A Killer's Rampage
Terry Diane Walden, a 24-year-old nurse from Beaumont and mother of two, told her husband on March 21 that a bearded older man had approached her and asked if she would pose for him as a model. She had turned him down, but he had asked her to go with him to his car to see some samples of his work. She requested quite firmly that he leave her alone. Then two days later on Friday, she disappeared. Her husband failed to make the connection at first.
A friend had seen her around 11:30 that morning, hurrying through the student union at the college where she took classes, and her orange Mercury Cougar was gone from where she usually parked it. Her frantic family went through the weekend trying to locate her.
Then on Monday morning, March 26, a worker found her floating facedown in a canal near a dam. She was fully clothed. The pathologist found that she had been tied up with different types of rope at one point, gagged with tape, and stabbed multiple times, but there was no indication of sexual assault.
Forty detectives were assigned to the case. They found a strip of duct tape in the water, footprints nearby, and tire tracks, but could not find Terry's car.
The FBI came in to help. They knew that Wilder had stolen license plates in Baton Rouge shortly before to place on his Chrysler. He had stayed at a motel near Beaumont where he had registered under his partner's name, L.K. Kimbrell. Terry's husband supplied a description of the man who had approached her, and it matched Wilder. Then his abandoned Chrysler, sans plates, was located. It appeared that he had removed the stolen plates from his car and had probably put them on Terry's. At least they knew the car he was using, and the license plate number. But he had a head start. By then he'd reached Nevada, via Oklahoma and Colorado. Reports of missing women were turning up almost daily.
On March 25, Wilder had grabbed Suzanne Logan, 21, from an Oklahoma City shopping mall, where she had driven after dropping her husband off at work. Because she did not keep an appointment that afternoon or pick her husband up, he reported her missing. On the same day that Terry Walden was discovered, a fisherman found Logan floating in a reservoir. Unlike Walden, she had been tortured and raped before she was stabbed to death. Some of her clothes had been removed, James says, and her face was badly bruised. She also had small cuts on her back, as if stabbed superficially with a knife. Her pubic hair was shaved and her long blond locks had been snipped off. Eventually a maid found her hair in a wastebasket at a motel. Logan had likely been lured by her interest in modeling, and Gibney says she had been dead less than an hour when she was found, but was not identified for over a week.
Shortly after this grisly discovery, but in Colorado, blonde Sheryl Bonaventura, 18, was kidnapped from a Grand Junction mall, and a witness described a bearded, well-dressed man who looked like Wilder talking with her. He had wandered through the mall, soliciting women for photographs and modeling jobs. Someone had seen him with Sheryl, a girl who'd already done some modeling and hoped to do more. She had likely been an easy mark for him. Her Mazda was left in the parking lot, locked, with her sunglasses inside. With a nationwide alert now targeting Christopher Wilder as a fugitive and predator of pretty girls, this missing-persons report received immediate attention.
A waitress later said she had spotted Sheryl on the same day she disappeared having lunch in Silverton, Colorado, a hundred miles away, with a man who looked like Wilder. She had given her name to the waitress and told her they were heading for Vegas. Another teenage girl had eaten lunch and left the restaurant with them as well.
Wilder and company spent the night in a motel in Durango and went into Las Vegas, but that was the end of the ride for Sheryl. Wilder was already scouting out his next prey.
She disappeared from Las Vegas on April Fool's Day. Only 17 but highly photogenic, Michelle Korfman had been in a fashion show sponsored by Seventeen magazine, and a photograph examined later showed Wilder in attendance, smiling broadly as he watched her. She wanted to be a model. It probably wasn't difficult for him to persuade her to accompany him, or at least to listen to him until he had her at a disadvantage. Witnesses saw them leave together, and other people recall him approaching a number of women that day about modeling. Eight turned him down, but some had agreed to meet him in front of Caesar's Palace. He had not shown up. Michelle's car was found, which meant that Wilder was still driving the orange Mercury.
On April 3, the FBI placed Wilder on their Ten Most Wanted list, and the intensive manhunt picked up steam.