Several media outlets have recently reported that convicted murderer Joran van der Sloot is engaged to be married or would like to get married in prison. Van der Sloot, who was convicted of killing Peruvian student Stephany Flores in a hotel room and is the main suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005, is currently serving a 28-year prison term in a Lima jail.
His attorney stated that the engagement announcement was a joke. However, van der Sloot told De Telegraaf, a Dutch newspaper, that he was receiving multiple marriage offers from women. He told the paper, “One of them even wants me to get her pregnant.”
Even if van der Sloot isn’t really going to tie the knot at this point, what are women thinking when they want to marry a prison inmate, especially one who committed murder? Are they looking for fame? Do they feel sorry for him and think they can reform and change him into a nice guy? Do they think that he meant well and that he’s just misunderstood? Or do they just like bad boys?
Some notable examples of prison marriages include Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez, a convicted serial killer in California, who married in prison; Henry Louis Wallace, a serial killer from North Carolina who married a former prison nurse; and Charles Denton “Tex” Watson, a former member of the Charles Manson family, who married in prison and fathered four kids during conjugal visits. Ted Bundy, who murdered 30 women in the 1970s, as well as Scott Peterson, who murdered his wife and unborn son, reportedly received many marriage proposals from women. Before he was executed, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh received marriage proposals.
Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Turner v. Safley that prison inmates had a constitutional right to get married.
According to a 1996 New York Times article, New York State reversed laws that did not allow inmates with life sentences to wed, and prison marriages surged to 769 in 1990. A December 2011 Chicago Tribune article reported that 63 marriage applications were submitted in July in Cook County Department of Corrections and 35 marriage licenses were issued. According to Oprah.com, there are more than 50 websites where women can find a husband who is incarcerated, such as meetaninmate.com and InmateConnections.com.
In her 1991 book, Women Who Love Men Who Kill, Sheila Isenberg indicated that the women she interviewed for her book had experienced abuse in their past and that they feel safer in a relationship with an inmate because he can’t hit her or be abusive while he’s incarcerated. She revealed that these women came from a variety of economic and educational backgrounds, including those with good jobs and doctoral degrees. In a 2010 interview, Isenberg told the Daily Herald of suburban Chicago, “The women are not crazy. They are getting their psychological needs met … He can give her an enormous amount of attention most people don’t get in real life … The relationships are purely romantic with a capital R. It’s thrilling and exciting to be in love with a convicted murderer.”
I don’t get it. I could sort of see where a woman would become the old ball and chain and marry a convicted murderer where she had known the man for years. But I don’t see why a woman would want to marry a convicted murderer who is a complete stranger. A wedding ceremony with a bride in a white wedding dress and a groom in black-and-white prison stripes or an orange jumpsuit seems like a bad match. Also, what future life could they have together? Although prison marriages are legal and constitutional, it doesn’t mean that women should choose to engage in these relationships.
In light of these inmate marriages, I wonder whether some men without criminal records would be tempted to change what they say in their Match.com and eHarmony profiles from “Nice, down to earth guy seeks nice woman” to “Paroled multiple mass murderer seeks girl who likes bad boys” just to see if they get more positive responses. It’s unlikely that this would be a good approach, but for some women, who knows?
Larry Atkins, a lawyer and a journalist, teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. He has written for the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Huffington Post, NPR, Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.