CROSS- DRESSING KILLER
HE FOUND HER SLUMPING INTO UNCONSCIOUSNESS EXTREMELY AROUSING: SUDDENLY, SHE BELONGED TO HIM
What made Jerry Brudos progress from collecting women’s shoes to becoming a macabre souvenir hunter?
FOR JERRY BRUDOS NOTHING WAS SEXIER THAN LINGERIE AND STILETTO SHOES. BUT WHEN THEY STOPPED FUELLING HIS FANTASIES, HE GRADUATED TO COLLECTING BODY PARTS
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.
HIS PARAPHILIA DEVELOPS
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.
JERRY BRUDOS’S PARAPHILIA WAS BASED IN FETISHISM, WITH HIGHHEELED SHOES THE FOCUS OF HIS OBSESSION
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.
TRAINED TO KILL
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.”
EVOLVING MODUS OPERANDI
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.
ESCALATION TO MURDER
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
HE PREYED ON LOVELY YOUNG WOMEN WITH WHOM HE COULD ‘ PLAY’ AFTER DEATH, NOT MATRONLY HARRIDANS LIKE HIS MOTHER
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.
WHY DID HE KILL?
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