Aileen Wuornos, often labelled America’s “first female serial killer,” was executed by lethal injection in Florida in 2002. Her life was one of endless trauma and abuse, beginning as a child and extending into her adult life, as a prostitute. The men she killed were said to be johns — she insisted all these murders were done in self-defence.
Phyllis Chesler recently published a book about Wuornos, exploring her life, crimes, and trial. Chesler was heavily involved in Wuornos’ case back in the 90s, viewing her then as “a feminist folk hero of sorts,” responding to threats against her life, and wanted the world to understand the trauma endured by women in prostitution. Chesler saw a potential defense of Wuornos in a version of “battered women’s syndrome” — something traditionally used to defend women who kill their abusive husbands after years of torture, claiming self-defence.
In November, Chesler published Requiem for a Female Serial Killer, a “psychological crime thriller.” She is a retired professor of psychology and women’s studies and the author of numerous books, including Women and Madness and A Politically Incorrect Feminist.
I spoke with her on October 20, 2020, over the phone, from her home in New York.