In the early morning hours of June 23, 1993 the names John and Lorena Bobbitt became ingrained in pop culture history.
The pair continue to captivate the America public— and the filmmakers of the Amazon documentary twenty five years after Lorena chopped off her husband’s penis while he slept in the Manassas, Virginia home.
But the renewed interest in the headline-grabbing case has also brought attention to other key players in the notorious incident, including Janna Bisutti, Lorena’s onetime employer and confidant.
Lorena and Bisutti had a complex relationship with one another that included envy, embezzlement, financial support, friendship and accusations of betrayal before the pair would eventually sever ties.
Their relationship began shortly after Lorena, known then as Lorena Gallo, came to the United States from Ecuador in 1987 on a student visa. Bisutti gave her a job at her her nail salon in according to an . The two soon formed a close friendship.
It was around this time that Lorena met her future husband John , who was then a Lance Corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps.
As he tells it, their marriage started deteriorating due to Lorena’s ambition to achieve material success, one he partially blames on Lorena’s exposure to her employer's upscale lifestyle.
“Lorena was a good wife a lot of the time. But she was obsessed with having her American Dream, her American Dream, her American Dream—she said it all the time,” John told Vanity Fair. “Janna Bisutti had a big house, a cabin cruiser, a Mercedes. Lorena wanted those things. She just wanted too much, too fast.”
By 1991, John was discharged from the Marines, and Lorena had to support them both. Amid the financial and marital turmoil, Lorena embezzled more than $7,000 from Bisutti, according Vanity Fair.
In a 1993 episode of ABC’s “20/20,” Lorena’s attorney James Lowe said Lorena had taken the money make mortgage payments in an ill-fated attempt to try to save their house from foreclosure, The Washington Post reported at the time.
Bisutti initially reported the embezzlement to police, but later changed her mind and decided not to press charges after realizing Lorena might have to serve jail time, according to the book “A Writer’s Life” by Gay Talese. She also realized she’d never be able to get her money back if Lorena was behind bars and decided instead that Lorena would pay her back with interest while allowing her to keep her gig at the nail salon,
Instead of taking 50% commission on the work Lorena did at the salon, she took 60% until the money was repaid, which took Lorena a year to do, Talese wrote.
The embezzlement didn’t appear to sour the relationship between the pair, who remained close friends. Bisutti would later play a central role in the dramatic aftermath that followed Lorena’s notorious chop.
On the morning of June 23, 1993, Lorena cut off John’s penis after she said he raped her following a night of drinking. The first place she went? Janna Bisutti’s house — throwing her husband’s penis out the window on her drive over, according to .
“My husband said, ‘Lorena's here.’ I said, ‘Oh, my God, what has John done to her?’” Bisutti told . “I walked down the stairs and she's huddled in the corner of my living room screaming and crying in a fetal position… and she said, ‘I cut John’… I tried to calm her down and she's crying, and then she said, ‘I cut his penis off.’ I said, ‘You did what?’ I said, ‘Well, I think we better call 911.’”
Bisutti added that she eventually was able to persuade Lorena to reveal the approximate location of where she had flung her husband’s penis, leading police to ultimately find it in a field near a local 7-Eleven, according to ABC News.
John's penis was
By the time the case went to court, Lorena was charged with malicious wounding and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted, . After claiming in court that her husband routinely abused her, she was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity.
After the verdict, Bisutti read a statement on her friend’s behalf, advocating for other victims of domestic violence to get help.
"She came to America several years ago with a dream," she said, according to the Post. "Her marriage, however, became a nightmare…If the publicity of her abuse can help one person find freedom, then all of this was not in vain."
Despite the public statement of support, a crack was beginning to form between Lorena and Bisutti.
Lorena had hoped she’d be able to sell her life story and her media representative had begun searching for opportunities.
“The plan initially was to do either a television special or a motion picture on her life that would tell the truth outside of what the media was doing. That became a real clear objective for me,” Hauge said in the “Lorena” docu-series.
Lorena claims that Hauge and Bisutti began making deals together— deals that would financially benefit Bisutti if Lorena’s story was sold.
“She wanted me to sign a contract, which I did, not knowing that I was signing away 15 percent to her,” Lorena said in the Amazon special.
A client of the nail salon also began to notice that Bisutti had fully immersed herself in the scandal.
“When I went to the courthouse, the salon manager owner she was talking about ‘well, everything she’s wearing, I got her. And she’s lucky to have a friend like me and if they want an interview, they are going to have to go through me,” Regina Keegan said in the docu-series.
A rift soon formed between Lorena and Janna and the once close-knit friendship was severed.
“I really felt betrayed by Janna Bisutti. It was very devastating. She was my confidant. I looked up to her and as much as it hurt, I had to say goodbye,” Lorena said of the former friendship in the docu-series.
Lorena claims she didn’t want the media attention and just wanted to return to a quiet life.
“I didn’t choose to be in the spotlight, it wasn’t intentional, but for some reason, people found that they can always make money off my story,” she said.
“Lorena” director Joshua Rofé told Digital Spy that the documentary team had hoped to include Bisutti in this year’s re-telling of the famed incident.
“The one interview that we didn’t get that I wish we could have gotten was a woman named Janna Bisutti,” he said.
But, Bisutti had reportedly declined to participate after she and Lorena had parted ways.
“So Janna, she just didn’t want to have anything to do with the series. And that’s fine. It was by no means make or break, but I would have been…I would have loved to interview her,” Rofé said.
Nowadays, Lorena, who is back to using her maiden name, is using the renewed interest in the age of #MeToo to — just as Bisutti hoped Lorena's story would do all those years ago.
Ethan Harfenist contributed to this report.
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