Aileen Wuornos always craved fame. Long before she was hunted and caught by Florida law enforcement, long before she confessed to killing seven men, she told friends that she wanted to do something “no woman has ever done before” and to have a book about her life. But that life was ended by lethal injection after more than a decade on Florida’s Death Row.
Sue Russell’s book, Lethal Intent, is packed with exclusive material that sheds a different light on this rare, if not unique, serial killer. It contains insights and intimate memories from her family, friends and childhood peers (some of whom lost their virginities to Aileen, who began prostituting herself at a shockingly early age).
Lethal Intent reveals Aileen’s devastating double abandonment by her mother before she was age two, the crimes of her father, and the myriad events that helped set her path of destruction. It even contests the widespread superficial judgment of Wuornos as a “man-hating lesbian” via insights from men with whom she shared sexual and romantic relationships. Lethal Intent also explores the dynamics of her fateful relationship with Tyria Moore, the lesbian lover who knew Aileen was killing yet stayed by her side, and how those dynamics moved her closer to a life of murder. And much, much more…
Listen to Chapter 1, read by Cassandra Campbell, on Audible.
By 6:30 p.m., Wednesday 12 September, the sun was slipping low in a vibrantly clear, panoramic Florida sky as teenagers Paul Babb and Michael Smith pedaled their bicycles aimlessly, casually exploring a largely undeveloped wasteland intercut with a patchwork maze of dirt trails and paved roads, each ending abruptly in a cul-de-sac just short of the bushes. Less than half a mile off CR 484, just west of I-75 and Marion Oaks (a luxurious, gated housing community with a waterfall at its entrance), they weren’t far from home, yet this was new territory to them. It was a somewhat desolate expanse of low-lying brushland behind a power station, unpopulated save for a sparse scattering of houses.
Three-quarters of an inch of rain had fallen that day, barely cooling what had been a balmy 91 degrees. It was the prettiest, somehow laziest, time of day.
Pulling down one paved strip of cul-de-sac abutting some farmland, Paul and Mike (seventeen and fifteen years old, respectively) idly observed what looked at first sight like a lumpy heap of clothing piled close to the edge of the grass, to the left of a concrete culvert. Drawing closer, Michael was in the lead when, wide-eyed with horror, he focused in on the clothes.
"Come here quick!" he yelled to Paul.
"What? It’s just a pile of clothes," Paul retorted uninterestedly.
Slowed by the sandy road, he had dismounted from his bicycle and casually wheeled it towards his friend. He was within a foot of the clothing before he saw just what it was that seemed to have rendered Mike speechless. What had appeared from afar a shapeless form came into focus as something horribly different.
First Paul saw a man’s face, framed with gray hair, curled among the fabric. His bloody spectacles were raised up on his forehead. The man was wearing brown trousers and shoes and argyle socks, and was hunched forward in almost a sitting position, his torso curved over towards his knees. His white, short-sleeved shirt was heavily stained with blood both at the front and on the left shoulder. Protruding from his pocket was a Cross pen-and-pencil set. His left front trouser pocket had been turned inside out as if ransacked. He was still wearing his watch and his wedding ring. And he was obviously dead.
The boys’ shock was followed rapidly by plain fear. Might whoever was responsible still be lurking nearby? Their systems pumping into high gear, they clambered aboard their bicycles and furiously rode the two and a half miles back to Paul’s house without exchanging a word.
In a depression in this ravine, tucked at the foot of a huge spreading tree, sat one of a number of makeshift, fort-like constructions, patched together from logs, tree stumps, pieces of plasterboard, plywood and scraps. To prepubescent Aileen, this was no playhouse, however. It was a place of business; a hideaway where she calculatingly removed her clothes and performed sexual acts on boys for which they rewarded her with cigarettes or loose change. This little girl had learned at a frighteningly early age to disassociate herself from her body; to blank off her emotions.
Small, fair-haired and slender, this child-woman was courted by the youth from Troy and Rochester, in so far as they enjoyed her unusual services. But more significantly she was constantly derided and denigrated by them, pummeling the shaky self-esteem that lay beneath her bravado. Sought after one moment, rejected the next. Used and cast aside.
One not so unusual night, when Aileen was twelve, on the brink of thirteen, she slipped out from her room to keep a midnight rendezvous at the fort with a boy called Johnny, barely older than she. While they were coupled on the ground, a noise from above disturbed Aileen. Looking up, she caught sight of a trio of boys hiding in the branches of the tree spying on them, and doing a rather inferior job of keeping quiet. Realizing that they had been spotted, they snickered out loud. The laughter’s volume built; infectious schoolboy stuff. But as it increased, so did Aileen’s fury. Close to tears, feeling humiliated and badly betrayed, she started pulling on her clothes and backing away from the fort, but, not yet content, the descending boys harassed her further. They even had the gall to shout at her, noisily demanding a refund on Johnny’s behalf as if he were a dissatisfied customer at K-Mart. As she ran off into the woods, she could hear the sound of their laughter pealing out behind her.
She hinted around the subject of killing, tantalizing rather than revealing. Never came right out and admitted to killing anyone herself, or even to witnessing any murders. Just sat there with a kind of smug smile, repeating her claim that she knew about some murders no one else knew about. She also bragged how tough she was and said she knew her way around weapons. When she ran with the biker gang, she was into a lot of violence.
The beer supply was drying up and Lee (Aileen’s nickname while living in Florida) was anxious to replenish it. There were people who owed her money, so she didn’t have any cash right now: could Paul loan her some?
"You know I work in the store and it doesn’t pay," he hedged, not liking this turn of events. "I don’t have but a few dollars on me."
"Give me what you’ve got," she said aggressively.
"No, ma’am. I have to live till pay day."
"Don’t give me that bullshit you don’t have any money. What are you afraid of?"
With his refusal to comply, the so-called interview took a vicious turn. Lee grew belligerent, calling him ugly names and using foul language.
Paul tried to steer the conversation back onto the presumably safer ground of the autobiography she wanted him to write for her. Privately, he’d already decided he wanted no part of it. He didn’t want to deal with her, let alone write about her.
Making his excuses, he edged towards the door with Lee still pushing for money. By the time he walked away from the Carnival, she had somehow talked him out of ten bucks. That left him just five for himself.
"I’ll bring it into the store in a couple of days," she promised.
"What are you going to do about the writing?"
"I’ll be in touch," Paul lied, more than happy to write off the ten bucks to experience. He decided this must be her pattern. Hitting people up for cash. He counted himself lucky to get off so lightly. But he still felt rattled. It had been an upsetting, disturbing encounter and he wanted to forget it as quickly as possible.
Predictably, he didn’t see his money again, but he did see Lee a few months later, bumping into her back in the store. He was then dating one of the staff (who later became his wife) and had just stopped by when Lee appeared in the company of a homely-looking, much older man. The fellow was perhaps in his late sixties and behaved as if he thought he’d struck pay dirt with her.
Lee ran up and down the aisles, gathering beer and stacking it on the counter, giggling merrily. Then she went over to her companion and held out her hand, and he pulled out a wad of bills. Paul was alarmed. She then scampered over to another aisle and returned with a pack of condoms, which she waved, teasingly, under the man’s nose. He looked happier than a clam. He paid for everything, then they took off in his beaten old van.
Paul agonized over what he’d seen. During their evening together, she had not mentioned prostitution. But she had mentioned violence. What was going to happen to that old fellow? Was she going to rob him blind? He thought hard about calling the cops and debated it with his girlfriend.
"I know what they’ll tell me," he fretted. "They’ll say, ’Nobody has committed any crime. Forget it.’" He had talked himself out of doing anything.
But Lee’s ambition to have an autobiography burned on, undimmed. She talked to another writer and clipped and carefully saved those questionable advertisements that run in the backs of magazines, enticing amateur hopefuls with messages like, "Looking For a Publisher" or "Be An Author." One day there’d be a book about her.
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