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On the Highway to Hell: Aileen Wuornos

Updated on May 15, 2011

Wuornos' Story


Insanity was once defined as, “Mental illness or derangement” and was normally considered to be the cause for most crimes. The fact is however although some ‘crazy’ people do commit crimes there are also many sane people who commit similarly heinous crimes. Those who lack insanity and yet continue to kill are some of the most ruthless killers in the history of the world. Instead of being proclaimed legally insane they are considered mentally sound yet they lack a conscience. Such as in the case of Aileen Wuornos who was far from insane and still she laid siege on the men who drove along the Florida highway. To track down and discover the motive behind these heinous yet sane actions the police had to use psychological analysis of the victims to better understand the criminal mind. The police further psychologically analyzed the crime scene; then the police had to carefully protect and store the crime scene evidence found in order to make a clear picture of the killer’s psychopathy that resulted in her arrest. 

Aileen Wuornos, also known as Lee Wuornos, was born February 29th of 1956 in Rochester, Michigan (Aileen). Wuornos’ parents were not role models. Her father was a psychopath who was arrested for child molestation; he ended his life in prison. Her mother abandoned Wuornos and her brother, Keith. They were adopted at a young age by their grandparents, whom they were convinced for years were their parents. Yet their family life began to worsen as the years went by with a drunken grandmother/mother and a strict grandfather/father. (Macleod) At the age of 13 Wuornos became pregnant by an unknown man; Wuornos claimed rape. (Russell) No one believed her and she was sent for the remainder of her pregnancy to a home for unwed mothers. (Hickey) When she gave birth the child was immediately put up for adoption; her grandfather kicked Wuornos out of the house a short time later. Wuornos dropped out of high school at the age of 15 and began prostituting for a living. 

When Wuornos moved out of her house she met and married a sixty year-old man named Lewis Fell; Lewis left Wuornos because she was constantly arrested for fighting. While living out on her own Wuornos committed several crimes including prostitution, forgery, check fraud, theft, and armed robbery. When Wuornos was twenty her brother died of cancer and her grandmother died of old age. Her grandfather killed himself a short time later. (Macleod) Wuornos claims to have, by the age of twenty-two, attempted suicide six times. When Wuornos turned twenty-five she was arrested for robbery. After getting out of prison she stopped by a gay bar and met Tyria Moore; Wuornos fell in love with Tyria. In order to support them Wuornos returned to prostitution.

In an effort to support herself and Tyria Wuornos became desperate for cash. This caused Wournos’ actions to escalate from simple robbery to murder. Using a 22 Caliber pistol she killed six men supposedly out of defense. First, she would track down her ideal victim which was normally a man driving a nice car (Wuornos Biography). Then, she would either hitchhike or tell the victim she was a prostitute. After getting in the car and driving to a secluded spot she would kill the victim. Then, Wuornos would normally loot the car and body, taking any valuables that she found and pawning them off. In Florida the law states when pawning off an item a fingerprint must be placed on the receipt. This fingerprint ended up being Wuornos’s downfall. [Tyria, Wuornos’s lover, decided after some time that she couldn’t stay with Wuornos anymore because of the murders.] Upon tracing her fingerprint the police arrested Wuornos for an unrelated crime (Hickey). The police were using a warrant they found on one of her aliases for robbery as an excuse to hold her. They then tracked down Tyria and asked that she talk Wuornos into confessing (Russel). Tyria called Wuornos claiming that the police planned to arrest Tyria for murder unless the real killer came forward; Wuornos responded by admitting to the crime. Wuornos only admitted to killing the first man; she claimed it was in self-defense. (Vronsky) Wuornos was convicted for six counts of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Until 2002, Wuornos held to the belief that she only killed one man out of self defense (Wuornos). However in 2002, the year she was to be executed, Wuornos began admitting that she had killed them all and was happy about it. That year Aileen Wuornos died of lethal injection. Why did Wuornos act the way she did? What caused her to commit these atrocious crimes? 

Psychologically there was something off with Wuornos and her father that is called ‘psychopathy.’ There is no doubt that when analyzed by Robert Hare’s psychopathy checklist that Aileen Wuornos inherited psychopathy from her father (See Appendix B for psychopathy checklist). Psychopathy is a mental disorder usually marked with anti-social and egocentric behavior (Merriam-Webster). Although she did not have the ability to smooth talk Wuornos fit most of the other criteria. First of all, she was slightly self-centered, a good liar, and anti-empathetic. She also lacked any sense of responsibility and often made comments like, “I killed in self defense” or, “If I hadn’t killed him he would have raped me.” (Russel) These statements clearly show that she believed the victim was responsible. Wuornos tended to live in the moment, had poor behavioral control and a need for excitement. Every time she needed excitement or felt she needed money, she would write a fake check, steal something, or kill a man. Both early in her life and later she showed anti-social behavior as well as behavioral issues. As a child she was sexually active at the age of 13 and began prostituting at the age of 15. She stole things and even committed grand theft auto before adulthood. Conclusively, there was a very good chance that she was a psychopath. This is significant because it means that she was not legally insane; she knew the difference between right and wrong yet ignored societal boundaries out of impulsiveness and selfishness.

 Another type of killer classification is a scale ranging from organized to unorganized; both types of killers can make mistakes which lead to them being caught. What causes a killer to be on one side of the scale or the other? Is it his or her personality or the circumstances of the situation around them? Organizational techniques, or lack-thereof, are due to the offender’s personality type and everyday life. The two types of killers are asocial unorganized and nonsocial organized killers; each has unique traits that clearly set them apart.  

Both the asocial and the nonsocial offenders are not social yet each has their own reason. The unorganized asocial offender is not social due to society’s choice. The asocial offender is unorganized, has a low IQ, low personal hygiene, and was most likely abused mentally or physically as a child. These reasons cause society to shun the asocial offender (Holmes, 48). On the other end of the scale is the organized nonsocial offender. Unlike the asocial offender the nonsocial offender is completely organized and choose to be a loner; they make this choice because they are conceited and believe that no one is as good as them. To the nonsocial offender relationships are simply a means to an end or a tool to be utilized; nonsocial offenders build emotional walls to keep out human emotion and put on a simple façade for the world around them. (Holmes, 50)

The disorganized asocial killer is a mentally and socially disorganized killer, who lives their life as a social outcast. The offender’s appearance, personality, intelligence, vehicle, home, and overall demeanor makes those around them uncomfortable. Most of these killers are non-athletic, shy, white men. Their home lives and childhoods have been unstable and emotionally painful their parents are not around which cements the feeling of being ostracized. Normally these asocial are high school dropouts due to a low intelligence and a general feeling of not belonging. A lack of intelligence coupled with a lack of education causes most asocial killers to only find unskilled or labor jobs. 

In relation to their crimes the asocial offender does not have the capability to plan the crime or to clean it up. Further, they do not feel a need to follow the crime or those investigating the crime however they do tend to follow the body. The asocial offender will write memorials to the victims in the newspaper and even attend the victim’s funeral. After the crime has taken place most asocial offenders try to relive their crimes often and will do so in several ways: visiting the crime scene, taping the crime, taking pictures of the crime or body, or writing details in a diary. Asocial offenders are sex offenders and will often repeat their crimes once they cannot get enough out of their criminal memorabilia. After committing their crimes, these offenders tend to look for a change that isn’t too drastic; for example moving to a similar location and changing to a similar job. 

Once the asocial offender is caught they only react to certain interrogation techniques.  These techniques include agreeing with the offender, showing sympathy, and carrying on polite conversations. The reasons they respond are due to the lack of human contact in the offender’s life. As long as the officer takes a kind and positive approach with the offender, they are more likely to be cooperative. Conclusively, asocial offenders are those in society who are looked down upon or looked passed due to their inability to fit in and therefore are forced to live within their own haunting world.  

The organized nonsocial offenders are different in almost every facet of life, from their mental capacity to their social acceptance. In an organized non-social’s life, there is a place for everything and everything must be in its place. Unlike the asocial offender the nonsocial is raised in a stable home and possesses an average intelligence which allows them to have intimate relationships. However these intimate relationships are normally artificial and completely one sided. Most nonsocial offenders have used drugs and alcohol, such as marijuana. The nonsocial offender has almost no problem leaving his/her comfort zone. The nonsocial offender feels a constant need to look and act in a flashy manner. The nonsocial offender will dress in flashy clothing and drive an extravagant vehicle. In relation to their crimes, organized criminals plan ahead and normally bring the murder weapon to the crime scene. 

After committing the crime, the killer will remove the body or at least the trace evidence that links the killer to the crime. Unlike the asocial offender the nonsocial offender avoids going back to the scene. They will follow the investigation and even try to ‘help’ the police out; one serial killer called it, “…a friendly nuisance” (Holmes 54). When interviewing or interrogating this type of killer, profilers recommend they be dealt with in a straightforward manner. These killers are con-men and will know if you are trying to con them. In the end presenting your case to them and showing the competency of the police force is the best thing anyone can do.  These types of offenders respect those who are capable yet they will only give admissions if they believe there is proof. The organized nonsocial offender is charming, witty, and the last person suspected of a crime however their egocentric view of the world is their downfall. 

Aileen Wuornos is a complicated case, as she can’t be classified into one of the groups specifically and is more of a fifty-fifty split between the two. First of all her childhood was not completely stable and she considered herself physically abused as a child. She had a very low IQ and dropped out of school; this is a clear sign of a disorganized asocial offender. Unlike asocial offenders, Wuornos did get married to a 60 year-old man; their divorce was only a few months after the marriage (Reynolds). Furthermore, she had a year-long relationship with Tyria Moore, which yet again is a sign of nonsocial behavior. When committing her crimes Wuornos showed a sense of premeditation in two ways; she actively looked for victims and brought the weapon to the scene..This clearly shows the premeditation and planning of a nonsocial offender. She picked all of her ‘johns’ up on highways which could be looked at from both the nonsocial and asocial point of view. Nonsocial killers feel comfortable in large open spaces; the highways could be considered a large open space. On the other hand the asocial killer is not confident enough to leave their comfort zone;  some say these highway could be considered her comfort zone as they were where she worked. When caught she responded more to the asocial interrogation techniques by she admitted to the crime to save her lover from being implicated.. For these reasons it is hard to classify Aileen Wuornos under one category as she can clearly fall into either of them. 

When categorizing a killer there are 4 subcategories for serial killers: the visionary, the mission, the hedonistic, and the power/control killers. Each category is distinct and different depending on the motive of the killer. The first category, the visionary, is a nonpsychotic serial killer. Instead of being in touch with reality the visionary has breaks from reality or hears voices. These voices are normally associated in the killer’s head with God or the Devil. This kind of killer does not fix the crime scene or remove evidence because the killer does not understand the consequences for his actions and would not see a reason to cover it up. The next category is the mission serial killer, who feels it is their mission to kill a certain group of people; for example, killers who only kill prostitutes may feel it is their duty to rid their community of these women. Others kill such minorities as African Americans, homosexuals, Jews, Catholics etc. The mission killer normally takes great pride in his ‘accomplishment’ even after he has been arrested. (Holmes) They are normally organized nonsocial offenders but can also be disorganized asocial offenders. 

The next type is the hedonistic killers who kill for sexual reasons. This type of killer does so solely for the purpose of sexual gratification. They may torture, rape, or dominate their victims to create fear. There is a 2nd subcategory within the hedonistic category called ‘comfort-oriented’ killers; they kill for the sake of gaining money or property. The most notable serial killers of the hedonistic category include John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, Robert Berdella, Jerry Brudos, and Dorothea Puente. The last type of killer is the power/control killer who receives sexual satisfaction by overpowering and controlling the victim because they believe, “What more power can one have than over life and death?” (Holmes 67). These killers fully understand the law and ‘cultural norms.’ Most of the power/control killers are at least partial sociopaths and will only obey their own rules. All these killers have their own distinct qualities that set them apart from each other far further than the two main categories of disorganized nonsocial and organized asocial.

Aileen Wuornos would best fit in the hedonistic killer in the subcategory of a comfort killer. Normally this killer is overly intelligent; however in that respect Wuornos does not fit the profile as she was of below average intelligence. In other respects, such as her motive, Wuornos fits perfectly. As a comfort killer her murders were conducted for personal gain; all of her actions were taken for the sole purpose of making money. She would use her position to first scout out those of the wealthier sort based on their cars. As a prostitute she had an excuse to be on the road flagging down men who drive nice cars and to get in their cars. After killing them Wuornos would take their valuables; later she would pawn them off for the best price. As money was her only motive it is clear that Aileen Wuornos was a hedonistic comfort killer. 

It is important to also focus on analyzing the victims of a crime as they can lead to a successful arrest. If one was to look at four murder victims and learn they all had the same doctor then one could narrow the suspect list down to the doctor office. Learning about a victim opens doors to learning about the killer and the actions they will take in the future. Each piece of information helps to find a connection between all of the victims and the killer; if all of the victims came from the same five mile radius then it is possible the killer lives nearby. Just as trace evidence is always left behind in a struggle; psychological evidence is always left behind at a crime scene. 

When a profiler looks at a crime scene and the victim profile, they look for ten different things: physical traits, martial status, personal lifestyle, occupation, education, personal demographics, medical history, psychosexual history, criminal justice history, and last activities. 

First are physical traits which include age, sex, and appearance description. The reason for looking at these is because killers subconsciously and consciously look for their victims based on certain traits; for example, an Angel of Death kills to ease pain and may look for the bedridden elderly. There is also the marital status which includes married or not as well as any affairs or if they are in multiple relationships. This is because the killer may be a spouse or a jealous boyfriend/girlfriend. The killer might also just be killing cheaters. Personal lifestyle is important and includes income, sexuality, and other normal daily activities; one’s personal lifestyle could put a target on their back.

 It is important to consider occupation or what they do and where they work. This is important because the killer could be a fellow employee, a boss, or a disgruntle ex-employee. It also open the door to the victim’s personality by talking to co-workers about how the victim acted during work. Education is also a big factor because most people try to associate with those of the same educational level. Therefore, when looking for a killer one might try to find someone with a similar educational background or intelligence level.

Personal demographics come down to simply where the victim lives and why they live there which helps narrow down the killer’s possible location. Another significant trait is the person’s psychosexual history which the victim’s sexual habits such which could range from necrophilia  to homosexuality. The next trait is the criminal justice history. This trait’s importance is because it is possible the killer is a cop or an ex-con who could be targeting those who he believes to be weak. Finally last activities which delve into what the victim was doing when they were killed.. It can show the circumstances the killer feels most appropriate to attack. Many of these traits can be clearly seen in the case of Aileen Wuornos. 

Aileen Wuornos’ victims were picked based on their physical traits, personal lifestyle, psychosexual history, and last activities; Richard Mallory, Wuornos’s first victim, fits this profile perfectly (See Appendix C. for Victim Drawing A. for Crime Scene Drawing). Mallory and her other victim’s were male and between 40-60 years old. Wuornos tended to aim for victims with nice cars and Mallory was no exception; he drove a 1977 Cadillac. Mallory also had a tendency to pick up prostitutes which is why he picked up Wuornos that day. His psychosexual history suggests that sex was a constant in Mallory’s life as he had even been convicted of rape charges. Mallory’s last activities included picking up Wuornos for sexual intercourse. Aileen Wuornos aimed for rich-looking, older men in order to rob them of both their money and life.

Convicting Aileen Wuornos was only possible because of a single fingerprint found on a receipt. In Florida, where Aileen committed several murders, the authorities require a fingerprint every time you sell items to a pawn shop; Aileen Wuornos sold stolen items, from her victims, to pawn shops on a regular basis to earn some money. (Aileen Carol Wuornos #805.) Each time she was required to leave a fingerprint on the receipt. When Richard Mallory was found dead it was reported that his radar gun and camera had been stolen; she pawned these items and others from her victims off. The police got a tip that someone matching the description of their killer had just sold some items to them. The police went to the pawn shop and lifted the prints on the receipt. They found these prints belonged to three aliases. All three aliases were connected with the name Aileen Wuornos. To fully examine this evidence we must first discuss the types of evidence.

There are six types of evidence: break and tear evidence, transfer evidence, dispersion, impression, position and patter, and intrinsic. The first type is called break and tear evidence which is when something is broken into 2 different things; for example: broken glass or a torn tissue. Then there is transfer evidence which is when something is transferred from one location to another. For example: fibers, spit, blood or dust. Then there is dispersion which is when one thing gives off dozens of pieces of evidence in every direction; for example: A gun giving off gunpowder or a person bleeding. Then there is impression evidence where something leaves an impression in or on a malleable surface like a footprint on dirt or a wound on skin. Position and pattern evidence is where the pattern of the evidence is what is important; an example is blood spatter, or the position of a body. Finally there is intrinsic evidence which is not normally incriminating until you take into account that a crime has occurred. Intrinsic evidence can be many things like money which is not incriminating until you learn it was stolen. (Andrade, Rossetti) A kitchen knife is a household item until you find human blood on it. Out of the six pieces of evidence which applies in this case?

The evidence of a fingerprint falls under transfer and intrinsic evidence. The reason behind this is because the fingerprint left was a transfer of oil from her finger onto the receipt. Also it is intrinsic because it is not a crime to have a fingerprint however, when the print is on a receipt for stolen items that are in relation to a murder; the print becomes incriminating. 

To collect this particular piece of evidence a person would truly only require a few things: fingerprint powder, and tape. To gather this piece of evidence first one would dust the receipt for a print using the electromagnetic fingerprint powder. Then the person would take a piece of tape and carefully place it over the print and press down until the print is securely attached to the tape. Then one would lift up and have a perfect print. Afterwards said person would place the piece of tape on a piece of paper and stick it permanently to the paper. Then the person would place the paper in a sealed evidence bag, properly label it and store it in the property room for later analysis. (Fairhurst)

After the print has been collected an expert would check out the sealed evidence bag and remove the print. Then they would use a high-powered microscope or a magnify-glass to get a clear picture of the print. To analyze this print a person look for different minute details called minutiae (How Fingerprinting Works). Every person’s print has either a whorl, loop, and arch. A whorl is when your fingerprint becomes almost a complete circle in the middle on your finger. (Fingerprint Analysis - The Basics) A loop is when you finger goes up from one side of the finger in a looping fashion. (Stuart) Finally an arch is when equally from both sides of the finger you print goes up in an arching fashion. Then there are further distinguishing markings on every fingerprint. (FBI) These markings are the minutiae; each person’s minutiae are unique. Such examples of minutiae are where certain parts of your fingerprint bifurcate or come together. (Fingerprint Analysis)Another way of telling unique prints is if that person has a scar on their finger which makes it even more distinctive. So when analyzing Aileen’s fingerprint the analyst would have looked for anything unique on her print no matter how big or small it was. 

The police used psychological analysis to determine that Aileen Wuornos was a cold blooded killer and a psychopath who was at all times aware of the difference between right and wrong. Learning more about serial killers can help stop them in the future. In comprehending what creates a serial killer or causes a person to snap helps one better understand what is required to stop and avoid more killers in the future. Aileen Wuornos committed horrendous crimes that she had to pay for spanning from robbery to murder. Wuornos believed she would kill again and she knew it was wrong as Aileen Wuornos herself said, “I am a serial killer. I would kill again…I need to die for killing those people”


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      Shalika 4 years ago

      OMG thanks have research paper do over her and it helps a lot

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      Mari'ay 5 years ago

      BIG HELP!!!! THANKYOU!

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      Ebony :) 6 years ago

      Thankyou so much, this helped me enormously!