“Serial Killer Groupies” documentary film bypasses exploitation of interviewees.
There’s a long list of things I’ll never truly understand. Some are truly complicated, like American foreign policy or the derivatives market on Wall Street. Others are simply outside of my own sociological background, like the minority experience in the U.S. Several are frankly mindboggling, like certain online communities where members identify their gender as various types of fantasy animals and openly condemn anyone that might be skeptical of it.
The world is vast and contains multitudes; strangeness will abound and has always abounded. The human desire to classify the world and define human behavior can at times seem at odds with a progressive and open society, opening the door to judgment and negative thinking.
Sometimes, that door probably needs to be opened. Chattanooga filmmaker Joy Krause is debuting her new documentary at UTC about another baffling practice, examining the motivations of a group of sometimes-social pariahs: women who fall in love with violent convicted killers.
“Serial Killer Groupies: A Love Story” gives a voice to four women who have ongoing relationships with violent offenders. It aims to give a perspective rarely seen and offer explanations to those that question the wisdom of such decisions. According to Krause, “Thousands of women write to serial killers each year.” She says, “Many are drawn to their notoriety.” One of the experts in the film is author and criminologist Dr. Jack Levin, who explains, “There are killer groupies who are infatuated with killers or they want desperately to date them and maybe even marry them.”
But others have different reasons. For instance, Krause says that some, “feel they can fix the bad boy.” After viewing the film, one reason stands out more than the others. Krause says, “Loneliness [is] another motivator. We are such an isolated society and people are desperate for connections. Writing to someone in prison, particularly someone who will never be released, is a safe connection for many women. Perhaps it is the closest type of intimacy they are able to manage.” There seems to be a sadness among all of the women interviewed, a longing for any sort of connection. There are tales of failed past relationships, of mistreatment, of abuse. There is a certain logic to perusing a relationship with a man who is present only in spirit. It isn’t unlike a widow holding on to the memories of the deceased. The imagined can be more comforting than the real.
The film has a good amount of access to these women, who appeared eager to tell their own stories. Says Krause, “I spoke with over a hundred women, and four were chosen to be in the movie. It was very difficult for women involved in these relationships to trust me. It took many months of phone calls and letters before they believed I was not trying to exploit them. Each one had trusted a media person who betrayed them and sensationalized their stories. When I interviewed Dr. Mary Hamer, the advocate for Joran Van der Sloot, she described her television appearances: ‘I have gone on Anderson Cooper and many other media interviews. I’ve been ridiculed and made fun of. Anderson Cooper’s audience laughed at me.’”
While it might seem misguided to spend a million dollars in a failed attempt to free a man convicted of murder that you’ve never met, there is no mistaking Dr. Hamer’s commitment to the cause. Judgments are left to the audience. Another woman, Wendy Carr-Goudeau, still believes in her husband’s innocence, and the film does a good job of outlining the potential possibility regarding his case. Of the interviewees, Carr-Goudeau is the most convincing and understandable. She had a relationship with the inmate before his conviction and has been sued and threatened for refusing to abandon her husband.
The film’s look is similar to crime shows found on MSNBC or Lifetime, which makes sense, as Krause says she is “drawn to shows like ‘Criminal Minds.’” She explains she is “interested in learning about people’s lives” and wants to answer questions like “Why do we make certain choices? Why are we attracted to certain people? Why do we choose particular career, social, religious, educational or interpersonal paths?” Some of these questions are posed in her documentary, although many of the answers aren’t necessarily satisfying. It’s unlikely that any answer given by these women will quiet the mind on such a questionable subject. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask.
“Serial Killer Groupies: A Love Story” screens Nov. 18 at noon and 6 p.m. at UTC in the UC auditorium.