The 5 Most Infamous Criminal Couples and Why We’re Obsessed With Them
Love and murder have always been a compelling combination. Criminal couples like Bonnie and Clyde captivated public attention first in the news, then were re-interpreted in pop culture storylines. From the hit podcast Serial to the documentary series The Jinx, fascination with true crime has only grown in popularity.
Curiosity is a main driver of attention to these true crime stories. But another phenomenon that makes the detail that these crimes were committed by couples even more appealing to people is hybristophilia. Colloquially known as "Bonnie and Clyde syndrome," the condition is defined by sexologist John Money as a "paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a partner who is known to have committed an outrage or crime." This force is evident in some of the criminal couples themselves, but it also points to the public's fascination with their stories.
"One of the reasons that people are so interested in crime, true and imagined, is it's something they're thinking about. It's something that they want to solve," author Walter Mosley told NPR. "They want to know: Could that happen to me? And they want to know: How can I make it so it doesn't happen to me?"
Here are five of the most prominent criminal couples in recent history and why they captured our attention both during and after the crimes occurred.
Twisted fate: Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck
Fernandez and Beck met after Beck posted a lonely hearts advertisement in a magazine. Fernandez would reach out to vulnerable women through these ads, woo them and then steal from them. When he met Beck, the two fell in love, and she agreed to join him in his life of crime. Together, they posed as "brother and sister," wooing vulnerable women, getting them to fall for Fernandez and stealing from them. Between 1947 and their arrests in 1949, they committed a number of murders — and were later convicted of at least 20. After murdering a young woman and her child in Michigan in 1949, they were sentenced to death and executed in New York's Sing Sing Prison in 1951.
The couple take a seemingly romantic storyline, actually finding love from a personal ad and add a sick twist to it. Their courtship plays on our darkest fantasies, and it offers hope to those both looking for love and looking for a love that can encompass all of our faults and darkest desires.
Blinded by love: Bonnie and Clyde
The original American criminal couple is recognized by many as the "most famous gangster couple in history." The two committed crimes with their traveling gang between 1930 and 1934. They focused their crime around a series of burglaries, robberies and murders. Ultimately accused of killing 13 people, they were shot dead by police in 1934. They never married, but, according to Time, "historians believe she chose the life of crime because she was in love."
Bonnie fell for Clyde and gave up her life to follow is exciting one, traveling around the country with a group of gangsters. There's something appealing about running away from reality and losing yourself in another world that gives this story the mass appeal still resonating today. In 1967, a movie featuring their story was released starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
Life partners in crime: David and Catherine Birnie
The Australian couple met as children, fell in love as teenagers and killed as romantic partners. After David was sentenced to a few years in prison in the early 1970s for counts of theft, the couple reunited. Once they were back together, they searched for a way to spice up their love life again. The two began raping and murdering victims from their home at 3 Moorhouse Street. After killing and sexually assaulting five women, the couple decided to let their sixth victim go free. This victim turned the couple into the police, leading them both to receive sentences of life in prison. David killed himself in prison in 2005. Catherine is still serving her life sentence.
The two fed off each other's sick fantasies. They found mutual attraction and satisfaction in raping, assaulting and killing their victims, and they enjoyed the partnership of committing these crimes together. The couple lived out the worst of finding a mutual interest to enjoy with a romantic partner.
Young and deviant: Ian Brady and Myra Hindley
This English couple teamed up to murder five children between the ages of 10 and 17 from 1963 to 1965. After the two killed their last victim, a witness to the murder who was allowed to live, Edward Evans, turned them in. The pair were sentenced to life in prison for all five murders, though they maintained their innocence for years. They are known as "the Moors murderers" because three of their five victims were buried on the Saddleworth Moor.
The British public became fascinated with their story, continuing to seek new information long after the couple had been sentenced to life in prison. Hindley died in prison in 2002, but her confidential files were released to the British National Archives after her death "due to intense public interest," according to the Daily Mail. The Moors murderers carry an element of British folklore with them, as they buried their victims in the countryside. Their story is almost too twisted to be true, and, because of that, we keep seeking more information about them.
Marriage of dark fantasies: Rosemary and Fred West
The Wests murdered women and girls in their home over the course of their 20-year marriage. The house, known as the House of Horrors, stood at 25 Cromwell St., in Gloucester, U.K., and was the site of numerous sexual assaults and murders. The Wests married in 1972, but Rosemary continued to work as a prostitute afterward. She ultimately gave birth to seven children, some fathered by Fred and some by her clients. The two were convicted and charged with multiple murders in the 1990s.
The House of Horrors itself, with a rotating cast of sexual partners, assaults and violent murders, is something straight out of a true crime horror story. This sick relationship that functioned for over two decades is fascinating to onlookers. It plays on our base fears and worst imaginings of what a haunted house and a marriage of crime would be like.
These criminal couples are some of the cases we've become fascinated with over time. In these stories, each partner distorted reality and fed off one another's desires to pursue a life of crime. Mosley believes our obsession with true crime stems from a deeper curiosity about what happens when things go wrong.
"I think we have lots of suspicions in our hearts of why things go wrong because, partially, we're involved in what's wrong in the world," Mosley told NPR. "We know, and we're kind of worried that maybe, in some way, we're responsible for what's going wrong in the world."