When You're Best Friends with a Famous Serial Killer

Since she was executed for murdering seven men in 2002, Aileen Wuornos has become a cult figure. We spoke to her childhood best friend, who wrote to her in jail for years after her conviction.

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Jun 24 2016, 6:06pm

Screenshot via YouTube

Aileen Wuornos is America's most infamous female serial killer.

Wuornos shot and killed seven men from 1989 to 1990 in Florida while working as a prostitute. She claimed the murders were done in self-defense, and that the men had tried to rape her—an argument she would later recant, although that may have been because she was eager to die. She had been sentenced to death via lethal injection, and was ready to get it over with.

"The saddest part was that she tried and tried for years and years to [be executed]. She wanted it done," her childhood best friend, Dawn Botkins, told Broadly. Dawn and Aileen, who became close friends during their childhood in Michigan, would later exchange letters during Aileen's time in prison.

Read more: When Women Help Their Partners Rape and Murder

Wuornos was executed on October 9, 2002. Prior to her execution, expert witnesses for the defense argued that she suffered from borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder as a result of childhood abuse. Wuornos never met her father—a convicted child sex abuser who died by suicide in prison—and she was raised by her grandparents, with whom her mother had left her. By most accounts, her violent and alcoholic grandfather abused her. "What he did to her was terrible," Botkins said.

By age 11, Aileen started sex work in exchange for money and cigarettes. At 13, she became pregnant; as discussed by friends in the Nick Broomfield documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, this was the result of a rape by an older local pedophile, a claim Botkins reiterated while speaking with Broadly. "The guy that raped her... was, like, 60 years old, and he loved all the kids," she said. "[Aileen] was drunk, and he'd take advantage of her and shit like that, so that's who she got pregnant by."

After Wuornos gave birth to the child, she was forced out of her home and lived homeless, sleeping in abandoned cars, at the homes or hotel rooms of her johns on a good night, and often literally in the snow during the brutal Michigan winters.

Wuornos didn't have many true friends while growing up in Michigan because many of her peers judged her for her pregnancy and her involvement in sex work. However, she had Dawn Botkins—who became Wuornos' major source of solace during her time in prison, exchanging letters with her. Wuornos has developed something of a cult following in the years following her execution, and many of her present-day fans zero in on the alleged sexual abuse she went through as a child as evidence that she shouldn't have been executed for her actions. Her best friend doesn't quite see it that way.

We caught up with Botkins about how she became friends with Aileen, the bullying she endured, and how she was not in the least bit shocked when the police showed up at her door regarding Aileen's murders.

Broadly: How did you meet Aileen?
DAWN BOTKINS: We became best friends when we were like 15. I was best friends with her sister [technically Aileen's aunt] and brother first. I didn't really know they had a sister. Well, I knew because I heard all the other kids talking about her, saying, "You don't even want to hang out with her because she's nothing but bad news. She's a whore," because she had been raped. Labeled automatically. Nobody wanted her around or anything. It was horrible.

Her brother and my brother were friends so they were always at my house. They came over one day [with Aileen] and she said, "Do you want to go to the mall and have a hot dog with me?" and I said, "I guess so." I had never hitchhiked before. I was worried about getting caught, but in those days you could. We would sneak into the [horse] racetracks. She loved to do that.

Was she a good friend to you? Was she fun?
Yeah. She was real fun.

I understand Aileen was bullied as a child.
Oh, it was horrible. Everybody dissed her; nobody would have anything to do with her. She had been raped at 13. She really was raped, but all the kids didn't believe her. They were rotten to her.

They wouldn't have anything to do with her when all the kids were around, but when the kids weren't around, they figured they'd get a piece of ass from her. "Here, Aileen, have some cigarettes." She didn't mind because she'd get cigarettes and stuff like that. That was her way. She would go to bed with them because she didn't have anything. It was her way of getting a little bit of money and some cigarettes. I mean, she did maybe get to spend the night at their house and take a shower and stuff like that.

When was the last time you saw her?
At the execution, of course. I was the last visitor. Aileen refused her last meal. [The press] made it sound so dramatic. Well, she only refused it because she knew I was coming for her last visit that night and I was allowed to bring in $20 worth of food. She wanted two calzones, potato chips, and pop. So it wasn't as sad as they made it.

There was debate over whether she should have been executed. What do you think?
Of course she should be executed. She killed seven men. I wouldn't have it any other way. Just because she's a girl? No. She killed seven men. Even if she killed three, execution is what she gets for that. She couldn't wait to get execution—she tried and tried and tried. She wanted to get to heaven. Everybody says, "How can you possibly believe she will go to heaven after what she did?" Well, they say if you ask God for forgiveness, he forgives you.

Do you think if she wasn't raped and abused as a child it would have been the same, or could things have been different for her?
If her grandmother had lived, everything would have been different. She was the only one who really loved her.

You were given her ashes, correct?
Her and Ty [Aileen's girlfriend who eventually turned on her] used to go to Flagler's Beach. Aileen would be out prostituting all night to make sure she could feed that stupid toothless Ty, because that's the only reason why Ty was around. Aileen would make sure that she had money.

Aileen used to tell me, "When I die, put my ashes on Flagler's Beach." So one day I thought about it and wrote her [in prison] and said, "I don't want to put you there." I wrote,"I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but the last place anyone in Florida wants your ashes is on Flagler's Beach. You killed seven of their loved ones. You're coming home here. You pick out a walnut tree from pictures and your ashes are coming home with your best friend, and that's that." And she finally agreed. That's why her ashes are here, and she has the most beautiful tree.

How did your friendship develop through writing letters while she was in prison?
She taught me so much. She was very political. She taught me about presidents, and the wars, you name it. When she'd write me, I responded to every paragraph. Just in case she was tricking me to see if I was paying attention!

I loved being her best friend. So many friends of mine said, "How can you be friends with her after what she's done?" I said, "It's going nothing to do with what she's done. It's got to do with our friendship."