Life Span: Aileen Wuornos

Life Span Paper

Aileen Wuornos

February 3, 2014

The odd date of February 29, 1956, marks the day Diane Wuornos, gave birth to a baby girl, Aileen Carol Pittman in Rochester, Michigan (Aileen, 2014).    Diane was married to Leo Dale Pittman, with whom she bore two children, Keith and two years later, Aileen (MacLeod, 2014).  Fearing her husband, Diane divorced just before Aileen was born. She found that her children were too much to raise on her own and abandoned them at her parents’ home (MacLeod, 2014).   Never knowing her mother, and her father, Dale was a psychopathic child molester, who spent his time in and out of psychiatric hospitals and prisons, eventually hanged himself while in prison (Capital Punishment).   Her father’s psychopathic ways began early in life in which he was known to tie two cats tails together, throw them over a clothesline and watch them fight to attempt to free themselves (MacLeod, 2014).  He was raised by loving grandparents who spoiled him, and when his grandfather passed away due to throat cancer, his grandmother spoiled him even more only to be repaid through beatings from her grandson (Macleod, 2014).  Aileen and Keith were adopted by their grandparents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos, in 1960 raising them alongside their own children (MacLeod, 2014).  Lauri, an abusive grandfather, would force Aileen to drop her pants, exposing her bare skin and beating her with a belt (Macleod, 2014).  Britta, her grandmother, was a strict alcoholic who never protected Aileen from the painful beatings (MacLeod, 2014).  At age six, Aileen and Keith began their rebellion by setting fires with lighter fluid, at one point causing Aileen to become severely burned and scarred (MacLeod, 2014).  It was reported, by age eleven, Aileen was already prostituting herself for cigarettes, beer, and money as well as having intercourse with her brother Capital).  Pregnant with her only child at fourteen, a son, she was forced to give up for adoption at birth (Capital).  A few weeks after giving birth, Britta passed away from liver failure, and Lauri threw Aileen and Keith out of the home, causing Aileen to take up hitchhiking while her brother took to death from throat cancer at the age of twenty-one, leaving her alone in the world (MacLeod, 2014).  Making her way to Florida, she married Lewis Fell, but the marriage was annulled in a few short months due to Aileen’s aggressive and abusive behavior (Russell, 2002).  She went back to the streets, hitchhiking and prostituting as a means of survival.  She met Tyria Moore in a gay bar in Florida, though Aileen was not a lesbian, it did not take long for her to develop an emotional attachment to Tyria and refer to her as her wife (Russell, 2002).  Soon, Tyria began to complain about money and stability and in an effort to keep Tyria from leaving, Aileen worked harder, only to find herself in a situation of being raped and beaten by Richard Mallory causing her to succumb to murder in order to protect herself (Aileen).  This single murder in self-defense, as Aileen claimed, led to the murder of six more men along the Florida interstate (Aileen).

Psychologists believe that individuals are genetically predisposed to certain behaviors, but environmental factors assist to define and strengthen or weaken them (Kowalski, 2011).  Aileen was predisposed to aggression, she had the genetic make-up from her biological father as well as her maternal grandfather.  Although her father was absent from her life, she was environmentally exposed to this aggression from a young age, through her grandfather, which caused her to portray the aggressive trait.   According to Kowalski and Weston, there are critical periods in which a human is sensitive to learning specific things that shape their development, and although a human brain is flexible in the learning process, there are certain periods in which stimuli from the environment is important for future development (p. 480).  In Aileen’s situation, she was abandoned by both parents and left in a situation where she was feeling unloved and a lack of emotion, causing her to believe that abusive behavior is morally acceptable.  This became eminent in her short lived marriage in which she was abusive to her husband and reverted back to her life of crime where she was not expected to show love nor affection.   Freud’s intake on moral development suggests that a mother is responsible for the majority of moral instillation through the amount they engage emotional response and affection in their child, whereas the father is responsible for the moral reasoning instilled in a child (Kowalski, 2011).  This proves true in the upbringing of Aileen.   Her “father” was beating her allowing her to think this was proper punishment for a person who has caused disappointment or upset.  Her “mother”, who should have been protecting and nurturing her, wallowed in a bottle of alcohol and allowed the “father” to continue his demoralization of Aileen.  In her past, as Aileen faced a tough situation, her defense mechanism was to become aggressive as her “father” demonstrated throughout her childhood.

The night that she was raped and sodomized by Mallory, she faced a dilemma:  Her original defense mechanism of aggressive behavior was overpowered and she was being hurt.  She grabbed her gun, which was for personal protection in her dangerous career, shooting him several times until he was dead.  She robbed him of his money and car and got to safety. Realizing the money she stole caused Tyria to become happy, Aileen was now motivated to kill again, six more times.   This murder spree correlates into cognitive-social theories, which claim that a person’s personality does not come internally, but develops from the way the person views the world, what they will gain from their actions, and that they have the ability to obtain the desired goal (Kowalski, 2011).  Aileen’s goal was to make enough money to support herself and Tyria.  After committing her first murder, she had a vehicle and money.  In her mind, she had been raped and abused and developed a hatred for all people (Aileen), this is the first criteria met for her repeated behavior, also known as encoding (Kowalski, 2011).  Since the first, “accidental” murder produced an unexpected outcome, she believed that if she repeated the action before providing sexual acts to her “Johns” she would gain what she needed: money, vehicle, and no rape. She had already murdered once, she could do it again, which fulfills the next criteria needing met for behavior to take place (Kowalski, 2011).  She didn’t murder in the same place twice, but she did make sure it was completed in a wooded area off the interstate which shows how she regulated her activities to accomplish her goal, meeting the last criteria for behavior to occur according to cognitive-social theories (Kowalski, 2011).

According to Cattell’s research on trait theories, two thirds of our personality is inherited while the remaining third is learned from environment (Kowalski, 2011).  Traits are described as “emotional, cognitive, and behavioral tendencies that constitute underlying personality dimensions on which individuals vary” (Kowalski, 2011, p.462), explaining why Aileen had such an aggression problem.  She inherited the trait then early exposure to aggression caused her to display the trait in her everyday life.  According to Eysenck’s Theory, Aileen’s personality would fall perfectly with the constellation (psychological type) of psychoticism.  Aileen committed crimes and murdered to gain financial support (egocentrism), she was aggressive on all accounts and interactions with people, and she had very few friends outside of Tyria (antisocial).  Her aggression and antisocial behavior was portrayed through a letter she wrote to the Florida Supreme Court, begging for the appeals process of her case to end.  She wrote, “I’m one who seriously hates human life and will kill again,” while asking for lethal injection as opposed to the electric chair since she volunteered her life for her actions (MacLeod, 2014, p. 12).  This statement also exhibits that she may have felt self-compassionate when writing to the court.  Ending her appeal would save time and money, she admits that she has done wrong and is taking action in sacrificing her life, for the crimes she has committed while also stating she will kill again.  If the appeal is dropped, she will be put to death, and others will be protected from harm in the future (Kowalski, 2011).

According to the trait theories, psychologists believe that even though a person inherits a trait, it is not prominent or fully developed unless the person is exposed to qualities of the trait in their environment (Kowalski, 2011).  Aileen was pre wired with immense aggression that was introduced to her through the horrific beatings she received from her “father”, in turn causing her to possess and display severe aggression throughout her life (Russell, 2002).  Additionally, the lack of love and affection beginning at birth caused her to look for gratification in ways that caused society to deem her as a social outcast, filthy prostitute, and violent bisexual who got what she desired through heinous crimes; all of which are evidence of the approach of psychoticism and labeling theories (Capital).  To explain Aileen under one certain theoretic approach is not possible, she falls under so many categories including the self-control and stigma theories (Capital).

Aileen Wuornos is viewed by society as a “monster”; a “monster” who never had a chance at a “normal” life.  She was brought in this world without love, carrying a genetic disposition and environmental deficits that she could not overcome.  The day of her death, she believed that she was saving people from being murdered by her and that her committing the murders she had saved a lot more people from being raped, sodomized and killed (Capital).  Aileen Wuornos died on October, 2, 2001 at 9:47 A.M., death by lethal injection.




Aileen Wuornos. (2014). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved 01:05, Feb 02, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/aileen-wuornos-11735792.


Capital Punishment in Context : The Case of Aileen Wuornos. http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/node/77454


EBOOK COLLECTION: Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2011). Psychology (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Lethal Intent by Sue Russell, published by Pinnacle Books, Nov. 2002. Available in stores, via Amazon.com.


Macleod, Marlee.  Aileen Wuornos:  Killer Who Preyed on Truck Drivers. 2014. Turner Entertainment TM & © 2014 Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved  http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/women/wuornos/11.html



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