Cross-Country Mayhem

Douglas Wilder, serial killer

On the surface, Christopher Wilder seemed to have it all — he was a self-made millionaire who made his fortune in the Miami real estate boom of the 1980s after emigrating from Australia, and frequently drove his souped-up Porsche 911 in Grand Prix races around the United States.
But beneath his successful exterior, Wilder seethed with anger and violence. He had a record in both the United States and Australia, leaving a string of of sexual assault victims on two continents. In 1982, while serving a five-year probation term for sexual battery, he violated his probation and flew to the Land Down Under where he sexually assaulted a pair of 15-year-old girls. He abducted the teens, blindfolded them, stripped the girls and took photographs while masturbating.
Wilder was arrested, but fled the country after posting $376,000 cash bail.
Wilder snapped for good in the early days of 1982. Dubbed the “Cannonball Killer” by the media that gave him the moniker in reference to the Cannonball Run movies, Wilder led police on a cross-country murder spree that eventually left perhaps a dozen women dead in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New York, and Nevada. Wilder’s modus operandi makes it impossible for an accurate count of his victims.
Newly added to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and pursued by police on two continents, Wilder killed himself during a confrontation with lawmen near the Canadian border on April 13, 1982. He left behind a string of living and dead victims from every corner of the United States.
His final spree is believed to have begun on February 26, 1982 shortly after he finished 17th in the Miami Grand Prix. There, he met Rosario Gonzalez, a 20-year-old model. Apparently convincing her that he was a fashion photographer, Wilder managed to abduct Gonzalez and subsequently raped and strangled her. From there, he met Elizabeth Kenyon, 23, a finalist in the 1982 Miss Florida Pageant. She disappeared from a Coral Gables shopping center on March 5.
On March 18, Teresa Ferguson, 21, was abducted from a shopping center in central Florida; later her body was found in Polk County’s Green Swamp. Two days later, farther north in Tallahassee, a man abducted a 19-year-old Florida State University student and drove her to a south Georgia hotel where, she said, he raped her, tortured her with electrical shocks and poured glue into her eyes before she managed to escape.
Terry Walden was the next victim who encountered Wilder. She was reported missing in Texas on March 24; Wilder’s 1973 Chrysler New Yorker was found abandoned nearby. On March 25, Suzanne Wendy Logan, 20, disappeared from an Oklahoma City shopping center; her body was identified in after it was found in a field in Kansas. She had been married less than a year.
On March 29, Sheryl Bonaventura, 18, an aspiring model, disappeared from a Grand Junction, Colo., shopping center. On April 1, Michele Korfman, 17, a beauty contest entrant, disappeared from a Las Vegas shopping mall.
“Wilder was a little different than your average serial killer, if there is such a thing,” noted true crime author Ann Rule told the United Press International in 1982. “Most serial killers do move around the country but most stay in one spot until they run up a toll (of victims) and the police home in on their pattern. Wilder kept moving — fast.”
Wilder was an organized serial killer.
“In each known incident, an individual meeting Wilder’s physical description approaches an attractive young female, identifies himself as a professional photographer and offers the woman a photo session for usage in nationwide magazines,” the FBI said when it added him to the 10 Most Wanted List. “If any resistance or refusal is given, he forcibly abducts the victim.”
Before he started his journey of mayhem, Wilder made a tape for a videotape dating service, in which he said: “I want to date. I want to meet and enjoy the company of a number of women.”
On April 4, 1982, Wilder surfaced in Torrence, California, where he kidnapped a young woman who would eventually be used — unwillingly, it must be pointed out — to help lure other women to their doom. He took the teen from a shopping mall and traveled with her across country before putting her on a plane in Boston and sending her home. Along the way, she was present with Wilder when he picked up another teen, whom he left wounded and abused in upstate New York.
On April 13, 1982, Wilder was apparently making a run for the Canadian border when he was spotted by Vermont police. When they approached his car, he opened fire on them and then turned the gun on himself.
He was 39 years old.
What set Wilder off on his killing spree isn’t completely known because the only person who can really shed light on his personality is dead. But it may have been the frustrated parents of one of his earliest victims who spooked him. They hired a private investigator to look into their daughter’s disappearance and he confronted Wilder, who reported the encounter to a business partner.
“I’m in deep shit,” he told his partner. “My ass is grass. I’m leaving town.”
One of the most infuriating parts of the search for Wilder while he was killing was that not only was his picture in every police agency in the country and the FBI was hot on his trail, they were often just hours behind him.
“As far as emotionally draining cases, Wilder (and one other) were probably the worst because you were dealing with life and death,” John Hanlon, a former FBI agent told Cox News Service in a retrospective on the case in 2004. “You knew every minute he was out there, someone was dying a horrible death.”