In 1985, when Los Angeles police finally arrested Richard Ramirez and identified him as the “Night Stalker,” countless residents celebrated. For a year, beginning in June of 1984, Ramirez had terrorized the city; breaking into modest homes and torturing, raping and killing the occupants. He attacked anyone – adults and children, young and old – without mercy. His campaign prompted some unusual behavior. Many residents of pastel-colored homes began painting them dark, while those in houses near highways began moving away; since that’s what Ramirez seemed to target. It was similar to the reaction of David Berkowitz, New York City’s “Son of Sam,” who had terrorized the region for a year beginning in the summer of 1976. Many young dark-haired women began donning blonde wigs, or bleaching their hair; while many men with red or orange cars began painting them darker colors, or getting rid of them altogether. Berkowitz appeared to aim for those particular victims.
During his lengthy trial, the true nature of Ramirez’s personality and details of the carnage he incited horrified even the most jaded of criminologists. Epileptic as a child, Ramirez began consuming drugs by his teens and then, delved into the world of Satanism. Investigators knew early on that they were dealing with a devil worshipper, or some kind of cult fanatic. Ramirez often left pentagrams in victims’ blood on the walls and doors of their homes. While incarcerated he even drew a pentagram on the palm of his left hand and prominently displayed it in the courtroom.
But, during Ramirez’s four-year trial, another unsettling development arose. Countless numbers of women and girls parked themselves outside the courthouse and openly displayed their affection for the demonic serial killer. Holding up placards expressing their unrequited love, they insisted Ramirez was just misguided; that he didn’t have the proper upbringing; that he just never had found the right woman to care for him. Even now, Ramirez has a fan club and a My Space page. Ramirez remains on death row in California and has outlived some of the survivors of his rampage. He also remains unrepentant.
Similar adoration has been bestowed upon Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; the 19-year-old Russian immigrant accused, along with his older brother, Tamerlan, of setting off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. Dzhokar, who survived a self-inflicted gunshot to the throat and is now in police custody, has incited a fan base of young women – “fangirls,” columnist Charlotte Allen calls them – who have come to his defense. Attracted by his tousled brown hair and large, doe-like eyes, these girls apparently think this proverbial “bad boy” just needs some loving.
Meanwhile, men around the country, such as myself, scratch our collective heads and ask, ‘Why?’ Why do women feel their feminine wiles can turn even the most heinous of men into angelic creatures of hope and prosperity? Men, of course, always lament they never understand women. But, one thing none of us understands is why some women are attracted to that bodice-ripper type. In her 1997 book, “Bad Boys: How We Love Them, How to Live with Them, When to Leave Them,” Dr. Carole Lieberman claims that women are attracted to 12 different types of destructive men. A 2009 study by researchers at New México State University in Las Cruces identified “dark triad traits,” such as callousness, impulsive behavior and narcissism that certain outgoing men seem to possess, and which in turn, seem to attract certain women. It’s also called “James Bond psychology.”
Peter Jonason, who led the study, said, “We would traditionally consider these dark triad traits to be adverse personality traits, and we think women would avoid these kinds of men. But, what we show is counterintuitive – that women are attracted to these bad boys and they do pretty well in terms of sheer numbers of sexual partners.”
Because these traits appear to equate to aggressiveness and therefore success, notes Jonason, they consequently prove desirable. He emphasizes that it doesn’t seem to matter that, in many cases, the “success” is a brief sexual conquest.
That appears to change when women are on birth control. A recent study published in the journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology” proposes that women taking birth control pills gravitate towards men with rounder, less masculine faces, which may indicate more faithfulness and stability. Once off birth control, women apparently return to hunting for those more masculine faces. The study emphasizes, though, that there are several factors contributing to an individual’s attractiveness or desirability. But, if women historically were less attracted to more dangerous men, then this analysis might imply that 20th century social and cultural changes have altered human behavior more than we ever realized.
In my own informal studies – I’m a writer who may hate people, but still finds human behavior fascinating – I’ve heard more than a few men complain about being considered “too nice.” The adage that “nice guys finish last” bears some truth when you look at the likes of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But, it’s not just a grievance from wimpy men with no money. Even male friends and acquaintances who are incredibly successful in their professional lives complain that women often just want to be friends in the long run.
Such desires for the omnipresent “bad boy” can have deadly consequences. In the early 1980s, one of my cousins married a man who was a drug addict. She believed she could change him; that her gentle, loving personality could draw out the good side of him and make it stay. Her mother felt otherwise and warned her the union was doomed. But, she also knew her daughter was an adult who could make her own choices. My cousin’s efforts collapsed, and she was forced to leave him. But, she couldn’t get over it; she felt like a complete and absolute failure. So, she sat down in the floor of her closet, stuck a pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Other women have learned that their delectable “bad boy” is truly bad, as in warped bad, evil bad, can’t change the bastard no matter how much perfume you put on bad. Then, a few broken bones and black eyes later – if they manage to survive his “bad boy” image – they wonder what the hell happened.
After my cousin’s suicide, my father bemoaned, “Of all the decent men around, she picks a fucking drug addict.”
Fortunately, most women aren’t so stupid. And, human nature isn’t that clear and absolute. Relationships are complicated and frustrating. We never know why some people we desire either want someone else, or just remain aloof and indifferent to us. In contrast, we also don’t know why some people just won’t leave us the hell alone when we clearly say we’re not interested. Quite often we want something – and sometimes, someone – we can’t have. No psychologist can explain it. It’s just one of the many mysteries of the human psyche.