When director Nick Broomfield sent a working edit of the film, I was so disturbed by the subject matter that I couldn't even watch it. Aileen Wuornos led a tortured, torturing life that is beyond my worst nightmares. It wasn't until I was told that Aileen spent many hours listening to my album Tigerlily while on death row and requested "Carnival" be played at her funeral that I gave permission for the use of the song. It's very odd to think of the places my music can go once it leaves my hands. If it gave her some solace, I have to be grateful.
Aileen Wuornos was born Aileen Carol Pittman in Troy, Michigan, on February 29, 1956. Her Finnish-American mother, Diane Wuornos (born 1939), was 14 years old when she married Aileen's father, Leo Dale Pittman (1937–1969), on June 3, 1954. Less than two years later, and two months before Aileen was born, Diane filed for divorce. Aileen's older brother Keith was born on March 14, 1955.
Wuornos never met her father; he was incarcerated at the time of her birth. Leo Dale Pittman was diagnosed with schizophrenia, later convicted of sex crimes against children, and eventually hanged himself in prison on January 30, 1969. In January 1960, when Wuornos was almost four years old, Diane abandoned her children, leaving them with their maternal grandparents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos, who legally adopted Keith and Aileen on March 18, 1960.
By the age of 11, Wuornos began engaging in sexual activities in school in exchange for cigarettes, drugs, and food. She had also engaged in sexual activities with her brother. Wuornos said that her alcoholic grandfather had sexually assaulted and beaten her when she was a child. Before beating her, he would force her to strip out of her clothes. In 1970, at age 14, she became pregnant, having been raped by an accomplice of her grandfather. Wuornos gave birth to a boy at a home for unwed mothers on March 23, 1971, and the child was placed for adoption. A few months after her son was born, she dropped out of school at about the same time that her grandmother died of liver failure. When Wuornos was 15, her grandfather threw her out of the house, and she began supporting herself as a prostitute and living in the woods near her old home.
On May 27, 1974, at age 18, Wuornos was arrested in Jefferson County, Colorado, for driving under the influence (DUI), disorderly conduct, and firing a .22-caliber pistol from a moving vehicle. She was later charged with failure to appear.
In 1976, Wuornos hitchhiked to Florida, where she met 69-year-old yacht club President Lewis Gratz Fell. They married that same year, and the announcement of their nuptials was printed in the local newspaper's society pages. However, Wuornos continually involved herself in confrontations at their local bar and eventually went to jail for assault. She also hit Fell with his own cane, leading him to get a restraining order against her. She returned to Michigan where, on July 14, 1976, she was arrested in Antrim County and charged with assault and disturbing the peace for throwing a cue ball at a bartender's head. On July 17, her brother Keith died of esophageal cancer and Wuornos received $10,000 from his life insurance. Wuornos and Fell annulled their marriage on July 21 after only nine weeks. In August 1976, Wuornos was given a $105 fine for drunk driving. She used Keith's inheritance money to pay the fine and spent the rest within two months by using it to buy luxuries including a new car, which she wrecked shortly afterwards.
On May 20, 1981, Wuornos was arrested in Edgewater, Florida, for the armed robbery of a convenience store, where she stole $35 and two packs of cigarettes. She was sentenced to prison on May 4, 1982, and released on June 30, 1983. On May 1, 1984, Wuornos was arrested for attempting to pass forged checks at a bank in Key West. On November 30, 1985, she was named as a suspect in the theft of a revolver and ammunition in Pasco County. On January 4, 1986, Wuornos was arrested in Miami and charged with car theft, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice for providing identification bearing her aunt's name. Miami police officers found a .38-caliber revolver and a box of ammunition in the stolen car. On June 2, 1986, Volusia County deputy sheriffs detained Wuornos for questioning after a male companion accused her of pulling a gun in his car and demanding $200. Wuornos was found to be carrying spare ammunition, and police discovered a .22 pistol under the Passenger seat she had occupied.
Around this time, Wuornos met Tyria Moore, a hotel maid, at a Daytona Beach gay bar. They moved in together, and Wuornos supported them with her earnings as a sex worker. On July 4, 1987, Daytona Beach police detained Wuornos and Moore at a bar for questioning regarding an incident in which they were accused of assault and battery with a beer bottle. On March 12, 1988, Wuornos accused a Daytona Beach bus driver of assault. She claimed that he pushed her off the bus following a confrontation. Moore was listed as a witness to the incident. Up until her execution, Wuornos claimed to still be in love with Moore.
On July 4, 1990, Wuornos and Moore abandoned Siems' car after they were involved in an accident. Witnesses who had seen the women driving the victims' cars provided police with their names and descriptions, resulting in a media campaign to locate them. Police also found some of the victims' belongings in pawn shops and retrieved fingerprints matching those found in the victims' cars. Wuornos had a Criminal record in Florida, and her fingerprints were on file.
On January 9, 1991, Wuornos was arrested on an outstanding warrant at The Last Resort, a biker bar in Volusia County. Police located Moore the next day in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She agreed to elicit a confession from Wuornos in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Moore returned with the police to Florida, where she was put up in a motel. Under police guidance, she made numerous telephone calls to Wuornos, pleading for help in clearing her name. Three days later, on January 16, 1991, Wuornos confessed to the murders. She claimed the men had tried to rape her and she killed them in self-defense.
The TV movie Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story (1992) starred Jean Smart as Aileen.
Wuornos was incarcerated at the Florida Department of Corrections Broward Correctional Institution (BCI) death row for women, then transferred to the Florida State Prison for execution. Her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in 1996. In a 2001 petition to the Florida Supreme Court, she stated her intention to dismiss her legal counsel and terminate all pending appeals. "I killed those men," she wrote, "robbed them as cold as ice. And I'd do it again, too. There's no chance in keeping me alive or anything, because I'd kill again. I have hate crawling through my system...I am so sick of hearing this 'she's crazy' stuff. I've been evaluated so many times. I'm competent, sane, and I'm trying to tell the truth. I'm one who seriously hates human life and would kill again." While her attorneys argued that she was not mentally competent to make such a request, Wuornos insisted that she knew what she was doing, and a court-appointed panel of Psychiatrists agreed.
An operatic adaptation of Wuornos' life premiered at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on June 22, 2001. Entitled Wuornos, the opera was written by composer/librettist Carla Lucero, conducted by Mary Chun, and produced by the Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts.
In 2002, Journalist Sue Russell wrote a book about Wuornos called Lethal Intent. In 2012, Lisa Kester and Daphne Gottlieb edited and published a collection of letters written over a ten-year span from Wuornos to Botkins. The book is titled: Dear Dawn: Aileen Wuornos in Her Own Words.
The theatrical film Monster (2003) starred Charlize Theron as Wuornos. It chronicles Wuornos' story from childhood until her first murder conviction. The film earned Theron an Academy Award for Best Actress for playing Wuornos.
The poem "Sugar Zero" by Rima Banerji is dedicated to Wuornos and appears in the 2005 Arsenal Pulp Press publication, Red Light: Superheroes, Saints, and Sluts.
Several Musicians have written songs about Wuornos, including Jewel ("Nicotine Love") and the New York-based metalcore band It Dies Today ("Sixth of June"). The poet Doron Braunshtein dedicated a poem to her, called "Aileen Wuornos", that appears in his 2011 spoken word CD The Obsessive Poet.
A song by "Dolly's circus" named "Aileen's song" was written and published in 2012.
Wuornos told several inconsistent stories about the killings. She claimed initially that all seven men had raped her while she was working as a prostitute but later recanted the claim of self-defense, citing robbery and a Desire to leave no witnesses as the reason for murder. During an interview with filmmaker Nick Broomfield, when she thought the cameras were off, she told him that it was, in fact, self-defense, but she could not stand being on death row—where she had been for ten years at that point—and wanted to die.