The Messed Up Truth Of The Beauty Queen Killer

The case of murderer and rapist Christopher Wilder is one that broke the mold for serial killers. Wilder was a wealthy Florida playboy and an electrical contractor who had a passion for racing cars. Well-known in the racing world in Florida, Wilder had competed in various professional races including the Miami Grand Prix (via The New York Daily News). The Australian-born Wilder moved to the United States in 1969 and grew a sizable fortune through entrepreneurship and investing. But racecars and a lavish lifestyle weren't the only hobbies that Wilder kept. Under the façade of the successful businessman with a need for speed was a twisted criminal who preyed on women and teenage girls, luring them into his clutches where he would sexually assault, torture, and murder them.

Wilder is known as "The Beauty Queen Killer," partially due to his murder of a Miss Florida finalist and also because he also tricked unsuspecting victims into thinking that he would help them get started as professional models (via The Charley Project). His crimes go back as far as 1962 when he was first arrested for sexual assault. By the time he died in 1984, Wilder had killed at least eight victims and sexually assaulted many more. 

Wilder's trajectory is one filled with a lot of red flags, each one indicating escalating behaviors that would culminate in a six-week murder spree across seven states.

Details about Wilder's childhood in Australia are questionable

Christopher Wilder was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on March 13, 1945, to an Australian mother and an American father. Wilder's father was an officer in the United States Navy, stationed in the country (via The Chronicle Express). Wilder spent a lot of his childhood moving from base to base with his family, living in various parts of the United States and southeast Asia before his father retired and made a permanent home for the family back in Sydney (per 7 News). 

Wilder was described as a "sickly child" and had several brushes with death growing up. But the frail child soon grew into a monstrous teenager that began to prey on young girls. When he was 17, Wilder talked a girl into taking a ride with him to a nearby beach. After arriving, Wilder sexually assaulted her. Police arrested Wilder and charged him with the crime, but he was given a slap on the wrist. After being examined by a psychiatrist who determined that Wilder was not a risk to re-offend, a judge gave him probation instead of prison.

This left Wilder free to stalk the beaches of New South Wales and hunt for more victims.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Wilder was married briefly in 1968

In 1968, Christopher Wilder met a young woman while she and her family were visiting a beach in New South Wales (per 7 News). The two quickly became a couple, marrying later that year. But the wedded bliss did not last long. Wilder's new bride discovered photographs of women that he had taken, the subjects dressed in his wife's swimwear. Further throwing a wrench into their marriage was Wilder sexually propositioning both his new mother-in-law and sister-in-law. 

The final straw was when Wilder was questioned by police about a series of sexual assaults on nearby beaches. By this time, the new wife had enough of Wilder's quirks and made the move to divorce him. According to reports, she would later tell police that Wilder had tried to kill her on two different occasions. For further context, all of these events happened in the span of a week (via The New York Daily News), maybe making it the shortest time a woman ever stayed in a marriage with a serial killer.

Wilder made a fortune in real estate and as a building contractor

After leaving the land down under in 1969, the 24-year-old Christopher Wilder sought his fortune in sunny Florida, U.S.A. The young man began to establish himself as an electrical contractor and invest in real estate (via The New York Daily News). Wilder's risks and hard work paid off, and he was soon driving a Porsche and living the life of a rich playboy. Wilder bought an expensive home with a pool, more cars, and a speedboat.

The lifestyle Wilder was leading would hardly be described as one befitting a serial killer in the making. Though there were no confirmed murders tied to him during the 1970s, Wilder still had a trail of sexual assault victims from this era.

Wilder's wealth allowed him to invest money in expensive photographic equipment, including the latest cameras. 7 News revealed that Wilder began using his new cameras to perfect an M.O. he used in New South Wales to lure women into traps.

Wilder's interest in photography led to the creation of his M.O.

Armed with a camera, Christopher Wilder would hunt for potential victims wherever he thought young and attractive women might be congregating. He scoured local shopping malls and beaches looking for women and teenage girls to buy into a scam he had developed. Wilder began using an alias, posing as a professional photographer or a modeling talent agent. He would "discover" his victims, telling them that he wanted to help them develop a career as professional models. After isolating them, he would then sexually assault them. In 1974, Wilder used this exact M.O. to victimize a young woman from a Florida shopping mall. Wilder drugged and raped the woman and was later arrested. The New York Daily News reports that he was only given probation for the incident.

In 1977, Wilder was arrested for another one of these attacks. Prior to trial, he was evaluated by a court-appointed psychiatrist who rendered a chilling assessment of him. According to 7 News, Wilder was found to be a "mentally disordered sex offender" and "not safe except in a structured environment." The report continues, stating that Wilder should be confined.

Despite the psychiatric report, Wilder had the charges dropped and he was a free man.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Wilder returns to Australia and assaults two more women

Christopher Wilder continued to live in Florida but chose to visit his aging parents in Australia over the holidays in late 1982. Though on a vacation from his business endeavors, Wilder did not take a break from his violent streak. He wasn't back home in New South Wales long before he was arrested for sexual assault.

Wilder returned to his old stomping grounds of Manly Beach where he preyed upon two teenage victims. In between Christmas and New Year's, he kidnapped and sexually assaulted the two girls and was soon arrested (via 7 News). He also faced charges of taking nude photos of the pair of girls (via The New York Daily News).

He was eligible to post bond and was soon out of confinement when his parents paid it. But he didn't stay in Australia long enough to face trial. He secured permission to go back to the United States while out on bail. He never faced trial for these charges, as he was able to keep delaying the hearings. Before being forced to return to his native country to face the courts, he embarked on one of the bloodiest crime sprees in history.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The 6 week murderous rampage began in February 1984

The brutal murder spree that vaulted Christopher Wilder to the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted list began on February 26, 1984. He had been competing in the Miami Grand Prix that day while Rosario Gonzales was working as a spokesmodel for an aspirin company, giving out samples to racegoers. The two knew each other, and she was last seen leaving the racetrack with him (via The New York Daily News). 

Days later on March 5, 23-year-old Elizabeth Kenyon disappeared. She was last seen climbing into a Cadillac with a man who matched the description of Wilder. Kenyon, a finalist for the Miss Florida pageant, also knew Wilder. The two had dated for a time and Wilder is reported to have proposed to her, only to be rejected.

It's suspected that Wilder killed both of these women, fueling the beginning of a violent rampage that would take him across the country and back. To date, neither of the women's bodies has been located. When Kenyon's parents hired a private investigator to look into her disappearance, it was the catalyst that led to Wilder making a quick getaway. After the investigator gave information to the Miami Herald that linked a local racecar driver to the disappearances of two local women, it got the police involved. But by the time they made their move to arrest him, they discovered that Wilder had withdrawn $50K from his bank account and high-tailed it out of there.

Wilder continues his killing spree

Christopher Wilder went to Tallahassee and conned 19-year-old Linda Grover into believing that she could be the next cover girl for Vogue. He knocked her out with a blow to the head and threw her into his car (per The New York Daily News). After driving the teen to Georgia, he checked into a hotel. While there, he savagely beat and sexually assaulted her. At one point, he tortured her with shocks from electric wires. After one series of attacks, Grover managed to make it into the bathroom and locked herself in. She began screaming so loudly for help that Wilder abandoned his room and hit the road again.

Wilder drove to Texas where he continued to use the modeling ruse to get access to victims. He kidnapped and killed 24-year-old Terry Walden and left her body in a canal. Walden abandoned his car near Beaumont, where DNA evidence linked Wilder to the disappearance of another missing woman. Hairs belonging to 21-year-old Theresa Ferguson were found inside, making him the prime suspect in her murder case. She had been abducted from a mall in Merit Island, Florida, and murdered. Her body was discovered in a Florida canal (via All That's Interesting).

From Texas, Wilder moved north to Oklahoma, now driving the Mercury Cougar belonging to Walden. He kidnapped 21-year-old Suzanne Logan and drove her to Newton, Kansas, where he raped and murdered her. 

Wilder let his final victim go free and attempted to flee to Canada

Christopher Wilder took his next known victim in Grand Junction, Colorado. All That's Interesting reports that 18-year-old Sheryl Bonaventura was taken from a local shopping mall by Wilder. Her lifeless body was later found after being stabbed and shot multiple times. At a Seventeen Magazine photo shoot in Las Vegas, Wilder was able to abduct 17-year-old Michelle Korfman. Wilder murdered the teenager and dumped her body off the side of the road in Southern California. 

While there, Wilder also kidnapped 16-year-old Tina Marie Risico. The two drove from there to Indiana, with Risico being subjected to physical and sexual assaults from Wilder along the way. Outside Gary, Indiana, Wilder forced her to help lure another victim into his car, Dawnette Wilt. The three of them drove from Indiana to upstate New York. For two days he beat and tortured Wilt before leaving her stabbed body along a roadside. Still alive, she was able to flag down a passing car and get medical treatment. She survived, telling police that Wilder said he was on his way to Canada (via The New York Daily News).

Wilder shot 33-year-old Beth Dodge and stole her car in Victor, New York. He then drove with the still-captive Risico to Logan International Airport in Boston. He bought Risico a ticket home to Los Angeles and drove off toward the Canadian border.

Wilder was killed in a struggle with the highway patrol

On April 13, 1984, Christopher Wilder was at a gas station in Colebrook, New Hampshire, when he was cornered by two members of the New Hampshire Highway Patrol. Wilder was attempting to leave the station, presumably on the way to Canada, whose border lay a mere 10 miles away. Trooper Leo Jellison moved in on Wilder and tried to physically restrain him (via UPI). During the scuffle, Wilder was able to fire two shots from a .357 magnum. Both slugs entered Wilder's chest with one of them exiting and striking Jellison. Wilder died almost instantly. 

The pathologist who examined Wilder's body concluded that the bullets fired from Wilder's gun were simultaneous, both entering his heart. Wilder's death was ruled accidental, as it is believed that he was trying to use his weapon to kill Jellison and accidentally shot himself instead. 

Wounded, Jellison retreated to his nearby patrol car to wait for an ambulance to arrive. The New York Times reports that the wounded officer was struck in the chest and rushed to a nearby hospital for surgery.  Jellison recovered and eventually returned to duty. Two years later Jellison and his partner, Trooper Wayne Fortier, were honored by state police. They were awarded the Medal of Valor, the "highest award granted by state police," according to UPI. In addition, the two troopers were given accolades by the American Law Enforcement Association and the American Police Hall of Fame.

The Wanda Beach Murders

In January 1965, Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock were found dead on Wanda Beach in New South Wales. The 15-year-old girls had been savagely beaten, sexually assaulted, and stabbed to death (per The Sydney Morning Herald). During an examination of their bodies, seminal fluid was found. A sample was taken and preserved, in hopes of linking it to the blood type of any potential suspect (via 7 News). 

7 News reports that Christopher Wilder was one of over 5,000 men that were interviewed about the murders. Wilder had been known for prowling the beaches in the area, and his past conviction of sexually assaulting a young woman put him on the radar of the police. But without hard evidence against him, he was just another name in a pile of potential leads. Four years later, statements made to police by Wilder's ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law changed all that. The circumstances surrounding his divorce and the details given to investigators by these two women put Wilder back on the top of the list of suspects. A police file on their report was handed over to investigators handling the case with the header "Information that may assist in Wanda Beach Murders. Christopher Bernard Wilder Suspect." 

By the time investigators followed up on this new information, Wilder had already fled to the United States. The seminal fluid from the bodies has been reported lost, making it impossible to connect Wilder to the murders using forensic evidence (via The Sydney Morning Herald).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Wilder's estate was worth more than $7 million when he died

Christopher Wilder had proven to be financially savvy, leaving behind a healthy estate after his death. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1987 that a Florida judge ruled that Wilder's estate was valued at a whopping $7.3 million, a net worth you don't see too often with a serial killer. In 1986, a separate judge ruled that the proceeds of Wilder's estate should be split among the surviving victims and the families of the women and girls he killed. The family of Terry Walden was awarded $3.6 million of Wilder's estate. The proceeds of this settlement were divided equally between Walden's husband, daughter, and father. 

The media outlet revealed that it was believed that there was more than $55 million in claims to Wilder's estate, which was being handled by Florida attorney Harold Holt. Wilder's parents and brother, who still resided in Australia, had some concerns about the estate. Wilder's will left the majority of his assets to his parents, but the lawsuits from his victims' families blocked this transfer from happening. 

Wilder's brother John told the publication that all of the money that the killer left to his family had never been received and was still "tied up in the U.S." He also stated that the family did not want any of Wilder's money and that Wilder's surviving family members were concerned that the courts might find them financially liable for any suits against Wilder's estate.

Were there other victims?

Sadly, Christopher Wilder's brutality may have claimed even more victims. At least a dozen unsolved murders and missing persons cases from Florida, Australia, and New York all have clues that link Wilder as a potential suspect. After the Wanda Beach slaying, police were alerted to the body of 57-year-old Wilhelmina Kruger, who had been viciously stabbed to death. The Canberra Times reports that the 1966 slaying had eerie similarities to the murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock, who had been killed the year before.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal tells us that Wilder is suspected to have killed 15-year-old Colleen Orsborn, who went missing from Daytona Beach, Florida. Wilder was in the viscinity when she was last seen alive, staying at a local motel. A body found in the area went unidentified until 2011 when DNA confirmed that the remains found were Orsborn. She had been missing since March 1984.

Shari Ball was an aspiring model who told her family she was going to New York with a friend to pursue a modeling career. The 20-year-old woman left her home in Boca Raton, Florida, and was never seen alive again. Her remains were found in western New York at a wildlife refuge. Years later, those remains were confirmed to be Ball's from DNA testing. Authorities in New York put Wilder on the top of their list of suspects, as witnesses recall seeing a man fitting Wilder's description in the area at the time (via The Buffalo News).