real life

Meet 80-year-old serial killer, Charles Manson's 26-year-old bride.

By KATE LEAVER

Charles Manson is an 80-year-old serial killer with a swastika carved into the space between his eyes, a scraggly beard, and a life sentence to serve.

He is one of the few figures in recent history society collectively considers truly evil – having masterminded the mass murder of six people, including actress Sharon Tate, in 1969.

So how did this terrifying man end up engaged to a beautiful, free, 26-year-old woman?

Afton Elaine Burton (who goes by the name ‘Star’) is set to marry Manson in an intimate ceremony (in his cell) within the next 90 days. The couple obtained a marriage license on November 7 this year from the state of California, which allows them to wed in front of 10 guests but never consummate their union.

The story is almost beyond comprehension. Almost.

I want you to stay with me while I try to comprehend it. To break it down. To understand. To empathise with a woman my own age who is about to marry a heinous criminal who will never walk this earth a free man.

For a start, Burton is not alone in wanting to be romantically involved with a convicted killer. She’s actually not even alone in wanting to marry this convicted killer. Charles Manson has been receiving fan mail, erotic letters, and marriage proposals from female ‘groupies’ for many years. Ever since he was convicted and sent to jail, women have tried to get his attention.

Why? Why do they do this? 

The reasons for women soliciting violent, depraved men in jail are complex. The desire to do that is called ‘hybristophilia’. Sexologist Professor John Money describes it as “a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a partner who is known to have committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.”

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Academic Sheila Isenberg interviewed many hybristophiles for her book Women Who Love Men Who Kill. She explains the phenomenon like this:

“Although some have been victims of abuse and violence, many of the women vulnerable to these relationships know exactly what they are getting into, but their capacity for denial and their need for a safe, idealized, romantic fantasy of love transcends judgment. These women are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of a love without hope or promise, or consummation, and they welcome the sacrifice because it means that they and their feelings are worthy.”

So as expected, to even distantly understand these women’s motives, we’re going to have to force ourselves into a place of complex, revolting empathy.

When it comes to the case of sweet-faced, educated, pious 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton, we have a few clues. And here is our biggest one – a video she made in 2011 to defend Charles Manson.

You can hear the awe in Burton’s voice when she says Manson’s name. You can tell his notoriety excites her. He’s world-famous; a star in one of the most high-profile crimes committed in the television era. His has been a household name for nearly 40 years. So there’s that: Fame.

Then, there’s the fact that Burton believes Manson is innocent. She first got in touch with Manson when she was 17 years old, and now she runs several websites that promote the idea that Manson is not guilty of his heinous crimes. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Burton said she wants to marry Manson so she can access documents that will help her prove his innocence. Documents that only family — including a spouse — can see.

We don’t know a lot about Burton. She could be mentally disturbed or delusional, and she could come from an abusive background. I won’t speculate in that regard but what we can infer is that she does appear to be on some sort of moral crusade.

She has spent nearly 10 years convinced of this man’s innocence. She is obsessed with the idea that she could be the one to disprove one of the most prominent crimes in modern history. She may think she can be the one to change this inexcusably awful man. She may be driven by the desire, above all else, to ‘save’ him.

And she’s not the only woman in the world who is throwing her own young life away in pursuit of this delusion.

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