KILLER AILEEN WUORNOS CHOOSES EXECUTION
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.
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
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
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
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,"
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
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
"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
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