The traumatic childhood of a killer
Aileen Carol Pittman was born in Rochester, Michigan, on 29th February 1956; the product of a troubled marriage between Leo Dale Pittman, a psychopathic child molester, and Diane Wuornos, a feckless teen mother quite incapable of the responsibilities of motherhood. Diane abandoned Wuornos and her elder brother, Keith, to the care of her parents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos, before she was 4 years old, and they adopted the pair and raised them as their own.
Having been saved from one appalling domestic situation, the Wuornos children found themselves in another one less from ideal, if Wuornos’ accounts of her childhood are to be believed: her adoptive parents (in reality her biological grandparents) kept their true status a secret, and Lauri Wuornos was an abusive parent, both physically and sexually, while his wife Britta was an abusive alcoholic. The children only discovered their true identities when Wuornos was about 12, which served only to worsen an already unstable domestic situation.
Wuornos claims that sexual contact with both Lauri Wuornos, and her brother, Keith, occurred from a very early age, although there is no firm corroborative evidence for this. But her sexual precocity, from whatever source, is certain: Wuornos fell pregnant, aged 14, claiming that Keith was the father, and she was sent to a home for unwed mothers. On 23rd March 1971 she gave birth to a baby boy, who was given up for immediate adoption.
Within months of Wuornos returning to the family home, her grandmother died of liver failure, a result of heavy drinking (although years later Wuornos’ biological mother claimed that Wuornos had killed her.) Her husband Lauri insisted that Wuornos and Keith be removed from his house, and they were made wards of the court for a short time, before Wuornos ran away and began a life of hitchhiking, prostitution and crime that supported her over the next four years. In May 1974 she was jailed in Jefferson County for disorderly conduct, drunk driving and firing a weapon from a vehicle. Two years later, in Michigan, she was arrested for assault and disturbing the peace, after attacking a bartender.
Hitchhiking across America, Wuornos arrived in Florida and was presented with a potentially life-changing piece of luck: she met wealthy yacht club president, 69-year old Lewis Fell, who fell in love with her, and they were married in 1976. Wuornos soon reverted to type, however, and began fighting in bars, and was sent to jail for assault as a result. Fell was horrified; a brawling bride had no place in his high-society lifestyle, and he had the marriage annulled after a few months.
Thereafter Wuornos’ life resumed its steady downward spiral: her brother Keith died of throat cancer in the same year as her marriage and divorce from Fell, and she blew his $10,000 life insurance cheque on a luxury car that she wrecked shortly after. Her destructive streak continued and, over the next ten years, she drifted aimlessly, still working as a prostitute, and committing various crimes that ranged from forgery and theft, to armed robbery and assault.
In 1986, Aileen met 24-year-old Tyria Moore at a Daytona gay bar. The couple began a volatile and intense relationship that lasted for four years, and Moore was drawn into Wuornos’ cycle of vandalism, violence and harassment.
The Key Figures
Aileen Wuornos: aka Lee Blahovec, Lori Grody and Cammie Marsh Green; violent wastrel and criminal, dabbling in prostitution; serial murdererTyria Moore: Wuornos' partner-in-crime and possibly sexual partner; she helped build the case against Wuornos; was absolved of any involvement by WuornosLewis Fell: Wuornos' first husband; society high-flyer; divorced her after a few months of marriageRichard Mallory, 51: electronics shop owner; had a criminal record of rape and sexual violence; Wuornos' first victimDavid Spears, 43: heavy machinery operator; victim of WuornosCharles Carskaddon, 40: rodeo worker; victim of WuornosPeter Siems, 65: retired merchant seaman; carjacked and killed by Wuornos and MooreEugene Burress, 50: delivery driver; victim of WuornosDick Humphreys, 56: retired police chief; victim of WuornosWalter Antonio, 60: truck driver, victim of WuornosArlene Pralle: born-again Christian; took on Wuornos' case and helped her defence; legally adopted Wuornos
Born 29th February 1956The Victims 13th December 1989 - Richard Mallory, 51 (missing since 30th November 1989) 1st June 1990 - David Spears, 43 (missing since 19th May 1990) 6th June 1990 - Charles Carskaddon, 40 4th August 1990 - Troy Burress, 50 (missing since 30th July 1990) 12th September 1990 - Dick Humphreys, 56 19th November 1990 - Walter Gino Antonio, 62 Peter Siems, 65 (missing since 7th June 1990: body never found)Arrested 9th January 1991Trial (Mallory) 14th January 1992Convicted (Mallory) 27th January 1992Sentenced (Mallory) 31st January 1992Convicted (Spears, Burress, Humphreys) 31st March 1992Sentenced (Spears, Burress, Humphreys) 15th May 1992Convicted (Carskaddon) June 1992Sentenced (Carskaddon) November 1992Sentenced (Antonio) February 1993Convicted (Antonio) February 1993Died 9th October 2002
Wuornos’ defence team were keen for her to plead guilty on six of the murder charges (all but Peter Siems, whose body was never recovered and whose murder she continued to deny, despite the evidence which conclusively linked her with his stolen car) in exchange for six consecutive life sentences, but the prosecution were keen to seek the death penalty, and decided to try Wuornos, initially, for the murder of Richard Mallory, as they felt the case against her was strongest.Wuornos’ trial for the murder of Richard Mallory opened before Judge Uriel Blount on 14th January 1992. By virtue of the ‘Williams Rule’ in Florida Law, which enables the prosecution to introduce evidence from other cases if they demonstrate a criminal pattern, jurors were made aware of the other murders in which Wuornos was suspected. Unsurprisingly, they were not convinced by the self-defence motive she claimed, and Wuornos did herself no favours when she testified in her own defence, against the advice of her legal counsel, when she was forced to take the Fifth Amendment (which prevents self-incrimination) repeatedly.
On 27th January 1992 the jury took less than two hours to find her guilty of first-degree murder, and they unanimously recommended the death penalty, in spite of defence claims that she was mentally ill, and a victim of her tragic upbringing. On 31st January 1992 Judge Blount sentenced Aileen Wuornos to death by electrocution.Two months later, on 31st March 1992, Wuornos pleaded guilty to the murders of Troy Burress, Dick Humphreys and David Spears, and received three further death sentences on 15th May 1992.In June 1992, Wuornos also pleaded guilty to the murder of Charles Carskaddon, and added another death sentence to her total in November 1992.In February 1993 she admitted the murder of Walter Antonio and added her sixth, and final, death sentences. She was never tried for the murder of Peter Siems.
Wuornos is Captured
A mammoth manhunt was initiated, and Wuornos was tracked down to Port Orange, Florida, where local forces had to be called off from arresting her immediately, so that the task force could track her movements and see whether she made contact with Moore, their other suspect.The next afternoon, 9th January 1991, Wuornos was arrested at the Last Resort bar, where she was advised that she was wanted in relation to minor outstanding charges against Lori Grody. The press were not informed of the arrest, and no mention was made of the murder charges at that stage. The following day Tyria Moore was traced to her sister’s home in Pittston, Pennsylvania, where she revealed to the police that Wuornos had admitted the murder of Mallory to her, on the day it had happened, but Moore had deliberately avoided discussing any other suspicious incidents with her, fearing for her own safety.
Moore made a deal to help the police build a case against Wuornos, and the two conducted a series of recorded telephone conversations over the next few days, during which Moore pleaded with Wuornos to confess, to spare Moore from prosecution as an accomplice. Wuornos was initially cautious on the phone, but faced with the prospect that Moore would also be prosecuted, she confessed to six of the murders on 16th January 1991, claiming that they had all been acts of self-defence, and that Moore had had no involvement in any of them.
Given the media attention surrounding the case, and the relative rarity of female serial killers, Wuornos was a national celebrity overnight. Within two weeks of her arrest, Wuornos had sold the film rights to her life story, and expected to become rich, not realising that Florida law specifically forbade profiting from criminal enterprise in this way. Even investigators and lawyers involved in the case, not forbidden by this restriction, were hiring their own media lawyers to negotiate their own book and film deals.
During January 2001, a 44-year-old rancher’s wife and born-again Christian, Arlene Pralle, contacted Wuornos via letter. She informed Wuornos that God had instructed her to do so, giving her home number and asking that Wuornos contact her. This marked the beginning of a bizarre friendship, which saw Pralle defending Wuornos’ self-defence plea, through a flurry of media interviews, for most of 1991, and culminated in Pralle’s legal adoption of Wuornos on 22nd November 1991: again on God’s instruction, according to Pralle.
The first of many murders
Wuornos’ first known victim was an electronics shop owner, 51-year-old Richard Mallory from Clearwater, Florida, who picked up Wuornos on 30th November 1989. She claims that he tried to rape her, and that she killed him in self-defence (he was later discovered to have a criminal record for rape, although it was not raised at her trial.) She shot him three times with a .22 pistol, dumped his body in a wood beside Interstate 95 in Volusia County, Florida and stole his Cadillac. His car was discovered abandoned outside Daytona a few days later, and two young men discovered his naked body on 13th December 1989. During the investigation of Mallory’s life and death, police discovered a pattern of alcohol and sex binges, extending back over a number of years, and made little headway in the search for his killer.
It was six months before the next victim was discovered, 43-year old David Spears, a heavy machinery operator from Sarasota. His naked body was found on 1st June 1990 in Citrus County, 40 miles north of Tampa, Florida, and he had been shot six times with a .22 pistol. It took police another week to effect identification, via dental records, and they discovered that he had been missing since 19th May, and that his truck had been found some days later, abandoned on Interstate 75.By the time Spears had been identified, another naked victim had been found, this time thirty miles south of Pasco County, near the Interstate 75, on 6th June 1990. The body was so badly decomposed that police were unable to progress their identification immediately, but the fact that the corpse was naked, and riddled with nine .22 calibre bullets, led to it being tentatively linked to the two previous victims. The victim was later identified as 40-year old rodeo worker, Charles Carskaddon.The police received their first real break on 4th July 1990, when Wuornos and Moore crashed their car near Orange Springs, Florida, whilst in the midst of a heated argument. They left the crash scene, but were described to the police by a witness later, when the vehicle was found to belong to a missing 65-year old retired merchant seaman called Peter Siems. He had last been seen on 7th June 1990, and the interior of the vehicle, when examined, exhibited signs of a struggle, and yielded a number of finger- and palm prints. The description of the two women, and the crime MO, was circulated throughout Florida and nationwide.Wuornos’ next victim was 50-year old delivery driver Eugene Burress, whose employer raised the alarm when he failed to complete his delivery route on 30th July 1990. His delivery truck was found abandoned the next day, and a picnicking family discovered his body, on 4th August 1990, in the Ocala National Forest. He had been shot twice with a .22-calibre pistol.A month later, 56-year-old Dick Humphreys, a former police chief and Department of Health employee from Sumterville, was reported missing by his wife, on 11th September 1990. His body was found the next evening in Marion County. He had been shot seven times with a .22 pistol.Another two months passed before the discovery of Wuornos’ seventh victim, a 60-year-old truck driver from Merrit Island called Walter Antonio, whose naked body was discovered in Dixie County on 19th November 1990. He had been dead less than 24 hours, shot three times in the back and once in the head, also with a .22 firearm.Recognising the similarities in all the cases, the police released the photo-fit identities of the Siems car accident women to the media, which received statewide coverage throughout Florida, due to the potential of a female serial killer being at large.By mid-December 1990 the police had a number of useful leads, which led to the identification of Tyria Moore, as well as three other names: Lee Blahovec, Lori Grody and Cammie Marsh Green, which all matched the description of the second photo-fit. When Wuornos used the Cammie Marsh Greene identity, to pawn a camera belonging to Richard Mallory, she was required to provide fingerprint identification, in accordance with Florida law. She also used the Greene ID to pawn a set of tools that matched a description of those missing from David Spear’s truck. An analysis of these fingerprints linked Greene to Grody, and also matched the prints lifted from Siem’s stolen car. The information was passed to the National Crime Information Center, and the three aliases were linked to Aileen Wuornos. By 5 January 1991 the police finally had a focus for their investigative efforts.
"I'm one who seriously hates human life"
When it was discovered that her first victim, Richard Mallory, had served a 10-year prison sentence for sexual violence, there was speculation that Wuornos would be offered a retrial, on the basis that the jury might have viewed her self-defence motive more sympathetically, had this been known at the time, but no new trial was ever forthcoming.Wuornos was consistently in favour of execution as soon as possible, and was eventually granted permission to fire her appeal lawyers, by the Florida Supreme Court in April 2001, in order that her execution could proceed. In her supporting correspondence to the Supreme Court, she claimed that: “I'm one who seriously hates human life and would kill again”, and psychiatrists who examined her accepted that she was fully aware of the impact of her decision to progress her execution. Given the political pressure against the death penalty, at the time, in the wake of a number of false convictions, she might well have languished in prison indefinitely, had she not ‘volunteered’ for execution in the manner in which she did.
Her final media interview was with British reporter Nick Broomfield, days before her execution. He was convinced that she had lost her mind completely. Her initial sentence of execution, handed down by Judge Blount, was by electrocution. Despite this, Wuornos was given the choice of method, and she chose death by lethal injection, preferring this to the electric chair.On 9 October 2002, the date of her execution, she declined her right to a final meal of her choice. Her final words were reported to have been: “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.”The sentence was carried out at 9:47 a.m., and she became only the tenth woman in the United States to be executed, since capital punishment had been reinstated in 1976. Her remains were cremated, and her ashes were buried in her hometown of Rochester, Michigan. In 2003 actress Charlize Theron won the Best Actress Academy award for her portrayal of Wuornos in the film ‘Monster’.