The Snapshot Killer – Did Christopher Wilder commit the Wanda Beach Murders?
I had never heard of Chris Wilder ‘‘The Snapshot Killer’. A man who terrorised young girls in Australia in the ’70s is still a suspect in one of Sydney’s most horrific double murders, The Wanda Beach Murders of 1965 and who fled to the USA to continue his sadistic, murderous spree. I was about to find out, and I almost regret I did.
I didn’t arrive in Australia until the mid-2000s and although an avid true crime documentary watcher, Mr Wilder and his cunning, outlandishness and dark psyche never once appeared in print or on the TV. The full story of the Snapshot Killer was only revealed fully to me by ex-police detective and investigative journalist, Duncan McNab in his most recent release, The Snapshot Killer.
This is a dark, detailed and fascinating timeline of a young, good looking, guy of average intelligence, born in the USA to a good family and raised in Sydney. Who, from a young age got a thrill from dominating and inciting fear in young girls. What floors me about this, and I’m sure in many other serial killer cases is how he could have got away with it for so long.
Did Wilder meticulously hide DNA, prints and bodies? No. He left semen and clothing and young girls bodies dumped for easy discovery. Did he hide his appearance? Not really, unless you count the bad wig he donned on occasion. Did he flee the scenes of his attacks? No. He called the premises of the victims and continued to pester girls that rebuffed his advances.
So, how did Christopher Wilder get away with it for so long?
How did so many young, beautiful girls go willingly with Wilder, in broad daylight at busy shopping malls and beaches? I believe it had a lot to do with the generation he lived in. Wilder lived in a time where there were no computer databases, information sharing between states, or communication between countries. It was also a time where it would have been social suicide for a young girl to bring shame on herself and her family by testifying evidence and admitting being victims of such degrading crimes. After Wilder openly admitted to rape and indecent assault in Australia and was awaiting trial, he, along with help from his family posted bail and headed to Florida where he could pick up where he left off and begin to hone his skills. A new life with renewed vigour and confidence.
Wilder flitted around shopping malls, race tracks and beaches targeting young, white beautiful girls who were looking to break out of their hometown lives and make it big in modelling. Although running his own lucrative construction business, Wilder preferred to play the part of a photographer for local modelling agencies, even going so far as to make fake business cards for bona fide agencies and strut around with a camera round his neck. Often with no film in it at all.
He would approach young, impressionable girls and tell them ‘they had what it took’ or, ‘they were perfect for an upcoming beer commercial, if they lost a few pounds.’ He would make them feel safe by offering to call their parents later to get approval for the shoots, if they would just go with him for a few snaps. Some would sense something was off and decline, but most would willingly go with the tall attractive man who seemed to have money, work for a legit business and had an exotic Australian accent. The majority were never seen again.
The Psychology of a Serial Killer
The psychology of Wilder is just as disturbing and unusual as Ted Bundy’s, just less infamous. Wilder used charisma, confidence and flashed the cash to get these girls into his car, but as his appetite for evil progressed, he resorted to knocking them out or lacing food with drugs. His torturous behaviours are not for a reader faint of heart. McNab writes in a matter of fact, journalistic style which in no way romanticises, sugar coats or indulges these crimes, of which there are many. He also draws frequently on The Beauty Queen Killer by Bruce Gibney, a book released in the 80’s just after Wilder’s death. This is not in any way plagiarism, rather an exceptional resource as most witnesses, files and clues are long lost in the sands of time. McNab avoids speculation and his past as a police detective is reflected in the careful collation of accurate accounts and careful assessment of clues, statements and TV interviews (predominantly Michael Ushers 2017 interviews) and police reports.
Once the pieces of the puzzle start to click with authorities the chase was on for a serial killer who crossed continents. Even though I guessed the outcome, and the horrendous crimes were committed decades ago, I felt myself still wishing for these young girls to be found alive. The fact that there is still no closure on the tragic and brutal Wanda beach murders and that some young girls have never been found, or that bodies recovered have never been claimed by loved ones, lays heavy on my heart.
The Snapshot Killer is the interesting, baffling and almost surreal story of a man who literally able to get away with murder for over 20 years. This one will stay with me for a while.