By Sue Russell, Author of Lethal Intent
We like to imagine that we'd do anything for our closest friends and loved ones. But "anything" is a huge, elastic concept. Would we really do "anything," or even want to do "anything"? When the abstract turns concrete, things can look very different.
Have you ever stayed silent while a friend cheats on a spouse, or looked the other way when a friend drinks and drives, maybe with children in the car? How many secrets would you keep or lies would you tell? Where would you draw the line, and have you ever truly been tested?
I'd bet most of us have loyally provided support during bad break-ups and ugly divorces and been a tower of strength during losses, crises and tragedies. But never in our wildest dreams could we imagine a friend or partner telling us that they had committed murder, let alone staying silent to protect them.
That's what Tyria Moore did for her lover, serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who shot to death seven men and is the subject of my true crime book, Lethal Intent. Tyria - or Ty - stretched the elastic bounds of love and friendship further than most of us can imagine.
The two met in a Florida bar and immediately became lovers. They were inseparable. But Aileen was a prostitute and for whatever reason, their bond was soon more emotional than sexual. Aileen, a borderline personality, lived in fear of abandonment and clung desperately to their relationship like a life raft. By contrast, Ty was cheerful and easygoing.
When Aileen returned home one night late in 1989 and blithely announced, "I killed a man today," Ty pretended she didn't hear her. She certainly wished she hadn't. Ty initially claimed that she thought Aileen was joking (later, I learned she was actually thinking something very different.)
What could Ty possibly have told herself to explain away the cache of men's possessions that Aileen gleefully shared with her that night, or the stranger's car parked outside which they hurriedly used to move house? Aileen said the car was borrowed from a friend. But Ty knew better than anyone that Aileen had no friends.
Soon after Aileen's shocking admission of murder, the discovery of a male, bullet-riddled body was reported on television. The victim's car - that car - was found in the woods where Aileen abandoned it. That year, Aileen brought home several other unfamiliar vehicles. Recklessly, she kept the car of missing missionary Peter Siems for an entire month. Only after a drunken crash over the July 4th weekend did she rip off the license plate with her bare hands, instruct Ty to run, and abandon it.
Denial can only go so far, though. After the initial shock and disbelief, I'd certainly hope I'd drop a dime, as cops put it. I hope I'd turn in a partner who was a killer, even knowing that they might get the death penalty. Tyria's silence likely cost six men their lives and she must forever live with that.
While there was no proof that she was present during any of the murders, she knew of at least three and did absolutely nothing. In fact, Ty stayed with Aileen for another year until police sketches of the two of them aired on television and, fearing for her own hide, she fled the state.
If Tyria was loathe to put the pieces together, she wasn't too queasy about sharing the dead man's belongings. When police eventually picked her up, Ty had in her possession victim Dick Humphreys' briefcase, with the lock's combination scribbled on a scrap of paper. Her murder-related cache also included clocks, a word processor, and items of men's clothing.
She readily cooperated in a police sting to try to trap Aileen - by then behind bars on an unrelated charge - into confessing to the murders. And and over the course of eleven taped telephone calls (which Aileen suspected were taped), she was successful in doing just that. Ty convinced Aileen that the police were getting ready to arrest her for murders and begged her to come clean.
Aileen wouldn't let Ty pay for crimes she didn't commit. She was a cold-blooded killer, yet her feelings for Ty were so powerful that she was willing to incriminate herself to keep her girlfriend out of trouble.
Sitting in the defendant's chair at her first murder trial, Aileen wept the day that Ty finally took the stand. Ty pointedly avoided Aileen's gaze and coolly testified against her. Her testimony took Aileen one step closer to a death sentence. Only when Aileen saw Ty on the witness stand, I believe, did it really hit home that the love of her life had "betrayed" her.
Ty has since said that she regrets not going to the police immediately after Aileen first confided in her. But why didn't she? Much later, Ty calmly gave me the shocking explanation. She knew Aileen was a very angry person, she said, and she'd just hoped that perhaps one murder would have "got it out of her system."
Hopefully, few of us would cover for a killer because we hoped their crime was a one-time thing.
While most cover-ups are more pedestrian, even murders are quite often kept secret. Friends and lovers and spouses may keep their silence because of fear, misguided loyalty, or a missing moral compass or conscience. In Ty's shoes, what would you have done, and when?
There are many ways in which we can find ourselves keeping others' secrets. When would you say enough is enough? How big would the infraction have to be? Have you ever covered up a transgression for a friend? And if you have, what happened?
Aileen Wuornos was executed by lethal injection in October, 2002, after a decade on Death Row. Award-winning journalist and author Sue Russell's fact crime book Lethal Intent is being re-issued in November 2010 as a Pinnacle Books "True Crime Classic." Follow her on Twitter or Facebook (www.facebook.com/SueRussellWrites). Thanks to my friend and colleague, Sue, for this post!