TWENTY YEARS OF TERROR: The Snapshot Killer is a masterful and shocking account of how this monster was able to hid in plain sight between 1963 and how he was finally caught in 1984.
TWENTY YEARS OF TERROR: The Snapshot Killer is a masterful and shocking account of how this monster was able to hid in plain sight between 1963 and how he was finally caught in 1984. Channel 7

A snapshot of a serial killer

WORDS like "monster" and "pure evil" are often used to describe serial killers.

In the case of Christopher Wilder, a man who tortured, raped and killed young women, these words fall far short.

An Australian who ended up on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list and was the subject of the largest American manhunt in history, Wilder was just another guy on the beach years ago at his parent's house in Sawtell.

Duncan McNab, the best-selling author or Roger Rogerson, has written The Snapshot Killer, the true story of predatory and serial killer Christopher Wilder.

As a former police detective, private investigator, investigative journalist and media adviser, Duncan McNab brings insight from different camps.

 

Chris Wilder was captured on a bank camera at a drive-thru branch in Tampa, Florida.
Chris Wilder was captured on a bank camera at a drive-thru branch in Tampa, Florida. The Snapshot Killer

The book also references The Beauty Queen Killer by Bruce Gibney and many media reports giving an extra layer to this dark, true story.

McNab delivers a gripping "can't look away" read about a man who hid in plain sight, stalking his victims at beaches and shopping malls before committing stomach-churning acts with no remorse.

The official body count is eight and the exact number of girls who survived being raped and tortured by him is not known.

As advancements are being made in forensics and DNA testing old cases are being revisited, including the historical Wanda Beach, Cronulla murders.

 

A candid shot of Wilder 'on the stalk' at a beauty paegant. Michelle Korfmann was a participant in the paegant. She became another of Wilder's victims.
A candid shot of Wilder 'on the stalk' at a beauty paegant. Michelle Korfmann was a participant in the paegant. She became another of Wilder's victims. The Snapshot Killer

Born in 1945 to an ex-Navy American father and an Australian mother, Christopher Wilder was one of three sons.

An average student, he left school at 15 and worked for a while in construction with his father.

He spent his teens in the Sydney suburb of Ryde driving to the beach with his mates.

Just before his 18th birthday he was arrested.

As part of a plea deal, the rape charge was dismissed and he pleaded guilty to carnal knowledge.

In the book it is noted the victim was "vigorously cross examined" as was sadly often the case in the 1960s and '70s.

In handing down a good behaviour bond, the Magistrate said, "I do not think the lad will offend again."

As a reader, these words will come back to haunt you several chapters later.

Wilder began prowling the beaches of North Sydney.

He lured young girls with his preferred "modus operandi" saying he was a professional photographer/modelling scout.

There were more encounters with the law and the courts but nothing ever "stuck".

Detectives in the beach suburbs were aware of his modelling scam and when it got too hot in Sydney his used his dual citizenship to flee to America and he began a building company called Sawtel Construction.

He played up the Aussie accent and charm and did well renovating properties, it gave him cash to enjoy the racing car circuit where he came into regular contact with young aspiring models.

It wasn't long before the first victim went to the police.

 

Rosario Gonzalez murdered by Wilder. Her body has never been found.
Rosario Gonzalez murdered by Wilder. Her body has never been found. The Snapshot Killer

Duncan McNab tells of Wilder's cat and mouse game with the legal system, his gift of the gab, pleading to sexual battery not rape, agreeing to see a psychiatrist.

Always one slippery step ahead of capture, in late 1982 Wilder applied for travel permission to return to Australia before the US authorities could put all the pieces together.

His father was building a small block of units in Sawtell and Wilder indicated he needed to help his family. Permission was granted.

Within 24 hours of being back in Australia, Wilder was cruising the Manly Beach Corso.

On December 9 the Manly Daily ran the headline, 'Avoid photo pest, police warn girls'.

Wilder rushed back to Sawtell but by New Year had returned to the Manly Corso and lured two young girls into his car.

Their terrifying ordeal is retold in detail in the pages of the book.

Wilder was bailed to appear in court July 1983.

 

Wilder abducted Terry Ferguson from a mall. Her body was later recovered in Florida.
Wilder abducted Terry Ferguson from a mall. Her body was later recovered in Florida. The Snapshot Killer

The court didn't know of his crimes in the US.

The Manly case was adjourned until April 1984.

His father stumped up $200,000 for the bail, his uncle $100,000 and Wilder $50,000.

McNab writes that Wilder "was an adept craftsman of stories targeted to elicit sympathy and make him the victim" but for the first time Wilder saw "the high probability of jail time".

Wilder failed to appear for the Manly court case, he was back in Florida.

Back to his old stomping ground, and the body count was rising.

When a crime reporter for the Miami Herald drew the link of missing young girls and a certain man who drove an expensive, distinctive car, Wilder went on the run.

His list of victims growing as he travelled across America on a homicidal road trip.

As news broke in the Australian media of the depths of Wilder's crimes, that he had failed to appear at Manly Court and he was now on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, his family in Sawtell were devastated.

Christopher Wilder in a police artist impression as a younger man.
Christopher Wilder in a police artist impression as a younger man. The Snapshot Killer

One of his victims of his road trip, a girl Wilder had kidnapped, then tortured, shot and left for dead in dense woods, beat the odds and survived her ordeal.

Thinking quickly she used a shirt as a tourniquet around the gunshot wound, found her way clear of the woods and alerted police giving them some possible insights of his direction.

On Friday, April 13 in 1984 Christopher Wilder was about to fill up his car with petrol at a remote station often used by those travelling to Canada.

He caught the attention of two curious police officers. It didn't take long for the officers to realise they recognised that face.

It was from the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List flyer.

Moments later Wilder was dead and the two police officers were in shock.

Two days later the Sunday Telegraph reported Wilder's brother Stephen as saying Christopher's death was, '....a relief.

"My first reaction is a good one because there is no one tonight that is going to get hurt by Christopher Wilder. That is a positive step forward."

With Wilder's death in the headlines, Stephen's wife Valerie was in Sawtell, looking after Wilder's aged parents.

According to McNab, she told the Sun on April 16: "They appeared to crack many times under the strain. These last three weeks have been a living hell, you would never imagine what it has been like. At least one of the nightmares is over, but we still have to live with the people who wonder what sort of family could have produced someone like Christopher."

A common thread with the victims who survived Wilder's attacks is that they said he was charming, attentive and interested but in a split second with no warning he was a violent, sadistic monster.

Christopher Wilder was a sexual and serial killer. In his vile carer he murdered at least eight women, and many more disappeared without trace or their bodies were found but not identified.

In the book, Dr Xanthe Mallett described him as, 'the ultimate predatory psychopath.

A chameleon able to adapt quickly, he had a need to dominate, a lack of empathy for his victims, and found sadistic pleasure in causing others pain'."

McNab tells this story will all the punches, balanced with incredible insight into policing and the court system in the 1960s and '70s, historical information along with recent reflections from former detectives and the heartbreaking words of survivors.

The words "gripping" and "page turner" are often used to describe this type of book, in this case those words fall far short.

The Snapshot Killer by Duncan McNab is available at Book Warehouse, Kmart, Big W and online.



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