A￼ tall, handsome man with fair hair approached two teenagers as they walked along the Manly beachfront.
It was December 1982 and the 15-year-olds had travelled from western Sydney to spend the day at the beach.
Pretty and naive, they believed the man when he told them he was a photographer and offered to help them become models. Taking them to Mosman, he forced them to pose naked, before driving them to Kings Cross where he indecently assaulted them. Rather than a model scout, Christopher Bernard Wilder was a dangerous predator.
Born in 1945 in Sawtell, NSW, Wilder started peeking through windows from an early age. By the time he was 17, he’d been arrested for being part of a gang-rape of a girl on a Sydney beach. Given a year’s probation, he underwent electroshock therapy, but it did nothing to curb his violent appetite. When he married in 1968, aged 23, his wife left a week later after she found lingerie and naked photos of women in a briefcase inside his car.
Moving to the US, Wilder started a new life in Florida. Quickly building up a fortune in the construction industry, he bought property and prestige cars and took expensive holidays. Life should have been easy for Wilder, but his sick urges always caught up with him.
After several accusations during the ’70s, in 1980 he was convicted of raping a woman and placed on a five-year good behaviour bond. He’d convinced her he was a successful photographer and could make her famous. Knowing it was a good way to pick up pretty women, Wilder continued using this ruse while visiting his parents in Australia in 1982. That’s when he preyed on the two girls in Manly.
While he was arrested, he was quickly released after his family posted $350,000 of his $400,000 bail – a substantial amount now, but even more so back then.The case was adjourned to April 1984, and a fateful decision was made to allow Wilder to return to the US.
Competing as a racing car driver, he was at the Miami Grand Prix in February 1984 when he spotted Rosario Gonzales, a beautiful 20-year old aspiring model. Engaged to be married, she was earning extra money handing out aspirin samples. After leaving the event with a man matching Wilder’s appearance, Rosario was never seen again.
The next month, Elizabeth Kenyon, who had been a Miss Florida finalist and was Wilder’s former girlfriend, also vanished. It was just the start of his vicious road trip of murder, luring young beautiful women with promises of stardom across six states.
Wilder’s next victim was Theresa Ferguson, 21, who he lured away from a mall before murdering her and dumping her body. Next, he abducted Linda Grover, 19, and took her to a hotel where he strangled, raped and tortured her, even gluing her eyes shut. Amazingly, the brave teenager eventually managed to lock herself in the bathroom and shrieked so loudly that Wilder fled. Not long after, he surfaced in Texas where he murdered 23-year-old mum Terry Walden and 21-year-old Suzanne Logan.
Sheryl Bonaventura, 18, was his next victim. On March 29, she disappeared in Colorado. Her naked body was found in Utah in May. After frequenting a modelling competition in Las Vegas on April 1, Wilder targeted Michelle Korfman, 17, who was later found dead. A chilling photo shows young girls on the catwalk while Wilder looks on.
Arriving in California, Wilder nabbed Tina Maria Risico, 16, who credits her tough upbringing for helping her to survive. After being taken by Wilder and assaulted, Tina helped him capture other victims in a desperate attempt to keep her life. The pair’s next target was Dawnette Wilt, 15, who Wilder raped at gunpoint. Dawnette was then stabbed and left for dead in a field, but somehow survived and gave the authorities the information that Wilder was heading to Canada.
With Tina still captive beside him, Wilder abducted Beth Dodge, 33, who he shot dead and dumped in a gravel pit near Victor, New York. After stealing Beth’s car, Wilder and Tina travelled to Boston. There, in a strange turnaround, Wilder took Tina to the airport and paid for her ticket back to California, even seeing her off at the gate.
This compassion was not to last, as Wilder wasted no time seeking another victim by brandishing his gun at a woman in Massachusetts. It wasn’t long before the killer was sighted at a service station in New Hampshire. State troopers, Leo Jellison and Wayne Fortier, approached the car. As Wilder dived into the vehicle for his pistol, Jellison jumped onto the criminal and held him in a bear hug. Two shots rang out.Wilder was dead, and Jellison wounded, but he later recovered.
‘When he lunged for that gun, had he committed himself to suicide or to killing the trooper? We’ll probably never know,’ Assistant Attorney General Michael Pignatelli told The New York Times. Either way, his killing spree was over.
Four days after his death, a woman, who would only be known as Wendy F, told The Manly Daily that she’d dated him back in 1964. ‘My parents thought very highly of him,’ she said, believing he must have been overtaken by some terrible ‘mental degeneration.’ Wilder was linked to several other crimes, including the murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock at Wanda Beach, Cronulla, in January 1965 and the disappearance of beauty queen, Tammy Lynn Leppert, in 1983.
Sadly, it may never be known how many more fell victim to one of Australia’s most evil men.
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