Serial killing or serial murder is a term used to refer to the brutal murder of at least two individuals by the same person in separate incidents. However, serial killing is not an ordinary event because it does not resonate with the nature of individuals. Several psychologists and researchers venture into this field to determine the factors contributing to impulsive activities like serial killing individuals. Consequently, most of them associate serial murder with severe psychological conditions due to childhood trauma and delinquencies that result from increased exposure to extreme environments. Therefore, this essay discusses the attributes of Wuornos that encouraged her serial killing habits and the theories that explain the reasons for the outcomes.
Aileen Wuornos made headlines in the 90s because of her murderous spree that left seven men dead. However, news reports suggest that investigators uncovered an eighth victim, whom she murdered after posing as a sex worker. Initially, Wuornos suggested that she killed the men in self-defense as they harassed her and molested her. However, upon further questioning, Aileen incriminated herself by saying that she killed these men for profit and only wanted to steal their money (Bremmers, 2020). The accused further added that she hated men, leading individuals to associate her dysfunctional nature with illness or the implications of a painful past. Seemingly, the defendant suffered in the house of individuals entrusted with her safety throughout her life. As a result, her behaviors are associated with the strain theory and borderline personality disorder.
The Strain Theory can be applied to analyze Wuornos’ behavior in the context of her childhood when she was experiencing torment and abuse. It was proposed by American sociologist Robert K, in the 1930s. The Strain Theory suggests that social pressure is derived from environmental factors like diminished income, poor education, and unequal opportunities (Rogers, 2021). Consequently, individuals who go through adverse experiences occasionally are bound to retaliate by committing unspeakable crimes, as in the case of Wuornos. The main strength of this theory is that it allows for developing the preventive mechanisms that will presumably stop the potential sexual murderers through clinical treatments. At the same time, the theory’s main weakness is generalizing the portraits of offenders, whereas, as a rule, only the extreme cases of abuse lead to outstanding proneness to the violence.
The Life-Course Theory of serial killing fits well into Aileen Wuornos’ portrait. This theory proposes the Motivational model that determines the desire to kill as resulting from the events included in the offenders’ biographies. The theory was developed by contemporary researchers Deepak and Ramdoss in 2021, who tested it in the recent research studies with serial killers in prisons of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India (Deepak & Ramdoss, 2021). The Motivational model provided by theory explains how serial killers’ motivation develops during their life courses, using the concepts of ‘nature,’ ‘deep resting life factor,’ ‘key incidents,’ and ‘trigger.’
Notably, Aileen’s being an abandoned child could be seen as the ‘nature’ of her life course, and her being raped by her brother, his friends, her grandfather, and family friends could be seen as the ‘key incidents,’ while the initial rape during her work as a prostitute could be seen as a ‘trigger’ factor. Presumably, the mentioned events must have impacted Wuornos’ further life choices dramatically. The theory’s main strength is its comprehensive approach, emphasizing the complexity and interaction among the motivational factors throughout the life course of the offender. Its main weakness is the lack of applicability in terms of crime prevention.
There are notable differences between male and female serial killers when considering the contributing factors. While men hunt their victims before killing them, women adopt other approaches to gather them or attract them first before committing the crimes. Moreover, men are known to kill strangers, but women are more likely to kill people they know (Harrison et al., 2019). Additionally, motivation is a crucial factor in determining serial murder behaviors. Compared to women who always have a reason to kill their victims, men are more spontaneous and can kill anyone without any reason. Finally, women adopt cunning means like poisoning their victims and are often more low-key in their actions than men, who are likely to use force and strength (Harrison et al., 2019). Therefore, the differences suggest variations in the approaches men and women use to kill their victims.
Serial killer cases attract massive media attention because most individuals find these issues fascinating and difficult to believe. However, these murderers are often out of touch with reality and suffer from severe mental and emotional disorders. As mentioned above, Wuornos suffered a painful childhood, experienced a poor quality of life, and was tortured and molested by the people she trusted. Thus, her behaviors can be explained by the strain theory and the theory of borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, there are notable differences between male and female serial killers, although these offenders suffer from similar issues and environmental pressure.
Bremmers, I. A. M. (2020). A Feminist Reconsideration of the Story of Aileen Wuornos: Hidden in the Shadows of the Media (Master’s thesis).
Deepak, S. A., & Ramdoss, S. (2021). The life-course theory of serial killing: A motivation model. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 65(13-14), 1446-1472.
Harrison, M. A., Hughes, S. M., & Gott, A. J. (2019). Sex differences in serial killers. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 13(4), 295.
Rogers, K. (2021). Making a sexual murderer: Developmental theories and generalization.