“For a while I was the person I’d always wanted to be,” – David Thibodeau about his time at Branch Davidian compound Mt. Carmel during the 51-day Waco siege.

When we think about high-profile cult situations, especially ones that turn as dramatically deadly as David Koresh’s Branch Davidian group did during the siege at Waco, most of us distance ourselves from cult members. Whether we are believers in anything or not, we are convinced that our worldview is infinitely more rational than members of “cults.”

The truth is, however, that the psychological profile of people who join cults isn’t that different than most people. We all yearn for a place to belong, we organize mundane details into profound meaning, and can be easily swayed by a great storyteller with an intoxicating personality.

Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures takes its audience on a voyage through the twisted fantasy world woven by of a pair of adolescent girl murderers. The movie ends with a scene that stabs an icy stake through the heart of innocence: the gruesome slaying of one of the girls’ mothers. The movie’s dreamlike atmosphere feels like a dark, warped fairytale, but it was based on a crime committed by two real girls in 1950s New Zealand: Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme. The motive? Juliet was leaving for America, and Pauline’s mother was against Pauline going with her.

Aileen Wournos’ presence is captivating. Prostitutes are often scared for their lives, but Aileen was a sex seller who was terrifying in her own right. Her anger burned at a level that stripped her feeling for other people completely. Aileen Wournose was born on the fringes of society, abused and rejected. This was not a world built to favor Aileen Wournos, so she became a monster. But, was that an inevitability? Most people who grow up in devastating circumstances don’t become monsters.

In the early hours of November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. methodically shot six members of his family, including four of his younger siblings, while they were sleeping in their home on in the Amityville, NY. The family had moved into the sprawling Dutch colonial on 112 Ocean Avenue a few years ago, and though their home life was rife with abuse and drama, the house had been a symbol for a fresh start. The dad, Ron Sr., even named the house High Hopes, a chillingly ironic moniker for an estate that would be rife with such pain, horror, and a haunted legacy.

It was Key West, 1940, and Carl Tanzler, (a.k.a. the self-proclaimed Count Carl von Cosel) had a fan club while he stood trial for grave robbing. He received scores of letters and visits from young women championing his undying obsession. They were seduced by his spin on eternal love and mad romance. Some of Carl’s fans were excited by his quest to seize life from the clutches of death with the right formula of elixirs and electricity. All great scientiest are thought to be crazy until they’re proven right, they argued.

Dennis Wilson ghosted Charles Manson in 1968. Before the Beach Boy quietly moved to a new address without telling Charlie and his gang, he had let the group crash at his Laurel Canyon mansion 24/7. They used Dennis Wilson’s laid back attitude to invade his home and take advantage of his resources. The Manson Family ran up doctor bills treating the constant waves of STDs that rippled through the group (Dennis himself had to take more trips to the doctor during their time with him,) and ordered huge amounts of gourmet food and juice on his tab. They even crashed Wilson’s uninsured Mercedes. It was time for Dennis to move on.