A YOUNG WOMAN IN BLACK descends a winding staircase in an Academy of Art dormitory in San Francisco's Pacific Heights. Her dark, wavy hair bounces atop her small frame as she glides out the door and into a warm, mid-September afternoon. She turns to a row of student mailboxes and reaches for the key to her own.
The woman is Samantha Spiegel. She's just 19 years old, and has recently declared fashion design her major. Sure, she's passionate about it — she even studded the leather jacket she is wearing — but lately she has been more consumed by something else. Something dark.
Entangled in a rough transition to adulthood, Samantha has taken to placing herself under the control of manipulative, dangerous men. They are men who have become infamous for their brutality, and for her, that's part of the allure.
She's hoping to receive responses to letters she sent to three men: Charles Manson, the leader of the Manson Family cult who was found guilty of conspiring to murder; Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker), a serial killer and rapist on death row at San Quentin; and Richard Allen Davis, also on death row for the 1993 kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas.
There is one notorious pseudo-killer from whom Samantha will almost certainly not have a letter. That would be John Mark Karr, the man who falsely confessed in 2006 to killing 6-year-old beauty pageant darling JonBenét Ramsey a decade earlier. According to Samantha, Karr is her former fiancé.
Their tumultuous two-year relationship ended after he allegedly persuaded her to recruit children for a sex cult, and instead she landed in rehab. Upon her return, Samantha says Karr threatened her life; she filed for a restraining order, and The Today Show brought her on as an ostensible victim, warning others about his manipulative powers. "This is something I would have liked someone to do for me when I was in his grips," she told millions of viewers. It sounded like she had learned her lesson and started anew, sociopath-free. But that isn't the case.
Instead Samantha has stepped it up, contacting convicted murderers to fulfill her needs for attention and high-profile companions. She certainly isn't alone. Every year, hundreds of letters from adoring women, aka killer groupies, slip through prison bars; some even contain marriage proposals.
At the mailbox, she drops to her knees and reaches for a solitary, facedown envelope. She turns it over in her small hand and discovers it has come from San Quentin State Prison.
Samantha checks her mailbox promptly at 3 p.m. each day.