Welcome back! Today we explore the first half of Christopher Wilder's rampage of across the country and his first three murders.
There's plenty of dispute over exactly how many people Wilder killed. After his capture and subsequent incarceration, a variety of murders, rapes, and missing persons cases were attributed to Wilder, though he was not convicted for them. I will not be discussing these cases here today, but rather the first four victims of his cross-country spree. In total, Wilder was ultimately tried for his attacks against ten women, two escaping with their lives. We'll explore the harrowing story of one of the survivors today.
The following is divided into sections for each of Wilder's victims. Remember to take your time, as part of my job is trying to humanize Wilder's victims, and thus these articles may be emotionally exhausting. Each story, whether detailed or vague, is heavy enough in its own right.
Murders in Miami: Rosario Gonzalez and Elizabeth Kenyon
What connection existed between Wilder and Gonzalez previous to her disappearance varies between accounts. In the book Human Monsters, David Everitt claims that Gonzalez had posed for a book cover during a photography session with Wilder. With aspirations of a modelling career, and a previous run in the Miss Florida contest, it seems reasonable that Gonzalez might have taken Wilder up on such an offer. In other accounts, the relationship between Gonzalez and Wilder is that of extremely casual acquaintance: Wilder raced at Gonzalez' place of work, they had run into each other a few times.
Considering that Wilder matched the description of the 'older man' Gonzalez was last seen leaving the race-track with, he was considered one of the first suspects in her disappearance.
On Monday, March 5th, Elizabeth Kenyon disappeared. The day previous, she had visited her parents in Pompano Beach, a weekly ritual, and her father had noticed bruises on her arms and legs (according to Bruce Gibney in his book The Beauty Queen Killer). Kenyon had brushed off her father's questions, explaining the marks as the result of breaking up a schoolyard fight. She went to work on Monday, and then was never seen again. On Tuesday, the school called Kenyon's roommate to check on her whereabouts, and her roommate informed them that Elizabeth had not come home on Monday.
Parents and colleagues called around, trying friends and hospitals, desperately attempting to find anyone who had seen Kenyon since Monday afternoon when she left her job. Eventually they filed a missing person's report. After several days with no response, Bill Kenyon, Elizabeth's father, hired a private investigator to try and track down his missing daughter. The investigator uncovered the fact that among several other casual dating relationships, Kenyon sometimes had dinner with a former boyfriend, a photographer, by the name of Christopher Wilder.
Kenyon had said that Wilder had been a gentleman on their first date. Unlike other photographers, he hadn't asked her if she would pose nude for him. After a few more dates, though, Wilder had made a more intense proposal: that of marriage, which Kenyon had turned down. Two years hence, they had remained friends. When the investigator asked Kenyon's parents about the various boyfriends, it turns out that Elizabeth had mentioned Wilder the Sunday just before she vanished. It seems Wilder had offered her a modelling job, making good money.
However, when Wilder was contacted, he claimed not to have heard from Kenyon in a month.
As the other two men dating Kenyon were ruled out, it seemed that the case was coming to a dead end. That is until another one of Kenyon's former boyfriends stopped at a local gas-station to show Elizabeth's photo around. Surprisingly, two of the gas-station attendants said they had seen Kenyon on Monday afternoon, the day of her disappearance. According to the witnesses, Kenyon had stopped by for gas and was seen leaving with a man easily identified as Christopher Wilder - saying they were heading toward the airport. Kenyon had given no indication that she planned to take a trip, but when authorities searched for her: they found Kenyon's car in the airport parking lot with no trace of Elizabeth in sight.
On March 16, the Miami Herald ran a story how a Boynton Beach racecar driver was wanted for questioning in the disappearance of two local women. On March 17, Wilder went on the run. He tearfully told his partner in the construction firm that he "not going to jail", dropped his three dogs off at a kennel, and drove north out of town in his '73 Chrysler.
Indian Harbor, FL: Terry Ferguson
Two hours north of Boynton Beach, Terry Ferguson, 21, disappeared from a shopping mall in Indian Harbor, Florida. This sandy coastal area, a series of beaches developed along Florida's barrier islands guarding against the Atlantic, is south of Cape Canaveral.
On March 19th, Ferguson had been seen at several stores in the Merritt Square shopping mall. Her stepfather found her car in the parking lot.
An hour after Ferguson was last seen at the mall, Christopher Wilder called a tow-truck. He had gotten his Chrysler stuck along a state road near Canaveral Groves. It was a lovers-lane on the mainland near where I-94 meets Rt. 528, a deserted stretch of sandy road. Wilder was alone; claimed he had gotten lost. He paid for the tow with his partner's stolen credit card and continued on his way.
On March 23rd, Terry Ferguson's body was pulled out of a snake-infested canal in Polk County, FL. She was identified by her dental records.
Indulge the following geographical speculation: It seems that after abducting Terry from the mall in Indian Harbor, Wilder had driven north up the coast to Cape Canaveral, then taken a left on 528. His first attempt at finding a secluded location on the state road near Canaveral Groves was thwarted by nature. It is unclear whether Terry Ferguson was dead or alive in his trunk at this point, but it certainly was not where her body was dumped. After getting his car removed from the sand, Wilder continued along 528, west, until it turned into I-4, eventually entering Polk County where he dumped Ferguson's body.
Tallahassee, FL to Bainbridge, GA: The Co-Ed Who Escaped
*Warning: The following contains a particularly brutal account of torture and some sexually explicit content.
|Florida State mascot: The Seminole|
Saying that she only had to accompany him to a nearby park, Wilder lured the woman to his car. At the last minute, her instincts told her to get out of there, and she declined the job. Wilder punched her hard in the stomach, hit her in the face, and pushed her into his car. With the wind knocked out of her, she didn't have a chance to recover before Wilder had the car on the road, driving fast.
Soon, Wilder stopped in a wooded area. He bound her hands and covered her mouth with duct tape. A little further down the road, Wilder stopped again and moved the woman to the trunk. She laid there for hours. Eventually the car stopped, Wilder removed her from the trunk, wrapped her in a blanket, and carried her into a motel room. They had arrived in Bainbridge, Georgia.
In the motel room, Wilder ordered the woman to strip naked. He said that if she did not remain quiet that he would kill her. He shaved her pubic hair. He put a knife to her groin to see how she would react. He masturbated next to her. He made her perform sex acts and then raped her twice. The whole time, the woman said, Wilder was also watching television.
She hoped this would be the end of it. Sadly, this was only the beginning of Wilder's entertainment. At this time, he produced an electrical cord that had been cut in the middle and fashioned with an on/off switch. He attached the ends of two copper wires to the girl's feet, and proceeded to shock her.
After this was over, he attempted to superglue her eyes shut. He forced them closed and with an applicator applied the glue. He used a hairdryer to try and harden the glue faster, but did a poor job. The woman was still able to see through small slits in her eyelids.
Wilder then turned the TV to an aerobics show and ordered the woman to get up and dance like the women on screen. Mostly blinded, still hooked to the electrical cord, she complied. When she didn't perform to Wilder's standards, he would shock her into obedience.
Eventually, Wilder seemed to loose interest with his victim, becoming mesmerized by the television. At this time, the woman made a move toward the bathroom. Wilder came at her, using the hairdryer to hit her in the head, screaming that he would kill her if she tried to escape. But she fought him. Struggling, she made it to the bathroom and locked him out. One of her eyes gouged and bleeding, she turned to the wall that separated her room from the neighbor's and began to pound and scream at the top of her lungs for rescue.
In the bedroom, she heard fumbling and then the slamming of the door. She hoped Wilder was gone. She waited a half hour before venturing out, wrapping a bed sheet around herself, and making it to the motel's office in search of help.
The sheriff sent out an APB for all patrol cars to be on the look-out for a cream-colored Chrysler, and alerted the FBI. Unfortunately, nobody spotted Wilder's car.
He made it all the way to Texas.
In our next installment (I'm having to space these out, woof), we'll get to the psychological foulness of what Wilder did to Tina Marie Risico, his other kills, and how he met his end at the hands of the police.