Wuornos vs. Dahmer: The ‘Monster’ and the ‘Friend’

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Female killers like Aileen Wuornos are depicted as purely evil without thought to their backgrounds. Male killers are psychoanalyzed and often excused as insane or former victims. This difference can be seen the portrayal of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in a new coming-of-age movie.

The film depiction of Wuornos, the first female serial killer, was titled “Monster” (2003). Meanwhile, the new movie about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is titled “My Friend Dahmer,” a biopic about how he became a serial killer. The movie trailer described Dahmer as a “shy, alcoholic teen who never quite fit in.” The trailer ends with Dahmer declaring, “I’m just like anybody else.” Apparently, someone took the time to explore his social awkwardness as a youth and how he developed or evolved into becoming one of America’s most notorious serial killers.


Wuornos, however, was simply seen as a prostituting monster who preyed on unsuspecting men. While I loved the film portrayal, particularly the acting (Charlize Theron), of Wuornos’ killing spree that led to her capture, I always had an issue with the fact that the movie never explored how or why she possibly became a monster. Imagine a movie titled “My Friend Wuornos” or “My Bestie Wuornos.” Would movies with these titles even see the light of day?



She was framed as a demented, evil bitch, and we learned nothing about her past from the film. We assume she had a mother and father, but we didn’t know what kind of parents they were to her. Meanwhile, we learn all about Dahmer’s family, upbringing, and deviation in his biopic. We were essentially allowed to see how he evolved. The aim was to humanize him, but his victims had no face. They were not even mentioned. There was no talk of their suffering or their families’ suffering, or even how they came in contact with Dahmer.

When the story first broke about Wuornos, I was in graduate school studying journalism. Much of our class discussions, in fact, were centered on the reporting of her crimes. We often discussed her childhood and how she was a victim before she became a victimizer. Because I was in Florida, where the murders occurred, at the time, I would say the reporting was much more in depth. Her own father was allegedly a pedophile who killed himself in prison. Her mother was schizophrenic, and her grandfather who raised her had reportedly molested her. She began informally prostituting while still in elementary school and gave birth by the age of 14 probably from a relative.

In following her story, it was clear that she began to hate men after some time. She saw them only as a means to an end, as they saw her. Ultimately, at some point, she decided she was going to use and abuse them before they did it to her.

The diminutive (5’4”) female killer didn’t hunt her victims as Dahmer had. She executed men who picked her up for prostitution, as she had worked as a highway prostitute for much of her adult life. The dead bodies of several of the men were found along the highways of northern and central Florida. Wuornos claimed that she killed the men in self-defense because they had attacked her. In a statement to the court, she said, in part: “I wanted to confess to you that Richard Mallory did violently rape me as I’ve told you; but these others did not. [They] only began to start to.

Dawn Botkins, a childhood friend of Wuornos, apparently tried to explain Wuornos’ explosive temper to Nick Broomfield, director of a documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. Botkins was neither portrayed nor did she narrate the film “Monster” in an attempt to better understand Wuornos. Unless people search on their own, most will never know Wuornos’ background or how she may have become a monster.

My Friend Dahmer movieSo why now is Dahmer being portrayed as someone we could possibly relate to, as being misunderstood, odd, or perhaps even a victim of his parents’ personal demons? The Dahmer movie never shows anything about the killings, only about his youth and evolution. To be sure, “My Friend Dahmer” was written and directed by Marc Meyers, based on the graphic novel by the serial killer’s actual high school friend Derf Backderf.  According to Backderf, he and Dahmer had no further contact during his adult years when Dahmer was actively killing, dismembering and eating his victims.  Still, why didn’t writers and producers for the Dahmer movie consult with people such as detectives or associates who could have included details or depictions during his killing years? Maybe I’m asking too much of the film’s producers to go deeper in order to present a fuller picture. Maybe his “friend” is just using their association to gain some notoriety for himself because of people’s curiosity about a cannibal. Whatever the motive, the film does a disservice to his victims and presents a clear bias in the production of movies about white male killers versus other killers.

Dahmer said from age 15 and up, his dark thoughts about killing, raping and dismembering men were “unshareable.” He said eating his victims made him feel like “they are part of” him. He reportedly killed 17 men, which started when he was 18 years old, right out of high school. He picked up a hitchhiker and took the man home to torture, rape and kill him while his mother was away. In his own words, he told MSNBC during his last interview, “I always had a fantasy about meeting a hitchhiker on the road and taking him hostage and doing what I wanted.”

In an attempt to understand Jeffrey Dahmer, his family has been repeatedly interviewed. According to his parents, Jeffrey had a childhood filled with love. His father, Lionel Dahmer, said, “There were just no real signs when he was growing up.”

Even while on death row, Wuornos claimed she was being taunted and mistreated, but we still never sought to recognize her life then or ever. She was a monster, and that is ostensibly all we need to know. In one of her last public statements, she said, “Thanks a lot, society, for railroading my ass!”

The Dahmer movie will be released in theaters nationwide, Friday, Nov. 3.


-Annette Johnson




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