Lawrence Williams Isn't the First Con to Find Love

Men who aren't in jail have a hard-enough time finding women to love them. So you'd think it'd be even harder to find that special someone once you're behind bars. But that's certainly not the case in this week's cover story about convicted rapist Lawrence Williams (pictured at right), who, while serving time at McNeil Island's Special Commitment Center (SCC), convinced a lonely nurse to give him nearly $300,000, money he then spent on lavish gifts like new cars for his other girlfriends, drugs, and porn.

Williams is certainly not the first convict to have admirers. In fact, a quick look at the love lives of some of the country's most violent men shows he's more the norm than an outlier.

ted bundy.jpg
Ted Bundy: dimpled lunatic.
Robert Chambers, New York City's so-called "preppie killer," reportedly had to be transferred to another jail because he was receiving so much female fan mail. The day Scott Peterson arrived at San Quentin, there were already two phone calls from women telling staff they intended to marry the man convicted of murdering his wife and unborn child. And though they combined to kill nearly 50 people, Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez and Ted Bundy had gaggles of love-struck admirers camp out in courtrooms during their trials, with Ramirez eventually marrying one such supporter in a prison waiting room.

Setting aside the fact that they were sociopaths, Ramirez and Bundy were both classically handsome men. But the same can't be said of Carlos the Jackal, who married his lawyer, nor John Wayne Gacy, who was both gay and no one's picture of the Roman ideal, yet who ended up marrying a woman while on death row.

Even killers who, compared to Gacy, are relatively anonymous can manage to find love--often with precisely the kind of exotic, accented women whom non-incarcerated males find so attractive.

In 2003, the UK's Guardian reported that there were "100 or so British women currently engaged or married to American men on death row," with most of the love connections facilitated by anti-death-penalty sites on the Internet.

Four years later, the Dallas Morning-News reported on the booming business done by hoteliers in tiny Livingston, Texas--population 5,433--who host the many European women who have fallen in love with inmates at Polunsky Unit, the nearby maximum-security prison. Visits between smitten Germans and their incarcerated American pen pals were, and still are, so frequent that there's even a web site written in Deutsch devoted to guiding women through death row's procedural rigmarole.

(Sample sentence: Wenn Sie die Kälte leicht fühlen, bringen eine Jacke, weil die Besucherraum istklimatisiert, so kann es frieren auch im Sommer. Translation: "If you feel the cold easily, bring a jacket, because the visiting room is air-conditioned, so it can be freezing even in summer.")

Journalist Sheila Isenberg was the first to popularize the study of this strange psychological subgenre in her book Women Who Love Men Who Kill. She found that most of the women attracted to men behind bars had abuse in their past and a strong religious background.

That description would certainly fit Barbara Boardman, the former SCC nurse who wiped out her life savings in order to stay with Williams. Because they are civilly committed, the men and women at SCC are called "residents," not inmates. They also have more freedoms than your average ward of the state, like access to pay phones, their own clothes rather than prison jumpsuits, and the ability to come and go freely from their rooms, which are more like dorms than jail cells.

Those freedoms are what helped contribute to Boardman and Williams' blossoming relationship, which was consummated in the breakroom of the SCC's medical clinic. But really, as this short history shows, it doesn't matter if a man is in solitary, just behind bars, or walking free in a yard dressed like any other Joe on the street. One way or the other, love will probably find him.

For even more on women who love men behind bars, don't miss SF Weekly's recent cover story on the killer groupie who's pen pals with a number of psychos, including Charles Manson.

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