Aileen Carol Wuornos Pralle was an American serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990 by shooting them at point-blank range.
Aileen Wuornos
Aileen Carol Wuornos Pralle was an American serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida
between 1989 and 1990 by shooting them at point-blank range.
Wuornos claimed that her victims had either raped or attempted
to rape her while she was working as a sex worker,
and that all of the homicides were committed in self-defense. She was convicted and sentenced
to death for six of the murders and was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.
Aileen Wuornos was born Aileen Carol Pittman in Rochester, Michigan, on February 29, 1956.
Her Finnish-American mother, Diane Wuornos, was 14 years old when she married Aileen's father,
Leo Dale Pittman, on June 3, 1954. Less than two years later, and two months before Aileen was born,
Diane filed for divorce. Aileen's older brother Keith was born on March 14, 1955.
Wuornos never met her father; he was incarcerated at the time of her birth.
Leo Dale Pittman was diagnosed with schizophrenia, later convicted of sex crimes against children,
and eventually hanged himself in prison on January 30, 1969. In January 1960,
when Wuornos was almost four years old, Diane abandoned her children, leaving them
with their maternal grandparents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos, who legally adopted Keith
and Aileen on March 18, 1960. By the age of 11,
Wuornos began engaging in sexual activities in school in exchange for cigarettes, drugs, and food.
She had also engaged in sexual activities with her brother.
Wuornos said that her alcoholic grandfather had sexually assaulted and beaten her
when she was a child. Before beating her, he would force her to strip out of her clothes. In 1970,
at age 14, she became pregnant, having been raped by an accomplice of her grandfather.
Wuornos gave birth to a boy at a home for unwed mothers on March 23, 1971, and the child was placed
for adoption. A few months after her baby was born, she dropped out of school
at about the same time that her grandmother died of liver failure. When Wuornos was 15,
her grandfather threw her out of the house, and she began supporting herself as a sex worker
and living in the woods near her old home.
Early criminal activity
On May 27, 1974, at age 18, Wuornos was arrested in Jefferson County, Colorado,
for driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, and firing a.22-caliber pistol
from a moving vehicle. She was later charged with failure to appear. In 1976, Wuornos hitchhiked
to Florida, where she met 69-year-old yacht club president Lewis Gratz Fell.
They married that same year,
and the announcement of their nuptials was printed in the local newspaper's society pages. However,
Wuornos continually involved herself in confrontations at their local bar and eventually went
to jail for assault. She also hit Fell with his own cane, leading him
to get a restraining order against her. She returned to Michigan where, on July 14, 1976,
she was arrested in Antrim County and charged with assault and disturbing the peace
for throwing a cue ball at a bartender's head. On July 17,
her brother Keith died of esophageal cancer and Wuornos received $10,000 from his life insurance.
Wuornos and Fell annulled their marriage on July 21 after only nine weeks. In August 1976,
Wuornos was given a $105 fine for drunk driving. She used Keith's inheritance money to pay the fine
and spent the rest within two months by using it to buy luxuries including a new car,
which she wrecked shortly afterwards. On May 20, 1981, Wuornos was arrested in Edgewater, Florida,
for the armed robbery of a convenience store, where she stole $35 and two packs of cigarettes.
She was sentenced to prison on May 4, 1982, and released on June 30, 1983. On May 1, 1984,
Wuornos was arrested for attempting to pass forged checks at a bank in Key West. On November 30,
1985, she was named as a suspect in the theft of a revolver and ammunition in Pasco County.
On January 4, 1986, Wuornos was arrested in Miami and charged with car theft, resisting arrest,
and obstruction of justice for providing identification bearing her aunt's name.
Miami police officers found a .38-caliber revolver and a box of ammunition in the stolen car.
On June 2, 1986, Volusia County deputy sheriffs detained Wuornos
for questioning after a male companion accused her of pulling a gun in his car and demanding $200.
Wuornos was found to be carrying spare ammunition,
and police discovered a.22 pistol under the passenger seat she had occupied. Around this time,
Wuornos met Tyria Moore, a hotel maid, at a Daytona Beach gay bar. They moved in together,
and Wuornos supported them with her earnings as a sex worker. On July 4, 1987,
Daytona Beach police detained Wuornos and Moore at a bar
for questioning regarding an incident in which they were accused of assault and battery
with a beer bottle. On March 12, 1988, Wuornos accused a Daytona Beach bus driver of assault.
She claimed that he pushed her off the bus following a confrontation.
Moore was listed as a witness to the incident. Up until her execution, Wuornos claimed
to still be in love with Moore.
Apprehension and sentencing
On July 4, 1990, Wuornos and Moore abandoned Siems' car after they were involved in an accident.
Witnesses who had seen the women driving the victims' cars provided police with their names
and descriptions, resulting in a media campaign to locate them.
Police also found some of the victims' belongings in pawn shops
and retrieved fingerprints matching those found in the victims' cars.
Wuornos had a criminal record in Florida, and her fingerprints were on file. [^] On January 9, 1991,
Wuornos was arrested on an outstanding warrant at The Last Resort, a biker bar in Volusia County.
Police located Moore the next day in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She agreed to elicit a confession
from Wuornos in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Moore returned with the police to Florida,
where she was put up in a motel. Under police guidance, she made numerous telephone calls
to Wuornos, pleading for help in clearing her name. Three days later, on January 16, 1991,
Wuornos confessed to the murders. She claimed the men had tried to rape her
and she killed them in self-defense. A year later, on January 14, 1992, Wuornos went to trial
for the murder of Mallory;
although previous convictions are normally inadmissible in criminal trials,
under Florida's Williams Rule the prosecution was allowed to introduce evidence related
to her other crimes to show a pattern of illegal activity. On January 27, 1992,
Wuornos was convicted of Mallory's murder with help from Moore's testimony. At her sentencing,
psychiatrists for the defense testified that Wuornos was mentally unstable and had been diagnosed
with borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Four days later,
she was sentenced to death. On March 31, 1992, Wuornos pleaded no contest
to the murders of Humphreys, Burress, and Spears, saying she wanted to "get right with God".
In her statement to the court, she said, in part: "I wanted to confess
to you that Richard Mallory did violently rape me as I've told you; but these others did not.
[They] only began to start to." On May 15, 1992, Wuornos was given three more death sentences.
In June 1992, Wuornos pleaded guilty to the murder of Carskaddon; in November 1992,
she received her fifth death sentence. The defense made efforts during the trial
to introduce evidence that Mallory had been tried for intent to commit rape in Maryland
and that he had been committed
to a maximum security correctional facility that provided remediation to sexual offenders.
Records obtained from that institution reflected that, from 1958 to 1962, Mallory was committed
for treatment and observation resulting from a criminal charge of assault with intent to rape
and received an over-all eight years of treatment from the facility. In 1961,
"it was observed of Mr. Mallory that he possessed strong sociopathic trends". The judge refused
to allow this to be admitted in court as evidence and denied Wuornos' request for a retrial.
In February 1993, Wuornos pleaded guilty to the murder of Antonio and was sentenced to death again.
No charges were brought against her for the murder of Siems, as his body was never found. In all,
she received six death sentences. Wuornos told several inconsistent stories about the killings.
She claimed initially that all seven men had raped her while she was working as a prostitute,
but later recanted the claim of self-defense, citing robbery and a desire
to leave no witnesses as the reason for murder. During an interview with filmmaker Nick Broomfield,
when she thought the cameras were off, she told him that it was, in fact, self-defense,
but she could not stand being on death row—where she had been for ten years
at that point—and wanted to die. Assessed using the Psychopathy Checklist, Wuornos scored 32/40.
The checklist evaluates individuals on a 20-item list of antisocial and interpersonal behaviors,
with each item being scored at zero, 1 or 2 and thus a maximum score of 40. Depending on location
and research perspective, scores above 25 or 30 are consistent with a diagnosis of psychopathy.
Wuornos was incarcerated
at the Florida Department of Corrections Broward Correctional Institution death row for women,
then transferred to the Florida State Prison for execution. Her appeal to the U.S.
Supreme Court was denied in 1996. In a 2001 petition to the Florida Supreme Court,
she stated her intention to dismiss her legal counsel and terminate all pending appeals.
"I killed those men," she wrote, "robbed them as cold as ice. And I'd do it again, too.
There's no chance in keeping me alive or anything, because I'd kill again.
I have hate crawling through my system.I am so sick of hearing this 'she's crazy' stuff.
I've been evaluated so many times. I'm competent, sane, and I'm trying to tell the truth.
I'm one who seriously hates human life and would kill again."
While her attorneys argued that she was not mentally competent to make such a request,
Wuornos insisted that she knew what she was doing,
and a court-appointed panel of psychiatrists agreed. In 2002,
Wuornos began accusing prison matrons of tainting her food with dirt, saliva, and urine.
She said she had overheard conversations among prison personnel "trying to get me so pushed
over the brink by them I'd wind up committing suicide before the execution" and "wishing
to rape me before execution". She also complained of strip searches, tight handcuffing, door kicking,
frequent window checks, low water pressure, mildew on her mattress, and "cat calling. in distaste
and a pure hatred towards me". Wuornos threatened to boycott showers and food trays
when certain officers were on duty. "In the meantime, my stomach's growling away
and I'm taking showers through the sink of my cell." Her attorney stated that "Ms.
Wuornos really just wants to have proper treatment, humane treatment until the day she's executed."
He added, "She believes what she's written." In the weeks before her execution,
Wuornos gave a series of interviews to Broomfield. She depicts, "being taken away to meet God
and Jesus and the angels and whatever is beyond the beyond". In her final interview,
she once again charged that her mind was "tortured" at BCI, and her head crushed by
"sonic pressure". Food poisonings and other abuses worsened, she said, each time she complained,
with the goal of making her appear insane, or to drive her insane.
She also turned on her interviewer: "You sabotaged my ass! Society, and the cops,
and the system! A raped woman got executed, and was used for books and movies and shit!"
Her final on-camera words were "Thanks a lot, society, for railroading my ass." Dawn Botkins,
a childhood friend of Wuornos, later told Broomfield that her verbal abuse was directed at society
and the media in general, not at him specifically. Wuornos's execution took place on October 9,
2002. She died at 9:47 a.m. EDT.
She declined her last meal which could have been anything under $20 and opted
for a cup of coffee instead. Her last words were, "Yes, I would just like to say I'm sailing
with the rock, and I'll be back, like Independence Day, with Jesus. June 6, like the movie.
Big mother ship and all, I'll be back, I'll be back." She was the tenth woman in the United States
and the second in Florida to be executed
since the 1976 Supreme Court decision restoring capital punishment.
After death
Wuornos's body was cremated, and her ashes were spread beneath a tree in her native Michigan
by Botkins. Wuornos requested that Natalie Merchant's song "Carnival" be played at her funeral.
Merchant commented on this when asked why she permitted "Carnival" to be played
during the credits of the documentary Aileen: Life
and Death of a Serial Killer: Broomfield later speculated on Wuornos' motive and state of mind:
Filmmaker Nick Broomfield directed two documentaries about Wuornos: Wuornos was the subject of
episodes of the documentary TV series American Justice, Biography and Deadly Women.
She was also featured in an episode of the TV series, The New Detectives.
[^] The TV movie Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story starred Jean Smart as Aileen.
The theatrical film Monster starred Charlize Theron as Wuornos. It chronicles Wuornos' story
from childhood until her first murder conviction. The film earned Theron an Academy Award
for Best Actress for playing Wuornos.
Other media
An operatic adaptation of Wuornos' life premiered at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center
for the Arts on June 22, 2001. Entitled Wuornos, the opera was written
by composer/librettist Carla Lucero, conducted by Mary Chun, and produced by the Jon Sims Center
for the Performing Arts. Several musicians have written songs about Wuornos, including Jewel
and the New York-based metalcore band It Dies Today. The poet Doron Braunshtein dedicated a poem
to her, called "Aileen Wuornos", that appears in his 2011 spoken word CD The Obsessive Poet.
The singer Diamanda Galás recorded a live cover of the Phil Ochs song "Iron Lady",
which she would often perform as a tribute to Wuornos, for her performance album Malediction
and Prayer. A song by "Dolly's circus" named "Aileen's song" was written and published in 2012.
The poem "Sugar Zero" by Rima Banerji is dedicated to Wuornos
and appears in the 2005 Arsenal Pulp Press publication, Red Light: Superheroes, Saints, and Sluts.
Lily Rabe portrayed a fictionalised version of Wuornos as part of a Halloween storyline in
American Horror Story: Hotel in the fourth episode of the show's fifth season,
and later in the season finale.
Psychopathology model
Wuornos's crimes have been closely related to the psychopathology model of women who kill
and has been related to having a psychopathic personality. Using the Psychopathy Checklist,
Wuornos was evidenced to have a psychopathic personality with a PCL-R score of 32
with the cut off score for psychopathy being at 30 in the United States. Wuornos was also known
to meet the proper criteria for possessing both borderline personality disorder
and antisocial personality disorder. Much of Wuornos's childhood
and early career in prostitution are said to have damaged her irrevocably
and it could be seen that traumatic experiences throughout most of her young life could play a part
in Wuornos's psychological state, including her departure
from her biological mother as well as her grandmother ignoring the abuse she endured
from her grandfather, thus leading to the lack of development of a "mother-daughter" bond
for Wuornos as a young girl. The damage was then made worse as both Wuornos
and her brother believed that their grandparents were their actual parents, but
at age eleven learned this was not the case, which furthered the relationship between Wuornos
and her adoptive parents. Wuornos was also known
to have early behavioral problems such as having an explosive temper which limited her ability
to make friends as well as making it increasingly harder to maintain relationships.
All this including her traumatic upbringing
and physical as well as sexual abuse which was inflicted upon her have been partially linked
to her development of a borderline personality disorder.
Such severe trauma can also interrupt the structuralization of the mind at a developmental point
and result in "primitive, dissociative, and splitting defenses
to ward off the intensity of emotional and sexual stimulation that cannot be integrated as a child."
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