Pretty wild true crime story, even as serial killers go. I suppose that there’s a miserable, hopefully miniscule cadre of people who have had a somewhat similar upbringing as Aileen Wournos’. Regular true-crime readers can probably think of a few off-hand; in a couple of cases it’s the abusive father who also turned out to be a killer.
I want to toss a quick disclaimer in: I can’t imagine that Troy, Michigan, was in an alternative universe in the 1960s. I’m just a few years older than Aileen Wournos, and grew up in a possibly nicer community in California. But there were nutty kids and families here and there, in every town and state in the ’50s and ’60s, just as there is today. It’s kind of difficult to take the author’s slice of life in Troy at face value. “At times it seemed that drugs and alcohol were all-pervasive. The infestation of illegal substances really took hold after …Vietnam. It began with pot-smoking, spreading to LSD and downers.” Had there been as much casual and deliberate mayhem in American towns as she depicts in Troy, it would be surprising that their weren’t a serial killer or two on every block of mid-century suburbia.
What is clear, and here the author fills in all the blanks with great care (not literally, as in a gun), is the pervasive network of abuse in Aileen’s home and family. If you perceive each transgression as a sort of blot on an Ab-Ex painting, the canvas of her childhood and youth would be layered with dark spots completely obscuring any pin-point of light. Oh, I forgot some of the nice outings, so, ok, a few dots of something resembling normal life.
The most disturbing aspect of her youth was the very early indulgence in sex. A few encounters would satisfy most kids’ curiosity. But she was more ‘experienced’ before she turned twelve than most people would be for most of their lives–in terms of numbers of sexual partners anyway. These incredibly demeaning experiences, ironically initiated as a way to exert power and control, condemned her to expect only the crudest motives to attention from others.
Aileen’s adult years were only different from her youth in that, not having a regular home (menacing as it was), her criminal tendencies developed further. Once she hooked up with Ty, she achieved a bit of a routine, but hardly any measure of stability. Another incredible habit of Aileen”s–second only to her sexual appetite–was the gargantuan amount she and Ty were able to drink. Especially Ty, as she not only consumed more (her case a day would knock out four of me), but she kept crawling back to work. It’s amazing that they didn’t get busted every single time that either of them drove anywhere. The time Aileen did get caught (the Colorado deal with her shooting and weaving around completely randomly) was so over-the-top it’s lucky that no one got killed then and there.
The author doesn’t exactly say so, but it’s pretty obvious that Aileen only got worse as time went on. Far from killing in self-defense as she claimed, each murder was in cold blood. I can see the displaced aggression/revenge motive in the sense that guys plus sex equaled abuse to her–that’s her justification–as she assumed that the ‘tricks’ were evil by their mere existence.
As I mentioned in my review of another notorious killer, Ed Gein, Aileen could only have benefited from counseling. Just as in Gein’s case, though, she was no more likely to have received appropriate counseling than she was likely to walk to the moon.
Although the author is dealing with a complex story involving many people over three decades, the shifts in narrative flow are often abrupt. In the same paragraph, even in consecutive sentences, she jumps from one character and/or time period to another. I could figure out these detours for the most part, but it’s unreasonable to expect the reader to know what the author’s intention is. Likewise when she slips into the trendy ‘up-talking’ mode, as in “…perhaps he was a witness or was even Troy’s murderer?” Well, was he? I don’t know, I’m reading the book, not writing it.
Despite some missteps, this is a pretty good read. It’s worth taking the time if you’re into the Aileen Wournos story or serial killer histories generally.