On February 29, 1956, in Troy, Michigana baby girl was born to a Diane Wuornos and Leo Dale Pittman. Named Aileen Carol Pittman. She started out just like you and me (Palmer). Healthy, ten fingers, ten toes, with her whole life ahead of her. Unfortunately, not everyone gets so lucky. You don’t get to choose your family, and you don’t get to decide what environment you’re born into. Aileen never learned love, she was never given the chance to lead a “normal life”. Things immediately took a turn for the worse at the very start. Her life was filled with abuse and betrayal by people who were closest to her (Broomfield). A series of events took place during her life which led to her to being sentenced to death. She was convicted for the murdering of seven men in the span of one year, ultimately labeling her as a “serial killer” and a monster.
Aileen Wuornos went down in history as “one of the first female serial killers to be executed in the United States” (Broomfield). Serial killers are people who carry out a series of murders, usually more than three (dictionary.com). In Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster culture, he offers seven theses which help us relate and understand culture through monsters. Monsters are symbols and they “represent something larger than itself in order to have people reflect on their “fears, desires, anxiety, and fantasy” (cram.com). We label her a monster to define “what” she is. She can no longer be seen as human with this trademark. How does one get to this point? What has to occur in order for one to come to this decision and lack of empathy for human life? In Aileen Wuornos’s case it sadly starts at the very beginning of her life.
Aileen’s parents were already divorced by the time she was born (Palmer). “Her biological father hanged himself in prison, where he was serving time for rape and kidnapping” (Palmer). Her mother abandoned her and her older brother so her grandparents, the Wuorno’s stepped in and adopted the two siblings (Palmer). Her grandparents did not offer love, instead her grandfather abused her both mentally, physically and sexually (Broomfield). In the documentary “Life and Death of a Serial Killer” by Nick Broomfield, he goes on to interview several people who claim to have grown up with Aileen and claim to have witnessed first-hand these accounts of abuse. One woman described in great detail a time where Aileen arrived home from skipping school and watched as her grandfather beat her for doing so for over five minutes straight. Others claimed she was exchanging sexual favors for drugs, alcohol, food, and money by age nine (Broomfield). Around age fourteen Aileen was “raped by a family friend and became pregnant. Her grandfather also forced her to give up the child for adoption” (Palmer). At age sixteen Aileen left home and started living in the woods near her house. Several men from her neighborhood and town were called as witnesses during her trial and told stories of how she had a reputation for sleeping with everyone. she was bullied because of this and treated inhumanely (Broomfield). People considered her taboo for have already had a child at her age. The winters were cold and freezing so she left Michigan to start a new life in sunny Florida (Broomfield). Studies have been done and suggest “Child abuse is associated with a number of negative psychosocial outcomes, including mental health problems, substance abuse, and interpersonal violence” (Tlapek, Sarah Myers, et al.) Just her childhood alone could of possibly lead to a “precipitating cause; The proverbial straw that breaks a camel’s back” (Ramos blog). Meaning that her experiences during childhood are what could have caused her to snap and form into a dormant rage waiting to erupt at any moment. Cohens Monster Theory “The monster always escapes”helps explain this situation. Perhaps someone abused Aileen’s grandfather who kept the abuse going by abusing his daughter who had a child and allowed them to undergo the same abuse which led to Aileen killing all those men. It’s the same pain, the same anxiety and hate but has changed over time, “each time to be read against contemporary social movements or a specific determining event” (Cohen).
Once Aileen moved to Florida she made friends. She “also began a life of prostitution” (Palmer). She fell in love with a Tyra Moore with whom she had a long-term relationship with and was dating at the time of the murders. Wuornos voluntarily gave a confession only admitting to five of the seven murders (Palmer). The jury still convicted her on all seven counts and just two days later sentenced to death. Tyra sold her out to police during her trial (Broomfield). Her lawyer was exploiting her, everyone was just trying to make money off of her case for books and movies. (Broomfield). In Broomfield’s documentary, it is clear that justice was not served for this poor woman. At the beginning of her trials she claimed she shot all these men in self-defense. After being on death row for ten years Aileen switched her story and supposedly was “coming clean” about her case stating that she did indeed kill all seven men because she is a murderer and will kill again (Broomfield). Broomfield believes she only did this so that they could not appeal her case and cause any more delay on her execution. In the film, she claims to be ready for death and wanting to die. The way she addresses her situation implies that she couldn’t handle what she had done and she suffered every moment she was on death row. In her last interview with Broomfield she appears crazy and not completely there. His documentary frequently raises the question of whether or not she should’ve been executed in the first place, she should’ve been sent to a mental institution not a prison.
You could also relate her story to “The monster stands at the Threshold of Becoming”Cohen explains how people create monsters “Monsters are our children”. “We birth them” (Ramos blog). She is not the first women to be executed in the united states, however, she was the first female “serial killer” to be executed (Broomfield). People over exaggerated her case by stating this to sell her story. All the abuse in her life and her family lives caused her to kill. Because society had been so cruel to her she was cruel in return. This isn’t always the cause for committing murder but in her case, it was. Her story is a sad one, if she had been shown more love during her childhood, she probably would not have gone down the path of crime.
“Wuornos, Aileen.” Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States, Louis J. Palmer, McFarland, 2nd edition, 2008. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/mcfcpus/wuornos_aileen/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 21 May 2018.
Tlapek, Sarah Myers, et al. “The Moderating Role of Resiliency on the Negative Effects of Childhood Abuse for Adolescent Girls Involved in Child Welfare.” Children & Youth Services Review, vol. 73, Feb. 2017, pp. 437-444. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.11.026.
Mentor, Ken. “Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (Film).” Teaching Sociology, vol. 26, no. 1, Jan. 1998, pp. 89-90. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=190067&site=ehost-live.
Broomfield, Nick, director. Aileen, Life and Death of a Serial Killer. Lafayette Films, 2002.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
“murder”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 22 May. 2018. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/murder>.
“serial killer”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 22 May. 2018. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/serial–killer>.
Cohen, Jeffrey. “Find Flashcards to Study.” Cram.com: Create and Share Online Flashcards, 10 Apr. 2018, http://www.cram.com/.