The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton
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Wilder, Christopher Bernard
Born March 13, 1945, Christopher Wilder was the product of an international marriage, between an American naval officer and his Australian wife. A sickly child from the beginning, Wilder was given last rites as an infant. Two years later, he nearly drowned in a swimming pool; at age three, he suffered convulsions while riding with his parents in the family car, and had to be resuscitated.
By his teens, the boy had problems of a different sort. At seventeen, in Sydney, Wilder and a group of friends were charged with gang-raping a girl on the beach. He pled guilty to carnal knowledge and received one year's probation, with a provision for mandatory counseling. The program included group therapy and electroshock treatments, but it seemed to have little effect.
Wilder married at age twenty-three, but the union lasted only a few days. His bride complained of sexual abuse, and finally left him after finding panties (not her own) and photographs of naked women in a briefcase Wilder carried in his car. In November 1969, he used nude photographs to extort sex from an Australian student nurse; she complained to the police, but charges were ultimately dropped when she refused to testify in court.
Australia was growing too hot for Wilder, so he moved to the United States. Settling in southern Florida, he prospered in the fields of construction and electrical contracting, earning (or borrowing) enough money to finance fast cars and a luxurious bachelor pad, complete with hot tub and a private photo studio. The good life visibly agreed with Wilder, but it did not fill his other hidden needs.
In March 1971, at Pompano Beach, Wilder was picked up on a charge of soliciting women to pose for nude photos; he entered a plea of guilty to disturbing the peace and escaped with a small fine. Six years later, in October 1977, he coerced a female high school student into oral sex, threatening to beat her if she refused, and he was jailed a second time. Wilder admitted the crime to his therapist, but confidential interviews are inadmissible in court, and he was later acquitted. On June 21, 1980, he lured a teenaged girl into his car with promises of a modeling job, then drove her to a rural area where she was raped. A guilty plea to charges of attempted sexual battery earned him five years probation, with further therapy ordered by the court. Following his last arrest in Florida, the self-made man complained of suffering from blackouts.
Visiting his parents in Australia, Wilder was accused of kidnapping two 15-year-old girls from a beach in New South Wales on December 28, 1982, forcing them to pose for pornographic snapshots. Traced through the license number of his rented car, Wilder was arrested on December 29, charged with kidnaping and indecent assault. His family posted $350,000 bail, and Wilder was permitted to return to the United States, his trial scheduled for May 7, 1983. Legal delays postponed the case, but Wilder was scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on April 3, 1984.
He never made it.
On February 6, Rosario Gonzalez, 20, disappeared from her job at the Miami Grand Prix. Chris Wilder was driving as a contestant that day, and witnesses recall her leaving with a man who fit Wilder's description. Her body has never been found.
On March 4, 23-year-old Elizabeth Kenyon vanished after work from the school where she taught in Coral Gables. She was seen that afternoon, with Wilder, at a local gas station, and his name was found in her address book. Kenyon's parents remembered her speaking of Wilder as "a real gentleman," unlike the various photographers who asked if she would model in the nude. As in the February case, no trace of Kenyon has been found.
Wilder celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday on March 13, treating himself to the peculiar gift of a 1973 Chrysler. Three days later, the Miami Herald reported that a Boynton Beach race driver was wanted for questioning in the disappearance of two local women. Wilder was not named in the story, but he got the point. Missing his scheduled therapy on March 17, he met with his business partner the following night, "I am not going to jail," he vowed, tearfully. "I'm not going to do it." Packing his car, Wilder dropped off his dogs at a kennel and drove out of town, headed north.
Indian Harbour lies two hours north of Boynton Beach. On March 19, Terry Ferguson, 21, disappeared from a local shopping mall where witnesses remembered seeing Wilder. Her body was recovered four days later, from a Polk County canal.
On March 20, Wilder abducted a university co-ed from a shopping mall in Tallahassee, driving her across the state line to Bainbridge, Georgia. There, in a cheap motel, she was raped repeatedly and tortured with electric shocks, her eyelids smeared with super glue. Wilder fled after his captive managed to lock herself in the bathroom, screaming and pounding on the walls to draw attention from the other guests.
The killer touched down next in Beaumont Texas. Terry Walden, 24, informed her husband on March 21 that a bearded man had approached her between classes at the local university, soliciting her for a modeling job. She thanked him and declined the offer, but the conversation struck a chord of memory when Terry disappeared March 23. Her body, torn by multiple stab wounds, was recovered from a canal three days later.
On March 25, 21-year-old Suzanne Logan disappeared from a shopping mall in Oklahoma City. Her body was found the next day, floating in Milford Reservoir, near Manhattan, Kansas. Raped and stabbed, the victim had apparently been tortured prior to death.
Sheryl Bonaventura was the next to die, abducted from a shopping mall in Grand Junction, Colorado, on March 29. Another shopper placed Wilder in the mall, soliciting women for modeling jobs, and he was seen with Sheryl at a nearby restaurant that afternoon. She joined the missing list as Wilder worked his way across the country, killing when he paused to rest.
On April 1, 17-year-old Michelle Korfman vanished from a fashion show at the Meadows Mall, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Snapshots taken at the time show Wilder smiling from the sidelines, watching as the teenage girls parade before him in their miniskirts.
At last, it was enough. Linked with three murders, one kidnapping, and four disappearances, Wilder was described by FBI spokesmen as "a significant danger." His name was added to the Bureau's "Ten Most Wanted" list on April 3, 1984.
The following day, he abducted 16-year-old Tina Marie Risico in Torrance, California, raping her that night and through successive evenings as they stayed in various motels, working their way eastward. Subjected to threats and abuse, living continually in the shadow of death, Risico agreed to help Wilder find other victims as he continued his long flight to nowhere.
On April 10, Dawnette Wilt was lured away from a shopping mall in Merrillville, Indiana, raped and tortured through the course of that day and the next. Wilder tried to murder her on April 12, stabbing Dawnette and leaving her for dead outside Rochester, New York, but she managed to survive and staggered to the nearest highway, where a passing motorist discovered her and drove her to a hospital.
Wilder's final victim was Beth Dodge, abducted near Victor, New York, on April 12 and shot to death in a nearby gravel pit. Following the murder, Wilder drove his teenage captive to Boston's Logan Airport, purchasing a one-way ticket to Los Angeles and seeing her off at the gate.
Wilder's sudden attack of compassion remains unexplained, but he wasted no time in searching out another victim. On April 13, he brandished his gun at a woman near Beverly, Massachusetts, but she fled on foot, unharmed. Continuing his aimless hunt, the killer stopped for gas that afternoon in Colebrook, New Hampshire, unaware that he had reached the end of his run.
Passing by the service station, state troopers Wayne Fortier and Leo Jellison recognized Wilder's car from FBI descriptions. Approaching the vehicle, they called out to Wilder and saw him break for the car, diving inside as he went for his pistol. Jellison leaped on the fugitive's back, struggling for the .357 magnum, and two shots rang out. The first passed through Wilder and pierced Jellison's chest, lodging in his liver; the second snuffed out Wilder's life, resulting in what a coroner termed "cardiac obliteration."
Wilder's violent death, ironically, did not resolve the tangled case. Sheryl Bonaventura's body was recovered in Utah, on May 3, the victim of a point-blank gunshot wound. Michelle Korfman was found in the Angeles National Forest on May 11, but another month would pass before she was identified, her family's fears confirmed. No trace has yet been found of Wilder's early victims in Miami and environs.
With his death, Chris Wilder was inevitably linked with other unsolved crimes. A pair of girls, aged ten and twelve, identified his mug shot as the likeness of a man who snatched them from a park in Boynton Beach, in June of 1983, and forced them to fellate him in the nearby woods. His name was likewise linked with other deaths and disappearances across two decades, in Australia and America.
In 1965, Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock accompanied a young man matching Wilder's description into the beachfront dunes near Sydney; strangled, raped and stabbed, their bodies were discovered in a shallow grave, but no one has been charged to date. In 1981, teenagers Mary Hare and Mary Optiz were abducted from a mall in Lee County, Florida; Hare was later found, stabbed to death, while Optiz remains among the missing. 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 several years, the other for a period of months.
And the list goes on. Tammi Leppert, teenaged model, kidnapped from her job at a convenience store on Merritt Island, July 6, 1983. Melody Gay, 19, abducted on the graveyard shift of an all-night store in Collier County, Florida, on March 7, 1984, her body pulled from a rural canal three days later. Colleen Osborne, 15, missing from the bedroom of her home in Daytona Beach, March 15, 1984. Chris Wilder was seen in Daytona that day, propositioning "models."
There was a final, ghoulish twist to Wilder's story, Following an autopsy on April 13, 1984, Dr. Robert Christie, the New Hampshire pathologist in charge of Wilder's case, received a phone call from a man claiming to represent Harvard University. Wilder's brain was wanted for study, the caller explained, in order to determine whether defect or disease had sparked his killing spree. Dr. Christie agreed to deliver the brain on receipt of a written request from Harvard. Two weeks later he was still waiting, and spokesmen for the university's medical school denied making any such request.
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