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10 Shocking Facts About The Beauty Queen Killer

by Benjamin Welton
fact checked by Jamie Frater

In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Edgar Allan Poe said that, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world.” Poe’s theory was concerning fiction, not real life. It seems that serial killer Christopher Wilder took Poe’s dictum literally. Wilder, nicknamed the “Beauty Queen Killer,” slew women who were prized for their good looks.

Wilder’s life, like the lives of most serial killers, was full of pain, disappointment, and abuse. However, Wilder’s story is definitely that of someone born bad. He only grew worse as he grew older. This list should convince you that Wilder was one of those rare types of humans whose bestial lust cannot be contained, co-opted, or cured. His death was a fitting conclusion to his depraved existence.

10 Upbringing And First Crimes

Christopher Bernard Wilder was born on March 13, 1945, in Sydney, Australia. His father was an officer in the US Navy, and his mother was an Australian citizen. By all accounts, Wilder was a sickly child who nearly died in infancy.[1] He almost drowned in a swimming pool at age two. In 1963, Wilder was convicted of participating in a gang rape on a Sydney beach. Despite the seriousness of this conviction, Wilder’s sentence saw him forced to undergo just one year of counseling. That said, Wilder’s sentence also demanded that he be subjected to electroshock therapy, a barbaric practice then in vogue.

Wilder was married for just one week in 1968. His wife apparently left him because he creeped her out. A year later, at age 24, Wilder permanently relocated to the United States. Wilder made his home on the sunny beaches of South Florida, where he moved into an upscale apartment thanks to his work as an electrician on various construction projects. Wilder further increased his personal fortune by investing wisely in real estate. While still a young man, Wilder owned a Porsche, a speedboat, and a luxurious house where he frequently hosted lavish parties. Wilder was also still a sexual predator.

In 1971, Wilder came to the attention of police for trying to entice a woman to take nude pictures. Wilder got off with a fine. Sometime later, Wilder was back in court again because he had forced a high school girl to perform oral sex on him. At the trial, Wilder openly admitted to the judge that he masturbated twice a week to rape fantasies. Even though a psychiatrist thought that Wilder should be forced to undergo supervised treatment, the Florida jury acquitted him.

In 1974, Wilder was accused of rape. The story goes that Wilder used a fake name, “David Pierce,” to approach two young women at a shopping center. Wilder said that he was a photographer interested in providing both girls with modeling work. Instead of a modeling contract, Wilder drugged and raped one of the girls. Wilder was again put on trial, but he managed to plea bargain his sentence down to probation with therapy.

9 Prelude To The Spree

Photo credit: Learning History

Even though Florida was his home, and even though Miami had earned the distinction as America’s murder capital by the early 1980s, Wilder’s first string of crimes in the 1980s happened outside of the Sunshine State.[2]

On April 13, 1980, Wilder attempted to abduct 17-year-old Carla Hendry in Beverly, Massachusetts. Hendry managed to escape, and information about Wilder’s vehicle was broadcast to the public. Wilder appears to have stayed quiet for all of 1981. Then, while visiting his parents in Australia in 1982, Wilder approached two 15-year-old girls with his usual speech about modeling contracts. The girls would have to pose naked, though. After forcing the girls to do so, Wilder was arrested. His parents managed to post his bail, which came out to a whopping $350,000. Wilder was allowed to return to Florida to await his trial. The trial kept getting delayed, and by the time it was finally scheduled, Wilder was stone dead.

8 Six Weeks: Florida And Georgia

Photo credit: Lauth Investigations

In February 1984, Wilder began his multistate killing spree that would claim somewhere between eight and ten lives in six weeks. The first to fall afoul of this human monster, Rosario Gonzalez (left above), was just 20 years old when she vanished on February 26, 1984. The former Miss Florida contestant was last seen in Miami, where she worked at the Miami Grand Prix. Wilder had also been seen there with his Porsche 911.

Eyewitnesses at the race that day told police that they saw Rosario leave with a man in his mid-thirties at around 1:00 PM. When Rosario did not turn up at home in Homestead, Florida, her parents called the authorities. Gonzalez remains missing to this day, but most believe that she was killed by Wilder.

Over a week later, on March 18, Wilder approached 21-year-old Theresa Wait Ferguson (right above) in Merritt Island, Florida. Everyone knew Ferguson as “Terry,” and everyone also knew that she was beautiful. The FBI’s flyer of her listed her as 170 centimeters tall (5’7″) and 53 kilograms (117 lb), with brown hair and brown eyes. Terry spent her last day alive visiting a shopping mall on the island. It was here that Wilder abducted her. Three days later, Terry’s body was found in a shallow stream near the town of Lake Alfred. Terry’s corpse was fully clothed, but her shoes were missing. Wilder had tied cotton ropes around her legs, wrists, and throat and had beaten her severely. There was no sign of sexual assault.[3]

Wilder’s final Florida victim was 19-year-old college student Linda Grover. Grover, a student at Florida State, was abducted from Governor’s Square Mall in Tallahassee. Wilder drove Grover across the state line into Bainbridge, Georgia. Here, he took his victim to a hotel. Grover was tortured, raped, and strangled. At one point, Wilder even glued Grover’s eyes shut. Grover managed to survive the ordeal by locking herself in the bathroom and screaming her head off. This forced Wilder to flee the scene and, indeed, flee Georgia entirely.

7 Six Weeks: Texas, Oklahoma, And Kansas

Photo credit: Lauth Investigations

Twenty-three-year-old Terry Walden (left above) wanted to help people. That’s why she was enrolled in nursing school at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. On March 23, 1984, Terry had outlined a simple plan to her husband: She would grab a few necessary items from the mall, study with a friend, and then pick up their four-year-old daughter from daycare. Everything seemed fine until 5:00 PM, when Terry’s husband received a phone call from the daycare center. Terry had failed to show up.

Tellingly, on March 21, a man had approached Terry at the mall and asked her about the possibility of taking pictures. Terry had given the man an emphatic no. Investigators would not put two and two together until Terry’s body was found on March 26. She was found fully clothed and floating facedown in a canal in Beaumont. Terry had rope burns and knife marks all across her body. Her killer had also used duct tape to bind her, and he had absconded with the victim’s orange 1981 Mercury Cougar.[4]

In between Terry Walden’s abduction and the discovery of her body, Wilder managed to kidnap another victim. On March 25, 21-year-old Suzanne Logan (right above) was taken from the Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City. It is believed that by the time Logan’s husband reported her missing to the Oklahoma City police, his wife was already dead. Brian Logan would later say that the police did not take the case seriously and cast aside Suzanne as another “runaway.”

Ten days later, Suzanne’s body was found floating in Milford Lake in Kansas by fishermen. Wilder had viciously stabbed her until she expired.

6 Six Weeks: Colorado, Utah, And Nevada

Photo credit: Lauth Investigations

Wilder kept on the move after killing Suzanne Logan. On March 29, 1984, 18-year-old Sheryl Bonaventura was busy shopping at her favorite local mall in Grand Junction, Colorado. Sheryl was looking forward to a planned vacation in Aspen with her friend Kristal Cesario. Sheryl would never get to enjoy that trip. Sheryl’s last known words were to her mother, who was gently reprimanded for reminding her daughter to drive safely. “Mom, you worry too much,” Sheryl said.

Several hours later, and Sheryl was the subject of a missing persons report. Her car was found in the mall’s parking lot. Interviews conducted inside the mall itself revealed that a man fitting Wilder’s description had been busy asking pretty shoppers if they would be interested in posing for photographs. A waitress at a nearby restaurant confirmed that she saw Sheryl eating with a man on the day of her disappearance. This eyewitness heard Sheryl say something about going to Las Vegas. On March 30, Sheryl was seen at the Four Corners Monument, and then she was registered alongside Wilder at the Page Boy Motel in Page, Arizona. Sometime on March 31, Wilder shot and stabbed Sheryl. Her body would not be found until May 3, near the Kanab River in Utah.[5]

On April 1, 1984, Wilder was in Las Vegas. At the city’s Meadows Mall, the magazine Seventeen was holding a cover model competition. Seventeen-year-old aspiring model Michelle Korfman was there. Wilder was there, too, and a photograph from that event shows him looking intently at the young model as she strutted on the catwalk. Wilder did not play it cool at the event, and following Korfman’s disappearance from the mall, many of the other girls came forward to say that Wilder had approached them about the possibility of private photo shoots. Wilder even made plans to meet several of these young models at Caesar’s Palace, but he wound up leaving them in the lurch.

After leaving the mall alongside Wilder, Korfman would not be seen again until May 11. A badly decomposed body was found near a roadside rest stop in Southern California. It would take dental X-rays to finally prove that the remains belonged to Korfman.

5 Six Weeks: California, Indiana, And New York

Photo credit: Learning History

Wilder changed his modus operandi when he found 16-year-old high school student Tina Marie Riscio. The pair crossed paths when Riscio went to the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, California, in order to apply for a job. When a missing persons report was filed for Riscio, employees at the mall confirmed that the teenager was last seen with a man fitting Wilder’s description. The race against time was on.

However, rather than kill Riscio, Wilder was convinced that she could help him lure other victims. Unbeknownst to Wilder, Riscio was not the typical teenager. Not only had Riscio been sexually assaulted in the past, but she had grown up with a mother who associated with various outlaw motorcycle gangs. Riscio’s tough upbringing was later used to explain both how she managed to survive Wilder and also why, after witnessing two murders, she returned to Los Angeles and immediately spent $100 on lingerie.

After sexually assaulting Riscio, Wilder took the girl on a trip eastward. The pair traveled through Arizona, Missouri, and Illinois, all while Wilder was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives list. Throughout this journey, Wilder continued to rape, torture, and beat Tina Marie.

On April 10, 1984, Tina Marie was forced to talk to 15-year-old Dawnette Wilt. Wilt, who had left home that day in order to go to the Southlake Mall in Merrillville, Indiana, was told by Tina Marie that Wilder was a professional photographer. Once Dawnette approached Wilder’s truck, he pointed a pistol at her and told her to get in. Wilder would rape Dawnette for the next several hours as Tina Marie was told to keep driving east. Eight hours later, the group entered a hotel in Victor, New York, a small town 32 kilometers (20 mi) south of Rochester.

Wilder, who finally realized that the FBI was hunting him, decided to keep moving. He drove to Barrington, New York. There, he walked Dawnette into the woods, stabbed her twice, and strangled her. Initially, Wilder and Tina Marie drove off, but Wilder later turned the vehicle around in order to give Dawnette the coup-de-grace—a shot to the head. Dawnette had left the scene, however, and thanks to a passerby named Charles Laursen, Dawnette was able to tell police that Wilder and Tina Marie were headed for Canada.[6]

4 Six Weeks: The Murder Of Elizabeth Dodge And Failed Attack

The final victim of Christopher Wilder’s killing spree was 33-year-old Elizabeth Dodge. On April 12, 1984, Wilder found Dodge at the Eastview Mall in Victor, New York. Wilder managed to force the woman into his car, while Tina Marie followed the pair in a stolen Pontiac Firebird. After a brief ride, Wilder found a gravel pit. Dodge was forced into the pit and then shot to death. Wilder’s next move was bizarre: He drove Tina Marie to Boston’s Logan Airport and handed her a ticket for Los Angeles.[7]

Although Dodge would prove to be Wilder’s last victim, the serial killer tried to kill once more. On April 13, 1984, Wilder returned to Beverley, Massachusetts, after four years and flashed his gun in a female’s face in order to force her into his vehicle. She decided to flee on foot instead. The woman’s escape convinced Wilder to keep heading north.

3 Six Weeks: The Bloody End

On Friday, April 13, 1984, Wilder was making good on his plan to cross the border into Canada. First, he had to get gas. Wilder stopped at Vic’s Getty gas station in the small town of Colebrook, New Hampshire. Located in Coos County, the northernmost county in the Granite State, Colebrook is just a few miles away from the Canadian border. Wilder probably thought that he was close to getting away, but two New Hampshire State Police officers spotted him at the pump.

Recognizing that he was trapped, Wilder reached into his vehicle for his .357 Colt Python revolver. Trooper Leo Jellison grabbed Wilder from behind, and the two began to struggle. A series of shots erupted. One bullet exited through Wilder’s back and hit Trooper Jellison in the chest. A second shot went into Wilder’s chest. (Some sources say that Wilder shot himself.) Wilder was killed instantly, while Jellison, despite his horrific wound, would later return to work.

When police investigators searched Wilder’s possessions, they found his favorite novel, John Fowles’s The Collector. The novel concerns a bored young man who switches from collecting butterflies to collecting people. The protagonist abducts a beautiful young woman, keeps her in a secret room in his house, tortures her, photographs her, and then buries her in his yard after she dies.[8]

2 Other Murders

Photo credit: Lauth Investigations

Following Wilder’s death in New Hampshire, authorities across the US tried to piece together Wilder’s six weeks of violence. Some began to think that Wilder had committed even more murders, stretching back to at least the 1970s. To this day, Wilder is one of the chief suspects in several murders and disappearances.

Wilder is the primary suspect in the case of 15-year-old Colleen Orsborn (pictured above). Colleen left her Daytona Beach, Florida, home on March 15, 1984, smack-dab near the beginning of Wilder’s killing spree. On that day, Colleen skipped school in order to hang out at the beach.[9] A few days after her disappearance, the body of a young white girl was found by fishermen at a lake in Orange County, Florida. This homicide victim would remain a “Jane Doe” until a DNA test in 2011 finally proved that the body belonged to Colleen.

Wilder is also suspected of being involved in the 1981 disappearance of 17-year-old Mary Opitz and the murder of 18-year-old Mary Hare. Both vanished from the parking lot of Edison’s Mall in Fort Myers, Florida. Hare was later found in June 1981, the victim of a homicide. Hare’s killer had stabbed her in the back. Opitz remains a missing person. Both women fit Wilder’s profile, as they were both young and attractive and were abducted at a mall.

Wilder’s name has also been linked to the murder of Tina Marie Beebe of Florida, Shari Lynne Ball of Boca Raton, and Nancy Kay Brown of Illinois. Following the completion of a dental composition in 2013, Tina Marie Beebe was finally identified as the corpse that had been found in Palm Beach County, Florida, all the way back in 1982. Beebe was most likely killed sometime in 1981 or 1980, and her killer had cut off her fingers in order to prevent identification. Shari Lynne Ball was last seen alive leaving home on June 27, 1983. Shari told her mother that she was leaving for New York City in order to pursue a modeling career. Two days later, she called her boyfriend to tell him that she was in Virginia. Shari would not be seen or heard from again until October 29, 1983. On that date, hunters in Shelby, New York, found a decomposed body floating in a swamp. Shari’s name would not officially be attached to this corpse until the completion of DNA analysis in 2011. As for Nancy Kay Brown, she went missing in June 1983 and was not found until 1984. Police in Brevard County, Florida, knew immediately that Brown had been murdered. Her case remains unsolved.

Although it seems like a stretch, Wilder is also a suspect in the still-unsolved Wanda Beach murders of 1965. On January 11, 1965, two 15-year-old girls, Christine Sharrock and Marianne Schmidt, were found dead on Wanda Beach, just north of Cronulla Beach in Sydney, Australia. Schmidt’s throat was slashed, and her body had been stabbed multiple times. Sharrock suffered multiple stab wounds and multiple blows to the head. The Wanda Beach murders occurred at a time when Wilder lived in Australia. Plus, in 1982, Wilder was arrested in Australia for propositioning two female girls while they sunned on a Sydney beach.

1 The Disappearance Of Tammy Lynn Leppert

Photo credit: Lauth Investigations

Without question, the most famous possible victim of Christopher Wilder was 18-year-old Tammy Lynn Leppert. Born on February 5, 1965, in Rockledge, Florida, Leppert spent much of her young life being admired. A striking blond with hazel eyes, Tammy started participating in child beauty pageants at the age of four. When she was done, Tammy had won 280 crowns in 300 competitions. It was obvious to everyone that Tammy was going to be a star.

Tammy starred in her first movie, Little Darlings, in 1980. In 1983, Tammy got a bigger part in a bigger film, Spring Break. Tammy’s sex appeal is front and center in Spring Break, a teen comedy about a spring break adventure in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A popular legend states that Tammy’s legs, hips, and torso are featured on the film’s poster. True or not, Spring Break likely helped Tammy to land a small role in 1983’s crime classic, Scarface. Fans of that film may recognize Tammy as the luscious blond who distracts the getaway driver during the infamous chainsaw scene.

Prior to her disappearance on July 6, 1983, friends and family told the police that Tammy began acting weird after returning home from a weekend party involving the cast and crew of Spring Break. Linda Leppert, Tammy’s mother, later stated that Tammy was afraid that someone was trying to kill her. Tammy’s paranoia and anxiety showed up on the set of Scarface, too. During a scene that included the heavy use of fake blood, Tammy screamed, stormed off into her trailer, and quit the film. On July 1, 1983, Tammy began smashing things in her family’s house and even attacked a friend. Tammy was brought in for psychiatric evaluation but was released 72 hours later. Alcohol and drugs were never found in her system.[10]

Something was certainly going wrong with Tammy. On the day she disappeared, Linda noticed that her daughter left the house without combing her hair. Such an omission was unusual for Tammy. Tammy left that night in order to hang out with a male friend. At some point, the pair had an argument, and Tammy was left in a parking lot near an Exxon gas station. The gas station was within walking distance of State Road A1A in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Eyewitnesses who saw Tammy during these last moments reported that she wore a blue denim skirt with a blue shirt that featured a floral design. Eyewitnesses did contradict each other on whether or not Tammy was barefoot.

Speculation about Tammy’s disappearance went into overdrive almost immediately. One theory said that Tammy was three months pregnant when she went missing. Linda Leppert theorized that Tammy’s male friend was suspicious and that Tammy’s paranoia had been a result of her getting involved with a drug gang. The Leppert family also seriously considered Wilder as a suspect and even brought a lawsuit against him. The other serial killer named as Tammy’s potential murderer was John Brennan Crutchley, the “Vampire Rapist” who was finally apprehended in Florida in 1985. It is thought that Crutchley may have raped and murdered upwards of 30 women.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Benjamin Welton

Benjamin Welton is a West Virginia native currently living in Boston. He works as a freelance writer and has been published in The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic, Listverse, and other publications.

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