Woman recalls 'close call' encounter with serial killer Christopher Wilder nearly 50 years later


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EXCLUSIVE – A now-63-year-old woman narrowly escaped serial killer Christopher Wilder in 1977, when she was 16, but she didn’t know it until years later.

On a Fort Lauderdale beach in late June of that year, LeAnne, who asked to be identified only by her first name, was hanging out with her friends when two pretty brunette women in their 20s, both wearing black T-shirts that read “Barbizon Modeling,” approached the then-16-year-old girl and asked if she’d be interested in talking to their boss about a modeling opportunity for a local department store.

LeAnne thought: why not? She could use some extra money.

“And because they were so affable and sweet, chatting to all of us girls there, they completely disarmed me. And I got up to go talk to this person and found him to be very polite, very professional,” LeAnne told Fox News Digital. “He was wearing shorts, maybe a polo-style shirt or a button-front shirt.… He presented his business card to me, and as a 16-year-old, I completely believed his spiel. And the girls were right there.”

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LeAnne Cantrell wearing a green shirt

LeAnne met Christopher Wilder when she was 16. (Handout)

LeAnne would spend the next four hours talking to the man whom she eventually learned was Australian-American serial killer and former FBI Top 10 Most Wanted fugitive Christopher Wilder. Wilder killed at least eight women in the 1980s.

Wilder, also known as the “Snapshot Killer” and the “Beauty Queen Killer,” drove across the country, scoping out girls at places like beaches and shopping malls. He would take their photos and offer them modeling opportunities. He died in 1984 during a shootout with New Hampshire State Police when he was caught after a two-month murder spree.

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The killer’s name recently reappeared in headlines after the release of Hulu documentary series “The Beauty Queen Killer: 9 Days of Terror,” which premiered in May. In the docuseries, survivor Tina Risico shares how she was kidnapped by Wilder when she was 16 years old and taken on a nine-day, cross-country road trip in 1984, during which Wilder forced her into helping him commit a crime.

LeAnne wants Risico to know she is not alone, and she understands how Wilder was able to coerce her more than four decades ago.

Christopher Bernard Wilder mugshot

Christopher Wilder was a serial killer accused of murdering at least eight girls and women in the 1980s. (FBI)

That day on the beach in June 1977, LeAnne said Wilder had her fooled. At first, they walked on the beach with the two brunettes as Wilder asked LeAnne interview-style questions. Then, they separated from the two brunettes and Wilder asked her if she wanted to get a cool drink somewhere.

They walked across the street from the beach, in and out of shops, and Wilder continued to ask her questions about her family, where she lived, what her life goals were. 

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Christopher Wilder survivor

LeAnne said she survived an encounter with killer Christopher Wilder.

He pointed out what people were wearing and told LeAnne that her flip-flops were unflattering and suggested she take them off. She did, and walked around barefoot for the remainder of the day. 

He also made her walk in front of him and suggested she sway her hips to appear more like a model, but LeAnne insisted that he was never flirtatious throughout their four-hour interaction.

“I cannot explain it. He was incredibly poised.”

— LeAnne

“I cannot explain it. He was incredibly poised. And asked certain things about my goals in life and that sort of thing. Put yourself back in the place of the very first time you had a job interview. It was very much like that,” she said. “He would make commentary about fashion trends and… he seemed to be very knowledgeable. But I’m 5-foot-4. I never thought about modeling. I was a cute girl, but I was not a beauty queen.”

At one point during their excursion, Wilder said he wanted to call his colleague to let him know he’d scouted a potential model. LeAnne watched as he made a call on a payphone and – wouldn’t you know it – the colleague he was talking to was driving on an overpass directly above them in a fancy sports car at that exact moment.

Wanted poster for Christopher Wilder

The total extent of Wilder’s crimes still remains unknown. (FBI)

“He’s waving to the car as it goes past us. And he was [laughing], ‘Oh, yeah. That’s hilarious. I can’t believe I just saw you,'” LeAnne recalled. “He was feigning that he was talking to the guy in the car.” But at the time, she was impressed, especially since car phones weren’t common back then.

Later, Wilder suggested they go to the mall and look at different fashion trends. LeAnne agreed, and Wilder walked her to his vehicle, where he told her she’d have to partake in a trust exercise.

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“There was a grassy area under some trees in the car park, and he said, ‘OK, let’s talk about performance,’ then said, ‘I want you to close your eyes and seduce me with your face.’ At 16 years old, other than a romantic movie, I didn’t know how to look,” LeAnne said, adding that he did not try to touch her or have her touch him at that point. “I just had to put on these facial expressions with my eyes closed. And then he said, ‘OK. Do you know about trust activities?’”

The trust activity in question was blindfolding LeAnne as they drove to the mall. On their drive, LeAnne told Wilder that she was in her church’s youth choir, and they were preparing to singBattle Hymn of the Republic” for a Fourth of July service. Wilder asked her to sing it aloud, blindfolded, as they drove.

“I’m in this car wearing the blindfold, singing, ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah,’ a cappella.”

— LeAnne 

“I’m in this car wearing the blindfold, singing, ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah,’ a cappella. I mean, it’s the most ridiculous thing,” she said. “I would not have done something like that – singing for some random person, blindfolded in a vehicle – had I not entirely believed everything that he had said.”

LeAnne Cantrell by flowers

LeAnne feels fortunate to have escaped her encounter with Christopher Wilder alive. (Handout)

But between the two brunette recruiters, Wilder’s business card, his professional clothing on the beach and his lack of flirtatiousness had LeAnne convinced that she was talking to a real fashion model scout. In his vehicle, LeAnne shared her home address, her mother’s phone number, her mother’s place of employment and other personal information with Wilder because he said he would need to call her mother for permission to let LeAnne become a model because she was still a minor.

They went into a local shopping mall and looked at different fashion styles before Wilder led LeAnne back into his vehicle and blindfolded her again.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather.”

— LeAnne

“And once I had the blindfold on, he took my left hand, pulled it across the console, and he put it on his lap. I was stunned – absolutely stunned – to know that he had exposed himself. He had pulled himself out of his zipper. You could have knocked me over with a feather,” she said. “I did not think this man was a pervert.”

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LeAnne “calmly” pulled her hand back and began to cry, and Wilder tried to console her. 

“He said, ‘OK, sweetheart… I’ll tell you what, why don’t you go ahead and hop on out?’ I lived fairly close to that shopping mall. He said, head on home. Get something cool to drink. And then I will be in touch with you and your mom on Monday,” LeAnne said. 

She told her mother about her meeting with Wilder and how he offered her a modeling job, but did not mention what happened later. It’s a regret she still holds to this day.

She didn’t think much about the random model scout encounter until years later, in 1984, when there was news going around about a serial killer who kidnapped a teenager named Linda Grover from a Tallahassee mall, blindfolded her, stuffed her in the back of his vehicle and eventually glued her eyelids shut.

But while there were similarities between her experience and the 1984 kidnapping case, LeAnne was still skeptical that they were the same man, particularly because she had heard on the news that the suspect was originally from Australia, and the man she spoke to in 1977 did not have an Australian accent.

Then, about a decade ago, LeAnne came across more information about Wilder on the internet and Googled him “just out of curiosity.”

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“And there was his mugshot. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s the guy,'” she said, adding that she also learned he did not have an Australian accent despite being born there.… Obviously, I was dumbfounded and realized who it was that had taken me.”

Now, when LeAnne reflects on her experience at the beach that day in 1977, she thinks of what a “close call” she had “with that twisted, evil individual.” She hopes other women who encountered him will share their experiences.

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“My heart just goes out to anybody who may have encountered him. And if somebody happens to read this and they, too, crossed paths with him but came away from it like I did, maybe… get the word to to [Risico] and others out there that you’re not alone. You are not stupid.”

Wilder may be tied to more murders in Florida and New York, according to local news outlets.





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