Aileen Wuornos always craved fame. Long before she was hunted and caught by Florida law enforcement, long before she confessed to killing seven men, she told friends that she wanted to do something “no woman has ever done before” and to have a book about her life. Just as that life was finally ended by lethal injection after more than a decade on Florida’s Death Row, along came Sue Russell’s book, Lethal Intent.
Packed with exclusive material that sheds a different light on this rare, if not unique, serial killer, Lethal Intentcontains new insights and intimate memories from her family, friends and childhood peers. (Peers who lost their virginities to Aileen, who began prostituting herself at a horribly early age.)
Lethal Intent reveals Aileen’s devastating double abandonment by her mother before she was age two, the crimes of her father, and the myriad events that helped set her path of destruction. It even contests the widespread superficial judgment of Wuornos as a “man-hating lesbian” via new insights from men with whom she shared sexual and romantic relationships. Lethal Intent also explores the dynamics of her fateful relationship with Tyria Moore, the lesbian lover who knew Aileen was killing yet stayed by her side, and how those dynamics moved her closer to a life of murder. And much, much more…
Out of his car, he stumbled backwards in his shocked effort to evade her. Tripping and falling, struggling to regain his balance, back on his feet, then down again. And thinking about dying here and now, out in the middle of nowhere, and Shirley, and the kids… was it all going to end like this?
Breathing hard, moving in for the kill, she’d shot fast, aiming straight for his torso, wanting to see the flying bullet hit home. One was never enough. He was a big guy, too, this one. Must have been over six feet, around 200 pounds. She pumped a second. Then a third. Later, she’d forget in a haze of violence about the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh. Three of the bullets were fired ruthlessly into the back of a helpless man, twisting, turning, trying to run.
Blood flew, spattering onto his spectacles and his gold wedding band.
It was the day after his 35th wedding anniversary, and he didn’t die easily. An ex-police chief, an expert in hostage negotiations, the unlikeliest of victims, none of it mattered now as he groaned, gasping for air. He was slumped down on the ground, right by the concrete culvert he’d stumbled over. And still he was fighting for life. When she heard him making gurgling noises she felt kinda sorry for him and re-aimed her pistol, unloading the shot to the back of his head. Better put him out of his misery.
Couldn’t let him live. If he lived, he’d rat on her. Her ass would be up on attempted murder. Her face would be plastered all over the place. She could kiss hooking goodbye if that happened. And then what? The only way she could make money was to hustle.
No, she was definitely going to let him die. Them die.
Each time it was easier. The fear, the body coursing with adrenalin, and oh God, it felt good. She had her prey. She had the power. She had the control.
The bastards deserved to die, anyway, she thought bitterly. They probably would have raped her, skipped off without paying her, tried to screw her in the ass, beaten the shit out of her, strangled her, maybe even killed her. Maybe they had a gun, too? Who knows what they might have done? That’s how she had to look at it.
Well, it wasn’t going to happen. Now she was the one calling the shots.
You bet, she took their cash and their stuff. That was out of pure hatred. The final revenge. You bastards. Dirty sons-of-bitches. You would have hurt me. Damned right, she’d take their things. Get her money’s worth.
After they were dead, there were no regrets. It didn’t bother her, what she’d done. They were old. Their fathers and mothers were probably dead. Why worry about it?
She knew in her heart she was a good girl.
Three-quarters of an inch of rain had fallen that day, barely cooling what had been a balmy 91 degrees. It was the prettiest, somehow laziest, time of day.
Pulling down one paved strip of cul-de-sac abutting some farmland, Paul and Mike (seventeen and fifteen years old, respectively) idly observed what looked at first sight like a lumpy heap of clothing piled close to the edge of the grass, to the left of a concrete culvert. Drawing closer, Michael was in the lead when, wide-eyed with horror, he focused in on the clothes.
"Come here quick!" he yelled to Paul.
"What? It’s just a pile of clothes," Paul retorted uninterestedly.
Slowed by the sandy road, he had dismounted from his bicycle and casually wheeled it towards his friend. He was within a foot of the clothing before he saw just what it was that seemed to have rendered Mike speechless. What had appeared from afar a shapeless form came into focus as something horribly different.
First Paul saw a man’s face, framed with gray hair, curled among the fabric. His bloody spectacles were raised up on his forehead. The man was wearing brown trousers and shoes and argyle socks, and was hunched forward in almost a sitting position, his torso curved over towards his knees. His white, short-sleeved shirt was heavily stained with blood both at the front and on the left shoulder. Protruding from his pocket was a Cross pen-and-pencil set. His left front trouser pocket had been turned inside out as if ransacked. He was still wearing his watch and his wedding ring. And he was obviously dead.
The boys’ shock was followed rapidly by plain fear. Might whoever was responsible still be lurking nearby? Their systems pumping into high gear, they clambered aboard their bicycles and furiously rode the two and a half miles back to Paul’s house without exchanging a word.
Small, fair-haired and slender, this child-woman was courted by the youth from Troy and Rochester, in so far as they enjoyed her unusual services. But more significantly she was constantly derided and denigrated by them, pummeling the shaky self-esteem that lay beneath her bravado. Sought after one moment, rejected the next. Used and cast aside.
One not so unusual night, when Aileen was twelve, on the brink of thirteen, she slipped out from her room to keep a midnight rendezvous at the fort with a boy called Johnny, barely older than she. While they were coupled on the ground, a noise from above disturbed Aileen. Looking up, she caught sight of a trio of boys hiding in the branches of the tree spying on them, and doing a rather inferior job of keeping quiet. Realizing that they had been spotted, they snickered out loud. The laughter’s volume built; infectious schoolboy stuff. But as it increased, so did Aileen’s fury. Close to tears, feeling humiliated and badly betrayed, she started pulling on her clothes and backing away from the fort, but, not yet content, the descending boys harassed her further. They even had the gall to shout at her, noisily demanding a refund on Johnny’s behalf as if he were a dissatisfied customer at K-Mart. As she ran off into the woods, she could hear the sound of their laughter pealing out behind her.
The beer supply was drying up and Lee (Aileen’s lifelong nickname) was anxious to replenish it. There were people who owed her money, so she didn’t have any cash right now: could Paul loan her some?
"You know I work in the store and it doesn’t pay," he hedged, not liking this turn of events. "I don’t have but a few dollars on me."
"Give me what you’ve got," she said aggressively.
"No, ma’am. I have to live till pay day."
"Don’t give me that bullshit you don’t have any money. What are you afraid of?"
With his refusal to comply, the so-called interview took a vicious turn. Lee grew belligerent, calling him ugly names and using foul language.
Paul tried to steer the conversation back onto the presumably safer ground of the autobiography she wanted him to write for her. Privately, he’d already decided he wanted no part of it. He didn’t want to deal with her, let alone write about her.
Making his excuses, he edged towards the door with Lee still pushing for money. By the time he walked away from the Carnival, she had somehow talked him out of ten bucks. That left him just five for himself.
"I’ll bring it into the store in a couple of days," she promised.
"What are you going to do about the writing?"
"I’ll be in touch," Paul lied, more than happy to write off the ten bucks to experience. He decided this must be her pattern. Hitting people up for cash. He counted himself lucky to get off so lightly. But he still felt rattled. It had been an upsetting, disturbing encounter and he wanted to forget it as quickly as possible.
Predictably, he didn’t see his money again, but he did see Lee a few months later, bumping into her back in the store. He was then dating one of the staff (who later became his wife) and had just stopped by when Lee appeared in the company of a homely-looking, much older man. The fellow was perhaps in his late sixties and behaved as if he thought he’d struck pay dirt with her.
Lee ran up and down the aisles, gathering beer and stacking it on the counter, giggling merrily. Then she went over to her companion and held out her hand, and he pulled out a wad of bills. Paul was alarmed. She then scampered over to another aisle and returned with a pack of condoms, which she waved, teasingly, under the man’s nose. He looked happier than a clam. He paid for everything, then they took off in his beaten old van.
Paul agonized over what he’d seen. During their evening together, she had not mentioned prostitution. But she had mentioned violence. What was going to happen to that old fellow? Was she going to rob him blind? He thought hard about calling the cops and debated it with his girlfriend.
"I know what they’ll tell me," he fretted. "They’ll say, ’Nobody has committed any crime. Forget it.’" He had talked himself out of doing anything.
But Lee’s ambition to have an autobiography burned on, undimmed. She talked to another writer and clipped and carefully saved those questionable advertisements that run in the backs of magazines, enticing amateur hopefuls with messages like, "Looking For a Publisher" or "Be An Author." One day there’d be a book about her.
Would the eyes of Aileen ‘Lee’ Carol Wuornos Pralle, accused serial killer, be a window to her soul? I’d waited 9 long months to see for myself the woman apparently destined to be the first female ever to fit the FBI’s official criteria for a serial killer. Back on December 5, 1991, I finally got my chance.
Lee almost sashayed, pale but smiling, into a Florida courtroom, pausing to toss a jaunty wave at the one friendly face in the gallery. (Not mine. That of her adoptive mother.)
Her wrists remained shackled during the hearing which ultimately determined that the panting press would get their hands on her truly chilling videotaped confession. In it, she almost casually told detectives how she’d shot to death 7 men on the Florida highways.
She wore a grey cardigan pulled over her regulation jail-issue orange jumpsuit, her thin mousey hair yanked up in a scrawny ponytail. She didn’t look much like a killer. Then again, who does?
Propelled by a deep, widely-felt fascination with what could possibly make a woman kill and kill again (women are nurturers and lifegivers, right?), I was researching her life for a book.
Lee broke the mold of women who killed multiple times. Historically, they were black widows who bumped off husbands or lovers. Or professional caregivers who murdered those in their care: babies, young children or the elderly and infirm. Poison was often the weapon of choice.
Wuornos had apparently, in male serial killer fashion, pumped bullets into total strangers. Her victims were men she picked up seemingly in random fashion, either by tossing out a damsel in distress routine (saying her car had broken down) or offering sex. The dead men cannot tell. She robbed them and left them to rot in out of the way spots. She was an enigma.
And her eyes seemed important. Arlene Pralle, a married, born-again Christian, horse farmer adopted 36-year old Lee just months after first corresponding with her. She’d been so moved by Lee’s eyes staring out of a newspaper she wanted to reach out and hug her. She described her as warm and compassionate, saying, "I knew in my heart she wasn’t a serial killer."
Billy and Cindy Copeland, who’d lived in a neighbouring trailer to Lee and her lesbian lover, Tyria Moore, liked Lee but always believed she was dangerous. Billy said Lee had "death row eyes."
They couldn’t both be right. A victim who couldn’t hurt a fly. Or a cold-blooded killer. Which was it?
Wuornos’ actual culpability was hardly in question since she confessed soon after being arrested in January ‘91 on an old gun charge. She confessed because the police enlisted the services of her ex-lover (and one-time fellow suspect), Tyria Moore. Ty, in a series of taped phone calls, coerced Lee, who still loved her, into spilling the beans to save her own skin.
When Ty, a short, hefty redhead with a truckdriver’s gait, took the witness stand to testify against Lee, Lee snuffled into a hanky. She was devastated by the sight of her lost love—not to mention the knowledge that Ty had sold her out. Ty stared straight ahead.
The two women had finally been identified months after witnesses saw them leave a car wreck: the car belonged to missing 65-year old missionary, Peter Siems. (Lee confessed to killing him, but has been unable to remember where she left his body.)
Ty was not in Florida for at least one of the murders and although she had dead men’s belongings in her possession when police found her in Pennsylvania, they believed her claim not to have been involved with any of the murders and she was not charged with any crime. (It didn’t hurt that she helped them hook Wuornos.)
Among the men Lee admitted to killing. Child welfare worker Dick Humphreys, a 56-year old ex-police chief who’d celebrated his 35th wedding anniversary the day before his death. 50-year old sausage salesman and much-loved granddad, Troy Burress. 40-year old Charles Carskaddon, who was en route to visit his fiancee when Lee put 9 bullets into him, pausing to reload.
Who were the victims? The 7 dead men, of course. But Lee claimed to have shot her attackers only in self-defense. Was she a victim, too? Perhaps, but she was also guilty. 12 jurors made that determination when in January ‘92, they handed down the first of her 6 death sentences.
Getting inside Lee’s head was a necessary but unpleasant emotional rollercoaster. On my repeated trips to Troy, Michigan where she was born on Leap Year’s Day, 1956, empathy reigned. She’d been on a doomed path since birth. She was abandoned by her mother, Diane, not once but twice in what doctors say are the first crucial couple of years of life.
She never knew her father, but she had his genes. An unsavoury convicted child molester who was once declared insane, he ultimately hanged himself in prison.
Diane’s alcoholic parents adopted Aileen and her brother Keith, raising them as their own along with Diane’s siblings, Lori and Barry. The grandfather had a fearsome temper and abused Aileen and Keith verbally. There were beatings, too, but the extent of them was contested by Lori and Barry. There was voluntary incest with Keith (just 11 months her senior), who died of cancer at 21. Aileen briefly alleged sexual abuse by her grandfather, then promptly withdrew the accusation.
I was and am convinced she was sexually abused somewhere because I learned that by 11 she was selling her body to boys in neighbouring towns for 35 cents cigarette money, earning herself the nickname ‘cigarette pig’. There was an old man nearby who paid her for sex. And after she got pregnant at fourteen, she sometimes named him as the baby’s father. Sometimes she said she was raped.
Lee’s son was adopted at birth and is out there somewhere, blissfully ignorant of his serial killer mum.
In Michigan, the picture of Lee, the misfit, fleshed out. She’d had an isolated, virtually friendless childhood not aided by terrible, uncontrollable temper tantrums. Her grandparents were unwilling or unable to reach out to her, and a school counsellor’s urgent warning that she needed help fell on deaf ears.
In her teens she was a slave to drugs and alcohol. She shoplifted and repeatedly ran away from home and from the juvenile halls to which she was duly sent.
Talking to the boys (now men, of course) whom she deflowered while an adolescent, Aileen’s pain became almost palpable to me.
Florida, where she moved in the late ‘70’s, held a very different emotional journey, not least because it housed most of the families devastated by Lee’s year-long killing spree. Nice people whom she’d robbed of their loved ones, then rubbed salt in the wounds by maligning the men’s characters.
Tracing her footsteps, I uncovered a trail of increasingly antisocial behaviour. Most disturbing were clues that Lee had long ago set her heart on having a book written about her life. She was determined to do things no other woman had done before.
Ty’s friend Cammie Green, with whom Ty and Lee lived when they embarked on their 4-year lesbian affair, told me she believed Lee had planned the whole affair.
Meanwhile Lee, ensconced in jail, revealed herself to be unappealingly remorseless, demanding and money hungry. She wanted to be paid for press interviews and watched her clippings like a hawk. "A killing day," she said, was just about the same as any other day.
And she grandly reprimanded warders who didn’t afford her the deference she felt she deserved, saying: "Don’t you know who I am? I’m Aileen Wuornos of television."
Her victims, she unendearingly claimed, got what they deserved. Their families had better understand that. By then, I knew most of those men through their families. It was impossible not to be enraged by her.
By the time she came to trial for the murder of 51-year old VCR and TV repair shop owner Richard Mallory, Lee’s confession’s references to self-defense had blossomed.
After her arrest, she’d told detectives Mallory was "gonna try to anal screw", and that he "started getting violent with me, so we’re fighting a little bit and I had my purse right on the passenger floor."
In that bag was her loaded .22 revolver. Once she began shooting, she killed. If she hadn’t, the men would have come after her and identified her. At times, she said she deserved to die.
At her trial, her description of her encounter with Richard Mallory had become one of brutal rape and sodomy, involving wrists tied to his car steering wheel and rubbing alcohol squirted into her brutalised body orifices. This new version was gripping but unconvincing, full of contradictions. And psychological experts testified she knew right from wrong.
Naturally, the prosecution made much of the fact that if she had been attacked thus, wouldn’t she at least have gone home and told Ty?
Instead, as Ty testified, Lee casually announced she’d killed a man that day. She came home with some of his belongings, sat on the floor, drank beer, seemed okay, and made no mention of any brutality.
Mallory, the defense inferred, was into porn, strip joints and hookers. An ex-girlfriend had said in a police interview that Mallory told her he’d spent time in an institution for attacking a woman, but the jury didn’t hear that. It seemed, the defense couldn’t substantiate her claims.
But as Lee sat on death row in Broward Correctional Facility with death sentences over her head and another penalty hearing looming, a TV news show uncovered the fact that Richard Mallory did indeed have a record for a crime he committed as a juvenile. On that alone, many speculated that Wuornos might get a new trial for his murder. It didn’t happen. After years of hearings, in 2001 she asked to drop all further appeals and to proceed to execution. She also finally admitted that none of the killings was in self-defense—she killed in cold blood.
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