No act of violence has ever before become a punch line quicker than that of Lorena Bobbitt’s lobbing off of her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife while he slept in their Virginia home in 1993.
Her and her husband’s volatile relationship became fodder for tabloids and the source material for comedy skits, but what was missing from the enduring narrative, she has since said, were all the underlying reasons that led to that fateful night.
“They always just focused on it …” Lorena Gallo, as she is now known, said in January to The New York Times of the overarching obsession with her ex-husband John’s detached member. “And it’s like they all missed or didn’t care why I did what I did.”
But a new docu-series promises to cast a new light on a story many believe to know so well.
Amazon’s four-part web television series “Lorena” has been described as “a groundbreaking re-investigation of the deep moral issues and painful human tragedies buried at the heart of this infamous American scandal.
“Lost in the tabloid coverage and jokes was the opportunity for a national discussion on domestic and sexual assault in America,” Amazon said.
Ahead of the series’ Friday premiere, below is a look at the story of John and Lorena Bobbitt.
Lorena Gallo was born in 1969 in Ecuador and was raised in Caracas, Venezuela.
After falling in love with Virginia through the movies and during a visit as a teen, Lorena moved to the U.S. following high school graduation. She enrolled in a community college and took a job first as a nanny, then as a manicurist at a nail salon. Though she sometimes considered becoming a dentist, like her father, Lorena said her highest hopes lay in getting married and starting a family.
John Wayne Bobbitt was enjoying a night out at a bar on the Quantico Marine Corps base when he met Lorena.
She was only 19 and not yet fluent in English, but the pair hit it off and began dating.
“I thought John was very handsome,” she told Vanity Fair in 2018. “Blue eyes. A man in a uniform, you know? He was almost like a symbol — a Marine, fighting for the country. I believed in this beautiful country. I was swept off my feet. I wanted my American Dream.”
The relationship consisted at first of chaperoned dates to the movies and trips to Friendly’s for ice cream, Lorena said. It was innocent, and Lorena was happy.
“I was 19, but I was a young 19,” she told HuffPost in 2016.
Lorena and John were married on June 18, 1989, and settled in together in Manassas, Virginia. John was 22, and Lorena was 20, and a virgin, she told HuffPost.
It wasn’t long after they wed that John allegedly became violent, first verbally and then physically and sexually, according to Lorena.
Throughout their relationship, Prince William County police responded to half a dozen complains of domestic violence at the Bobbitt home, and in one instance, arrested John for hitting Lorena in the face, police told ABC’s “20/20.”
“Only in one instance were charges brought,” Kim Chinn, a now-retired sergeant with the Prince William County Police Department, told ABC News. “We arrested John and charged him with assault and battery, and he got a cross-warrant against Lorena and charged her with assault and battery. One of their charges was null-crossed and the other one dismissed.”
After four years of marriage, the couple planned to divorce. But that plan was ruined one summer night in 1993.
On June 23, 1993, Lorena crawled into bed and cut off John’s penis as he slept.
After severing John’s penis, Lorena left their apartment with the severed appendage and fled to the nail salon where she worked. On her way there, she threw the penis into a field across from a 7-Eleven, and she called police to tell them where it was located.
“I tried to drive the car, obviously, but I had this thing in my hand so I couldn’t drive so I got rid of it,” she told the Times of her decision to toss her husband’s member.
Police searched for and located the penis, which was rushed to the hospital and reattached to John during a nine-and-a-half hour urological and plastic surgery.
Lorena was charged with malicious wounding in the attack, but her statements to police led to their in turn charging John with marital sexual assault.
It was the start of what would become a media circus.
Lorena and John’s accounts of what inspired the attack that June night vastly differed.
According to Lorena, that evening was marred with violence well before she grabbed a knife.
Lorena told a jury she awoke to John and a friend coming home from a night of drinking. The friend crashed in the living room, while John headed to the bedroom and raped Lorena before falling asleep, she said. John maintains he never raped Lorena.
“I said I didn’t want to have sex,” Lorena said at trial. “He pushed me and held my hands. I said no twice … he said forced sex excites him.”
After the alleged assault, Lorena went the kitchen for a glass of water, but returned to the bedroom with a knife, which she used to cut off John’s penis.
Lorena saw the knife and she said the years of abuse she endured at her husband’s hands came flooding at once. She said she didn’t remember what happened next.
“I wasn’t in my conscious mind,” she told the Times.
During her trial, which was televised nearly in its entirety and, according to a Newsweek poll, followed by nearly 60 percent of the country, Lorena can be seen crying and shaking as she describes being allegedly beaten and raped by her husband.
Her testimony was backed up by a string of witnesses, some of whom said they had seen bruises covering her arms and neck; others testified that John hit Lorena in front of them. One witness testified Lorena had confided in them about her husband’s violence. Others swore John bragged about forcing his wife to have sex.
“I didn’t want to teach him a lesson,” Lorena told Vanity Fair years later. “No, it was survival. Life and death. I was fearing for my life.”
John said Lorena attacked him in a fit of vengeful rage because he planned to leave her, and has since claimed she was angry that their marriage would dissolve before she could get a green card through him.
“She was never abused, she was always the abuser and she cut off my penis because I was going to leave her,” he told the Times.
John was acquitted of marital sexual assault in a separate trial, which was not televised, in November 1993.
Two months later, Lorena was found not guilty of malicious wounding due to temporary insanity in January 1994. She spent 45 days in a psychiatric hospital where doctors determined she wasn’t a threat to herself or the community and was released.
“I still have my American dream,” Lorena told reporters as she was released from a Virginia state mental hospital.
The trials for John and Lorena played out in the media more like a soap opera than coverage of two hearings where both parties, if found guilty, could have faced 20-year prison sentences.
Many believed Lorena to be a frenzied and vengeful woman whose heinous act was the stuff of every man’s nightmare and one that went unpunished at that.
Some in the media wondered if she could even rightfully claim to have been raped by someone to whom she was legally bound, questioning whether marital rape was an oxymoron.
At the time, marital rape had only recently been made a crime in all 50 states, and was apparently nearly impossible to prove in Virginia.
Others made light of the incident; outside the courthouse, vendors sold “Love Hurt” shirts and penis-shaped candy, according to reports at the time. Mention “Bobbitt” and a laugh track wouldn’t be far behind.
“I was the subject of so many jokes in the ’90s and to me it was just cruel,” Lorena told the Times. “They didn’t understand. Why would they laugh at my suffering?”
But from the anguish came a calling that Lorena said she has followed ever since.
“I’ll put myself through the jokes and everything as long as I can shine a light on domestic violence and sexual assault and marital rape,” she said.
What Came Next
John went on to capitalize on the assault that made him famous. He appeared on "The Howard Stern Show," fronted the unsuccessful band The Severed Parts, and starred in the pornographic films, “John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut” and “John Wayne Bobbitt’s Frankenpenis.”
In 1994, John was convicted of domestic battery against an ex-girlfriend. In 1999, John pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted grand larceny in connection to the theft of $140,000 worth of clothes from a Nevada store.
He was sentenced to five years’ probation. Later that year, he was found guilty of harassing an adult actress he dated.
He was also charged several times with battery against his third wife. He was convicted in February 2003 of battery against the woman, was acquitted of a domestic violence charge stemming from a second incident involving the woman and her son, and in the third instance in 2006, was acquitted of a domestic battery charge.
John has denied any wrongdoing in all instances.
Lorena went back to working as a manicurist and went on to style hair and sell real estate. She attended her Catholic church, became a citizen and returned to school, where she met David Bellinger. The pair became study buddies and built a solid friendship before, years later, they became romantic.
She and Bellinger have a 13-year-old daughter.
She often shied away from the press and turned down a $1 million offer to pose for Playboy. At the time, she was the sole provider for her parents, who moved to the U.S. after her and John’s divorce.
Lorena trained to become a domestic violence advocate and sometimes helps to facilitate a 15-week educational and support group with survivors of domestic violence in her county, HuffPost reported.
She also founded Lorena’s Red Wagon, a nonprofit that helps survivors of domestic violence.
It’s her goal to open her own shelter to provide a safe space for those in need.
“When I was abused, I went to the salon and I didn’t have the key and had to sleep in my car outside,” she told the Times.
She and her family have remained in Manassas.
Asked by the Times why she would stay where she and John lived all those years ago, Lorena replied: “I live here. This is my home. Why should he have the last laugh?”