Christopher Bernard Wilder
FBI Wanted poster for Wilder
|Died||April 13, 1984 (aged 39)|
|Cause of death||Gunshot wounds after a struggle with police|
|Other names||The Beauty Queen Killer|
Span of crimes
|February 1984–April 1984 (confirmed)|
|Country||Australia; United States|
|State(s)||Florida, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Arizona, Illinois, New York, Colorado, Utah|
|April 13, 1984 (killed)|
Christopher Bernard Wilder (March 13, 1945 – April 13, 1984), also known as the Beauty Queen Killer, was an Australian serial killer who abducted and raped at least 12 women, killing at least eight of them, during a six-week, cross-country crime spree in the United States in early 1984. Wilder's series of murders began in Florida on February 26, 1984, and continued across the country through Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada, and California, and attempted abductions in Washington and New York before he was killed during a struggle with police in New Hampshire on April 13, 1984.
Wilder is also believed to have raped two girls, aged 10 and 12, in Florida in 1983. Since his death, he has also been considered a suspect in many unsolved murders, including the unsolved 1965 murder of two teenaged girls in his native Sydney, Australia, where he had lived during the same period.
Christopher Wilder was born on March 13, 1945, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, the son of an American naval officer and an Australian national. Wilder nearly died at birth, and almost drowned in a swimming pool at the age of two. On January 4, 1963, he raped a 13-year old girl in company with two other young men, both of whom denied being involved in the actual assault. Wilder was sentenced to probation, and claimed later in life that he also received electroshock therapy. It has been suggested that this therapy aggravated Wilder's violent sexual tendencies. However, journalist Duncan McNab claims that there is no evidence that he underwent electroshock therapy, and that the story of Wilder's near-drowning was an invention of Wilder himself.
Wilder married in 1968, but his wife left him after one week. He emigrated to the United States in 1969 and lived in Boynton Beach, Florida, in an upscale home, and was successful in real estate, while developing an interest in photography. From about 1971 through 1975, he faced 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 was to become part of his modus operandi during his later crime spree. Despite several convictions, Wilder was never jailed for any of these offenses.
While visiting his parents in Australia 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 ever being heard, as the eventual initial hearing date of April 1984 came after his death.
Florida and Georgia murders
The first murder attributed to Wilder was that of Rosario Gonzalez, who was last seen on February 26, 1984, at the Miami Grand Prix, where she was employed as a spokesmodel. Wilder was also at the race, where he raced in the IMSA GTU class in a Porsche 911. On March 5, Wilder's former girlfriend, Miss Florida finalist Elizabeth Kenyon, went missing. Neither woman has ever been found.
On March 18, Wilder led 21-year-old Theresa Wait Ferguson away from the Merritt Square Mall in Merritt Island, Florida, and murdered her, dumping her body at Canaveral Groves, where it was discovered on March 23.
Wilder's next victim was 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 March 20. She had declined his offer to photograph her for a modeling agency, after which he assaulted her in the mall parking lot. Wilder tied Grover's hands, wrapped her in a blanket, and put her in the trunk of his car.
Grover was taken to Glen Oaks Motel and was raped. Wilder blinded her with a blow dryer and super glue. He applied copper wires to her feet and passed an electric current through them. When she tried to get away, he beat her, but she escaped and locked herself in the bathroom, where she began pounding on the walls. Wilder fled in his car, taking all of her belongings with him.
Texas and Kansas murders
On March 21, Wilder 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 ran across him again two days later, March 23, and he kidnapped her then. Wilder stabbed her to death and dumped her body in a canal, where it was found on March 26. After killing Walden, Wilder fled 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, Kansas, where he stabbed her to death and dumped her body under a cedar tree.
Utah and California murders
Wilder 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. On March 30, they were seen at the Four Corners Monument, after which Wilder checked into the Page Boy Motel in Page, Arizona. Wilder shot and stabbed Bonaventura to death around March 31 near the Kanab River in Utah, but her body was not found until May 3.
Wilder 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. A photograph was taken of Wilder stalking her at the competition. Her body remained undiscovered near a Southern California roadside rest stop until May 11, and was not identified until mid-June via dental X-rays.
Beth Dodge murder (New York)
On April 4, Near Torrance, California, Wilder photographed 16-year-old Tina Marie Risico before abducting her and driving her to El Centro, where he assaulted her. Wilder apparently believed that Risico would be of use in helping him get other victims, so he kept her alive and took her with him as he traveled back east through Prescott, Arizona, Joplin, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. Wilder had been on the FBI's ten most wanted fugitives list since the second week of April.
Risico and he went to Merrillville, Indiana, on April 10, where she helped him abduct 16-year-old Dawnette Wilt at the Southlake Mall. Wilder raped Wilt several times as Risico drove to New York. Near Penn Yan, Wilder took Wilt into the woods and attempted to suffocate her before stabbing her twice and leaving her. Wilt tied a pair of jeans around herself, and was taken to Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Penn Yan by a truck driver, Charlie Laursen.
Dr. John F. Flynn performed a life-saving surgery on Wilt at the hospital and Wilt survived and recuperated at Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Penn Yan. She told Penn Yan police that Wilder was heading for Canada. At the Eastview Mall in Victor, New York, Wilder forced 33-year-old Beth Dodge into his car and had Risico follow him in Dodge's Pontiac Firebird. After a short drive, Wilder shot Dodge and dumped her body in a gravel pit. Risico and he then drove the Firebird to Logan Airport in Boston, where he bought her a ticket to Los Angeles.
On April 13, Wilder stopped at Vic's Getty service station at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Colebrook, New Hampshire, and was noticed by two New Hampshire state troopers, Leo Jellison and Wayne Fortier, while asking citizen Wayne H. DeLong (August 21, 1939 – March 3, 2014) about directions to Canada. When the troopers approached Wilder, he retreated to his car to arm himself with a Colt Python .357 Magnum. Jellison was able to grab Wilder from behind and in the scuffle, two shots were fired. The first bullet hit Wilder and exited through his back and into Jellison. The second bullet hit Wilder in the chest. They were helped by fellow trooper Howard Weber and Colebrook Chief of Police Wayne Cross. Wilder died of his wounds; Jellison was seriously wounded in the chest, but recovered and returned to full duty.
Wilder was cremated in Florida, leaving a personal estate worth more than $7 million. In June 1986, a court-appointed arbitrator ruled that the after-tax balance was to be divided among the families of his victims.
Other possible victims
Along with the eight known victims between February and April 1984, Wilder has been suspected in the murders and disappearances of many other women, including some whose remains were found around Florida in areas he was known to frequent.
- Wilder is the primary suspect in the disappearance of 15-year-old Colleen Orsborn, who went missing after leaving her Daytona Beach home on March 15, 1984. Wilder was staying at a motel in Daytona Beach on that same date. Though he checked out on the day Orsborn disappeared, no evidence has been found to connect them. Her body was discovered a few weeks later, partially buried near a lake in Orange County, Florida, although it was initially ruled not to be her, and was not formally identified until 2011.
- Wilder is a suspect in Australia's unsolved Wanda Beach Murders – the murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock at Wanda Beach, near Sydney, on January 11, 1965 – because of his similarity to a suspect sketch.
- Wilder is a suspect in the unsolved disappearance of Mary Opitz. The 17-year-old disappeared in Fort Myers, Florida, on January 16, 1981, and was last seen walking towards a parking lot. Another girl who physically resembled Opitz, Mary Hare, disappeared on February 11, 1981, from the same parking lot. Hare's body, which had decomposed, was found in June 1981; she had been stabbed in the back and was the victim of a homicide. Authorities began to suspect foul play was involved in Opitz's case following this; Opitz's case remains unsolved.
- In 1979, the body of an unidentified woman was found in a field in Caledonia, New York. She was the victim of a homicide; she had been shot in the back of the head and sustained injuries from blunt force trauma. Despite the fact that she was found rather quickly, she remained a Jane Doe until 2015 when she was identified as sixteen-year-old Tammy Alexander who had disappeared from Brooksville, Florida earlier in 1979. What could link Alexander to Wilder is the fact that she was found wearing an AutoSports jacket when her body was discovered. Wilder was a photographer and racecar driver, and drivers were known to purchase AutoSports products. Alexander was shot and killed by a .38 caliber bullet which was recovered in the dirt under her body. This caliber ammunition is commonly used in .357 caliber revolvers like the one Wilder attempted to use on the troopers. There is no evidence that ballistic testing was completed to match the round to the pistol.
- In 1982, the skeletal remains of two unidentified women were unearthed near property owned by Wilder in Loxahatchee, Florida. 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; she was identified as Tina Marie Beebe in 2013. The other woman had been dead for a period of months.
- Shari Lynne Ball, a 20-year-old aspiring model, went missing in June 27, 1983 from Boca Raton, Florida. Her badly decomposed body was found by a hunter in Shelby, New York, on October 29, 1983, but was not identified until 2014. Her cause of death could not be determined, but foul play was suspected. Wilder is currently being looked at for possible involvement since it matches his modus operandi, but no evidence links him to the crime. She was found 38 miles from where Tammy Alexander was found, in Caledonia, NY.
- Elizabeth Ann Kenyon, 23, who disappeared in March of 1984, dated Wilder for a period of time, and was proposed to by him, but she declined due their age difference; she is believed to have been last seen with him at a gas station near Miami. Her car was found 6 days later abandoned at the Miami Airport. Her body has not been recovered.
- Nancy Kay Brown, a 25-year-old native of Rantoul, Illinois, disappeared while vacationing in Cocoa Beach, Florida, on June 6, 1983. Her remains were discovered in Canaveral Groves in March 1984. She was a victim of a homicide.
- Tammy Lynn Leppert, 18, was last seen around 11:30 am on July 6, 1983, in Cocoa Beach, Florida, while in a heated argument with a male companion. Leppert's family filed a $1 million lawsuit against Wilder before his death, but dropped the suit afterward. Leppert's mother, modeling 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 almost a year after she vanished.
- An unidentified young woman, the Broward County Jane Doe, was found floating in a canal on February 18, 1984, in Davie, Florida. She had been strangled to death and was thought to have been dead two days prior to being found.
- On May 3, 1973, a man walking his dog discovered the bodies of Mary, 16, and Marguerit "Maggie" Jenkins 18, in a wooded area in Key Largo, about 100 miles from where they were last seen. They were seen the day before trying to hitchhike back to their home in Gloucester, New Jersey. Both girls had been sexually assaulted as well as had been subjected to blunt force trauma and shot to death. Authorities looked into the possibility that Wilder was the person responsible for the murders as he had already been attacking women and resided in Boynton Beach in 1973, which is 150 miles from Key Largo. However, Wilder was ruled out when DNA recovered from a bite mark on one of the girls did not match his.
- On March 7, 1984, Melody Marie Gay, 19, was abducted while working the graveyard shift at an all-night store in Collier County, Florida; her body was pulled from a rural canal three days later. Due to the similarities between her murder and Wilder's crimes, they were thought to be connected, but he has since been ruled out as a suspect.
In popular culture
Wilder earned the nickname the "Beauty Queen Killer" as a result of his crimes.
- The made-for-TV movie Easy Prey (1986) dramatizes a series of events based on Wilder's story.
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