Dr. Mary Hamer, who lives a quiet life as a single 55-year-old radiologist from Florida, is against all odds championing a young man who is accused of being a psychopathic killer in a notorious international murder case.
Joran van der Sloot, 24, is in prison facing murder charges in the savage beating death of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, a Peruvian woman whose bloody body was found in van der Sloot's Lima hotel room last year. But van der Sloot is better known as the prime suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, a high school student from Alabama who vanished on a school trip to Aruba in 2005. He was arrested twice in that case but not charged due to lack of evidence.
Hamer's support of van der Sloot, who she met just a year ago while he was in prison in Peru, has cost her both financially and emotionally.
Hamer says the past year has been "very stressful." In addition to the financial burden of funding a legal fight, her family has turned its back on her. "I have brothers and sisters but they don't support me -- my mother rejected me. My only friend in this whole thing is my ex-husband who has been wonderful," said Hamer.
Despite the evidence against van der Sloot, Hamer insists that he is innocent. He was caught shortly after Flores' death in Chile, confessed to the killing, and is awaiting trial. Van der Sloot, a Dutch national, has been indicted in the US for wire fraud and extortion related to the Holloway case.
Holloway's mother, Beth Holloway, declined to comment on Hamer's affection for her daughter's suspected killer.
Holloway was last seen in a hotel bar with van der Sloot in 2005 -- her body has never been found, though van der Sloot offered to lead the young woman's family to her body -- for $250,000. Later, van der Sloot told US television personality Greta Van Susteren that he sold Holloway into sexual slavery, but he recanted that story.
Mary Hamer brushes aside all of this. "He is very sweet and highly intelligent. He is trilingual. We have discussions and talk about the law. I am nearly convinced he is innocent of both charges," said Hamer who adds that she is "honored to know him." Hamer said she reached out to van der Sloot through his family and they eventually agreed to let her visit him in prison.
Hamer is paying part of van der Sloot's legal fees and his medical bills. She has hired two attorneys to look into various conspiracy theories that surround his incarceration. For instance, Hamer believes that a mysterious third party may have been responsible for Flores' death and that van der Sloot may have been lured to the hotel room with the girl as a form of entrapment.
Hamer believes Holloway was killed by a local drug dealer, though no evidence has been presented to back this theory either.
Hamer denies that she may be romantically smitten with van der Sloot or under his spell. "That's wrong, dear god he is in his 20's and I'm in my 50's," said Hamer.
She talks about bringing gifts to van der Sloot in prison and eating dinner with him. "We sat in the restaurant. There were wonderful French fries and banana plantains -- Joran was very polite," said Hamer. She says she told van der Sloot that she will visit him "every six months unless he wants me to come sooner."
Van der Sloot is hardly the first person behind bars to attract attention from strangers, either romantic or financial.
Erik and Lyle Menendez, who were convicted of killing their parents, both married women they corresponded with behind bars. Several women had offered to marry Scott Peterson who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife Laci in 2005. Peterson is currently on death row.
Sheila Eisenberg, the author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, writes "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."
Although Hamer denies that she is interested in a relationship with the accused killer, she admits she has dipped into her retirement fund to pay for part of his legal fees and her travel to Peru. "When he asks for help I help him," Hamer said simply.
Hamer is divorced and has no children. She lives in a small apartment and drives an 8-year-old car.
She says she has a fundamental belief in second chances and the basic goodness of all people. "I believe in him as a person irrespective of his guilt or innocence. I don't believe in hating people," said Hamer.
Van der Sloot isn't the only cause Hamer has taken up in the past few years. "I am fighting for the native American Indians. I am fighting for the dolphins in the Gulf who were killed because of the oil spill. I am fighting for animal rights, human rights and the planet earth," said Hamer.
She plans to fight on in the van der Sloot case, despite the odds, though her comments can seem outlandish.
"I have petitioned the Peruvian President and President Obama to release Joran to me for a 10-year Ghandi program. After which I have no doubt that he will present is thesis and it will win the Nobel Peace Prize," she said.