He was one of the most-wanted fugitives by the FBI – known as the Beauty Queen Killer, Chris Wilder made number one on the most wanted faster than anyone in the United States.
Yet even to this day, Wilder’s name is barely known in his homeland – born in Sydney, he would become one of the world’s most sadistic predators, and a serial killer, preying on young women both in Australia and in America for over two decades.
Over 50 years on, the Wanda Beach murders remain one of Australia’s most infamous unsolved crimes. Two teenage girls – Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock – disappeared on a Sydney summer’s day in 1965, until their bodies were found in a shallow grave in the sand. Their murders remain unsolved to this day.
Police files uncovered from 1969 reveal that Chris Wilder was named as an official suspect. Retired Detective Inspector Ian Waterson was in charge of the Wanda Beach cold case, and he believes Wilder is the number one suspect.
“In my mind, it would have to be Christopher Wilder because there are so many signs to this guy that point to his sexual deviancy, his propensity for violence and [he] was around in Sydney at the time, hung around the beaches,” said Waterson.
Wilder left Australia in 1969 at the age of 24, when he moved to Miami, United States. Here, he relied on his charm and personality to reinvent himself. Dana Neighbours, who knew Wilder socially during the early 80s, vividly remembers his powers of persuasion.
“He would go to the beach and he would go to malls and pick up women… Anyone would voluntarily go with him. He was very attractive and witty, he always seemed to have plenty of money and he was very personable,” she recalled.
Yet Wilder would start on a path of horrific crimes that would become increasingly brutal and brazen. In 1984, he was tied to the abduction and assault of two sisters, just 10 and 12-year-old. A police search began for Wilder, who fled Florida, and a bloody six-week manhunt ensued.
Wilder abducted then 19-year-old Linda Grober, who underwent a horrific experience as his captive.
Speaking for the first time publicly about the experience, she revealed the suffering she underwent to Sunday Night. “He was electrocuting me. He had me tied up to an electrical outlet in both my pinkies and my toes, and he’d had superglued my eyes shut.”
Linda managed to fight for her life and escaped from Wilder, but by this stage, four other women were dead, or missing presumed dead.
John Hanlon, the lead FBI investigator heading up the manhunt, explained the pressure of the situation. “We needed to catch this guy because you knew as long as he’s out there, people are dying in a horrible, horrible fashion and the sooner you get him you’re going to save someone’s life.”
Wilder’s attacks became more frequent and bold, kidnapping girls at major shopping malls where there were modelling shows as he posed as a fashion photographer.
As police closed in on Wilder, he travelled north towards Canada, and was spotted by two New Hampshire troopers at a petrol station. In a confrontation, Wilder pulled out a gun, shooting at the officers. Police returned fire and shot Wilder, who then turned the gun on himself.
Chris Wilder, the Sydney born serial killer, would take his own life, rather than risk capture. He’s officially listed as killing nine young women, but police believe that the true tally of his victims will never be truly known.
Reporter: Michael Usher
Producers: Mark Llewellyn, Gareth Harvey, Duncan McNab, Lisa Ryan