Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part One

The Predator

Aileen Wuornos (AP)
Aileen Wuornos (AP)

Aileen Wuornos has been called America's first female serial killer, but that's not exactly accurate. She wasn't the first. However, she's among the few murderous females who seemed to act like a true predator, targeting strangers rather than someone closer to home, and using a gun to murder them.

Wuornos has been the subject of countless books, articles, and movies — even an opera — and while awaiting her execution on death row, she claimed in August 2001 that she wanted it to be done and over with. She had killed people and deserved to die, she stated. "I have hate crawling through my system." She said that were she released, she would kill again, and that she had robbed and killed her victims in the first degree. However, that hasn't always been her story.

On a documentary made for A&E's American Justice, footage of her indicates that her mood changes from one moment to the next, and while she might admit to killing her seven male victims, she claimed during her confession and trial that it was in self-defense. Yet the pattern and the background of some of the victims indicates otherwise.

It started in December 1989 when an abandoned car was found not far from Daytona Beach, Florida, with bloody seats. Papers indicated the car belonged to one Richard Mallory, known to pick up prostitutes, and there was every indication that he'd had a few drinks with a companion. Police speculated that something had gone wrong, and within two weeks, Mallory's corpse was found in the woods. He'd been shot four times in the chest with a .22 caliber gun and was covered under a rubber-backed rug.

Apparently Wuornos admitted this murder to her female lover, Tyria Moore, because according to Moore, she returned to their cheap motel room that day and said, "I've just killed a man."

While it was her first, it was not necessarily the first one she wanted to kill. According to the story she told to psychologists later, her mother had abandoned her as an infant and her schizophrenic father had been imprisoned for the rape of a seven-year-old. With a murder investigation on, he had hung himself in his cell. Aileen and her brother had been forced to live with her maternal grandparents, and her grandfather was an abusive alcoholic. When a friend of his (she said) impregnated her in Troy, Michigan, when she was only 14, she was forced to have the baby boy and give it up for adoption. Her grandfather then kicked her out of the house, so she turned tricks to survive. Apparently she'd been having sex with boys for several years.

At the age of 17, she hitched out to Denver, and then Florida. Along the way, as she plied her trade, she was beaten and raped several times. Her fear and paranoia about men developed into what might have amounted to oversensitivity to a male approach for sex.

She met Tyria Moore in Florida and acquired a gun. After killing Mallory, who had actually served 10 years in a psychiatric institute for sexual offenses, she waited five months before her next victim. Her defense psychologist believes that Mallory did something to her that triggered the spree.

In May 1991, a truck was found along a Florida highway, registered to David Spears. His naked corpse was discovered about 60 miles away, north of Tampa. He, too, was shot in the chest with a .22. While no fingerprints were found in the car, there was a single strand of blond hair.

Five days later, another male corpse was found, also shot with a .22, whose car was abandoned about sixty miles away.

While police did not realize at this point that they had a serial killer, a strange incident gave them an important break. Two women were seen pulling over in a silver Sunbird and removing the plates. Then they ran into the woods, and those who witnessed this provided details about what they looked like. The car belonged to a missing missionary. Composite sketches were drawn but weren't distributed until after three more male corpses were found, all shot with a .22.

Since the murders had occurred in five different counties, no links were established until a year into the killing spree, at which point a task force was formed. The composite pictures were publicized and leads came in. Several people identified the pictures as a pair of lesbians, Tyria Moore and "Lee."

Lee was Aileen Wuornos, who was quickly spotted in a biker bar, The Last Resort. Since she was guilty of a parole violation, police brought her in and then pressured Moore to tell what she knew. They also used a key found in Wuornos' possession to enter a storage space, where they found items belonging to some of the victims.

Moore admitted that Aileen was a murderer and agreed to get her to talk on tape. It took a while, but finally on January 16, 1991, Aileen went to the police and offered her confession. She had killed seven men. She described how she and Mallory had wrestled before she shot him, and then said, "I just kept shooting him." After describing what she had done with the men, she said that she had confessed because, "I want to get right with God."

She also told them where they could find the murder weapon, which she had dumped. On the American Justice documentary, she learned that one of her victims was a missionary, and she professed remorse, but she still insisted that all of her murders had been in self-defense. She'd been hitch-hiking and they'd picked her up and propositioned her. When they got violent, she shot them.

Aileen Wuornos in 2001 (AP)
Aileen Wuornos in
2001 (AP)

The defense psychologist, Elizabeth McMahon, backed her up, explaining that her background had made her paranoid about men. Wuornos claimed that her first victim had tied her to the steering wheel, tortured her, and sodomized her. After she shot him, she covered him with a carpet to protect him from birds.

The prosecutor did not believe her. He thought that she simply went out like a predator, lured men with the possibility of sex, and then killed them for their money and possessions. His star witness was Tyria Moore, who'd known about the murders but had said nothing about rape or self-defense. He hammered Wuornos about her motives.

"I'm the victim as far as I'm concerned!" Wuornos shot back at him. To her mind, everyone was to blame for this situation but her.

The jury members, who weren't too impressed with this "exit-to-exit" hooker who cleared $200 a day, felt that Wuornos had offered them little reason to feel sorry for her, although in Deadlier Than the Male, Terry Manners claims that she wept into a tissue after admitting to her deeds. Her attorneys embraced and comforted her.

On January 28, 1992, the jury recommended the death penalty. Wuornos pleaded no contest to five other counts of murder, but called the jury members "scumbags of America." She received the death penalty six times, and when she went to court in 2001 to dismiss her lawyers, the judge told her she was now on the "fast track" to the electric chair. At that time she indicated that the prosecutor had been right all along: she was a cold-blooded killer.

And speaking of cold-blooded, the next serial killer got away with murder for two decades before she was finally stopped, and her targets were those closest to her.

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