Fatal attraction of the gangster rap

Women in the lives of men behind bars (from left) Zarah Garde-Wilson, Zaharoula Mokbel and Renata Laureano.

Women in the lives of men behind bars (from left) Zarah Garde-Wilson, Zaharoula Mokbel and Renata Laureano.

Miki Perkins
April 29, 2007

THEY are not so much bimbos as "crimbos" the often beautiful and sometimes bright women who fall for mobsters who live fast, kill often and die young.

And they stand by their man even when he is behind bars. But why?

When chubby drug dealer and murderer Carl Williams appeared in court on Friday his tall, blonde "friend" Renata Laureano dressed immaculately in a crisp shirt and strapless dress sat demurely beside his parents, while his (formerly blonde) estranged wife, Roberta, gave her hubby a tongue-lashing through two centimetres of bullet-proof glass.

Before the hearing she had given Renata a serve as well.

But, like the controversial criminal lawyer Zarah Garde-Wilson, matriach Judy Moran, and flame-haired Zaharoula Mokbel before her, Renata seems to be sticking with her man in this case the baby-faced crime boss.

As Williams boasted to his furious wife in a recent letter: "I can still pull 'em even when I'm in jail." A Melbourne psychologist, Alex Bartsch, a former homicide detective with first-hand knowledge of the criminal mind, says women gravitate to mobsters for many reasons.

He divides gangster groupies into types. There are the "Florence Nightingales" who befriend and defend the people society despises, much the way they might save a lost dog. These women think they can rescue, "cure" or change bad men, he said. Zarah Garde-Wilson, who took in the convicted killer Lewis Caine before he died, seems to fit the mould. Instead of turning her back on Caine's shady world after his death, Garde-Wilson moved closer, staying with a jailed gangland figure's wife. She later said of her friendship and defence of crime figures: "Someone has to do it."

Then there are those who like the notoriety, the chance to star in their own soap operas as the cameras roll outside court and gangland funerals. Gangster gran Judy Moran floated into court this week in a billowing black silk wrap and black lace stockings to hear the charges against the man who admits murdering three members of her family.

She is always ready with a quote for reporters as she plays out a starring role with her blonde curls and celebrity sunnies. Like their men, some mobster women are full-blown narcissists with delusions of grandeur, Mr Bartsch said.

"They have an over-inflated sense of entitlement, lack of empathy and disregard for consequences." And some share other traits with their men: they are "sensation seekers" who get a thrill from risk-taking the way drug addicts and adrenalin junkies do. But it is the women that prisoners call "glass widows" that have their men where they want them.

Prison visiting hours fit their weekly routine, they don't have to turn a blind eye to cocaine on the coffee table or come home to a belting. On visiting days, prisons are full of women there to see their men. Prisoners cherish such loyalty right up until they are released.

According to retired standover man Mark "Chopper" Read, jail romances sour quickly on the outside. Read, pursued by dozens of women in more than 20 years inside, told The Sunday Age: "Any women who fall in love and marry men in jail are mad you wouldn't want to associate with them on the outside. Like the great man said, 'I don't want to belong to any club that will have me as a member'."

Read says he met his present wife, Margaret, as a teenager well before he went to jail. But the fact remains, for most mobster families, prison comes with the territory. And whatever keeps couples together after the cell door slams, it's not the sex.