I killed those men, robbed them as cold as ice. And I’d do it again, too…I have hate crawling through my system…I am so sick of hearing this “she’s crazy” stuff…I’m trying to tell the truth. I’m one who seriously hates human life and would kill again. – Aileen Wuornos
In my harlotographies, I’ve tried to cover as broad a range as possible: from the ancient to the recently-deceased, from streetwalkers to courtesans, from the noble to the self-centered, from the wise to the deranged and from the famous to the infamous. Three years ago this month I presented short biographies of the victims of the first known serial killer, and today the first woman to be herself so labeled: Aileen Carol Wuornos.
She was born in Rochester, Michigan on February 29th, 1956 to 17-year-old Diane Wuornos, who had married Aileen’s father, Leo Pittman, less than two years before. Aileen never met him; he was in prison when she was born, and her mother had already filed for divorce. Pittman was a schizophrenic with a long history of violent behavior, and hanged himself in prison in 1969 while serving another sentence, this time for child molestation. In January of 1960, Diane abandoned Aileen and her older brother Keith, leaving them with her parents Lauri and Britta Wuornos; they immediately adopted the children and for many years allowed them to believe they were their parents. Unfortunately, they were just as bad as the real parents; Lauri sexually abused his granddaughter, and Britta was both physically abusive and an alcoholic. Like many incest victims, Aileen became sexually precocious; she had sexual contact with boys at school in exchange for drugs, cigarettes and other things she wanted, and when she turned up pregnant at 14 she named Keith as the father. As was typical in 1970 she was sent to a home for unwed mothers, and the baby was given up for adoption. A few months later Britta died of alcohol-induced liver failure, and Lauri threw his granddaughter out soon afterward. Though she and her brother were placed in foster homes, Aileen ran away almost immediately and lived in a patch of woods near her old neighborhood, supporting herself via prostitution.
But she did not stay there for long; by 16 she started hitchhiking around the Midwest, working mostly at truck stops, and was arrested for drunk driving in Colorado in May of 1974. By the beginning of 1976 she had made it to Florida, where she was picked up while hitchhiking by Lewis Fell, the wealthy 69-year-old president of a yacht club. He immediately fell in love with her and soon proposed; she accepted, and their marriage announcement even appeared on the local paper’s society page in May of 1976. There the story might have ended had Aileen been merely the victim of a difficult life; as should be clear, however, mental and emotional instability ran deep on both sides of her family, and she was completely incapable of settling down to the comfortable situation of a trophy wife. Instead, she insisted on drinking at bars and getting into fights; when she was jailed for attacking a bartender while on a trip home to Michigan (after her grandfather’s suicide), Fell came to his senses and had the marriage annulled. She was arrested July 14th; her brother died of throat cancer three days later, and the annulment went through on the 21st.
Aileen blew through her brother’s $10,000 insurance policy in only a few months and returned to truck-stop prostitution, working her way back down to Florida. But while she had been quite pretty in her teens, hard living and her volatile temper had faded that luster; it thus became increasingly difficult for her to make a living as a whore. She was arrested for robbing a convenience store in May of 1981, and again for passing forged checks in May of 1984. By 1986 she had just about hit bottom: she was arrested for car theft in January, then for attempted armed robbery of a client in June. Soon after that, however, she met a hotel maid named Tyria Moore at a lesbian bar in Daytona Beach, and they moved in together; for a while Wuornos seems to have been happy in her way, and her earnings picked up enough for Moore to quit her job and let Wuornos support both of them. But slowly, over the next several years, the chaos which followed Wuornos like a cloud returned and worsened. In July of 1987, she got in a fight at a bar, then in March of 1988 with a bus driver. And by the end of the following year, she had returned to where she was when she met Moore, and started robbing her clients…this time, killing them in the process.
The particulars of the case are discussed in exhaustive detail all over the internet if you’re interested, so there’s no need to repeat them here. Suffice to say that between December 1st, 1989 and November 19th, 1990, Aileen Wuornos murdered seven men – Richard Mallory, David Spears, Charles Carskaddon, Peter Siems, Troy Burress, Charles Humphreys and Walter Antonio, all with the same delicate little .22 caliber purse gun. Moore was still with her at least until the fourth murder, but sometime after that they broke up and Moore went home to Pennsylvania. She later admitted to knowing about the first murder, but claimed to have deliberately avoided asking about the others because she didn’t want to know. Wuornos was a terribly sloppy criminal; she left a string of witnesses, fingerprints and pawned loot across Florida, and had the police been competent she would have been caught much earlier. Wuornos was finally arrested on January 9th, 1991, and Moore the next day; she agreed to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution, and even talked Wuornos into confessing on the phone. In that confession, Wuornos claimed that every single one of the men had tried to rape her, and that she had killed them all in self-defense.
Predictably, credulous feminists swallowed every word and touted her as some kind of heroine; remember, this was the height of child sexual abuse hysteria. But she was neither a heroine nor the “man-hating lesbian” some pundits claimed; she was merely an unstable sociopath whose restless, violent life had exacerbated her existing problems. At first, she seemed to enjoy the publicity and continually retold her story to recast herself more and more as the victim, ignoring her public defenders’ entreaties that she remain silent and insisting she be allowed to tell her story in court. When the jury at her first trial (for Mallory’s murder) compared her absurdly-embellished version with the original videotaped confession, any credibility she may have had disintegrated; it took less than two hours for them to convict her of first-degree murder, and she responded by screaming “I hope you get raped!” at them. She was sentenced to death. Before her next trial could start, she decided to “get right with God” by pleading no contest to the murders of Humphreys, Burress and Spears, claiming in her statement that though Mallory (who had a previous conviction for the crime) did indeed rape her, she had only feared the others would and killed them before they could do so. She was given three more death sentences.
Wuornos spent the next decade on death row, her mental health deteriorating the entire time. In 2001 she fired her legal counsel and stated that she was giving up appeals, but then insisted that the prison staff were torturing her by contaminating and even poisoning her food so as to drive her to suicide before her execution; she also claimed that they intended to rape her before she died. During the last few years of her life she gave a a series of interviews to Nick Broomfield, who had already made a documentary about her in 1993 (Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer) and was in the process of making another (released in 2003 as Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer); the video below is the last such interview, made the night before her death.
She was executed by lethal injection on October 9th, 2002 after declining a last meal (she wanted only a cup of black coffee). Her last words were, “I’d just like to say I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back like Independence Day, with Jesus June 6th. Like the movie, big mother ship and all, I’ll be back.”
There are some women I’m proud to share a profession with, and others I’m not; women like Theodora and Skittles show whores at our best, while women like Aileen Wuornos show us at our worst. But I think her story is an important part of the picture, because it demonstrates once again that there is no one type of woman who sells sex, nor any consistent pattern to our lives and fates.