Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer Charlize Theron portrays in the thriller Monster, was a drifter and sex worker who murdered seven men throughout Florida in 1989 and 1990. Like fellow drifter Charles Manson, Wuornos possesses a harrowing serial killer origin that somewhat explains why she committed such horrific crimes. While there's no excuse for taking a human life, Wuornos seems like she was bred to become a murderer - even more than other serial killers with terrible childhoods. Cruel guardians raised her, and she had to turn to sex work at a young age just to eat. The following stories aren’t meant to excuse what she did, but they do put her terrible crimes into context.
As with other drifter-killers, it’s impossible to corroborate many of Wuornos’s claims. By the time she was apprehended in 1991, Wuornos was so adept at lying it’s likely she mythologized much of her upbringing. Nonetheless, there are still some Aileen Wuornos childhood facts that have been verified by researchers and family friends.
Born on leap day in 1956, Aileen Wuornos's family neglected her from an early age. Shortly after she was born, Wuornos's abusive father was sent to prison for sexually assaulting children. He hung himself while in jail and the two never met. Wuornos's mother eventually left the girl and her brother, Keith, with their grandparents. This kind of treatment can sometimes lead to an attachment disorder, which may ruin someone's ability to form long-term relationships.
Around age 4, Wuornos and her brother were handed off to their maternal grandparents, Lauri and Britta. Allegedly abusive and alcoholic, the grandparents chose not to tell Aileen or Keith they were adopted until they were 12 years old.
According to Lori Grody, Lauri and Britta's natural daughter who grew up with Aileen, Lauri would take away Christmas presents from his granddaughter whenever they arrived from her mother, Diane. On top of that Dickensian style of parenting, Lauri once forced the young Wuornos to watch as he drowned a cat. In 1976, Lauri died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but it's unclear whether it was intentional.
The story of Wuornos's pregnancy is one of the few pieces of her backstory that's been corroborated, but like much of her past, it's clouded in misremembering and rumor. Many retellings of her origin story claim Wuornos's brother, Keith, was the father of her child. While that's possible, there's a more likely, and equally as troubling, explanation. Other versions allege her grandfather's friend impregnated her.
Both in the Nick Broomfield documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer and in an interview with Broadly, Wuornos's best friend, Dawn Botkins, claims that Wuornos was raped and impregnated by a known pedophile. Botkins told Broadly:
The guy that raped her... was, like, 60 years old, and he loved all the kids. [Aileen] was drunk, and he'd take advantage of her and sh*t like that, so that's who she got pregnant by.
After she gave birth at age 15, she named the boy Keith after her brother, fueling rumors the baby was his. Her grandfather, however, forced her to put the infant boy up for adoption, and she never saw him again.
While Wuornos never knew her father, an allegedly abusive alcoholic who sexually assaulted children, she grew up with another allegedly abusive alcoholic who reportedly sexually assaulted her. Wuornos's grandmother, herself believed to have been an alcoholic, apparently did not help her granddaughter in these situations, adding to her traumatic home life.