Aileen Wuornos: Cult Hero Or Reckless Serial Killer?
by Joe Turner
May 02, 2020
When you think of female serial killers, the first person who comes to mind is Aileen Wuornos.
Her recognizable mugshot and cracked smile have become the gold standard of female evil the world over. On the surface, Aileen Wuornos appears to be a ruthless monster, having shot and killed six men in Florida while working as a sex worker. And she isn't the only serial killer from Florida But since these murders in 1989-1990, Aileen Wuornos has become something of a cult hero in some circles.
Her story has been told in numerous books, movies, documentaries, but we’ve compiled everything you need to know about Aileen Wuornos below.
Aileen Wuornos's Childhood
Aileen Wuornos’s childhood was a series of tragedies, all of which made for ideal conditions to birth a future serial killer.
She was born on February 29th, 1956, in Troy, Michigan to parents Diane Wuornos and Leo Pittman. Aileen was raised solely by her mother, Diane, who gave birth to Aileen when she was only 17. At the time of her birth, Diane already had a two-year-old son, and the struggle of raising two young children while only a teenager herself proved too much for her. Diane abandoned her children in 1960, leaving them in the care of their maternal grandparents.
Aileen’s father, Leo, had a history of violence and was incarcerated for child molestation before Aileen was born, so the two never met. When Aileen was 13, Leo committed suicide in his prison cell.
Wuornos Was Sexually Abused
Aileen was unaware that she was living with her grandparents, and for many years believed that they were actually her real mother and father.
But like her real parents, her grandparents were abusive towards the young Aileen and her brother. They were both subject to regular beatings and lashings at the hands of her grandfather, who also sexually abused Aileen as she got older.
When Aileen was 14, her grandmother passed away from liver failure (less than a year after her real father committed suicide), leaving her solely in the hands of her violent grandfather.
Homeless And Pregnant At Fifteen
Aileen was naturally confused about sexual relationships, and during high school, she began to engage in prostitution. She offered sexual favors to boys around school in exchange for money, cigarettes and drugs. There were also reports that she began a sexual relationship with her own brother.
In 1970, when Aileen was only 14 years old, she was raped and impregnated by a friend of her grandfather’s. She gave birth to a baby boy when she was 15, who was immediately placed up for adoption. The identity and whereabouts of Aileen Wuornos’s son have never been discovered.
After becoming a mother, her grandfather turned excessively violent towards Aileen and eventually kicked her out of his house. She then began living rough in the woods near her home and supported herself through prostitution and theft.
Aileen's Self Destruction
For 18 years, Aileen’s life had been endless chaos, but things only got worse as she became an adult.
She was arrested for DUI, shooting a firearm and disorderly conduct in 1974, around which time she began hitchhiking across the United States. She ended up in Florida, where she met a retired businessman named Lewis Fell, who was 50 years her senior. The two quickly married.
Aileen could have had an easy life alongside her wealthy husband, but instead, she continued to involve herself in petty crime and bar violence around Daytona Beach, Florida. In only a few short weeks into their marriage, Fell took out a restraining order against Aileen who had attacked him with his own walking cane. After just 9 weeks, Fell and Wuornos annulled their marriage.
Drink, drugs and violence was all Aileen knew. She was arrested in 1976 for disturbing the peace after attacking a bartender with a pool cue. Shortly after, Aileen’s brother died of throat cancer aged just 21. She received an inheritance from him of $10,000, which she spent in two months.
Aileen Gets A Girlfriend
Wuornos continued her life of prostitution and theft for the next ten years, accruing charges for armed robbery, forgery, car theft, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. Several times, police pulled Wuornos over to find her in the possession of a number of weapons.
She served a prison sentence of 13 months in 1982 for armed robbery of a local store, being released in June 1983 and immediately going back to her criminal ways. Things changed when she met a woman named Tyria Moore at a local gay bar in Daytona Beach.
It seemed that finally, Wuornos had found the love she’d always wanted. The two began a romantic relationship and moved around Florida together, living on the streets and out of motel rooms.
Wuornos claimed that she stayed in love with Moore right up until her last days, despite her still engaging in prostitution while the two were together. Moore warned Wuornos of the dangers of her lifestyle, but Wuornos continued her reckless ways regardless.
The Murders Begin
It seemed that bar violence and armed robbery weren’t enough for Wuornos anymore, and beginning in November 1989, she went on a 12-month reign of terror culminating in the murders of seven men.
Her first victim was Richard Mallory, a 51-year-old who had enlisted Aileen’s prostitution services. She claimed that Mallory was abusive, tying her hands to his steering wheel and attacking her. Aileen managed to pry herself free and pull out her .22 pistol from her purse, then shot Mallory three times. She then drove him to the nearby woods and dumped his body.
Similar incidents played out six more times over the next year. The men, Aileen claimed, hired her but then turned violent, trying to attack and rape her. In each case, Aileen shot the men a number of times, dumped their bodies and in some cases pawned their belongings.
Aileen Gets Arrested
Wuornos’s killing spree ended in November 1990. Four months before, both Wuornos and Moore had been seen driving one of the victim’s cars. As Wuornos was already a known felon, her fingerprints were on file, and police were able to match them with fingerprints discovered in the abandoned cars of the victims.
It took two months for police to finally locate Wuornos after an extensive search. She was found in a bar in Volusia County on January 9th, 1991 where she was arrested on an outstanding warrant for violent behavior. By this point, Moore had already fled to Pennsylvania, having ended her relationship with Wuornos. Police apprehended her on January 10th.
Now with both Wuornos and Moore in custody, police devised a plan to elicit a confession out of Wuornos for the murders. In exchange for her cooperation, Moore received immunity from any kind of prosecution (which Wuornos was unaware of).
Tyria Moore's Betrayal
While Wuornos was in custody, Moore called Wuornos and put on Oscar-worthy performance over the phone. She pretended to be terrified that police would pin all of the murders on her, when she actually had nothing to do with them. Under the guise of ‘getting their story straight,’ Moore managed to get Wuornos to confess to some of the murders, and she also revealed that there were several other killings that Moore was unaware of.
This was enough to cement Wuornos’s guilt and award her the death penalty. Moore continued to cooperate with police and took the stand to testify against her former lover in court. Throughout the whole trial, it was reported that Moore never once made eye contact with Wuornos.
Trial Of A Serial Killer
For each murder, Wuornos claimed that she acted in self-defense when her clients tried to attack and rape her. However, her conversations with Moore painted a different story. While there was no doubt that several of the killings were indeed acts of self-defense (her first victim, Richard Mallory, had a history of rape convictions), it was likely that several of them were committed via different motivations.
On some occasions, she claimed that she was trying to rob her victims, but ended up shooting them to avoid leaving witnesses. This is further backed up by the fact that Wuornos stole some of her victims’ possessions and pawned them off. She later recanted her self-defense claims, stating:
“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.”
Aileen Wuornos Is Sentenced To Death
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to absolve her of her crimes, and on January 31st, 1992, Aileen Wuornos was given the death penalty. She was convicted on six counts of first-degree murder, resulting in a total of six death sentences.
During her incarceration, Wuornos’s mental state began to deteriorate. She believed that prison staff were tampering with her food, filing it with spit and urine. She believed they were trying to coerce her into committing suicide by making her cell conditions worse than other inmates’.
On October 9th, 2002, Aileen Wuornos was executed. She declined her last meal, instead opting for a cup of coffee. Her last words to the world were a promise that she’d return after death.
“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.”
The True Story Of 'Monster' Movie
The incredible story of Aileen Wuornos’s life has been told many times, in movies, books, TV shows, documentaries and even an opera.
The most popular adaptation of her story is the film Monster starring Charlize Theron. Her life has also been chronicled in two popular documentaries.
Wanting To Die
During filming the above documentaries, filmmaker Nick Broomfield was told some interesting things by Wuornos in relation to her murders.
Wuornos claimed during her trial:
“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.”
But during a moment when Wuornos thought the cameras were off, she told Broomfield that every murder was an act of self-defense, but she told the court a different story because she couldn’t stand the idea of being on death row for so long. She hated the prison system and just wanted to be executed.
Aileen's Last Words
Just one day before her execution, Wuornos was interviewed by Broomfield to give her final thoughts. She spends 22-minutes criticizing the police, the prison system and the media.
Her final murder took place on November 19, 1990, when Walter Antonio, a 62-year-old truck driver was shot four times and abandoned on a barren country road.