On April 13, 1984, a pair of bullets finally put the brakes on the homicidal run of 39-year-old Christopher Bernard Wilder.
The Australian-born serial murderer had inflicted sex crimes and death both in his homeland and all over the United States, eventually coming to be reviled as “The Beauty Queen Killer.”
Wilder’s demise came about as the unexpected end of a berserk, six-week crime spree. He stopped for gas in New Hampshire and attracted the attention of two state troopers. As the officers approached, Wilder grabbed for his Colt Python .357 Magnum.
A struggle ensued in which Wilder got shot twice through the heart. One bullet exited the killer’s body and badly wounded a trooper, but the officer eventually recovered to find out that the brawl had brought an end to Wilder’s lifetime of atrocities.
To date, Wilder is believed to have abducted, raped, and otherwise assaulted at least 12 women, eight of whom he murdered. He is also the prime suspect in the 1965 killing of two teenage girls in Sydney, as well as the 1983 rape of two Florida girls, aged ten and 12.On top of that, Wilder is suspected in the cold-case slayings of seven other females and, at the time of his death, he faced charges for forcing a pair of 15-year-olds to pose nude.
In the end, Wilder’s confirmed trail of horror spread throughout Australia, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.
It was that last run, though, that earned Wilder his “Beauty Queen Killer” moniker.
While in his twenties, Wilder launched a stunningly successful real-estate business and took up an interest in photography. Between 1971 and ’75, he abused both vocations and got picked up for multiple charges of sexual misconduct.
At one point, Wilder even raped a woman he lured to his truck under the pretense of offering her a modeling contract — a trick that would become his modus operandi.
Despite being convicted of some of these crimes, though, Wilder never served any jail time.
With his eye on model types, Wilder embarked on his final month-and-a-half-long spree from Miami in late February 1984. Wherever he went, women disappeared, starting in Florida with his own girlfriend, former Miss Florida runner-up Elizabeth Kenyon; Miami Grand Prix model Rosario Gonzalez; 15-year-old Daytona resident Colleen Orsborn; and 21-year-old Theresa Walt Ferguson.
On March 20, Linda Grover initially fell prey to Wilder in Florida but escaped with her life, following a night of rapes, beatings, and torture that included being bound with Super Glue and having electrical currents passed through her feet with copper wires.
Wilder next killed 23-year-old wife and mother Terry Walden in Texas before abducting Suzanne Logan, 21, from Oklahoma and killing her in Kansas. Both women had turned down Wilder’s “come model for me ruse.”
From there, Wilder kidnapped Sheryl Bonaventura, 18, in Colorado and murdered her in Utah.He next made off with Michelle Korfman, 17, after stalking her at a Seventeen magazine cover-model competition. Her body turned up in Southern California.
Just outside Torrance, California, Wilder snatched 16-year-old Tina Marie Risico. Believing she’d help him lure other victims, Wilder kept Risico alive while repeatedly raping and beating her as he drove east toward New York.
In Merrilville, Indiana, Risico did assist Wilder in capturing 16-year-old Dawnette Wilt. He repeated the brainwashing sexual-assault treatment on Wilt all the way to New York, but he eventually stabbed and tried to suffocate her before dumping the teen in the woods. Fortunately, Dawnette Wilt survived.
Unfortunately, again with aid from Risico, Wilder forced Elizabeth Dodge into his vehicle in Victor, New York. Dodge did not survive. After that, Wilder drove Risico to Logan Airport in Boston and put her on a plane to Los Angeles.
Across these six heinous weeks, Wilder continually rose up the list of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives. It all led to the murderer’s fatal Getty station showdown with the New Hampshire state troopers.
After his demise, Wilder’s remains were transported to Florida to be cremated. His estate was valued at more than $7 million. Eventually, a court ordered that the money be divided among the families of Wilder’s victims.
The abominations committed by Christopher Wilder simultaneously repulsed and fascinated the public. He quickly became the topic of multiple true-crime books, as well as the 1986 ABC TV-movie, Easy Prey.
Not long after Wilder’s death, Tina Marie Risico, the teen he forced to be his accomplice, talked to UPI about what happened. She said she survived as a result of having been hardened in life by a childhood sexual assault and her mother’s long-time association with outlaw biker gangs.
In describing how Wilder parted with her, Risico said:
“He knew he was too close to being killed and he didn’t want me to die with him.
He told me to kiss him on the cheek. He said, ‘All you gotta do kid, is write a book.’ And he walked away. It was heartbreaking. It was so sentimental.”
Heartbreaking, at least, does seem to be the right word.
Main photo: Christopher Wilder mugshot [FBI]