Told in her own words, the story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was portrayed in an Oscar-winning performance by Charlize Theron in the film Monster.
Monster: My True Storyby Aileen Wuornos
"I'm a good person inside, but when I get drunk, I just don't know. It's just...when I get drunk, don't mess the fuck with me..." There have been few female serial killers but Aileen "Lee" Wuornos was an incredible example of this rare species of death-row inhabitants. All too often, female prostitutes have been the victims of male serial killers--the killings of Wuornos were the inverse of this. She was a child prostitute after running away from an abusive childhood in the hands of her grandparents straight into a disastrous adulthood of difficult affairs with both men and women and prostitution. Her metamorphosis from victim to attacker had brutal consequences: a stream of dead men. Following a renewed interest in this woman after the film Monster this is her story in her own words.
- John Blake Publishing, Limited
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Inside the Mind of Aileen Wuornos
By Aileen Wuornos, Christopher Berry-Dee
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2006 Christopher Berry-Dee
All rights reserved.
THE CIGARETTE BANDIT
MY MOTHER PLUCKED ME OUT OF HER BELLY AND LEFT ME WITH MY GRANDPARENTS. WE NEVER KNEW THE DAMNED WHORE. WE NEVER SAW HER AGAIN EXCEPT FOR FUNERALS. I SPIT ON HER. SHE CAN GO TO HELL.
OUR MOTHER SHIT-CANNED US TWO KIDS. THE MOTHERFUCKING BITCH WHORE SENT US IN A HANDBASKET TO HELL.
MY STEPFATHER WOULD BEAT ME OFTEN AFTER SCHOOL OR IF I CAME HOME LATE. HE'D MAKE ME CUT DOWN A WILLOW BRANCH AND HE'D USE THAT. I SOON LEARNED THAT THE THICKER THE BRANCH, THE LESS IT HURT. SOMETIMES HE USED TO BEAT ME WITH A BELT, THEN HE MADE ME CLEAN IT.
The twenty-ninth of February is a unique day. It was created artificially to try to make up for the fact that our year is really a few hours longer than 365 days. Aileen Carol Pittman was a Piscean leap-year child. She entered this world, a happy, healthy tot, on Wednesday, 29 February 1956, wrapped up in the warm and secure environment of Clinton Hospital, Detroit, Rochester, Michigan. Her parents were 14-year-old (some say 16-year-old) Diane Wuornos and 19-year-old handyman, sexual pervert and child molester Leo Dale Pittman. Many claim that Leo was a highly sexed, dictatorial figure who carried guns, but we know that they were married with the blessing of his grandmother who lied about their ages. So, one might say, Aileen was born – a dangerous breach birth – with both small feet on the wrong side of the tracks in small-town America.
The marriage between Diane and Leo proved to be tumultuous and, as is all too common in the western world's throwaway society, destined for failure. Indeed, it ended a few months before Lee was born: Leo left the young Diane to raise the new baby and her older brother Keith, a product of the same coupling.
Lee never knew her genetic father, who was soon jailed on the capital charges of kidnapping and raping a seven-year-old girl and taking her across state lines. There is some evidence to suggest that he had also killed a young girl. Leo was to spend some time in two secure mental hospitals. In 1971, while he was in a Michigan prison, this singularly nasty piece of work conveniently fashioned a noose from a bed sheet then hanged himself.
With small-city people living from hand to mouth, it is not surprising that Diane soon found the responsibilities of single motherhood unbearable. Welfare would not help her, and she sought what seemed to her to be the only way out. In 1960, when Lee was four years old, she asked her parents to babysit her kids, then in tears she phoned to say that she would never return.
Lauri Wuornos, a worker in the Ford factory, and his wife, Eileen Britta Wuornos (whom I shall refer to as Britta), already had three youngsters of their own: Barry, Lori and of course Diane, who had become pregnant by the worthless Leo who was now in jail for sex offences. Nevertheless, with the best will in the world, the couple officially adopted both of Diane's children on Friday, 18 March 1960.
Their home, with its sad, yellow-painted wood cladding, was an unprepossessing one-storey ranch amidst a cluster of trees sited off Cadmus Street in Troy, Michigan. Troy sits on Interstate 75 – the Dixie Highway – which features prominently in Lee's life history.
Innocent-looking and otherwise unremarkable, the house, according to Lee, was nevertheless a place of secrets in the rural, close-knit community consisting of dirt roads some 24 miles north of the bustling metropolis of Detroit. Near neighbours, who were never once invited to set foot inside, even for casual pleasantries, recall the curtains always being tightly drawn across the small windows of the Wuornos house. It was common knowledge that Lauri Wuornos and his wife kept the outside world very much at arm's length. They minded their own business and expected everyone else to attend to theirs.
Aged six, Lee started causing problems at home when she started taking an unhealthy interest in matches. While trying to start a fire with lighter fluid, she suffered scarring facial burns – perhaps a portent for things to come.
Lauri and Britta raised Lee and Keith with their own children, Barry and Lori, but they did not reveal that they were, in fact, the adopted children's grandparents, and, behind those shaded windows, frequent clashes of will took place between young Lee and her heavy-drinking, physically intimidating grandfather. The omnipresent third party was a wide, brown leather belt that he kept hanging on a peg behind his bedroom door. Lee later claimed that, at his bidding, this strap was cleaned almost ritualistically by her with saddle soap and conditioner which were kept in the dresser drawer.
She claimed she was forced to bend, stripped naked, over the kitchen table; the petrified child was beaten frequently with the doubled-over belt. Sometimes she lay face down, spread-eagled naked on her bed to receive her whippings, while all the while her drunken adoptive father screamed that she was worthless and should never have been born. 'You ain't even worthy of the air you breathe,' he shouted, as the belt lashed down again and again.
Sydney Shovan, who grew up two blocks from Lee, rode the same bus to Troy High School on Livernois Road. Looking back on those days, he recalled with a sigh, 'Lee always had bruises on her arms, cheeks and chin.' He added that everyone knew she was sexually active with her brother Keith. In fact, Keith was teased by the local kids about having sex with Lee while they were both drunk. Lee admits that she was having sex with her brother at an early age – how early we do not know.
'We all used to congregate at a place called The Pits,' said Shovan's sister Cynthia, who was a grade higher than Lee at Troy High. 'One time she was dumped from a moving van, fell badly on her head and no one attended to help her. I guess no one liked her that much.'
In fact, Lee was very much a loner amongst her peers. While the other kids sat around kissing and cuddling, Lee would watch from the fringes. No boys wanted to kiss her, but they would buy sexual favours from her in exchange for cigarettes. Thereafter, Lee became known as the Cigarette Pig or the Cigarette Bandit.
During her ninth year, a chemical explosion which Lee and a friend accidentally set off resulted in her sustaining severe burns on her face and arms. She was hospitalised for several days and confined for months afterwards. The burns healed slowly, but Lee worried that she would be deformed and scarred for life. The faint scars on her forehead and her arms bore grim testimony to the accident until the end of her days.
Aged 11, Lee had the shock of her life when she learned that Lauri and Britta were indeed her grandparents. She was already incorrigible, with her fearsome trailer-trash defiance and socially unacceptable temper. But now the girl felt she had been completely deceived. She became uncontrollable and her volcanic verbal explosions, which were unpredictable and seemingly unprovoked, inevitably drove a further wedge between her and her adoptive parents. Her adoptive father, the man she says had so brutalised her as a helpless child, the man who had claimed to be her dad for all those years, was a twisted fraud. She would take out her hatred for him on many of the men she would meet in the future, and she had an excellent tool at her disposal: sex.
Thrashing Lee had never worked – it only served to harden her resolve – so one Christmas her grandfather threw her out into the snow. She lived rough in the woods with a lad for two days before she returned home. Then she was thrown out again and slept in abandoned cars. Following this, and tired of freezing and having nowhere to stay, she ran away for a period of time with a girlfriend called Dawn Botkins. They hitchhiked to California. Dawn would remain Lee's closest friend until the day she was executed.
The two girls would sometimes hitchhike to Hawthorne Park in Detroit, visiting the extremely dangerous Seven Mile Road where they would buy drugs for Lee – she used them all, including downers.
A heavy drinker by the age of 12, on one occasion Lee awoke from a drunken stupor to find dried semen stains all over her clothing. On another occasion, at a party, other children watched as two boys took her while she lay drunk and curled up in the foetal position on the floor. Lee's troubles had well and truly started; soon they would be set in stone.
At school, teachers found Lee to be a poor student with some artistic talent. She could not concentrate, her mind wandered and she seemed to have a convenient hearing problem. By the age of 14, staff were so concerned by her behaviour – in one instance she set fire to a roll of toilet paper in a school washroom – that a teacher wrote, 'It is vital for this girl's welfare that she seeks counselling immediately.' No one took a blind bit of notice, especially her adoptive parents, a lapse which would cost them, eight men and their families dearly.
But she did have one other friend. A man with the Dickensian name of Mr Portlock, he was nicknamed 'Chief'. Hookers would visit him frequently. A creepy guy, Portlock lived in a rundown house close by and he had a reputation as an unsavoury character. Toni Nazar, who was employed as a housekeeper, claimed Portlock was 'a strange, weird man who had cancer'. Lee had no record player at home, so Portlock encouraged her to play her albums at his house while he would sit around leering as she danced. Then, with the young girl on his lap, he would fuss over her and give her money.
Lee became pregnant – some claim it was by her grandfather, or her brother Keith – and was sent to an unmarried mothers' home to await the birth of her child. The staff found her hostile, uncooperative and unable to get along with the other girls in the same boat. Lee gave birth to a baby boy who was put up for adoption in January 1971; the child vanished into obscurity forever.
The stigma of having a pregnant teenage granddaughter proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Lauri Wuornos had had enough. He threatened to kill Lee and Keith if they did not leave his house forever. There were terrible arguments between the strict disciplinarian and the more understanding Britta. Then, on 7 July of the same year under somewhat sinister circumstances, Britta Wuornos died. For whatever reason, the man's mind became unhinged. Bizarrely, he attempted suicide by trying to electrocute himself by flooding his basement and standing knee-deep in water with the power on. Shortly afterwards he moved home, and some years later he succeeded in taking his own life. Lauri gassed himself in his garage and Lee stumbled across the body. At his funeral, she turned up only to blow cigarette smoke into the corpse's face.
Diane suspects that her father murdered her mother, although the official story was that she had died of liver failure.
Shortly before her execution, Lee Wuornos radically changed her sentiments about her grandparents; however, by now, as Nick Broomfield confirms, she was tottering on the edge of insanity: 'My dad was so straight and clean ... he wouldn't even take his shirt off to mow the lawn. I came from a clean and decent family ... my dad blamed me for killing his wife. It was all my fault that she died.'
At her murder trial, Barry Wuornos was called to the witness stand to be questioned by the counsel for the accused, and he faced several searching questions as to Lee's early days. Barry started by stating that, 'It was a normal lifestyle, a pretty straight and narrow family. Very little trouble in the family while Aileen was growing up. They picked her up when I would say she was two years old. Father was a kind of disciplinarian.'
'What was your impression of your father?'
'Well, he was a strong character ... a gentle man ... laid down strong rules.'
'Did you ever see him beat her? Was he the kind of man who would beat a child.'
'Absolutely not,' came the emphatic answer.
Barry then went on to describe his father's interaction with Lee from the time she arrived at the house until he went into the army.
'Would you describe her grandfather as being abusive?'
'Not at all. Normal spankings, but the general rule was grounding for two or three days.'
'After you left for the service, did you stay in touch with Miss Wuornos?'
'Well, I stayed in contact with my mom and dad.'
'Did your mother and father provide her with a home, shelter, food and clothing?'
'Oh, yes,' came the solid reply.
He began to question the period during which Lee had been badly burned.
'Was medical care denied to Miss Wuornos?'
'She did go to the doctor for a period of eight months and received salves,' Barry replied. 'Mom took care of those things. She was a very quiet, studious, laid-back woman, very in the background. Much easier-going than my father, and no punishment of any kind came from her. My father worked at Ford and Chrysler as an engineer, was a janitor for a while and then worked in quality control ... He was strong on school. He was disappointed because I started at the university and dropped out to go into the service.'
He was not getting the answers he wanted from Barry Wuornos, so he turned up the heat. 'Was Aileen treated differently than any of the rest?' he asked.
'Not that I ever saw,' replied Barry Wuornos. 'One time she was going to be spanked and she brought up the fact that she was adopted and she said, "Don't lay your hands on me. You're not even my real dad." From that time, I never saw any attempts on the part of my dad to physically spank her.'
At the defence table, Lee was visibly angry at her adoptive brother's testimony and she started scribbling furiously on a legal pad.
'When did she learn that she was adopted?' the attorney continued.
'She was ten or eleven at the time. How long before that she knew, I don't know.'
The attorney now turned his focus towards Lee's mother – Barry Wuornos's sister.
'Lee's mother. What was she like?'
'She was like a normal older sister. She had run-ins with her first husband, naturally. We picked up Aileen at the age of two. And she was in no trouble at that point, but before that she was a model student at Troy and she got mixed up with Leo Pittman ... She was with Leo – an on-and-off marriage.'
'What about Aileen's father?'
'I knew very little about Leo. I remember he was trying to date Diane. He was pretty abusive. I remember one day he threw me down and threatened to choke me if I didn't give a message to Diane. He was generally a criminal type ... He was sent to prison and later killed himself.'
The attorney elicited from the witness that Diane had married around the age of 15 or 16 and that it had been a sore point in the family at the time.
'Did Lee do well at school?' asked the lawyer.
'Yeah, I think she did well in school until she reached the ninth grade. She had great artistic ability ... through letters in the service I heard that she was getting into trouble.'
The court learned that Lauri Wuornos drank around a bottle of wine a day, and finally that Barry came home one day and found his father dead in the garage. Lee claims she found her father and her brother was not around.
On hearing the sad news about Lauri, Diane Wuornos invited Lee and Keith to stay with her in Texas, but they declined. Lee, although now a ward of the court, dropped out of school, left home and took up a feral existence, a life of hitchhiking and prostitution, drifting across the country as her spirit moved her.
So, much to the relief of Troy, Lee was leaving on her right thumb. Taking little more than the clothes she wore and carrying a few possessions in a bag, she hit the road, seemingly ill-equipped to start a new life down south. In truth, Lee had all the necessary skills required of the profession that was beckoning. She had good looks, a tough spirit, a neat figure, a cheeky smile, the morals of an alley cat and a strong right hook. She knew what men wanted from her and she would do well out of any gullible guy who crossed her path. Her mind, however, was brooding and silent, a dormant volcano building up to an eruption.
Excerpted from Monster by Aileen Wuornos, Christopher Berry-Dee. Copyright © 2006 Christopher Berry-Dee. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I enjoyed this. It told more than what the movie did. The main reason I purchased the book is because I live in Brevard County whis is just south of where Aijleen Wuornos live and I followed the story on the local news. It gave me a better view on how she was brought up as a child and a better understand on her behavior.
I never thought that she or any human being went through such hard thing.
i love to read or watch real crime this is the other side of wuornos details not in the movie . gives you some insight to why she got the death sentence when she should have gotten a better defence .