Most people remember the violent event. An allegedly abused wife cuts off her husband’s penis, drives away, and throws the organ out the window. For much of the world in 1993 and early 1994, John and Lorena Bobbitt and their subsequent criminal court cases captivated us. But how much of that event do people actually remember 25 years later?
It seems that many of the details have faded from our collective memory. It might even be that some of these details never made it into our memories in first place. The truth is, there were many strange and seemingly illuminating facts about the Bobbitts’ relationship that don’t get the airtime, but maybe should have. Was there a forced abortion? Did Lorena reach out for professional help? Did the couple misuse the public interest to make money?
It’s expected that everyone has heard the salacious, front-page details about the Bobbitts, but let’s dig under the surface a little. Read on to uncover some of the most bizarre facts about John and Lorena Bobbitt’s relationship.
A history of violence
While John’s alleged domestic violence played a big role in the case, and most people are aware of the allegations against him, the entire Bobbitt story is often viewed as a « he said, she said » back and forth. The abuse allegations against John are sometimes overlooked because, for one, he was acquitted on marital sexual assault charges. And two, testimony regarding much of the alleged abuse in the couple’s marriage was « barred » from John’s trial (per The Washington Post), as it only focused on the five days prior to the cutting.
There were, however, several violent episodes in their relationship that were documented and/or aided by witness accounts. Most of this evidence was presented during Lorena’s trial and helped contribute to her acquittal.
According to The Washington Post, witnesses testified seeing John « strike » and « shove » Lorena. Witnesses also recalled seeing bruises and injuries on her body throughout her relationship with John. In fact, Prince William County court records apparently indicated that John pleaded guilty to assault and battery on his wife in 1991 (via UPI). But it wasn’t only John who was accused of domestic violence. One of John’s cousins testified at Lorena’s trial (via The New York Times) that during one altercation Lorena « punched [John] in the face … jumped on [his] back and scratched his face. »
Overlooked by some and one of the primary influences for others, Lorena’s abortion is an interesting element of the Bobbitt case. According to to John’s lawyer, Lorena « just unexpectedly got pregnant and neither one thought it was the right time to have a baby » (via The Washington Post), so they went through with an abortion. Lorena tells a different story. She says that John pressured her to get the abortion. Despite her pleas, however, she was unable to convince her husband to keep the baby, so she went through with it.
In Lorena’s testimony, she recalled John taunting her and laughing at her, exaggerating the details of her upcoming procedure while sitting at the abortion clinic. On the night of the incident, as she stood by the refrigerator prior to grabbing the knife, Lorena testified that she remembered John mocking her about « the syringes going through [her] bones and that [she] was going to die. » These memories, according to Lorena, haunted her.
Throughout the Bobbitt’s marriage, Lorena demonstrated a certain knack for theft. According to Vanity Fair, she stole « out of [financial] desperation, » but at least one moment of theft stands out as particularly odd.
The first time Lorena was caught stealing, she was arrested for shoplifting a $170 dress from Nordstrom’s in 1991. She pleaded guilty and received 50 hours of community service. The next time on record, she was caught embezzling $7,200 from her employer and best friend, Janna Bisutti. According to The New York Times, Lorena also allegedly stole manicuring equipment from the nail salon, her place of work.
The most out-of-place theft came on the night of the incident. Vanity Fair reported that after cutting her husband, Lorena allegedly took $100 from the wallet of their house guest, Robert Johnson. Strangely enough, she also took his Nintendo Game Boy. Lorena never offered an explanation as to why she swiped the handheld device. But her defense lawyer Blair Howard attempted to lump the theft up into his temporary insanity defense strategy, calling it just one more element of the « crazy and bizarre » nature of Lorena’s crimes that evening, which he described as « a classic case of irresistible impulse » (per The Seattle Times).
Pattern of rape
Likely because of its high profile nature, the Bobbitt case is one of the landmark moments for marital rape in the United States. For much of the American population, the concept of marital rape was never even considered prior to the Bobbitts. Patricia Ireland, the former president of the National Organization for Women, told ABC News, « The idea of marital rape just didn’t connect. » She then added, tongue-in-cheek, « You said ‘I do,’ doesn’t that mean you’re gonna? »
Yet, while many people remember that Lorena accused John of raping her the night of the cutting, she claims that John sexually assaulted her numerous other times throughout their marriage. The Washington Post reported that Lorena’s defense team suggested it was this « constant and relentless violence » that drove Lorena to take action.
During the trials, several people testified that John told them he enjoyed rough sex, with one of his friends using the term « forced sex, » according to UPI. Bobbitt allegedly told friends that he liked to « hit women in the behind, make them scream, make them bleed and make them crawl. » Just hours before the attack, Lorena reportedly confided in her neighbor, Ella James, who gave her pamphlets about rape. These pamphlets which were found at the crime scene. Lorena also spoke about forced sex with her doctor, as per Dr. Patricia Inman’s testimony.
As we’ve shown, there were several alleged violent acts between the Bobbitts that were discussed during their individual trials, but perhaps the strangest and most dangerous of all came on Thanksgiving in 1990. According to both Lorena’s and John’s testimonies, the two were fighting over what television show to watch. Lorena states that John went outside and « broke off the roof antenna, » whereas John’s lawyer said he went outside because his wife « refused to serve him Thanksgiving dinner. » At this point, Lorena locked John outside. He supposedly then « got back in through a back door. » According to Lorena, he kicked down the door.
Part of the altercation also included John fleeing the house in his car, which Lorena apparently attempted to stop. Per UPI, in John’s own words, « As I backed up she opened the door. I backed up and she fell down. I pulled forward, closed the door and drove off across a neighbor’s lawn. »
According to The Washington Post, Lorena reported the incident to the Quantico Marine Base, and John met with a social worker. Despite John’s testimony that he didn’t remembering meeting the social worker, records indicate that the base’s Family Advocacy Case Review Committee « determined that this incident is established physical abuse of Mrs. Bobbitt by Lance Cpl. Bobbitt. »
The American dream
According to John, Lorena’s citizenship played a major role in her attack. At least, that’s what he and his family believe. John told 20/20 that he was pressured into marriage in the first place because « [Lorena’s] visa was expiring, » engaging in what he calls « a marriage of convenience. »
But the couple can’t even agree on who proposed to who, with John saying Lorena proposed and he « had to bite the bullet and get married, » and Lorena claiming that John asked her. Their marriage appears to have been shaky from the start, but, in the days leading up to John’s maiming, the topic of divorce took center stage.
Also speaking with 20/20, John’s brother Todd Biro said the possible divorce triggered Lorena’s violence. « I think at that point in time was when Lorena really realized that her American dream was about to end, » he said, « I think that that kind of set Lorena off. »
John appeared to agree with his family. « I was leaving her for good, » he told Vanity Fair. « It was what my mom said — If she couldn’t have me, no one could. And there was the green card, too. That didn’t come to my mind at the time, but it’s obvious. You have to be married to an American citizen for five years to get one, and we’d only been married for four. »
A troubling time
Despite the fact that the John’s lawyer positioned Lorena’s actions as « premeditated mayhem by a sexually unsatisfied wife » (as per the Los Angeles Times), she says that she simply acted on instinct. « I didn’t want to teach him a lesson, » she told Vanity Fair. « No, it was survival. Life and death. I was fearing for my life. »
The warning signs were there. Lorena appeared to be a woman in severe distress. In the weeks leading up to the event, her boss, Janna Bisutti, received complaints of Lorena’s shoddy workmanship from customers at the nail salon, something Lorena had never been accused of before. Lorena was said to be visibly « shaking » and trembling. She reported suffering from « nightmares » at this time as well.
Lorena was actually treated « for hyperventilation and quaking hands » a few days before the attack (per UPI), as well as recommended to consult with a victims’ service agency by her doctor during the same visit. Instead, Lorena tried to get a restraining order to protect her from John the day before the event, but was unwilling to wait the three hours required for processing.
Lost in translation
During Lorena’s trial for malicious wounding, a comment that she made to police kept coming up. « He always have orgasm and he doesn’t wait for me to have orgasm, » she reportedly said in the immediate aftermath. « He’s selfish. I don’t think it’s fair, so I pulled back the sheets then and I did it. »
At face value, this appears to be a motive. Lorena’s prosecution and John’s defense often portrayed her as an unsatisfied wife. For example, The Washington Post trial report stated that Lorena « struck out in anger over not being sexually satisfied. »
Yet, Lorena claimed that her statement’s meaning was lost in translation. « You know, I might’ve said things I didn’t mean to say, » she told Washingtonian. « Again, I was still learning English, and I tried to connect the words together, and you know, it was just a mess. I was trying to explain myself that there is no good when a man and woman have non-consensual sex. There was no translator at all, and that’s a very important point. Now that I look back at these things, I’m like, Oh, my God, a translator would’ve been nice. »
While Lorena’s broken English is often clear in her testimony or really any subsequent interview, she wasn’t alone in mentioning the language barrier. Even John stated that, just a few years prior to the incident, Lorena could « barely speak English. »
It was just joke
While Lorena’s defense argued that she cut her husband because of an « irresistible impulse, » one which she could not overcome after being raped by him earlier that night, one witness’ testimony suggested that Lorena’s actions may have been premeditated.
Connie James, who worked with Lorena years earlier, alleged that she, Lorena, and some other girls were all joking about what they would do if their husbands ever cheated on them. According to The New York Times, James said, « We’d probably kill them, » adding, « I’m just kidding, I’d probably take everything and leave him. »
That’s when James claims that Lorena took the joke too far, saying that she would dismember John because « that would hurt him more than just killing him. » James, who apparently doubles as the Joke Police, claimed that Lorena « appeared to be serious » when she said that.
In defense of Lorena, her lawyers positioned James as seeking riches, someone who, as per The New York Times, grew « cozy with Mr. Bobbitt’s family at the hotel here they have shared during the trial. »
The sex industry comes knocking
Perhaps because of the sexual nature of the case or because the parties involved were considered good looking, the sex industry took an interest in John and Lorena Bobbitt. Kim Masters, one of the first reporters to interview Lorena after the event, recalled the couple’s sex appeal playing a big part in the public interest.
« I do remember my Vanity Fair editor saying, ‘If these people were not attractive, nobody would be this amped up about the case,' » Masters told Washingtonian. « But because they were pretty attractive, it had this allure. I was surprised when he said that, but looking back, I think it’s true. »
After the trials and the acquittals, both Lorena and John were inundated with offers. Lorena claims that she was offered $1 million to pose nude for Playboy, an offer she turned down. John wasn’t as disagreeable. He shot two pornography films, John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut and Frankenpenis. According to adult film star Ron Jeremy, his collaborator on both films, Uncut was « among the highest-grossing adult films of all time. » Apparently neither film made John any real money, however, because, in Jeremy’s words, « the porn industry is a crooked place. »
Working the entertainment angle
The entire time the Bobbitt scandal played out in the public eye, the topic of money floated around the periphery. Witnesses were accused of trying to financially capitalize on the publicity of the case, and both Lorena and John reportedly took advantage of the spotlight as well.
According to The Washington Post, both parties quickly hired entertainment lawyers. While Lorena’s media appearances in between trials received criticism from John’s lawyers during their client’s trial, John began his own press tour soon after. Lorena did a couple of interviews during the initial media frenzy, one with Vanity Fair, which required her to wade into a pool for the photoshoot. But John held off on doing any press until after his acquittal, a shrewd move that his media attorney said « maximized his earning potential. »
That statement appeared accurate. Though The Washington Post reported Lorena was « represented by an agent for movie deals and such, » her earnings paled in comparison to John’s. In addition to $260,000 he reportedly received from Howard Stern’s fundraising efforts, John also participated in a cross-country « Stump the Bobbitt » tour, making money with each appearance while guessing the punchlines of Bobbitt jokes.
As one of the most infamous cases in American history, the Bobbitts have been the inspiration for many different people. They’ve been mentioned or alluded to in films, songs, and books, and now there’s a Jordan Peele-produced TV docuseries. But not all of the Bobbitt inspirations have been wholesome, and some have been downright strange.
Take the Giant Eunicids, for example, a wormlike marine creature that has been dubbed by some the Bobbitt worm. The name might be a result of the creature’s scissor-like jaws, an allusion to the knife and cutting, or it might be because the worm resembles, well… you get the idea. Maybe it’s both. Either way, it’s a little odd.
Then there are the copycat acts that been committed since, namely those by Catherine Kieu Becker and Brigitte Harris. Both of these women cut off a male’s penis and then destroyed the organ, seemingly preventing a successful surgery like John’s. According the New York Daily News, Harris claimed that she « researched Lorena Bobbitt’s 1993 castration of her husband before taking revenge on her abusive father » and that she « recalled how doctors reattached John Bobbitt’s severed penis. »
For Lorena, a woman trying to use her platform to help victims of domestic violence, she’s looking to inspire people in more proactive ways.