Wilder's FBI Wanted Poster
|Born||March 13, 1945
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||April 13, 1984
Colebrook, New Hampshire, USA
|Cause of death||Gunshot wounds|
|Other names||The Beauty Queen Killer|
Span of killings
|State(s)||Florida, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, New York, Utah|
Christopher Bernard Wilder (March 13, 1945 – April 13, 1984), also known as the "beauty queen killer", was an American serial killer who abducted and raped at least twelve women, killing at least eight of them, during a six-week cross-country spree in the United States in early 1984. His series of murders began in Florida on February 26, 1984, and continued across the country through Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, California and New York before he was killed 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 in 1983. Since his death, Wilder has also been considered the prime suspect in the unsolved murder of two teenage girls in Sydney, Australia in 1965.
Wilder was born on March 13, 1945 in Sydney, Australia, the son of an American naval officer and an Australian national. He nearly died at birth, but recovered, and almost drowned in a swimming pool at the age of two. In either 1962 or 1963, he pled guilty to a gang-rape at a beach in Sydney and was sentenced to 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. A copy of the novel The Collector by John Fowles, in which a man keeps a woman in his cellar against her will until she dies, was found among his possessions after his death.
He married in 1968, but his wife left him after one week. Wilder emigrated to the United States in 1969. He lived in Boynton Beach, Florida, in an upscale home, and was successful in real estate, while developing an interest in photography. Over the next few years, from approximately 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.[when?] 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.
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 would prevent his case from ever being heard, as the eventual initial hearing date of April 1984 was 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 model. Wilder was also in attendance at the race, where he 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. Police were able to link Wilder to both women after consulting a private investigator who had been hired by Kenyon's parents to discover information related to her disappearance. On March 15, Wilder went on the run following the disappearance of Colleen Osborn, 15, after leaving her Daytona Beach home. Wilder was staying at a motel in Daytona Beach, within a few blocks of where Osborn was last seen. Her body was discovered near an Orange County (Florida) lake a few weeks later, but it was not identified until 2007.
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 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, bound her hands and wrapped her in a blanket and put her in the trunk of his car. That night in room 30 of the Glen Oaks Motel he raped her, and then used a blow dryer and super glue to blind her. He further tortured her by applying copper wires to her feet and passing an electric current through them. When she tried to escape he beat her, but she escaped, locked herself in the bathroom and began pounding on the walls. Wilder fled in his car, taking all of her belongings with him.
Texas and Kansas murders
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 disappeared on March 23. Wilder stabbed her to death and dumped her body in a canal along Walden Road 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, where he stabbed her to death and dumped her body under a cedar tree.
Utah and Nevada murders
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 the Four Corners Monument, after which 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 her body was 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. 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.
Elizabeth Dodge murder (New York)
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 of use in helping him lure 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.
He and Risico 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, Wilder 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 that Wilder was heading for Canada. At the Eastview Mall in Victor, New York, Wilder forced 33-year old Elizabeth 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 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 19-year-old Carol Hilbert in Beverly, Massachusetts, but she managed to escape. Wilder's vehicle description was broadcast 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 Colt Python .357 Magnum. Trooper Jellison grabbed Wilder from behind. 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 pierced Wilder's heart, killing him. Trooper Jellison was seriously wounded, but recovered and returned to full duty. As a result of Wilder's horrendous crimes, he earned the nickname "beauty queen killer".
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 (see below).
New Hampshire pathologist Robert Christie took a phone call from a man claiming to be from Harvard, whisaid 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.
Other possible victims
- 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.
- In 1981 Mary Opitz, 17, 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.
- During 1982, the skeletal remains of two unidentified women were unearthed 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, a 20-year-old aspiring model, went missing in October 1983 from Boca Raton, Florida. Her badly decomposed body was found by a hunter in Shelby, New York, sometime later, 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.
- 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 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 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 Melody's murder and Wilder's crimes, they were thought to be connected, but he has since been ruled out as suspect.
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