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How Aileen Wuornos Went From Sex Worker To 'America's First Female Serial Killer'

In 1991, Wuornos confessed to killing the seven men.

Branded “The Damsel of Death” and the “Highway Hooker,” Aileen Wuornos was accused of killing seven men between 1989 and 1990 while she hitchhiked around Florida. After her arrest in 1991, Wuornos quickly gained notoriety as “America’s first female serial killer.” In “Snapped Notorious: Aileen Wuornos," Oxygen dives deep into the deadly sex worker’s life.

Before the special airs, get up to speed on what led Wuornos down her murderous path by reading the timeline below:


Aileen Carol Wuornos is born on February 29, 1956. Wuornos is abandoned by her mother as an infant, and she and her older brother Keith grow up with their grandparents in Troy, Michigan. Wuornos never meets her father, who commits suicide in prison while serving time for kidnapping and sodomizing a child.

The Aileen Wuornos Case, Explained

Pre-Teen Years

Wuornos says her grandfather was an abusive alcoholic, and she later admits to having a “brief sexual relationship with her brother.” At age 11, Wuornos begins having sex with neighborhood boys in exchange for cigarettes and spare change, earning her the nickname “Cigarette Pig.”

According to court documents, Wuornos exhibits an IQ of 81, in “the low dull-normal range,” during junior high. Around age 13, Wuornos says she is raped by a family friend. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy at a home for unwed mothers. Her son is immediately put up for adoption.

Teen Years

In high school, Wuornos starts experimenting with drugs and alcohol and sleeps in the woods at the end of her street or in abandoned cars to escape her home life. She eventually drops out of school in the 10th grade, around the same time her grandmother dies from a liver disorder. Wuornos then hitchhikes around the country, supporting herself through sex work and other odd service jobs.

In May 1974, Wuornos is arrested in Colorado for driving under the influence, disorderly conduct and firing a .22-caliber pistol from a moving vehicle. She is later charged with failure to appear when she skipped town before her trial.


In 1976, Wuornos ends up Daytona Beach, Florida. That same year, her grandfather commits suicide, and her brother dies of cancer. Desperate for stability, Wuornos marries a wealthy retiree and yacht club president, 69-year-old Lewis Gratz Fell. Their marriage, however, doesn’t last long.

Fell files a restraining order against his young bride, claiming she beat him with his cane. After only nine weeks together, Fell has the marriage annulled.

Wuornos continues to make her money through sex work and occasional small-time crimes. In 1981, Wuornos is arrested after robbing a convenience store of $33. She serves a year in a Florida prison.

After her release, Wuornos is charged with a slew of crimes, including forgery, car theft, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. She wanders for years until 1986, when she meets Tyria Moore at a lesbian bar in Daytona Beach. The attraction is immediate, and the couple quickly moves in together, living in various motel rooms across the state. Wuornos takes care of Moore financially and makes most of the couple’s money through sex work.


On December 1, 1989, an intoxicated Wuornos allegedly confesses to Moore that she shot and killed a man early that morning, according to court documents. That day, a deputy discovers an abandoned vehicle belonging to Richard Mallory, a 52-year-old electronics shop owner. On December 13, his body is found under a piece carpet several miles away in a wooded area. He was shot to death.

[Photo: Getty Images]

On June 1, 1990, officers discover the nude body of 43-year-old construction worker David Spears. He had been shot six times. Spears’ truck is found close by.

On June 6, 1990, the body of Charles Carskaddon, a 40-year-old truck driver and part-time rodeo bull rider, is discovered in the woods. He had been shot nine times. Carskaddon’s car is found at a different location.

On July 4, 1990, police find the abandoned car of Peter Siems, a 65-year-old missionary. Inside the vehicle, there are blood stains on the seats and door handles. His body is never located.

On August 4, 1990, Troy Burress, a 50-year-old sausage truck driver, is found dead by a group of people picnicing in the woods near a lake. The body is badly decomposed, but investigators are able to determine he had been shot twice. His truck is found a few miles away.

On September 12, 1990, two young boys riding their bikes come across the body of Charles Richard Humphreys, a 56-year-old child-abuse investigator. He had been shot six times. Several counties north, investigators find Humphreys’ car abandoned near a gas station.

On November 19, 1990, Walter Jeno Antonio is found dead near a remote logging road. The 62-year-old truck driver and member of the Reserve Police is found nearly nude, and he had been shot four times. Police find his car five days later in a different county.

All shootings are committed with a .22 caliber pistol, and all of the victims are robbed, according to The Chicago Tribune. The victims’ vehicles are also all found abandoned on or near a major traveled roadway.


Police get their first case in the break when a witness reports seeing two women walk away from the fourth victim’s, Peter Siems, car after crashing it. Composite sketches of the women are printed in various Florida newspapers and distributed across the country.

When Moore sees media reports that police are looking for two women in connection with a series of murders, she leaves Wuornos and returns to her hometown in Pennsylvania, according to court documents.

Various tips come in from the public, and detectives are able to identify the women in the composite sketches as Aileen Wuornos and Tyria Moore. Detectives track Wuornos to the Fairview Motel in Port Orange, Florida.

On January 9, 1991, Wuornos is arrested at The Last Resort Bar on an outstanding 1986 warrant for weapons possession, reported The New York Times. She is held on that charge until being charged in connection with the murder of Richard Mallory, the first victim.

[Photo: Getty Images]

On January 16, 1991, Wuornos confesses to killing the seven men after Moore tells Wuornos that police are investigating her involvement.

She tells police, “I just wish I never woulda done what I did. [...] I still have to say to myself, I still say that it was in self-defense.”

Wuornos also gives directions for a dive team to recover her weapon, the .22 caliber pistol. Wuornos is then charged in connection with the murder of Richard Mallory.


Wuornos pleads not guilty, claiming she acted in self-defense and that Mallory had violently raped her. Though Wuornos’ first trial is only for the murder of her first victim Mallory, a judge rules to allow in evidence from the six other murders. Moore also testifies on behalf of the prosecution.

On January 27, 1992, the jury finds Wuornos guilty of first-degree murder. When the verdict is announced, Wuornos is visibly upset and shouts, “I was raped. I hope you get raped, Scumbags of America.”

On January 31, 1992, Wuornos is sentenced to death.

Wuornos only stands trial for the killing of Mallory. She pleads no contest to the five other murders, according to CNN. Though it was believed she was responsible for the death of Peter Siems, his body was never located and Wuornos is not charged in his death.

Appeals and Execution

While in prison from 1993 to 2002, Wuornos’ defense team works to overturn her death sentences. They are repeatedly denied, according to The New York Times. In 2001, Wuornos fires her defense team and drops all her appeals. Wuornos then asks to be put to death.

On October 9, 2002, Wuornos is executed by lethal injection almost a decade after her final conviction. At the time, Wuornos is only the 10th woman to be executed in the United States since 1976.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Wuornos declines a last meal and instead asks for a cup of coffee. Her last words are: “I'd just like to say I'm sailing with the rock, and I'll be back like Independence Day, with Jesus June 6. Like the movie, big mother ship and all, I'll be back.”

[Photo: Getty Images]

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