I recently read an article on Listverse called “10 Baffling Wives of Serial Killers”, found here:
It was highly offensive and betrayed the writer’s, a Mr S. Grant, immense ignorance. The list constantly attacked the significant others of serial killers for not discovering their crimes sooner and helping to bring them to justice. I really like the majority of listverse articles but this one was just atrocious and the people in the comments knew it. However, the views expressed by Mr Grant are, sadly, not just limited to himself. Most of the public look down on the wives of serial killers for exactly the same reasons expressed in the article and I feel obliged to defend a group of women who are, arguably, the forgotten victims of serial killers.
Firstly, while it is true that many serial killers are outwardly aggressive, the vast majority are charismatic, normal looking and extremely good liars. Part of the reason why they kill so many people is because they are, for the most part, very easy to talk to and trust. Serial killers never look like serial killers, they look like your neighbor, or your plumber, or your work colleague.
Or your creepy Columbian supply teacher…
The point is, serial killers are good at pretending to be normal. Now, the traditional argument against this regarding their wives is that they live with them and should know them better than anyone. This is untrue. Serial killers lie to everyone, including their families. Helen Morrison says that “the serial killer is the Olympiad of liars”, if you doubt Morrison’s credentials then let me tell you that she’s interviewed over 30 serial killers and acted as John Wayne Gacy’s psychiatrist while he was in prison.
In return for her help, Gacy taught her how to do that thing where all the clowns get out of that little, tiny car….
It’s not like serial killers tell their wives everything and they just keep quiet about it, these men lie. About everything. If serial killers told their wives that they were killers then there would be half as many of them. There are multiple stories of serial killers being caught in compromising situations and lying their bloodstained asses off. Judith Mawson, third wife of Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, says that when she moved in with him she found a living room with no carpet in it. She thought that was odd before Ridgeway told her he had a tennant in there with a child who had peed on the carpet. Mawson went wih it and re-furbished the place. Another wife found a skull in the garden and her husband told her it was part of a medical skeleton. The serial killer’s ability to lie cannot be understated and absolutely plays a part in their relationships with their wives.
Secondly, these women love their husbands, regardless of what odd little quirks they may have observed. Most people will say that if a women sees her husband come home with blood on his jacket or with scratches on his neck then they are idiots for not realising he was a murderer much sooner. Ask yourself this, if your significant other came home covered in blood with scratches on their neck and told you they had tried to get a dying cat to the vet, what would you think? Chances are, you’d believe them, especially if they were as convincing a liar as most serial killers are. People don’t tend to think that they’re married to a serial killer even when evidence is staring them right in the face. One morning, BTK killer Dennis Rader was reading a letter he had sent taunting the police which had been printed in the morning paper. His wife, Paula, looked over his shoulder and said “Oh look, he misspells that word the same way you do!”. Rader shrugged it off as a coincidence but for a while he genuinely contemplated killing her just incase she worked out who he was. Luckily for Paula, she didn’t.
To be fair though, nobody spotted his chilling confession in that week’s Sodoku
In the aftermath of Dennis Rader’s arrest and confession, this story got out and people were baffled as to how his wife never caught onto the fact her husband had strangled 10 people over a 30 year period. The answer is very simple, the vast majority of people look at serial killers as something that happens to something else. It’s very much like natural disasters or terrorist attacks, they always happen to someone else. Nobody thinks they’ll ever get caught up in something like that; it just isn’t a possibility. If you add this to the fact that serial killers are charming and/or intimidating then it’s not hard to see why their wives don’t report every little strange incident. Furthermore, even if these women did begin to believe that their husband was a serial killer, then they may not want to believe it. After all, the majority of these women love their husbands and they tend to have relatively happy marriages. Judith Mawson says that when she was married to Gary Ridgway, he was the nicest man, never getting angry and always smiling, it was a very happy marriage. When Ridgway was arrested, Mawson went into denial and refused to believe he was guilty right up until he confessed. Mawson is clearly torn over the years she was married to Ridgway, on the one hand they were very happy years but now that she knows what he was doing those years look very dark. Recently pictures surfaced of Harold Shipman’s widow still wearing her wedding ring, clearly still habouring strong feelings for her killer husband. Don’t underestimate the ‘power of love’ in the arguments surrounding serial killer’s wives, these marriages tend to be relatively happy ones; there are probably worse people to be married to.
What most people miss about the wives of serial killers is that they often have a calming influence on their husbands, and again, an excellent example of this is Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer. Ridgway may have murdered as many as 90 innocent young prostitutes but while he was married to Judith Mawson hs kill rate dropped radically, he even made an earnest attempt at stopping all together. Gary Ridgway genuinely loved his wife and most people who actually know about the case and have written about it believe Judith Mawson saved lives.
Usually I’d put a joke in here but seriously, friggen kudos to Judith Mawson
Something similar can be said for the wife of Dennis Rader, who went 30 years without killing because he was pre-occupied at home and simply didn’t have the time. I think it would be reasonable to say that married serial killers kill less than they would were they single. Of course, there are exceptions to this, some couples kill together. Karla Homolka was just an attention seeking brat until she met Paul Bernardo and they began torturing and killing young girls together and need we forget Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley?
They’re like if Romeo and Juliet was written by Charles Manson…
It’s true that the wives of serial killers very often save lives, but this is a point that the media and the majority of people seem to miss. The general consensus seems to be that because they were married, the wife had to have known or that she was killing alongside her husband. People question how a woman can live with a man for so long and yet have no idea what he was doing. While these are somewhat reasonable questions that must be asked, they all have answers and there really isn’t any cause to continue to ask them. These women really are the forgotten victims of serial killers. Ask yourself, how would you feel if you discovered your significant other was a serial killer? Wouldn’t you immediantly look back to see if there was anything you could’ve done? Maybe you were part of the cause? It doesn’t help that many of these womens lives have been ruined by this revelation. Many, including Paula Rader, have become reclusive while others have had to deal with the accusations of the general public and media. It’s even worse when you realise that for many of these women, their marriages were very happy ones. Judith Mawson will probably spend the rest of her life trying to figure out just how the hell she feels about her life with Gary Ridgway, and this is probably something a great many of these women are going through.
In summary, both the public and the media are far too hard on the wives of serial killers. They question how a woman can be married to a man and not know every facet of his life, occasionally even daring to suggest that they were actually involved alongside their husband. In reality, however, these women are both victims and heroes. Their husband’s lie to them throughout their marriage and we shouldn’t expect them to have known about their murderous urges, after all would any of us? Furthermore, serial killers sometimes attempt to stop killing for the sake of their families and even if they don’t, they still have to balance their lives in such a way that they aren’t discovered and therefore kill less people. The Listverse article ignores all of these arguments and reflects a feeling all too common throughout society. This needs to change, these women are the unidentified victims of serial killers, and are deserving of our pity, our compassion and, often, our praise.