Au­thor on the women with a twisted at­trac­tion to con­victed killers.

Crime Scene - - CONTENTS - Sharon Bolton

The au­thor ex­plores the Happy Val­ley plot about women who wed jailed killers.

The most grip­ping scenes in the re­cent smash hit Happy Val­ley, for me, were those set in the high­se­cu­rity prison, when mur­der­ing rapist, Tommy Lee Royce, sat across the ta­ble from Frances, the woman with whom he’d formed an ob­ses­sive and un­nat­u­ral bond. The two hadn’t met be­fore Royce’s con­vic­tion, but were en­gaged to be mar­ried. They never touched, and yet the sex­ual ten­sion be­tween them was all but vis­i­ble. We watched, fas­ci­nated and re­pelled, as Frances gazed at Tommy, re­fus­ing to see what was blind­ingly ob­vi­ous to the rest of us – that the man she loved was a mon­ster.

It is a scene re­peated, in real life, in hun­dreds of high se­cu­rity jails across the world; be­cause be­hind ev­ery evil man, there will be a long queue of women, each de­ter­mined to make him her own.

Once I’d hit upon the idea of a woman ob­sessed by a se­rial killer as the cen­tral theme of my new book, Daisy In Chains, I was de­ter­mined to find out if my wild idea at all re­flected real­ity. I found ev­i­dence of hun­dreds of women in ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships with men whom they did not know prior to their con­vic­tions for vi­o­lent crime.

It isn’t hard to un­der­stand the ap­peal of a re­la­tion­ship to a man serv­ing time. A wife, or long-term girl­friend, will be an ad­vo­cate for his cause, driv­ing forward any ap­peal process. A steady re­la­tion­ship, and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing per­ma­nent ad­dress, is con­sid­ered a big ad­van­tage when the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role comes up. A reg­u­lar vis­i­tor will bring money, food and gifts. Let­ters and phone calls pro­vide a much-needed break from the monotony of prison life. A pris­oner with a woman, es­pe­cially a good-look­ing one, gains au­to­matic sta­tus within the prison, and there is al­ways the erotic fris­son of stolen sex­ual en­coun­ters dur­ing vis­its.

How, though, does one ex­plain the ap­peal for the woman? Why would any woman com­mit emo­tion­ally, and legally, to some­one with whom she can­not pos­si­bly build a fu­ture? Why should she ded­i­cate her­self to a man who will never fall asleep be­side her, will never be there at Christ­mas and hol­i­days, who can­not give her chil­dren?

Some of the few psy­chol­o­gists who have stud­ied the phe­nom­e­non ex­plain it as the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of me­dieval courtly love. Courtly love isn’t real love, they ar­gue. It’s a ro­man­tic ideal. The per­fect suitor adores his lady, gives her un­con­di­tional love and ex­pects noth­ing in re­turn. He will long for her let­ters, for her vis­its, her phone calls. He will be thinking of her con­stantly.

This ab­sence of ex­pec­ta­tion could be the key. A woman need not cook, wash or clean for a man in prison. He won’t fart in bed, roll home drunk in the early hours or cheat on her. He’ll


never mis­treat her, be­cause the guards won’t let him get close enough. She doesn’t have sex, but she has sex­ual ten­sion in abun­dance and, for many women, it is the thrill of ex­pec­ta­tion, rather than the act it­self, which is so very de­li­cious. A prison ro­mance could be the ideal solution for a woman who can­not han­dle the grind of a real re­la­tion­ship.

The killers with movie-star good looks, typ­i­fied by Happy Val­ley’s Tommy Lee Royce and my own Hamish Wolfe in Daisy In Chains, serve a dif­fer­ent need ac­cord­ing to some com­men­ta­tors. Th­ese men are the ul­ti­mate bad-boy celebri­ties. The hordes of teenage girls and young women who send them love let­ters and ex­plicit pho­to­graphs are fall­ing foul of the age-old teenage need to rebel with the un­suit­able boyfriend. Girls who dote on real life Tom­mys and Hamishes can shock their par­ents in the knowl­edge that, bar­ing a prison break­out, they are per­fectly safe.

Per­son­ally, I doubt that a long­ing for a lost ro­man­tic ideal or a means of shock­ing par­ents can en­tirely ex­plain the fas­ci­na­tion for killers. For me, the mo­ti­va­tion is of­ten more com­plex, much darker and doesn’t re­flect par­tic­u­larly well on the fe­male gen­der.

I sus­pect an en­tirely un­re­al­is­tic nar­cis­sism lies at the heart of many of th­ese re­la­tion­ships. It doesn’t mat­ter how many women he’s mis­treated in the past, she will be the one to get through to him. She will be dif­fer­ent. Or maybe it’s that our fas­ci­na­tion with killers speaks to our need for an alpha male. If women are ge­net­i­cally pro­grammed to seek out the big­gest, strong­est, bravest mate, then men who kill must ar­guably be the ul­ti­mate alpha males, the best pos­si­ble protectors.

As­so­ci­a­tion with a no­to­ri­ous killer can bring a twisted sort of sta­tus to women with low self-es­teem. A man who kills is pow­er­ful. A fa­mous in­car­cer­ated killer has a sta­tus in so­ci­ety, al­beit a rather twisted one. By be­com­ing his woman, the fe­male in ques­tion is ab­sorb­ing some of this power.

I’d go as far as to ar­gue that many of th­ese women are ad­dicted to vi­o­lence. Many prison ‘brides’ have a his­tory of vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ships. Be­com­ing in­volved with a con­victed killer al­lows them to feed this ad­dic­tion, whilst re­main­ing rel­a­tively safe.

All of which rather begs the next ques­tion: how in­no­cent are th­ese women them­selves?

Some women are fas­ci­nated by the crimes as much as by the crim­i­nals. What, ex­actly, did their man do to his vic­tims? How, precisely, did he hurt them? How loud did they scream? In th­ese cases, what we’re re­ally see­ing is some sort of evil by proxy. A hy­bristophil­iac is some­one who is sex­u­ally ex­cited by vi­o­lence per­formed on others.

Some of the women drawn to vi­o­lent men may not just be pas­sive ob­servers. They may be of­fend­ers them­selves, or po­ten­tial of­fend­ers. Myra Hind­ley was con­sid­ered by many to be the real brains be­hind the killing part­ner­ship, in spite of at­tempts to paint her as just one more of Brady’s vic­tims. Fred West couldn’t live with the con­se­quences of what he’d done. Rose could.

Ul­ti­mately, I’m go­ing to say that like at­tracts like. You show me a woman at­tracted to a vi­o­lent man, I’ll show you some­one with a po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence as great. Th­ese women are to be treated with ex­treme cau­tion. Pos­si­bly avoided al­to­gether.

Tommy Leeroyce (James Nor­ton) is Happy Val­ley’s most al­lur­ing killer.

Daisy In Chains (Ban­tam Press) is out now.

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