Zona, Sharma, and Lane (1993) distinguished between three major categories of stalkers:

  1. The Simple Obsessional stalker,
  2. The Love Obsessional stalker, and
  3. The Erotomanic stalker.


The first category of stalkers, the Simple Obsessional stalker, represents the most common form of stalking and generally involves cases wherein the victim and stalker had some prior relationship. In many instances, the stalker is a former intimate partner, a boyfriend or husband, and the stalking is an extension of domestic violence. Most cases of simple obsessional stalking involve male perpetrators and female victims. The nature of the prior intimate relationship is not always a marriage or long-term common law relationship. Some instances of simple obsessional stalking may also involve brief dating relationships. The common characteristic of these cases, however, is the existence of a former interpersonal relationship between the victim and offender.

The simple obsessional stalker is generally characterized as socially immature and is usually low in self-esteem, insecure, and prone to jealousy in relationships. These individuals have difficulty maintaining relationships and it is hypothesized that they use violence in relationships to maintain control over their partners and, following the dissolution of relationships, they engage in stalking behaviors to continue to exercise control over their partners. The motives of the simple obsessional stalker often reflect two opposing desires – to force their ex-partner back into the relationship and to exact some measure of revenge. Zona et al. (1993) described the stalking behaviors of simple obsessional stalkers as a “sustainable rage in response to a perceived narcissistic injury” (p. 901).
The patterns of stalking evidenced by simple obsessional stalkers differs form the patterns observed by the other two categories, which may in part be due to the existence of an actual prior relationship. Simple obsessional stalkers frequently attempt to contact their victims by phone and are also significantly more likely to attempt face-to-face contact with their victims, which represent a significant risk factor for violence (Meloy & Gothard, 1995)


The second category of stalkers is referred to as the Love Obsessional stalker. In contrast to the simple obsessional stalker, the love obsessional stalker has had no prior intimate relationship with his or her victim. The stalker and the victim are often no more than casual acquaintances – neighbors, coworkers, or classmates. In many instances, however, the stalker and victim are strangers. The stalker may become familiar with the victim through the media and these types of stalking cases often involve celebrity stalking. The John Hinckley, Jr., case is a good illustration of the love obsessional stalker. On March 30, 1981, Hinckley attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan, missing Reagan but seriously wounding others, including U.S. Press Secretary James Brady. The motivations underlying Hinckley’s behavior were bizarre. After multiple viewings of the film, Taxi Driver, Hinckley developed an obsession with Hollywood actress Jodie Foster. Following several failed attempts to make contact with Foster, Hinckley undertook his attempted presidential assassination in a bid to gain Foster’s attention and affections. At present, Hinckley still remains institutionalized in a psychiatric facility.

The love obsessional stalker often suffers from a mental illness, such as depression, and struggles with his or her self-image. These stalkers pursue their victims in a misguided hope that they can establish a relationship and, that by virtue of associating with famous people, they can raise their own level of worth. Love obsessional stalkers will typically send written correspondence, such as fan letters or poems, and may also attempt phone contact with their victims. They may also even attempt to visit the victim’s home to satisfy some element of a fantasy that a relationship is possible. Love obsessional stalkers, however, do not frequently attempt face-to-face contact with their victims.


The third category of stalkers is referred to as the Erotomanic stalker. Erotomania, or de Clerambault’s Syndrome, is a delusion. An individual suffering from erotomania believes that another person is in love with them. The erotomanic stalker, in other words, believes that a relationship with their victim already exists. In most cases of erotomanic stalking, the perpetrator is a female and the victim is a male of higher social status. The erotomanic stalker’s obsession is not always based upon sexual attraction but may rather reflect an idealized love; they believe that their victim is a ‘perfect match’ and that their relationship was meant to be. For almost 10 years, talk show host and celebrity David Letterman was stalked by Margaret Ray, a woman suffering from schizophrenia. In 1988, Ray was arrested driving Letterman’s stolen Porsche and broke into Letterman’s home on several occasions. She believed that she was in fact married to Letterman and the mother of his child. Sadly, Ray committed suicide in 1998 by kneeling in front of an oncoming train. Despite the bizarre behavior of erotomanic stalkers, they are less likely to seek direct face-to-face contact with their victims and present a lower risk for violence.