The sad slow death of female serial killers, from “Monster” to Mary Ann Cotton

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Tue, July 20th, 2010

Paul Sterling Smith is a convicted sex offender and the prime suspect in the murder of an auto shop owner in Missouri. Earlier this month, he kidnapped a four year-old St. Louis girl from the front yard of her home.

Model Charlize Theron played Aileen Wuornos in the Hollywood drama “Monster”, which follows the life of Wuornos, a Florida serial killer. She was put to death after a grueling 12 years on Death Row.

She was found wandering outside a car wash with different clothes and a new haircut. Smith had been caught on surveillance tape at Walmart buying kids clothes and police tracked him to a rural region north of the city where they found him sitting in his car. When they approached, he shot himself in the head.

Smith has no money for a funeral and neither does his family. The county is ultimately responsible to pay the cost but the funeral home director is trying to gather donations, which has created quite a stir. “Should they have just let him rot in the street because no one wants to pay for his disposal,” voiced one commenter, in a local newspaper. “Ought to have dumped his carcass into a buzzard sanctuary!” wrote another.

Many killers lead sad strange lives racked with drama, they die deaths that are no different. Some of the more disturbing examples are females.

Aileen Wuornos killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. She was a prostitute and claimed the men had tried to rape her and that she was acting in self-defense. She received six death sentences and spent 12 years on Death Row. Her execution was held up over the question of whether or not she was competent, meaning did she understand that she would die and did she understand the crimes for which she was being executed. To this she said, in a petition to the Florida Supreme Court in 2001: “I killed those men, robbed them as cold as ice. And I’d do it again, too…I have hate crawling through my system…I am so sick of hearing this ‘she’s crazy’ stuff. I’ve been evaluated so many times. I’m competent, sane, and I’m trying to tell the truth. I’m one who seriously hates human life and would kill again.”

Wuornos was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002. For her last meal she drank a cup of coffee. Her final statement reads: “I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back, like Independence Day with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mother ship and all, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.” Wuornos was only the tenth woman in the United States to be executed since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment in 1976 and the second woman ever executed in Florida. She was cremated and a childhood friend spread her ashes beneath a tree in Michigan. In 2003, model Charlize Theron played Wuornos in a Hollywood drama called Monster, which was based on the killer’s life. Theron won an Academy Award for Best Actress for the performance.

Mary Ann Cotton killed husbands, lovers and women who got in her way. She murdered 21 people in total, mostly with arsenic. Cotton was born in 1832 in a small English town. Her father was a miner; he was ardently religious and a disciplinarian. When Cotton was about eight he fell down a mine shaft and died. Her mother remarried but Cotton didn’t get along with her stepfather, another disciplinarian, and at age 16 she moved out. At 20, she married William Mowbray. The couple had nine children, seven of whom died very young—four of gastric fever or stomach pains. Soon Mowbray died too, of an intestinal disorder. Cotton collected a payout equivalent to half a year’s wages.

Cotton had a string of other husbands and lovers; they all died of stomach complications. Eventually a local newspaper learned of the curious deaths that trailed her. One of her victims tested positive for arsenic and she was put to trial. Defense attorneys claimed the man had died from inhaling an arsenic-laden dye found in green wallpaper. It took the jury 90 minutes to find Cotton guilty. “After conviction the wretched woman exhibited strong emotion,” one reporter observed, “but this gave place in a few hours to her habitual cold, reserved demeanour.”  She was hung by a hangman known for killing his victims slowly.

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