Was Serial Killer Aileen Wuornos Really a “Monster” or a Victim?

Reader’s Question

I am doing a essay on Aileen Wuornos. She was a serial killer who murdered seven of her “Johns.” [Note: The story of Aileen Wuornos is the subject of the Academy Award-Winning Movie Monster, starring Charlize Theron.]

Aileen was raped as a child and claimed that her first victim tried to rape her, and she killed him out of self-defense. Then she went on to kill six more men. I just want to know what could have made her go down this path. Did she “see” her rapes in each of her victims, or was it just pure murder?

Psychologist’s Reply

This is a great question. It’s so hard to fathom a wanton conscience-less murderer. It makes a lot more sense to most of us to think that such a person would be in some way (albeit pervertedly) avenging a brutal past trauma. But here are the real facts:

Aileen’s natural father, whom she never met, was a sexual offender and rapist who attempted to murder one of his victims, was imprisoned and hanged himself there. She was raised by her mother’s parents, who adopted her after her mother abandoned her. Aileen herself displayed sexual aggressiveness from an early age, engaging in sex with multiple partners, including being the sexual aggressor with her own brother and becoming pregnant by him. To explain her predicament, she falsely claimed she was raped by an unknown assailant. She put her child up for adoption.

Aileen first became involved with a 70-year-old man of great financial means. However, she was abusive to him (once beating him with his own cane) to the point that police had to be called several times, and she eventually left him. She then began supporting herself through prostitution.

It so happens that Aileen’s first murder victim was an electronic store owner who also happened to have a prior conviction for rape. She claimed he attempted to rape her, and she shot him in self-defense. He was shot numerous times, but this claim was made after she was informed of his history. One of her victims was actually a former child abuse investigator. There was nothing particularly remarkable about her other victims and no hard evidence that they were in fact “Johns.”

Wuornos made many claims, most of which are suspect. In fact, her claim that she engaged in over 250,000 acts of prostitution is preposterous — it would have entailed round-the-clock work with 35 clients an hour and would have made her rich. Her claim that every single murder was the result of an attempted rape is also suspect.

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As you can see, there are numerous aspects of Aileen’s history that suggest that her seemingly understandable “explanations” for her serial killings should be treated with much skepticism. Yet, it is much more acceptable to most people to believe that she must have been driven by some sort of deep emotional scars as opposed to being a cold-blooded and heartless individual who was significantly abnormal in her sexual and aggressive behavior from early childhood and who exhibited many characteristics of one of her natural parents whom she never even met.

We will probably never really know the truth about Aileen or what motivated her killings. But it’s important to remember that psychopaths (and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Aileen was a psychopath) are simply wired very differently from most of us and are capable of the most heinous acts. (I have some prior posts on this topic). They also tell people what they think people are most inclined to believe when it comes to explaining their otherwise unbelievable predatory behavior. They are capable of lying very convincingly and without signs of discomfort. They are adept at what experts call the art of “impression management.” One should always retain a fair degree of skepticism when trying to find some rhyme or reason to the behavior of persons who science tells us are born without the capacity for conscience.

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