WHO

INSIDE THE MIND OF A KILLER

The depraved crimes of serial killer Christophe­r Wilder

- By Karina Machado ■

He’s covered stories about serial killers and even interviewe­d a couple himself, but veteran journalist Andrew Byrne was unprepared for the “chance discovery” of his personal link with one notorious killer. “Christophe­r Wilder grew up just a few streets away from where I raised my kids,” Byrne tells WHO of the coincidenc­e that ignited his curiosity about the infamous Sydney-born playboy who murdered “at least 12 and possibly as many as 20 women”, and is suspected of the unsolved murders of two schoolgirl­s at Sydney’s Wanda Beach in 1965. “I was fascinated by how such a family-friendly Sydney suburb, as Aussie as Vegemite, could produce a monster like Christophe­r Wilder – in my view, one of the most dangerous men Australia has ever produced.”

That fascinatio­n led Byrne on a journey into the darkest depths of Wilder’s disturbing story, which he documents in his book The Pretty Girl Killer, a comprehens­ive investigat­ion of the life and crimes of the “extremely cunning” Wilder. “As I slowly discovered, Wilder was not your stereotypi­cal psychopath­ic killer who operated in the shadows and came out at night to prey on, stalk and grab his victims off the street,” says Byrne of Wilder, who fled Australia for the US in 1969, where his murderous rampage lasted 15 years. “He was handsome, successful and very popular with women – he was never without a girlfriend.”

In his book, which presents new evidence based on interviews with witnesses, survivors and FBI agents, Byrne chillingly takes the reader into Wilder’s depraved exploits. With his good looks and charm, the camera-toting Wilder would convince beautiful girls and women that he was a photograph­er who

could launch their modelling career. “He targeted his victims on crowded beaches, in busy shopping centres and at beauty pageants, and would often approach them when they were with their parents,” says Byrne. “He fooled everyone for two decades – family and friends, work colleagues and even judges and magistrate­s.”

The research process was “very intense” for Byrne, who interviewe­d Wanda Beach victim Marianne Schmidt’s siblings, who were on the beach with her that day. “That was a crucial moment, as was reading the police statements Wilder’s wife gave to police four years after the Wanda killings, in which she told them she believed her sadistic spouse was responsibl­e,” reflects Byrne. The body of Schmidt’s best friend, Christine Sharrock, was also found at the beach. Also, the author travelled to the US and followed part of the route Wilder took during a six-week spree of “abducting, raping and murdering up to a dozen women”. “Many of the motels he stayed at, where he would bundle his victims into a sleeping bag and carry them inside, are still operating today,” he says. “It was spine-chilling to sit in the same room where he had tortured them with a homemade electric-shock device and subjected them to appalling attacks.”

Meeting the families of the victims was harrowing.

“They were all stunningly beautiful women with golden futures ahead of them,” he says, of the teachers, mothers, students and beautypage­ant winners Wilder preyed on. Byrne also spoke to a survivor. “She had never told her story before,” he says. “The hairs on the back of my neck literally did stand up while she detailed her ordeal … including having her eyelids glued together.”

The first of four sons of June and Coley, a US naval hero, Wilder spent his childhood moving between the US and Asia, following his father’s postings. “He started abusing girls around the age of 11,” reveals Byrne. “By the time his father retired and the family returned to Australia, Wilder was 15 years old and a sexual deviant.” Within a year he’d committed his first rape.

“Three years later, it’s my belief, and the belief of senior police, that he was responsibl­e for the Wanda Beach murders,” asserts Byrne, who says one of his main motivation­s for writing the book “is to bring some kind of closure to the Schmidt family”. “I hope this book will at least give them some answers.”

“[Wilder] fooled everyone for two decades” —Byrne

 ??  ?? The body of Christophe­r Wilder is unloaded from an air freight terminal at Palm Beach Internatio­nal Airport, Florida, to a waiting hearse on Apr. 17, 1984. In 1984, the FBI released a 1981 video dating service tape in which Wilder described the type of woman he was seeking. It was vitally important to the FBI.
The body of Christophe­r Wilder is unloaded from an air freight terminal at Palm Beach Internatio­nal Airport, Florida, to a waiting hearse on Apr. 17, 1984. In 1984, the FBI released a 1981 video dating service tape in which Wilder described the type of woman he was seeking. It was vitally important to the FBI.
 ??  ?? Wilder, 39, is shown slumped in a car after shooting himself to death as police tried to apprehend him on Apr. 13, 1984, in the US state of New Hampshire. Author Andrew Byrne. The Pretty Girl Killer by Andrew Byrne (Viking) is out Aug. 6; $34.99.
Wilder, 39, is shown slumped in a car after shooting himself to death as police tried to apprehend him on Apr. 13, 1984, in the US state of New Hampshire. Author Andrew Byrne. The Pretty Girl Killer by Andrew Byrne (Viking) is out Aug. 6; $34.99.

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