Serial Killer Deep Dive: Aileen Wuornos
Did what started out as self-defense turn into an addiction for murdering men?
Have you ever wished you could get inside the mind of a serial killer to understand why they did the things they did? Why would they want to hurt someone? What caused them to morph into the gruesome person they became so famously known as?
One of the most common traits in all serial killers is psychological or physical abuse in their childhood. Our first deep dive subject was no stranger to that.
Aileen Wuornos was born in 1956 in Rochester, Michigan to her parents Diane Wuornos and Leo Dale Pittman. However, she never met her father. He was incarcerated at the time of her birth for convictions of sex crimes against children and later killed himself. When Aileen was only 4-years-old, her mother abandoned her and her brother, Keith, leaving them with their grandparents Lauri and Britta Wuornos. It might sound like they were better off in the hands of their grandparents but the reality was that they were anything but kind and caring. Aileen claimed they were alcoholics and that her grandfather would sexually and physically abuse her. She even stated that she had sexual relations with her brother. To make things even worse, at fourteen Aileen became pregnant as a result of a rape committed by an accomplice of her grandfather. She gave birth to a boy who was later given up for adoption. Not too long after, her grandmother passed away and her grandfather threw her out of the house. This is where she began her journey of as a sex worker.
People do what they have to do in order to survive and even at the age of 11, Aileen, was exchanging sexual favours for cigarettes, drugs, and food. Shortly after being thrown out, she began supporting herself as a sex worker while living in the woods near her old home. Her criminal activity began when she was eighteen. She was arrested for driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, and firing a .22-caliber pistol from a moving vehicle, and was later charged with failure to appear. A few years later, she hitch-hiked out to Florida where she met and married yacht club president Lewis Gratz Fell. Unfortunately, their marriage didn't last long as she continuously engaged in altercations at the local bar for which she was arrested and even assaulted Fell with his own cane, leading him to get a restraining order against her. From this point on, Aileen was arrested and imprisoned for several assaults, armed robbery, and other various charges.
And then the murders began.
November 30, 1989. Aileen was picked up just outside of Tampa by 51-year-old Richard Mallory. The two agreed to have sex and parked the car in the woods near I-95 and Route 1. They ended up drinking and talking until dawn, when suddenly, Aileen pulled out her .22 caliber and fatally shot Richard four times. She dumped his body in the woods and took off with his car. She drove home to her then-girlfriend, Tyria Moore, and told her what she had done. Tyria didn't believe her at first but the two ended up packing up all of their belongings and moving into a new place. Aileen wiped Richard's car clean of fingerprints and abandoned it. Police discovered the vehicle the next day and two weeks later they found Richard's body. Surprisingly, there was no evidence of Aileen murdering Richard so the case remained a cold one.
On June 1, 1990, another body was found. 43-year-old David Spears was the second victim of Aileen's soon-to-be murderous rampage. He was found along Highway 19 wearing nothing but a baseball cap. Aileen had shot him six times.
A few days later, there was another. 40-year-old Charles Carskaddon was found in Pasco County on June 6. Aileen had shot him nine times.
On July 4, officers discovered 65-year-old Peter Siems' car in Orange Springs. Witnesses reported that Tyria and Aileen were seen leaving the car where it had been found. There was a hand print on the interior door handle which matched Aileen's. Unfortunately, Siems' body has never been found.
A few weeks later, on July 31, 50-year-old Troy Burress was reported missing. On August 4, law officers found his body in a wooded area in Marion County. His body was fairly decomposed, suggesting he had been dead for quite some time. He suffered two gun shots.
Charles "Dick" Humphreys was the next victim. The 56-year-old's body was also found in Marion County on September 12. His car was found about an hour away in Suwannee County, suggesting Aileen had done the same thing she did with her first victim. She had shot him six times in the head and torso.
And finally, the last victim: Walter Jeno Antonio. On November 19, the 62-year-old's partially nude body was found near a remote logging road in Dixie County. His car was found over three hours away in Brevard County. He had been shot four times.
One year. Seven murders. One giant mystery.
Until January 9.
Because of the witness reports identifying Aileen and Tyria ditching Siems' car back in July, a media campaign started to find the women. Police had discovered some of the victims' belongings in local pawn shops which matched fingerprints found in the victims' cars. And because of her run-ins with the law in Florida, Aileen's fingerprints were also on file.
Come January 9, 1991, Aileen was arrested at The Last Resort bar.
Tyria was found the next day in Pennsylvania and agreed to get a confession out of Aileen in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Police brought her back to Florida and under their supervision, she made several phone calls to Aileen begging to help clear her name.
Then three days later, January 16, Aileen confessed to the murders. She claimed all of the men tried to rape her and that she killed them in self-defense. It's important to note that her first victim, Richard Mallory, was actually a convicted rapist. Although there were seven victims, Aileen was only convicted of six counts of first-degree murder because Peter Siems' body was never found.
On January 14 1992, Aileen went to trial for the murder of Richard Mallory. Though there was no initial evidence for her murdering Richard, Florida's Williams Rule allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence related to her other crimes which showed a pattern of illegal activity. On January 27, she was convicted of Richard's murder. Psychiatrists testified that Aileen was mentally unstable and suffered from borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, but four days later she was sentenced to death.
At the end of March, Aileen pleaded no contest to the murders of Troy Burress, Charles Humphreys, and David Spears. She told the court that she wanted to "get right with God" and "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."
In May, she was given three more death sentences. In June she pleaded guilty to the murder of Charles Carskaddon and in November she received her fifth death sentence. The following February in 1993 she pleaded guilty to the murder of Walter Jeno Antonio and received another death sentence. In total, Aileen had six death sentences under her belt.
Throughout the trials, Aileen switched up her stories about the killings multiple times. At first, she killed in self-defense, then she killed for robbery and the desire to leave no witnesses, then back to self-defense. When assessed using the Psychopathy Checklist, Aileen scored 32 out of 40. Scores above 25 or 30 are enough to determine a diagnosis of psychopathy.
Aileen was kept at the Florida Department of Corrections Broward Correctional Institution death row for women. Before her execution, she was transferred to the Florida State Prison. Her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996 was denied. In 2001, she stated that she wanted to dismiss her legal counsel and terminate all pending appeals. She wrote, "I killed those men, 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." Her attorneys argued that she didn't know what she was talking about due to her mental incompetence but Aileen insisted she knew what she was doing and a panel of court-appointed psychiatrists agreed.
So now that the basics are out of the way, let's get into the nitty gritty of it.
(Note: The author of this story is not in any way a trained psychiatrist or medical professional. These following statements reflect their own thoughts and theories.)
What caused Aileen to do the things she did? Was it her upbringing? Was there some underlying subconscious desire to get revenge on those who abused her as a child?
There are three main categories to look at: biological, sociological, and the self-control theory.
Biologically speaking, it's possible that traits from her parents, especially alcoholism and aggression, might've been passed down to Aileen. Individuals with varying levels of the monoamine oxidase-A gene (aka the "warrior gene") are more likely to suffer from depression, behave antisocially, and display signs of aggression. It's also a gene that can be passed down. While she did not know her father, his aggressive behaviour might've been genetically inherited by Aileen as she displayed violent behaviour herself. This brings the question of "can someone be born a psychopathic killer?" into play, but that's a whole different can of worms.
Sociologically speaking, Aileen wasn't raised in the best conditions. Her relationship with her family was anything but healthy. She had no strong father figure in her life, her mother left them causing abandonment issues and she was sexually abused. It was a violent upbringing and Aileen likely inherited these types of behaviours because that's what she was exposed to. The sexual abuse could also explain why she became a sex worker. Victims of sexual abuse can often feel that sex is all they're good for so perhaps this is why Aileen turned to sex work in order to support herself. As mentioned earlier, from a young age she was exchanging sexual favours for items so she likely thought this was quickest way to get money, food, and other things to help her survive.
And finally, the self-control theory; a general theory that hypothesizes that low self-control is the cause of criminal behaviour. This theory overlaps with sociological aspects because life experience can influence an individual's self-control. This theory is up for debate because as a prostitute for several years, Aileen came across hundreds of men and yet she only killed seven. On one hand, it's arguable that she had a great deal of self-control because she killed so little. On the other hand, she might've lacked self-control because there could've been circumstances with those particular men that caused her to kill them. Perhaps these men resembled her grandfather's accomplice who raped her; perhaps a certain way they touched her caused her to flashback to when she was being sexually abused. When she killed, maybe in those moments she felt like for once she could take control of the situation. Maybe she justified the killings as self-defense because for once in her life she had all the power.
Was this a subconscious way of getting revenge on those who abused her? Is this why she continued to kill? Each time she killed, did she receive some sort of gratification against the men who hurt her in her childhood?
Unfortunately, there is no way to ever know.
Aileen's execution took place on October 9, 2002. She declined the traditional last meal before execution and settled for a cup of coffee instead. She died at 9:47 AM by lethal injection. These were her haunting last words:
"I'd 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."
Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) Directed by Nick Broomfield.
Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992) Directed by Nick Broomfield.