Harold Jaffe's docufiction

by Harold Jaffe

cover image of 15 Serial Killersfrom 15 Serial Killers
(Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2003)

     Dear Lee Wuornos,
     My name is Helga-Lee Uberroth, I'm born-again. I breed horses and wolves and live outside Ocala.
     You're going to think I'm crazy, but Jesus told me to write you. I looked into your eyes in one of those newspaper pictures and knew immediately that you were innocent. Then I prayed real hard to Jesus and He confirmed what I felt, in spades.
     What I believe with all my heart is that if only the world would know the real Aileen Wuornos, there's not a jury in the entire state of Florida that would convict you.
     You and me--we even have the same Christian name. You're Aileen, called Lee. I'm Helga-Lee. I know that is not a coincidence. God Bless you, dear child. Please call me collect.
Helga-Lee Uberroth

     She breeds horses and wolves and is a born-again Christian? Not your usual configuration.

     She also waters her houseplants bare-breasted. She has a green thumb.

     With or without breast implants?


     What happens next?

     Nine days after receiving the letter, Lee Wuornos phones Helga-Lee collect. Then Helga-Lee visits Lee in the Volusia County Jail. Condemned killers are lonely. The two Lees form a band.

     Rock? Rap? Reggae? Zydeco?

     Sorry. I meant "bond." They form a bond.


     Helga-Lee calls Wuornos child. But they're pretty close in age, right?

     Helga-Lee is 41, Taurus. Lee is 36, Aries.

     Bull and ram. Sounds like fireworks. This the first hard time Wuornos has done?

     No. She serves 16 months for holding up a convenience store in Pensacola. Plus she spends a bunch of overnights in jails up and down Florida for prostitution. Remember, she's been on her own since adolescence.

     She comes from a dysfunctional family, am I right?

     You tell me. Her father, Leo Dale Pittman, is a convicted child molester who's beaten by other inmates and finally strangled to death in prison. Her mother, Diane, who marries Pittman when she is fifteen, abandons Lee and her brother Keith after her husband is imprisoned. The children--Lee is seven months old--are adopted by their rigidly moralistic maternal grandparents, Arnul and Britta Wuornos, and go to live in Troy, Michigan. Lee becomes pregnant at age 12 and is sent to an institution for unwed mothers. After delivering a boy, who is put up for adoption, Lee, 13, is on her own, smokin' weed, slammin' beer, crashing where she can, hitchhiking, balling johns. Meanwhile, her grandmother dies of lung cancer and her grandfather hangs himself from a pepper tree. Her brother Keith either jumps or falls through the sixth story window of an auto parts warehouse in Flint, Michigan. Her mother, Diane, remarries for the fourth time and moves to Okinawa, never to be heard from again.


     When does the rock and roll lawyer get into the picture?

     Helga-Lee advises Lee to dump her public defenders, who she claims are incompetent and on the take. She recommends Harvey Medved.

     The Jewish Springsteen.

     Medved is a sort of unorthodox private defense attorney in practice for half-a-dozen years in central Florida. He looks like a rabbinical student: fat, carrot-red hair, bushy beard. He does hokey singing ads for his law practice on TV. He smokes weed. In a former life he played bass and was lead vocalist for a hard-driving rock band called the Bellevues. Out of Queens, NY.

     Where in Queens?


     I had a feeling. Is Medved a Jew for Jesus?


     Does he water his houseplants barebreasted with his titties jiggling?


     So what do the fat, rabbinical, weed-smoking, hard driving rocker-lawyer and Helga-Lee have in common?

     They both end up making money out of Wuornos. Did they arrange a scam from the outset? Hard to say.


     At what point does Helga-Lee decide to adopt Lee Wuornos?

     Soon after Lee testifies in court that she had sex with 250,000 johns.

     Whole lotta penises. The court admits that claim?

     Florida has something called the Williams Rule, which admits as evidence whatever information might establish a pattern. Technically, Lee Wuornos is being tried for the murder of Richard Mallory, but both her public defenders and the prosecution think they could make good use of the 250,000 johns. The prosecution portrays her as a sex-addict, moronically compulsive; the defense claims that all the abuse she suffers balling and blowing 250,000 johns finally reaches the boiling point.

     Neither side questions the figure? 250,000?

     Both sides think it's exaggerated, but maybe by not that much. One thing--probably the only thing--Lee has been blessed with is robust health. She's an exit to exit freeway ho who worked fast. She was known for how fast she worked. Plus she's been doing it since age 14.

     In the clips I saw Lee Wuornos didn't look all that robust.

     Well, her face was shot from all the booze, speed, rough sex, lack of sleep. You couldn't really see her bone structure through the prison garb. But Lee Wuornos is--was--a strapping, big-boned female. Very imposing. The opposite of her namesake and step-mom, the demure Helga-Lee Uberroth.

     They're already tight. Why does Helga-Lee want to adopt Wuornos?

     Could have to do with getting closer to the big money Lee is likely to make through books and articles and movies. The new law is that inmates cannot profit from their crimes, but if the money is channeled to her adoptive mother . . .


     You say that the robust Wuornos works fast. Question is, how does the demure, gentrified, born-again wolf breeder who waters her houseplants bare-breasted win over a tough customer like Wuornos so fast?

     "Soul-binding" is how Helga Lee characterizes it in a People interview. "We're like Jonathan and David in the Bible," she says. "A chunk of her heart is with me, and a chunk of my heart is with her trapped in jail. We always know just what the other Lee is thinking and feeling. It's uncanny."

     The dollars from Helga-Lee's People interview--where does that go?

     Not just People. Vanity Fair interviews her. The New Yorker. The Enquirer. Details. Ms. Wuornos claims never to have received a dime from any of the publicity. Since it's unlawful to profit from your crime, I assume that if the money is not set aside in a trust of some kind, Helga-Lee pockets it.

     Lee Wuornos has no living relatives, right? And she herself is about to be fried. So a trust can't be of any use to her.



     And now we come to that significant other in Lee's life. Drum roll, please, for The Bottom!

     That would be Tyria Moore. Bottom doesn't really do her justice. Ty is a motel maid, but she's more than that.

     Tell me.

     Passion. Tender passion, even.

     That's the reason Lee remains so loyal to her?

     Plus she smells good.


     Tyria Moore.

     Doesn't Lee say that somewhere?

     Probably. Ty is chubby, baby-faced.

     She cops a plea.

     Betrays Lee is what she does. But you know what? Lee refuses to incriminate her in any of the murders, and she never stops professing her love for Ty.

     That's impressive in its way.

     Together they live a squalid life. Ty's work is seasonal, meaning she's out of work about as often as not. And Lee ain't a successful ho. Even with her alleged 250,000 johns. Like I said, she's raw-boned and her manner is harsh, even hostile. Not the attributes that will make her good money on the highway. Which in turn contributes to her murderous rage. Lee and Ty rent cheap motel rooms by the week. Sometimes they sleep in their old Chevy pickup, or in deserted barns. They drink a lot of beer. They argue, sure, but there is love there. Lee calls herself Susan Blahovec.

     How come?

     It's the name of a classmate in junior high school that she had a crush on. Doesn't seem to interfere with her love for Ty.

     What kind of love? SM? Blood sports?

     No. No way. Maybe now and then watersports. After a night of slammin' beer. Lee drinks Coors Lite to keep the calories down, make her more appealing to the highway johns, but the thing is she drinks a whole lot and the watery brew makes her pee.


     Lee's accused of killing seven johns?


     Where and when?

     Between December '89 and November '90. From central Florida west to the Gulf Coast. Richard Mallory is first, the john she's being tried for. She claims he beat her and raped her. Forcibly sodomized her.

     Is that how Wuornos puts it? Forcibly sodomized?

     What Wuornos testifies at the trial is: "I told him No, but he--pardon my Greek, I'm a street person--fucked me in the ass which messed up my head. 'Cuz I don't do that shit."

     She says that about all seven, doesn't she?

     What she testifies is that Mallory violently rapes her. The other six attempt to rape her but she kills them first. In Mallory's instance it could be true. He has a history as a wife-beater and is a registered violent sex offender.

     Registered where?

     In the sovereign state of Florida.


     What's he--Mallory--do when he's not forcibly sodomizing hoes?

     Used car dealer in Lake City. GMC and Ford. He won't sell, or even drive, a foreign car.

     The six others?

     Dick Monday, Troy Burress, Duane Spears, Chuck Carskaddon, Walter Gino Puglia, Pete Siems. Working-class stiffs looking for a quick hump. Or maybe a blowjob between exits on the highway. Are they all into sadistically beating Lee up? Well, the jury doesn't buy it. Each is shot several times in the front and back with the same Smith and Wesson .38 Police Special.

     Has Helga-Lee ever blown a john in his American-made pickup while he's gunning it up or down the highway?

     Helga-Lee is widowed and childless. I guess I didn't say that. Her husband was thirty-something years older and had money. She's into horses and wolves, not johns. She's never, ever used her mouth in a salacious manner.


     So when do Lee, Helga-Lee and the Jewish Springsteen finally converge?

     Soon after Lee ditches her court-appointed defenders. They converge in the Volusia County Jail, where Lee is being held. That's in Daytona, by the way.

     Lee is impressed?

     With Medved? Evidently. He's fat but he's smooth. He's Jewish so he doesn't have that macho thing Lee hates.

     Medved takes over. Then what?

     Lee intends to plead innocent by virtue of self-defense. The facts of Richard Mallory's wife-beating past appear to corroborate her claims of violent rape. But Medved convinces her to plead guilty.


     He assures Lee that pleading innocent would fail but that a guilty plea, with the mitigating evidence of Mallory's attempted rape, would likely get her a reduced sentence, which, with good behavior, could mean she's out in five years.

     She bites?

     Reluctantly. Pressured by both Medved and her adoptive mother, Helga-Lee.

     What's their real motive?

      I'm just speculating. Get Lee executed so they can continue to make money from the movies, TV specials, books and such, without Lee's angry protestations.

     Which is what happens, right?

     Pretty much. In the process Lee turns violently against them, identifies them as her enemies along with the 250,000 would-be rapist johns. Along with most of American culture.

     Lee Wuornos has it in for a whole lot of folks, right?

     Ha. Once, when Helga-Lee and Medved accompany a British film director who wants to shoot a documentary on Lee to the Volusia County Jail, Lee physically attacks Helga-Lee and has to be restrained. It takes three guards to actually strait-jacket her as she is screaming at Helga-Lee and Medved. She calls Helga-Lee "a money-crazy pimp for Jesus" and Medved "a tub of snot." The film-maker records it all. The documentary, called Women Do it Better, wins a bunch of awards, including something at Sundance. The story is that Helga-Lee and Medved get a fat cut.

     Evil. What finally happens at the trial?

     The jury deliberates for less than an hour, then finds Lee guilty of first-degree murder. They recommend that Judge Uriel Blount sentence her to death in Old Sparky. Which is what he does. As Lee is led out of the courtroom, she pulls away from the bailiff and screams at the jurors: "I'm innocent! I was raped. Scumbags of America, I hope you all get raped in the ass!"

     You know what. If they all get raped in the ass they'll still be scumbags.

     You could be right.


     Now that Wuornos is history, consigned to the Discovery channel, are the weed-smoking, bushy-bearded rabbinical lawyer and the born-again wolf-breeder who waters her houseplants bare-breasted still an item?

     To be honest, my interest in the case flags after Wuornos is executed. What the odd couple has been up to post-Lee Wuornos--I can't tell you.

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