Requiem for a Female Serial Killer
Take a walk on the wild side. The ghost of Aileen Wuornos beckons.
This psychological crime thriller takes us inside the mind of a unique female serial killer, a prostitute who murdered seven adult men—a case with which the author was intimately involved. The issues raised by this high-profile criminal case remain unresolved to this day. Women, even prostitutes, have the right to self-defense in theory, but in practice, the story is more complicated.
This book will challenge everything you ever thought about prostitutes, serial killers, and justice in America.
Aileen Wuornos is a damaged soul, a genuine American outlaw, a symbol of women's rage, a symbol of what can happen to severely abused children, and of how our justice system fails women.
Chesler's involvement with a serial killer has haunted her ever since. She speaks in Aileen Wuornos' voice, as well as in her own, and delivers an incisive, original, and dramatic portrait of a cognitively impaired, traumatized, and alcoholic woman who had endured so much pain in her short life. When she'd had enough, the results were deadly.
This is a poignant, sometimes humorous, never-before-told behind-the-scenes tale. Wuornos' story is handled with great sensitivity, but also with realistic detachment by Chesler as she probes the telling moment, the telling phrase. Was Wuornos suffering from post-traumatic stress after a life lived on a "killing field?" Was she also "born evil?" So many prostitutes have been torture-murdered by serial killers—how did Wuornos, once prey, become a predator?
Requiem for a Female Serial Killer will also haunt you. It won’t let you put it down.Order Requiem for a Female Serial Killer Here
Praise for Requiem for a Female Serial Killer
Praise for Requiem for a Female Serial Killer
"We finally have begun to recognize women as victims — but why the silence when women fight back? Phyllis Chesler breaks this silence in Requiem for a Female Serial Killer. Reading it will help both women and men restore a human balance." —Gloria Steinem
Aileen Wuornos—female serial killer? Feminist folk-hero? A broken woman betrayed her entire life by a system that should have protected her? Perhaps all of the above, in one volatile package. In this amazing book, Phyllis Chesler takes you on a mind-bending journey through a story you thought you knew. Chesler sets out to write a book to make you question everything and succeeds. - Gregg Olsen, author, If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood
“This book is a tour de force. It is both an imagined interpretation of the crimes of Aileen Wuornos, the female 'serial killer,' and a description of the way that feminists in the US responded to her trial and execution. Chesler provides a fascinating and complex analysis. This book is a powerful account of the terrible harms of prostitution and violence against women.” - Sheila Jeffreys, Author of The Idea of Prostitution
"Phyllis Chesler’s nineteenth book is not only compelling, it is gripping in detail, a graphic read that explores issues of prostitution and rape. In these days, when it is hard to be shocked, Chesler alarms and disturbs. It’s a must read." - Ayaan Hirsi Ali
“If you love true crime thrillers, as I do, you must read Requiem with its feminist psychological twist. You won’t be able to put it down. Chesler, an eminent psychologist, gets inside the mind of a unique female serial killer. FBI profilers should be ordering their copies right now. This is a behind-the-scenes account which is very smart. Anyone who cares about life and death, madness, justice (or the lack of it) and riveting trials in an American courtroom, about the death penalty, and about rape trauma and the right to self-defense will be amazed and captivated by this never-before ventured analysis.” - Alan Dershowitz, author Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo
“Chesler's astute analysis, elegantly fused with graphic scenes and the harsh vernacular of true crime, make this an artful and essential book.”-Vicki Hendricks, author, Miami Purity
“This is a unique book by a brilliant and internationally respected author. On the surface, it is an absorbing tale of rape, child-abuse, multiple murders, abuse, depravity, and a rare female victim who defiantly fought back. But at a deeper and more important level, it is the best published account in years of the tragic, ugly, and actual lives of women who must sell sex in order to survive.” Dr. Robert Brannon, author of Co-Founder, National Organization for Men Against Sexism
“Chesler has invented a new kind of book… her approach is multi-faceted. The story is operatic in its drama (and) Chesler is uniquely suited to tell the story. It is daunting to try and review Requiem, because it is hard to describe its combination of mystery-crime novel plus perceptive and compassionate feminist analysis of harsh (nay, horrific) realities of Wuornos’ life as a childhood rape victim and victim of johns’ humiliation and physical violence when she became a prostitute… Beyond describing the facts of Wuornos’ life, Chesler gives us the information that puts that life in context: Wuornos has much in common with many other prostitutes. She contrasts with most other serial killers, because nearly all are men, and nearly all male serial killers’ victims are prostitutes. I wish that everyone would read Requiem, both because part of being human is to know as much as we can about the world, especially the lives of others who have been through hells to which we were not subjected, and because despite its tragic subject, Chesler’s writing makes us reluctant to put the book down.”
-Paula J. Caplan, “A Page Turner with a Social Conscience” published in Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence, January 9, 2021
In a powerful new page-turner of a book, Requiem for a Female Serial Killer, the veteran feminist writer and activist Phyllis Chesler has given us a remarkable document about Wuornos that is far more illuminating – and even more engrossing – than (the film) Monster.
The book is several things at once. The first section is a vivid, riveting, and well-nigh novelistic account of (Wuornos’) life during her crime spree. Writing in a gritty, clipped prose style that’s more reminiscent of Raymond Chandler than of Betty Friedan... Chesler doesn’t shy away from sordid specifics. Then, Chesler herself enters the picture.
Soon enough, Chesler is in Ocala, meeting Wuornos’s lawyer and – like Truman Capote in Holcomb, Kansas, to research what turned out to be In Cold Blood, or John Berendt in Savannah for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – getting the lay of the land. For while Chesler knows and loves Miami Beach, north (central) Florida proves to be another world, populated largely by good old boys who have no truck with Yankee feminists, let alone lesbian murderers.
How to persuade a jury in these parts to spare Lee’s life?...One of Chesler’s accomplishments in this stunning memoir is that even a reader who doesn’t share an ounce of her sympathy for Wuornos will be forced by the book’s end to acknowledge that, at the very least, Wuornos’s trial was a betrayal of the cause of equal justice.
One of the triumphs of this haunting work is that Chesler, all these years later, has finally accomplished (her) aim of educating the public about the brutal reality of prostitution. I cannot imagine any civilized reader of Requiem ever again viewing a life in prostitution as anything other than a cruel and miserable fate.
—Bruce Bawer, FrontPage Magazine
“A impressively seminal contribution to community, college, and university library Criminology collections, "Requiem for a Female Serial Killer" is an extraordinary story and one that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of criminology students, academia, and non-specialist general readers.”
—The Midwest Book Review
Phyllis Chesler, among the most famous of the “second-wave” feminists of the 1960s and 1970s (is) the author of a new book about Wuornos. She is now under a social justice cloud because she protests honor killings and other female abuses in the Islamic world and remains a forthright supporter of Israel, a pariah country these days on much of the progressive and activist Left. (Chesler) wanted the court to understand “how dangerous the ‘working life’ really is; how prostitutes are routinely infected with diseases, gang-raped, tortured, and murdered; and that Wuornos had been raped and beaten so many times that by now, if she was at all human, she’d have to be permanently drunk and out of her mind.” The defense Chesler proposed for Wuornos was a variant of the “battered women syndrome…” Chesler’s account of all this in Requiem is often riveting. She has a punchy, intimate, highly readable prose style, sliding credibly into Wuornos’s own slang contractions (“hadda,” “outta,” “kinda,”) as she devotes the first hundred pages of the book to a reconstruction of the killings and their preludes and aftermaths… Chesler’s account of her efforts to insert a version of what might be called prostituted-woman syndrome into Wuornos’s legal defense are scattershot but also entertaining… Yet it is hard to take the second-wave feminism out of the second-wave feminist, even a second-wave feminist as honest with herself as Phyllis Chesler eventually manages to be… (Wuornos’s) life story, as Chesler eloquently observes, was “a horrifying and pitiful tale with an inevitably sordid ending.”
—Charlotte Allen, Quillette, Requiem for a Female Serial Killer—A Review
Amazon Reviews for Requiem for a Female Serial Killer
When best-selling author Dr Phyllis Chesler turns her attention to an issue it is always worth paying attention. And indeed, her factual/fictional treatment of Aileen Wuornos, the ‘serial killer‘ who killed seven men when she had enough of being violently mistreated during sex makes for riveting reading. Chesler, who is a strong abolitionist advocating to get rid of prostitution, got very much involved in trying to help save Wuornos from death row. The book details how she put her heart and soul into assembling a cast of 10 trial experts only to find no one was given leave to speak and Wuornos was sent to her death (after spending 10 more years on death row). Aileen Wuornos had suffered such deprivation, violence and cruelty including being gang-raped dozens of times that no one should be surprised that in the end only alcohol and killing obnoxious men who treated her like dirt was the answer. Chesler‘s compassionate yet down to earth treatment of Aileen Wuornos deserves a wide readership. The book is fast paced and unputdownable. In the end I hope every reader will join the fight against men‘s violence against women and for the abolition of prostitution. A magnificant oeuvre!
– RENATE KLEIN, co-founder of Spinifex Press, author/editor of “Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed.
Phyllis Chesler has written a masterpiece of true crime.
I have always been fascinated by the extremes of human behavior...Saints and Sinners. With Saints, if one believes in "God's Grace",explanations are rather simple.
With Sinners, more specific reasons are needed. And if the sin is murder and the murders are "serial", and the punishment is death, causality is required.
Is it nature, nurture, genetics, poverty, racism, oppression , abuse, frontal lobe pathology or mental illness?
Can one truly hate the sin and love the sinner--if that sinner is a woman, a prostitute, and if all her victims were men?
Can a Feminist? Should she?
In Phyllis Chesler's extraordinary 20th book she explores these themes and much more. Using her wealth of experience and wisdom as a feminist psychologist, colored with her wit insight and imagination, she offers us various ways to understand Wuornos as the "First Female Serial Killer".
Is that French expression "To understand all is to forgive all", operative in this case? You decide. But this book will not let go of you.
Chesler actually knew the woman - even includes some of their correspondence - and her own personal complicated reactions gave me a way into this horrible world. Wuornos - and in fact prostitutes as a group, a little society in itself - seemed more and more real as I read. I thank Chesler for showing me a kind of life I'd never glimpsed before.
If you think you understand women’s issues and haven’t read Requiem for a Female Serial Killer, think again. This book is on fire. It is a must read. Author Phyllis Chesler recounts the life of Aileen Wuornos—abandoned by her parents, beaten viciously by her adoptive grandfather, raped repeatedly in childhood, coming to adulthood with no marketable skills except one: selling pussy. But unlike the myriads of nameless, forgotten women with similar biographies, Wuornos will always be remembered for killing somewhere between 7-10 johns along the highways of Florida.
Chesler contacted her after her capture, corresponded extensively with her, and attempted to assist in her defense. In this book, she shows us a severely damaged human being, drinking heavily to drown her pain, in love with a woman who betrays her, spinning lies and delusions and genuine insights—yet finding the courage to fight much larger men. In her confession, Wuornos said that each the johns she shot had raped or were attempting to rape her, and she was afraid they would murder her.
Was it self defense? Women like her are raped and murdered all the time. As Chesler writes, “The same police who had no trouble arresting prostitutes for selling had a much harder time finding or arresting the johns who murdered prostitutes.” The author gives numerous examples, and then says, “Street prostitutes are not even considered human, but were treated as disposable filth, garbage.” So if a john rapes and beats a prostitute and cheats her out of her earnings, whom should she call?
A neighbor of mine, a graduate student and single mother, once called the police to report a prowler. When the cop arrived, he raped my neighbor and then calmly took a shower in her apartment. Whom should she have called then?
The trial lasted 13 days. The jury took less than two hours to convict Wuornos and less than two hours to sentence her to death. Unlike Ted Bundy, who was given the option of a life sentence after murdering at least 30 women, or O.J. Simpson, who got off entirely, Wuornos was neither male nor rich. Even worse for her, one of the johns she shot was a former police chief and another was in the police reserves. Cops get away with killing civilians (especially Black ones) all the time. Nobody gets away with killing a cop.
Some women have lauded Wuornos as a feminist hero, while others dismissed her as simply crazy. Chesler’s portrayal is considerably more complex. Read it and decide for yourself.
—MARTHA SHELLEY, poet, novelist, Second Wave lesbian feminist pioneer
I didn’t think I would read a book with this title, much less review it on Amazon! I was wrong. From the first chapter where we meet complicated fascinating Aileen, Phyllis Chesler weaves us a story that is real, heartbreaking, shocking, and gripping. Her writing is amazing, deep, funny and very hard to put down!!! Don’t miss this book, it’s truly a fantastic read!
Imagine detective noir writer Raymond Chandler collaborating with true crime author Ann Rule and you’ll have some idea of the roller-coaster ride that is ¬“requiem for a female serial killer,” Phyllis Chesler’s raw, rollicking but always sympathetic portrait of Aileen Wuornos. Chesler’s work has always been hard-hitting, whether writing about feminist issues, anti-semitism, honor killings, child custody and other subjects, but she has reached new heights with her latest effort. This is not your usual true crime tome, written by an impersonal reporter from a distant vantage point. Chesler worked on the case of the “first female serial killer;” she, met, befriended and carried on a lengthy correspondence with Wuornos (some of which is included in the final chapter). Chesler has managed to get inside – as much as humanly possible – the head of Wuornos, and entire sections of the book are told from the subject’s viewpoint. This book grabbed me by the throat from the first page, and never let go until the Afterword, when Chesler slows down a bit to reflect on the legacy and lessons of Wuornos and her story.
Only Phyllis Chester could make Aileen Wuornos into a 3-dimensional, sympathetic, tragic heroine. Ms. Chesler once again returns to her feminist roots and illuminates the lives of these women and what they endure, free of judgement. Her description of her own, very personal reactions to Ms. Wuornos only adds to the book's brilliance. A tour de force from one of our national treasures.
In sure-prose, a keen eye and fresh insights of a best-selling author of previous eighteen non-fiction books, Phyllis Chesler places Requiem next to Truman Capon’s in “Cold Blood” in the annals of both literature and social commentary.
A world beyond our imagination. Phyllis Chesler has gone into the world of prostitution, serials killers, and psychology using her feminist eye to explore the infamous story of Aileen Wournos. Using both Aileen's voice and her own, Phyllis tells a startling tale of what happens when a young girl is used and abused by everyone around her.
This is a challenging book on a very challenging subject. It is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how unspeakable acts inflicted on women can lead to unspeakable acts inflicted by them. The author treats with nuance and perspective the topic of how much sympathy, if any, is owed a serial killer.
A new and insightful look at the mind of a female serial killer and how our society looks at them , told from the viewpoint of a woman. Incredibly thought - provoking.
An original and engaging account of Aileen Wuornos’ life and her murders of likely sex buyers. Chesler knew and tried to assist Wuornos while she was in prison. It is hard to really know Wuornos and her motivations for the killings, although many men seek out prostitutes to rape and abuse. Some see the murders as self-defense; others, such as Chesler think that after the first killing in self-defense, something spiraled out of control. Chesler used and includes her correspondence with Wuornos, making this an authentic account of this tragic woman’s life.
- Daniel E Hughes