Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Artist and the Killer: Frank Bender and Hans Vorhauer

'He's Daring Us'

One day while doing surveillance with Detective Schneider, Frank Bender spotted Hans Vorhauer coming out of a drug store in a crowded business district about a half block from where they were parked. Vorhauer was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, standing on the sidewalk as he stopped to light a cigarette. Unfortunately, Schneider and Bender had no backups in the area, and Vorhauer never lingered. He surely would be gone by the time backups arrived. Also, there were too many civilians around to safely make an arrest. From day one, the task force worked under the assumption that Vorhauer would be armed, so for the moment they could only observe their target.

Bender had a 35-mm camera with him, and Schneider urged him to hurry up and take some pictures of their target. But as Bender peered through the lens and adjusted the focus, a cold sensation suddenly crept through his stomach. Vorhauer was standing perfectly still. He was staring at Bender.

"He knows we're here," Bender said. "He's daring us."

For months, Vorhauer continued to taunt the task force. From February 1986 through the spring and summer, they followed up on every lead they came upon, but whenever they thought they were getting close to him, they always found that they were too late. It was the same old story wherever they went: Yes, Vorhauer had been there, but he was gone now.

Vorhauer sketch with glasses
Vorhauer sketch with glasses

Bender was haunted by the face he'd seen through the camera lens. It was hard, smug, and defiant. He continued to work on the bust, but he was having trouble duplicating Vorhauer's extensively pock-marked skin. One night, Bender suddenly had an idea. He made a mold of the bust, then cast a second bust in concrete. The coarseness of the concrete captured the quality of Vorhauer's skin perfectly, but more than that it conveyed his hard, insular personality. To Bender, Vorhauer's face was a stone fortress - armed, dangerous, and impenetrable.

Even Vorhauer's wife taunted the task force. Phyllis Vorhauer still lived in their old neighborhood on Wellington Street in Philadelphia, and the task force suspected that she was in contact with her husband. A heavyset woman with dull brown hair, she worked at Orthopedic Hospital on City Avenue. The task force kept tabs on her, hoping she'd lead them to Vorhauer, but mobile surveillance proved a real challenge with her. No matter where she went, she drove fast and erratically, never taking a direct route anywhere. She seemed to be in a constant state of high alert. They wanted to take Vorhauer by surprise, but Phyllis Vorhauer was like a high-strung guard dog. The task force felt that she'd warn her husband the moment anything struck her as suspicious.

The task force suspected that Vorhauer had been back to his old home, even if he wasn't living there full-time, so they decided to try a late-night surveillance, posing as garbage men. On a sticky July night, Frank Bender, Detective Schneider, and two deputies borrowed a city garbage truck and put on Sanitation Department uniforms to pick up the trash in Vorhauer's old neighborhood. They took the truck down the narrow alley behind the Vorhauer's home, stopping at each roughhouse to toss bags of garbage into the hopper. Bender carried his camera hidden in his coveralls and a .38 revolver in his pocket as he walked behind the truck. As they came up to the Vorhauer house, his pulse raced. He had to force himself not to stare.

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