Why the infamous have fans

Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Many people have a morbid curiosity about tragedies, which is why they slow down to look at a traffic accident.

"It's so odd, strange and spectacular that you are drawn to look at it," explains psychologist Stephen Hart, who teaches at Simon Fraser University.

That's normal human curiosity, he said, as is reading about a murder or tragedy in a book or newspaper.

But how do you explain serial killers who get fan mail, including marriage proposals?

There are two theories, Hart said. The first is an identification with a public figure, which, in the case of a serial killer or a high-profile accused killer, involves a celebrity of sorts -- they are infamous, so it's exciting to get a personal letter from such a person.

Hart said some people do it as a sort of defensive identification similar to Stockholm Syndrome, citing the example of people working in concentration camps who associate with the enemy in order to try to feel safe from becoming victims themselves.

"It's fear-motivated," Hart explained. "You are drawn defensively out of fear."

Similarly, it gives the person in the public domain a sense of safety, mastery and control over the accused killer by identifying with someone who is considered dangerous if not behind bars, he said.

Then there is a second type who want to develop an identity of being bad -- they are fans of famous criminals because they want to emulate their behaviour.

Not surprisingly, some women make marriage proposals to criminals such as as Ontario sex killer Paul Bernardo and Los Angeles serial killer Richard Ramirez, who was married while on death row, Hart pointed out.

He added some women often use their sexuality to keep violent offenders calm or happy, which is detailed in a book called Violent Attachments by San Diego forensic psychologist Reid Meloy.

But Hart had difficulty explaining what would motivate a man, using a female pseudonym, to engage an accused serial killer in correspondence.

"It goes beyond normal human curiosity," said the forensic psychologist, who himself has received letters from serial killers such as Clifford Olson but has never replied.

"I don't think there is anything to be gained from it," Hart said of his reason for not corresponding with Olson. "I think it encourages those offenders to be attempting to correspond with people on the outside."

It also gives the killers a sense of grandiosity, which they crave, he added.

Besides, Hart said, convicted killers rarely provide honest insights into their crimes in letters. It's better to do a face-to-face interview so a psychologist can see the person's body language, which may reveal deception being used by a killer.

"Often it's what they don't tell you that's just as important," he said.

A U.S. prison reform activist, Jennifer Furio, corresponded with dozens of serial killers and published a book in 1998 titled The Serial Killer Letters: A Penetrating Look Inside the Minds of Murderers.

Thomas Loudamy, an aspiring journalist living in the San Francisco area, hopes to do the same one day. He said he first began writing to Pickton using a woman's pseudonym, Mya Barnett, because he felt Pickton would be more receptive writing to a single woman.

So far, he said, he has received three letters from Pickton, two of which he provided to The Vancouver Sun.

One of the letters shows that the author felt an affinity to Mya Barnett and chose to respond to her correspondence while ignoring a flood of other letters he claims to have received.

"I have received letters from all over the world and there many I do not write back in reguards [sic] some does not make sence [sic], others testing me over and over again while time goes on to this day," said the letter dated Feb. 26, 2006, which is handwritten in capital letters.

Other letters Loudamy provided to The Sun purportedly written by convicted killers also indicate that they get a lot of mail.

Pickton is being held in the North Fraser Pretrial Centre, which holds prisoners waiting for trial.

Bruce Bannerman, spokesperson for the B.C. Corrections Branch, said every prisoner in provincial facilities is provided postage for up to seven letters per week.

"The intent is so that they can maintain contact with the community and their family," he said.

All mail coming into provincial facilities is opened and searched for contraband, such as drugs, said Bannerman. "We do know that persons on the outside can be very inventive in getting illicit substances, such as drugs, trying to send it in through the mail," he said.

But incoming and outgoing mail is not read by corrections staff, he said, unless staff have received legal permission to do so because of criminal concerns about a certain prisoner.

Bannerman said there is no specific pen-pal program for B.C. prisoners, and that the amount of mail received by prisoners varies.

Mail bonding

Excerpts from letters written by Canadian killers, provided to The Sun by California collector Thomas Loudamy:

Clifford Olson

Excerpt from a handwritten letter dated July 11, 2006:

n "OK. Some of what I do here. Im an artist. I draw them and type in my personal poems and send them to close friends of mine . . . Im into the playstation games here. I just watched all the World cup Soccer games ever one of them live on T.V. I just watched the Wimbledon Tennis . . . I never miss the American IDOL shows . . . I watch a lot of movies also."

History: Clifford Olson, Canada's most notorious serial killer, terrorized the Lower Mainland in 1980 and 1981 when he killed 11 young people. He was sentenced to life in 1982 after pleading guilty to 11 counts of first-degree murder.

Robert (Bob) Arthurson

Excerpt from a handwritten letter postmarked July 26, 2006:

n "So my photo is with this letter. I hope I don't chase you away after you see what I look like. I am not that good-looking, but make up for it in other way's kindness sense of humor that sort of thing."

History: Arthurson, 49, is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder in the 1994 abduction and strangling of 13-year-old Sarah Kelly in The Pas, Man. However, at a parole hearing in 2004, during a discussion about pedophilia and his previous criminal history, Arthurson claimed to have up to 16 additional victims that the police didn't know about.

Allan Legere

Excerpt from a typed letter dated April 19, 2006:

"Theres no reason for me to be inside. THe way some people portray me on websites, etc and who DON'T know me at all, most never saw or met me,not even in my home town, you would think I had 3 heads, when in reality, I am more intelligent than the lot of them, its just that I didnt always use my IQ."

History: Dubbed the "Monster of Miramichi," Legere is in prison for life for five murders, including a 1989 killing spree in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick in which he raped, tortured and killed three women and beat to death a Catholic priest.

 The Vancouver Sun 2006

The Pickton Letters: His writings offer a glimpse into the thoughts of an accused serial killer

How Lindsay Kines and Sun reporters broke missing women story-Nov 6, 2002



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