What Really Happened With John And Lorena Bobbitt?

Before the O.J. Simpson trial (and well before the #MeToo era), there was another case that brought sexual assault and domestic violence into the world's living rooms. The sensational John and Lorena Bobbitt story of 1993 was one part a shocking story of violence between a married couple and about five parts media sensation.

The story got so big and out of control, it became hard to track all the details, and there was no Wikipedia or Google to look it all up. The disinformation problem with the current state of the internet is one thing, but hearing most of the details about a major crime primarily through pop culture and fake information sources was a wholly different beast.

And just as soon as the Bobbitts became national news, they faded into obscurity, simply the punchline for a series of tired jokes. It took decades for people to finally put together the real story.

The night in question

John and Lorena Bobbitt were married in 1989, just months after they met. But by 1993, things were falling apart. The couple fought regularly, according to ABC News, but no one could have predicted where things would end up. On June 23, 1993, in Manassas, Va., John came home late after drinking with a friend and climbed into bed.

What followed is a bit hazy, and both John and Lorena have their own separate stories about it. What happened after that is crystal clear, though. Taking a large knife from the kitchen, Lorena returned to the bedroom, pulled the covers off of John, and severed his penis from his body. Lorena then took the knife and disembodied organ, jumped into her car, and drove off.

According to Lorena, it took her several minutes before she realized she had brought John's penis with her and still held it in her hand. When she became aware of the fact, she threw it out of the moving car's window, where it landed in a field across from a 7-Eleven convenience store. Lorena drove to the home of her friend and employer, Janna Bisutti, where she remained until police arrived. John, meanwhile, was being driven to the hospital by his friend Robert Johnston, who was staying at the Bobbitts' apartment.

A very delicate surgery

John Bobbitt and Robert Johnston arrived at Prince William Hospital in Manassas, walking in through the emergency room. Bobbitt clutched a towel filled with blood just below his waist, and the doctors initially believed he'd cut his hand or perhaps even his wrist. When the emergency room doctor was confused that Bobbitt didn't seem to have any wounds on his arms, Bobbitt showed him what had happened, much to the doctor's shock.

Dr. James Sehn, a urologist, was called in to help around the same time a police officer managed to locate Bobbitt's missing body part after learning from Lorena Bobbitt where to find it, according to ABC News. In a turn of events too bizarre to be anything but real, police packed the penis into a hot dog bag and surrounded it with ice, both procured from the 7-Eleven. After this, it was delivered to Prince William Hospital where Sehn and plastic surgeon Dr. David Berman were waiting.

While Berman was experienced in microsurgery and had reattached a number of fingers and similar parts, this was the first time he had reattached a penis. He delicately reconnected veins, arteries, and nerves, and after nine hours, the surgery was complete. Berman privately worried that the operation would be a failure and that the organ might, "turn black and die." His worries were unnecessary, though, and John Bobbitt fully recovered.

A shattered home

Police quickly determined Lorena Bobbitt's motive for the attack — she alleged that John Bobbitt had been physically and emotionally abusive to her for several years. According to Lorena, John came home horribly drunk, and after climbing into bed with her, sexually assaulted her. This was just the culmination of many such events. But this time, Lorena decided to retaliate, according to ABC News.

John's story, needless to say, is a bit different. He claimed that he climbed into bed and went to sleep, despite Lorena trying to initiate romance between the two of them. According to John, he only woke up after Lorena cut him. In his version of events, Lorena attacked him because he was planning to divorce her. Lorena was a devout Catholic and didn't believe in divorce, thus she became angrier and angrier over time as it was clear that the marriage was ending.

These kinds of differing versions of events would end up being common in the case. In an odd turn of events for the time, both John and Lorena had secured PR firms even before their trials. Lorena was charged with malicious wounding and John with marital sexual assault. The stage was now set for the case to become a landmark in the court of public opinion, as well as in the legal system itself.

Sympathy for John Bobbitt

While a great many people relentlessly made fun of John Bobbitt for his predicament, questioning his manliness and so on, the overall response to the event was one of sympathy. John was attacked and mutilated — that much was definitively true — so for most people that was likely a pretty normal opinion.

However, that wasn't where it ended. A great number of comedians and pop culture icons didn't just support John but denigrated Lorena Bobbitt and dismissed her claims, too. One such example was radio shock jock Howard Stern, who pointedly said that he didn't believe John had assaulted his wife because "she [wasn't] that great looking," according to the New York Times.

Naturally, many comments like these could be directly connected to sexist ideals in society that were still mostly unchallenged at the time, including old-fashioned ideas of gender roles and marriage. But there was more to it as well. Lorena was an Ecuadorian immigrant and not a United States citizen, meaning some of those who publicly attacked Lorena often held blatantly xenophobic views to boot. By being a woman and an immigrant in 1993, the deck was already stacked against her, making it easy for people to express blatantly bigoted viewpoints while loudly supporting John. If you think the good ol' boys club is bad now, just think of what it was like three decades ago.

Lorena Bobbitt wasn't alone

In the years after the Bobbitts made national headlines, much of the discourse surrounding the case took the form of crude jokes, often painting Lorena Bobbitt as a bitter, unhinged predator. It actually took many, many years and a lot of changes in societal attitudes for her claims of assault at the hands of her husband to be taken seriously. But even in 1993, Lorena wasn't completely alone, according to History.

After hearing Lorena's stories of abuse suffered at the hands of John Bobbitt, women's groups, survivors of domestic violence, and many others supported her. She quickly became the face of battered women in the early 90s. While the slogan "believe women" was still decades away, Lorena's own allegations, along with those from her friends and family who had seen bruises on her body or even witnessed John's behavior firsthand, were more than enough to sway at least some of the public to her side.

There was a limit, though. Basically no one completely supported Lorena's attack on John, with even many staunch feminist groups stating that her response was quite extreme. However, they argued, John's abusive tendencies might have caused Lorena to snap and act irrationally. This line of thought would end up becoming the backbone of Lorena's defense in her malicious wounding trial.

John Bobbitt's trial was not open to the public

John Bobbitt had his day in court first. Charged with marital sexual assault, John was given a media-free trial due to Virginia law at the time. Sexual assault cases were not open to the public due to the very nature of the crimes and the discussions therein, according to ABC News. While this was in place before the Bobbitts became famous, John's trial being relatively quiet compared to the media circus of Lorena Bobbitt's trial would later become a noted difference in how the two cases were handled.

While lawyers initially wanted to charge John with marital rape, this was actually not feasible under Virginia law because in 1993, the legal definition of marital rape was extremely narrow. A married couple had to be estranged and living apart for those charges to be able to apply, and thus John was given the lesser charge of marital sexual assault instead.

The trial wrapped up quickly, and while a number of eyewitnesses testified that they had seen injuries Lorena claimed to have received from John and John self-admittedly having trouble defending himself on the stand, he was acquitted of the charge. While this trial was an important part of the events of the case, it ended up being massively overshadowed by Lorena's trial, which followed soon after.

A decade of trials

Lorena Bobbitt's 1994 trial was situated right between two other famous trials of the 1990s — that of the Menendez brothers, accused of murdering their parents, and O.J. Simpson, accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. Each of these trials, along with 24-hour cable news channels and networks dedicated to court and legal matters, redefined the idea of how the media approached legal cases. No longer having to wait until the 8 o'clock news report, curious people worldwide could simply tune in and watch the proceedings live.

Facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted, Lorena's trial was attended by the media, protesters, and regular bystanders alike, as even the area outside the courthouse became a major part of the story. Inside, things were more subdued, but no less sensational. Facing a jury of her peers, Lorena and her defense team argued that the attack wasn't premeditated and, in fact, was the result of temporary insanity, according to ABC News.

While temporary insanity has become sort of a joke in pop culture, it is a real thing but very difficult to prove. A psychiatrist that examined Lorena testified that she suffered from PTSD and attacked John Bobbitt because of the shock of his alleged assault on her, according to Washingtonian. After six hours of deliberations, the jury agreed. Lorena was shockingly acquitted, though she was sentenced to five weeks under psychiatric observation. In the end, neither party was found guilty.

Life afterward for John Bobbitt

While John Bobbitt has said he was surprised by the verdict in Lorena Bobbitt's trial, it seemed that he had plans to move on from the ordeal. At first, he worked odd jobs, from truck driver to construction work, but he still had brushes with fame coming. He continued to make appearances on Howard Stern even after Lorena's trial, and before long, things got even weirder.

John briefly worked as a knife thrower for the Jim Rose Circus, presumably as a joke. Sadly, there's no word on whether or not he was any good at it. He also ended up getting hired by a legal brothel in Nevada called the Moonlite Bunny Ranch and appeared on WWF (now WWE) Raw. Perhaps weirdest of all, however, was John's turn as an adult film star.

Appearing in two films, John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut and John Wayne Bobbitt's Frankenpenis, John was able to showcase that the surgeons who reconstructed his organ did a good job, with Dr. David Berman actually admitting to Washingtonian that he did watch Uncut to see his "handiwork." Apparently, everything worked as expected, though Berman did describe the video as "classless." It seems that John's film performances didn't set the world on fire, and before too much longer, he was back to odd jobs. In 2014, he broke his neck in a car accident and has been on disability ever since, according to Rolling Stone.

Life afterward for Lorena Bobbitt

While John Bobbitt's life got a bit wild as he attempted to turn lemons into lemonade, Lorena Bobbitt, by contrast, kept things relatively quiet, according to ABC News. She continued to work in the same nail salon she had worked at before the trial and stayed in Manassas. Amazingly, the Bobbitts didn't officially divorce until 1995, over a year after Lorena's trial. She then changed her last name back to her maiden name, Gallo.

Gallo soon became an advocate for survivors of domestic violence, work she continues today. In fact, in 2007, she started her own non-profit organization, The Lorena Gallo Foundation, which raises money for women and children who have suffered domestic violence.

She attended college, settled down with a man named David Bellinger, and even has a daughter now. She also got offered a cool million to pose nude for Playboy but ended up turning them down. In 2018, she collaborated with documentary director Joshua Rofe and producer Jordan Peele to make a documentary miniseries about the 1993 incident titled Lorena. There is one pretty weird thing about her life, however — according to The Today Show, she still receives cards, letters, and love notes from John, even over 25 years after everything went down. They haven't seen each other since 2009, though, when they both appeared on TV show The Insider where Bobbitt also claimed that he still has feelings for Gallo.

A bumpy road with the law

While John and Lorena Bobbitt have lived different lives since the night that changed everything, they do have one thing in common — trouble with the law. It is a bit one-sided, though, because one of them has had a lot more problems than the other.

Lorena Gallo was arrested in 1997 on a charge of assault after she allegedly attacked her own mother, according to The Washington Post. Elvia Gallo, who lived with Lorena at the time, appeared on a neighbor's porch complaining that Lorena had punched her multiple times unprovoked. In court, Elvia claimed she started the fight by biting Lorena, however. Lorena was found not guilty, but authorities say that Elvia changed her story and was uncooperative. It's also worth noting that before her trial for malicious wounding, Lorena was caught shoplifting from Nordstrom and stealing $7,000 from a friend, which she paid back, according to ABC News.

John, meanwhile, was charged with battery three separate times against two different women, one of whom was his third wife, as well as being found guilty of harassing an ex-girlfriend. He denies any wrongdoing in any of these cases and maintains that he is not abusive or violent. He was also arrested for stealing over $100,000 worth of clothes in 1999. He pled guilty to the charge, according to Rolling Stone.

Would things be different now? Experts aren't so sure

While the story of John and Lorena Bobbitt is strange and fascinating on its own, much of it is also colored by the attitudes and politics of the 1990s. How would things look now, over 25 years later? The #MeToo movement has created a world where women aren't as easily dismissed as they were in 1993 (some people still keep trying, though). How would things play out in the 2020s?

According to USA Today, probably about the same. While a good number of people may have shrugged off old ways of thinking about domestic violence and sexual assault, there has, of course, been a backlash to these changes as well. There's also the fact that John was an ex-marine, and soldiers are held in much higher esteem in a post-9/11 world. And that's not even getting into the bizarre ways some politicians still treat women's issues.

But while the culture is different, the fact is that, legally, the case wasn't too complicated. It was the public discussion around the case and piles of shoddy information given out by pop culture and the media that made it seem far more complicated than it was. And if you think that's changed in a world where your angry uncle can get disinvited from the family Christmas party without ever actually speaking to anyone, you might want to reconsider that thought.

There was one upside to everything

Of course, there can't really be talk about how the case would play out today without acknowledging the fact that the attack and trial changed how Americans thought about subjects like domestic violence and sexual assault, as noted by History. Between this case, Anita Hill's accusations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, and the O.J. Simpson trial in 1994, with its backdrop of violence and spousal abuse, the legal landscape and cultural concepts of crimes against women shifted dramatically.

Domestic violence advocates have directly credited Lorena Bobbitt's trial with bringing uncomfortable subjects into the light for the first time in a way that was difficult to ignore or sweep under the rug, according to USA Today. Terms like sexual assault, harassment, and, well, domestic violence weren't really household words until cases like John and Lorena Bobbitt's became national sensations.

So while things were personally horrible for both the Bobbitts, even amongst all the case's messy details, perhaps it ended up being a net positive in the end. Perhaps there wouldn't have been a #MeToo if not for women like Lorena Bobbitt unflinchingly dragging domestic violence and sexual assault into the national spotlight.