To say that Aileen Wuornos had a “troubled history” is a bit of an understatement. Born to Diane Wuornos (age 16) and Leo Dale Pittman (age 18), in 1956, Aileen never knew her father. This was likely a blessing, however, as Pittman had been incarcerated by the time of Aileen’s birth for engaging in sex crimes with children and had been diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Then, a mere four years later, Aileen’s mother abandoned both Aileen and her older brother, leaving them with their maternal grandparents (Lauri and Britta Wuornos). While one might surmise that living with the elder Wuornos’s might have been better than trying to cope with a very young single mother, that assumption would have been wrong. Instead, Aileen was subjected to near constant sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her grandfather. She also became pregnant by one of her grandfather’s friends at age 14, gave birth to the child, gave her son up for adoption, and promptly moved out of the Wuornos family home by age 15.
Becoming a sex worker to support herself, Wuornos traveled around the country. She was arrested at the age of 18 in Colorado for drunk driving and shooting a gun out of a moving vehicle. She failed to appear for the court date, and it seemed like her life would be an endless string of substance abuse and petty crimes. However, in 1976, when Aileen was 20-years-old, she met 69-year-old Lewis Fell in Florida. He was a yacht club owner, and – more than that – he was in love with Aileen. They soon married, and for a brief time it appeared that Aileen Wuornos’s life was looking up.
Yet, within weeks of the nuptials, Aileen had hit Fell with his own cane, resulting in him obtaining a restraining order against her. She also got in continual bar fights and threw a cue ball at a bartender’s head. Charged multiple times with assault and disturbing the peace, Wuornos was in trouble with the law, and in trouble at home. Fell filed for an annulment.
A long string of criminal activity followed, including: armed robbery, car theft, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, forgery, and assault and battery. Of course, Wuornos was also still continuing to fund her life with the proceeds from being a prostitute – also a crime.
But a light in Wuornos’s life was about to shine, and her name was Tyria Moore.
Wuornos met Moore at a Daytona Beach gay club in 1987. They quickly entered into a romantic relationship and moved in together, supported by Wuornos’s meager earnings. A life of rampant substance abuse followed, and now Wuornos had two mouths to feed instead of one. The stress built up and she slowly began to unravel. Though she loved Moore, her rage was growing. That’s when the murders began.
In 1989 the first victim, Richard Mallory, was found near his car. Wuornos claimed that he raped her and she shot him in self-defense. Victims David Spears, Charles Carskaddon, Peter Siems, Troy Burress, Dick Humphreys, and Walter Antonio were murdered in 1990. Luckily for Florida’s male residents, Wuornos was arrested after being involved in an accident with Peter Siems’ car, which she and Moore abandoned at the scene.
In 1992, Wuornos was sentenced to death. In court she claimed that Mallory “violently raped” her and that the other victims were “about to.” However, there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For instance, Mallory was found fully clothed, pants zipped, belt buckled, and his pockets turned out as though he’d been robbed. He’d also been shot once in the back of the arm at a downward angle, as though he’d fallen as he was trying to flee. Asked to explain why the bullet’s trajectory didn’t match her story, Wuornos said chillingly, “I thought he was so decomposed you couldn’t tell.”
Though the movie, “Monster” garnered Charlize Theron an Oscar and a lot of critical acclaim, I can say with near certainty that the portrayal of Wuornos therein is extremely…shall we say…”dramatized.” It’s clear that the filmmakers were aiming at getting the audience to sympathize with Wuornos. In fact, she seems to be cast as just as much of a victim as her johns were.
Yet, that’s simply not the case.
First of all, Wuornos was a psychopath. Scoring a whopping 32 out of 40 on the PCL-R (the Psychopathy Checklist Revised) qualifies her as such (as do her behaviors). This means that Wuornos didn’t experience empathy/sympathy like others do. She was also “out for #1,” which is a classic trait of psychopathy (e.g. if killing a person seems like a good way to ‘get ahead,’ it’s worth doing). Notably, Wuornos used the first victim’s vehicle to help she and Moore move, and she often bragged about doing “soomething a woman has never done” (i.e. become a serial killer). She was also a voluminous liar and supported herself completely through crime, routinely trampling on the rights of others to get what she wanted.
Additionally, Wuornos meets the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s a lifelong disorder characterized by difficult interpersonal relationships, volatile mood swings, unstable sense of identity, etc. This is likely due to Wuornos’s tumultuous upbringing, which didn’t give her any positive adult role models to attach to. While this is definitely tragic, it doesn’t explain or excuse her subsequent acts. Many people with Borderline Personality Disorder and victims of abuse go on to lead productive/normal lives. Wuornos just didn’t seem to want to. Nor did she see a reason to curb her increasingly destructive behavior.
In short, if you view the film, keep in mind that it’s title is a much more fitting portrayal of Aileen Wuornos than the content is.*
*Personal Opinion: When Ms. Theron won the Oscar for portraying Wuornos, she went on to thank and acknowledge everyone involved in the endeavor…except for the victims and their families. I’ve never forgotten that. It stood as a stark reminder of how we forget to honor those who were impacted by these crimes most greatly. So, in your readings about Wuornos, please keep in mind that these men were not who/what she claimed them to be. In fact, a few were likely just good Samaritans who tried to help a woman who was too far gone to be able to see goodness – even when it was reaching out to her with a kind hand and an open heart.