Serial Killer Aileen Wuornos: Applying Sociology Theories to Crime and Behavior

When studying criminology and criminal justice it is important to understand why people choose to live a life of crime. While some people are habitual burglars, kidnappers, or rapist, there are also people who are serial murders. defines serial killers as, someone who murders at least three people in a short period of time, (2012). To be able to consistently and habitually murder people, this person is very distinct and unique. Not anyone has the morality, courage, or opportunity to participate in serial murder. Due to this, people who are serial killers are likely to have certain characteristics. Many of these characteristics fit into a theoretic model of crime. An example of this can be seen when analyzing the life and crimes of Aileen Wuornos, America’s first female serial killer. Through the Self Control theory, Social Conflict theory, and the Biological/Biosocial theory, one can better understand how these models can determine criminal behavior.

Aileen Wuornos was tried, convicted, and executed for the murder of seven men in Central Florida. She accused these men of rape or attempted rape, stating that they were murdered in self-defense. However, before living her life as a serial killer she continued to face the criminal justice system. She was a known highway prostitute and had done this for most of her life to earn a living.  It also afforded her a criminal record which was long and filled with various crimes she committed from youth until she was arrested for murder in 1991.  It is reported that “by the age of ten she was smoking and shoplifting”, (DellaSonta-Pery, 2005). However, this was just the beginning. She was known to be a liar and had incidents of rage and aggressive outburst. She was also arrested for robbery, theft, prostitution, drug possession, car-jacking, and many others, (“Biological Development”, 2009). With such a large list and variety of crimes committed, all before the age of 30 years old, Wuornos was headed for disaster and living the lifestyle of crime just to live.

However, observing the childhood and upbringing of Aileen Wuornos, individuals are able to better understand how and why she became a criminal and serial killer. Wuornos’s life was filled with abuse and abandonment not only by her family but her peers and others within the community. She was born to a teenaged mother and absentee father. Although her father was absent in her life and she did not know him, he was physically abusive to her mother and eventually was incarcerated for raping a minor child. Her mother abandoned her at an early age where she was raised by her grandparents, (Dellasonta-Pery, 2005). Although it was never reported, it was assumed by others that she was sexually abuse, possibly by her grandfather. However, It was verified Wuornose was emotionally and physically abused by her maternal grandfather. Abusing alcohol, drugs, and sexually promiscuous, Wuornose was kicked out of the house by the age of 15 where she began her life of prostitution to earn a living.

The life and subsequent crimes of Aileen Wuornos can be associated with various theories of criminal behavior. The three that will be analyzed and associated with Wuornos include, the Social Control Theory, Biological/Biosocial Theory, and Self Identity and Self Categorization Theory. The biological/biosocial theory is associated with genetics. The theory developed by Lombroso, suggested that criminals are born and not made. This means that criminals inherit their criminal behavior from their parents and genetic relatives to formulate the criminal. This is known as the “primitive instinct that predisposes a person to act out developing criminal behavior”, (DellaSonton-Pery, 2005). The Social Conflict theory discusses the possibility that criminals are made and not born. This suggests that criminals are bred by their environment. It recognizes the the, “internal and external factors that push and pull the individual toward or away from deviant behavior”, (DellaSonton-Pery, 2005). Lastly, the Self Control Theory, suggest that Wuornos had control over her action and behaviors and did this purposely due to her self-control whether she has a great deal of this or is lacking. As a result, the Self Control Theory can be defined as, “an individual’s propensity to commit or refrain from committing crimes”, (Adams, 2009).

When associating Wuornos to the Biological Theory, her family and genes may have had a significant role to play in her behavior. Aileen’s father was known to be an alcoholic, physically abusive, verbally abusive, and practiced sexual deviance. Although she did not grow up with her father and he was unknown to her, he may have passed these traits on to his children. As a result, the explosive and aggressive behavior he portrayed was passed downed and inherited genetically. This aggressive and explosive behavior was then exhibited by Wuornos herself, who then brutally murdered seven men as well as displaying other numerous incidents of criminal behavior. It was also indicated that Wuornos’s mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather were also alcoholics, (“Biological Developments”, 2009). This problem of substance abuse was also observed in Wuornos and the crimes she committed. “Each time she killed, both she and the man she killed had been drinking together prior to the murder”, (DellaSonton-Pery, 2005). As suggested in this by this theory, children who have violent parents are more likely than not to become violent themselves.

The Social Control theory indicates that Wuornos’s life experiences may have caused her to become a serial killer. Wuornos was abandoned by both her parents, molested at a young age, and kicked out of the only home she had as a teenager. These life experiences caused her to lead a life of crime and to earn a living as a prostitute. She dropped out of school at an early age and even became pregnant at the age of 14 due to her promiscuity. She later was forced to put her child up for adoption. She was alienated by her peers and had few friends. School did not give her the social opportunities she was looking for in life. Due to this, “Wuornos’s childhood may hold the key to many of the reasons she behaved in such a violent, reckless, remorseless, manner”, (Adams, 2009). Utilizing this theory, one can understand that Wuornos is a product of her environment. Abandoned, abused, and alienated by society, Wuornos lived a lifestyle that was easiest and most available to her, prostitution. This lifestyle eventually led to her serial murder.

Self-Control theory suggests that Wuornos acted in self-control or lacked self-control when killing the seven men. However, this is up for debate. As a prostitute for several years, she came across hundreds of men, despite this she only managed to kill seven. So, in this instance it is hard to determine whether she had a great deal of self-control of lacked self-control. She may have a great deal of self-control considering she only killed seven men. In this same instance, she may have lacked self-control in those circumstances that compelled her to kill. Lack of self-control is suggested as she may have enjoyed killing these people and might have received gratification from it. However, author Cindy Adams indicates that this is not the cause. Instead, self-control theory may overlap with Social Conflict theory, because life experience can influence individual control. Consequently, “they also acknowledge certain life events that may predict criminal behavior over time such as, later attachments to significant others or to work, which will prevent those with low self-control from offending”, (Adams, 2009)

The life and personal experiences of a serial killer can provide research analysis and understanding of why people choose to murder. While some may blame psychological, environmental, or social factors, others feel that it is simply an option of self-control. Either way, models of theoretical criminal behavior is important. It gives others insight into the mind and development of criminals. The more those individuals learn about the criminal, the more society and the justice system work to eliminate criminal activity to create a safe society. Aileen Wuornos was notorious as the first female serial killer. Her life story was made into a major motion picture called, “Monster”. This dramatization allows audiences to view Wuornos for who she was, a human-being and not a lesbian crazed killer. Despite this, researchers and scholars can utilize these theoretical models of criminal behavior to help improve the criminal justice system and better understand how society can develop serial killers.



Adams, C. (2009, July). Crime 101: What is the link between self-control theory, serial killer, and aileen wuornos. The Examiner, Retrieved from

Arrigo, B., Griffin, A., (2004). Serial Murder and the case of Aileen wuornos: Attachment theory, psychopathy, and Predatory aggression. Behavioral Sciences and the LawBehav. Sci. Law22: 375–393 Retrieved from:

Biological and developmental criminality in the case of aileen wuornos. (2011, January 09).  Retrieved from

DellaSanton-Pery, C. (2005). Looking at the case of aileen wuornos from biosocial and social central theoretical perspectives. Law and Society21(2), Retrieved from

About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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2 Responses to Serial Killer Aileen Wuornos: Applying Sociology Theories to Crime and Behavior

  1. Ezgi bobur says:


  2. Courteney says:

    I am absolutely facinated with Aileen! Many people think im crazy because I have sympathy for her. Your findings of social control theory applied to Aileen REALLY helped me with my criminology paper! I was not sure what theory applied to her best. Thank you so much for sharing your analysis and research!

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