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Studs in stripes 

Prisoners like Eric Rudolph may not have their freedom, but they still have their fans

"HANDSOME MUNITIONS ENTHUSIAST, ZEALOUS, FAITHFUL AND FIT. HOBBIES INCLUDE REALLY LONG WALKS IN THE WOODS, FORAGING AND THE BIBLE. SEARCHING FOR SWF WHO OBEYS GOD (OLD TESTAMENT ORDERS ONLY), POSSESSES INFINITE PATIENCE AND LONGS FOR OLD-FASHIONED COURTSHIP OF LETTER WRITING, ARMED CHAPERONES AND SEXUAL FRUSTRATION. ABILITY TO ACCEPT COLLECT CALLS A MUST. LAW DEGREE DESIRABLE."

Yes, he stands accused of bombing two abortion clinics, a nightclub and an unsuspecting crowd gathered for the 1996 Olympics. But did you see those piercing blue eyes?

When Eric Rudolph was finally captured after a five-year FBI manhunt, his alleged crimes weren't the only topics discussed. A search of news stories published in the eight days since the notorious fugitive's capture netted 134 hits for the words "handsome," attractive," "good-looking" or "hero."

Sure, victims were given the requisite opportunity to reflect on their pain. But there was plenty of ink left to ponder what it is about Rudolph that inspires more sympathy than an army of Timothy McVeighs and D.C. snipers. The possibility that Rudolph was acting as an agent of God does resonate with a disproportionate number of Bible belters. But in the strain to fathom why so many empathized with Rudolph, the media overlooked another possible reason: He may be a criminal, but damn, is he hot.

It's not too big a stretch to predict that, if convicted, Rudolph's combination of good looks, alpha-male hunter skills and radical Christian ideology will attract groupies galore. While most people will cry out for vengeance at the sight of men accused of crimes like Rudolph's, there are plenty of women who cry out in adulation, says Michael Broder, former chief psychologist for the Philadelphia Police Department, whose private practice includes both criminal evaluations and relationship counseling.

"You put a card-carrying sociopath in a singles bar," says Broder, "and he'll outscore everybody."

A quick Internet search is all it takes to see that prison -- if that's where Rudolph should end up -- needn't be a dating deterrent. Singles can search for the man of their dreams by browsing hundreds of profiles created by incarcerated heartthrobs.

One inmate's imaginative ad, posted on Meet-An-Inmate.com and declining to list his release date, lets women know he hasn't lost sight of the good life: "I am a romantic at heart who enjoys humor, am sensitive but strong. I enjoy the outdoors, moonlight walks on the beach, and just having fun."

Apparently it works.

Women who have a strong desire to nurture -- and a weak sense of self -- are likely to be drawn to the prospect of a relationship with a man in lockdown, says Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist and relationship coach based in Virginia. Such women are able to ignore or justify facts that healthier women can't, she says. If Romeo hacked up a few folks with an ax or planted bombs to kill hundreds, well, we all have flaws.

Even serial killers like Richard Ramirez, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and the Son of Sam (AKA David Berkowitz) have attracted scores of groupies. Bundy and Ramirez both married in prison.

Doreen Lioy was a freelance editor before she married Ramirez in the waiting room at San Quentin. While the rest of the public was chilled by the mere site of Ramirez, Lioy told the press that she fell in love after seeing his picture in the paper -- and proceeded to write to him 75 times before she was allowed to visit. In spite of the bizarre, devil-worshiping behavior Ramirez openly displayed during his murder trial, Lioy proclaimed and continues to proclaim his innocence. The 41-year old bride wore a tasteful white dress to the penitentiary and claimed to be a virgin.

A love like Lioy's may seem insane. But to women who've been abandoned before, it makes sense to give their trust to a man who can't run out on them, according to Coleman. Part of the allure of a man in jail is that even if he can't come home anytime soon -- if ever -- a wife always knows where he is.

A man imprisoned is also a man with time on his hands. He can write lengthy love letters, talk for hours on the phone and spin any emotional tale he wishes to tell. What he can't afford to do is make his sweetie angry. Because who else has he got?

Then there's the "bad boy" factor, which both Coleman and Broder point to: Women can live their own violent fantasies through men like Rudolph. It's like being the Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde without actually risking jail time.

And since when, Broder says, are nice guys sexy? "They don't have enough mystique to them to keep them interesting on a passionate level."

That said, the question remains: What kind of woman might Rudolph himself want?

He's been described as a charmer who did well with the ladies but didn't like to commit; he was likely busy with all that camping and hiking.

Perhaps he'll be more attentive should the great outdoors come to consist of the patch of concrete outside his jail cell.

rochelle.renford@creativeloafing.com

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