Lorena Bobbitt moves on after 'the incident'
By Helena de Bertodano
Lorena Gallo - formerly Bobbitt - says that she only realised she had cut off her husband's penis when she found it in her hand as she was driving away from their home.
"I suddenly realised I was holding his member," she says. "I threw it out of the window just as I was passing a 7-Eleven."
It is 15 years since that steamy night on 23 June, 1993, when 24-year-old Bobbitt committed a crime so medieval and extraordinary that she made international headlines.
As I wait for her at a restaurant near her home in Virginia, where we have agreed to meet, I wonder if I will even recognise her. The pictures I have seen of her date from the court case and show a grim-faced, frizzy-haired brunette. Instead I am greeted by a bubbly blonde who is so slim and tiny that she looks like she would have trouble swatting a fly.
Behind her is a huge man, her boyfriend, Dave Bellinger, who, she says, will be sitting in on the interview. "As moral support," she explains in a soft voice, which bears traces of her Latin American roots.
Bellinger, who towers over both of us and is almost as broad as he is tall, glares at me and I do not dare argue.
Besides, she has made it clear that she does not want to dwell on "the incident". What else are we going to talk about? The weather?
Lorena, now 39 and using her maiden name, Gallo (which translates as "cockerel"), is wearing a royal blue shirt with matching royal blue eyeliner, a black pencil skirt and wedge sandals. She wears a gold heart on a chain and has small, expressive hands, perfectly manicured (she still works part-time as a manicurist, the profession she had at the time of "the incident").
She has agreed to an interview to promote her new foundation, Lorena's Red Wagon, which supports women in shelters, particularly victims of domestic violence. "When I talk to them I feel like I'm reliving my marriage," she says.
As the daughter of a dental technician, growing up first in Ecuador, then Venezuela, she had a happy childhood, "although we were poor". She came to America at the age of 18 "for a better life".
Working as a nanny while studying in the US, she met John Wayne Bobbitt, a tall, muscular Marine, one evening in a bar in Virginia. "He was attractive and young and there was an attraction there, so that was basically it."
They married a few months later.
It was then that his personality began to change, she says. "He would get frustrated at work and then he would come and beat me up or degrade me mentally. I was like his punching-bag. At the beginning I was taking it, but then I started to think, 'This is not right.'"
The lowest point came when she became pregnant and, she says, he made her have an abortion. "He said that the baby would be Spanish and ugly and sick, like in a wheelchair. I was young and stupid and I believed him. After (the abortion) I felt so guilty it was horrible."
Despite everything, she still loved her husband. "It is like if you have a dog that loves you so much. Your dog is faithful, loyal to you. You keep on kicking, kicking. Eventually that dog is going to turn around and bite you."
On the night of June 23, 1993, after four years of marriage, John Wayne Bobbitt was bitten. He returned from an evening out drinking with a friend and, allegedly, forced himself on his wife. (He was tried for and acquitted of spousal rape in 1994.)
"I was asleep, then he came home, and I felt attacked, and that's when he raped me." As her husband lay snoring, she got up to fetch some water from the kitchen. "It's not something that I remember in detail, but there were all these pictures going through my head: all of the physical and mental abuse. I must have picked up a knife because it was in my hand - but I don't remember picking it up. I never planned to do anything. The next thing I remember I was in the car, driving."
With a carving-knife, she had cut off more than half her husband's penis. As Lorena fled clutching the severed member, Bobbitt staggered from his bed and woke up his drinking pal, who was sleeping on the sofa. The friend drove him to hospital - the hospital where Lorena was taken after going to another friend's house and appealing for help.
"I told her, 'I need help: I don't know what I did to John.' It was a desperate situation. She took me to the police. They were very nice. They took me to the hospital." Lorena told them she had chucked Bobbitt's penis out of the window to the left of the 7-Eleven convenience store. A search party was sent out, the penis was located, packed in ice and - after nine- and-a-half hours of surgery - reattached to Bobbitt.
Lorena was charged with "malicious wounding" and commented to police: "He always has an orgasm and he doesn't wait for me to have an orgasm. He's selfish." But she says she was never treated like a criminal: "They never even put handcuffs on me."
During the subsequent court case, which gripped the nation, the jury found her not guilty owing to temporary insanity.
Afterwards, despite being hailed as some sort of feminist icon, she tried to keep a low profile. "I didn't choose this recognition. I'm not a feminist. It was difficult. If I went to a supermarket, people recognised me.
"If I went to a restaurant, people would wait for me to pick up a knife to cut a hamburger, then take a picture. I'd say: 'That's not very tasty.'" She hesitates. "I mean tasteful."
Her husband, however, enjoyed the sudden notoriety. He formed a band, the Severed Parts, then, when that failed, accepted an offer to star in a porn film, John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut, followed by Franken-penis. Later he became a priest in the Universal Life Church in Las Vegas. "Anyone can do that," comments Bellinger. "You just register online."
Bobbitt set up a removals company but continued to have run-ins with the law and was repeatedly arrested on suspicion of abusing girlfriends and wives.
I ask them what they would say to Bobbitt if they saw him now. "I have no ill feelings about the guy," says Bellinger. "I feel sorry for him in certain aspects. He made a lot of wrong choices, got a lot of money drained from him."
Lorena, in the meantime, underwent a long period of therapy and now has a strangely detached view of what happened. "You know, it happened to me; it could have happened to you, to anybody in the world," she says. "It just had to happen to me.
"My past is like a scar. I cannot move to the mountains and put a bag over my face. I realise now I am here for a reason - to help other women.'
Although she does not court publicity, she is not averse to it. Someone, she says, was planning to write a book about her but it never materialised. Occasionally there is talk of a film.
Lorena met Bellinger a few years after her divorce from Bobbitt. "She kept asking me out for years; I kept saying no," says Bellinger. Lorena laughs: "Don't flatter yourself." I ask Bellinger if he was aware of her past. "Oh, yes," he says. "I followed the court case."
He says he is used to the jokes: "The usual one is: 'Do you sleep on your front?' "
Lorena interjects: "It's a therapy to joke about it, but it took me years to reach that stage - I couldn't talk about it for years and years."
Now they have a two-year-old daughter, Olivia, and plan to marry some day. Do they ever argue? "Oh, yes," says Bellinger. "Any couple who says they don't fight is lying."
"But it never escalates," Lorena says hastily. "It's just verbal."
She is horrified at the copycat crimes the case has spawned. "Like the Super Glue one," says Bellinger, referring to the woman who cut off her husband's penis and Super-Glued it to his stomach.
"Oh, my God, yes," says Lorena. "You know, I didn't want to set an example."
In any way, is she is glad that her life took such a dramatic turn? "In a way, yes. If I hadn't done what I did, I would be a typical suburban wife, stuck in a career in nails, probably with three children, getting older, nothing changing. It made me do a lot of growing up, a lot of learning. But I'm not glad it happened. It was a tragedy. If I could rewind, I would definitely erase my marriage."
She has not seen Bobbitt since the court case, although for years he refused to divorce her and used to send her flowers and cards. He obviously still cared about her, I say. "I don't know," says Lorena. "I think he just wanted publicity. He wanted to spark his career."
Does she ever regret telling the police where to find his penis? "Oh, no," she says, amazed at the question. "Honestly, I'm glad he recovered from the surgery."
How people react to Lorena usually depends on their gender. "Women tend to be more sympathetic," says Bellinger. "Men expect to see some big bulky monster of a woman. What's hilarious is when men don't know her and try to pick her up: they crack jokes about her name, Lorena, because it makes them think of Lorena Bobbitt."
'Yes,' says Lorena, giggling. 'Then I say, "I have a surprise for you" - and I tell them who I am."