Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Aileen Wuornos: Killer Who Preyed on Truck Drivers

The Myth and the Reality

Some of what you've heard about Aileen Wuornos is true.

Yes, she killed seven men in Florida. Yes, she was a prostitute. She gave a shocking, detailed confession at the behest of her lesbian ex-lover, and during her trial she was legally adopted by a well-meaning woman who claimed to receive her instruction from God. She had memorable profane outbursts in more than one courtroom, and she was executed Oct. 9, 2002, the recipient of six death sentences, more than anyone else residing on Death Row. All these things are true.

Aileen Wuornos mug shot (Getty Images)
Aileen Wuornos mug shot (Getty Images)

It's important, however, to dispel some of the hyperbole surrounding the Wuornos case at the outset. She was not America's first female serial killer. Women have been murdering serially for as long as men, though their victims are usually family members or acquaintances, and they most often choose poison over other means of disposal. Wuornos killed strangers with a gun, an unusual but not unprecedented fact that the media seized upon and ran with rampantly. Furthermore, Wuornos's activities as a prostitute are ridiculously exaggerated. Her claim of having had sex with 250,000 men (which was widely reported as truth) is preposterous; such a feat would require the bedding of 35 different men a day every day for 20 years. Wuornos had neither the stamina nor the planning skills necessary for such a record-breaking performance.

Even with these most sensational claims discredited, Aileen Wuornos remains intriguing. She is both repellent and strangely pathetic. Her belligerence all but sealed her fate from the moment she was apprehended, and inspired contempt in most who encountered her or heard of her case. Her bravado and her claims that all seven of her victims tried to rape her are as incomprehensible as her boast of having serviced 250,000 johns. Add to these the melodrama of her confession, her befriending and adoption by Arlene Pralle, and her never-had-a-chance personal history, and her story fairly reels one in.


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