'Monster' match

Area Wuornos investigators say actress nailed killer in film

Charlize Theron portrays Aileen Wuornos in a scene from "Monster," in this promotional photo.

Published: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 1:40 a.m.
Jimmy Ray Pinner and Sammy Woodall may never vote for an Oscar contender with a ballot, but they are certain the performance Charlize Theron delivered in her role as female serial killer Aileen "Lee" Wuornos is worthy of Oscar consideration.
Pinner and Woodall are uniquely qualified to comment on the accuracy of Theron's work in the soon-to-be-released movie about Wuornos titled "Monster." Pinner, a former Dixie County sheriff's investigator, and Woodall, the Dixie County sheriff, were primary investigators with Julie Herring Ridgeway in the last murder known to have been committed by Wuornos.
The two men previewed the film at The Sun on Thursday night.
"If she (Theron) didn't fool me, I would at least have thought she was Aileen's sister - a little bit prettier, cleaner sister," Woodall said.
"She (Theron) must have really studied what Aileen Wuornos did - how she acted - because she got it about perfect in this movie," said Pinner, who is now a special investigator for Florida Farm Bureau insurance.
He and Ridgeway were thanked by Wuornos a dozen years ago in the Dixie County courtroom for their demeanor in handling the case against her and treating her respectfully. Wuornos pleaded guilty in that case.
"She also told us that she was going to remember us in her will when we were driving her to Cross City to be in court," Pinner said. "She knew even then that she would get the death penalty."
Both investigators said what they found so striking about Theron's effort to portray Wuornos were the little movements - how Theron flicked her hair behind her shoulders, often talked without opening her mouth very wide, held her head at certain angles - movements unique to the complex criminal they spent months investigating.
"What really looks the closest to Aileen is when they show her (Theron) in that orange prison jumpsuit," Pinner said.
The lawmen were less impressed with the plot, both noting that the film sympathetically treated Wuornos without following the sequence of events.
"I guess you could say that it was an accurate portrayal of how Aileen was - how she acted - but I know her true story, and her life was much more complex than they made it in this movie," Pinner said.
In the movie, Wuornos' girlfriend, Tyria Moore, was played by Christina Ricci - best known for playing Wednesday in the "Addams Family" movie. Pinner, Woodall and several others who have seen the film have questioned why an actress who looked so unlike the heavyset Moore was cast in the role and why her name was changed in the movie to Selby.
Some Oscar buzz has been generated by Theron's performance in other more likely circles, such as the Jan. 9 edition of Entertainment Weekly as well as on several movie Web sites. "Monster" is scheduled to be released Jan. 23 in Gainesville.
Although Wuornos mostly lived in Daytona Beach during her killing spree, she hitchhiked around Central and North Florida working as a prostitute.
The only murder for which Wuornos was convicted was that of Richard Mallory, who died of gunshot wounds in December 1989. She also confessed to the murders of David Spears, Charles Carskaddan, Troy Buress, Dick Humphreys and Walter Gino Antonio, whose body was found in Dixie County along a seldom-used hunting trail off U.S. 19 several miles north of Cross City. (The seventh man who Wuornos confessed to murdering was missionary Peter Siems, but his body was never found.)
Wuornos was arrested in January 1991 and was tried and convicted of Mallory's murder a year later. She was executed in October 2002 for Mallory's murder.
Investigators and prosecutors who worked on the cases against Wuornos said she followed a pattern in her killings. She would let middle-aged white men pick her up while she was hitchhiking, maneuver them into a remote or secluded location, shoot them with a .22-caliber pistol, then steal their money and cars and return to her lover, Moore.
Immediately after her arrest, Wuornos claimed the killings were in self-defense because her prostitution customers tried to assault her. She later said she had lied and really meant to kill and rob the men she was charged with murdering.
Investigators determined that Wuornos was raised in Troy, Mich., by grandparents after being abandoned by a teenage mother. Her father hanged himself in prison while serving a life sentence for raping a 7-year-old in Kansas. At 14, Wuornos had a son who was put up for adoption. Defense attorneys who worked on her cases said that Wuornos was neglected and sexually abused as a child, leading to borderline personality disorder.
Despite the horrific nature of her crimes and the story of her life, the movie about Wuornos was not titled "Monster" as a description of her as a criminal. Instead, "Monster" refers to a 4-H carnival ride that terrified Wuornos as a child.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

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