes of Richard Ramirez,” told CNN that Lioy was one of up to 15 girlfriends that Ramirez had following his arrest.
“I think his fangirl appeal had to do with the dark, mysterious way he presented himself; including sunglasses, dark clothes and long dark hair and brooding features,” Bonn told Oxygen.com. “He was also very verbal, defiant and played to his audience.”
“Night Stalker: Hunt for a Serial Killer” showed the serial killer playing it up for the camera and the crowd. He'd look directly into the camera, making eyes with it. At his first court appearance, he raised a hand with a pentagram drawn onto it and proclaimed, “Hail, Satan.”
Sly enough to create his own image or not, the killer was known for, at times, reeking “like a goat” — as one witness in the docuseries put it — and having rotting teeth. What was the attraction?
“There were times he smelled terrible but once he was in court he got cleaned up and stayed clean,” Bundy expert and author Kevin Sullivan told Oxygen.com. “My feeling is what originally attracted the women is who he was. They are not smelling him or concentrating on his teeth. They are getting turned on or whatever because of who he is. Then they became more or less groupies around the court proceedings. Then they would see a more normal-looking man.”
He added the fact that Ramirez knew how to play up to the crowd helped.
Serial killer expert and author Peter Vronsky told Oxygen.com that he is at a loss for why people would be attracted to such people. However, he added that hybristophilia is the “easy takeaway answer.”
Hybristophilia is a condition in which a person is sexually attracted to a partner who is known for committing a horrific act, such as murder. It's colloquially known as “Bonnie and Clyde syndrome," referencing the infamous Depression-era crime couple, specifically Bonnie Parker's undying devotion to the homicidal Clyde Barrow. There's even a hybristophilia tag on Tumblr, Refinery29 reported last year. However, there haven't been any major studies on the apparent phenomenon, so most evidence that exists is purely anecdotal, Women's Health reported in 2019.
Sullivan said while he's noticed a trend of women recently attributing their attraction to killers to the condition, he believes most do not have it.
“A lot of women think they are this, but they are usually not,” Sullivan said.
Dr. Katherine Ramsland noted in a 2012 Psychology Today piece that mental health experts say some women who are attracted to killers are simply "love-avoidant" — they seek relationships that can never actually be consummated because of an underlying fear of intimacy.
Other experts, she said, have theorized that biology could play a role.
"Primate research finds that females prefer the larger, louder, more aggressive males who show clear markers of their maleness," she wrote. "In humans, then, certain women might sense in an aggressive male a larger-than-life companion who can deliver more than an ordinary man could. Through him, she subconsciously perceives, she gains status and protection."
She stated the most dangerous, "if also media-genic," men, will surely attract women.
Sullivan, too, said he believes that the more high-profile a killer, the more groupies are drawn to them.
"Bundy and Ramirez were both diabolical individuals who did horrible things and all these women understand that," he told Oxygen.com. "They are not put off by that. ... What’s drawing these women is not the looks but more who they are.”
Laura Elizabeth Woollett's book "The Love of a Bad Man" consists of stories based on real women who were drawn to bad men, including murderers and even a serial killer. She told Refinery29 that during her research for the book, she felt that all the real women she examined shared one commonality: insecurity.
"If there was one thing that was common to all these women, it was probably insecurity, and a willingness to have their sense of self determined by the men they were involved with," she said.
“Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer” drops on Netflix Wednesday.
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