You receive a phone call and hear the voice of someone you don’t recognize. They tell you they have your child and will kill them unless you pay a ransom – they direct you not to call police or you will never see your child again.
What would you do?
You tell the person on the other end of the phone not to hang up. You don’t want to disconnect with the one person that can reunite you with your child. You plead for your child’s safe return. “Please don’t hurt her. I will do whatever you want,” you say. And, you would!
They demand you go to the bank and wire a ransom of several thousand dollars. Do you call the police? Do you pay the ransom and hope the thug will return your child to you safe?
A child going missing is every parent’s worst nightmare, and for those who do have a missing child – living with such ambiguity is said to be the most traumatic of human experiences.
Sounds like a situation that only happens in the movies, right? Or, something that only happens to the wealthiest people in society.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has declared virtual kidnapping a violent crime and issuing warnings to parents that scammers are targeting parents and demanding a ransom in exchange for the safe return of children they kidnapped . . . well, virtually kidnapped. Police throughout the country are following suit, issuing warnings in their communities.
Police throughout the country are following suit, issuing warnings in their communities.
What is a Virtual Kidnapping?
A virtual kidnapping scam is an attempt to dupe victims into paying a quick ransom. The virtual aspect of the scam involves staging a scene on the phone to convince a person that a loved one has been kidnapped, following with a demand for ransom.
According to the FBI, “The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved.”
Typically, the scam is executed by calling a victim claiming they have kidnapped a loved one, then demand a ransom in exchange for the loved one’s safe return.
Valerie Sobel is one such person who did receive a call from a person who said, “We have your daughter’s finger. Pay up or you’ll get the rest of her body in a body bag.”
Petrified, Sobel rushed to a money transfer location to pay the ransom, wiring $4,000 to the person who claimed to have kidnapped her daughter.
Valerie made many frantic phone calls to her daughter’s cell phone and after many hours had passed, her daughter Simone called her back totally confused but safe.
Basically, scammers call random numbers hoping to find a person who they can convince, while other times these scammers research Facebook and other social media platforms for names and numbers. If a scammer calls 100 people, chances are at least one will instantly pay.
Another way it may go down is a scammer calls you and you hear a child crying, “Mom, please help me.” Panic immediately sets in. You think it is your child. Then a man’s voice comes on the phone and calls you by your first name. This legitimizes the caller and you immediately ask them to just tell you what they want. What mother would not empty her bank account in exchange for her child’s safety.
If you don’t think you could become a victim, please read on.
Virtually Kidnapped Daughter
According to the Washington Post, Wendy Mueller lives in historic Leesburg, Va., and never thought she would become a victim of a virtual kidnapping scam.
One afternoon, while standing at her kitchen sink, she received a call from a number she did not recognize but answered.
She heard screaming and it sounded like her 23-year old daughter’s voice begging for help.
Then a man’s voice tells her, “we have your daughter.”
The caller told Mueller to put her phone on speaker, get her purse and phone charger and get into the car.
The man asked, “How much cash can you get right now?”
$10,000,” Mueller replied.
The man told her not to contact anyone for help or they would kill her daughter.
Mueller’s daughter attends college hundreds of miles away and she had no way of knowing her daughter was safe.
“They told me they were actually targeting someone else, someone they would be able to get a lot of money for. But they said my daughter intervened when they tried to grab him. And that sounded exactly like something she would do,” Mueller said.
“I was terrified,” Mueller continued. “They told me they wouldn’t hesitate to kill her.”
The caller had told Mueller he had hacked her phone and knew every move she was making. For hours, he told her to go to small stores and offices across Northern Virginia, where she wired the max amount of usually $1,900 each time to names and addresses in Mexico that the caller had given Mueller.
Mueller cross-crossed the state following his directions and making payments, until nightfall came.
Mueller had kept asking to speak to her daughter.
“They kept promising me: ‘As soon as you send the last one, you will talk to her,’” Mueller said.
The caller told Mueller he was a professional and part of a group of kidnappers – a huge organization – who do this all the time and kill.
The man told Mueller they had placed a set of headphones on her daughter so she could hear everything, so her daughter would know if her mother did anything to cause her death.
Mueller thought of stopping passersby but didn’t want to chance the kidnapper knowing.
“It was torture,” Mueller said.
As it turned out, her daughter was in class, safe and sound. Mueller had been scammed.
No one is immune
Thousands of families throughout the country have become targets of these malicious scammers.
According to FBI kidnapping expert, Agent Eric Arbuthnot, several organizations use these scams regularly to make money.
“Thousands of dollars in ransom,” said Arbuthnot. “And you’re talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time.”
According to Arbuthnot many of the cases have been happening on the West coast and along the border involving criminal organizations from Mexico, some claiming to be members of the cartel.
The FBI has seen recent increases in California, Nevada, New York, and Texas and increasing on the east coast.
Monroe Police Department in Connecticut said by using social media, scammers can identify a victim, look up relatives, and reference names of family members and friends to make the call appear legitimate.
FBI Supervisory Agent Christopher Johnson said his office in St. Louis, Missouri, deals with these types of crimes. “Scammers will often mention specific facts about the parent or victim, likely from information they were able to obtain online.”
Authorities say about one in five kidnapping cases are successful resulting in the criminal getting their ransom and not getting caught. While extortion has been around for decades, virtual ransom kidnapping calls are increasing around the country.
With this emerging scam, the FBI has launched a nationwide campaign to warn parents to fight back against “virtual kidnapping.”
If you receive a virtual kidnapping ransom call
Unlike traditional kidnapping schemes, a “virtual kidnapper” has not actually kidnapped anyone. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation, if you receive a call from an individual demanding a ransom for the safe return of a kidnap victim, it is suggested you quickly evaluate the following to determine if you are receiving a legitimate ransom call:
- Caller insists you stay on the phone.
- Call does not come from your child’s cell phone.
- Caller tries to stop you from contacting the kidnap victim.
- Call includes demand for ransom to be paid via wire transfer.
- Ransom amounts may decrease quickly.
Knowing what to do
Police say it is best to hang up the phone but:
- If you engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Deliberately try to slow the situation down and ask to speak to your child directly.
- Ask “proof of life” questions like, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- To gain confirmation if your child is an actual kidnapping victim, ask questions only your child would know such as the name of a pet.
- Listen very closely to the voice of the person speaking, if possible record the call.
- If possible, have someone else try to call your child’s cell phone, school, by text, social media, etc., to confirm their safety.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to make arrangements.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person.
- Don’t deliver money in person.
- Immediately call your local FBI office and police.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), as of March 31, 2017, there were 86,618 active missing person cases in the FBI database, with 8, 792 entered as involuntary.
Experts agree that an actual kidnapping with a ransom demand is quite rare but all experts urge parents to be vigilant.
To read the FBI warning, please click here.
Reality of Sex Trafficking and Kidnapping in the US:
Corinna Slusser Missing Since 2017
Corinna Slusser was last seen in New York City in September 2017
Corinna Slusser, 19, was last seen at the Haven Motel in Queens, New York the morning of September 20, 2017. New York Police Department (NYPD) fears she was kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring and friends and family fear the worst.
According to relatives, in early 2017, Slusser had dropped out of her Bloomberg, Pennsylvania high school and moved to New York City with a 32-year old man she had hoped was giving her a “fresh start.”
According to Marnie O’Neill’s article “Missing teen feared kidnapped by sex-trafficking ring left cryptic Instagram clue,” Slusser’s aunt Julie Anne Becker-Calfa told Dateline, “She wanted out of this small town and this guy gave her that out.”
Police instead suspect the man, turned “pimp”, lured her into prostitution.
Police fear Corinna Slusser has been kidnapped into a sex trafficking ring
The pimp, whose name has been withheld by police, was arrested and held on a $1000 bond.
Court documents revealed on August 25, 2017, police had responded to a 911 call at 1:15 am from the Harlem Vista Hotel and found Slusser “crying and shaking”. She told officers her pimp had stolen $300 from her while she was in the shower. He began strangling her when she confronted him, slamming her against the wall, making it hard for her to breathe.
The court issued a temporary “Order of Protection” to Slusser and a copy was mailed to the address she listed on file at her mother’s home back in Pennsylvania.
Slusser’s mother, Sabina Tuorto, opened the mail to find a copy of the order several days later. Fearfully, she called her daughter to ask what was going on; however, Slusser told her mother not to worry.
When Slusser did not show up at her grandfather’s funeral in Florida, her family reported her missing on September 12th.
On September 20th, an anonymous individual called the NYPD and told them Slusser had been seen leaving a hotel in Queens. Police have confirmed; however, she has not been seen since, elevating concerns of family and police.
Mysterious Instagram Post
On September 10th, Slusser posted a puzzling message and mysterious photograph on Instagram featuring a young woman wearing a black baseball cap and smoking a joint in the middle of heavy traffic on a city street. It was her last post since she was reported missing.
An avid social media user, Corinna Slusser’s last Instagram post on September 10, 2017
NYPD’s Vice Human Trafficking Team fear Slusser has been kidnapped by a sex-trafficking ring and passed to different pimps since her disappearance. Investigators suspect sex-traffickers kidnapped Slusser after she reported her pimp to police, a rule not to be broken in the underground world of sex-trafficking.She tagged the picture, “The Bronx”, but friends and family both have said the picture looks like it was taken somewhere in South America rather than New York.
Prior to her disappearance, a cheerleader and popular student in high school with future dreams of becoming a makeup artist, Slusser suddenly moved out of her mother’s home at age 17 and dropped out of school. While staying at a friend’s home near her mother, Slosser began suffering from depression and attempted suicide. While recovering in the hospital, she met the man who lured her to New York in March.
From High School to Possible Call Girl
According to an interview with Oxygen, “Corinna Slusser’s Aunt Believes She Was a ‘Call Girl’ Who Was Killed or Abducted After Attempting to Go Home”, Becky’s aunt told them she fears her niece was abducted or murdered after trying to return home.
While in New York, Slusser sent home photographs of her new apartment in the Bronx telling family she was working “customer service” on weekends.
According to Slusser’s aunt Becker-Calfa, Slusser’s social media posts were becoming more provocative and inappropriate.
She told Oxygen, “People have come forward saying she was boasting that she was making a lot of money doing things called dinner dates but saying there was no sex involved – that was when she first moved out there – and that meant they were just paying to take her to dinner. [Police] believe that escalated into actually being a call girl. She was still being treated well and apparently was able to get her own apartment. When she wanted to go home the next day, that was when they believe she was abducted.”
On October 10th, Slusser’s mother posted a plea on Facebook, “My daughter was a great student, a cheerleader. She had many friends and lived her life as a normal teenager. I need her home and I can’t bear any more days like this, I fear the worst, but I pray for the best and her return home.”
NY Daily News, “Missing teen sex trafficking victim has likely been passed between pimps and sent out of New York,” reports police suspect Slusser is no longer in New York city. They feared she had been moved from her home-base in Harlem or killed after filing assault charges.
A source told Daily News, “There is no indication she is subject to foul play,” but added nothing is certain. Slusser’s name has come up in several vice investigations giving some hope she is still out there.
As an avid social media user, there have been no posts from Slusser since September 2017.
The Toll of Human and Sex Trafficking
Human trafficking is defined as the exchange of money for services that have been obtained by force, fraud or coercion. There is little to no difference in the definition of sex trafficking.
Thomas Lauth, CEO of Lauth Investigations International, has worked missing persons, human and sex-trafficking cases for over twenty years. “Human trafficking is a hidden crime because victims are often afraid to come forward,” said Lauth. “They fear the wrath of the traffickers and may also fear law enforcement.”
A sex-trafficking victim profiled in a BBC report, “Shandra Woworuntu: My life as a sex trafficking victim,” had arrived in the U.S. hoping to start a new career in the hotel industry. Instead, she was trafficked into prostitution, sexual slavery, forced drug-ingestion and extreme violence.
Shandra Woworuntu, a human sex trafficking survivor now runs Mentari, helping other survivors.
“Customer service is the key to this job, I was told,” said Woworuntu. A graduate of finance, she passed the tests for employment and accepted the job working in the U.S. for $5,000 per month.
“I arrived at JFK airport with four other women and a man and we were divided into two groups. Johnny took all my documents, including my passport, and led me to his car with two other women,” said Woworuntu.
The driver proceeded to take her to another driver, they exchanged money and demanded they switch cars. This happened three more times. They were taken to a house where they were exchanged, yet again, to a driver with a gun.
“After just a few hours in the U.S. I was forced to have sex,” Woworuntu said. “I did what I was told.”
The traffickers who participated in Woworuntu’s kidnapping were American, Indonesian, Taiwanese, and Malaysian Chinese. One man even had a police badge though she does not know to this day if he was really an official.
She was then taken up and down I-95, to various brothels, apartment buildings, hotels and casinos on the East coast. Woworuntu said, “I was rarely in the same place, and I never knew where I was going.”
The traffickers made her take drugs like meth, cocaine and weed at gunpoint, along with alcohol. Some customers were violent, white guys, black guys, Hispanics guys, old men and even university students.
The traffickers had told Woworuntu she had to pay back $30,000 before freedom would be granted. She would have to service, at least, 300 men to afford this amount. She felt hopeless.
With all the strength she could muster, Woworuntu found an opportunity to escape. She went to police as well as the Indonesian consulate but received no help. She found herself sleeping on the Staten Island Ferry, the NYC Subway and Times Square when a man listened to her story and called the FBI.
Eventually, “Johnny” and others were arrested due to Woworuntu’s testimony. Several other women were freed because of Woworuntu’s courage.
The rest of the story is now history and Woworuntu is a success story. “The FBI connected me with Safe Horizon, an organization in New York that helps victims of crime and abuse, including survivors of human trafficking,” said Woworuntu.
The group helped her get housing and secure a job. For her cooperation with the FBI, she was granted permanent residency.
Now, 17 years later, Woworuntu runs Mentari, a Human Trafficking Survivor and Empowerment program.
The organization offers:
Children’s Educational Books
Culinary Art Training
Peer to Peer Support
Training and Lectures
Transitional Housing (planning)
“When we find victims of sex-trafficking, ensuring they have the proper resources gives them a better chance at overcoming the trauma of being a victim,” says Lauth. “Programs like Mentari are giving victims a fighting chance.”
The Collector, a Serial Killer, and Beauty Queens
Hollywood’s Broken Dreams
Hollywood has long been the destination of aspiring young actors and actresses from throughout the country and world. Those chasing their “Hollywood dream.” A place where on the surface, A-list stars, glitz, and glamorous gowns, fuel dreams of the young.
As bright as the lights are in Hollywood, there is an equally dark underbelly lurking. During the 1970’s, Hollywood became known for sleazy producers and directors, the “casting couch,” and with time, has continued to lose its shine.
With recent headline’s and revelations between Corey Feldman and the fall of Harvey Weinstein, one can’t ignore things have not improved in the Land of the Dolls 2.0.
For decades, there has been a predatory and complacent culture in the hills of Hollywood, a place where stalkers and even serial killers can blend in. It has become a place where dreams have disappeared, along with some actresses and Beauty Queens.
The Disappearance of a Beauty Queen
Tammy “Tami” Lynn Leppert was an 18-year old, employed model and actress, who mysteriously vanished July 1983. Remarkably beautiful, Tammy entered her first beauty contest at 4-years-old, and by the age of 16-years-old, had participated in over 300 beauty contests, taking home 280 crowns.
Residents of Rockledge, Fla., Tammy lived with her mother, Linda Curtis, a theatrical and modeling agent who guided Tammy in pursuit of her childhood dreams. By the age of 18-years-old, Tammy had minor roles in several well-known movies. She was sweet and bright, with equally optimistic dreams.
Spring Break, The Movie
In 1983, Tammy had a part in the widely popular teen movie “Spring Break,” directed by Sean S. Cunningham and filmed in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Cunningham is known for his 1973 film Case of the Full Moon Murders, that included a mix sexploitation and comedy, the 1972 horror flick Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, A Stranger is Watching, and The New Kids, starring James Spader.
Tammy had been cast as the female boxer in for the “Spring Break” film. Her torso, hips, and legs featured in the main poster for the movie.
In July 1982, Tammy had gone alone to a weekend party after filming. Her best friend Wing Flannagan said Tammy returned from the party a changed person. “Sometimes I’d ask her, what was on her mind, what was bothering her. And she’d usually change the subject, or she’d say, oh nothing, you know and then try to laugh it off,” said Flannigan. He describes Tammy’s behavior as fearful and paranoid.
During that same time, Tammy’s mother said her daughter thought someone was going to kill her and had also become very careful when consuming food or drinks.
Tammy told her mother she had seen something awful at the party, something really horrible, telling her mother they were trying to kill her. “I kept trying to figure out who “they” were”, said Curtis.
Tammy began to isolate from others, staying in her room, having others test her food before she ate. It became increasingly difficult for others to ascertain whether her fears were real, or possibly delusions.
Despite Tammy’s state of mind, shortly before her disappearance, she accepted a minor role in the Hollywood film Scarface, starring Al Pacino, written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian DePalma. Known for his films, such as Carrie, Femme Fatale, Dressed to Kill, and Carlito’s Way. DePalma’s films commonly promote suspense, gore, crime, and eroticism.
A scene in Scarface with Tammy Leppert as the distraction to Manny.
Scarface was being filmed in Miami Fla., about a two-hour drive south of Tammy’s home. Tammy was selected to be the “bathing suit beauty” to distract Manny at the lookout car, during the gruesome chainsaw bathroom scene. It is said she was the youngest person on the set and she was being noticed.
During the March 1983 filming, she stayed with family friend Walter Liebowitz, a Calif., attorney who resided in the Miami area.
All seemed to be going well until the fourth day of filming according to Leibowitz. “I received a call from the casting director to tell me that Tammy had a breakdown on the set. They said it was a scene where someone was supposed to be shot and had artificial blood spurt out. And they said Tammy was watching the scene, she started crying hysterically and it got so bad that they had to take her to a trailer.
Tammy was in a tremendous state of fear and anxiety. What was it that caused this great fear in her? I don’t know. When I spoke with Tammy’s mother, I told her she should take Tammy to a doctor and to the police to find out if the problem was psychological or if there was some basis of fact that someone was trying to kill her and get to the bottom of it,” said Leibowitz. He also recalled Tammy had referred to money laundering and thought maybe there was something to Tammy’s claims.
Returning Home Broken
With everyone concerned, Tammy returned home. Afraid Tammy’s fears were real, her mother took her to Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, but Tammy refused to tell them she felt her life was in danger.
July 1, 1983, Tammy accidentally locked herself out of her house and used a baseball bat to break the windows to get back in. She had finally cracked, scared and emotional. Her mother checked her into a psychiatric hospital in Brevard County where she underwent 72 hours of observation and drug testing. The results were negative, and it was determined Tammy did not suffer from any significant mental illness and released.
On July 5th, Tammy went out for the evening with her friend Rick Adams and told him that she might be going away for a while, not going into detail. Adams later recalled he thought Tammy may have been referring to her planned trip to Calif., to film a movie.
Vanished into Thin Air
July 6th, Tammy, and friend Keith Roberts decided to drive to Cocoa Beach at approximately 11:00 am. Roberts would later tell authorities that he and Tammy had an argument and Tammy had requested he drop her off. Roberts told authorities he left in the parking lot at Glass Bank, near an Exxon gas station on State Road A1A, in Cocoa Beach. No one saw Tammy again.
Tammy’s mother made missing person report to police on July 11, 1983.
Some have erroneously reported Tammy had no shoes or purse when she vanished but according to the police report, she was wearing a blue shirt with floral appliques, a blue denim skirt, carrying a gray purse and wearing flip-flops.
A Florida Today article, “Have You Seen Tami-Lynn”, Roberts says Tammy called him in Lakeland where he worked at a bank and asked him to pick her up. She asked him to borrow $300 and they fought because he would not drive her to a friend’s home in Fort Lauderdale approximately a 2-hour drive south. “At that point, she said, ‘Let me out! Let me out!’ So, I just said OK, whatever you want and that’s the last time I saw her” says Roberts.
Tammy did make 3 frantic phone calls, presumably from the Exxon station, to her aunt Ginger Kolsch’s business Balloonatics the day she disappeared. Kolsch was out of town but she recalled Tammy sounded like she was really afraid of somebody.
A Mother’s Recollections
Curtis recalled her daughter had not combed her hair that fateful day, which was highly unusual since Tammy always took pride in her appearance. In addition, she didn’t believe her daughter left on her own, as Tammy had made plans to go to Hollywood, Calif., for three months to shoot films.
Tammy’s last words to her mother on her way out the door was, “Bye Mommy. I’ll see you in a bit, okay?” At 54-years-old, Linda Curtis passed away on October 4, 1995, never knowing what had happened to her daughter.
Prior to her death, Curtis had been writing a screenplay that accused local elites of having something to do with Tammy’s disappearance. She believed Tammy was kidnapped because she had knowledge of violence, drugs, and a money laundering operation. Curtis also criticized authorities for mishandling the investigation into her daughter’s disappearance.
What Did She See?
The question remains, what had happened at the Spring Break party causing Tammy to say she saw something awful, something really horrible?
Many have speculated Tammy had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia but her behavior prior to her disappearance translates more toward someone suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and extreme paranoia triggered by the bloody scene during filming of Scarface. The facts lead more to the conclusion Tammy had witnessed something horrific during the weekend after-party of the filming of Spring Break.
Who was threatening Tammy’s life? Is it possible she called her own killer that day to pick her up? Did police ever obtain the call records from the payphone where she frantically called her aunt? Who had been at the Spring Break after-party that Tammy feared?
Enter the Serial Killer
In the missing person report made by Curtis on July 11, 1983, it states, THE COMPLAINANT (LINDA CURTIS) ADVISED THAT TAMMY, WHO WORKS AS A PART-TIME MODEL AND ACTRESS, HAD RECENTLY BEEN INTRODUCED TO __________ W/M, LATE 30’s. __________ TOLD TAMMY THAT HE PRODUCES MOVIES. THE COMPLAINANT ADDRESSED THAT ___________ HAS AN UNSAVORY REPUTATION REGARDING HIS INVOLVEMENT WITH YOUNG TEENAGE GIRLS.
The name in the report is blacked out but some speculate the individual referenced in the police report was the Australian born serial killer Christopher Wilder, also known as the “Beauty Queen Killer.”
Wilder is known to have abducted and raped at least twelve young women and murdered at least eight, spanning Florida, Colorado, California, Nevada, New York, Texas, and Oklahoma during 1984, before he was killed by police in New Hampshire.
Prior to Tammy Leppert’s mother’s death, Curtis had also gone as far as filing a $1M lawsuit against Wilder’s estate for pain, anguish and funeral expenses for her daughter, even though Tammy had not been found. Police were never able to directly connect Wilder to the disappearance of Tammy and the lawsuit was eventually dropped. Curtis believed police never treated Tammy’s disappearance as an abduction but instead, a voluntary disappearance.
The Beauty Queen Killer
Born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on March 13, 1945, Christopher Bernard Wilder had faced numerous sexual misconduct charges during his early life, including a gang rape in 1962. He pleaded guilty at the age of 17-years old, receiving a one-year sentence of probation with counseling and electro-shock therapy.
Serial Killer, Christopher Wilder. Courtesy: Daily Telegraph
Married in 1968 at the age of 23, Wilder left his wife and became an American citizen in 1969, settling in south Florida while traveling back and forth to Australia to visit his family.
In March 1971, Wilder was arrested for soliciting women to pose for nude photographs in Pompano Beach. Pleading guilty to disturbing the peace, only a small fine was imposed.
The first documented sexual assault in the U.S. happened in 1976. A family had hired him to work on their home in Boca Raton. Their 16-year old daughter quickly became the target of Wilder.
Wilder told the young girl she could interview for a job with his company and lured her into his truck. As reported in an archived People Magazine article “Journey of Terror”, the young girl told Wilder that she had venereal disease hoping her lie would protect her but Wilder raped her anyway.
Wilder was eventually acquitted of the sexual assault charges.
The second incident occurred in 1979 in Palm Beach, when Wilder was charged with the attempted rape of a 17-year old. He had introduced himself to her as “David Pierce,” an agent for the Barbizon modeling school offering to photograph her for a pizza ad.
Palm Beach Detective Arthur Newcombe would later testify, “She kept asking why she had to do this?” Wilder responded, “You want to be a Barbizon model, don’t you?”
Wilder would plead to lesser charges of attempted sexual battery and received 5-years probation.
In 1983, he would return to Australia to visit his parents, but his predatory behavior didn’t stop. Wilder was charged by an Australian court for abducting two 15-year-olds, sexually assaulting them, bounding and blindfolding them, forcing them to pose nude for photographs while ejaculating on them.
Wilder posted a $350,000 bail and was permitted to return to the United States. Wilder would never return to Australia to face charges of abducting and raping the two 15-year old girls.
He was also suspected in a 1965 murder of two teenage girls in Sydney. Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock were best friends and neighbors who were found brutally murdered and partially buried in the sand at Wanda Beach, January 11, 1965. The case remains unsolved.
In hindsight, clearly, Wilder was a predator and his thirst for torture, rape and killing increasing.
The Many Others
Wilder had an eye for models and was known to lure his victims with promises of modeling contracts. A successful Boynton Beach real estate developer, his wealth, fast cars, speed-boat and opulent home, made Wilder appear to be a successful gentleman who many young women would tend to trust. In fact, friends would later recall they thought Wilder was a consummate gentleman.
February 26, 1984, a 20-year old model and Miss Florida contestant vanished in Miami, Fla. Rosario Gonzalez had been employed at the Miami Grand Prix, where Wilder raced his 911 Porsche.
According to witnesses, Rosario had left the Grand Prix track between noon and 1 pm with a man in his mid-thirties. She lived with her parents in Homestead, Fla., about a 23-mile drive from Miami but never arrived home that evening. Her parents said she always called home if she was going to be late and would never intentionally worry them.
Her vehicle was later found parked at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in downtown Miami and her paycheck never picked up.
Rosario’s fiancé would later tell police that Wilder had known Rosario and had taken her picture for a cover picture for a romance book in October 1982. Rosario had never heard from him again. That is, until the day of her disappearance when witnesses saw her leaving with a man fitting Wilder’s physical description. Rosario remains missing.
Eight days later, another Miss Florida pageant participant would vanish.
Elizabeth Kenyon was a University of Miami graduate and coach for the cheerleading squad at Coral Gables High School where she also taught special needs children.
A former fashion model, Elizabeth won the 1982 Orange Bowl Princess competition. She was also a finalist in the Miss Florida pageant where she had competed with Rosario.
Elizabeth and Wilder had dated. He had even proposed marriage to the 23-year old, but she had declined his offer because of a 16-year age difference.
On Monday, March 5, 1984, a security guard at Coral Gables High, momentarily spoke to Elizabeth in the parking lot and watched her leave. When she did not show up at her apartment, her roommate was not immediately concerned and assumed Elizabeth had gone to visit her parents who lived 30-miles north, in Pompano Beach.
When Elizabeth did not show up for work the following day, her parents reported missing her missing. Elizabeth’s father William Kenyon had recently seen bruises on his daughter and confronted her, but she explained the injuries away, telling him she had broken up a playground fight at school.
With the reason for concern, in the days following Elizabeth’s disappearance, Kenyon hired Kenneth Whittaker, a $1k per day private investigator.
On March 8th, Whittaker interviewed a gas station attendant who was familiar with Elizabeth and told the investigator she had driven into the station in her Chrysler convertible with a man driving a Cadillac El Dorado following her.
The attendant said they overheard Elizabeth talking about going to the airport. The man, fitting Wilder’s description, paid for her fuel and they drove away. That was the last time Elizabeth was seen.
Whittaker was able to quickly link Rosario Gonzalez to Wilder and took his information and concerns to Boynton Police Dept. Detectives shared information with Whittaker, about Wilder’s long history of sexual offenses. Whittaker and the Kenyon began surveillance on Wilder’s home, then requested help from the FBI who declined to become involved because there was no information leading to interstate kidnapping. Though compelling, the FBI explained they had no jurisdiction at the time.
Elizabeth’s vehicle was found on March 11th, parked at the Miami International Airport. Her name did not show on any flights.
Later, the Whittaker spoke directly to Wilder who denied seeing Elizabeth. Wilder’s secretary then tried to assure the private investigator Wilder was being truthful about the girl whose vehicle was found at the airport. That information had not yet been released by police.
Whittaker then strategically released information to the Miami Herald who reported a “race car driver” was the suspect in the disappearance of two women.
Two days later, Wilder, took his three dogs to a local kennel, withdrew a large amount of money from his bank account, got in his 1973 New Yorker and bolted.
Elizabeth remains missing and her parents have both passed away without ever knowing what happened to their daughter.
On March 15, 1984, 15-year-old Colleen Orsborn disappeared after leaving her home in Daytona Beach, Fla. Colleen has missed her school bus, so her mother gave her money for the public bus and left for work. Colleen never made it to school.
Later, the only thing her mother discovered gone was Colleen’s pink two-piece bathing suit and flip-flops. Had she been lured to skip school with promises of modeling prospects?
A private investigator discovered Wilder was in Daytona, stayed at a hotel in the area and checked out the day of Colleen’s disappearance.
The family spent years hoping they would find Colleen alive.
About three weeks after Colleen vanished, a fisherman found the body of a young girl buried in a shallow grave at a lake in Orange County, Fla. However, the body was not identified as Colleen until 2011, utilizing the advancements in DNA identification.
Police never directly connected Wilder to Colleen and her murder remains unsolved.
Theresa “Terry” Wait Ferguson
Terry Ferguson was a beautiful, 21-year old aspiring model and step-daughter of a local Police Chief.
On March 18, 1984, Terry left her home in Indian Harbor Beach, Fla., to go to Merritt Square Mall about 20-miles from her home in Merritt Island. Theresa never arrived home after her trip to the mall.
Her step-father found her car parked at the mall and witnesses stated they saw Terry leave the mall with a well-dressed, balding man, who fit Wilder’s description. That same day Terry disappeared, Wilder called for a tow truck to remove his vehicle from a sandy area along a remote “Lover’s Lane” in Canaveral Groves, about 20 miles northwest of the mall. He was alone.
On March 23rd, her father was notified by one of his own police dispatchers a body had been found face down in a snake-infested swamp, about 100 miles east. Terry’s abduction and death was the first confirmed murder tied to Wilder.
On March 20, 1984, 19-year old college student vanished from the Governor’s Square Mall parking lot, close to her Florida State University campus in Tallahassee, Fla. She had been offered a modeling assignment but declined. The man then forced her into his vehicle, and into a sleeping bag after bounding and gagging her. He then stuffed into his trunk.
Later that evening, Wilder took Jane Doe to a motel room near Bainbridge, GA where he raped and tortured her, connecting copper wires to her feet, then used a blow-dryer to apply super glue to her eyes.
In the book “Disguise of Insanity: Serial Mass Murderers” by Michael Cartel, he describes how Wilder shaved the young woman’s pubic hair, raped her, then ejaculated while lying beside her.
The young woman was able to escape by locking herself in the bathroom, screaming and pounding on the walls alerting other visitors. Wilder fled the scene and she went to authorities.
Jane Doe would tell police she had been at the mall and a man in a pinstripe suit offered $25 for a half hour of her time to model for him at a nearby park.
At his car, he showed her fashion magazines, claiming the photographs were his work, promising her a career. Initially, she trusted him but suddenly, intuitively, she felt uncomfortable and decided she did not want to go but he beat her and forced her into his vehicle.
Abducting and transporting Jane Doe from Fla. to Ga., was the first proven incident of interstate kidnapping associated with Wilder, allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get involved. Wilder would soon be added to the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Terry Walden was a 23-year old nursing student at Lamar University in Beaumont, Tex. On March 23, 1984, Terry had told her husband she planned to pick up a couple things at the local mall, go study with a friend, then pick up their 4-year old daughter at daycare. She had intended to be home by 1:30 pm that day. At 5 pm the daycare notified her husband that Terry had never picked up heir daughter. Immediately concerned he filed a missing person report.
Two days prior, Terry had told her husband that a man had approached her at the mall asking her to pose as a model. She strongly declined his offer. The incident at the mall and Terry’s disappearance was not immediately connected but it would soon become clear, two days after rebuffing Wilder’s offer, Terry was yet another victim of a serial killer.
On March 26th, Terry’s fully clothed body was found floating face down in a canal in Beaumont. She was bound, badly bruised, with knife wounds and rope burns on her wrists and ankles. Detectives found duct tape at the scene, along with foot and tire tracks nearby.
Terry’s orange 1981 Mercury Cougar was missing. The police were certain Wilder was driving it.
March 26th, the same day Terry Walden’s body was found in Beaumont, Tex., the body of another aspiring model was found nearly in Milford Lake, Kans.
20-year old Suzanne Logan was found by a fisherman in the reservoir, over 650 miles north of Beaumont, Tex., where Terry Walden had been murdered.
Suzanne had vanished from the Penn Square Mall nearly 300 miles south in Okla., the day prior to the location of her body.
Suzanne was found partially clothed, shaven pubic hair, sexually assaulted, stabbed and bound with nylon cord and duct tape. Police say she was dead less than an hour before her body was found. Strangely, her hair had been snipped and later found in a wastebasket by a hotel maid.
Wilder had left a trail of bodies but was nowhere near done with his cross-country serial killing spree.
March 29, 1984, nearly 800 miles away in Grand Junction, Colo., 18-year old Sheryl Bonaventura was excitedly packing for a trip to Aspen with her best friend Kristal Cesario.
Dressed in faded jeans and gold-toed cowboy boots, Sheryl told her mother she was going to the local mall before meeting up with Kristal to leave for Aspen. Her mother asked her to be careful driving and she replied, “Mom, you worry too much.”
Her car was found at the mall, locked with sunglasses inside.
After the missing person report was made, witnesses at the local mall identified Wilder who was soliciting several women offering a modeling contract.
A waitress later said she saw Sheryl the same day she disappeared having lunch with a man and telling the waitress she was headed to Vegas.
They would stay at a hotel in Page, Ariz., on March 31st. Her body was found May 3rd, 12 miles north of Kanab, Utah. She had been shot and stabbed to death.
Two days later, on April 1st, 17-year old Michelle Korfman vanished. Michelle was a beautiful and popular beauty pageant participant whose father was a casino executive.
Christopher Wilder photographed at a “Seventeen Magazine” beauty contest in Las Vegas, Nevada
The day Michelle vanished she had participated in a beauty contest sponsored by Seventeen Magazine. A fashion photographer caught Wilder in a seat observing and stalking Michelle at the event.
Later witnesses would report they saw Michelle leaving the event with Michelle. Michelle was an aspiring model and probably easily lured, considering Wilder appeared to have connections within the pageantry circles.
Several young women would later come forward indicating they had also been approached by Wilder who offered them modeling contracts and asked them to meet him later that day at Caesar’s Palace. Fortunately, Wilder did not show up for the meetings leaving several young girls alive to tell their story.
It is not known what happened to Michelle following the abduction. Her badly decomposed body was found May 11th, at a southern California rest stop, near the Angeles National Forest.
Tina Marie Risico
On April 4, 1984, 16-year old high school student Tina Marie Risico headed to the Del Amo Fashion Center, in Torrance, Calif., to fill out a job application. There she met Wilder.
When she did not arrive home, a missing person report was made. The FBI was now involved and interviewed an employee at Hickory Farms at the mall, confirming Tina Marie had been there.
Witnesses would also confirm law enforcement’s greatest fear, identifying Wilder as the man Tina Marie was last seen talking to. Other witnesses around town placed Wilder in the vicinity, saying they had seen him at the Proud Parrot Motel in Torrance prior to Tina’s disappearance.
Over the course of the following week, Wilder raped and beat Tina Marie and for some reason, spared her life. After being raped and tortured, Tina had become very compliant, which may explain why she was later set free.
In a UPI report, “Tina Marie Risico, the teenager who accompanied a serial killer” Tina said, “There’s something inside of me that I knew how to play along.”
However, before Tina Marie would have her life spared, Wilder had diabolic plans for her – to use her to lure other victims.
Tina Marie would later recall the day she was abducted and how she agreed to model for Wilder, agreeing to be paid $100 for a billboard shoot. However, after shooting one roll of film, she told him she needed to go home which angered him and he pulled out a gun, placing it inside her mouth. Binding her he threw her into Terry Walden’s Cougar and drove approximately 200 miles to El Centro, Calif., where he got a motel room. There he raped and tortured her.
After the abduction in Torrance, Wilder and Tina Marie traveled east through Prescott, Ariz., Joplin, Mo., and Chicago, Ill., into Merrillville, Ind. Once in Merrillville, Wilder would force Tina Marie to help abduct another girl.
By April 8, 1984, Wilder was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted list, sending a “BOLO” (Be On the Lookout) out to law enforcement nationwide, but they were one-step behind him.
At Southlake Mall in Merrillville, Ind., on April 10, 1984, Wilder forced Tina Marie Risico to lure 15-year old Dawnette Wilt to their vehicle, telling her Wilder was a photographer looking for models. At gunpoint, Wilder forced Dawnette into the car where Wilder bound and gagged Dawnette with duct tape. For the next several hours, Wilder proceeded to rape the young girl while Tina Marie was ordered to drive east.
After eight hours, they stopped at Niagra Falls to take pictures, then stopped at a motel in Victor, approximately 20 miles south of Rochester, NY.
While staying in the hotel, Wilder discovered he was on the FBI “10 Most Wanted” list and decided to hit the road again, stopping one hour south, on a rural dirt road in Barrington, NY. There, Wilder would make Tina Marie stay in the vehicle, walking Dawnette into the woods. There, he strangled Dawnette, then stabbed her twice in the front and back, leaving her for dead. Wilder and Tina Marie drove away but within minutes, Wilder decided to return to the location to shoot Dawnette and finish her off. To his dismay, she was gone.
Dawnette survived the attack and managed to get to a road where Charles Laursen found her and drove her to the hospital for help. Suffering severe trauma and blood loss, during her interview with police, they would glean, Wilder was still traveling with Tina Marie, and headed to Canada.
After leaving Dawnette Wilt alongside the road in Barrington, Wilder and Tina Marie then turned north again, driving approximately 30 miles north returning to Victor, stopping at Eastview Mall. There he spotted Elizabeth Dodge. He ordered Tina Marie to convince the 33-year old woman to approach their car. Taking her car keys, Wilder then forced Elizabeth into his vehicle and drove away with Tina Marie following behind in Elizabeth’s gold Pontiac Firebird TransAm.
Wilder had one motive for abducting Elizabeth. They drove a short time to a remote gravel pit where Wilder forced Elizabeth to walk behind a mound of gravel, shooting her in the back. Leaving Terry Walden’s Cougar at the gravel pit, they drove away in Elizabeth’s vehicle.
A Life Spared
After murdering Elizabeth Dodge for her car, Wilder then headed east nearly 400 miles to Logan Airport in Boston, Mass.
There he entered the airport with his firearm inside his coat and purchased a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. He then gave Tina $100 to get a taxi and whatever she needed.
Tina Marie was clearly suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, a survival strategy where a victim develops an emotional bond with their abductor. Common to those suffering from extreme trauma, Tina Marie perceived Wilder as all-powerful and feared him, explaining why she would cooperate. However, Wilder also displayed a form of sympathy for Tina Marie, sparing her life.
She would be one of the lucky ones. Though haunted by the experience for years to come, Tina Marie would go on to speak about her experiences publicly and her story featured on FBI: The Untold Stories – Kidnapping of Tina Marie Risico.
The end of the road
Friday, April 13, 1984, Wilder began driving north toward Canada, stopping at a Vic’s Getty gas station in Colebrook, N.H. He was only a dozen miles away from the Canadian border when two New Hampshire state troopers spotted him at the gas pump and approached his vehicle.
Faced with capture, Wilder tried to retrieve his Colt Python .357 from the vehicle but Trooper Jellison grabbed him from behind and they began to struggle. Two shots were fired, one hitting Jellison after passing through Wilder’s chest, the other bullet also hitting Wilder directly in the chest, killing him instantly. Jellison would recover from his injury.
Friday the 13th, the trail of terror was over, but Wilder had left a living hell to the families who continue to await answers he took to his grave, and he left a path of broken dreams.
It would later be reported, handcuffs, rolls of duct tape, a specially designed electric cord used to torture his victims, a sleeping bag, .357 revolver with ammunition, and a copy of “The Collector” were found in Wilder’s possession.
English author Peter Fowles wrote and published The Collector in the early 1960s.
An internationally best-selling novel, it was hailed the first modern psychological thriller.
A tale of obsessive young love, Frederick Clegg is a city hall clerk who collects butterflies in his spare time and obsessed with art student Miranda Grey.
Admiring her from a distance at first, he buys an isolated house in the country and decides to add Miranda to his collection of butterflies.
Making careful preparation and using chloroform to abduct her, he locks Miranda in his cellar, convinced she will love him eventually.
He promises to respect Miranda, pledging not to rape her, vowing to shower her with gifts, if . . . she will not try to escape from the cellar.
As his true character is revealed, she begins to pity with Frederick but tries to escape several times. When he doesn’t let her go, she tries to seduce him several times, even fantasizes about killing him. Eventually, she becomes seriously ill and dies. He buries her in the garden. At the end of the book, it is announced he plans to kidnap another girl.
Serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng were said to be obsessed with The Collector. Arrested in 1985, he and his killing partner Charles Ng raped, tortured, photographed and murdered an estimated 25 victims at a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills, in Calif.
American serial killer Robert Berdella, known as the Kansas City Butcher, told authorities the film version of The Collector was his inspiration to kill. He abducted and held male victim’s captive, photographing them before killing them.
How many more?
Though the FBI estimates under 100 serial killers currently working throughout the United States, the number of missing persons is equally disturbing.
As of October 31, 2017, there were 87,643 missing persons entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and 8,613 unidentified persons, most remains.
“The devastation and number of victims these monsters leave behind is immeasurable because they are able to blend in and operate undetected, maximizing the number of victims,” says Thomas Lauth, private investigator and owner of Lauth Investigations International headquartered in Indianapolis, IN. Lauth has spent over twenty-years working on missing person and unsolved homicide cases and serves as a Consultant for MissingLeads.com.
Whether Christopher Wilder is responsible for the disappearance of Tammy Lynn Leppert, may never be known and her disappearance remains unsolved along with dozens of others. Like other serial killers, Wilder was able to assimilate and operate for years, escalating with killings more frequently. This has caused some to surmise he was a “spree killer.” However, the pattern of sadistic behavior beginning in his teens says otherwise.
“It is highly unlikely the victims named in this article were the only victims of Wilder,” says Lauth. “Sadly, these “collectors” will continue to operate until we catch up to them or they make a mistake and are caught. However, those of us chasing these monsters will always outnumber them – and we never forget the victims.”