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Book on serial killer notes Upshur natives

December 3, 2013
By Melissa Toothman - Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

BUCKHANNON - Two Upshur County names played a part in the capture of one of the most notorious female criminals in U.S. history - Florida serial killer Aileen Carol Wuornos, whose case was documented in several books and movies.

And today, "Lethal Intent" - a work of nonfiction by author Sue Russell which details that investigation and tells Wuornos' story - will be reissued, including information on the police work done by the Upshur natives.

Upshur County's Forensic Mondays instructor David Taylor and the late Tom Muck, a former Adrian resident, were both involved in the investigation of a series of murders that would later result in multiple death penalty convictions of Wuornos.

Taylor served as a major crimes detective, specializing in homicide, with the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. at the time the first body - which belonged to Dick Humphrey - was discovered, according to Taylor and information in "Lethal Intent," which was first published in 2002.

The late Tom Muck was a detective with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in Dade City, Fla.

"He (Muck) arrested her (Wuornos) for the murder occurring in his county," Taylor said. "He and I met in my office in Ocala, not knowing each other. Tom noticed the West Virginia State Police patch clock I had on my desk.

"He said he was from West Virginia, too. I said 'Where?' He said, 'Trust me, you have never heard of it Adrian!'

"He was as shocked as I was (that) we traveled the same roads before coming to Florida," Taylor added.

The arrest led to her conviction for six murders and resulted in Wuornos' execution on Oct. 9, 2002. She is known as the nation's first female predatory sexual serial killer, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She allegedly admitted to the murder of seven men. Only six bodies were ever found, Russell said in a recent interview with The Inter-Mountain.

"Lethal Intent: A Pinnacle True Crime Classic" is now available in paperback and as an e-book with new photographs and content. Taylor is mentioned by name in the early chapters of the book for his involvement in the investigation of the first murder, that occurred on Nov. 30, 1989.

Taylor recently reflected on his memories of the investigation.

"Truly this was a remarkable case," Taylor said. "The misery left from her path of destruction was just like a horrific hurricane; unimaginable personal devastation!"

"With hindsight being 20-20, I had no idea of the continuing and enormous impact this case would have in the entertainment industry, 20-plus years after the fact," Taylor said. "I have read the books associated with this case by the various authors and by far Sue's account is the most accurate."

Although Russell has written many nonfiction books,"Lethal Intent" is the author's first true crime book.

Russell, who lives in California, traveled across the nation to spend many hours interviewing attorneys, law enforcement officials and family members of the victims who were willing to speak.

She even covered the trial.

"I'd been wanting to write a true crime book," Russell said in a recent telephone interview. "I'd been writing plenty of crime articles in my time as a journalist. I'd had a couple of decades under my belt at that time. I'd written a lot of crime.

"How can you not be fascinated by this sort of out-of-left-field case in which a women killed a lot of men? I was so fascinated... everything about it drew me in. I wanted to know a lot more about her and the case."

Wuornos was a prostitute who went on a killing spree in 1990, according to Russell's account in "Lethal Intent." Wuornos usually fatally shot the men prior to removing any valuables. In January 1991, records at a pawnshop led to the then-34-year-old's arrest, according to Russell's findings.

In the early chapters of the book, Russell reveals that Wuornos became a prostitute at the age of 12 and accepted payments in the form of beer, loose change, cigarettes and, eventually, drugs. The jacket of the 2002 edition of "Lethal Intent" states that Wuornos gave birth to a child at 15 and became a "hitchhiking hooker" at 16. She would eventually receive six death sentences following her trial, which began Jan. 13, 1992.

Although she wrote Wuornos' character "from the outside in" by interviewing various sources, Russell also spoke with Wuornos by phone a couple of times. However, Wuornos was not always truthful, Russell said, and would often recount conflicting versions of the same story.

For Russell, understanding Wuornos' motives for murder was a puzzle.

"I had to try to get inside her head," she said. "I felt in my own mind that I really sort of cracked that. I came to really be able to pin it down to the point where I felt I knew why she killed, when she killed, what designated what she described as a 'killing day.' At the end, I really felt that I was at peace with why she did it, what facilitated those murders."

Taylor said law enforcement officers faced many challenges in solving the murders.

"No doubt this case was as complex as it was bizarre from the beginning," Taylor said. "Who would be out there killing middle-aged white males traveling major Florida thoroughfares and robbing them of their personal effects and vehicles?

"Additionally, what was problematic from the beginning was the scope of where these murders occurred: numerous jurisdictions throughout Florida. Once cases started getting linked together, then multiple agencies began pooling their expert resources together under one command."

The case was detailed in two documentaries - "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" (1992) and "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer" (2003) - as well as a TV movie, "Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story" (1992), which starred Jean Smart and Park Overall, and an acclaimed film, "Monster" (2003). Charlize Theron, the star of "Monster," won the Best Actress Academy Award for portraying Wuornos.

Contact Melissa Toothman by email at



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