Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gerard Schaefer

Blind Creek

Gerard Schaefer in 1970, applying for a police job
Gerard Schaefer in
1970, applying for a
police job

Schaefer spent most of his time in jail writing stories. Emerson Floyd, his cellmate for the first six weeks, recalled that no one was permitted to see the work, but Schaefer enjoyed reading the tales aloud. They were "mostly just brutal," Floyd said, and included "some hair-raising things."

Two months after his arrest for the Trotter-Wells assault, on September 27, two more girls—17-year-old Susan Place and 16-year-old Georgia Jessup—had vanished from Fort Lauderdale. Susan's parents said the girls were last seen at her house, leaving with an older man who said his name was Jerry Shepherd on their way to play guitar at a nearby beach. They never returned. Susan Place's mother Lucille had been suspicious and had written down the license number of Shepherd's blue Datsun. Unfortunately, she copied the tag's prefix as "4" (Pinellas County) instead of "42" (Martin), and six months passed before she realized her mistake. A new trace led her to Schaefer. On March 25, 1973, she arrived at the Martin County jail carrying a photo of her daughter. But Schaefer denied ever seeing the girls.

Martin County Sheriff's Dept.
Martin County Sheriff's Dept.

On April 1, 1973, hikers found human bones near Blind Creek, on Hutchinson Island. Upon hearing the news, Schaefer shredded his short stories and threw them away. The two teenage victims were identified by dental records on April 5. Susan had been shot in the jaw. The crime scene indicated the girls were "tied to a tree and butchered." Based on the M.O. and Lucille Place's testimony, Schaefer was the only suspect in the case.

Police searched Schaefer's mother's home on April 7. The objects seized from his room included: a purse owned by Susan Place; three pieces of jewelry belonging to 25-year-old Leigh Bonadies, missing since September 1969; two teeth and a shamrock pin belonging to 22-year-old Carmen Hallock, who vanished in December 1969; news clippings on the Bonadies and Hallock cases; an address book belonging to 22-year-old Belinda Hutchens, missing since January 1972; a passport, diary and book of poetry owned by 19-year-old Collette Goodenough, last seen in January 1973; the driver's license of 19-year-old Barbara Wilcox, who vanished with Goodenough; a piece of jewelry owned by 14-year-old Mary Briscolina, missing with a female friend since October 1972; an envelope addressed to "Jerry Shepherd"; 11 guns and 13 knives; photos of unknown women and of Schaefer dressed in women's underwear; and more than 100 pages of writings and sketches, detailing the torture and murder of "whores."

Schaefer had glib explanations for everything. The weapons were perfectly legal, some of them war souvenirs. Lucille Place was mistaken about Susan's purse; Schaefer had purchased it on a 1970 trip to Morocco. He had "found" the Wilcox-Goodenough documents while on patrol and kept them on a whim. Ex-neighbor Leigh Bonadies had given Schaefer her jewelry, as a gift. The "murder plans" were fantasies transcribed on orders from a psychiatrist who treated him in 1968, telling Schaefer to "write down everything" that crossed his mind. As for Carmen Hallock's teeth, they must have been planted by Schaefer's ex-roommate, who he said had privately confessed the murder. (Detectives interviewed the roommate and absolved him of the crime.)

Gerard Schaefer headshot
Gerard Schaefer
headshot

Prosecutor Robert Stone didn't buy Schaefer's explanations. On May 18 he charged Schaefer with two counts of murder, telling reporters the case might represent "the greatest crime in the history of the United States." Schaefer declared, "I'm sick and I hope to God you can help me." Held in lieu of $200,000 bond, Schaefer refused to sit for a polygraph test. Judge C. Pfeiffer Trowbridge ordered mental evaluations, four psychiatrists agreeing that Schaefer was legally sane and fit for trial.

That trial began on September 17, 1973. Living kidnap victims Nancy Trotter and Pamela Wells appeared for the state, confirming Schaefer's fondness for abducting teenagers and tying them to trees. Lucille Place did her part, describing the last night she had seen her daughter, leaving the house with Schaefer and Georgia Jessup. Three alibi witnesses testified that Schaefer was home, sick in bed, the night Jessup and Place disappeared, but jurors disregarded that testimony, convicting him on September 27—the first anniversary of the slayings. On October 4 Judge Trowbridge imposed the maximum legal sentence, two concurrent terms of life imprisonment.

The monster was caged, but how many had he killed?

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