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Director Nick Broomfield made a
documentary about Aileen Wuornos in 1992, The Selling of a Serial Killer,
in which he showed how those around Aileen, including several policemen, tried
hard to make a profit while her legal team made no genuine effort to defend
her. This more recent film Life and
Death of a Serial Killer contains several clips from the earlier film, and
it is a more powerful production because it is better edited and it has more
interviews with Aileen, right up to the time before her execution. It also includes clips from some of Aileen's
trials and from television news shows that covered her cases. The combined effect of all these different
sources is make a convincing case that she was abused throughout her youth, she
committed her first killing in self-defense and that she was suffering from a
severe mental disorder when she was executed.
Broomfield meets several of the
people who Aileen grew up with, and goes to Troy, Michigan, where her family
lived. She was beaten, sexually abused,
and got pregnant when she was thirteen.
She had a baby who was put up for adoption, and she had to sleep out in
the woods even in the winters or prostitute herself as a way to be able to stay
in hotel rooms and keep warm. It was
just after the Viet Nam war and there were a lot of drugs around. The interviews with the people from her
youth are disturbing and fascinating, because there seemed to be such flagrant
acceptance of cruelty and the mistreatment of children in small-town
America. When she was sixteen, Aileen
moved to Florida. She married a
76-year-old man but the marriage only lasted a month after she beat him up with
his own walking stick. Then she started
relationships with women, and eventually became involved with Tyra (who was
later played by Christina Ricci in the movie Monster). It was then that the killings started, and
Aileen murdered seven men.
In this documentary, Broomfield
pays attention to the fact that Tyra was cooperating with the police and
Hollywood producers when she testified against Aileen. He clearly finds it problematic that Tyra
has financial and other prudential interests in getting Aileen prosecuted and
convicted. While there is strong
evidence that she is mentally ill, she is not carefully examined
psychiatrically and it does not seem that the state of Florida, or even the US
Supreme Court, are particularly concerned about executing people with serious
Aileen refuses to maintain her
defenses and she wants to forego her rights to appeal her death sentence. Despite her previous testimony, she now says
that the first murder was not in self-defense.
Her only concern about her prosecution is the odd belief that the police
knew about her first murder but didn't arrest her because they were hoping that
she would kill again so that they could become famous through her case. At one point, when Aileen thinks she is not
being filmed, she does admit that her first killing was in self-defense, but
she will not make any move to say this publicly because, sick of her life in
jail, she desperately wants to die. It
seems that she has many bizarre beliefs, including the idea that she will go to
heaven on her death.
The last interview with the serial
killer is especially disturbing because she is clearly out of touch with
reality, suffering from a delusion that she had previously been tortured with
sonic pressure. She predicts that she
will be met by Jesus, God and the angels when she is murdered. She is very clearly angry at society for the
way she has been treated, and she feels her actions were justified, but her
desire to die stops her from going into any detailed explanation of her
Life and Death of a Serial
Killer is a powerful film that shows the injustice of the American legal
system. It demonstrates that the thirst
for vengeance, money and political power trumps any understanding of mental
illness. Highly recommended.
© 2005 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Review of Monster
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long
Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His
main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and
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