Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Love and Death: The Sunset Strip Killers

Another Perspective: The Bigger Picture

Aileen Wuornos
Aileen Wuornos

MacNamara had studied other female serial killers and he found some interesting parallels.  "I once did a piece for Vanity Fair about Aileen Wuornos.  I went to the town where she grew up north of Detroit and went house to house in her neighborhood, trying to find people who remembered her.  Several people agreed to speak and their stories generally tracked with her own recollections of abuse.  I wasn't able to verify Carol's story to the same degree but I did find records of her interviews with psychologists and what she told them was what she told me.  In the cases of both women there was tremendous physical and sexual violence and a pattern of finding approval and power from enduring the abuse.  Both women grew up in severely dysfunctional households, and had horrific experiences at a young age with older men."

Yet he also found a key significant difference.   "I'm certainly no psychologist but I always had the impression that Aileen Wuornos was driven by meanness and by a desire to be the breadwinner for her lover.  Above all, she wanted to be believed.   Carol Bundy seemed motivated more by a true sociopathology, as well as a desire to manipulate people to get what she needed.  She wouldn't talk to me at all unless I bought her a typewriter, for example.  Above all, she wanted respect.  Of the two, Carol was colder, darker, less sympathetic, more cowardly, yet more refined and perhaps more clever."  

As he got some distance on the case, MacNamara had more perspective.   "I was always attracted to journalism because it seemed to be the one profession where you could be paid to be skeptical.  As I got to know this case I began to see how image is everything in this society.  Here was Clark, the killer and satyr, who appeared to be the devil.  Here was Bundy who portrayed herself as the nearly blind widow, a nurse and mother of two children: the victim.  I became entranced by the illusions, by the complexity of the case, and all the convolutions in the telling. 

People asked him when he was going to write a book about the case and a movie option was purchased from the VF piece, but the film was never made.  Nor did he write a book.  "I never really considered a book.  The story was too grim.  There was no protagonist.  What could you say in the end?  Three very dark people, a woman and two of her lovers, got together in the San Fernando Valley in the summer of 1980, (when, by the way, there were two other serial killers working in LA.)  One lover was beheaded.  The other lover went to death row.  The woman went to prison (and died not long ago).   What good is there to recount the story in a book?  It's a magazine piece at best." 

It seemed to him that only one thing elevated the story beyond a sordid series of crimes.  "Even horrible people, even someone like Clark who, if he didn't kill these women, certainly has lead a bleak life; even people of no account, people about whom there is nothing good to say, even those people should be saved from the death penalty — but particularly in this case where the overwhelming evidence against Clark at trial was from Carol Bundy.  Without her, as the prosecutors admitted, they didn't have a strong enough case to convict.

"I don't believe in the death penalty. Even for someone like say Charles Manson.   And this is not theory for me.  My stepsister was kidnapped and horribly murdered in 1969; the case was never solved. My stepmother was destroyed by it, and by extension our family was deeply wounded.  I believe people who have committed capital crimes should be locked up for life.  Publicity should be kept to a minimum.  There is nothing to say about such people. 

"I follow certain Tibetan Buddhist teachings.  I also believe you are endlessly forced to confront what you are afraid of, to what you cannot resolve, to recurring conflicts. You help people along the way.  You don't need a reason.   In retrospect, you are misguided if you think you can visit the dark side, if you think you can become involved with these kinds of people, with good purpose or not, and avoid a price."

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