By Amber Maccione
People have painted Aileen Wuornos as a psychopath, a monster, a crazed killer. The question though was she such a thing? Was Aileen born a monster or was she a product of her environment and traumatic childhood upbringing? Aileen was said to have suffered from borderline personality disorder, which was left untreated and led her to commit her crimes as a serial killer. Although her crimes consisted of theft and prostitution, it seemed that killing was what made her the psychopath because it was through those killings that she felt a release and obtained gratification for all the times people had hurt her. The theft was just the way she was able to support her transient lifestyle (Newton 2006 p. 290).
Arrested & Tried
On January 9, 1991, Aileen Wuornos was arrested and held on outstanding warrants as the police began to piece together the murder case they were to eventually bring against her (Newton 2006 p. 290). Wuornos’ lover and friend, Tyria Moore, was the key to putting Aileen behind bars. Once they tracked down Moore, they convinced her to get Aileen to talk about the murders over the phone as the police tapped the conversation. With her help, they were able to indict Wuornos on the Mallory murder (Newton 2006 p. 290). The other killings that had transpired, Wuornos had confessed to. There was only one trial that took place because Aileen insisted that she had killed Richard Mallory under self-defense (Newton 2006 p. 290).
The trial took place on January 13, 1992 (Newton 2006 p. 290). Aileen Wuornos was convicted of first degree murder, armed robbery with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Because her crimes ended in the murder of someone and were multiples, Florida law categorized her case under capital murder allowing for the result to end in the death penalty. Although both sides claimed she suffered from personality disorders, the prosecution made their case a little stronger having the jury believe that her mental illnesses and childhood traumas were not severe enough to evade the death penalty (Capital Punishment in Context). Upon hearing the verdict, Aileen Wuornos cursed at the jury yelling, “I’m innocent! I was raped! I hope you got raped! Scumbags of America!” (Newton 2006 p. 290).
Growing Up As Aileen Wuornos
On February 29, 1956, a little girl was born to teenage parents Leo Pittman and Diane Pratt. This little girl was named Aileen Carol Pittman. Her father was a pedophile and classified as mentally ill. He was in and out of mental hospitals until he finally committed suicide (Newton 2006 p. 287 & Philbin 2009 p. 197). Her mother could not handle the task of being a mother. She abandoned both her children whom she labeled “crying, unhappy babies” (Newton 2006 p. 287) at her parents home in the early 1960’s. Diane’s parents later adopted the two changing Aileen’s name from Pittman to Wuornos (Newton 2006 p. 287).
According to Aileen, her grandfather was abusive. Her brother at the time of the trial had already passed away in and could not commit. Her aunt and uncle, who were also her siblings because of the adoption, witnessed to the courts that there was no abuse under their knowledge in the home. Her uncle and aunt both claimed that their father was a disciplinarian who was strict about school. This is where the accounts of abuse may come into play. Aileen wasn’t the brightest child. She had an IQ of 81, which is borderline intellectual functioning (Myers, Gooch, & Meloy 2005). She also suffered hearing and visual problems. The school system wanted to put Aileen in counseling and tutoring for her issues, but her grandparents refused (Myers, Gooch, & Meloy 2005). Because of her grandparents’ strong input on education, the truth behind Aileen being emotionally and physically abused in childhood could hold some weight.
By the time Aileen was 15 years old, she had already become a problem to society. She became a pyromaniac at the age of six resulting in her face getting scarred from burns, started stealing (age 9), drinking and doing drugs (age 12), had a baby that she was forced to give up (age 14) and prostituting (Myers, Gooch, Meloy 2005). Her grandmother died shortly after her 15th birthday, leaving her under her grandfather’s care. He did not want Aileen. Therefore, she became a ward of the state. Aileen decided to drop out of school and runaway. In order to support herself, she began prostituting fulltime and hitchhiking her way to Florida (Newton 2006 p. 288).
A Dream Never Reached
In a movie based on the transient lifestyle and trial of Aileen Wuornos, actress Charlize Theron begins a monologue as the little girl Aileen dances around the screen. She paints Aileen as a child that just had huge hopes and dreams of being something one day. The monologue continues into her teen years, where Aileen is hoping that someone will just see her, really see her for who she is and think she is beautiful. Aileen wanted love, which according to the movie portrayal, Aileen never found (Lee, Riley-Grant, Hall, Grosch, & Schmid 2004). According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, Aileen was never able to get to self-actualization because her need for love was never fulfilled (DeLisi 2013 p. 22). By the time Aileen turned 22 years old, she had been married to a man three times her age who was abusive to her, been in and out of jail and prison for various crimes, squandered $10,000 dollars that she had inherited from her brother who had passed away, and attempted to commit suicide herself (Myers, Gooch, & Meloy 2005, Newton 2006 p. 288, & Philbin 2009 p. 198).
Once Aileen reached Florida, it wasn’t long until she met another desperate soul, Tyria Moore. They met in a bar in Daytona Beach the summer of 1986 (Philbin 2009 p. 198). At first, their four year relationship was sexual in nature, but eventually turned into more of a sisterly bond (Newton 2006 p. 288). In order to put in her share of the cost of living, Aileen had to continue prostituting. She had tried to stop with unrealistic employment expectations (Lee, Riley-Grant, Hall, Grosch, & Schmid 2004). But with all the closed doors on her attempts to become more than just a transient prostitute, she realized that was all the world was going to see her as. After being beaten and raped rather severely one night, she committed her first murder – Robert Mallory, age 51, shot three times on November 30, 1989 (Philbin 2009 p. 199). This was the only murder that went to trial because Aileen insisted on the fact that she killed him in self-defense although the jury found her guilty and sentenced her to death (Newton 2006 p. 290). By the end of the following year, Aileen had killed a total of seven people – all males in their middle ages: June 1, David Spears, 43, shot six times; June 6, Charles Carskaddon, 40, shot nine times; August 4, Eugene Burress, 50, shot two times; September 12, Dick Humphreys, 56, shot seven times; November 19, Walter Antonio, 60, shot three times; and Peter Siems (probably killed during the summer of 1990 although his body was never recovered) (Philbin 2009 p. 199).
Psychology & Aileen Wuornos
Aileen Carol Wuornos is labeled as one of the first female serial killers in American history. There is no doubt that she was a serial killer (offenders who have killed three or more victims over a prolonged period of time with a cool-off period between the murders) (DeLisi 2013 p. 294). At her trial, both sides agreed with psychologists that Aileen suffered from borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder (Capital Punishment in Context). The thing that they disagreed upon was the impairment that both of these disorders had on Aileen during her times of crime (Capital Punishment in Context). Myers, Gooch, & Maloy took a closer look at the psychological mindset of Aileen Wuornos in their article “The Role of Psychopathy and Sexuality in a Female Serial Killer.” According to their article, Aileen fulfilled all seven of the antisocial personality disorder traits (failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, deceitfulness, impulsivity, irritability and aggressiveness, reckless regard for the safety of self and others, consistent irresponsibility, and lack of remorse) and seven out of the nine traits for those having borderline personality disorder (efforts to avoid being abandoned, unstable and intense relationships, unstable self-image, impulsivity, suicidal behaviors, instability of emotions, intense anger with difficulty controlling it) (Myers, Gooch, & Maloy 2005). As seen in Wuornos’ life, she was in and out of trouble with the law since the age of six. She used numerous aliases as she traveled and pawned her victims’ valuables. She was awkward in social situations. She never knew how to control her anger; violence was the only way she knew how to communicate her emotions. And at the end of her life, she finally pleaded with the court system to drop all her appeals, fire her lawyers, and just let her die saying, “I will kill again. I’ve got hate crawling through my system. There is no point in sparing me. I’m a waste of the taxpayers’ money” (Newton 2006 p. 291).
Another factor into the serial killer Aileen Wuornos was that fact that she was labeled a psychopath by the PCL-R test. Aileen scored a total of 32 out of 40 on that test (Myers, Gooch, & Meloy 2005). When you combine this factor with the facts that she was mentally ill (antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder), one would question whether Aileen was competent. According to the government who allowed a panel of three psychiatrists to evaluate Aileen, she was seen as competent. Therefore, the government granted her wish to drop her appeals, fire her lawyers, and expedite her execution date (Newton 2006 p. 291, Zarrella 2002, & Capital Punishment in Context).
The biggest issue that arose during the trial was the issue of whether Aileen was telling the truth about her encounter with Mallory, her first murder victim. Aileen had claimed all through the trial and never recanted until her death that she killed Richard Mallory in self-defense. The prosecution team had painted Aileen as a liar because her accounts of what happened that night between herself and Mallory changed. When she was convicted of his murder and sentenced to die, she cursed at the jury telling them that she hoped they got raped. Reporter Michele Gillen decided to investigate the validity of Aileen’s statement that she was raped by Mallory and shooting him was her way of defending herself. Gillen looked into the FBI database and found out that Mallory had a previous conviction of raped and had served ten years in prison for it (Newton 2006 p. 291). How did the prosecution miss this fact or did they just ignore it? Whatever the case may be, the fact that Mallory had raped other women in the past gave credence to Aileen’s story that she was raped and had acted out in self-defense.
Day Before Her Execution, after being said to be competent
Was she crazy... or was she competent?
Although Gillen had given Aileen’s story credence, Aileen eventually denied her previous claims of self-defense. By the time it came time for her to be executed, the public had made quite an opinion about her: she was a monster, a crazed killer. But to Aileen herself, she saw herself as a person who just hated life and had evil running through her. She didn’t see herself as a crazed killer or mentally ill. She even stated that she was tired of people saying she was crazy because she felt like she knew what she was doing and had full understanding of her actions, “I’m so sick of hearing this ‘She’s crazy’ stuff. I’ve been evaluated many times. I’m competent, sane, and I’m trying to tell the truth” (Zarrella 2002). Aileen Carol Wuornos was finally executed on October 9, 2002, by lethal injection (Newton 2006 p. 291).
In an interview on the day before her execution, Nick Broomfield, a documentary filmmaker, immortalized Aileen’s state of mind. She was talking about being framed by police and how the police wanted her to go on these killing sprees. She also talked about some sonic pressure and being tortured by prison officials. The video makes her out to be suffering from mental illnesses and see very incompetent, very insane. The one question that Broomfield brings up is that she passed a psychiatric exam that day before he filmed her. Her exam had lasted only thirty minutes and was done by three psychiatrists who said she was competent enough to make the decision to stop seeing mental health counselors, her attorneys, and demand to be executed (Capital Punishment in Context).
Who was Aileen Wuornos?
Aileen Wuornos was no more of a monster than any other human being. She was a product of a poor start to life where no one took the time to give her or even get her the help that she needed. DeLisi points out that someone bound to make a life of crime shows signs through behavior changes as they go from babies to adults. In the younger years before school, they tend to be fussy and have a difficult temperament (DeLisi 2013 p. 6). Aileen’s mother’s reason for abandoning her when she was just a toddler was because the teenage mom couldn’t handle the constant crying of Aileen. Her mother stated that she was just an unhappy baby who cried all the time (Newton 2006 p. 287). During Aileen’s childhood and adolescence, Aileen had behavioral problems at school, which the school tried to address but her grandparents refused the school’s help leaving Aileen to continue in her delinquency and violence (DeLisi 2013 p. 6 & Myers, Gooch, & Meloy 2005). By the time Aileen hit adulthood, her path was already made for her. She had no chance. She had already developed antisocial personality disorder along with borderline personality disorder (DeLisi 2013 p. 6). She was already living a lifestyle that encouraged paranoia and crime. People can argue that others have faced the same challenges that Aileen had faced when younger and turned out fine. Maybe if given counseling or therapeutic intervention, Aileen could have been someone that we saw as a life worth saving rather than the crazed monster at her execution everyone will remember her by. If our minds become damaged and no one bothers to fix it then depravity continues to eat away until all humanity is gone and we have nothing but a monster in front of us. That is what happened to Aileen Carol Wuornos. Those that were supposed to care and guide her into a successful member of society (her parents, her grandparents, and the school system) didn’t do her justice. Aileen became the product of an environment that just didn’t want to bother helping a young child who craved for someone to love her for who she was and to see her for what she could possibly be if only given the tools to succeed. Aileen became a psychopath because society wrote her off the day she was born.
Capital Punishment in Context. (n.d.). “Aileen Wuornos – The Trial.” Retrieved from http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/node/77455
Capital Punishment in Context. (n.d.). “Mental Illness and the Death Penalty.” Retrieved from http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/node/77466
DeLisi, M. (2013). Criminal psychology. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Lee, S., Riley-Grant, M., Hall, S., Grosch, A, & Schmid, A. (Producers), & Jenkins, P. (Director). (2004). Monster [Motion picture]. U.S.A.: Sony Pictures.
Myers, W. C., Gooch, E., & Meloy, J. R. (2005). “The Role of Psychopathy and Sexuality in a Female Serial Killer.” Journal of Forensic Sciences (vol. 50, no. 3). Retrieved from http://forensis.org/PDF/published/2005_TheRoleofPsycho.pdf
Newton, M. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Checkmark Books Infobase Publishing.
Philbin, T. & Philbin, M. (2009). The Killer Book of Serial Killers. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Zarrella, J. (2002). “Wuornos’ last words: ‘I’ll be back’.” CNN. Retrieved from http://archives.cnn.com/2002/LAW/10/09/wuornos.execution/
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anonymous on March 03, 2016:
Psychopaths are generally a mixture of both brain wiring and environment.