Christopher Bernard Wilder (March 13, 1945 – April 13, 1984), also known as The Beauty Queen Killer, was a serial killer from Australia who abducted and raped at least twelve women, killing at least eight of them, during a six-week cross-country crime spree in the United States of America in early 1984. His series of murders began in Florida on February 26, 1984, and continued across the country through Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, 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 1965 murder of two teenage girls in Sydney, Australia, where he had lived from his birth until 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 1962 or 1963, he pleaded 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 evidence that this treatment 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. 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 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 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 model. 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. Police linked Wilder to both women after consulting a private investigator who had been hired by Kenyon’s parents to discover information related to her disappearance. When 15-year-old Colleen Orsborn went missing after leaving her Daytona Beach home on March 15, Wilder was staying at a motel in Daytona Beach. 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.
On March 18, he lured 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. 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, 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 tortured her further by applying copper wires to her feet and passing 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
The next day, 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 disappeared on March 23. 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. The next day 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 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. 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.
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 he assaulted her. 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. 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 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 13,1980 Wilder attempted to abduct 17-year-old Carla Hendry in Beverly, Massachusetts, but she managed to escape. Wilder’s vehicle description was broadcast to law enforcement officials.
In 1984 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. Wilder earned the nickname the “Beauty Queen Killer” as a result of his crimes.
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 between the families of his victims.
New Hampshire pathologist Robert Christie took a phone call from a man claiming to be from Harvard, who said that Harvard wanted Wilder’s brain for study.[when?] He agreed in the interest of science, but 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
Along with the eight known victims he killed 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 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, 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. 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 her murder and Wilder’s crimes, they were thought to be connected, but he has since been ruled out as a suspect.