Monday, August 17, 2015

Christopher Wilder: "The Beauty-Queen Killer" Pt. 1

Wilder at a Las Vegas fashion show.

You know what we haven't covered here yet?  Serial Killers!

Now, we've certainly written about murders, death, and mysterious goings-on, but we haven't actually broached the subject of serial killing directly.  Mostly, this has been because there are so many, many amazing and creepy true-life things to discuss and we just haven't gotten around to serial killers.  

Before we begin, I would like to offer a few words about serial killer content and how I plan to cover it.  

#1: You know, sometimes you just don't want to read about human beings being raped and murdered.  I totally get that.  Please feel free to continue on and read something that makes your life happy.  I, personally, like to look at pictures of opossums if I'm having a bad day.

A magical-looking all-white 'possum named Snoopy.  You're welcome.

#2:  If you're fascinated by serial killers, good!  Here's where I'm going to explain what I'm up to.  If you fall into this category, you're probably an odd duck like myself and have spent A LOT of time reading or watching content about serial killers.  After a while, all the stories start to sound the same.  An endless litany of young women with forgettable names, kidnapped, brutalized, and left in shallow graves.  Killers that lack a particular flair or gimmick quickly begin to sound like lesser-known baseball players having their batting averages recited.

And that bothers me.  Serial killers are scary because of their reality.  The statistics-based numbing of their stories feels wrong.  It seems to make the deaths of their victims meaningless.  I want to find a way to reverse the trading-card feel of serial killer discussion.  And, mind you, there are several talented true crime writers out in the world who do a great job at this.  But, there's only so many books one can research and write.

Therefore, I plan to cover serial killers that haven't broken into the collective consciousness.  Perhaps, like Joe Metheny, their crimes verge on the strange and comical in a way that people don't believe at first, and thus are laid by the wayside.  Or, perhaps their kill-counts aren't very high, or their methodology mundane.  I want to revisit the stats of their crimes and find what is chilling, interesting, and ultimately humanizing about their stories.  This may make these blog posts emotionally exhausting, but I feel like there's value to doing this.

One of the main ways that I intend to do this is by focusing heavily on the killer's lives BEFORE they began murdering.  I believe that a comprehensive understanding of the background that led up to the killer's crimes is extremely useful.  It gives context to their kills, and perhaps might help us come to terms with the horrors they wrought.  And, just maybe, by showing that these killers are human, we can also remember that their victims were human too, not merely the names, dates, and school photos they are reduced to by the endless litany.

To start, I've picked Christopher Wilder.  (Who isn't particularly obscure in serial-killer circles, I know, but bear with me: I'm easing into this.)


Christopher Wilder

Christopher Wilder was born in 1945 in Australia to an American naval officer and an Aussie.  He almost died at birth, and later almost drowned to death at the age of two.  At the age of three, he went into convulsions in the back of his parents car and had to be resuscitated.  

In 1962 (or 1963, I'm not sure why records aren't clearer on this date), he plead guilty to participating in a gang-rape at a Sydney beach.  Despite the violent and sexual nature of the crime, the seventeen-year-old Wilder received one year of probation with a provision for mandatory counseling.  At this time, he underwent a course of electroshock therapy.

A few years later, in 1968, Wilder married.  His wife left him after one week.  She complained of sexual abuse and left Wilder after finding someone else's panties and photos of nude women in a briefcase in Wilder's car.  

In November of 1969, Wilder used nude photographs of a nursing student to extort sex from her.  The student complained to the police, but the charges were dropped when she refused to testify in court.

In 1970, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Boynton Beach, Florida (just south of West Palm Beach).  There, Wilder found success in the construction and real estate business, collecting a small fortune.  He lived in a mansion.  He was described as being handsome and well-tailored, taking ski-trips in Vail and driving race-cars for fun.  Living the playboy dream, Wilder was quoted in a 1981 dating-service video (think OKCupid for an earlier age) as saying that he "want[ed] to date and enjoy the company of women, women with depth.  I'm looking for a long-term relationship, but not marriage."  

It was during this time that Wilder took up his fascination with photography.  Moving from the possession and use of nude photographs, Wilder now began to take them himself as a means of exploiting women.  Along with a jacuzzi, his house featured a private photo studio.

In 1971, Wilder was picked up in Pompano Beach for soliciting women to pose nude for him.  He bargained down to a plea of disturbing the peace, and was let off with a small fine.  

In 1977, Wilder coerced a female high-schooler into performing fellatio on him, threatening to beat her if she refused.  He was jailed, and confessed the crime to his therapist.  But, such a confession was inadmissible in court, and Wilder was later acquitted.

In June of 1980, Wilder escalated further, his modus operandi developing.  On the 21st, he lured a teenage girl into his car.  He claimed to be a photographer and promised her a modelling contract.  He then drove her to a rural area where he raped her.  He plead guilty to attempted sexual battery and got five years probation with court-ordered therapy.  

In December of 1982, while visiting his parents in Australia, Wilder was charged with another photography-based crime.  He kidnapped two 15-year-old girls from a beach in New South Wales, and forced them to pose for him.  His parents paid his bail of $350,000, allowing Wilder to return to America, and court delays prevented the case from being heard until after Wilder's death two years hence.

After his death, two girls from Boynton Beach (aged 10 and 12) identified Wilder's mugshot as the man who had kidnapped them.  In June of 1983, Wilder had abducted the girls from a park, taken them to some nearby woods, and forced them to fellate him.   

Throughout the year of 1983 there are numerous kidnappings, disappearances, and murders that have been connected to Wilder posthumously.  

At the age of thirty-eight, Chris Wilder greeted 1984: the year of his cross-country killing spree.


Before Christopher Wilder ever killed anyone, he was clearly a serial rapist.  As we'll see in Part II, Wilder's killing spree is the stuff of nightmares, especially his treatment of Tina Marie Risico.  But prior to ever picking up a knife, Wilder left a string of ruined lives in his wake.  I think it's important to note the background that led up to Wilder's spree in early 1984.  Instead of throwing around the facts of Wilder's early life in a vague and dismissive way, looking at them closely allows us to understand his spree in context.

For example, we can already see that Wilder has a thing for young girls and the power that comes from photographing them.  We see his penchant for kidnapping as a means of exerting control over his victims.  And with the incident in 1980, it's clear that Wilder was already working out his story for how to lure women into his web (with lies about modelling contracts).  The groundwork was laid long before Wilder transitioned from kidnapper/rapist into murderer.  His spree was not just the dark consequence of a man suddenly snapping, but the logical progression of a life of sexual violence.  

One can't help but look on in despair at the number of times Wilder was caught and allowed to get away with his crimes before 1984.  I wonder what effect this might have had on his thoughts in preparation for his murders.   I also wonder at how many other individuals have slipped and slid through the legal system, never developing into killers, but nonetheless wreaking a trail of destruction.  Or, if not for his murderous rampage, would Wilder ever have been brought to justice?

And since I'm on the topic of hypotheticals, a look at Wilder's life before his last year also gives us plenty to chew on in terms of brain damage.  It's very common for serial killers to have experienced some manner of brain damage or head injury early in life.  While this is obviously not the only predictor for becoming a murderous psychopath, it certainly crops up in a lot of case studies.  In Wilder's case, it seems his brain underwent plenty of stress in his early years.  From the possible oxygen deprivation due to his drowning, and the under-reported incident of his seizure in his parents car, it seems something dire was going on with Wilder's brain.  Others have theorized about what kind of heinous effects his course of electroshock therapy might have had on his mental development, but I squint at this.  Firstly, he participated in a gang-rape BEFORE undergoing the treatment.  Secondly, electroshock therapy has enough of an undeserved bad reputation that I don't feel content piling on.  At any rate, it is interesting to note these incidents and faff about the unknowable condition of Wilder's brain, and whether it caused him to do what he did.

Further, we can speculate about what Wilder's fascination with photography indicated.  It seems pretty plain to me that Wilder got off on having power and control over women.  What kind of power did he feel when looking at his photographs?  What was it in the activity of photographing women that fulfilled him so?  And how was this psychological relationship different from other famous photographers like BTK?  Much to ponder...

In Part II, I'll tell you all about Wilder's murders and the girl that got away.  Stay tuned next Monday!


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