When did it all begin? Technically, Aileen became a murderer on December 1, 1989 when 51-year-old electrics shop owner Richard Mallory picked her up on I-75 (8) and together they drove off into the woods to meet an uncertain fate. But when did the murderous creature that is Aileen Wuornos come to be? She began prostituting herself as age 9 (5), without so much as an assault charge related to her profession for 24 years while working the streets. Yes, she was a hitchhiking prostitute that became famous for murdering and robbing seven of her johns, but what was it in her that snapped? What caused her transformation from a hooker into a murderer?
There have been various documentaries made about Aileen that focused on everything from the detrimental effects of her nomadic upbringing and lack of parental guidance, to her numerous murders over the course of slightly more than a year, to her loss of sanity in prison while she sat on Death Row for over a decade. While the question of “nature vs. nurture” will always be somewhat of a mystery, Aileen’s childhood was a recipe for nothing short of a disastrous adult.
In the documentary The Real Monster Aileen Wuornos – Serial Killers, Aileen is described as having had an “exceptionally, profoundly impaired history” (5). This included child sexual abuse, abandonment by her parents, physical abuse at the hands of her grandfather, becoming “hypersexual” and trading sexual favors for cigarettes at the age of nine. Born on February 29, 1956 to Diane Wuornos at the age of 16, Aileen was given up to her grandparents to be raised and got to know either of her biological parents. Perhaps one of her greatest blessings, and sadly so, is that she never got to know her biological father. Leo Dale Pittman was a sick and sadistic man. “One of his favorite games was to tie two cats together by their tails and throw them over a clothesline to watch them fight,” (9). He hung himself while in prison in 1969 for molesting a young boy (9). As a child, Aileen was reported to have explosive tantrums and many of the neighborhood children were afraid of her (4).
Her grandfather was physically abusive: “When she was made to pull down her shorts and bend over the wooden table in the middle of the kitchen, when the doubled-over belt flew down onto her bare buttocks, little Aileen railed against her father, petrified and crying noisily. Sometimes she lay face down, spread-eagled naked on the bed, for her whippings,” (9). When she was only 13 years old, she got pregnant – at one point she claimed that her older brother Keith was the father. She was sent to a home for unwed mothers, and after having her baby boy, she gave him up for adoption (4). After this, she was kicked out of the house and was forced to live on the streets, sleeping in the woods during winters in Michigan. By the age of 16, the severe weather proved to be too harsh to withstand and she began hitchhiking down to Florida (2).
When she was 20 years old, she met a man named Lewis Fell while hitchhiking along the highway (2). This man could have been her ticket to a better life, a ticket down a much different path than the one she ultimately chose. He was a 69-year-old president of a yacht club who fell in love with her instantly. They were married in 1976, the news for which was actually printed in the society pages (9). Unfortunately for Aileen, their marriage only lasted one month; she was unable to give up her wild and reckless ways, she treated Fell terribly, would get into bar fights, and was even sent to jail on assault charges. After Lewis Fell realized his mistake, he had the marriage annulled (9).
Another possible turning point in Aileen’s life came a decade later when she met 24-year-old Tyria Moore in 1986 at a Daytona Beach gay bar at the age of 30 (4). This relationship was the one that Aileen chose to grab and hold onto with all that she had. They seemed to have a very loving and committed relationship; Aileen lovingly referred to Tyria as her wife on regular occasion (3). The two women were together for over three years when one day Aileen returns home to the motel room which they rented, but this time she had a car with her that she claimed she borrowed from a friend (5).
From December 1, 1989 to November 19, 1990 Aileen was responsible for the deaths of seven men, all of who were johns of hers (7): Richard Mallory, December 1, 1989; Dick Humphreys, May 19, 1990; Charles Carskaddon, May 31 1990; Troy Burress, July 30, 1990; Peter Siems, September 11, 1990; Walter Antonio, November 19, 1990; and David Spears, May 19, 1990. David Spears was the only man she was not convicted of killing. She carried a gun with her at all times; the murder weapon was a .22 caliber handgun – a small gun, generally carried by women and generally intended for self-defense. During her many trials, the recovered handgun, which Aileen had dumped in a river, was forensically matched to four of her victims (5).
Aileen’s modus operandi was very consistent across all of her crimes. She would pick up men as a hitchhiker, usually along I-75 (3). Once in the vehicle, she would tell a sob story about trying to save up money to send for her children (she had no dependents) and ask if there was anything she could do for them in exchange for a little cash. She and the john would then drive off into the woods and settle on what services they wanted and what the price would be. In interviews she said she could usually bring in about $100 to $200 a day as a prostitute(5).
Her first victim was Richard Mallory on December 1, 1989, claiming self-defense because he raped her (3). “Something has permanently snapped inside Wuornos, and her once-suppressed fury at men is unleashed. The rest of her killings could be seen as paranoid responses to the rape,” (6). While on trial for his murder, her graphic testimony about being raped and tortured was, for one reason or another, not enough to convince the jury. She claims that her hands were tied together and bound to the steering wheel. He then took out a Visine bottle and said, “We’re going to clean you up.” He takes the bottle and squirts it up her rectum; it is at this point that Aileen realized that the bottle did not contain Visine, but rubbing alcohol, and it burned. She then claims Mallory squirt the bottle up her vagina and up her nose (3). It is definitely plausible that Mallory raped Aileen; he was discovered to have had a record of rape and assault, although this information was not allowed in her trial (8). Initially Aileen claimed all the murders were in self-defense, but throughout her years on trial and on Death Row she has changed her motive many times going back and forth between defense and the need to eliminate witnesses to her robbing the victims (4).
Tyria Moore, who was once the great love of Aileen’s life, was ultimately the one to turn her in, both intentionally and unintentionally. On July 4, 1990 Tyria was driving one of the cars stolen from a murder victim with Aileen in the passenger seat. They were in an accident and rolled the car off the road into someone’s front yard (4). After the crash they were seen by witnesses cleaning blood off of themselves (5)… the witnesses called the cops and the police sketches of the two women were on the news in no time at all. After the police began closing in, Tyria fled to Pennsylvania to be with her family. It was not difficult for the police to track down Tyria, nor was it difficult to convince her to cooperate in bringing Aileen Wuornos down. In a method colloquially knows as a “honey trap,” the police, with Tyria’s cooperation, tapped her phone while talking to Aileen in prison and coached her in what to say to get Aileen to confess to the murders (5). While on the stand testifying against her former lover, Tyria points out Aileen to the courtroom as the person responsible for the murders, and Aileen knew it had to be done.
“Her link to Ty (girlfriend Tyria Moore) was her only shred of humanity… Her only focus was on her (girl)friend and protecting her. She showed absolutely no concern for herself and her own fate,” (5). On November 7, 1991, Aileen was adopted by a flighty born-again Christian woman named Arlene Pralle (4). Arlene claims that she and her husband were watching the news when they heard about Aileen’s trial, and that something in her eyes spoke to them because she can “read people’s eyes,” and they became pen pals with Aileen (3). It was not long before the adoption was official, and Arlene convinced her newly adopted daughter to fire her public defender and hire a man by the name of Steve Glazer (2). Arlene and Steve became quite the pair, using Aileen’s misfortune to their advantage in any way that they could. For the next three murder trials, Arlene and Steve convinced Aileen to plead no contest; Arlene said she needed to come clean, that this was her only chance at redemption. Even the judge thought this was odd that she would not have any defense presented. But when she was sentenced to death for these murders, Aileen was enraged. She yelled at the judge, “May your wife and kids be raped. Right in the ass… I’ll be up in heaven while ya’ll rotting in hell.”
After the three new murder convictions, Arlene was interviewed by Nick Broomfield, the director of the two documentaries Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer in 1992 and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer in 2002. She was asked why she told her daughter to plead no contest, her response was chilling: “God has forgiven her for what she’s done, and our state has the death penalty, so why not go for it? I mean wow! She could be home with Jesus in a matter of a few years! She’d be much better off in heaven. I mean if I had the choice I’d rather be up there, but God has not chosen for me to go, but I mean Lee (Aileen) has an open door here,” (3).
Arlene and Steve worked closely with Nick Broomfield while he was working on his 1992 documentary, but then they refused to talk to him unless Aileen was paid… Arlene was demanding $25,000 (3). Nick was confused because the Son of Sam law prohibited criminals from profiting from their crimes. After a lot of negotiating, Arlene, Steve, and Nick settled on a fee of $10,000, $2,500 of which was to go directly to Arlene and another $2,500 to go to Steve. At this point Arlene begins referring to Steve as her agent, and even after being paid, refuses to talk unless Steve is present. Steve has been accused by other lawyers of “greasing Lee’s (Aileen’s) path to the electric chair” and saw him as unfit to represent her (3). Later Arlene claims to have never gotten the money… even though the exchange is on camera for the world to see.
Nick went to talk to Aileen about all of the fuss over the money. She claims that now she can see how Arlene and Steve were money hungry from the beginning. Aileen said how they convinced her to plead guilty to the rest of the murders because all of the movie production companies would be unable to make a film without the trials, and that if she wanted to stop people from benefitting from her crimes, she needed to plead guilty. While she was in prison, Arlene and Steve even suggested to Aileen different ways to kill herself (3). And while Aileen thought that the camera was turned off, she confided in Nick that all of the killings were indeed in self-defense, and that the only reason she said otherwise is because she is tired of the charade of the court appearances and the political corruption of the police. She was afraid if people knew it was self-defense that there would be more appeals and court dates and she does not want to deal with that any more (2).
While Aileen was overly paranoid about many ridiculous things, the talk about movie deals was not one of them. Sheriff Don Moreland was found out to have been discussing movie deals with various production companies. Three more men, Captain Benninger, Sgt Munster, and Major Dan Henry were working with Tyria in discussing movie deals (2). Some people speculate that Tyria’s cooperation with the police regarding the movie deals may be why she was never charged as an accessory to any of the murders. Aileen believes that the police knew about her killing all along and purposefully let her get away with one murder after the other specifically to make her into a serial killer so that they could benefit from the movie deals that would follow (3). There was never a proper investigation into any of the claims about crooked cops, but several law enforcement officers did step down from their positions after being accused of selling out for movie deals (2).
Days before her execution, Nick Broomfield went to interview Aileen’s biological mother, Diane Wuornos. At this point in time, mother and daughter have not seen each other in over 25 years. Nick explained to Diane everything that was going on with her daughter, and wanted to discuss her childhood to see if Diane knew of anything that could have suggested that Aileen would turn out the way that she did. She explained to Nick that Aileen was a frank breech birth, meaning that she was born bottom first instead of headfirst. This is a dangerous position and the delivery was difficult; Diane thinks Aileen may have suffered some type of brain damage during birth. She did not even know that Aileen lived in the woods after having her baby (3).
Aileen was sentenced to death by lethal injection on October 9, 2002 (4). She passed on her final meal and asked for a coffee instead. Her last words were, “I’d just like to say I’m sailing with the rock. I’ll be back like Independence Day with Jesus, June 6, like the movies, big mother ship and all. I’ll be back,” (5). There is no doubt that Aileen is “a hideously tragic figure, (and) her mental state was one of progressive deterioration,” (5). But to this day, people still speculate as to the true motive behind her killings: was she a cold-blooded killer who hated men and was all too eager to kill them whenever the opportunity presented itself? Or was she a rape victim fending for her life in a dangerous profession?
1. “Monster, Frequently Asked Questions.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. May 2014. .
2. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. Dir. Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill. Perf. Aileen Wuornos and Nick Broomfield. Lafayette Films, 2003. DVD.
3. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. Dir. Nick Broomfield. Perf. Aileen Wuornos, Nick Broomfield, Steve Glazer, and Arlene Pralle. Lafayette Films, 1992. DVD.
4. Aileen Wuornos (Damsel of Death). Http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iz3oyxqX6Fk. Biography, 2013. YouTube.
5. The Real Monster Aileen Wuornos – Serial Killers. Http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81C1zyvCBiY. 2013. YouTube.
6. Holden, Stephen. “Monster (2003) FILM REVIEW; A Murderous Journey To Self-Destruction.” The New York Times. N.p., 24 Dec. 2003. Web. May 2014. .
7. “Aileen Carol Wuornos #805.” Aileen Carol Wuornos #805. N.p., n.d. Web. May 2014. .
8. “The Crimes.” Crime and Investigation. N.p., 2014. Web. May 2014. .
9. Macleod, Marlee. “Aileen Wuornos: Killer Who Preyed on Truck Drivers.” A Poor Beginning — — Crime Library. N.p., n.d. Web. May 2014. .