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10 Grueling Experiences Of People Who Escaped Serial Killers

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

German criminologist Stephan Harbort once conducted a study looking at the factors which contribute toward escaping an encounter with a serial killer. After examining over 150 German killers and their individual crimes, he obtained an interesting statistic. On average, these murderers initiated contact with 31 potential targets before getting a victim under their control.

This means that there are far more people who narrowly avoided a grim fate than one might expect. Most of them probably don’t even realize it, but that’s not the case for the following entries. They know full well that they went up against pure evil and are lucky to be alive today.

10 Kala Brown

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Todd Kohlhepp started his criminal career at an early age. Back in 1986, a 15-year-old Kohlhepp kidnapped a young girl who was his age, took her back home, and raped her. He was charged in 1987 and served 14 years in prison. Released in 2001, Kohlhepp started his killing spree a couple of years later.

Fast-forward to 2016. Thirty-year-old Kala Brown and her boyfriend, Charles Carver, were hired by Kohlhepp, who was now a successful realtor, to work on his land. They went missing soon after. A few months later, detectives began searching Kohlhepp’s property after tracing the couple’s last cell phone signals to that area. They found Kala Brown chained to the wall inside a storage container where she had been living for the past two months.

Police also found Charles Carver’s body on the premises. Kohlhepp had shot him multiple times for being “smart-mouthed.” Subsequently, Kala revealed that Kohlhepp once dragged her to three graves on the property and said that she would go into one of them if she didn’t behave.[1]

That’s when investigators first realized that they could be dealing with a serial killer. Eventually, they found the bodies of another couple who had gone missing the year before. However, most shocking was when Kohlhepp confessed to the unsolved mass murder of four people in a shoot-out at a Superbike Motorsports shop back in 2003.

9 Kate Moir

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In 1986, Kate Moir was just 17 when she was abducted by Australia’s most infamous killer couple, David and Catherine Birnie. By then, they had already kidnapped, raped, and murdered four women within the span of a month.

After picking up Moir at knifepoint, the couple took her to their home in Perth where they tormented and raped her repeatedly. That night, Kate had to sleep in the same bed as the Birnies, handcuffed to David.

Kate managed to escape the next day when David left for work. During a drug buy at the door, Catherine forgot to chain up her captive and Kate was able to escape through the window. Afterward, the victim had the unexpected obstacle of getting the police to believe her story. In fact, the higher-ups at Palmyra Police Station weren’t convinced and assigned 22-year-old rookie Laura Hancock to Kate’s case.

Unlike her superiors, Constable Hancock believed Kate due to the amount of detail that she was able to provide. She knew the couple had a Rocky VHS tape and a Dire Straits cassette because they were playing while she was a captive.[2] Kate also knew the name of her rapist was David Birnie, even though he had used an alias, because she saw it on a medicine bottle. She even described little drawings that she had made around the house to convince others she was there.

This was enough for police to investigate and eventually arrest the Birnies. Subsequently, David confessed to four murders and took investigators to the graves.

8 Rhonda Stapley

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For 37 years, Rhonda Stapley kept quiet about her ordeal. Back then, she was a 21-year-old student at the University of Utah who made the mistake of accepting a ride from a stranger she thought was handsome.

However, the man who identified himself as Ted took her in his Volkswagen Beetle to an isolated canyon area where he raped her and choked her repeatedly as she slipped in and out of consciousness.[3] Somehow, Rhonda managed to survive by jumping into a nearby mountain stream and being carried by the powerful current out of Ted’s reach. She made it back to civilization and didn’t speak to anyone about what had happened that horrible night.

It was a year later during his first arrest that Stapley realized she had almost become another victim of Ted Bundy. Then came a wave of guilt as she realized that maybe Bundy could have been captured sooner if she had come forward with her story. Rhonda was afraid that being labeled a “victim” would prevent her friends and family members from ever looking at her the same again.

It wasn’t until 2011 that Stapley made her ordeal public. She talked with fellow survivors on anonymous online boards and kept a journal which she presented to true crime author Ann Rule, who encouraged her to turn it into a book.

7 Anna Williams

For decades, people in Wichita, Kansas, lived with the genuine concern that they might have been stalked by one of America’s most notorious serial killers—Dennis Rader (aka BTK).

Rader showed restraint and control throughout his murder spree. He could wait for years between kills and would abandon a target if the conditions weren’t right. He also scouted any potential victims and followed women around for extended periods of time. When Rader was finally captured in 2005, he was preparing for his 11th murder after a 14-year hiatus.

Once BTK was in jail and everyone knew his identity, many women from Sedgwick County understandably wanted to know if they had ever been targeted by Rader. Some of them even wrote to him in prison, and he often wrote back.

One woman, identified as K., was haunted by a break-in from 1981. She gave him all the details of that night and asked plainly if he was the one responsible. Always writing in the third person, Rader cited “a reliable source” and avoided a straight answer initially. But eventually, he admitted that “it wasn’t the source.”[4]

BTK’s most infamous close call was Anna Williams. On April 28, 1979, Rader was sitting in her home, waiting for Williams to arrive from square dancing. However, Anna got delayed after stopping by her daughter’s house.

Eventually, Rader got sick of waiting and left. He did make sure that she knew how narrowly she had avoided a visit from BTK by sending her a 19-line poem titled, “Oh, Anna, Why Didn’t You Appear?”

6 Margaret Mayfield Palm

Stephen Morin went on a decade-long murder spree in the 1970s. He would often travel from state to state and use false identities, earning him the moniker “The Chameleon.” He was executed in 1985 for three murders and was named a suspect in over 30 more killings across the United States.

Morin’s execution proved problematic because he was a heavy drug user. It took the technician over 40 minutes to find a suitable vein. Morin’s final words were a prayer as the murderer apparently had embraced Christianity right toward the end of his killing spree.

In fact, it was the last woman he kidnapped who converted him. When possible, Morin spent a lot of time with his victims, traveling from one motel to another and brutally raping them.

When he abducted Margaret Palm in 1981, Morin was already on the run as police were after him for the murder of Carrie Marie Scott. The two drove for 10 hours, and Palm persuaded him to listen to tapes of a Texas evangelist named Kenneth Copeland. Later, she read to him from her journal of Bible verses. This affected Morin enough to let Palm go.

According to her, the killer was on his way to turn himself in to Reverend Copeland when he was arrested at a bus stop.[5]

5 Maria Hernandez

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On March 17, 1985, 29-year-old Maria Hernandez was pulling into the garage of her home in Rosemead, California. As she exited the car, she heard a noise. Turning around, Maria saw a strange man who crept up on her and shoved a gun in her face. Little did she know that she was standing face-to-face with the man who was about to terrorize Los Angeles in the following months as the Night Stalker.

Without saying a word, Richard Ramirez pointed the gun at Maria’s face and fired.[6] Afterward, he went inside her condominium. There, Ramirez shot her roommate, Dayle Okazaki. Miraculously, Maria survived by putting her hands in front of her face. The bullet bounced off her keys and hit her right hand. Okazaki wasn’t so fortunate.

Still outside, Maria ran and hid behind a car. Ramirez wanted to shoot her again as he exited the building but instead chose to make a quick escape. Hernandez ran inside the condominium to try to help her roommate, but Okazaki was already dead. A year later, Maria was standing across from the Night Stalker again. But this time, she was testifying to help send him to the gas chamber.

4 Felicity Nightingale

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Hitchhiking can be dangerous as you can never know who you’re going to run into. Just ask Felicity Nightingale, who found herself in the van of Fred West.

It was 1980, and Felicity regularly hitchhiked between her home in Weymouth and the Welsh village where she had a summer job. One cloudy afternoon, a friendly truck driver left her at a service station on the M5 motorway. Felicity was looking for her next ride when a man approached her and offered her a lift.

Right away, the hitchhiker gave her a strange vibe as he kept insisting that she throw her rucksack in the back instead of allowing her to keep it up front. The man suddenly changed his mind and went inside for tea but still insisted that Felicity join him. Being young and naive, she went along and even relented to take his offer of a ride.

While driving, West decided that Nightingale wouldn’t reach home before dark and invited her to stay with him and his family in Tewkesbury.[7] She politely declined.

Later, he claimed that they were going the wrong way for Weymouth and needed to pass through Tewkesbury. As it was a road she had traveled many times before, Felicity knew this wasn’t true. But any contradiction made West erupt in anger, and she thought it best to keep him calm.

Eventually, West announced that he had to see a friend nearby and dropped Felicity off in the middle of the motorway. He told her to cross to the other side, and he would come pick her up and go the right way.

Felicity knew the chances of finding another ride there were minimal. Still, she was glad to be out of the van, and luckily for her, a truck did stop and take her back to the station she had just left. It wasn’t until 14 years later that Felicity realized just who she had ridden with on that afternoon.

3 Lisa McVey Noland

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Back in 1984, Tampa Bay residents were terrorized by the eight-month-long killing spree of Bobby Joe Long who murdered at least 10 women after previously committing dozens of rapes across Florida as the “Classified Ad Rapist.”

Long’s latest target was Lisa McVey Noland, a 17-year-old who went missing one November morning while biking home from work. Long pulled up alongside her, yanked her off the bike, tied her up, and threw her in his car. Then he took Lisa to an apartment where he proceeded to rape her for 26 hours.

In a bizarre twist, Lisa had actually written her suicide note earlier that night. She was planning to end it all when she got back home after enduring years of sexual abuse from a family member. However, under these excruciating circumstances, Lisa’s survival instincts kicked in and she was determined to fight for her life.

Lisa relied on many things that she had learned from crime shows. When Long calmed down, she talked to him “like a four-year-old” and tried to build a relationship. She humanized herself, hoping that it might make it harder for him to kill her. In the end, it worked.

When Long was finished, he dropped Lisa off in her neighborhood instead of killing her like he had done to so many others. Furthermore, Lisa made mental notes about the car, the apartment where she was taken, and her abductor. Eventually, this helped police to apprehend Bobby Joe Long.[8]

2 Roger Sproston

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During the 1980s, Roger Sproston decided to leave his home in the West Midlands and hitchhike across America. Eventually, he landed a job driving an ice cream van in Los Angeles . . . until the van was stolen.

While trying to hitch a ride downtown, he was approached by a man driving a red Ford Pinto. Like Felicity Nightingale, Sproston didn’t feel threatened by the driver but immediately sensed that he gave off an “overpowering” bad vibe. The man in question was William Bonin, one of three serial killers who prowled Southern California’s highways in the ’80s.

Despite his bad feeling, Roger still got in the car. While driving, Bonin started mumbling under his breath, and eventually, Sproston asked him to pull over and let him out. Bonin obliged at first and stopped the car on the side of the freeway. Afterward, however, he took out a length of cord, wrapped it around Sproston’s neck, and started choking him.[9]

Fortunately for Roger, he managed to slip his fingers under the cord before Bonin tightened it. He also turned around and kicked his attacker in the groin, which allowed Roger to stumble out of the car onto the grassy verge. Bonin made a speedy getaway.

Afterward, Sproston flagged down a police car and told them his story. Shockingly, he learned that they were already looking for several people killing hitchhikers on the highways. He gave them a description of Bonin and his car. Ten days later, the Freeway Killer was in custody.

1 Jane Doe

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On September 14, 2016, police from Ashland, Ohio, released the 911 call which led to the capture of serial killer Shawn Grate. The call came from Grate’s sixth would-be victim, a woman who was only identified as “Jane Doe” per state laws relating to victims of sexual assaults.

Obviously in distress, the woman was trying to remain calm and whisper while talking to the dispatcher. The victim wanted to avoid waking up Grate, who was sleeping and armed with a Taser. She tried to escape but found that all the doors were either locked or had no knobs.

Luckily for Jane Doe, she knew the address of the house. So officers were able to arrive shortly and rescue her before Grate woke up. Upon searching the house, police found the bodies of two women, and the killer subsequently confessed to three more murders.

In interviews following his arrest, Shawn Grate had no issues admitting to the murders and giving details about how they happened. However, he claimed that he was never going to kill Jane Doe, insisting that the two were going to get married.[10]

fact checked by Jamie Frater