by Darcia Helle
Allow me to tell you a story about a woman born into the most dismal of circumstances. Her mother is a young teen when she marries a violent man. He is soon arrested and convicted of the rape and attempted murder of a 7-year-old girl. By some reports, her father is schizophrenic. Her mother decides parenting is too difficult and soon abandons her.
Life gets no better for this woman. She’s never given a chance to succeed. Under these circumstances, it’s human nature to feel sympathy for this woman right?
Now what if I tell you this woman became a serial killer? Does that change how you feel about her?
This woman’s name is Aileen Carol Wuornos, and she is considered our most famous female serial killer. She was born in Rochester, Michigan on February 29, 1956. She confessed to, and was put to death for, the murders of six men.
Aileen’s history is murky, surrounded by half-truths and suppositions. The truth is bad enough and needs no distortion. Her parents – Diane Wuornos and Leo Dale Pittman – were married in1954. Sources differ on Diane’s age at the time; she was either 14 or 15-years-old. All sources agree that Pittman was a violent man. He had beaten his grandmother repeatedly, and his favorite pastime as an adolescent was to tie the tails of two cats together, sling them over a clothesline, and watch them fight.
Diane gave birth to Aileen’s older brother Keith in 1955. She promptly became pregnant again but, two months before Aileen was born, Leo Dale Pittman vanished from their lives forever. Here again accounts differ. Most state that Pittman had been arrested and went to prison, though at least one source has him enlisted in the military in order to avoid petty criminal charges. Either way, Diane left him and Aileen never met her father. At some point, Pittman was arrested for and convicted of the rape and attempted murder of a 7-year-old girl. He died in prison in 1969. Most sources say he hung himself, although there are also rumors that he was strangled by another inmate.
While still a young teenager, Diane found herself the single parent of two babies, and the ex-wife of a child rapist. Those early years appear to have been disastrous for all involved. Unable to cope with her responsibilities, Diane handed Aileen and Keith over to her parents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos. Aileen was four-years-old.
Lauri and Britta raised their two grandchildren alongside their other children. Oddly, Keith and Aileen believed Lauri and Britta were their parents. No clear explanation seems to exist as to how or why these two children were able to simply forget the woman they’d call Mommy so completely.
Britta Wuornos was an alcoholic. Some accounts describe her as “strict”, while others call her abusive. Lauri Wuornos had little patience and would often whip Aileen with his belt. The environment was far from ideal for two young and troubled children. In 1962, when Aileen was six, she and her brother Keith used lighter fluid to set fires. Aileen was badly burned on one occasion and left with permanent scarring.
Some sources say Aileen was selling sexual favors at school by the age of nine, though this information is sketchy and probably not reliable.
Aileen Wuornos claimed that both Lauri and Keith sexually abused her from an early age. There is, of course, no firm evidence for this. Neither her grandfather nor her brother ever made any such admissions, and Aileen did not have the kind of family or social support she needed to turn to for help.
At around the age of 12, Aileen discovered that Mom and Dad were actually her grandparents. This information caused even further turmoil in the children’s lives. They acted out, but no rational adult stepped in to help.
When she was just 14-years-old, Aileen became pregnant. She claimed Keith was the father, though, again, there is no proof of this. She was sent away to a home for unwed mothers and, in 1971, gave birth to a boy who was put up for adoption.
In July of 1971, shortly after Aileen gave birth, Britta Wuornos died of apparent liver failure due to alcohol abuse. Lauri wanted nothing to do with raising his grandchildren alone, and insisted Keith and Aileen be made wards of the state. The two were removed from the home, and soon afterward Aileen ran away. With no education, no family or friends to help her, and no reasonable means of supporting herself, Aileen turned to petty crime and prostitution.
In May of 1974, at the age of 18, Aileen was arrested for disorderly conduct, drunk driving, and firing a weapon from a vehicle. And this was only the beginning.
Within the next couple of years, Aileen’s brother Keith died of throat cancer and her grandfather committed suicide. Aileen was 20-years-old and completely alone, so she stuck out her thumb and took to life on the road.
While out hitchhiking, Aileen was picked up by a 69-year-old, wealthy yacht club president named Lewis Fell. He was love-struck and almost immediately proposed, which might have been the only bit of luck Aileen ever experienced. They were married in Georgia, with the wedding announcement even making it into the society pages. But Aileen was unable to settle into married life. She got into bar fights and was soon arrested for assault. Approximately one month after the wedding, Lewis Fell realized his mistake and had their marriage annulled. In his divorce petition, Fell claimed Aileen had beaten him with his cane.
Aileen continued along her path of destruction for the next decade. She drank too much, did drugs, sold her body, committed robbery, and vandalized property. In 1981, she was so distraught over the breakup with her boyfriend that she planned to commit suicide. She bought a gun and got drunk in preparation, but then changed her mind and instead robbed a grocery store while wearing her bikini. She was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. After serving 18 months, she was released from prison and went to live with one of her male prison pen pals. This relationship didn’t work, and Aileen was once again on her own.
Aileen was lonely and angry at the world when, in 1986, she met 24-year-old Tyria Moore at a biker bar in Florida. Their attraction was instant and mutual. Aileen went home with Tyria that evening, and the two spent the entire weekend in Tyria’s bedroom. From then on, the two were inseparable. Tyria, known as Ty, provided the unconditional love Aileen had been missing all her life. For a time, Aileen seemed to find an anchor in the raging sea of her life.
But her fairytale was not all bliss. The couple led a nomadic lifestyle, sleeping in cheap motels or in the woods. Aileen continued selling her body for money to survive. While Ty later claimed begged Aileen to stop prostituting herself, there is no evidence that she made an effort to help support them in any way, legal or otherwise. In fact, at the start of their relationship, Ty quit her job in order to spend more time with Aileen. While Aileen was out hooking to buy them food, Ty was typically at the bars drinking away what little money they had.
After a few years of this, Aileen was struggling to support them. Money was tight and problems arose. Aileen feared that Ty would abandon her, as everyone else in her life had. She felt desperate and would do anything to hold on to the one person that she’d ever truly loved. This volatile mix of emotions led Aileen straight to the crisis she’d been working toward all her life.
On November 30, 1989, in Tampa, Florida, Aileen was picked up by Richard Mallory. And this is where it all goes horribly wrong. Until shortly before her execution, Aileen maintained that Mallory tried to rape her, and that she shot him in self-defense. Mallory was known to frequently pick up prostitutes along the interstate. He also had a criminal record, having been convicted of rape in the past, but this information was not introduced when Aileen was eventually brought to trial. Regardless of any initial intent, on that day in November, Aileen shot Mallory three, or possibly four times, stole his money and his car, and drove straight back to Ty.
Aileen told Ty about the murder right away, though Ty later claimed she hadn’t believed her. Still, Tyria didn’t appear worried about where the money and car had come from. The two women packed up Mallory’s Cadillac that night and left the motel in a hurry. Once they’d relocated, they wiped their prints from the car and ditched it near Daytona.
After Mallory’s murder, life for Aileen and Tyria returned to their version of normal. Even so, their lack of money was always a point of stress for Aileen. When Tyria’s sister came to stay with them, Aileen was convinced Ty would leave with her sister and go back to Ohio. Jealousy, fear, insecurity, and anger pushed Aileen over the edge. During that three-week period, she robbed, shot, and killed three more men.
On July 4th, 1990, Aileen and Tyria, during a particularly heated argument, crashed the car they were driving in Orange Springs, Florida. They fled the scene on foot, but a witness described both women to the police. The vehicle they’d wrecked belonged to Peter Siems, a missing 65-year-old retired merchant seaman. The interior of the car showed signs of a struggle. Police obtained a number of palm and fingerprints from the car, and the women’s descriptions were circulated throughout Florida.
Eventually, police connected the murders, realizing they had a female serial killer on the loose. By mid-December, 1990, a number of leads led them to Tyria Moore. They also had three other names – Lee Blahovec, Lori Grody and Cammie Marsh Greene – all of which matched the description of the second woman. When Aileen used her Cammie Marsh Greene ID to pawn a camera that had belonged to Richard Mallory, she was required by law to provide fingerprint identification. She later pawned a set of tools matching the description of those missing from David Spears’ truck. Those fingerprints from the pawn shops matched fingerprints taken from the crashed car belonging to Peter Siems. The information was passed on to the National Crime Information Center, where they were able to connect Aileen Wuornos’s name to the three aliases. By January 5, 1991, the police finally had names for their suspected serial killing females and were ready to move in.
By this time, Aileen had lost her struggle to hold on to Tyria. Devastated over the breakup, Aileen was once again on her own.
On January 8, 1991, two undercover cops spotted Aileen at the Port Orange Pub. They bought her a few beers and later offered her a ride, which she declined. She left the pub around 10 p.m., and they followed her to a biker bar called The Last Resort. There the undercover cops sat with her and bought her a few more beers. The cops left at midnight, but kept Aileen under surveillance. She spent her last night as a free woman sleeping on an old car seat at The Last Resort.
The following afternoon, the decision was made to arrest Aileen rather than to risk losing her. The two undercover cops offered to let Aileen use their motel room to clean up. She accepted the offer, but when she walked out of the bar with them she was arrested on what police told her was an outstanding warrant for Lori Grody, one of her aliases. They did not let on that they knew her true identity. No mention was made of the murders, and the media was not told that Aileen was their suspected serial killer. The police were being extra cautious because they had no murder weapon and had yet to find Tyria Moore.
The following day, on January 10, 1991, Tyria was found. She’d been living with her sister in Pittston, Pennsylvania. Tyria was read her rights but not arrested or charged with a crime. In short order, Tyria gave Aileen up as the killer. Despite later interviews where she claimed not to have believed Aileen’s first murder confession, Tyria told the cops she’d known about the murders from the very beginning. “I told her I didn’t want to hear about it,” she told the police. “And then any time she would come home after that and say certain things, telling me about where she got something, I’d say I don’t want to hear it.”
The next day, Tyria Moore went back to Florida along with the police, not as a criminal, but as a witness to help them ensure Aileen Wuornos’s conviction.
Tyria was put in a motel in Daytona and told to contact Aileen at the prison. Her cover story was that her mother had given her money to come back down to Florida in order to pick up the rest of her belongings. Phone conversations were taped, and Tyria was instructed to tell Aileen the police had been questioning her family about her and the Florida murders.
The first call was made on January 14. Aileen had yet to be charged or even questioned about the murders, and remained under the impression that she’d only been arrested for a weapons violation under the alias of Lori Grody. When Tyria voiced her concerns, as scripted by the police, Aileen reassured her, saying, “I’m only here for that concealed weapons charge in ’86 and a traffic ticket, and I tell you what, man, I read the newspaper, and I wasn’t one of those little suspects.” Aware that prison phones were monitored, Aileen did her best to speak in code. She went on to say, “I think somebody at work – where you worked at – said something that it looked like us. And it isn’t us, see? It’s a case of mistaken identity.”
The calls continued for three days and Tyria played Aileen well. Knowing Aileen would do anything to keep her safe, and to keep her love, Tyria used that advantage as she cried and even suggested she should just kill herself. In listening to the conversations, it seems apparent that Aileen knew something wasn’t right. She even asked Tyria if someone was with her during the conversations. Tyria naturally denied any such thing and played up her fear skillfully. She begged Aileen to tell the cops the truth. On the morning of January 16, 1991, Aileen did just that and confessed to killing six men.
Throughout Aileen’s confession to police, she reiterated two points. First, she adamantly declared Tyria Moore innocent, taking full blame and responsibility for the six murders. The men she admitted to killing were: Richard Mallory, David Spears, Charles Carskaddan, Troy Buress, Dick Humphreys, and Walter Gino Antonio. She denied killing Peter Siems, whose murder police believe she’d committed but whose body was never found. The second point Aileen continually made was that none of it was her fault, not the murders and not the circumstances of her life leading up to them. She insisted all the men she’d killed were aggressive and had either assaulted, threatened, or raped her.
Her public defender, Michael O’Neill, continually advised Aileen to stop talking. She ignored him. Exasperated, he finally said to her, “Do you realize these guys are cops?” Her reply was, “I know. And they want to hang me. And that’s cool, because maybe, man, I deserve it. I just want to get this over with.”
Once the media picked up the story, Aileen Wuornos found instant infamy. Book and movie deals were offered to detectives, relatives, Tyria Moore, and Aileen herself. For a while, Aileen was the media darling and everyone wanted a piece of her. For the first time in her life, people were interested in what she had to say. She relished the limelight, and no doubt enjoyed perfecting and embellishing her story as she went along.
Within two weeks of her arrest, Wuornos and her attorney had sold movie rights to her story. Investigators did the same. Aileen Wuornos’s tragic life story resulted in several books, two movies, and even one opera, called Wuornos by Carla Lucero.
Aileen’s newfound fame brought her an unlikely champion for her cause. Arlene Pralle, a 44-year-old Born Again Christian, ran a horse breeding and boarding facility in Ocala, Florida. After seeing Aileen’s photo and story in the newspaper, Arlene wrote Aileen a letter that began, “My name is Arlene Pralle. I’m born-again. You’re going to think I’m crazy, but Jesus told me to write you.”
Arlene provided her phone number and, on January 30, Aileen called her collect. The two formed an instant bond. Arlene became Aileen’s confidant and defender. On Arlene’s advice, Aileen asked for and received new lawyers. The first public defense team, according to Arlene, was attempting to profit from Aileen’s story. She wanted Aileen to have lawyers who’d work hard to protect her, not to make money off her.
Arlene began speaking to media and tabloids. She appeared on talk shows and arranged interviews for Aileen. When asked about their relationship, Arlene said, “We’re like Jonathan and David in the Bible. It’s as though part of me is trapped in jail with her.” To another reporter, Arlene said, “If the world could know the real Aileen Wuornos, there’s not a jury that would convict her.”
On November 22, 1991, Arlene Pralle and her husband Robert legally adopted Aileen Wuornos because, according to Arlene, God told her to.
Through her defense team, Aileen agreed to plead guilty to the murders of six men in exchange for six consecutive life sentences. But the prosecution was determined to get the death penalty and wouldn’t make the deal. They decided to try her for the murder of Richard Mallory first, since that was their strongest case.
Aileen Wuornos’s trial began on January 14, 1992, with Judge Uriel Blount presiding. The combination of evidence and witnesses for the prosecution was damning. Dr. Arthur Botting, the medical examiner who’d autopsied Mallory, testified that Mallory had taken 10-20 minutes to die an excruciating death. Probably most difficult for Aileen was Tyria Moore’s testimony. Tyria told jurors that Aileen had not seemed upset, nervous, or drunk when she’d returned home and confessed to killing Mallory that day. Not once during her testimony did Tyria meet Aileen’s eyes.
Aileen was damned further by a Florida law called ‘Williams Rule’, which allows prosecution to introduce evidence from pending cases providing they demonstrate a criminal pattern. This enabled the prosecution to tell jurors about the other murders Aileen was suspected of committing, vividly painting her as a vicious serial killer.
Against her lawyer’s advice, Aileen insisted on testifying on her own behalf. The story she told the jury about the night she killed Richard Mallory barely resembled the initial story she’d told on her videotaped confession to police. She now claimed Mallory had raped, sodomized, and tortured her. When the inconsistencies of her story were pointed out on cross-examination, she became agitated and visibly angry. She invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination a total of 25 times.
On January 27, 1992, the jury took less than two hours to return with a verdict: guilty of first-degree murder. As the jury filed out of the courtroom, Aileen shouted, “I’m innocent! I was raped! I hope you get raped, scumbags of America!”
The penalty phase of Aileen’s trial began the following day. Expert defense witnesses testified that Aileen was mentally ill, that she suffered from borderline personality disorder, and that her tumultuous childhood had stunted her emotional growth. Jurors, though, were having none of it and unanimously recommended death. On January 31, 1992, Judge Uriel Blount sentenced Aileen Wuornos to death by electrocution.
That would turn out to be Aileen’s one and only trial. On March 31, she pleaded guilty to the murders of Troy Buress, Dick Humphreys, and David Spears. In her statement to the court, she said, “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.” On May 15, Judge Thomas Sawaya gave Aileen three more death sentences.
In June of 1992, Aileen pleaded guilty to the murder of Charles Carskaddon, for which she received her fifth death sentence.
Finally, in February 1993, she pleaded guilty to the murder of Walter Gino Antonio and was sentenced to death for the sixth and final time.
No charges were brought for the murder of Peter Siems, whose body was never found and whom Aileen still maintained she had not killed.
When evidence was brought to light that Richard Mallory, Aileen’s first victim, had served 10 years in prison for rape, Aileen’s attorneys felt jurors would have viewed that case differently had they been told. For a time, there was speculation of a new trial. But that was not to be. Aileen’s conviction was upheld.
Once sentenced to death, Aileen never wavered in her request that her execution be carried out as soon as possible. For that to happen, she needed to convince the Supreme Court that she was sane and understood what she was asking. In her letter to the Florida Supreme Court, she wrote, “I’m one who seriously hates human life and would kill again.” About this time, Aileen also confessed to murdering Peter Siems, stating she’d killed all seven men for the money. She stressed that she was not a thrill killer as most serial killers were, and had only murdered the men in order to eliminate witnesses. She was a thief, not a killer. Despite confessing to this last murder, she never told anyone and didn’t appear to know the location of Siems’s body. During this same interview, she retracted her claim of killing Mallory in self-defense. She handed everything over in a tidy package so that her execution would not be delayed.
The Court reviewed her letter and all the information, and subsequently allowed Aileen to fire her attorneys and stop her appeals. She was also allowed to choose lethal injection over the electric chair as the manner in which she’d die.
Because the case remained in the media spotlight, Governor Jeb Bush issued a stay of execution and ordered a psychological exam. The execution of mentally ill inmates is against international law. After three psychiatrists deemed Aileen Wuornos sane and able to understand her situation, Bush lifted the stay.
The day before her execution, Aileen gave her final media interview to British producer Nick Broomfield, who had put together a documentary on Aileen in 1993. The interview so rattled Broomfield that, outside the prison afterward, he stated, “My conclusion from the interview is, today we are executing someone who is mad. Here is someone who has totally lost her mind.”
Aileen Wuornos refused her last meal. She was ready to die, resigned to her fate, and maybe even looked forward to the release death would bring.
At 9:47 a.m. on October 9, 2002, Aileen Wuornos was put to death at Florida State Prison. Her last words were, “I’d 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 mothership and all. I’ll be back.”
In the end, Tyria Moore, the woman Aileen would and did do anything for, both betrayed and abandoned her. Arlene Pralle, her adoptive mother, also abandoned her, and didn’t even know Aileen’s execution date. The only person who remained by Aileen’s side until the end was a childhood friend. The two were committed pen pals throughout Aileen’s prison stay, and they spent some of Aileen’s last hours together
Tyria Moore was never charged with any crime. While it is likely Aileen did commit all the murders on her own, Tyria herself admits to knowing about them from the start. Had she immediately notified the police after Richard Mallory’s murder, Aileen would not have been free to keep killing. Had Tyria gotten a job and taken some financial pressure from Aileen, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Instead, Tyria played a passive-aggressive role, happy to live off the money Aileen brought home after robbing and killing her victims.
Tyria Moore was just the last in a steady line of people who failed Aileen, helping to turn her into the killer she became.
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Suspense, random blood splatter and mismatched socks consume Darcia’s days. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative. Only then are the voices free to haunt someone else’s mind.
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