Wilder's FBI Wanted poster
|Born||13 March 1945
|Died||13 April 1984
Colebrook, New Hampshire, USA
Cause of death
|Other names||The Beauty Queen Killer|
Span of killings
|State(s)||Florida, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, New York, Utah|
Christopher Bernard Wilder, also known as the beauty queen killer because all his victims were young and beautiful (13 March 1945 – 13 April 1984), was a serial killer who abducted and raped at least twelve women and killed at least eight of them during a six-week cross-country spree in the United States in early 1984. His rampage began in Florida on February 26, 1984, and continued across the country through Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, California and New York before he died during a struggle with police in New Hampshire on April 13, 1984. He is also believed to have raped two girls aged 10 and 12 in Florida during 1983. Since his death, Wilder has also been considered the prime suspect in the unsolved Wanda Beach murder of two teenage girls in Sydney, Australia in 1965.
Wilder was born in Australia. His father was an American naval officer and his mother an Australian. He almost died at birth, but recovered, only to almost drown in a swimming pool at age two. In 1962 or 1963, he pleaded guilty in the case of a gang-rape at a beach in Sydney and was put on probation, during which time he also received electroshock therapy. There is some evidence to suggest that this course of treatment only exacerbated his violent sexual tendencies. It is known that he had virtually memorised the text of the 1963 novel The Collector by John Fowles, in which a man keeps a woman in his cellar against her will until she dies. A copy of the novel was found among his possessions after his death.
In 1968, he married, but his wife left after only a week. Wilder emigrated to the United States in 1969. He lived in Boynton Beach, Florida, in an upscale home at 933 Mission Hill Road and made a small fortune in real estate, while developing an interest in photography. Over the next few years, however, between about 1971 and 1975, he was in and out of court facing various charges related to sexual misconduct. He eventually raped a young woman he had lured into his truck on the pretense of photographing her for a modeling contract. This would become part of his modus operandi during his later rape and murder spree. Despite several convictions, Wilder was never jailed for any of these crimes.
Murder spree and death
While back in Australia on a visit to his parents in 1982, Wilder was charged with sexual offenses against two 15-year-old girls whom he had forced to pose nude. His parents posted bail and he was allowed to return to Florida to await trial, but court delays prevented his case from being heard. The initial hearing date was finally set for April 1984, by which time he was dead.
The first murder attributed to Wilder was that of Rosario Gonzalez, last seen on February 26, 1984 at the Miami Grand Prix, where she was employed as a model and where Wilder was racing in the IMSA GTU class in a Porsche 911. Soon after, on March 5, Wilder's former girlfriend, Miss Florida finalist Elizabeth Kenyon, went missing. Neither woman was ever found. Wilder was known to both of them, and police were able to link him to them after consulting a private investigator who had been hired by Kenyon's parents to discover information related to her disappearance. On 15 March, Wilder went on the run. Colleen Orsborn, 15, disappeared on March 15, 1984 after leaving her Daytona Beach home. Christopher Wilder was staying at a motel on Daytona Beach, just blocks away from where Colleen was last seen. Though her body was discovered near an Orange County lake a few weeks later, it was not identified as Orsborn's until 2010.
On March 18, he lured 21-year old Theresa Wait Ferguson away from the Merritt Square Mall in Merritt Island and murdered her, dumping her body at Canaveral Groves where it was discovered on March 23. His next victim was a 19-year old Linda Grover from Florida State University whom he abducted from the Governor's Square Mall in Tallahassee, Florida, and transported to Bainbridge, Georgia, on 20 March. When she declined his offer to photograph her for a modelling agency, he assaulted her in the mall parking lot, wrapped her in a blanket and put her into the trunk of his car after binding her hands.
In Room 30 of the Glen Oaks Motel that night, he raped her then used a blow dryer and super glue to blind her and tortured her by applying copper wires to her feet and passing an electric current through them. When she tried to escape he threatened to kill her, and a fight ensued where she was beaten and bleeding. He fled after she locked herself in the bathroom and started pounding on the walls. Wilder fled in his car, taking all of her belongings with him. Finally she had to search for help by opening the door of the bathroom. Hotel guests and owners thought the incident was a case of domestic violence, and her screams for help were ignored.
The next day (March 21) he approached Terry Walden, a 23-year-old wife, mother, and nursing student at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, about posing as a model. She turned him down but, on March 23, disappeared. Wilder dumped her body in a canal along Walden Road where she was found stabbed on March 26. After killing Walden, Wilder then took off in her rust colored 1981 Mercury Cougar. On March 25 Wilder abducted 21-year-old Suzanne Logan at the Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City. Wilder took her 180 miles north to Newton, Kansas, and checked into Room 30 of the I-35 Inn. After breakfast the next morning he drove to Milford Reservoir, 90 miles northeast of Newton near Junction City. He then stabbed her to death and dumped her body under a cedar tree.
Wilder then took 18-year-old Sheryl Bonaventura captive in Grand Junction, Colorado, on March 29. They were seen together at a diner in Silverton where they told staff they were heading for Las Vegas with a stop in Durango on the way. The next day they were seen at Four Corners Monument and at 3 p.m. Wilder checked into the Page Boy Motel in Page, Arizona. Bonaventura was shot and stabbed to death around March 31 near the Kanab River in Utah but not found until May 3. Wilder also killed 17-year-old Michelle Korfman, an aspiring model who disappeared from a Seventeen magazine cover model competition at the Meadows Mall in Las Vegas on April 1. She remained undiscovered near a southern California roadside rest stop until May 11, although she lay unclaimed until mid-June in a Los Angeles morgue as Jane Doe #39 until being identified via dental X-rays.
Near Torrance, California, Wilder photographed 16-year-old Tina Marie Risico before abducting her and driving her to El Centro where she was assaulted. Wilder apparently believed that Risico would be "robotic enough" to help him lure other victims, so he kept her alive and took her with him to Prescott, Arizona, Joplin, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. Wilder had been on the FBI ten most wanted fugitives list now for some time. He and Risico now went to Merrillville, Indiana, where she helped him abduct 16-year-old Dawnette Wilt at the Southlake Mall.
Wilt was raped several times as Risico drove to New York. Near Penn Yan, he took Wilt into the woods and attempted to suffocate her before stabbing her twice and leaving her. Wilt survived and recuperated at Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Penn Yan; she told Penn Yan police Wilder was heading for Canada. At the Eastview Mall in Victor, Wilder forced 33-year old Elizabeth Dodge, nicknamed Beth, into his car and had Risico follow him in Dodge's Pontiac Firebird. After a short drive, Wilder shot Dodge and dumped her behind a high mound of gravel. He and Risico then drove the Firebird to Logan Airport in Boston, where he bought her a ticket to Los Angeles.
On April 13, he attempted to abduct a 19-year-old Carol Hilbert in Beverly, Massachusetts, but she managed to escape. Wilder's vehicle description was broadcast out to law enforcement officials. When Wilder stopped at Vic's Getty service station at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Colebrook, New Hampshire, he was noticed by two New Hampshire state troopers, Leo Jellison and Wayne Fortier. When the troopers approached Wilder, he retreated to his car to arm himself with a .357 Magnum. Trooper Jellison grabbed Wilder from behind and subdued his arms. In the scuffle, two shots were fired; the first bullet passed through Wilder's body, exited through his back and into Jellison. The second also went into Wilder's chest - both bullets went through Wilder's heart, killing him instantly. Trooper Jellison was seriously wounded but recovered and returned to full duty.
- Wilder is also a suspect in Australia's unsolved Wanda Beach Murders in 1965.
- In 1981 Mary Opitz, 17, disappeared in a parking lot in Fort Myers, Florida, on January 16, 1981. Another girl who physically resembled Opitz, Mary Hare, disappeared on February 11, 1981, from that same parking lot. Hare was found in June 1981; she had been stabbed in the back and is a victim of a homicide. It is unclear whether these cases are related.
- During 1982, the skeletal remains of unidentified women were unearthed on two separate occasions near property owned by Wilder in Loxahatchee. One victim had been dead for one to three years, and apparently had her fingers cut off; police theorize that whoever killed her could be linked to the crime if the body was ever identified. The other woman had been dead for a period of months.
- Shari Lynne Ball, 20, went missing on October 1983 from Boca Raton, Florida. Her body was found in Shelby, New York sometime later, but was not identified till 2014. Her cause of death can't be determined but foul play is suspected. Wilder is currently being looked at for possible Involvement, but no evidence links him to the crime as of yet. He was familiar with the area and it matches his MO. Shari was an aspiring model.
- Tammy Lynn Leppert, 18, was last seen around 11:30 a.m. on July 6, 1983, in Cocoa Beach, Florida, while in a heated argument with a male companion. Leppert's family filed a one-million-dollar lawsuit against Wilder before his death but dropped the suit afterwards. Leppert's mother, modelling agent Linda Curtis later stated that she never believed Wilder was involved in Tammy's disappearance. Police were never able to link Wilder and Leppert, and it may be coincidence that she disappeared at the same time he was targeting area models. He had a long history of sex crimes but did not begin his killing spree until less than a year after she vanished.
- A young Jane Doe was found floating in a canal on February 18, 1984, in Davie, Broward County Florida. She had been strangled to death and was thought to have been dead two days prior to being found.
- On March 7, 1984, Melody Marie Gay, 19, was abducted on the graveyard shift of an all-night store in Collier County, Florida; her body was pulled from a rural canal three days later. Due to the similarities between Melody's murder and Wilder's crimes; they were thought to be connected, but he has since been ruled out as suspect.
Wilder was cremated in Florida, leaving a personal estate worth almost $2 million. Along with the eight known victims he killed during February to April 1984, he has been linked to the murders and disappearances of many other women, including some whose remains were found around Florida in areas he was known to frequent.
New Hampshire pathologist Robert Christie took a phone call from a man claiming to be from Harvard, this man said that Harvard wanted Wilder's brain for study. He agreed, in the interest of science, but he wanted a formal written request. It never materialized, and when he phoned Harvard, no one there admitted to having made any such call.
The made-for-TV movie, Easy Prey (1986), was based on Wilder.
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