What do you say about a dead serial killer? That she was notorious and nasty and of no account? That she preyed on middle-aged men, trolled the highways as a prostitute, brokered the saddest sex this side of lethal? That execution for a capital crime means never having to say you're sorry? Surprisingly, none of the above.
On Dec. 4, The Last Resort, Aileen Wuornos' biker-bar hangout and the site of her arrest in January 1991, observed the second anniversary of her date with lethal injection by holding a memorial in her honor. There were no wet T-shirt contests, happy hours or karaoke to mark the anniversary. Serial-killer kitsch, apparently, is not a niche market boosting the Daytona Beach bar business. The Last Resort is more interested in preserving artifacts of Wuornos' life, many of which have little to do with her brutal crime spree in 1989 and 1990.
Six women showed up, not for revelry, but to gather around a picnic bench outside The Last Resort and review the black book of Wuornos' life and death. Three of the women came in from Dade City. Two a mother and a daughter were from Atlanta. Another was from Winter Springs. The viewing of the book was presided over by Al Bulling, owner of The Last Resort, an unlikely keeper of a memorial flame and a man not given to understatement.
Originally, the memorial was to be a barbecue, scheduled closer to the anniversary of Wuornos' actual execution, which took place Oct. 9, 2002. Then Hurricane Jeanne blew in and changed the plans.
Despite Wuornos' posthumous status as an international sensation, the memorial started off low-key. The only attendees were the bartender, a former retail manager and an Army veteran from Melbourne ("first time I been here") who told tall tales over the strains of classic rock and traffic.
At around noon, the three women from Dade City sat down at the bar, ordered drinks and asked the bartender about the Wuornos memorial. The bartender was new, but said she'd call Bulling and ask about it.
Bulling is no stranger to the media. He's appeared on television and he's been quoted in newspaper articles discussing Wuornos and her association with The Last Resort. Charlize Theron, who starred in Monster, Hollywood's version of Wuornos' life, has hung out in his bar. So have some girls from California who moved here and had portraits of Aileen tattooed on their backs. The girls, along with Dawn Botkins, Wuornos' pal from up north, were supposed to have organized the memorial, but one thing or another got in the way and it was left to Bulling to carry on the memory of Florida's most notorious serial killer this December day.
At a picnic table in the sunshine, surrounded by women, Bulling leafed through a black notebook of copied court documents sectioned by tabbed dividers. An elementary school photo of Wuornos adorns the cover. Inside are snapshots of Wuornos and Botkins in happier days, a picture of Wuornos' last meal order from the prison commissary (sausage biscuit, barbecue chips) and a rolled-up plastic garbage bag marked with the date Jan. 6, 1991, that contains Wuornos' brassiere.
"It's held together with Band-Aids," Bulling says.
"Yeah, it looks a little rough," one of the women replies.
Bulling is the only one at the table who knew Aileen. The women are here because they saw Monster and found it interesting or sympathetic.
"Patty Jenkins wrote that movie the way Aileen wanted her to write that movie," says Bulling. "That was how Aileen told it to her. She wrote 7,000 letters on death row. Some of her letters were 40 pages long. They could've probably made another movie out of all this."
To date five books, two movies, two documentaries and an opera have been written about Wuornos' life. "Kids are even using it for school projects," says Bulling of the accumulated Wuornos research. "We still get phone calls. 'Was she really here?'"
Bulling notes, however, that he never hears from the families of the seven men Aileen robbed and murdered. "They asked me that in the 20/20 interview," he says. "I didn't like what I heard when it aired. They twisted my words." ABC's 20/20 said that there was no proof that Wuornos was ever molested by any of her victims, as portrayed in the movie.
"I wonder if she'd've done it if she hadn't been raped the first time," says one of the women from Dade City.
"I think `the women who were going to organize the memorial` wanted people to know that she wasn't the person people thought she was," says Bulling.
He leafs through the pages of confessions and the letters, all of which document Wuornos' admission of her crimes and the events leading up to them. "These documents are the truth," Bulling says. "Not the Hollywood version."
Wuornos' handwriting was neat and legible. She used a lot of exclamation points and smiley faces, and drew little cartoons to punctuate her words. In the binder there are some pen-and-ink drawings that Wuornos did in prison. Most feature dark skies, the moon, pine trees, fences and snug brick houses surrounded by snow. They eerily foreshadow one of Bulling's own snapshots, a picture of a lone tree on a snowy landscape. The tree marks the spot where Botkins buried Wuornos' ashes on her Michigan property.
"She didn't have a life," says Bulling. "She thought there was a better one somewhere else. We want to get a building to put all her stuff in. Her LA Gear autographed sneakers. That Members Only jacket she stole. Play the music that she wanted played. Whatever Dawn wanted to be done."
Irma, the woman from Atlanta who brought her mother, is disappointed in the memorial. "I thought there were going to be a lot of people here. We drove. I took two days off. My mother hurt her arm, but she still wanted to come."
"I would've done a barbecue," Bulling says, "the hurricane messed it up."
Yes, nature is unpredictable. The memorial at The Last Resort was intended to be one thing, and it turned out to be another. There may or may not be another one. In retrospect, Aileen's life itself seemed like a gathering storm. Now it's passed.