The first body was found on Dec. 13, 1989, by a pair of men searching for junkyard scrap to sell. Near the refuse they noticed a buzzard, its attention captured by a shape beneath a torn piece of carpeting. When they moved the carpet they discovered the partially decomposed body of Richard Mallory. He was naked from the waist up, and his pants pockets had been turned inside out. The buzzard had been gnawing on his hand.
In a wooded area off Highway 19, in Citrus County, Fla., David Spears' lifeless body was found on a dirt road. It was June 1, 1990, and the 43-year-old Winter Garden construction worker had been missing since May 19. All he was wearing was a baseball cap. A used condom was found nearby.
Almost every month brought a new grim discovery. All of the victims were middle-aged white males and most had jobs that required travel along central Florida's highways. Each one of them had been killed with a small-caliber pistol. In most cases, there were signs of robbery, and for a few, recent sex.
On a humid Fourth of July day in 1990, a Pontiac Sunbird belonging to Peter Siems, a man who had been missing for nearly a month, crashed through a fence near the Seminole Indian Reservation. Despite the fact that one of the vehicle's occupants was injured, they refused all offers of help and fled the scene. One of them left behind a bloody palm print, and witnesses were able to describe the two women, later determined to be Aileen Wuornos and Tyria Moore.
Tracing the Past
Aileen "Lee" Wuornos was born into a hard life in Colorado. Her parents were teen-agers who had separated before she was born. Her father had been incarcerated for sodomizing a 7-year-old girl. He later committed suicide in prison.
Wuornos' mother abandoned her in infancy, leaving her to the care of her sister Lori and her grandfather. She was 13 before she learned that the woman raising her wasn't her mother.
Although family members described a fairly normal, lower-middle-class upbringing, Wuornos portrayed it as a life of hell. She described her grandfather as an abusive alcoholic, who beat her sadistically with a belt "just for kicks."
When, as a teen-ager, she was raped and left pregnant, Wuornos claimed her relatives never believed her version of the attack and called her a whore. She entered a home for unwed mothers, and the child was later given up for adoption.
At age 15, Wuornos traded her hard life at home for the dangerous world of the streets. She started drinking and taking drugs. And she slept in abandoned cars or wherever else she thought she'd be safe. Security was rare-Wuornos recalled being raped at least five more times before her 18th birthday. What wasn't taken from her, she sold to pay for motel rooms and bar tabs. Most of her income came from prostitution, a career that would span nearly 20 years.
In her early 20s, Wuornos married a 70-year-old man. But the marriage was short lived. During the divorce proceedings, her husband countered Wuornos' claims of physical abuse with his own fears of assault.
After her divorce, she drifted through several relationships and was caught robbing a convenience store. She later said that she'd committed the crime to see if the man she did it for loved her enough to bail her out. He didn't. She was arrested less than an hour after the crime and spent the next two years in prison.
In 1984, she moved to Florida and had her first lesbian relationship. Her lover eventually stole her money and left her with a $400 phone bill. Worse still, the two had had moderate success in a pressure cleaning business. Eventually the business failed, and she turned to prostitution.
In 1986, at a gay bar in South Daytona, Wuornos met Tyria Moore, who later became her "wife." Moore may have looked tough but she had been dependent on others all of her life. She spent her days relaxing by motel pools near the rooms they rented by the week. While Wuornos hooked to support them, Moore watched television.
Everything changed in late 1989.
The Killing Starts
Richard Mallory, 51, was a Clearwater electronics repair shop owner with a penchant for strip clubs and sleazy bars. Sometime on Dec. 1, 1989, he picked up a blonde woman with a rough voice and a face to match.
All that is known is that he left 1-4 and drove his 1977 Cadillac Coupe de Ville to a deserted area.
What happened next is speculation. It started as a simple transaction-sex for money, according to Wuornos, whose version came out in a police confession more than a year later. Wuornos claimed Mallory became abusive and the two fought. During the struggle she managed to extract her .22-caliber pistol from her purse and fire a single shot.
Mallory moved back, injured but still very much alive. In her confession, Wuornos recalled to police: "I thought to myself, well hell, should I, you know, help this guy or should I just kill him?" For a moment she just watched the injured man bleed. He was still alive and still a threat.
"So I figured, well if I help the guy and he lives, he's gonna tell on me and I'm gonna get arrested for attempted murder and all that jazz. And I thought, well the best thing is to keep shooting him." She shot him three more times. Wuornos then carefully covered Mallory's body with a piece of carpet and drove off in the dead man's Cadillac.
That night, in a motel parking lot, she showed the car to Moore and displayed Mallory's valuables. Wuornos also told her that she'd killed a man. Moore remembers being scared but she didn't come forward with what she'd learned until much later. She tried to keep her companion from ever discussing it again.
The first killing was the hardest, said Wuornos. In her mind she'd killed Mallory in self defense. But some mental health experts saw Wuornos' initial murder in a different light.
"Perhaps these men were especially violent in some way. It could be something they said or did, or something they reminded her of," said psychologist Phyllis Chesler in an interview with "Vanity Fair" magazine. "There could well be a violent man in her past with whom she had such an experience, (and) under certain conditions years later she found a way to respond. In a way, Mallory had been the conduit for her rage."
Her rage grew and she killed a second victim, David Spears. "I shot him through the door, and then he kind of went back and I went right through to the driver's side and shot him again and he fell back," Wuornos said, describing the murder.
Charles Carskaddon, a 40-year-old part-time rodeo worker, became another victim. "He said, 'You bitch, I'm gonna die' ... And I said, 'I guess you are, you son of a bitch, because you were gonna kill me anyway,'" said Wuornos. Carskaddon's body was found in Pasco County on June 6.
Troy Burress, a sausage salesman was reported missing July 31, when his abandoned delivery truck was discovered in the Ocala National Forest. Four days later, his badly decomposed body was found by campers.