Trail of Death

4 minute read
Jacob V. Lamar Jr.

Man hunt for a rapist

Christopher Bernard Wilder seemed the very model of a modern swinging bachelor. An Australian native, he came to America in 1970 at the age of 24, eventually settled in Boynton Beach, Fla., and soon amassed a small fortune in the construction business. Handsome and well-tailored, he acquired six parcels of Palm Beach County real estate worth nearly $400,000, took ski vacations in chic Vail, Colo., dabbled in photography and raced cars, finishing a respectable 17th in the Miami Grand Prix (prize: $400). A Jacuzzi bubbled outside his bedroom, a speedboat was moored to his private dock. And, of course, Chris Wilder had a penchant for attractive young women. In an interview for a dating service videotaped in 1981, he said, “I want to date and enjoy the company of women, women with depth. I’m looking for a long-term relationship but not marriage.”

Among the beauties Wilder befriended in Miami were Elizabeth Kenyon, a 23-year-old former beauty queen, and Rosario Gonzalez, a 20-year-old model. Gonzalez, in fact, was watching while he raced in the Grand Prix. When the two women disappeared last February and March, police began seeking Wilder for questioning. But he was nowhere to be found. In the middle of last month, authorities began to piece together information about half a dozen rapes, tortures and murders of attractive young women in Florida, Texas, Colorado and Nevada. Last week the FBI fingered Wilder as a suspect in these cases and put him on its Ten Most Wanted list. Says FBI Spokesman Chris Mazzella: “We consider this to be the top fugitive investigation at this time. Unlimited resources are being poured into it. This is a truly massive man hunt, stretching from coast to coast.”

On Friday Wilder was formally charged with the stabbing murder of Suzanne Logan, 20. Abducted from an Oklahoma City shopping center, Logan, an attractive brunette married just nine months, was found dead near a lake in Junction City, Kans. Wilder has also been charged in a brutal kidnaping. According to the FBI, on March 20, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wilder stopped a Florida State University woman (whose name is being withheld by police). He offered her $25 an hour to pose for photographs. When she turned him down, he punched her in the stomach, bound her with a clothesline and locked her in the trunk of his car. Wilder allegedly drove her to a motel in Bainbridge, Ga., where he raped her and tortured her with electric shocks, at one point attempting to seal shut her eyes with glue. She escaped into a bathroom, locking herself in and screaming so loudly that she attracted rescuers and caused Wilder to flee.

The other crimes for which Wilder is a suspect follow a similar chilling pattern. According to a statement by the FBI, “In each known incident, an individual meeting Wilder’s physical description approaches an attractive young female, identifies himself as a professional photographer and offers the woman a photo session for usage in nationwide magazines. If any resistance or refusal is given, he forcibly abducts the victim.”

On March 18, Teresa Ferguson was kidnaped from a shopping mall in Merritt Island, Fla. Two days later her strangled body was found in a swamp. Terry Dianne Walden, 23, a Lamar University student, was reported missing in Beaumont, Texas, on March 23. Police discovered her body in a drainage canal three days later; she had been bound and stabbed to death. Sheryl Bonaventura, 18, was reported missing from a Grand Junction, Colo., shopping mall on March 29. Three days later, in Las Vegas,, Michele Korfman, 17, disappeared from a shopping mall where she had been appearing in a beauty contest. Three other women have told police they were approached at that mall by a man who police suspect was Wilder, but successfully rebuffed his advances.

Wilder was convicted in 1980 of attempted sexual battery in a Palm Beach County case, but placed on probation. Police have discovered that he is a fugitive from sexual-assault charges in Sydney, Australia. He concealed these earlier crimes from his fast-lane friends in Florida; most were shocked by his recent notoriety. Dennis DeFranceschi, a close friend and racing partner of Wilder’s, failed to see any logic in his sex crimes. Said he: “If you want to act out a pornographic scene, you just go out and hire a bunch of hookers.” Contemplating Wilder’s alleged spree, DeFranceschi added, “He had no reason to subject himself to this.” —By Jacob V. Lamar Jr. Reported by Kim Eisler/Tallahassee

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