Twenty five years ago, John Bobbitt was not a household name.
But all that changed in an instant one fateful summer night in 1993 when his wife Lorena Bobbitt cut his penis off with a kitchen knife.
Overnight, the Bobbitts were thrust from anonymity onto the covers of every salacious tabloid in America. They were featured in late night talk show host monologues. Their wince-inducing saga was featured on evening news broadcasts nationwide and they were chronicled relentlessly in newspaper reports.
Coverage of their epic “he said, she said” arguments at trial, wedged between the sensational murder trials of the Menendez brothers’ and O.J. Simpson, the Bobbitts’ saga fed our obsession with sensational crimes and became a staple of American pop culture.
The two-hour ABC News “20/20” special, “The Bobbitts: Love Hurts,” airs on Friday, Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
John Bobbitt said his life has never been the same since.
“It’s all a matter of what you believe,” he told ABC News in an exclusive new interview with ABC’s Amy Robach. “You know, I want people to understand the story, the whole story.”
Although Lorena Bobbitt, who now goes by her maiden name Lorena Gallo, spoke extensively to ABC in 1993 and 1994, she declined ABC News’ recent requests for comment.
A chance encounter leads to marriage
John Bobbitt was born in Niagara Falls, New York. He was 3 years old when he and his two brothers were placed in the care of his aunt and uncle, who were already raising four boys of their own.
“My mother couldn’t take care of us three,” he said. “She had a mental breakdown. She was a nice lady. She tried to [take] care of all three of us, but she couldn’t.”
Living with his aunt and uncle, Bobbitt said they were a family that went to church every Sunday and shared “a lot of love” and “a lot of fighting.”
“But I was always the one to break it up. You know? I was the peacemaker,” he said.
As a young man, Bobbitt enlisted in the Marines, and it was at a Marine Corps officers’ ball in 1988 that he first met Lorena Gallo.
“I was there with a friend and saw her over there,” John Bobbitt recalled. “And she looks shy and innocent, and I went over there and asked her to dance. She can barely speak English… [and] I go, ‘Here’s my number.’”
Born in Ecuador and raised in Venezuela, Lorena Gallo was in the United States on a student visa. Blair Howard, Lorena’s longtime attorney, told ABC News that she thought John was “an absolute gentleman” when they first met.
They started dating, but then John Bobbitt said she and her mother started pushing the idea of marriage as her visa was about to expire. Feeling “pressured,” he said, he agreed to marry her.
“Had to bite the bullet, I guess, get married,” he said.
Lorena told ABC News in 1993 that it was John who proposed to her and made no mention of her visa expiring.
A modest wedding ensued, with a justice of the peace. He was dressed in his Marines uniform. She wore a white wedding gown.
“I was happy,” Bobbitt said, looking back on his wedding day.
Did he love her? “Well,” he said, “I thought I did.”
A strained marriage and allegations of violence
The couple settled down in Manassas, Virginia. By 1991, John Bobbitt had been discharged from the Marines, but had trouble finding a steady job. Lorena Bobbitt was working as a nanny for Janna Bisutti, the owner of a local beauty salon, and eventually became a manicurist at her shop.
“She said she loved him and she wanted her marriage to work,” Bisutti told ABC News in a 1993 interview. “She was going to do anything to try to make her marriage work.”
With her steady job, Lorena became the main breadwinner of the family. The couple started off in a studio apartment, but John Bobbitt said she wanted more, which strained their marriage.
“We were young,” he said. “We should have worked our way up. But no, she wanted more, more, more. So we went from a studio to a luxury apartment and we had two new cars.”
“[We] fought over things that we shouldn’t have [been] fighting over,” he recalled.
Lorena Bobbitt’s attorney Blair Howard told ABC News that she said John was never abusive to her while they were dating, but that changed after they got married.
In 1993, Lorena told ABC News she and John were just one month into their marriage when he hit her for the first time. As time went on, she said he would punch her — and even choked her one time during a fight.
John said the two of them would fight but he claimed he never abused her. He also claimed that Lorena was the one who would punch him, and he said he never fought back and only tried to “subdue her or restrain her.”
“Not to hit her,” he said. “I mean if we get in a fight and you jump on me and start hitting me, and I try to subdue you, you’re going to end up getting some type of injury, like a bruise or fat lip.”
He described Lorena as jealous and possessive.
“She got upset … if anybody talked to me,” he said. “Any girl or [if] I looked in a girl’s direction and she will get mad. Just POW, she’d punch me,” he continued. “She’d get mad. She was just a very jealous person… very possessive. Did not want anybody around me. I think she was always afraid someone was going to take me away from her. Like, I was her prize. And, ‘This is my man. This is my Marine. This is my ticket.’”
Lorena Bobbitt previously told ABC News that being Catholic, she didn’t believe in divorce and couldn’t leave him because she didn’t want her marriage to fail.
Their fights escalated at times. They called the police on each other.
Kim Chinn, a now-retired sergeant with the Prince William County Police Department, said officers responded to complaints of domestic violence at the Bobbitts’ apartment “about half a dozen times” when they were together.
“Only in one instance were charges brought,” Chinn 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.”
During their marriage, Lorena admitted to shoplifting dresses from a Nordstrom store, for which she did community service, and stealing around $7,000 from Bisutti, her friend and employer. Bisutti found out, and made her pay the money back.
“She abused Janna Bisutti by stealing all that money,” John Bobbitt said. “She didn’t need to do that. Especially with somebody who brought her in, gave her a job, fed her. And we were close friend of hers.”
Then Lorena learned that she was pregnant. She told ABC News in 1993 that she was excited to have a child, but that John told her he didn’t think she was up to the task of motherhood.
She got an abortion, and told ABC News in 1993 that she was afraid if she didn’t, John would leave her.
“We weren’t ready anyway,” John Bobbitt recalled. “So I suggested we should wait. She wasn’t happy about it, but, you know, what can you do?”
Over the course of their marriage, Lorena claimed John forced her into having sex and raped her several times.
“The pushing, shoving, a punch here, punch there,” her attorney Blair Howard told ABC News. “And then she said it carried over into the bedroom, that he seemed to be very stimulated, excited by violent sex.”
“It was frequently,” Lorena Bobbitt said in 1993. “It was every time he will hit me, he will just try to force me into the sex again. It will be in the floor. He just trapped me. I feel trapped.”
Eventually, she decided to go to the police to get a protective order against him, but left before it was processed.
John Bobbitt denies ever raping his wife or being excited by violent sex.
‘Something out of a horror movie’
By the time Lorena Bobbitt was inquiring about a protective order against her husband, John Bobbitt said he had already asked her for a divorce. John was 26 years old at the time, Lorena was 24.
“That hurt her,” John Bobbitt said. “It hit her like a ton of bricks. She was crying and she was begging. She said she didn’t believe in divorce, but I said, ‘It’s pointless. I mean what’s the point of staying married? You’re not happy. I’m not happy.’”
While they were sorting out who would get to stay in the apartment, John Bobbitt said, he invited his friend Robert Johnston from Buffalo, New York, to come down and stay with them. It was June 22, 1993, and he and Johnston decided to hit the town.
“I said, ‘Well, since, you’re here, let’s go out and have some fun,” he recalled. “Let’s go hang out and I’ll show you around D.C.,’ We went out and had drinks… We hang out and meet people and talk and have a good time. And then late in the morning, we head home.”
By the time he and Johnston returned to the Bobbitts’ apartment in the early hours of June 23, Lorena Bobbitt was asleep, but was woken up by her husband slamming a door, she said in the 1993 interview.
“She had some literature on rape that she had read that night and [had] put it on the nightstand and gone to sleep,” her attorney Blair Howard told ABC News. “And he comes in… loaded to the gills with alcohol. And he decides to crawl in bed, help himself because, you know, ‘That’s my wife. I do with her what I want.’”
Lorena said that John Bobbitt came into their bedroom, jumped on top of her, forcibly ripped off her underwear and raped her.
John Bobbitt claims that Lorena was lying in their bed awake when he got home that night but he didn’t speak to her. He just laid down and went to sleep, he said, but claims she started making sexual advances.
When asked if they had sex that night, Bobbitt said he knew “some petting [was] going on that night,” but “no sex.”
“I remember her trying to play with me. You know? But I was sleeping,” he said. “I was exhausted, and I couldn’t respond to her advances either sexually or verbally.”
He claims he never raped her.
“Never raped anybody in my life,” he said. “Everything was done in my sleep. The sexual advances, the talking… all in a deep sleep.”
“No idea what happened,” he added.
Lorena claimed that after he raped her that night, she went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. That’s when she saw the knife.
“It was so many things coming into my mind,” she told ABC News in 1993. “I don’t know how to describe [it]. “Things like, from the very first day he hit me. Things about the abortion… things that …when he was torturing me, when he was beating me up. When he has forced sex with me, everything, it just came so fast.”
“I pick up the knife and I … I went back to the bedroom. I took the sheets off and I cut him,” she said. “Everything went just fast.”
John Bobbitt claims he was asleep when his wife cut him.
“I sprung up and I was bleeding, I was applying pressure, then immediately I thought it was something out of a horror movie,” John said. “A nightmare… turned into reality.”
Bobbitt said he was “horrified. Terrified,” and thought “I was going to die. That was it, [I’m] going to die.”
Lorena fled the apartment, holding the knife in one hand and her husband’s penis in the other. She got into her car and drove off. She said she was in such a state over what she had done that she didn’t realize at first that she was still holding the penis when she got into her car.
“I remember I couldn’t make a turn because my hands [had] something on them, and so I tried to turn but then I saw that I have it in my hand,” Lorena recalled in 1993. “I looked at it and I scream, and… I throw it out of the window. I just drive it as fast as I could.”
Lorena eventually drove over to Bisutti’s house where, Bisutti says, Lorena collapsed in hysterics and the police were called.
Meanwhile, John Bobbitt said he told his friend Johnston to take him the hospital. Johnston started screaming “as soon as he saw the blood everywhere,” Bobbitt said. “He was going crazy,” and he got him to Prince William Hospital in about “10 minutes.”
“Walking into the hospital, the [emergency room] doctor is — you know — looking at me, [and says] ‘show me your wrist.’” The doctor initially thought that all the blood had flowed from a wound to his arm, John said.
“Of course John knew there was no cut there,” his plastic surgeon, Dr. David Berman, told ABC News. “And he [the doctor] goes ‘where’s all the blood coming from?’ and John points down below.”
When the sheet covering him fell away, John said the emergency doctor’s “jaw dropped.”
“Really all I knew about this on the way into the hospital was that a penis had been amputated and the organ was missing,” Dr. James Sehn, John’s urologist said.
Meanwhile, an officer found the penis in a small field across the street from a 7-Eleven, according to police. Police got the penis on ice from the convenience store and transported it to the hospital.
“It came to us just in a bag of ice, concealed in a brown paper hot dog bag,” Sehn said.
The main focus of the surgery, Berman said, was reconnecting the arteries, veins and nerves so that Bobbitt would have sensation and blood flow to the organ.
“The biggest concern I had is, simply, that it had to work. There was no second chance,” Berman said. “I’ve never seen a penile replantation. They’re extremely rare… But I had done a lot of microsurgeries. So I’d put a lot of fingers back on, and… It was just this particular application was different.”
After a nine-hour surgery, Berman and Sehn were able to successfully reattach Bobbitt’s penis and return it to normal function.
“It remains the most interesting and dramatic case I’ve ever done in my life,” Berman said. “It kind of really blew a lot of people’s imaginations away with what could be done.”
Lorena and John Bobbitt head to separate trials
Lorena Bobbitt was arrested and charged with malicious wounding and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted. She pleaded not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.
Her story quickly drew in hundreds of supporters who saw her as a survivor who had taken extreme measures against her alleged abuser. The sensational case pushed domestic violence back into the national conversation.
Meanwhile, John Bobbitt was arrested and charged with marital sexual assault based on Lorena’s claims that he had raped her. He pleaded not guilty.
“I was innocent,” he said. “I didn’t know why I was there [in court].”
He was acquitted in November 1993. There were no cameras allowed in the courtroom because it was a sexual assault case. But the media was allowed to broadcast Lorena’s trial, and it ballooned into wall-to-wall coverage of one of the most epic “he said, she said” cases of its time.
While on the witness stand at her trial, John Bobbitt seemed to have trouble responding to questions related to allegations of domestic abuse.
“It was a battle. I think, you know, I got a little cocky,” he said. “I didn’t know how to explain it, and I was frustrated. I didn’t know how to explain the story.”
Lorena Bobbitt’s defense team argued that she was a battered woman who had snapped and the attack was the result of an “irresistible impulse.” She testified then that she didn’t remember the cutting.
Multiple witnesses testified that they saw John Bobbitt physically abuse Lorena Bobbitt. Other witnesses testified that they had seen bruises on Lorena Bobbitt and were told John Bobbitt had caused them.
The prosecution argued that Lorena attacked the person she thought was threatening her dream to live in America because John wanted to divorce her.
“She didn’t want the marriage to end,” John said. “She wanted to keep the marriage. She wanted to– everything that she dreamed about. And it was falling apart. And she wanted either to keep it together. If she couldn’t, then she was going to retaliate.”
“She was hurt deeply, emotionally,” he added. “And she was acting on that.”
On Jan. 22, 1994, the jury found Lorena Bobbitt not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. She was ordered to spend five weeks at a mental hospital for treatment and evaluation.
“Everybody was shocked,” John Bobbitt said. “Couldn’t believe it. That she just– how can somebody get away with it?”
After Lorena Bobbitt was released from the state hospital, she sat down for a second interview with ABC News in March 1994, in which she said both she and John “were victims of a tragic situation.”
But John Bobbitt doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t believe that,” he said. “I don’t believe she was a victim. No. She was just greedy, selfish and she was stubborn.”
‘It’s not often our surgical work is displayed in that fashion’
After John’s trial ended in 1993, he embarked on a 40-city media tour, doing concert appearances, events and giving interviews to radio talk shows, including multiple interviews on “The Howard Stern Show.”
One night, John was at a Playboy party at the Wet’n’Wild club in Las Vegas when he met adult film star Ron Jeremy, he recalled.
“[We] got into talking about doing an adult film,” John said.
Jeremy, who wrote and directed an adult film starring John, described it as “a comedy.”
“It was based on true fact,” he told ABC News. “She had the knife behind her back, and I had the light glisten off the knife, and people [were] saying to me, ‘Nice effect, Ron.’”
The two surgeons who had reattached Bobbitt’s penis were intrigued by Bobbitt’s decision to make the film.
“It’s not often our surgical work is displayed in that fashion,” Sehn noted.
Berman said he watched the film as well.
“I couldn’t not see it,” he said. “I mean, it’s my work.”
“I don’t think [John doing the film] was the wisest choice,” Berman said. “But obviously, from my standpoint, it gives credibility to the fact that it does work, and it worked very well.”
After his stint as an adult film star, John Bobbitt went on to work a number of odd jobs, including construction work and truck driving. He also faced a number of domestic battery charges brought against him by two other women and served some jail time for them.
He denied all of these allegations to ABC News. He chalked up his troubles to “falling in love too fast” and “not getting to know the person I’m with, and their motives.”
“After the case, I would attract all the wrong people,” he said. “And I didn’t have that just — discernment of picking and choosing wisely.”
Meanwhile, Lorena returned to a quiet life as a manicurist in Manassas and became an advocate for domestic violence survivors. In 2007, she started a foundation that raises money for domestic abuse victims and their children.
The couple officially divorced in 1995 after six years of marriage.
Today, John Bobbitt still lives in Las Vegas and has since pursued other passions, including searching for the famed Fenn Treasure, rumored to be hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains by a New Mexico art dealer and collector named Forrest Fenn.
“I might know where the treasure chest is,” Bobbitt said. “[I have] a lot of good clues, really.”
He said he has seen Lorena only once since her trial – at a 2009 appearance on the TV tabloid show, “The Insider,” where he revealed that he still harbored feelings for her.
Today, he says, “I loved the woman she was,” and says he has now moved on.
ABC News’ Rachel Wenzlaff contributed to this report.