Criminal theories based on biological, psychological, sociological, and socio-psychological factors have been constructed in an attempt to better identify the causes of crime and what drives an individual to behave in a deviant manner. While data on male serial killers is prevalent, the data and statistics available in regards to female serial killers are extremely limited. One of the most well-known female serial killers, in recent years, is Aileen Wuornos whose criminal career was thrown into the spotlight with the 2003 film Monster. Wuornos is the first convicted female serial killer in the United States; she was subsequently executed in 2002 for her crimes.
Aileen Wuornos is considered to be the first predatory female serial killer in the U.S. And there are many factors that may have led her to develop criminal behaviors. Wuornos was born on February 29, 1956 to Diane Wuornos and Leo Pittman (Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p. 383). At the age of six months and then again when Wuornos was two, Wuornos and her 11-months older brother, Keith, were abandoned by their mother and subsequently taken in by their abusive grandparents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos. Wuornos never met her biological father, Pittman, as he and her mother Diane divorced before Wuornos was born; furthermore, Pittman was incarcerated on charges stemming from the sexual abuse of a seven-year-old child at the time that Wuornos was born and would later commit "suicide while serving a life sentence for his crime" (Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p. 384).
Wuornos and her brother lived with their grandparents under the assumption that they were her biological parents and that her mother, Diane, was their sister. It was at the age of 11 that Wuornos learned the true familial hierarchy and the circumstances that led Wuornos and her brother to be sent to live with their grandparents (Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p. 384). While Wuornos and her brother were raised in conjunction with her aunt and uncle, Lori and Barry, whom she assumed to be her brother and sister, only Wuornos and her brother were subjected to the cruelty of their grandfather. Wuornos alleges that she was subjected to "numerous beatings with a leather strap on her bare buttocks. On several occasions she was required to lay face down, naked, spread eagle on the bed for her whippings" (Ahern, 2001; Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p. 383). It is possible that Wuornos' abuse stemmed from frustrations and displaced anger that were directed at her absent mother, and possibly also directed at her father, by her grandparents. Moreover, Wuornos claimed that she was often beaten on consecutive days and not given a chance to recover from the previous days' beatings. Wuornos also claimed to have been sexually assaulted by her grandfather, among other people. Wuornos fell into a similar pattern of deviance and promiscuity that was exhibited by her mother and soon after her fifteenth birthday. It was also during this time that Wuornos learned to trade sex or sexual acts for cigarettes or loose change. Additionally, it was also during this time that Wuornos juvenile delinquency began; delinquent behavior included shoplifting, vulgarity, underage drinking, and instigating fights.
At the age of 20, Wuornos married a man that was 50 years her senior; the marriage would only last one month during which her husband accused her of assault and had a restraining order issued against her (Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p. 385). Wuornos was repeatedly arrested following her divorce on charges that included assault and battery, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, robbery with a deadly weapon, and multiple weapons offenses; several other criminal charges were pressed against her under various pseudonyms that she had previously used. It was when Wuornos was in her thirties that she began to "seduce" men and murder them in cold blood.
Wuornos's first victim was Richard Mallory, a 51-year-old divorced man from Clearwater, Florida who often frequented gentlemen's clubs and procured the services of prostitutes in his free time. While Mallory had no history of attacking women in the 20 years before his murder, Wuornos claimed that he had raped her. Wuornos would allege that her other six victims also tried to rape her.
While in the majority of serial homicides a motivating factor for the crime is the sexual gratification derived from murder, Wuornos would often murder the men that she targeted before any sexual activity transpired. Wuornos would often loiter along Florida's highways until someone stopped and offered her a ride to her destination; it was only after she was in the car that Wuornos would freely admit that she was a prostitute and that she needed help to make money. If things went according to Wuornos's plan, the victim would then pull off into a secluded area where Wuornos would proceed to take off her clothes and discuss prices. After some hugging and kissing had commenced, Wuornos would coax her victim to undress; it was while her victims were undressing that Wuornos would exit the car while taking her belongings with her. Wuornos would then shoot her victims, sometimes multiple times, once they perceived that they were in danger, often screaming at them, "I knew you were going to rape me!" (Russell, 1992, p. 149; Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p. 386). Afterwards, Wuornos would get dressed, rummage through her victims personal effects taking money and other valuables, and return to her lover, Tyria Moore with whom she was engaged in a homosexual relationship. Despite Wuornos's allegations that she acted out of self-defense, she was convicted of predatory and serial homicide.
There are several theories that may be analyzed in order to determine what motivated Wuornos to act in the manner she did. One such theory is the general theory of crime. The general theory of crime contends that self-control and opportunity are essential factors in determining the probability that a crime will occur (Schulz, 2004). In Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime, they contend that "people pursue self-interest by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, and that in this conception, crimes are also events that satisfy self-interest (Schulz, 2004, p. 64). Moreover, Gottfredson and Hirschi hold that self-control is a personality trait and/or characteristic and the lack of self-control is one of the bases for criminal behavior. Gottfredson and Hirschi contend, "a tenuous bond to society, accompanied by ineffective child-rearing practices, will favor the maintenance of low self-control, which in turn will support offending (Schulz, 2004, p. 64). As previously mentioned, Wuornos was abandoned by her mother at a young age and she, along with her brother, were treated differently than Lauri and Britta's biological children. Furthermore, the emotional distance that was created by her grandmother, Britta, did not allow for any formation of a mother-daughter like bond to occur. It can also be argued that the lack of discipline and/or a stable familial structure contributed to the lack of self-control that was exhibited by Wuornos. The general theory of crime argues that "offenders, or people with low self-control…have a tendency to respond to tangible stimuli in the immediate environment, to have a 'concrete here and now' orientation…tend to be adventuresome, active, and physical…and eventually tend to be self-centered, indifferent, or insensitive to the suffering and needs of others.
Self-control alone cannot be source of criminal behavior; an individual lacking self-control must also take advantage of the opportunity to commit a crime in order to fulfill the general theory of crime. Schulz (2004) contends that "criminal behavior occurs when individuals with low self-control encounter opportunities to engage in force and fraud." Additionally, Gottfredson and Hirschi "recognize that criminal opportunities tend to repeat themselves and that arrest records may therefore show apparent specialization" (Schulz, 2004, p. 70). Given this rationale, it can be argued that criminal opportunities allow the individual lacking…