On March 30, 1981, in the Folsom State Prison exercise yard, a still unknown assailant approached Thor Nis Christiansen and plunged a knife into the 23-year-old, Danish-born convict’s chest. The single wound killed Christiansen on the spot.
James Westwick, the attorney who defended Christiansen in court, said he’d figured this was coming. Psychiatrists had reportedly warned Christiansen that he’d be a target for severe violence behind bars — first, for his youthful, blonde appearance, and even more seriously due to the sexual sadism involved in the crimes he committed.
Christiansen had been locked up for less than ten months of his life sentence when he got killed. Clearly, that alleged prediction, like that shank itself, proved to be right on target.
After spending his first five years in Denmark, Thor Nis Christiansen emigrated with his family to Solvang, California, in 1962. For the next decade or so, he was said to be a normal kid.
At around 16, Christiansen turned weird. He dropped out of high school in 1973 and rapidly ballooned up in weight from a slender frame to 275 pounds. His thoughts also turned to ghastly places. While alternately bumming around and working at a gas station, Christiansen fantasized about shooting women dead and sexually violating their bodies.
Tragically, then, Christiansen stole a .22-caliber pistol from a friend and took to turning those sick fantasies into sickening realities. Between November 20, 1976 and January 18, 1977, Christiansen lured three female Isla Vista resident into his car. They didn’t make it back out alive.
Jacqueline Anne Rook, 21; Mary Ann Sarris, 19; and Patricia Marie Laney, 21, are all believed to have been hitchhiking when Christiansen picked them up. Once inside, he blew their heads off and raped their corpses.
All three young women were reported missing. The body of Patricia Laney, Christiansen’s last chronological victim, turned up first, on January 19. Investigators discovered Jacqueline Rook’s remains nearby, and then found Mary Ann Sarris at another location in the same general area.
Each victim was college age, had a similar build, wore her hair long and straight, and sported hippie-ish fashions of the day. In addition, they all regularly hitchhiked. These similarities prompted the press to label the murderer “The Lookalike Killer.”
After the trio of slayings, Christiansen hightailed it to Oregon where he laid low and worked out hard, dropping his excess weight. He returned to California in 1979 and brought his horribly trusty .22 with him.
On April 18, Christiansen attempted his modus operandi on Lydia Preston, picking her up by the roadside, and blasting a bullet into her skull. Miraculously, Preston escaped and survived. No such luck befell Laura Sue Benjamin, 23, on May 26. Christiansen did manage to kill her and, afterward, sexually defile her body.
The cases remained unsolved until July 11, 1979. Through sheer happenstance, Lydia Preston, still recovering from her injuries, was sitting with friends at the Bottom Line Bar in Hollywood when Thor Nis Christiansen just wandered inside. She recognized the creep who shot her in the head instantly.
Preston immediately called the police who, upon taking Christiansen in, discovered they had initially looked at him as person of interest in the killings back in 1977. After Christiansen got popped for a minor alcohol violation, the officer who wrote him up had noted that Thor was in possession of a .22-caliber pistol.
After briefly attempting to enter an insanity plea, Christiansen just admitted guilt on all four murders and post-mortem rapes, as well as the attempted murder of Lydia Preston.
Christiansen accepted a sentence of life in prison. It turned out, as noted, to be a total sentence of less than one year and, for sure, there would be no possibility of parole.
Main photo: Thor Nis Christiansen mugshot [Wikipedia]