Charles Manson to wed: Why women marry serial killers

Convicted serial murderer Charles Manson was granted a marriage license. What prompts a 26-year-old woman to marry a killer incarcerated for life?

AP/File
In this Oct. 13,1970 file photo, cult leader Charles Manson walks into the courtroom as Susan Atkins, a member of his family of followers, looks on in Santa Monica, Calif. A marriage license has been issued for Manson to wed 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton, who left her Midwestern home nine years ago and moved to Corcoran, California to be near him. Burton, who goes by the name "Star," told the AP that she and Manson will be married next month.

Afton Elaine Burton, a raven-haired 26-year-old Midwesterner, plans to marry elderly multiple murderer Charles Manson. Why?

She "loves the man convicted in the notorious murders of seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate," The Associated Press reported.

Burton wasn't yet born when the now-80-year-old Manson was convicted, but has spent the last nine years trying to exonerate him.

While Burton's case is certainly noteworthy considering the high profile murderer involved, it's not exactly extraordinary. There are no state or federal statistics available on the prevalence of prison marriages, but they do happen.

Burton – known as "Star" – told the AP that she and Manson will marry next month.

"Y'all can know that it's true," she said. "It's going to happen."

"I love him," she added. "I'm with him. There's all kinds of things."

But California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton says Manson is a life prisoner with no parole date in sight (he's not eligible for a hearing until 2027), which means no family visits – which under state law are extended overnight stays with family, and include so-called "conjugal visits." Burton, who is interested in working on his case, said marrying Manson would allow her access to information otherwise not permitted. Thornton could not comment on what that information might be.

Further, she says the prison doesn't keep track of the number of inmates who get married, but said "it's not unusual."

And there is information that suggests it happens often. A newspaper put out by California inmates featured seven couples married this August in a single prison, and the warden is quoted as saying there were so many requests they had to reschedule more weddings for later in the month.

"They have the right to marry whether people agree with it or not," Thornton says, citing California state law penal code 2601.

"The California Department of Corrections recognizes the importance of allowing inmates to marry as tool of family reunification and social development," Thornton says.

She says sometimes couples meet pre-incarceration, sometimes after.

"I've heard it both ways," she says. "It's different for every person – sometimes people write to inmates and they develop a relationship and that blossoms into marriage."

Women who marry serial killers do so for a variety of reasons, according to a Psychology Today report.

Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer. Others “see” the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him. A few hoped to share in the media spotlight or get a book or movie deal.

Then there’s the notion of the “perfect boyfriend.” She knows where he is at all times and she knows he’s thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. There’s no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time.

There's also the incarcerated one to consider.

A US Department of Health and Human Services report notes the role reversal that takes place when men are incarcerated.

"The psychological changes necessary to survive in prison may impede the development of intimate relationships," according to the report.

Mental health experts have likened women's infatuation with these men to extreme fanaticism, which attracts insecure women who can't find love elsewhere. But this isn't always the case – several "strikingly beautiful, educated, and even married" women including lawyers, psychologists, and judges have married killers.

Such women are usually in their thirties or forties, according to Psychology Today.

Although their motives for getting so passionately involved vary, they share in common a fierce sense of protection over the relationship. Some know that their incarcerated spouse is guilty, but others insist on his innocence – despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Most people think such relationships defy common sense, but some theorists have hypothesized a biological impetus that operates apart from logic. Primate research finds that females prefer the larger, louder, more aggressive males who show clear markers of their maleness. 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.

Whatever Burton's reasons, she joins the ranks of others who have married into the Manson "family" – 20-year-old Kristin Svenge corresponded with Charles "Tex" Watson and the two were married after she moved to be closer to his prison. Susan Atkins (known as Sadie Mae Glutz), married behind bars twice.

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