Aileen Carol Wuornos died on October 9, 2002 at the age of 46; she was an American serial killer who killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. Born Aileen Carol Pittman in Rochester, Michigan, on February 29, 1956, her mother, Diane Wuornos (born 1939), was 14 years old when she married Aileen’s father, Leo Dale Pittman (1937–1969), on June 3, 1954.
Less than two years later, and two months before Aileen was born, Diane filed for divorce. By the age of 11, Wuornos began engaging in sexual activities in school in exchange for cigarettes, drugs, and food. She had also engaged in sexual activities with her brother.
Wuornos claimed that her alcoholic grandfather had sexually assaulted and beaten her when she was a child; before beating her, he would force her to strip out of her clothes.
In 1970, at age 14, she became pregnant, having been raped by a friend of her grandfather’s. Wuornos gave birth to a boy at a home for unwed mothers on March 23, 1971, and the child was placed for adoption.
A few months after her baby was born, she dropped out of school at about the time that her grandmother died of liver failure.
On May 20, 1981, Wuornos was arrested in Edgewater, Florida, for the armed robbery of a convenience store, where she stole $35 and two packs of cigarettes.
She was sentenced to prison on May 4, 1982, and released on June 30, 1983. On May 1, 1984, Wuornos was arrested for attempting to pass forged checks at a bank in Key West. On November 30, 1985, she was named as a suspect in the theft of a revolver and ammunition in Pasco County.
Wuornos subsisted on a vagabond existence as an adult, hitchhiking and engaging in sex work to survive. She was arrested during the mid-1970s for charges related to assault and disorderly conduct and eventually settled in Florida, where she met wealthy yachtsman Lewis Fell.
The two were married in 1976, but Fell annulled the union shortly thereafter, upon Wuornos being arrested in another altercation.
On January 27, 1992, a jury found Wuornos guilty of first-degree murder for the Mallory case and she received the death penalty.
Over the ensuing months, Wuornos plead guilty to the murders of the five other men whose murders she was charged with and received a death sentence for each plea.
Outside of court, she later admitted to the killing of Siems, whose body was never recovered. While on death row, Aileen Wuornos gained supporters who believed her claims that she had killed in self-defense.
Arlene Pralle, a “born again” Christian who said that God had called her to help Wuornos, legally adopted Wuornos in November 1991.
An earlier Bloomfield documentary, Aileen: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1992), portrayed Wuornos as a victim of long-standing sexual abuse and, especially, manipulation by the media.
As her execution neared, however, Wuornos downplayed the self-defense angle, leaving the world to wonder if she was a victim, a predator or just plain crazy.