SERIAL KILLER AILEEN WUORNOS CHOOSES EXECUTION
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Update: At age 46, Wuornos was executed by lethal injection in Florida on Wednesday, October 9th, 2002, at 9:47 a.m

SERIAL KILLER AILEEN WUORNOS CHOOSES EXECUTION

After a decade on Death Row, Florida prostitute Aileen Wuornos, who confessed to murdering seven men, wants to die by lethal injection on Wednesday October 9th, 2002.

What made her want to kill?

By Sue Russell

Florida -- October 2002 -- If Aileen 'Lee' Wuornos isn't strapped to a gurney next Wednesday morning in Starke prison, Florida, a lethal cocktail of heartstopping chemicals flowing into her veins, she will be disappointed. Lawyers have long fought to save her from execution, yet Lee, the hitchhiking prostitute with six death sentences who confessed to killing seven men, has battled equally hard to speed things up and go to meet her maker.

Last summer, the Florida Supreme Court found her competent, allowing her to drop all further appeals, fire her appellate lawyers and get on the fast track to execution. Execution "volunteers" are a rarity. Then, as a female serial killer, Lee is also a rarity.

That was clear when police slapped on the handcuffs in 1991 and multiple murder charges followed. Then 35, with a 29-year old lesbian lover, she killed like a man. Predator-style, she systematically shot to death and robbed men after flagging them down for lifts on the Florida highways and once in their cars, offering sex.

Lee, now 46, certainly fit the FBI's serial killer criteria, having murdered strangers at least three times in separate locations, with a cooling-off period inbetween. Generally women, even multiple murderers, target intimates. So-called 'Black Widows' kill spouses and lovers for monetary gain; 'Angels of Death' murder babies, the elderly or the infirm. (By contrast, mass murderers or 'spree killers' murder several people in one fell swoop as in the school massacres).

Poison is often the favoured weapon. Again, gun-toting Lee was different. Previously, the serial killers the FBI profilers studied were all men whose crimes shared a common underlying sexual motivation. Usually, they killed to fulfill their fatally entwined sexual and violent fantasies.

Despite her overt rage—she screamed obscenities at jurors in court—we don't know if Lee got a sexual thrill from murder although as a prostitute, her crimes have a sexual element. Apparently, she did share male serial killers' enjoyment of power and control. But she was primarily a robber who killed. She carried Windex along with her gun in her "kill bag," ready to remove fingerprints and carefully cover her tracks.

She claimed self-defense but pumped nine bullets into Charles Carskaddon alone. And she ruthlessly fired into the backs of fleeing victims. I began investigating Lee's life in 1991 and learned that she fantasised about being a hero to women. She expected her self-defense claims to be accepted and "almost fell over," she said, when she heard she was labelled a serial killer.

A few months ago she finally confessed what police, prosecutors, jurors and I deduced long ago—there was no self-defense, her victims did not hurt her, she killed in cold blood.

She says she seriously hates human life, "and would kill again." Since 1848 just one woman has been executed in Florida. Three were executed in Oklahoma in 2001; the most in the US in any year since l953. There are now 52 women in a total US death row population of approximately 3,600.

Governor Jeb Bush signed Lee's death warrant as America is embroiled in massive debate about capital punishment. Illinois Governor Ryan declared a total moratorium on executions there after the state released its 13th wrongly convicted death row prisoner. Abraham Bonowitz of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty says that 24 Florida death row prisoners have been exonerated and released from death sentences since 1973.

Earlier this year, Gov. Bush did stay some executions but by volunteering to die, Lee put herself in a different realm. A rationale Abraham Bonowitz insists should be inconsequential. "We don't believe prisoners in any way, shape or form should dictate what's happening to them," he explains.

Two decades of rough, transient living, massive alcohol consumption and harrowing prostitution preceded Lee's murderous rampage in Florida. But how did the innocent blonde child smiling out from her Michigan highschool yearbook pictures turn into one of the most vicious women of modern times?

Her doomed life path began in suburban Troy, Michigan and resembles a precariously stacked pile of dominoes, each domino upping the odds of catastrophe.

First there's the controversial nature v. nurture issue. Uncannily, Leo Pittman, the career criminal father she never met, also committed a capital offense, kidnapping and raping a 7-year old girl. He didn't get the death penalty but hanged himself in prison.

Lee's teenage mother Diane abandoned her twice before she was two years old—what experts deem the crucial bonding period. Lee and her brother Keith were raised by their alcoholic grandparents as siblings of their aunt Lori and uncle Barry. Lee was around eleven when she found out the truth. Her disciplinarian grandfather was emotionally and physically abusive, whipping her with a leather belt, repeatedly saying that she didn't deserve to be alive. Peers saw bruises. There was unspoken recognition that she had a miserable home life. Growing up, Lee's uncontrollably explosive temper alienated friends. She was the ultimate outsider. When local kids gathered in hideaways, pairing up to see who could smooch the longest, noone ever wanted to kiss her. But they would have sex with her.

Clearly Lee was sexually abused although she's variously said different men victimized her. Curiously, although she was a victim, she found the sexual abuse far more shameful to admit to than the murders.

Aileen claims she began prostitution at age sixteen but several male peers insists she was just eleven or twelve when she took their virginities and was having sex with other neighbourhood boys for cigarettes. She was nicknamed 'Cigarette Pig' and 'The Cigarette Bandit' and ridiculed. "I guess it was a double standard," one concedes, "but nobody cared about feelings then." She gave birth to a baby son at age fifteen who was adopted (father unknown—she named several different people).

Serial killers commonly set fires as children and Aileen started a few in fields and set fire to the loo paper in the school bathroom. She had some artistic talent but was a poor student. She had a hearing problem. Teachers sat her near the front of the class but her grandmother was so defensive about it, she wasn't properly evaluated.

When she was 14, a school diagnostician noted, "It is vital for this girl's welfare that she receive counselling immediately." The warning was ignored. Aileen drank heavily, took drugs and shoplifted. By fifteen she was sleeping rough in cars.

As a prostitute, she was doubtless maltreated and likely raped—but not, she now admits, by those she chose to kill. We'll never know the 'x-factor' that tipped her into serial murder but the media's "man-hating lesbian" label was off the mark, although she was in a four-year relationship with a woman.

Lee loved Tyria "to the max," she said and proved it by confessing to the murders after Tyria coaxed her to do so. Tyria was working with police after convincing them that although she had dead men's belongings in her possession, Lee killed alone.

Lee is perhaps better described as bisexual. She says her "greater love" for Tyria "wasn't sexual" and Tyria complained that their sex life fizzled out. Notably, Lee also had sex with men by choice with no money changing hands. So was she man-hating? It certainly seemed so, but she was also generally rageful.

"She had a bad attitude," says Cammie Greene with whom Lee and Tyria once lived and whose driver's license and identity Lee stole. "I'm sure a lot of men had hurt her but it was people in general."

She fell so madly in love with one man she lived with that fearing their relationship was over, she decided to kill herself. Instead, she drunkenly held up a supermarket at gunpoint wearing a bikini. Later released from prison, she went to live with one of several men she'd struck up pen pal relationships with from behind bars.

She often said she liked sex with men. Her bond with Tyria was an incredibly powerful emotional one. Lee suffers from borderline personality disorder which brings an overwhelming fear of abandonment. When that fear escalated, it could well have been the trigger for what Lee called her "killing days."

I found that at least six murders coincided with times she felt extra vulnerable to being left by Tyria. As a young girl, she tried to buy friendship with her prostitution money. Later, she tried to buy Tyria's continuing presence by flashing several hundred dollar bills stolen from her victims, and announcing they could now have some fun.

Tyria's sister was visiting during one bloody three-week period when Lee murdered three men. Lee feared that when she returned to Ohio, Tyria would go too.

Lee always craved attention, fame and money. Cammie Greene believes she long planned to kill men, tell her tale and become rich and famous. "She said, 'I'm going to do something no woman has ever done before and everyone will respect me,'" Cammie insists. "I knew five years before that something was going to happen, I just didn't know what. And Tyria knew all along."

She told Cammie that she and Tyria would be like Bonnie and Clyde and get rich into the bargain. A male ex-boyfriend also heard the Bonnie and Clyde fantasy. And before the Florida murders (some believe there may have been more murders) Lee also tried to persuade at least two men to write her autobiography. She tantalized one with talk of "some murders," he says, but her ugly outburst when she wouldn't loan him money scared him and he fled.

Lee's accounts of the murder of Richard Mallory for which she is being executed, varied. He tried to get away without paying for sex, he wouldn't take his trousers, and finally in court came a story of rape and sodomy. She said he tied her to his car's steering wheel and squirted rubbing alcohol in her bodily orifices.

After trial it came out that Mallory, age 51, did have a teenage conviction for sexual assault. But his record had been clean for decades and there was no evidence of this brutal assault, no ties or rubbing alcohol found. Lee went home that night and told Tyria she'd "killed a man today," and appeared quite normal. If she was bloodied and beaten, the prosecution reasoned, wouldn't she have said so? She just came home with Mallory's car, handed Tyria some of his belongings, then wiped clean and dumped the car.

In court, Lee had wild mood swings (typical of a borderline) veering from laughter to tears to rage. After her first death sentence so clearly flabbergasted her, she pled no contest to the other charges. She also said she wanted to die and go to God.

Some victims' family members feel relief that her execution is finally imminent. Wild horses couldn't keep away Letha Prater, devoted sister of food salesman Troy Burress. If Troy's daughters attend, Letha will stand outside.

"I want to see it," she says. "I know to some people it sounds cruel but that's how I feel. Then I know I won't have to hear a lot more about her because each time there's a hearing, my heart breaks all over again."

Less assured is the presence of Arlene Pralle, Lee's adoptive mother. The Christian woman befriended Lee after her arrest then formally adopted her so they'd be allowed contact visits. The two have since fallen out. "I didn't realize Lee was so manipulative," Arlene explained when I broke the news there was an execution date.

If the execution goes ahead, anti-capital punishment activists will be outside the prison bearing "Murder in Progress" placards. Abraham Bonowitz will keep fighting but admits Lee will likely get her wish. "We can expect she's going to be executed," he sighs, "but we can hope for something better."

Sue Russell, October 2002
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