Tag Archive for serial killer

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.”

Frighteningly Normal

A mild-mannered draftsman for a municipal water department, Thomas Dillon liked to cruise the back roads of southeastern Ohio pretending he was something he was not. In his fantasy life, Dillon pretended he was a multi-millionaire, a life-saving scientist who cured AIDS, or a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
 
Frequently driving hundreds of miles immersed in his own thoughts, Dillon also liked to envision himself as a special forces soldier, out hunting for enemy combatants. What no one knew for three years during the late 1980s and early 1990s, was that as far as his soldier/hunter fantasy was concerned, Dillon had crossed over into reality.
 
Between April 1989 and April 1992, Ohio authorities were baffled as a serial sniper killed campers, outdoorsmen, and joggers with impunity. A joint local-state-federal taskforce was established to take charge in the investigation of the murders of five men shot with a high-power rifle.
 
The first killing occurred near New Philadelphia, a quiet community about 100 miles south of Cleveland, on April 1, 1989, when Donald Welling, 35, was shot while jogging. Dillon claimed it was simply an urge, prompted by a voice in his head, that prompted the shooting.

He said, ‘What’s up?’ just before I shot him. Just from me to you, just five feet away. This guy was just trying to be friendly and he blew, you know, I killed him. It wasn’t premeditated, I told you guys that. Just, I was just driving along and came up on him and that’s it, Welling…And just, I heard, a voice in my head said, ‘Open fire on him.’ And I did. And in 10 seconds, from the, the time I heard that voice ’til I shot him and killed him.

The next two murders occurred in relatively rapid succession. Twenty-one-year-old Jamie Paxton was shot to death while he was hunting outside St. Clairsville, an Ohio community near the state border with West Virginia. The next killing occurred in Muskingum County on November 28, 1990 when 30-year-old Kevin Loring of Massachusetts was slain also while he was hunting.
 
On March 14, 1992, 49-year-old Claude Hawkins, a blue-collar father of four children was murdered as he fished in Coshocton County.
 
“(I) drove by and he waved at me. I heard a voice that day that said, “Go back and get him,” Dillon said about Hawkins’s shooting. “I saw him fishing down there, I heard a voice in my head say, ‘Go back and get him.’ Went down there and killed him. Shot him right in the back.”
 
In April 1992, West Virginia resident and father of three children Gary Bradley, 44, was struck down fishing near the county seat of Noble County.
 
All except Loring were shot on a weekend — two each on Saturday and Sunday — with a high-powered rifle, most likely from a nearby road, investigators said. Loring, who had three children, the oldest of whom was eight, was killed on a Wednesday (at a time Dillon was on vacation), and the bullet that shattered his skull was never found.
 
“His hat blew straight up about 20 feet,” a remorseless Dillon confessed later to police. “I knew I had to blow his whole head off.”
 
At each of the murder scenes there was little to go on. The killer left virtually nothing like spent casings or other forensic evidence, and no witnesses ever saw any cars.
 
It would take a letter to a local newspaper written by the killer a year after he shot Paxton that gave authorities sufficient reason to believe they were seeking a serial killer. Dillon introduced himself in an anonymous two-page photocopied typescript addressed to the Times Leader, as well as to Sheriff McCort and to the Paxtons. The letter had been mailed from outside the Martins Ferry post office.

I am the murderer of Jamie Paxton, …Jamie Paxton was a complete stranger to me. I never saw him before in my life and he never said a word to me that Saturday. The motive for the murder was this – the murder itself. …
Paxton was killed because of an irresistable (sic) compulsion that has taken over my life. I knew when I left my house that day that someone would die by my hand. I just didn’t know who or where. … Technically, I meet the defintion (sic) of a serial killer (three or more victims with a cooling off period in between) but I’m an average looking person with a family, job, and home just like yourself. Something in my head causes me to turn into a merciless killer with no conscience. Five minutes after I shot Paxton I was drinking a beer and had blacked out all thoughts of what I had just done out of my mind. I thought no more of shooting Paxton than shooting a bottle at the dump.

Even the interest prompted by the letter didn’t provide any breaks in the probe. The FBI’s Behaviorial Sciences Unit was asked to prepare a profile, with the hope that it would stimulate the moribund investigation.
 
The two-dozen points in the profile described the killer not only as an educated white male (Dillon had a college degree), but as someone with a predilection for crimes, such as arson and killing pets and farm animals. The profile, however, was not perfect. It predicted that the killer lived within a short distance of all of the crimes (Dillon lived as far away as 150 miles), and that the murderer would be in his 20s. Dillon was 42 when he was arrested. He might be a nominal family man, but was likely a loner, the report continued. He had a drinking problem and a history of compulsive vandalism and arson. Stress would trigger the shootings, which usually would be committed while he was drunk.
 
Like many serial killers, Dillon began acting out against animals and started setting fires to appease his demons. He would later admit setting more than 100 fires and killing more than 1,000 pets and farm animals. His trips through the backwoods of Ohio were always taken alone and he would stop on his way to buy beer.
 
It was a an August 1992 tip from a high school friend who became disturbed about Dillon’s animal slaughters and preoccupation with serial killers that finally broke the case.
 
“He asked me if I thought he could, or had, killed somebody,” the late Richard Fry told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1993. “The way he looked at me chilled my blood. I thought he had a secret to tell. It was the look on his face and in his eyes.”
 
As teens, the two men would drive through the countryside taking shots at road signs and critters and lighting small fires, but Fry recalled that Dillon began getting more violent and cruel by shooting family pets they happened across.
 
Dillon was not only cruel to animals, Fry recalled. Once, Dillon shot a chipmunk in his back yard, grabbed the dead animal and chased his son around the yard. When the little boy tripped and fell, Dillon rubbed his face with the bloody rodent.
 
Fry called a Tuscarawas County detective and finally after 39 months, the task force had a solid lead. The first clue linking him to the crime was that his off-duty and vacation time matched the dates of the killings. The FBI followed Dillon for about a month and watched him buy guns, drive around aimlessly and shoot at stop signs, animals, electric meters and even take pot-shots at populated areas. Most telling, Dillon visited Loring’s grave in Massachusetts.
 
“When I went to New England last year with my wife … I looked up on microfilm in the Plymouth Library where the guy lived and everything,” Dillon told police after his arrest. “He was from the Duxbury area. I just read, you know, to see what–who the hell he was. I didn’t know who he was.”
 
Throughout the summer and early fall, Dillon was shadowed by authorities who were only able to pin a cattle-shooting on him. As hunting season approached, they decided they had to move in to stop any further killings.
 
Authorities arrested Dillon on a federal weapons charge — he was awaiting sentencing for possessing a silencer — and announced that he was their suspect in the serial shootings. At a press conference they asked anyone with firearms transactions with Dillon to come forward.
 
On December 4 a gun dealer brought in a Swedish Mauser rifle he said that Dillon had sold him on April 6, the day after Bradley was murdered. Ballistics tests indicated that it was the rifle used to kill Bradley and Hawkins. On Jan. 27, Dillon was indicted on capital charges in both cases.
 
In return for the state dropping the death penalty specifications, Dillon pleaded guilty to five counts of murder and was sentenced to five consecutive life terms.
 
“I have major problems,” he said at the time. “I’m crazy. I want to kill. I want to kill.”
 
He blamed a turbulent childhood for his problems.
 
Dillon also publicly said he was afraid to be sent to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, site of a murderous riot just a few years before he was caught. In response to his concerns, family members of his victims began a petition drive to have him sent there. More than 8,000 Ohioans signed the petitions, which the State of Ohio honored.
 
The psychologist who examined Dillon at the request of his defense attorneys summarized why Dillon’s story is so frightening.
 
“What you see … is someone who looks and presents in a way that seems frighteningly normal,” Dr. Jeffrey Smalldon told CBS News. “And the reality is that most of the people who commit crimes like those that Dillon committed come across just that way.”
 
Dillon died of cancer in prison in 2011.