Aileen Wuornos

Was serial killer Aileen Wuornos a cold-hearted killer or a self-defending victim of sexual abuse?

Aileen Wuornos’s Childhood

Michigan-born Wuornos had a difficult childhood. Her father committed suicide while serving time in prison for child molestation, and her mother then abandoned both Wuornos and her older brother Keith to be raised by their grandparents. Wuornos’s grandmother was allegedly an alcoholic and Wuornos said her grandfather was sexually abusive. Wuornos got pregnant at age 14, gave the baby up for adoption, and developed a drinking problem at an early age.

After being kicked out of the family home, Wuornos lived by her own means - hitchhiking and becoming a sex worker. Throughout the mid-1970s she had been arrested several times for disorderly conduct and assault. Eventually she settled in Florida, briefly marrying wealthy yacht owner Lewis Fell, though he annulled the union after she was arrested again for assault. A decade later, Wuornos met and had romantic relations with Tyria Moore, a 24-year-old hotel maid who Wuornos dated for four years.

Victim or Serial Killer?

In 1989, the body of previously-convicted rapist Richard Mallory was found in a junkyard. Wuornos was suspected in the murders of at least five more men, and the police arrested her at a bar in Port Orange, Florida in 1991. Meanwhile, Moore’s DNA was found by authorities in a car that she and Wuornos had stolen and crashed the year before, leading to Moore’s arrest in Pennsylvania. Moore was able to elicit a confession of guilt from Wuornos over the phone in order to avoid prosecution.

During her trial, Wuornos argued that, at least in the case of Richard Mallory, she was defending herself while he attempted to rape her. She confessed to killing seven men in total. On January 27, 1992 the jury found Aileen Wuornos guilty and was ultimately sentenced to death. She was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002 in Starke, Florida.

Intrigued by the complexity of the Aileen Wuornos case? Watch Oxygen’s “Snapped: Notorious -- Aileen Wuornos” for a deeper look at the connection between Wuornos and her childhood.