Thursday, November 18, 2010

In death, Aileen Wuornos has the fame she craved in life

ay, November 18, 2010, marks the 20th anniversary of serial killer Aileen Wuornos’s final murder. During her bloody killing year, she took the lives of seven men. In the end, she dropped her death row appeals, keen to get on her way to be with God, and was executed in 2002. But, I think she would get a kick out of seeing her face on the opening credits of television’s Criminal Minds amidst the mug shots of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, et al. And, I know she would enjoy still being written about. Her appetite for attention and celebrity was so huge that even before her murderous year, she actively tried to find someone to write a book about her life.

She scared off one would-be ghost writer. During their meeting, she hit him up to lend her money and turned ugly when he refused. She promised a great story and hinted at having information about some unsolved murders. But, he got out of there fast and never looked back. I’ve always thought Aileen perhaps witnessed, if not participated in, an act of violence or murder earlier in her life. (I don’t have the space to explain, but you can find out why in my book, Lethal Intent.)

Aileen definitely craved celebrity. She often mentioned her wish to “be like Bonnie and Clyde,” even asking her partner's close friend if she wanted in on her plan. Later, in jail, Wuornos boasted to other inmates, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Aileen Wuornos of television!” To her partner, Tyria, Wuornos bragged that she'd go down in history.

Her final victim was Walter “Gino” Antonio. On November 17, 1990, Tyria flew out of state to join her family for Thanksgiving. The next day, Mr. Antonio, driving to Alabama to see his fiancée, Aleen, made the deadly mistake of picking up Aileen Wuornos, who was working the interstates as a prostitute. Men on the road, Aileen knew, generally had a good stash of cash. Antonio wore a diamond and gold nugget ring--a special gift from his fiancée.

Aileen later claimed Antonio pulled a badge and, claiming to be a cop, demanded sex for free or he’d arrest her. He was a former reserve cop and did carry a badge, handcuffs, and a police-style billy club in his vehicle. She suspected the badge was a fake, bought through a private detective magazine. She was angry, and they argued.

Even with handcuffs and a billy club in the car, I doubt Antonio ever had the upper hand on her physically. When they argued alongside his car, she said, she reached into her bag for her gun, and they struggled. He fell, got back on his feet and, naked save for his tube socks, fled. Aileen, also naked, shot him in the back as he ran. She couldn’t recall how many shots she fired because she had drunk so much beer. Well, three bullets hit him in the back, a fourth in the back of the head. She regularly used empty beer cans for target practice and was a good shot.

Aileen said Antonio was still alive when she took his prized ring off his finger. If he was, he was likely drawing his last breaths because that year she was leaving behind no witnesses. Cursing, she tossed aside a set of false teeth he kept in the glove compartment, but she grabbed everything of value. She drove away naked, pulled over to get dressed, and threw out more of his personal items. Back at her motel, she parked his Pontiac Grand Prix, removed a suitcase from the trunk, and went inside her room.

When Tyria returned from her trip, Aileen slipped Mr. Antonio’s diamond and gold nugget ring on her finger.

His body was found a day later, and he was identified by his fingerprints. By then, the net was tightening. Sketches of Aileen and Tyria were aired on TV on November 29. Aileen’s longed-for fame was about to explode. That’s when Tyria left her, afraid she would be implicated in the murders.

After her arrest, Aileen confessed to killing seven men, and her conviction seemed inevitable. Even so, speaking to her the night before the verdict, she was so upbeat I knew she fully expected to hear “not guilty.” She was outraged by her conviction. She’d imagined herself being viewed as a hero. What was this serial killer stuff? Knowing how sure she had been that she’d be set free, when Judge Uriel Blount sentenced her to death the next day, my legs felt a little wobbly. She has been gone eight years, but it’s a moment I’ll always remember.

Aileen Wuornos was executed by lethal injection in October 2002, after a decade on Death Row. Award-winning journalist and author Sue Russell’s fact crime book, Lethal Intent, is being re-issued in November 2010 as a Kensington Books'True Crime Classic.” Follow her on Twitter or Facebook


obladi oblada said...

Thanks for that. A lot of details in that that are new to me, so I'll be checking the book out.

Camille Kimball said...

Interesting details. I know what you mean about being present the moment they pronounce a death sentence. Even when there is no reasonable doubt, it is still a solemn and bizarre moment.

What She Always Wanted
A Sudden Shot

Sandy said...

"Even with handcuffs and a billy club in the car, I doubt Antonio ever had the upper hand on her physically".

I think the reason most murderers are able to murder, is because they are cowards, they don't fight fair. They always take thier victims by surprise. It's hard to defend yourself when you're standing there with someone and they all of a sudden pull a gun out and start shotting, or grab you around the neck and start choking, or pull a knife out and start stabbing.

Kathryn Casey said...

Great post, Sue. Really enjoyed reading it. This is a fascinating case.

Sue said...

Thanks Kathryn for having me. Great to be back on Women in Crime Ink.

And thank you, Obladi Oblada (great name!)

Yes, Camille, hearing someone receive the death sentence is indeed solemn and bizarre - well put. Hard to describe that feeling really.

And yes, Sandy, very true. Once someone has a jump on you with a gun or a knife, etc., very hard to get away. One reason I recommend everyone read Gavin de Becker's Gift of Fear. It talks about listening to your inner voice which tells you before you even hear it, and I agree. I interviewed some men who "got away" from Aileen. One stopped for gas, sent her in to get cigarettes or something, locked his car doors and sped off. Something about her made his hair stand on end and he acted on it. How often we ignore those little messages! (Or not so little in the case of that man.)

FleaStiff said...

Fighting fair is like betting on a horse race that ain't fixed. Who in their right mind is going to do that but some chump?

I don't know the facts of that last murder but I don't have much sympathy for a guy who thinks he is going to run faster than the bullet!

FleaStiff said...

Upper hand?
Most fights go to whoever lands the first punch.

nthwdds said...

My wonder is what kind of abuse had she endured to have such a hate for men?