Smirks, chuckles and comical grimaces have accompanied the story of a wife slicing off her husband’s penis on June 23, 1993. Twenty-five years later, a better understanding of domestic violence puts a different lens on the ordeal, along with the courtroom battle and the media circus that followed the search for a severed penis in a Prince William County field.
In a recent email interview with InsideNoVa, Lorena Gallo explained: “I do not believe I was a pioneer in the issue of domestic violence. Although I do feel that we have come a long way over the years, I still feel that we have a long way to go.”
Gallo manages her own nonprofit group and lives in the area with her longtime partner, David Ballinger, and their 12-year-old daughter.
“Obviously the incidents from 1993 have had a profound effect on my life, with regards to the media, it has allowed me to form the platform [on speaking about domestic violence] that I have chosen and to continue the work that I choose to do,” she said.
Over the past decade, Gallo has spoken out publicly about domestic violence in national television interviews with Oprah Winfrey and Steve Harvey, and shared her experience in panel discussions on the issue.
She has worked in real estate and cosmetology in the past. In 2008, Gallo founded Lorena’s Red Wagon, a nonprofit with a mission to help victims of domestic violence. Since 2008, she has hosted fundraisers and made public appearances to raise money for homeless shelters.
“I do very limited fundraisers, maybe a Zumbathon here and there, most of my funding comes from media appearances which allow me to continue to do the work that I do,” she said.
“I’m a certified and trained facilitator for domestic violence, I have volunteered with numerous shelters and organizations in the area,” she said. “I also help families in the homeless shelter and have done work recognizing the wonderful work that our first responders are doing.”
She explained that she is currently in the process of changing “Lorena’s Red Wagon” to the “Lorena Gallo Foundation,” stating simply that, “Only a small portion of the work I do makes it to social media, and that’s for a lot of families’/victims’ privacy.“
“She is always so full of life,” said Adam Smith, a server at Rockwood restaurant in Gainesville. “It’s so inspiring to know what she has experienced, and has turned that experience into avocation… Too often you see victims of domestic violence display the protective behaviors they had to adapt in order to avoid provocation, even once the violence has stopped.”
25 YEARS AGO
Around 3 a.m. June 23, 1993, John Wayne Bobbitt, a 26-year-old former Marine, arrived drunk at his home at the Maplewood Apartments, 8178 Peakwood Court, outside of Manassas. John’s then-wife, 23-year-old Lorena Bobbitt, would later testify that he also raped her when he got home.
Approximately two hours later, Lorena went to the kitchen for a drink of water and saw a kitchen knife on the counter. On an impulse, she grabbed the knife, went back to the bedroom where her husband was sleeping, and cut off his penis.
She then took the severed penis with her into the car and began driving. Only half a mile from her home, Lorena threw the penis out the window into an empty field by a 7-Eleven convenience store near the intersection of Old Centreville Road and Maplewood Road near Manassas Park.
Soon, she realized what she had done and called 911 to report the incident.
Prince William County police officers conducted a thorough search for the discarded penis.
Taxi driver Jim Talpot from Culpeper has strong memories of the 1993 incident. In a recent message to InsideNoVa, he recalled: “I worked the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift [with] a police scanner in my cab. When I heard the call for an ‘incident’ on Maplewood [Drive], I went to drive over there… This was before cell phones, so I went to the 7-Eleven to use the payphone. A police officer came in and in a panic grabbed a Big Bite box … and filled it with ice.”
Officer Mike Perry found the penis and officers packed it in ice and took it to the emergency room where John was already waiting. Urologist Dr. James T. Sehn and plastic surgeon Dr. David Berman performed a nine-hour surgery to reattach the organ.
The John and Lorena Bobbitt story and its reporting were groundbreaking at the time. Due to the graphic nature of the crime, news sources were at odds how to describe the crime. Initially, they used assorted euphemisms to describe John’s sex organ. Eventually, the news sources relented and began using the word ‘penis’ and splashed it over every news update.
The incident also started a national conversation about domestic violence on a large scale, though much of it was overshadowed by innuendos and jokes.
FACING THE LAW
On Nov. 8, 1993, John Bobbitt was tried for marital assault of his wife. He was acquitted.
On Jan. 10, 1994, Lorena Bobbitt was tried for malicious wounding of her husband. She was acquitted due to temporary insanity and sent to undergo psychiatric evaluation for 45 days at Central State Hospital in Petersburg.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul E. Ebert prosecuted both cases. Despite working with diverse matters in his 51-year law career, Ebert told InsideNoVa the Bobbitt case was unique in that it was “very unusual for that crime [in which] the penis gets cut off.”
Ebert said there was nothing he could do in Lorena Bobbitt’s case after “the jury heard the evidence and listened to testimony about irresistible impulse” because the law allows temporary insanity as a valid defense when someone has committed the crime of malicious wounding.
Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Mary Grace O’Brien was the assistant prosecuting attorney for the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s office during the Bobbitt trial. After receiving clearance from the court’s ethics board to speak with InsideNoVa, O’Brien stated in an email that, “I don’t know whether the verdict would have been different with any additional or different evidence — while I have always been impressed by the seriousness with which juries take their obligations, something I noted both as a lawyer and as a trial judge, I couldn’t speculate on what they discussed during their deliberations.”
Even years after the case, the Bobbitt trial would lead to a new law in Virginia. Clerk of Circuit Court Michele McQuigg requested in 2010 that former Del. Rich Anderson sponsor legislation to allow the destruction of evidence when it is no longer of legal value. “Her request arose [because] she still possessed … the knife used by Lorena Bobbitt in the commission of her crime,” Anderson told InsideNoVa.
The 1993 incident spawned thousands of lurid jokes, with people who were both shocked and drawn to this unique case. While the criminal trials were going on, media swarmed the Prince William County Courthouse wanting any piece of the action they could get.
“Manassas was a low-key place back then. The trial was the biggest thing in Manassas,” said John P. Colbert, a former Prince William County Sheriff ’s Office deputy now retired in Crestview, Florida, who worked in a security capacity during the first trial. Colbert also recalled the chaotic atmosphere at the courthouse. “There was an empty building across the courthouse. A lot of people, including 37 TV stations were set up.”
For those who could not get inside the courtroom to witness the spectacle, many reverted to tawdry entrepreneurship, selling clothing with sexual innuendos that gave great fodder to stand-up comedians. “Manassas, VA -A CUT above the rest!!” was a favorite.
In 1995, John and Lorena Bobbitt divorced. He returned to his birthplace near Buffalo, N.Y., while she reverted to her maiden name, Gallo, and stayed in the Prince William County area to quietly rebuild her life. She continued her work in skin care and esthetics while maintaining a low profile.
JOHN WAYNE BOBBITT
In 1993, John Bobbitt moved to Las Vegas, became a bartender, participated in a publicity tour and appeared on the Howard Stern Show. He also dabbled in pornography by making the adult films “John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut” in 1994, “Buttman at Nudes a Poppin’ 2” in 1995 and “Frankenpenis” in 1996.
Bobbitt met an exotic dancer, became engaged and was subsequently charged with domestic violence after striking his fiancée on separate occasions. Bobbitt was also charged with theft at a store and was sent to prison for violating his probation.
In 1998, Bobbitt was a guest on the World Wrestling Federation’s RAW television show. In 2001, Bobbitt married his second wife. In 2002, Bobbitt married his third wife.
In 2013, Bobbitt became a devout Christian, worked as a limo driver and carpenter, was set to marry for the fourth time, and was planning to write an autobiography. A year later, Bobbitt broke his neck in a car accident near Buffalo and, in 2016, was reportedly working as a tow truck driver and living a quiet life.
RETELLING THE STORY
In April, film producer Jordan Peele and his company Monkeypaw Productions announced plans for a four-part documentary, titled "Lorena," about the Bobbitt incident for Amazon Prime Video.
In keeping with his mission to produce thought-provoking projects, Peele chose to do this series to give Lorena Gallo a modern platform for telling her side of the story. According to Variety.com, this documentary “will also explore the national discussion on domestic and sexual assault in America.”