Since the callous murder of 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL in February, suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz has spent most of his time alone in a cell at Broward County Jail, save for interactions with his lawyer and jail officials.
But despite the horrific nature of the crime he stands accused of and his relative isolation from the outside world, 19-year-old Cruz is receiving a deluge of fan mail from young women and some men from all across the country, the Sun Sentinel reported. "There's piles of letters," Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, told the paper. "In my 40 years as public defender, I've never seen this many letters to a defendant. Everyone now and then gets a few, but nothing like this." Fans have also been sending Cruz money; he now has $800 in his commissary account.
One of the letters written by an 18-year-old from New York reads, in part, "I know you could use a good friend right now. Hang in there and keep your head up." A woman from Chicago sent several racy photos to Cruz; an older man from New York sent photos of himself in a convertible.
Although jail officials have read Cruz some of the letters, ones that offer religious prayers, he has not been given any of the fan mail. "... We have not and will not read him the fan letters or share the photos of scantily-clad teenage girls," Finkelstein said.
Though it's twisted that a man like Cuz has amassed groupies, it's a common phenomena for high profile murderers and prisoners to attract this sort of attention. Notorious serial killer and cult leader Charles Manson got engaged in prison; Ted Bundy, who confessed to killing 30 people, got married and even fathered a child behind bars.
According to Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in New York City, there are a variety of reasons some women will use to justify a relationship with a murderer. "Sometimes vicarious murder may be a motivating component. Men and women who befriend a mass murderer often excuse violent behavior if they have considered or acted in a violent way themselves," Brateman told Refinery29. "Often they deny the violence while at the same time find it attractive that the murderer acted on his anger to commit a murder."
Brateman says that hybristophiliacs (people who are attracted to people who have committed "cruel, gruesome crimes such as murder and rape") get a thrill from people like Cruz. "Notorious criminals are sometimes treated like celebrities and often receive of a massive amount of attention because of the fascination that surrounds them," she says. "Unfortunately [these women] do not understand that they are being manipulated by a psychopath."
The amount of time a prisoner has on their hands also comes into play. "Their love interest are literally a captive audience. Prisoners are more attentive because of the time they have available to them," Brateman tells Refinery29, adding that teenagers are especially vulnerable to the intoxicating feelings of a new relationship. Women who seek out companionship from murderers like Cruz will project onto them the qualities they want them to have.
Social media and the vast amount of information available on the internet makes it even easier for killers to develop a fanbase. "The internet offers instant exposure and many different views on prisoners and avenues to reach them," Brateman says. "TV shows like Locked Up offers a window to prisoners as well." A 1996 article in the New York Times found that prison marriages in New York were on rise, though there doesn't appear to be any current, national data on this phenomena available.
The state of Florida is expected to seek the death penalty against Cruz, according to the Times. Cruz's lawyers have said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.
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