NEW YORK- One woman married a serial killer after his conviction. A prison psychologist, jilting her husband, fell in love with an inmate and helped him escape. And this week, a former prison nurse stands accused of killing a guard on behalf of a convicted robber she had married while he was behind bars.
Experts say these startling but not uncommon cases often involve manipulation on the criminal's part and self-deception by women who are craving a new mission in their lives.
"In some cases, it's a question of adding spice to life," said Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. "There are cases of successful women with jobs and families who felt their life was somewhat tame, and this was a way they broke away from the mundane routine."
Kristy Holtfreter, a Florida State University criminologist, said she wasn't surprised that a former nurse is accused in the courthouse shooting Tuesday in Tennessee that left a guard dead and enabled her husband to escape. The couple, Jennifer and George Hyatte, were caught late Wednesday in Ohio.
"We often see women in these cases from the 'helping' professions - nursing, education - who might be more likely to sympathize with the males in these situations - to see these dangerous individuals in a different light," Holtfreter said.
The case of Ted Bundy - who confessed to more than 30 killings - is particularly striking.
As details emerged during his trial of how he preyed on young women, he received a flood of love letters and female fans flocked to the courtroom. During a second trial, he married one of the admirers, Carole Ann Boone, who bore their child but divorced him before his execution in 1989.
Some other notable cases:
-Prison psychologist Elizabeth Feil had an affair with an inmate at Maryland Correctional Institution, then helped him and a convicted murderer stage a short-lived escape in 1999. Feil, whose husband was stunned to learn of the affair, served six months in jail; her defense lawyer contended that lifelong low self-esteem allowed her to be manipulated by inmates in her care.
-An acclaimed Canadian poet, Susan Musgrave, married a convicted bank robber while he was in prison, had two children with him after his release, and helped edit a best-selling novel he wrote about his past. But after 12 years of freedom, the husband, Stephen Reid, went back behind bars in 1999, sentenced to 18 years for his role in a bungled bank robbery that triggered a chase and a shootout.
-A prison guard three weeks away from her 24th wedding anniversary helped an inmate escape from a Tennessee prison last year, and was captured along with him six days later at a motel in Texas. Relatives said Vicki Sanford, then 51, even got a new tattoo prior to the escape that matched one worn by the inmate, who was serving time for attempted murder.
Rona Fields, a Washington, D.C., psychologist who has worked with prison inmates and staff, said interpersonal relationships in a prison setting can evolve in ways that might seem strange in the outside world.
"Someone who's a nurse - she probably saw treatment of inmates she thought was harsh, and she was in a position where they could tell her their troubles," Fields said. "All it takes is someone who is manipulative to take advantage of someone showing sympathy."
If Jennifer Hyatte is convicted of murder, said Fields, "she has forfeited her life. ... It takes an almost suicidal impulse to give your life for (such) a cause."
Elicka Peterson, a criminologist at Appalachian State University, says crimes by women often are committed on behalf of or in collaboration with a male romantic partner.
"For those women who appear to be so much more accomplished than the men, it strikes me that this can be an exaggerated way to rebel," Peterson said. "They're drawn to something that they know other people won't approve of."
"They can romanticize that situation into something appealingly seductive - 'Here we are so in love, we're so different, nobody understands you but me,'" Peterson said.
Northeastern's Fox, who has just completed a book on serial killers, said romance with a murderer may make some women feel special.
"They think, 'Only I see the goodness in him - he shares it only with me,'" Fox said. "Some women find that to be very exciting, that they were able to break through the monstrous image that other people have."
In other cases, Fox said, women become convinced that a certain man has been wrongly convicted and make it their life's work to try to clear him.
Charles Figley, a psychologist and trauma expert who like Holtfreter is at Florida State, said vulnerabilities of some of the women in these cases are often exploited by men who may be sociopaths.
"I am constantly underestimating the power and influence of these people who really don't have a social conscience - they set out on a goal, and they succeed, doing anything they need to get their way," Figley said. "The women tend to come from a background of being relatively shy, relatively introverted - sociopaths spot them immediately."
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