Wuornos was born Aileen Carol Pittman in Rochester, Michigan, on February 29, 1956. Her mother, Diane Wuornos (born 1939), was 14 years old when she married Aileen’s father, Leo Dale Pittman, on June 3, 1954. Less than two years later, and two months before Aileen was born, Diane filed for divorce. Aileen’s older brother Keith was born on March 14, 1955. Wuornos never met her father; he was incarcerated at the time of her birth. A schizophrenic who was later convicted of sex crimes against children, Pittman eventually hanged himself in prison on January 30, 1969. In January 1960, when Wuornos was almost four years old, Diane abandoned her children, leaving them with their maternal grandparents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos, who legally adopted Keith and Aileen on March 18, 1960.
By the age 11, Wuornos began engaging in sexual activities in school in exchange for cigarettes, drugs, and food. She had also engaged in sexual activities with her brother. Wuornos claimed that her alcoholic grandfather had sexually assaulted and beaten her when she was a child; before beating her, he would force her to strip out of her clothes. In 1970, at age 14, she became pregnant, having been raped by a friend of her grandfather’s. Wuornos gave birth to boy at a home for unwed mothers on March 23, 1971, and the child was placed for adoption. A few months after her baby was born, she dropped out of school at about the time that her grandmother died of liver failure. When Wuornos was 15, her grandfather threw her out of the house, and she began supporting herself as a prostitute and living in the woods near her old home.
On May 27, 1974, Wuornos was arrested in Jefferson County, Colorado, for driving under the influence (DUI), disorderly conduct, and firing a .22-caliber pistol from a moving vehicle. She was later charged with failure to appear.
In 1976, Wuornos hitchhiked to Florida, where she met 69-year-old yacht club president Lewis Gratz Fell. They married that same year, and the announcement of their nuptials was printed in the local newspaper’s society pages. However, Wuornos continually involved herself in confrontations at their local bar and eventually went to jail for assault. She also hit Fell with his own cane, leading him to get a restraining order against her. She returned to Michigan where, on July 14, 1976, she was arrested in Antrim County, Michigan and charged with assault and disturbing the peace for throwing a cue ball at a bartender’s head. On July 17, her brother Keith died of esophageal cancer and Wuornos received $10,000 from his life insurance. Wuornos and Fell annulled their marriage on July 21 after only nine weeks. In August 1976, Wuornos was given a $105.00 fine for drunk driving. She used her inheritance money that she had received from her late brother Keith the previous month to pay the fine and squandered off the rest of her inheritance money within two months by using it to buy expensive luxuries including a new car, which she wrecked shortly afterward.
On May 20, 1981, Wuornos was arrested in Edgewater, Florida, for the armed robbery of a convenience store, where she stole $35 and two packs of cigarettes. She was sentenced to prison on May 4, 1982 and released on June 30, 1983. On May 1, 1984, Wuornos was arrested for attempting to pass forged checks at a bank in Key West. On November 30, 1985, she was named as a suspect in the theft of a revolver and ammunition in Pasco County. On January 4, 1986, Wuornos was arrested in Miami and charged with car theft, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice for providing identification bearing her aunt’s name. Miami police officers found a .38-caliber revolver and a box of ammunition in the stolen car. On June 2, 1986, Volusia County, Florida, deputy sheriffs detained her for questioning after a male companion accused her of pulling a gun in his car and demanding $200. Wuornos was found to be carrying spare ammunition, and a .22 pistol was discovered under the passenger seat she had occupied.
Around this time, Wuornos met Tyria Moore, a hotel maid, at a Daytona gay bar. They moved in together, and Wuornos supported them with her prostitution earnings. On July 4, 1987, Daytona Beach police detained Wuornos and Moore at a bar for questioning regarding an incident in which they were accused of assault and battery with a beer bottle. On March 12, 1988, Wuornos accused a Daytona Beach bus driver of assault. She claimed that he pushed her off the bus following a confrontation. Moore was listed as a witness to the incident.
Richard Mallory, age 51, November 30, 1989—Electronics store owner in Clearwater, Florida. Wuornos’ first victim was a convicted rapist whom she claimed to have killed in self-defense. Two days later, a Volusia County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff found Mallory’s abandoned vehicle. On December 13, Mallory’s body was found several miles away in a wooded area; he had been shot several times, two bullets to the left lung were found to have been the cause of death. It was on this murder that Wuornos would initially be condemned.
David Spears, age 43—Construction worker in Winter Garden, Florida. On June 1, 1990, his nude body was found along Highway 19 in Citrus County, Florida. He had been shot six times.
Charles Carskaddon, age 40, May 31, 1990—Part-time rodeo worker. On June 6, 1990, his body was found in Pasco County, Florida. He had been shot nine times with a small-caliber weapon.
Peter Siems, age 65—retired merchant seaman who devoted much of his time to a Christian outreach ministry. In June 1990, Siems left Jupiter, Florida, for New Jersey. On July 4, 1990, his car was found in Orange Springs, Florida. Moore and Wuornos were seen abandoning the car, and Wuornos’ palm print was found on the interior door handle. His body was never found.
Troy Burress, age 50—Sausage salesman from Ocala, Florida. On July 31, 1990, he was reported missing. On August 4, 1990, his body was found in a wooded area along State Road 19 in Marion County, Florida. He had been shot twice.
Charles “Dick” Humphreys, age 56, September 11, 1990—Retired U.S. Air Force Major, former State Child Abuse Investigator, and former Chief of Police. On September 12, 1990, his body was found in Marion County, Florida. He was fully clothed and had been shot six times in the head and torso. His car was found in Suwannee County, Florida.
Walter Jeno Antonio, age 62—Trucker, security guard, and police reservist. On November 19, 1990, Antonio’s nearly nude body was found near a remote logging road in Dixie County, Florida. He had been shot four times. Five days later, his car was found in Brevard County, Florida.
On July 4, 1990, Wuornos and Moore abandoned Peter Siems’ car after they were involved in an accident. Witnesses who had seen the women driving the victims’ cars provided police with their names and descriptions, resulting in a media campaign to locate them. Police also found some of the victims’ belongings in pawn shops and retrieved fingerprints matching those found in the victims’ cars. Wuornos had a criminal record in Florida, and her fingerprints were on file.
On January 9, 1991, Wuornos was arrested on an outstanding warrant at The Last Resort, a biker bar in Volusia County. The police located Wuornos’ former lover Tyria Moore the next day in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She agreed to elicit a confession from Wuornos in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Moore returned with the police to Florida, where she was put up in a motel. Under police guidance, she made numerous telephone calls to Wuornos, pleading for help in clearing her name. Three days later, on January 16, 1991, Wuornos confessed to the murders. She claimed the men had tried to rape her and she killed them in self-defense.
On January 14, 1992, Wuornos went to trial for the murder of Richard Mallory; although previous convictions are normally inadmissible in criminal trials, under Florida’s Williams Rule the prosecution was allowed to introduce evidence related to her other crimes to show a pattern of illegal activity. On January 27, 1992, Wuornos was convicted of Mallory’s murder with help from Moore’s testimony. At her sentencing, psychiatrists for the defense testified that Wuornos was mentally unstable and had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Four days later, she was sentenced to death.
On March 31, 1992, Wuornos pleaded no contest to the murders of Dick Humphreys, Troy Burress, and David Spears, saying she wanted to “get right with God”. In her statement to the court, she said, in part: “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, 1992, Wuornos was given three more death sentences.
In June 1992, Wuornos pleaded guilty to the murder of Charles Carskaddon; in November 1992, she received her fifth death sentence. The defense made efforts during the trial to introduce evidence that Mallory had been tried for intent to commit rape in Maryland and that he had been committed to a maximum security correctional facility in Maryland that provided remediation to sexual offenders. Records obtained from that institution reflected that, from 1958 to 1962, Mallory was committed for treatment and observation resulting from a criminal charge of assault with intent to rape and received an over-all eight years of treatment from the facility. In 1961, “it was observed of Mr. Mallory that he possessed strong sociopathic trends”. The judge refused to allow this to be admitted in court as evidence and denied Wuornos’ request for a retrial.
In February 1993, Wuornos pleaded guilty to the murder of Walter Jeno Antonio and was sentenced to death again. No charges were brought against her for the murder of Peter Siems, as his body was never found. In all, she received six death sentences.
Wuornos told several inconsistent stories about the killings. She claimed initially that all seven men had raped her while she was working as a prostitute but later recanted the claim of self-defense. During an interview with filmmaker Nick Broomfield, when she thought the cameras were off, she told him that it was, in fact, self-defense, but she could not stand being on death row—where she had been for 10 years at that point—and wanted to die.
Wuornos was incarcerated in the Florida Department of Corrections Broward Correctional Institution (BCI) death row for women, before being executed at the Florida State Prison. Her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in 1996. In 2001, she announced that she would not issue any further appeals against her death sentence. She petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for the right to fire her legal counsel and stop all appeals, saying, “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.” A defense attorney argued that she was in no state for them to honor such a request, but a panel of three psychiatrists ruled her competent for execution.
Wuornos later started accusing the prison matrons of abusing her. She accused them of tainting her food, spitting on it, serving her potatoes cooked in dirt, and her food arriving with urine. She also claimed overhearing conversations about “trying to get me so pushed over the brink by them I’d wind up committing suicide before the [execution]” and “wishing to rape me before execution”. She also complained of strip searches, being handcuffed so tightly that her wrists bruised any time she left her cell, door kicking, frequent window checks by matrons, low water pressure, mildew on her mattress and “cat calling … in distaste and a pure hatred towards me”. Wuornos threatened to boycott showers and food trays when specific officers were on duty. “In the meantime, my stomach’s growling away and I’m taking showers through the sink of my cell.” Her attorney stated that “Ms. Wuornos really just wants to have proper treatment, humane treatment until the day she’s executed.” He added, “She believes what she’s written.”
During the final stages of the appeal process, she gave a series of interviews to Broomfield. In her final interview shortly before her death she claimed that, at BCI, her mind was being tortured and her head crushed by “sonic pressure”, as well as food poisonings and other abuses that she claimed would get worse each time she complained, to make her appear insane and/or attempt to drive her insane. She stated she was prepared to leave, ‘The Angels and Jesus Christ would be there’. She described her impending death as “being taken away to meet God and Jesus and the angels and whatever is beyond the beyond”. Wuornos said to Broomfield in the interview, “You sabotaged my ass! Society, and the cops, and the system! A raped woman got executed, and was used for books and movies and shit!” Her final words in the on-camera interview were “Thanks a lot, society, for railroading my ass.” Broomfield later met Dawn Botkins, a childhood friend of Wuornos’, who told him, “She’s sorry, Nick. She didn’t give you the finger. She gave the media the finger, and then the attorneys the finger. And she knew if she said much more, it could make a difference on her execution tomorrow, so she just decided not to.”
Wuornos was brought into the death chamber on October 9, 2002. For her last meal, she requested a “single cup of black coffee,” not KFC as was once reported. Her last words before the execution were, “Yes, 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.” At 9:47 a.m. EDT, Wuornos died. She was the tenth woman in the United States to be executed since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment in 1976.
Wuornos’ body was cremated, and her ashes were spread beneath a tree in her native Michigan by Dawn Botkins. Wuornos requested that Natalie Merchant’s song “Carnival” be played at her funeral.
- February, 29, 1956
- Rochester, Michigan
- October, 09, 2002
- Florida State Prison, Bradford County, Florida
- Cremated. Scattered in Fostoria, Tuscola County, Michigan.