Real Crime - - Contents - WORDS DR ABBY BEN­THAM

What made Jerry Bru­dos progress from col­lect­ing women’s shoes to be­com­ing a macabre sou­venir hunter?


For most peo­ple, the birth of a child is a joy­ous oc­ca­sion char­ac­terised by an over­whelm­ing rush of un­con­di­tional love for the new­born in­fant. Not so in the Bru­dos house­hold. When Jerome Henry Bru­dos was born in Web­ster, South Dakota, on 31 Jan­uary 1939, his mother Eileen was not im­pressed. She al­ready had a much- loved son at home and had longed for a daugh­ter. Her dis­ap­point­ment did not turn to ten­der­ness as time passed. She openly de­spised her youngest son, and Jerome, com­monly known as Jerry, found her to be a harsh and un­yield­ing woman who was quick to anger and never showed him any af­fec­tion. To make mat­ters worse, she lav­ished praise on Jerry’s older brother Larry, whom she con­sid­ered su­pe­rior in ev­ery way.

At the age of five, af­ter the fam­ily moved to Ore­gon, young Jerry was left free to roam the neigh­bour­hood. One day, he was ex­plor­ing a lo­cal junk­yard when he came across a pair of women’s shoes in a dump­ster. The shoes were un­like any­thing he had ever seen his mother wear. She was a dour, no- non­sense woman who never both­ered with fri­vol­i­ties like high heels or makeup. The shoes that Jerry found were sexy and glam­orous: glossy patent leather with tow­er­ing heels, peep- toes and del­i­cate an­kle straps. He liked them in­stantly and couldn’t wait to get them home.

Once there, he tried them on for size, but his fun came to an abrupt end when his mother found him. Eileen Bru­dos was in­can­des­cent with rage and be­gan scream­ing at her son, call­ing him “un­nat­u­ral” and “wicked” and de­mand­ing that he re­turn the shoes to the dump. But he wasn’t will­ing to give up his trea­sure. In­stead, he hid the shoes, tak­ing them out pe­ri­od­i­cally to en­joy them in se­cret. When Eileen caught him parad­ing around in them for a sec­ond time she was de­ter­mined not to be dis­obeyed again, and made Bru­dos watch as she set fire to them, then grounded him. If Eileen’s in­ten­tion was to stop him from ex­per­i­ment­ing with women’s cloth­ing, she was to be dis­ap­pointed. Her ex­treme re­ac­tion to his in­ter­est in the shoes merely served to heighten their al­lure, by se­cur­ing them in his mind as some­thing taboo and ex­cit­ing. Bru­dos’s fas­ci­na­tion with shoes de­vel­oped into a paraphilia, which is where sex­ual arousal and grat­i­fi­ca­tion are gained from erotic ac­tiv­ity that is atyp­i­cal and of­ten ex­treme. Jerry Bru­dos’s paraphilia was based in fetishism, with high- heeled shoes the fo­cus of his ob­ses­sion. Such shoes would be a fea­ture of all his fu­ture of­fend­ing, in­clud­ing the sex­u­ally sadis­tic mur­ders of four young women. For psy­cho­an­a­lyst Sig­mund Freud, fetishes are rooted in a young boy’s fear of cas­tra­tion.

The fetish is cre­ated as a kind of pe­nis sub­sti­tute, which then func­tions as a “to­ken of tri­umph over the threat of cas­tra­tion and a safe­guard against it”. This is in­ter­est­ing when con­sid­ered in re­la­tion to Bru­dos, as it sug­gests that his ob­ses­sion with high- heeled shoes was a means of pro­tect­ing him­self against the worst ex­cesses of his mother’s emas­cu­lat­ing emo­tional abuse and a sym­bol of his re­bel­lion against her.


There is a large body of ev­i­dence to sup­port a di­rect causal link be­tween cas­tra­tion anx­i­ety, fetishism and sadism – all of which are com­monly present in cases of se­rial mur­der. Typ­i­cally, the of­fender starts off by de­riv­ing a sense of power from acts of cru­elty. This grad­u­ally es­ca­lates un­til tor­tur­ing oth­ers de­liv­ers sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion to the of­fender, who gains a sense of se­cu­rity from the power and sat­is­fac­tion his crimes bring. For Bru­dos, the fear, suf­fer­ing and sub­mis­sion of his vic­tims acted as a psy­cho­log­i­cal se­cu­rity blan­ket, in­su­lat­ing him from the abuse and ne­glect he suf­fered as a child.

His crimes were rel­a­tively in­nocu­ous at first. The first known in­ci­dent came when Jerry Bru­dos was around six or seven years old. Bru­dos stole a pair of spare high heels from his teacher’s desk and hid them in the play­ground, with the in­ten­tion of tak­ing them home. When some­body found them and re­turned them to the teacher, Bru­dos con­fessed to tak­ing them. His teacher was puz­zled rather than an­gry.


Her re­ac­tion, which was so at odds with his mother’s fu­ri­ous out­bursts, con­fused Bru­dos, and he fled from the room.

Grad­u­ally, Bru­dos’s fetish be­came more voyeuris­tic. On one oc­ca­sion, he found the teenage daugh­ter of some visi­tors to the house asleep on his bed. She was fully clothed and still wear­ing her shoes, and Bru­dos be­came aroused on see­ing one of the heels pok­ing through the blan­ket. He at­tempted to prise the shoes from her feet, but she woke up and shouted at him.

When Bru­dos en­tered pu­berty and be­gan hav­ing wet dreams, his mother shamed and bul­lied him. Bru­dos be­came an­gry and re­sent­ful, and re­treated into bizarre re­venge fan­tasies. He spent days dig­ging a tun­nel in the side of a hill at the farm where they lived, with the in­ten­tion of ab­duct­ing a girl and hold­ing her cap­tive. At around the same time, he be­gan steal­ing shoes and un­der­wear from the homes and clothes­lines of his neigh­bours, then spent hours fondling the gar­ments in the pri­vacy of his bed­room and us­ing them as a mas­tur­ba­tory aid.

Soon, the thrill of the stolen un­der­wear be­gan to wane; Bru­dos longed to have pho­to­graphs of a real girl. So he stole the un­der­wear of an 18- year- old neigh­bour, then con­tacted her to say he was work­ing for the po­lice and that he would help her to re­cover the stolen items. The girl was sus­pi­cious but not afraid: Bru­dos seemed goofy and harm­less, so she agreed to meet him at his home to dis­cuss the re­turn of her un­der­wear. When she got there, he leapt out from the shad­ows wear­ing a mask and bran­dish­ing a knife, and de­manded that she strip naked and pose for pho­tos.

When the film in his cam­era was fin­ished, the ‘ masked man’ ran from the room, leav­ing his vic­tim to hur­riedly re­trieve her cloth­ing be­fore mak­ing her es­cape. Just as she was leav­ing the room, Bru­dos walked into the bed­room, breath­ing heav­ily. He claimed that a masked man had locked him in the barn and that he had only just man­aged to break free. The girl wasn’t fooled – she knew it was Bru­dos who had forced her to strip – but she was too fright­ened and em­bar­rassed to re­port the in­ci­dent. Her si­lence height­ened Bru­dos’s en­joy­ment and stoked his view of him­self as some­one po­tent and pow­er­ful.


The pho­tos of the neigh­bour sated his de­sires for about eight months, un­til they were so stained and do­geared that they failed to arouse him. Bru­dos yearned for a new cap­tive. This time, his vic­tim was a 17- year- old girl. He drove her to a de­serted farm­house, dragged her from the car and sav­agely at­tacked her. Bru­dos was big and strong; the girl was no match for him as he tore at her cloth­ing and punched her in the face. Luck­ily for the girl, a cou­ple driv­ing past stopped to in­ter­vene. Bru­dos tried to lie his way out of trou­ble, first say­ing the girl had fallen from the car, then claim­ing that “some weirdo” had at­tacked her and he’d stopped to help. The cou­ple were un­con­vinced and in­sisted on tak­ing Bru­dos and the girl to their home, from where they called the po­lice.

When the po­lice ar­rived, Bru­dos ad­mit­ted beat­ing the girl and claimed that he’d wanted to frighten her enough to make her take off her clothes. A search of his room re­vealed

the stash of stolen un­der­wear and shoes, as well as the naked pho­to­graphs of the neigh­bour. Bru­dos was ar­rested for as­sault and bat­tery and re­ferred to the Polk County Ju­ve­nile De­part­ment in Ore­gon. A re­view of the case, which in­cluded an in­ter­view with Bru­dos’s trau­ma­tised neigh­bour, quickly con­vinced the au­thor­i­ties that he was a young man with prob­lems, and in spring 1956 he was com­mit­ted to the Ore­gon State Hos­pi­tal for eval­u­a­tion.

Af­ter eight months of treat­ment, Bru­dos was re­leased back into the com­mu­nity, but he was far from cured. He re­turned to high school and grad­u­ated with a spe­cial­ism in elec­tron­ics. Af­ter drop­ping out of var­i­ous fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses he then en­rolled in the army.

The army should have been a good fit for Bru­dos, but his ca­reer there did not last long. He kept hal­lu­ci­nat­ing that a Korean girl was sneak­ing into the bar­racks and into his bunk. He felt she was try­ing to se­duce him and later re­called, “I didn’t want her and I came up fight­ing and I beat her badly.” The fact that no­body heard the vi­o­lent strug­gles caused Bru­dos to won­der whether there was a woman there at all. But he was wor­ried enough about killing the woman to re­port the in­ci­dents to the chap­lain. The chap­lain re­ferred Bru­dos to the staff psy­chi­a­trist, who de­ter­mined that Bru­dos was psy­cho­log­i­cally un­fit for ser­vice.

For Craig Kelly, lec­turer in crim­i­nol­ogy at the Cen­tre for Ap­plied Crim­i­nol­ogy at Birm­ing­ham City Univer­sity, this was a crit­i­cal mo­ment: “We need to think about the role of the armed forces here. At this point they’ve trained him to kill, then re­leased him be­cause he didn’t con­form to what they needed. Maybe there’s a cer­tain level of his ‘ kil­lol­ogy’ that was taught by the armed forces – the de­sen­si­ti­sa­tion that’s needed to be a pro­fes­sional sol­dier may have played a part. I’m not blam­ing the armed forces, but it’s pos­si­ble that be­ing trained in phys­i­cal vi­o­lence gave Bru­dos the con­fi­dence to go ahead and kill women.”


Cer­tainly, there was an es­ca­la­tion in Bru­dos’s crimes af­ter this point. Fol­low­ing his dis­charge from the army, Bru­dos, by now aged 20, moved into his par­ents’ two- bed home in Cor­val­lis, Ore­gon. Things were OK at first, but when his brother Larry re­turned from col­lege, Eileen in­sisted that Jerry Bru­dos give Larry his bed­room and move into the gar­den shed. Con­sumed with rage, Bru­dos spent hours alone in the shed, cov­er­ing the win­dows to keep out the light and to se­quester him­self from his dom­i­neer­ing mother.

One evening Bru­dos was walk­ing in nearby Salem when he spot­ted a young woman in an eye- catch­ing out­fit. He fol­lowed her to her apart­ment, stran­gled her into semi­con­scious­ness, then ran away with her shoes. An­other at­tack soon fol­lowed, this time in Port­land. The MO was the same – he choked a woman wear­ing high heels – but this woman fought back, and he only man­aged to steal one of the shoes. It was enough. Back in his shed, Bru­dos slept with his tro­phies. Re­mem­ber­ing the power he’d had over their own­ers gave him the courage he needed to cope with his mother.

Al­though so­cially inept and sex­u­ally in­ex­pe­ri­enced, Bru­dos did man­age to achieve one of the key mark­ers of suc­cess­ful, hege­monic mas­culin­ity: at the age of 23, he mar­ried 17- year- old Dar­cie Met­zler af­ter she fell preg­nant early in their re­la­tion­ship. Their mar­riage was good, al­though Dar­cie was un­com­fort­able with some of Bru­dos’s sex­ual pro­cliv­i­ties; he in­sisted on them both be­ing naked when at home to­gether and en­cour­aged his wife to pose for erotic

pho­to­graphs wear­ing noth­ing but spike- heeled shoes. Dar­cie had no rea­son to fear her hus­band; al­though he was of­ten out of work, he treated her with kind­ness and re­spect. She had no inkling about his psy­chi­atric his­tory, al­though she knew he was prone to de­pres­sion. She could never have guessed that dur­ing those episodes he made him­self feel bet­ter by steal­ing lin­gerie and shoes from neigh­bour­ing women.

The birth of their son was a trig­ger­ing mo­ment for Jerry Bru­dos. He had hoped to be present at the birth, but Dar­cie did not want him there. To make him­self feel bet­ter, he went into Port­land and stole some shoes, but this time it wasn’t enough to ease his pain. The next woman he saw wear­ing fancy heels paid a heavy price: Bru­dos stalked her for hours be­fore fol­low­ing her home and wait­ing for her to go to bed. He then broke into her apart­ment and be­gan ri­fling through her closet, thrilled to know that the sleep­ing woman was obliv­i­ous to his pres­ence. When she woke up, Bru­dos leapt onto the bed and throt­tled her, and he found her slump­ing into unconsciousness ex­tremely arousing: sud­denly, she be­longed to him. Bru­dos raped the woman, then stole her shoes. They would be­come his great­est prize.


The rapid pro­gres­sion in Bru­dos’s crimes, from theft to as­sault to rape, did not end there. He needed to­tal do­min­ion over a woman, and that could only be achieved by mur­der.

First to die was Linda Slawson, aged 19. She sold en­cy­clopae­dias door to door, and on the day of her mur­der, in Jan­uary 1968, she had an ap­point­ment with some­body in Bru­dos’s neigh­bour­hood. Un­able to find the ad­dress she was look­ing for, she asked Bru­dos for help. When he said that he would be in­ter­ested in buy­ing a set of en­cy­clopae­dias from her, she grate­fully fol­lowed him into his garage, which he said would be a quiet place to talk. As she sat on a stool, he crept up be­hind her and cracked her on the head with a thick plank of wood. When she fell to the floor un­con­scious, he stran­gled her to death. He then spent hours play­ing with her as though she was a big doll, dress­ing her up in his col­lec­tion of lin­gerie and high- heeled shoes. Her own shoes were lovely, so he de­cided to keep them – along with her left foot, which he kept for dis­play pur­poses. When his fun was over, he drove Linda’s body down In­ter­state 5 and threw her body in the Wil­lamette River.

By Novem­ber he was ready to kill again. His next vic­tim was 23- year- old Jan Su­san Whit­ney. Bru­dos came across her by chance as he drove home from work one evening. Jan’s car had bro­ken down, and Bru­dos of­fered to drive her to his work­shop so he could get the tools he needed to re­pair her car. He mur­dered her as she sat in the car out­side his home, then dragged her body into the back seat and had sex with it. He then took her into his work­shop and hung her from a hook on the ceil­ing, so he could play dress- up. Over the next


five days, Bru­dos re­peat­edly as­saulted Jan’s dan­gling corpse; he also cut off her right breast to keep as a sou­venir, be­fore fi­nally dump­ing her body in the Wil­lamette River.

Karen Sprinker, 19, was the next to die. In March 1969 Bru­dos abducted her at gun­point from a multi- storey carpark at­tached to a de­part­ment store. Back at his work­shop, Bru­dos raped Karen, then forced her to dress in his lin­gerie and pose for pho­to­graphs. He put a noose around her neck, at­tached it to the hook in the ceil­ing, then left her to die while he went into the house to watch a car­toon. When he re­turned to the garage, Bru­dos cut off both of Karen’s breasts, mas­tur­bated over her body and re­dressed her. Fi­nally, he tied en­gine parts to her body and dumped it in the Long Tom River, a trib­u­tary of the Wil­lamette. He later made pa­per­weights out of Karen’s breasts, which he dis­played on the mantle­piece in the fam­ily liv­ing room.

The fi­nal vic­tim was 22- year- old Linda Salee. In April 1969, Linda was tricked into Bru­dos’s car af­ter he flashed a fake po­lice badge and said he wanted to ques­tion her about al­le­ga­tions of shoplift­ing. In­stead of driv­ing to the po­lice sta­tion, he took her back to his lair, where he tied her up and sus­pended her from the hook in the ceil­ing. He un­dressed her and took pho­to­graphs; when he grew bored, he choked her to death with a leather strap, rap­ing her as she died. Linda was the only vic­tim from whom Bru­dos did not take a macabre sou­venir. In­stead he at­tempted to gal­vanise her body with elec­tric­ity.

It was not long be­fore Ore­gon’s rivers be­gan to give up their se­crets, and the bod­ies held enough clues to lead de­tec­tives to their man. In June 1969, Jerry Bru­dos was sen­tenced to three life sen­tences for the mur­ders of Karen Sprinker, Jan Su­san Whit­ney and Linda Salee. As Linda Slawson’s body was never found, Bru­dos was not charged with her mur­der, even though he ad­mit­ted killing her. He served his sen­tence at Ore­gon State Pen­i­ten­tiary, where he died of liver can­cer in 2006.


Com­men­ta­tors on the case of­ten sug­gest that Bru­dos’s fetish emerged fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent with the dump­ster shoes and was linked to his mother’s de­sire for a daugh­ter. How­ever, para­phil­ias are es­tab­lished dur­ing the psy­cho­sex­ual stage of de­vel­op­ment, which takes place in in­fancy. When fiveyear- old Bru­dos found the shoes his fas­ci­na­tion with them was al­ready in place; his mother’s out­raged re­ac­tion sim­ply marked high heels as some­thing taboo and highly de­sir­able.

Af­ter Eileen burned the shoes, Bru­dos found so­lace in a kindly neigh­bour. She was the op­po­site of his mother – pretty, fem­i­nine, car­ing – and she al­ways had time for him, de­spite be­ing very ill. He loved to pre­tend she was his real mother but knew this could never be. Bru­dos was also best friends with a five- year- old girl who had TB, but she was of­ten ex­hausted and un­able to play. When she died, Bru­dos was in­con­solable. It’s pos­si­ble that, via his crimes, Bru­dos was psy­cho­dy­nam­i­cally re­plac­ing these lost friends with ones he could fully pos­sess. His vic­tim choice seems to sup­port this: via dis­place­ment and de­per­son­al­i­sa­tion, he preyed on lovely young women with whom he could ‘ play’ af­ter death, not matronly harridans like his mother.

Bru­dos’s mother was hugely sig­nif­i­cant to his of­fend­ing. Hav­ing been starved of her love as a child, he was driven to se­cure love and ac­cep­tance. In his wife, he had the per­fect mother sub­sti­tute; she also in­ad­ver­tently helped shield him from sus­pi­cion by nor­mal­is­ing his out­ward ap­pear­ance. For Craig Kelly of Birm­ing­ham City Univer­sity, Bru­dos’s crimes were a means of re­ori­en­tat­ing his life – he took con­trol back from his mother by mur­der­ing women, rap­ing their dead bod­ies and tak­ing body parts as tro­phies. Kelly sug­gests that Bru­dos’s crimes were in­flu­enced by the emerg­ing con­sumer cul­ture and high com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the 1960s: he viewed women as ob­jects to be pos­sessed.

Kelly ex­plained that by treat­ing women as ‘ dolls’ to be used and then dis­posed of, Bru­dos was able to play with fem­i­nin­ity while abid­ing by his mother’s rules and pre­serv­ing his mas­culin­ity. There’s an el­e­ment of dis­place­ment, in that the fo­cus is on women wear­ing high- heeled shoes, not him, and mur­der­ing the women re­veals an im­pulse to de­stroy the fetish his mother hated. Like­wise, in at­tack­ing his vic­tims’ breasts, Bru­dos psy­cho­dy­nam­i­cally as­saulted the mother he both yearned for and de­spised; turn­ing the breasts into ‘ tro­phies’ demon­strates a rev­er­ence for fe­male sex­u­al­ity and ma­ter­nal nur­tu­rance and a need to boast of his mas­tery of it.

This type of crime is ex­tremely rare. But this case should serve as a last­ing warn­ing that the de­mands that are placed on boys and men by pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety can pro­duce toxic ver­sions of mas­culin­ity, which are dif­fi­cult to con­tain.

right The unas­sum­ing clap­board house in Salem, Ore­gon, where Bru­dos com­mit­ted his atroc­i­ties. He turned the garage and work­shop into a cham­ber of hor­rors and banned his fam­ily from en­ter­ingbe­low A 1958 photo of Jerome Henry Bru­dos taken from his High School year­book. By this point, he had al­ready as­saulted two teenage girls in sep­a­rate sex­u­ally mo­ti­vated in­ci­dents

above Fol­low­ing a sav­age as­sault on a 17- year- old girl, Bru­dos was sent to Ore­gon State Hos­pi­tal for psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion. He un­der­went eight months’ treat­ment for de­pres­sion, ‘ sex­ual de­vi­a­tion’ and fetishism

above Bru­dos threw his vic­tims’ bod­ies from the bridges over the Wil­lamette River into the wa­ter be­low. Al­though the corpses were weighed down with en­gine parts, they even­tu­ally rose to the sur­face

above Dar­cie Bru­dos leaves court af­ter plead­ing in­no­cent to the mur­der of Karen Sprinker. An eye­wit­ness claimed to have seen Dar­cie help­ing her hus­band to drag the strug­gling vic­tim into their homeop­po­site Bru­dos, 30, leaves Mar­ion County Cir­cuit Court­room af­ter chang­ing his plea to guilty of first- de­gree mur­der. He was sen­tenced to three con­sec­u­tive life terms in Ore­gon State Pen­i­ten­tiaryop­po­site- in­set 27 June 1969: The Ore­go­nian re­ports his sen­tences for the mur­ders of Jan Whit­ney, Linda Salee and Karen Sprinker. Bru­dos was never charged with the mur­der of Linda Slawson

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