PORT ORANGE, Fla. - A framed photo of serial killer Aileen Wuornos sits on the bar at The Last Resort, the place where she had her last beer. Her photo is also on bottles of hot sauce and T-shirts sold there, while an airbrushed portrait lists the seven men she killed, along with her last words. At a nearby motel, guests often ask for the room where Wuornos stayed.
Almost 22 years after her arrest and more than 10 years since her execution, the hitchhiking prostitute depicted by Charlize Theron in the 2003 movie "Monster" continues to fascinate the public. Some sympathize with her, saying the abuse she suffered as a child and later as an adult made her snap. Others are captivated by the idea of a female serial killer. Some who stop in at The Last Resort simply want to see the bar from the movie.
Al Bulling, who's owned the tiny brick biker bar for 33 years and who appeared in "Monster," says he's simply honouring her last wishes. "She wanted to be remembered and keep the memory going," he said. "Well, we'll keep it going for her."
Michelle Forbes of New Orleans decided to visit The Last Resort after seeing the movie. "She was always a character that really fascinated me," said Forbes.
Forbes said the bar — covered inside and out with graffiti — "is not the kind of place I would go under most circumstances." She waited in her car until a friend joined her, but once inside, she listened to Bulling and a bartender tell stories about Wuornos for an hour.
"They were really happy to talk about it. They were really nice. They made me feel bad for cowering in the car!" Forbes said with a laugh, adding, "I do think they were trying to keep things in her spirit. I think they were honouring her, and not just making a spectacle."
Wuornos' life story is as lurid as her crimes. She was raped and abused growing up in Michigan. Her father committed suicide in prison and her mother abandoned her. She began selling sex at an early age and classmates shunned her. Her grandparents kicked her out at age 15 and she hitchhiked out of Michigan, eventually ending up in Florida, where she survived selling sex on the highways. She claimed she killed her first victim in self-defence after he raped her.
A burly bartender at The Last Resort who goes only by the name of Cannonball was working there the evening of Jan. 19, 1991 when Wuornos was arrested at the bar. Cannonball, who played himself in "Monster," has told the story countless times.
"I've been asked some of the stupidest questions," he said. "'Did she act like a serial killer?' Well hell, I don't know. I've never seen one. I don't know what they act like. And one guy asked me, 'Well, were you scared of her?' I ain't never been scared of nobody."
Wuornos wasn't a regular customer, just someone who came in now and then, probably while hitchhiking back to what was then called the Fairview Motel, where she shared a room with her girlfriend, Tyria Moore. Cannonball said he only knew her name because she introduced herself.
"When they first come in she goes 'My name is Lee and this is my girlfriend Ty and we're gay.' And I'm, 'Well my name's Cannonball and I don't care. Pay for what you get, don't cause me no grief and I'll treat you square. I don't care what anybody is,'" Cannonball said.
The Last Resort is a popular biker bar even without the Wuornos connection. Hank Williams Jr. mentioned the bar in the song "Daytona Nights" and some regulars have had their ashes scattered outside, beneath a live oak with battered Japanese motorcycles hanging from the limbs.
Still, Bulling is not shy about promoting the Wuornos story. The bar's slogan is "Home of ice cold beer and killer women," and he sold the hot sauce on eBay until the site forced him to stop, saying he was profiting from a serial killer.
Customers like to pose with the framed photo of Wuornos on the bar, and there's also a framed and signed "Monster" movie poster. T-shirts for sale show a picture of Wuornos being arrested, and the "Crazed Killer Hot Sauce" lists her execution date under a photo that makes her look crazy. The label reads, "WARNING!! This Hot Sauce could drive you insane, or at least off on some murderous rampage. Aileen liked it and look what it did to her."
Wuornos' childhood friend, Dawn Botkins, who exchanged thousands of letters with Wuornos while she was on death row, is upset by all this. She says Bulling "is just using the situation that Aileen just happened to be there and all of a sudden he's on TV saying, 'Yup, this was her hang out.' No it wasn't. She just happened to be there that night."
Botkins said she stopped by the bar with her husband Dave and told Wuornos about it during a prison visit. "I said to Dave, 'Oh my God! He really is using and abusing her,'" Botkins recalled. "So I went to my next visit with Aileen and said, 'I'm telling you, he's got T-shirts and everything' and she said, 'I can't believe that. He don't even know me.'"
But Bulling insists he's not exploiting her and talks about Wuornos with respect. He said many who come by, especially women, are sympathetic toward her. "I have not had one woman in here yet, I don't care if they were 9 or 90, that said she got what she deserved. Every woman felt sorry for her in one way or another," Bulling said.
The bar was featured in several scenes in "Monster" and prominently in the DVD special features, including a clip of Theron signing her name on the ceiling. Cannonball and Bulling are also interviewed in the DVD featurette on the making of the movie.
Bulling's Wuornos collection includes a large, locked briefcase of court documents, police records, transcripts, photos, articles and films about Wuornos' life, along with copies of her letters to Botkin and a sealed plastic bag containing a bra that Wuornos wore. In one of her letters, she described hanging the bra on The Last Resort ceiling the night before her arrest.
At the motel where Wuornos often stayed, now called the Scoot Inn, owners Mike and Dawn Bock said they didn't know about the connection until just before they signed the papers to buy it.
"It didn't so much bother me because Aileen Wuornos didn't do any of the killing here," Bock said during an interview in the room Wuornos used. But he said his wife has pointed out that "there was probably some evidence at some point in time that got washed down that shower in there."
Aside from a small photo of Wuornos on a bulletin board behind their office desk, the Bocks don't publicize the infamous story. But when they took over, the local newspaper published an article about the new owners and the motel's past. That day, there was a constant stream of cars pulling up in the parking lot to see it, with many people getting out to take photos.
"I personally don't broadcast anything about it," Bock said. "But I'm certainly not ashamed of it. If somebody brings it up and says, 'Hey, is this the Aileen Wuornos motel?' Then sure, then I'll talk about it."
Customers often ask for Wuornos' room. It was No. 8, but the rooms have since been renumbered and it is now No. 7. Others just want photos.
"I had somebody who takes photographs of bathrooms, oddly enough, of people who were mass murderers and infamous people," Bock said. "She didn't take any pictures of the bedroom, she just went straight to the bathroom and started taking pictures of that."
If You Go...
THE LAST RESORT: 5812 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange, Fla.
SCOOT INN: 5964 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange, Fla., http://scootinnmotel.com/.