By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
Wendel says that vulnerable women like Samantha often fall for more aggressive men who they think can protect them. Killer groupies often have violent inclinations themselves, she says, but they don't act on them because it's not accepted by society. "The men represent a part of the women that they can't talk about," Wendel says. "They've all had violent upbringings, and they've all been abused."
In the late '80s, Sheila Isenberg worked the crime beat as a newspaper reporter in New York, where she sometimes encountered women infatuated with violent inmates. When she attempted to research the subject, she found there was almost no information, save the occasional mention of female obsession with outlaws like Jesse James and John Dillinger.
To fill the void, Isenberg interviewed three dozen women and wrote a book, Women Who Love Men Who Kill. Some of the women were nurses, teachers, and Ph.D candidates who worked in prisons; others were journalists, store clerks, and housewives from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. There were just two things the killer groupies had in common. According to Isenberg, most were Catholic, and they had all suffered abuse in childhood.
SLIDESHOW: See more images from "Killer Instinct."
For people who are abused, it makes sense to pursue a relationship with someone who is locked up. "You are safe," Isenberg says. "You make the decision to visit or take the phone call. It's a very powerful position for a woman who had previously been powerless." Additionally, women looking to be the center of a man's life were more likely to find that with an inmate. "A man in prison has a lot of time on his hands," she says. "He's going to be very attentive. Very romantic." Based on her research, Isenberg concluded the killer groupies weren't crazy; they were fulfilling their psychological needs.
Samantha appears to be the quintessential modern killer groupie — a hybrid of a media-obsessed attention junkie and a vulnerable young woman sincerely attracted to twisted, violent men.
She craves attention from famous killers, from her friends and relatives, from the world. She wants to be our cherry bomb, and in attaching herself to Karr, then landing on The Today Show, she has figured out a way to do that.
But according to her, all that is secondary. "Getting attention is not my intention," she says. "It's just what comes with what I'm interested in." She has other psychological needs that are seemingly a product of her upbringing and background.
Samantha was adopted in 1990 by a well-off Jewish couple in San Francisco who had also adopted a boy, Brian, who is older than Samantha. Her parents did not return messages requesting interviews for this story, and her brother, who lives out of state and from whom she is recently estranged, could not be reached.
Samantha describes her father as a well-known and unaffectionate attorney who left her with "daddy issues." (She's referring to Carl Jung's Electra complex, a psychoanalytic theory proposing that a young girl's early relationship to her father is sexual and formative.) "I think that goes to why in the last three years I've been with men who are 20 to 30 years older than me," she says.
She describes her mom as a controlling type who hoped to manicure her daughter into a traditional, high-society woman. "Instead, I'm kinda out there," she says. "Basically, I've failed her completely."
Her brother used to throw chairs at her, she says, which was only the beginning of his misbehavior. Samantha remembers that when her brother got kicked out of high school and checked into rehab, she felt "virtually invisible." "I wanted my parents to notice that I was fucking baked as shit or drunk beyond belief at home," she says. "They just didn't notice."
Craving familial bonds, at age 17 she went on a hunt for her biological family, and discovered them to be working-class Roman Catholics living in Cincinnati. She arranged a family reunion, and discovered she had two sisters. "It was really trippy going to Cincinnati to see what life would have been like," she says. When she learned that one of her sisters was dating a white supremacist child molester who had been in prison, and that her biological grandmother was prone to dating men who put her in the hospital, she wondered whether a macabre streak might run in the family.
From a young age, Samantha had always been fascinated with the psychology of sociopaths and killers. That's part of what drove her to make initial contact with Karr, she says.
He had worked briefly at her elementary school, Convent of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco, when she was in fourth grade. She remembers having a crush on him back then. A decade later, after watching him confess to the murder on the news, Samantha — then 16 — was compelled to reconnect.
Their interaction, limited to the phone and Internet, was often pleasant. Karr entertained her with impersonations of South Park characters over the phone, and she listened to his problems with an ex-wife. "We'd joke about so much shit," she says. "We'd gossip, tease each other, spill our emotional guts. And that just made it so strong."