Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Artist and the Killer: Frank Bender and Hans Vorhauer

The Task Force

John List bust compared to photo
John List bust compared to photo

Frank Bender's ability to pick Vorhauer out of a pile of fuzzy photographs stunned U.S. Marshal Tom Rappone, but Bender had proven his abilities before, notably with the bust he created of John List, the New Jersey man who murdered his entire family and remained a fugitive for 18 years. Bender had also made a bust of mob boss Alphonse "Allie" Persico of New York's Colombo crime family for the Marshals Service, which led to his arrest. Bender had more than proven his worth to law enforcement. That's why Rappone took the unusual step of asking Bender to be deputized so that he could formally join the task force searching for Vorhauer. If he agreed, Bender would ride with the federal agents and local detectives on the task force and carry a weapon. Rappone wanted Bender to be their eyes.

Bust of Persico
Bust of Persico

Bender jumped at the chance to work with them. Vorhauer was easily the most dangerous man he had ever encountered. Bender knew what Vorhauer was capable of, and he was convinced that the man would kill again if he hadn't already. Vorhauer had to be apprehended. Bender immediately enrolled in gun-training classes so he could earn his certification. Whenever he rode with the task force, he kept a shotgun within reach. He was instructed to use it if the situation demanded.

He found that he was well-suited for police work because the task force typically worked at night and he was used to staying up into the wee hours working on paintings and sculptures. One member of the task force, Detective Paul Schneider of the Delaware County Major Crimes Unit, became Bender's guide into Vorhauer's underworld, taking Bender to Vorhauer's old haunts and filling him in on the details of the man's criminal career. A bear of a man with the tenacity of a bloodhound, Schneider often called Bender at two or three in the morning to hash out an idea or to see if Bender was up for a drive to follow up on some lead he'd just discovered.

Initially, Bender was thrilled to be part of the team, but it didn't take long to sober him up as he began to learn more and more about their target. Bender was told that Vorhauer was a quiet, taciturn man who had a knack for invention. With his superior intelligence, he was able to pull off what normally would be a hare-brained scheme in the hands of a lesser criminal, such as the prison escape in a piece of furniture. He was known to have constructed sophisticated bombs, and his homemade silencers were reputed to be much quieter than anything available on the black market. He was also a proficient chemist and an expert in setting up "California System" methamphetamine labs - an automatic operation that cooked the drug in 10 hours without human supervision.

Vorhauer out of focus pic
Vorhauer out of focus pic

Yet for all his intelligence, Hans Vorhauer had the predatory instincts of an animal. He was a brutally efficient killer who had allegedly stabbed a stripper to death with three strikes to the heart. Before his conviction on an armed robbery charge, he worked for "Cockeyed Benny" Brown, crime boss of "The Block" in Baltimore. Vorhauer's partner at the time was Jack Sugarman who had a face like a Boris Karloff character. Sugarman was Benny Brown's enforcer, and Vorhauer was Brown's executioner. The stripper was allegedly killed because she agreed to testify against Brown.

But as repellant as Vorhauer was to Bender, he knew that he would have to understand the man to capture him accurately in a bust. Vorhauer was cunning and lethal, frighteningly intelligent and confident in his abilities. On the other hand, he was very private and had a keen instinct for self-preservation. He would never deliberately draw attention to himself. Bender would have to show all these subtleties in his face: the aspect of a malevolent genius had to lurk behind a bored, pedestrian, smug mask.

Bender continued to refine his bust of Vorhauer, working on sketch after sketch before he'd commit his ideas to clay, but he still wasn't satisfied with the results. Something was missing, and he just couldn't pinpoint it.

Then he saw Vorhauer... in the flesh.

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'