true crime

Christopher Wilder lured aspiring models with promises of photos. He wasn't a photographer.

Warning: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse. 

Rosario Gonzales was handing out aspirin samples at the Miami Grand Prix racetrack on February 26, 1984.

She was making good money – $200 a day – but it was mainly just a side hustle. Gonzales had previously participated in the Miss Florida Beauty Contest and her true passion was modelling.

According to witnesses, Gonzales left the racetrack that afternoon with a Caucasian man in his thirties.

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She was never seen again.

Just a week later, another Miss Florida contestant – Elizabeth Kenyon – vanished.

Her parents hired a private investigator who established a link between Gonzales and Kenyon. Not only had they both competed in the same pageant, but both women looked similar and had a link to an Australian man named Christopher Wilder.

Wilder was born in Sydney in 1945, the son of an Australian mother and an American naval officer father.

In 1962, he received the light sentence of electroshock therapy, counselling and probation for his first major crime – the gang rape of a 13-year-old girl.

Mamamia’s True Crime Conversations explores the story of Christopher Wilder, the beauty queen killer.

He immigrated to the United States in 1969, settled in Florida and created a successful life in real estate. He took up racing – which is why he was at the Miami Grand Prix – and lived a lavish lifestyle.

But Wilder was also a dangerous predator with a well-documented modus operandi.

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He posed as a photographer or model scout with contacts in the modelling world, approaching young women to offer photoshoot experience or help getting into the industry. This lead to him being dubbed the Beauty Queen Killer.

“He operated in the daytime and he operated in public places. So he would go to crowded beaches on a summer’s day. He would go to a busy shopping centre. He would go to a beauty pageant and he’d be well-dressed, really well-dressed. He’d have a gold Rolex watch on,” Andrew Byrne, author of a new book about Wilder’s crimes called The Pretty Girl Killer, told Mamamia‘s True Crime Conversations.

“He’d have an expensive camera over his shoulder and he had stolen business cards saying that he was either a fashion photographer or a model agent… And he would tell them that they had a great future potentially and if they just came with him, he could show them some of his catalogue, some of his photographs that he kept in his car and then, he knew a really nice beach nearby where he could take them and have their photograph taken.

“And then he’d like to talk to their parents about getting a contract for them. It all sounded so real, so good. And a lot of young girls had stars in their eyes.”

christopher wilder
Image: YouTube.

Throughout the 70s and early 80s, Wilder would approach young women like this at malls or beaches. On at least two occasions, in 1974 and 1980, he raped them.

Despite several convictions for serious sex crimes, Wilder was never jailed.

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In 1982, he returned to Australia to visit his parents. One day he visited Manly Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches where he approached 15-year-old schoolgirls Amanda and Christine to ask if they would be interested in modelling in commercials.

After expressing interest, Wilder took them back to his Kings Cross hotel room and sexually assaulted them.

Wilder later dropped Amanda and Christine at Central Station and threatened them before letting them go. Despite being terrified, they told the police.

Wilder was arrested, but freed after his family posted bail. His passport was returned to him and he went back to the US. When he arrived, Byrne wrote of how his probation officer charged him with violating probation and fined him $1000. He was then released again.

In 1984, with just weeks to go until he was to return to Australian for his committal for the Manly charges, Wilder attended the Miami Grand Prix where he spotted his first victim, Gonzales.

He knew her, just as he did his second victim Kenyon.

Gonzales had previously turned down his opportunity for a photo shoot and Kenyon, whom he had been dating, turned down his proposal.

What followed was another few weeks on the run, and a number of other victims.

On March 20, he abducted 19-year-old Linda Grober from a Tallahassee mall.

christopher wilder survivor linda grober
Linda Grober. Image: YouTube.
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After driving around for a couple of hours, Wilder arrived at a motel where he sexually assaulted her for hours.

"He gets Linda into the room and he super glued her eyes closed," Byrne told True Crime Conversations.

"He super glued her eyes closed and tortured her, made her dance for him."

Wilder then became distracted by his favourite TV show Dallas, and Grober saw her opportunity to get away.

"It came on the TV and his attention was distracted watching Dallas. Through a small crack in one of her eyelids, where the superglue hadn't yet dried, she saw that he was distracted and she made a dive."

Grober knew she wouldn't make it outside, so she attempted to make it to the bathroom where she knew there was a lock. Wilder realised what was happening and attacked her with a hairdryer, but she avoided being knocked out or seriously hurt.

"She reached up to where she thought his face was and pushed their fingers into his eyes," Byrne said, explaining that it allowed Grober enough time to get to the bathroom and lock the door.

"She started to scream, and he could have spent a minute battering the door down and getting to her, but he didn't know how how busy the motel was and whether there was anyone next door."

Instead, Wilder fled with all her belongings in his car.

Grober alerted the motel reception and police were called. Because Wilder had crossed state lines with her - from Florida to Georgia - the FBI became involved.

It would become the largest manhunt in US history.

For six weeks after that first February murder of Gonzales, Wilder murdered at least 7 other women across a number of US states including Florida, Georgia, Texas, Kansas, Utah, California and New York.

He was finally caught on April 13 when he stopped at a service station in Colebrook, New Hampshire, close to the Canadian border.

He was spotted by state troopers Leo Jellison and Wayne Fortier and retreated to his car to grab his gun. Jellison was able to grab Wilder from behind, and during the scuffle two shots were fired - the first passed through Wilder's heart, exited his back and struck Jellison. The second hit Wilder's chest.

He was dead, but Wilder's list of probable crimes kept growing.

wanda beach murders
Andrew Byrne believes Wilder was behind the Wanda Beach murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock.
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He is suspected to be behind the disappearances and murders of at least nine other young women, including Australia's unsolved Wanda Beach murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock in 1965.

For Byrne, one of the biggest questions is why Wilder was not questioned further by police about Wanda Beach after his 1982 arrest.

"[After Wilder's death] there was a press conference in Sydney and the head of the detectives in Sydney was asked 'Why didn't you [question him] when you arrested him? You had him. Why didn't you question about Wanda Beach?' and the detective chose his words very carefully," Byrne said.

"He said that they were intending to but sadly it never got round to that. In other words they were going to talk to him at the end of that court case but they were going to wait till then, which to me is extraordinary.

"[Wanda Beach] is probably the most notorious unsolved case in the whole of New South Wales modern history and you've got the guy who's the prime suspect and you've got him locked up and you don't question him at all, when there's a long history of Wilder - when he has been arrested previously for taking girls - he's always admitted to it."

Sadly, we may never know just how many terrible crimes Wilder was behind.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

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