Friday, August 10, 2012

The Fetish Killer

Escape

Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon

Late in the afternoon on April 21, 1969, Sharon Wood, 24, left her secretarial job in Portland to meet with her estranged husband, who wanted to discuss a divorce. She entered the basement level of a parking garage to look for her car when a tall, pudgy man approached her. She later told police (that Ann Rule accessed for the book The Lust Killer) that she had sensed someone behind her and had tried to return to an area where she could hear other people. But then someone tapped her shoulder and she turned around. The man was holding a pistol.
Sharon Wood
Sharon Wood

He told her not to scream, but this sudden encounter both frightened and enraged her. In a split second, she decided to fight. She screamed and stepped away from him, and he grabbed her and put an arm-lock around her throat. He was much taller than she was and outweighed her by nearly one hundred pounds. She had barely a chance against him, but she believed that if she didn’t struggle while someone might still hear her, she’d die that day. Instinct told her that this man had murder on his mind.
Sharon kicked at him with her high-heeled shoes and screamed again. She also grabbed the gun and gave it a hard twist. When the man tried to silence her with his hand, she bit him, hard. She knew that she’d drawn blood. He tried to free himself, but could not, so now he was struggling. He grabbed her hair and tried to force her to the floor, but she continued to resist with all her strength. She was not going to let him assault her.
Yet he managed to slam her head on the concrete, dazing her. She relaxed her jaw and let him go. She then heard another car coming, and her attacker picked up the gun he’d dropped and left. She knew no more. Someone apparently called the police and Sharon found herself giving a shaken statement. It had been a tall man with blue eyes and freckles, she recalled. She’d know him if she saw him again. Yet when the police questioned others in the area, no one recalled a man by that description. Sharon learned only later that this man’s frustrated attempt to abduct her had only shifted his MO in approaching women and strengthened his resolve to be more careful. She survived, but not long afterward another young woman did not.

Context

Book cover: Serial Killers: Method & Madness
Book cover: Serial Killers: Method & Madness

Peter Vronsky reported in Serial Killers that on the next afternoon, a 15-year-old girl in Salem, Oregon, complained about a large man with freckles attempting to force her into a sports car. The incidents seemed related but provided no real leads. There were no witnesses and the man described in both cases had left no trail. Investigators did not realize they were in the midst of a serial murder investigation.
It was a difficult time, with unrest across the country. In 1968, America had been stung by the assassination of presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy, the insolence of the Chicago Seven at the Democratic Convention, and the violence on college campuses over the Vietnam War. A whole subculture experimented with drugs and the occult. And the country was about to see many more serial killers.
Book cover: The Lust Killer
Book cover: The Lust Killer

The account of this series of murders is offered in several encyclopedic works, notably those by Vronsky, Michael Newton and Harold Schechter, but all owe a debt to Ann Rule, who first collected the articles and did interviews for her book, The Lust Killer. She had seen success with her memoir about serial killer Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me, and she’d been writing articles under the pseudonym, Andy Stack. Her literary agent advised her to continue with her pseudonym for the next three books. “When those came out, The Stranger Beside Me was doing very well,” Rule explained, “so my agent said that these books got such small advances I should not put my name on them. I stayed with ‘Andy Stack,’ but after a while I put them under my real name.”
Rule indicates in The Lust Killer that her purpose in writing such a book was to “add to the psychiatric research that may one day to treat aberrant minds before they explode into violence.” Her feeling is that the more we learn about such offenders, the better our chances for stopping them. At the time of the incidents described here, little was known about truly deviant serial crime. Albert DeSalvo, alleged to be the Boston Strangler, had been interrogated four years earlier; Charles Schmidt, killer of three girls in Tucson, had been apprehended. A murder spree was occurring simultaneously in Michigan with eight dead students, and California was about to witness the Manson massacres and the Zodiac’s deadly spree.
But Oregon had not yet experienced any such crimes. It would take a while before investigators understood that they were looking for a serial predator. Even then, they would not fully understand the sort of monstrous urges that drove him. On the day they questioned Sharon Wood, three women were already dead.

Missing Woman

Linda Slawson
Linda Slawson

In 1968, Linda Slawson worked for a book company, going door to door to persuade families to purchase sets of encyclopedias. Ann Rule imaginatively envisions the drudgery of this as Slawson makes her final call, in the hope of paying her rent and getting some money for college. She was only nineteen years old. It was January 26, and her route had taken her to a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Some authors say she was looking for another house when she went there, but no one knows what actually took place, aside from the story told by the person she encountered.
And no one ever saw or heard from Linda Slawson again. The book company had no record of where she had been that day, so the frantic requests to police from Slawson’s family came to nothing. They did manage to locate her car, abandoned, but it offered no clues of what had become of her. There was no sign of struggle, nothing apparently missing. She was just gone. She remained on the list, but as each day passed, her case grew cold. Other more pressing incidents took over the officers’ time. If she’d been abducted, the person responsible had been careful. He’d left no sign of his presence, his intentions, or what he had done with her.
Yet the mystery would be revived the following year when other young women turned up missing.

Potential Connections?

Jan Whitney
Jan Whitney

On November 26, 1968, Jan Whitney, 23, disappeared as she was on her way home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Her Rambler was found off the highway in a rest area near Albany, Oregon. It was locked, but there was no sign of her. Vronsky indicated that a minor mechanical failure might have induced her to look for a ride from someone. These were the days when girls freely hitch-hiked along the West Coastand when predators realized how easy it was to grab them and kill them without anyone being the wiser. There were no leads. Like Slawson, she was just gone.
Karen Sprinker
Karen Sprinker

Four months later, on March 27, 1969, Karen Sprinker, 19, went missing. Vronsky says that she was home from college and her mother had expected to meet her for lunch at a downtown restaurant. She waited an hour and then grew worried. Karen would not have missed this appointment. In fact, it turned out that she did park her car at the garage for the store where her mother was waiting. But the car sat empty and Karen never returned to claim it. Shoppers in the area described seeing a very tall and strange-looking woman in the area. One witness said that when this person got close to her, she saw that it was a man in drag. He seemed fairly creepy, so people had avoided him. There was no reason then to link him to this incident, but in retrospect, it all went together.
Linda Salee
Linda Salee

Only four weeks later, Linda Salee, 22, appeared to have been abducted from a shopping mall. She’d been there buying a gift for her boyfriend, but had failed to meet him that evening. She also did not show up to work, and her car was found abandoned. Like the others, there was no sign if violence in the car, or any that a stranger had entered it. Of course, her boyfriend was checked out, but nothing indicated that he should remain a suspect. In the days following her disappearance, no sign of Salee turned up.
The police wondered if there were any connections among these girls, and a few even thought about Linda Slawson, the encyclopedia salesperson. They laid out time lines, noting the fact that all of the girls had disappeared toward the latter half of each month. And all of them were young white females. But that’s as much as the investigators had. That is, until human remains were found in a nearby river.

Grim Discovery

It was three weeks after Linda Salee had disappeared. A man who’d gone fishing that May in the Long Tom River, south of Corvallis, Oregon, found decomposing human remains bobbing in the rushing current. He called police. When they arrived, they discovered that the deceased female had been bound to a car transmission box to weigh down the body, which made it difficult to pull it out. But it provided clear proof of murder and possible evidence to tie back to a suspect, should they find one. In fact, this victim had been tied to the auto part with a nylon rope and a rather specific type of knot. They cut the cord carefully so they could preserve the knot, just in case they had reason to use it as probable cause for a warrant or later in court. Copper wire, too, had been twisted in a specific manner that indicated someone with background as an electrician.
The medical examiner knew it would be difficult to determine the exact cause of death with so little to go on, but from the condition of the neck area, it appeared that she had been strangled. There was also a pair of odd postmortem punctures, each circled by a burn, at opposite sides of the rib cage that appeared to have been caused by a needle. No one knew what to make of them, but thanks to dental records it was determined that the remains were those of Linda Salee.
Investigators searched further along the river and a few days later they came across yet another set of decomposing remains, also bound to something that turned out to be an engine head. The same type of bindings and knots were found with this victim, which was a clear enough indication that the same offender was responsible for both. This victim had been strangled, apparently with a strap used as a garrote. The clothing still on her body matched what Karen Sprinker’s mother had described her wearing.
However, when the authorities lifted her, they found that she was also clothed in a long-line black brassiere that appeared much too large to be hers (confirmed by her mother), and it had been padded with brown paper towels. In fact, this victim’s breasts had been removed and the padding appeared to have been placed there to absorb the blood and fluid. (Vronsky says it was to create the illusion of a larger bosom, but it turned out to be a less mundane reason.)
Further searches along the river yielded nothing more, although investigators had been hoping that this effort might close the case on the other two missing women. They did know that they were looking for either a rather strong male or two men working in tandem, because the bodies, coupled with the weights, would have been quite heavy to carry.
Because of Sprinker’s background, the police decided to question students on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. This proved to be a wise move.

A Break in the Case

OSU logo

The detectives who questioned the students at OSU learned that some female students had recently complained about getting strange calls from a man trying to lure them out. There were also reports of a suspicious red-haired man, somewhat pudgy, loitering around campus. Detectives discovered one young woman who had actually ventured out on a brief date with a man claiming to be a lonely Vietnam veteran looking for company. That sounded promising. Ann Rule provides the details.
This girl had no intention of seeing the man again, having found him to be a bit disconcerting (and mentioned that he had wanted to discuss the discovery of bodies in the river), but the detectives asked her to contact them should he call again. The fact that he’d actually asked her why she wasn’t afraid he might strangle her alerted them to his aberrant curiosity. In addition, her description of a tall man with light-colored hair and a lot of freckles was similar to those offered by women who’d nearly been abducted in recent days. They fervently hoped he would contact this young woman again. To her surprise, he did, so she set a date for an hour hence and then phoned the police.
Jerry Brudos

They went to the designated meeting place and spotted a tall, pudgy man enter. Approaching him, they learned that his name was Jerry Brudos. While they believed he was a viable suspect, he seemed completely at ease, as if he had nothing to hide. That meant he was either innocent or clever, arrogant, and without remorse for what he might be doing. They had nothing with which to detain him, but they kept him under surveillance. Having learned where he lived in the area, along with the rather significant fact that he’d worked as an electrician, they set out to research his background.
Within five days, as the coincidences piled up, they arrested Brudos.

Secrets

Jerome Henry Brudos was born January 31, 1939, in South Dakota. His parents traveled around a bit and ended up in Oregon. By all reports, his mother had not wanted him after she’d already had two boys, and had treated him with criticism and disdain. Apparently she had hoped for a girl, and if Brudos realized this, it could have influenced his development and sense of self. He’d attached himself to other women who were different from his mother, and had a childhood female friend who’d died. Often alone, he developed a fantasy life and habits that by the age of seventeen got him in trouble with the law. These generally involved a sexual fetish for women’s shoes and underclothing.
“Exactly how Brudos became a foot fetishist is a mystery,” says Harold Schechter in The Serial Killer Files. “One thing is certain, however; he began to manifest the obsession at a startlingly early age.”
His discovery of a pair of women’s spike-heeled shoes at a local dump when he was five years old was the starting point, though it was probably not due to the shoes themselves. It was more likely his mother’s strong reaction to seeing him wearing them in his bedroom. She instantly grabbed them, destroyed them, and let him know that such things were wicked. She was highly agitated and inexplicably upset, which signaled to the boy that there was something about those shoes that was deliciously forbidden. It’s likely that putting these shoes off limits attached to women’s high-heeled shoes in general an aura that pervaded Brudos’ developing sexuality. He also stole the shoes that his kindergarten teacher kept in her desk and received a reprimand.
Book cover: Serial Murderers and Their Victims
Book cover: Serial Murderers and Their Victims

“As he matured,” says Hickey, in Serial Murderers and Their Victims and echoed by other authors, “his shoe fetish increasingly provided sexual arousal.” The psychologists who later analyzed him tended to be in accord with this. Brudos continued in secret to collect shoes, hiding them from his mother and eventually adding to that stash a collection of women’s underwear, which he stole during clandestine raids into nearby houses. Touching female underwear gave him some sense of comfort and the feeling of arousal. “They were mysterious and forbidden totems,” says Vronsky, “arousing in him deep erotic feelings that he could not understand or explain.”

Troubled Teens

Jerry Brudos at 17
Jerry Brudos at 17

When he was 17 in 1956, his fetish grew dangerous. Having dug a hole in a hillside to “keep” girls as sex slaves, he used a knife to accost a 17-year-old girl, demanding that she remove her clothing so he could photograph her nude body. He even beat her up, but after an elderly couple caught him he admitted what he’d done. Clearly, this sort of encounter was not going to satisfy him. Not even after serving nine months for it on the psychiatric ward of Oregon State Hospital (though he still attended school). In therapy there, doctors became aware that his sexual fantasies were centered around hatred for his demanding mother and revenge against women in general. They also knew about his collection of women’s clothing. As Hickey points out, his fantasies included “placing kidnapped girls into freezers so he could later arrange their stiff bodies in sexually explicit poses.” Rule includes the psychiatric report from that hospital, indicating that the examining mental health staff did not believe Brudos was “grossly mentally ill.” (In Murder Cases of the Twentieth Century, Frasier says that the diagnosis was borderline schizophrenia.)
It seemed that he’d had an “adjustment reaction” to adolescence and was not considered dangerous, although he had developed a fetish for female shoes and underwear, and for nude female photographs. He seemed immature and unable to deal normally with his developing sexuality. But that did not strike anyone as the foundation for violence. As Rule put it, the doctors believed that he simply had to grow up. They can hardly be blamed for this misjudgment. Not much was known in 1956 about the development of serial sexual predators.
Brudos went into the military, but Schechter says that he was discharged early because of his strange delusions (Frasier says for sexual obsessions). Once out again, he became an electronics technician. In 1961 when he was 22, he met a shy 17-year-old girl whom Rule calls “Darcie,” Hickey calls “Ralphene,” and Vronsky names “Susan,” and they were married. (She is referred to here as Darcie, following Rule’s example.) She went along with whatever Brudos wanted, including staying naked in the house, staying out of his workshop, and avoiding the attic. They had two children together and eventually Darcie declined to have sex any longer.
She seemed not to notice when Brudos stole out during the night to invade other people’s homes to satisfy his underwear fetish, although she did sense some oddities in his character. Once, he even walked up to her dressed in women’s underwear. She was reportedly shocked, and he seemed hurt by her inability to understand. He’d looked for a woman who would be compliant to his will and accept everything. She had disappointed him, so he returned to his secret world. They said nothing more to each other about it.
On another occasion Darcie discovered a paperweight in the house shaped like a woman’s breast. That really bothered her, but Brudos had an explanation. Not knowing what else to do, she accepted it and forgot the incident, just like she did when she caught him developing photographs of nude women. It’s unlikely that she would have understood the nature of Brudos’ aberrant obsession.

The Transvestite

Schechter discusses this deviance, or paraphilia, in The Serial Killer Files. He mentions that horror films commonly depict men who dress in women’s clothing as psychotic slashers who hate and want to kill women. He points to Psycho and Dressed to Kill as examples. Yet transvestites are generally nonviolent. Their penchant for women’s clothing or undergarments does not turn them into rapists or killers, although it’s often accompanied by feelings of shame. Rather, if they take up violence, their fetish may become part of whatever they do, but the desire for women’s clothing is merely an expression of their particular erotic desires. Becoming violent is the manifestation of a different drive.
In fact, several mass and serial killers claim, as Brudos did, that they were forced to dress as girls when they were children, but unlike him most did not become transvestites. And some became cross-dressers without any help from their parents.
Dr. Lin Fraser, a San Francisco-based therapist with transgendered clients offered a lengthy discussion of the phenomenon as she saw it from her clients’ experiences, presenting it at a conference in 1990 and posting it online. Among the many things she explains is a classification system for transsexualism in males to help interested parties make their way through this unusual world:
  • Early onset cross-gendered identity, in which there is no sexual arousal associated with cross dressing; their gender identity is female and they appear to be androgynous
  • Effeminate homosexuality, manifested by those who are talkative and uninhibited about sex
  • Late-onset transvestism; cross-dressing is associated with sexuality and is triggered by specific things, as the female orientation gradually dominates.
  • Cross-dressing without transsexuality
  • Cross-dressing, with a female fantasy in the form of an escape mechanism and without the desire to change gender identity
Brudos appears to be among the latter. Dr. Fraser does not address the erotic nature of the fantasy, but clearly that was the attraction for Brudos of the underwear and shoes. As he grew bolder in acquiring and wearing these items, he took advantage of his ability to sneak undetected into women’s bedrooms to overpower one sleeping woman and rape her. She reported it to the police, but no one traced it to Brudos.
When he was 28, Linda Slawson came to his door. That was his first murder, and only after he described to police what he had done did the full extent of his sick fantasies come to light.

Probable Cause

In trying to link the murders to Brudos, Detectives Jim Stovall and Gene Daugherty placed Brudos’ known activities against their timeline of the missing women. As Rule tells it, “In January 1968, Jerry Brudos had lived in the same neighborhood worked by the young encyclopedia salesgirl — the missing Linda Slawson. Brudos had indicated that he had moved to Salem in August or September 1968 and had gone to work in Lebanon, Oregon — hard by the 1-5 freeway where Jan Whitney had vanished in November. His current job was in Halsey — only six miles from the body sites in the Long Tom. And of course, when Karen Sprinker had disappeared from Meier and Frank on March 27, Brudos had lived only blocks away.”
Rope and knot samples
Rope and knot samples

Brudos had also referred vaguely to “problems” and appeared to have a lot of nylon rope in his workshop. The cops who met him expressed having a “bad feeling” about him, but that was clearly not sufficient grounds for a warrant to search his place. In addition, he did not look strong enough to have carried the bodies with their respective weights (although appearances can be deceptive) and did not drive a sports car. However, he did admit borrowing one. And some rope tied into a knot in his workshop appeared to be similar to the knots used on the bodies. He even let detectives take a sample, but then called an attorney, Dale Drake, and asked him to find out why the police seemed so interested in him. Drake agreed to represent him should he have the need.

In the meantime, the police got a warrant to search Brudos’ vehicle but found that the interior had been thoroughly washed. That was suspicious but not damning, and Brudos had a ready explanation. Yet he had no defense against the adolescent girl who picked him out of a photo spread as the man who recently had attempted to force her into a car. It was sufficient cause to arrest him, along with a weapons charge for having a gun in his car. They hoped for a stronger case, but they had some concern that Brudos might panic and flee. When he drove to Portland one day with Darcie, the police moved in.
After Brudos was arrested (and found to be wearing women’s panties) on May 30, he agreed to submit to an interrogation. In stops and starts, despite his attorney’s warning not to talk, Brudos offered a confession. Or, rather, he decided to crow.

The Confession

In 1960, less than a decade earlier, Alfred Hitchcock had released Psycho. It was a grainy black-and-white film based loosely on the story of Ed Gein, showing a demented, mother-dominated nerd who could present a personable front while harboring a compulsion to fatally stab a woman who aroused him. In effect, he was killing an unacceptable part of himself. His condition of multiple personality disorder shocked the nation, especially with its creepy cross-gendered manifestation. Now the police were about to see something like the real thing, only without the mental illness excuse.
As Brudos admitted to his crimes and provided details, it was evident that he thoroughly relished describing his fetish for shoes, panties and bras. He grew more excited when he described these things, as if his passion would become contagious and infect the officers sitting with him in the room. They weren’t buying.
From January 1968 until April 1969, Frasier indicates, Brudos killed four women. (Some newspaper reports indicate there were five, but a fifth incident failed to match the MO and under interrogation Brudos denied knowing the victim). He also attacked or attempted to kill several more. Most of what is known about his encounters with these victims comes from his confessions, which he freely gave over a period of three days. The detectives who interrogated him noted his complete absence of guilt or remorse (though he mourned his fate and felt badly for his wife and kids), and the fact that he never lost his appetite, despite how grotesque his descriptions were.
Brudos admitted to having killed and mutilated four of the women, throwing their bodies into a river after he cut parts from them. His first victim, Linda Slawson, was minus her left foot, and he had kept the foot for a while after he got rid of the rest of her, trying shoes on it and taking photographs. Two others had their breasts removed. He also photographed them while under his power, and had sex with their bodies.
With Linda Slawson, who had naively followed him to the workshop out back to pitch her encyclopedias, he had hit her with a two-by-four hard enough to knock her out. He’d then strangled her. His wife, children and mother lived right there in the home with him, and even as he had a dead girl on the floor of his workshop, he held calm conversations with his family, urging them to go out and get some dinner at a fast food place. All of this he told to the police, as related by Ann Rule.

The Method

Jerry Brudos
Jerry Brudos

Brudos’ first murder went against the received wisdom that killers often get rid of the body or walk away as quickly as they can. Later, when they become inured to corpses, they begin to do more to them (if that’s part of their fetish). Yet with his first experience, Brudos apparently was quite pleased with himself. Right away, with a dead girl on his hands, he started thinking about what he could do with her, now that he had the real thing rather than just his obsessive fantasies. Clearly, his private images had gained a sufficient degree of sophistication to prepare him to spend some time with the victim and live out things he’d only dreamed about before.
He told the police officers interrogating him that he was in the yard when she came to his home. He started to lie to her right away to get her to come inside. She did so readily. He sent his wife and kids out to eat and then when a friend came over unexpectedly, Brudos had to spend some time getting rid of him. Once alone with the dead girl, he quickly undressed her. He recalled every detail, at least of her underwear, and was especially pleased that she had been wearing a pair of red panties. He then got some items from his own collection and redressed her in them. Realizing that he could not keep her there, he removed her foot with a hacksaw, stuck it in the freezer, and then took the body to the Willamette River. To make certain she would not be found, he had tied her to a car engine before throwing her over the bridge railing.
Then he went home and savored the part of her that he’d kept — a reminder of his first kill and a trophy that he could play with. He had so many high-heeled shoes and he could try them on this severed foot and take pictures. He did that as long as he could, but when the foot deteriorated, he tied it to a weight and threw it into the river as well. He also recalled for police that Slawson had a class ring on her finger.
What rattled the detectives as Brudos told his tale was the way he grew more arrogant as he described his gruesome actions. It was as if he had viewed the women he’d killed and mutilated as objects that belonged to him and existed purely for his pleasure. Whatever lives they might have gone on to lead was of no account to him. What mattered to him was his own pleasure. And since it only lasted so long, he’d had to renew it with new victims.
With the realization that they probably would not find the remains of Linda Slawson this long after her murder, they pressed for details about Jan Whitney, missing at that point for six months.

Brudos Continues

Just as the police had hypothesized, the car that Jan Whitney was driving had broken down. It was just her bad luck that Brudos happened along and saw her. She was with two men, he said, who looked to him like hippies, but he stopped anyway. For him, it was another unique opportunity that he could not pass up. But he played it out for maximum enjoyment. Jan apparently had given the men a ride and they weren’t helping her to fix the car, so Brudos gave them all a ride, dropped the men off, and then took Jan to his home. He told her to wait for him while he told his wife he was going to go fix her car for her. She complied.
Then he got into the car behind her, told her to close her eyes, and began playing mind games. Again, she complied. He put a strap over her head and around her neck to keep her from moving, and strangled her. Once she was dead, he had sex in the car with the body. Then he took her to his workshop, dressed her in some of his clothes and took pictures to remind him of his deeds. He also sexually violated the body several more times. After that, he tied her up and raised her into the air via a hook-and-pulley system he had fixed in the ceiling. Despite the fact that someone could discover her, he left her hanging there for several days. She was only his second victim and already he felt cocky.
In fact, while he and his family were away for a few days, a car crashed into his house, leaving a hole large enough for a view inside. Yet no one looked, not even the police who came to investigate. “That was close,” Brudos said to the detectives, as if he’d nearly lost some game. After removing the body, which by this time had to have smelled of decomposition, he invited the cops come to inspect the accident damage. They apparently smelled nothing, though the corpse was wrapped in a plastic sheet in another building in the yard.
And with this victim, Brudos went on, he had kept her right breast rather than taking a foot. “I was going to make a plastic mold of it,” he said in the interview that Rule quotes, “and then I could make paperweights.” But he did it wrong, so it didn’t turn out the way he wanted. (He would try again with another victim, and still fail.) As with Slawson, he weighted Whitney’s body down by tying it to a heavy part and threw it into the Willamette River. He refused to give a specific location. Oddly, he was telling the police so much yet holding back key details, as if he thought that keeping certain things secret would hinder them from prosecuting him. While it stymied their ability to find the body, they would have plenty for a trial.
Brudos encountered Karen Sprinker at the department store where she’d gone to meet her mother. He had tried for another victim, and missed, so he had settled on Karen, although he had not liked the shoes she was wearing. He used a pistol to get her into his car, and they went right to his home, where he raped her and forced her to pose in the clothing of his choice. Then he killed her by hanging her by the neck from his hook. He then subjected the corpse to the same indignities he’d imposed on the others. But he removed both breasts and dressed her in the long-line bra that was too large for her. He stuffed it to keep her from bleeding in his car and to make the bra look correct.
With Linda Salee, he had used a fake police badge and the threat of arrest for shoplifting to make her do what he wanted. He actually had dinner while she waited, bound, in his workshop. She apparently did not try to escape, although she fought him when he tried to strangle her with the strap. He raped her as she died and then used wires stuck into her rib cage to try to “make her dance” with electrical current. It apparently did not work to his satisfaction.
On June 2, 1969, as reported in the local papers, Brudos was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Karen Sprinker, and the police prepared a search warrant. Brudos believed he’d removed the evidence from his workshop by telling his wife to burn his stash of female clothing. But he was not smirking over this for long. Darcie had not complied.

The Search

A team entered the Brudos home and workshop to search for items that might link him to one or more of the victims, as well as to learn more about his methods. What they discovered there was shocking. They took photographs of everything, including the hook-and-pulley in the ceiling used to hoist bodies into the air. They found nylon cord and a leather strap that might have been used for murder. From a shelf they removed a mold made from the gruesome “paperweight” that Brudos had described — the one of a female breast. They also discovered a cache of women’s shoes in various sizes and many styles of underwear — bras, girdles, panties, and slips — as well as a collection of photographs. Some were of Brudos in female underwear, but the most important ones contained horrifying images of the victims. They found one of a woman suspended from the hook-and-pulley with a black hood over her head. Another body had been dressed in several different garments and photographed. Quite often, Brudos had cut the heads out of the pictures so he could enjoy the anonymous female form.
Nightgown worn by victims
Nightgown worn by victims

The photograph that really caught their attention, as reported by Rule, was one that clinched the case against this monstrous murderer — even in the minds of his own attorneys. “A girl’s body, clothed in a black lace slip and panties with garters, hung suspended from the ceiling. The camera angled up to her crotch — reflected in a mirror on the floorIn the lower corner of the photo, there was the frozen image of a killer, caught unawares in the mirror.” It was Brudos, looking at the woman he had just murdered.
Now the police had good physical evidence against him. They had also confirmed from a survivor the details of a rape that Brudos had admitted to, although this woman had been unable to identify her attacker. In that incident, she had lost several pairs of shoes and some underwear.
It was time to proceed through the legal process. Some sources claim that neither Slawson’s nor Whitney’s bodies were found, while Rule indicates that Jan Whitney’s was recovered in the summer of 1970. The district attorney nevertheless had sufficient evidence in 1969 in the other cases to go forward. They had the photographs and the confession. That was a “body” of evidence.

Coming Up Short

Sheriff's office & courthouse
Sheriff’s office & courthouse

On June 4, 1969, Jerome Brudos was arraigned. Charges in the Whitney and Salee cases were filed quickly thereafter. Brudos kept Dale Drake to defend him, who then teamed up with high-powered criminal lawyer George Rhoten. They all expected the trial to be fairly long and involved, since the prosecution had an extensive witness list and quite a collection of evidence. The defense attorneys knew they could not get around Brudos actual guilt, so they formulated a strategy based on a mental illness. Brudos pleaded not guilty, and more reluctantly (since he believed himself a genius) not guilty by reason of insanity. That meant he’d be processed through mental health assessments from both sides. And he was.
Jerry Brudos in prison
Jerry Brudos in prison

He attempted with whining and tears to convince the psychiatrists that he was himself a victim of a terrible mother, but most of them saw that he just felt sorry for himself. He added that in 1967 he’d suffered an accident. While repairing a device he had contacted a live wire, which had knocked him off his feet. He’d survived but had suffered afterward from severe headaches. He then began knocking women down to steal their clothing, and had committed a rape in a woman’s home. In that situation, he said that he’d been unable to control himself. He said that he then began to fantasize about keeping female corpses in his freezer. He wanted to be able to dress and pose them however he liked, whenever he liked. In order words, he wanted a life-sized doll.
After his first murder he had purchased a large freezer. He had now activated his fantasy and he wanted to be more prepared in the event he had such an opportunity again. He was clearly a man who liked being in control. In fact, he insisted that if he were treated in a hospital, he would get better, and he was determined to get out and raise his own children. He was oblivious to the seriousness of his situation, but not confused or disoriented. He was arrogant and revealed no sense of remorse.
Seven psychiatrists who assessed him indicated that while he had a personality disorder he nevertheless knew what he was doing and that it was wrong. That is, he would not be considered legally insane. Antisocial personality, yes. Paraphilias of a deviant nature, absolutely. But he was not psychotic. He had certainly known what he was doing to these girls and that it was both illegal and wrong. Was he a danger? Definitely. Was his condition able to be rehabilitated? No.
After consulting with his attorneys, who saw no way out, Brudos changed his plea to guilty in the murders of Jan Whitney, Karen Sprinker and Linda Salee, all from Salem. He was sentenced to three consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with the chance for parole. He also admitted to a fourth murder in Multnomah County, but Linda Slawson’s body was never found and he was not prosecuted in the case.
Then Brudos’ wife was arrested and tried as his accomplice. One neighbor claimed she had actually seen Darcie help Brudos with a victim, but her testimony was discredited. Since there was no evidence that Darcie knew about or participated in any of the crimes — as difficult as that was to believe — she was acquitted. In 1970, she ended her eight-year marriage to Brudos, changed her name, and moved with the children to an unknown location. It’s likely she just wanted to put the whole thing behind her, although she would probably never forget her inadvertent discoveries of his cross-dressing habit and the “paperweight.” As Rule tells it, she, too, was a victim.
In August 1970, the Oregon Court of Appeals published an opinion on Brudos’ petition for a rehearing. Gary Babcock had filed the brief. Brudos insisted that the court should not have accepted his guilty plea to three first-degree murders, and thus should not have imposed consecutive life sentences. His attorney argued that once a person has received a life sentence for an offense, all consecutive life sentences must run concurrent with it. The court responded that they could not consider the defendant’s first claim of error on direct appeal, and the defendant had to instead present his grounds for setting aside his pleas of guilty within the appropriate legislative framework. Thus, his appeal, in total, was denied. As were all subsequent appeals, including the one in which he claimed he’d suffered from hypoglycemia when offering his guilty plea.

Will He Ever Be Free?

Jerry Brudos, recent photo
Jerry Brudos, recent photo
Brudos, who has been in prison longer than any other inmate in Oregon, periodically comes up for parole, inspiring a flurry of letters from Oregon residents to the parole board to prevent him from going free. Brudos makes a plea for it, insisting that he’s no longer a threat to society, and even claiming he did not commit the murders. He’s also tried to mitigate his crimes by blaming his mother’s abuse and neglect. In appeals to the board, he’s mentioned having blackouts during his crime spree and has indicated that at the time the world had seemed increasingly less real to him.
In 1995, Frasier indicates, the parole board voted to keep him in prison for life, but he still comes up for it every two years, as hopeful as ever that one day he will be free. He’s currently 66 years old, and there have been several more hearings since 1995 in which he has argued for his mental stability. Yet he has shown no remorse.
As an Associated Press article reported, “Brudos still refused Thursday to say why he’d killed, contending that he would be in danger if he did. He told board members that he was ready to join society; that in more than thirty years at Oregon State Penitentiary, he had availed himself of every possible rehabilitation program for sex-offending murderers.” Brudos was then quoted at saying, “I think I’ve got a whole new personality.” In the Oregonian, a reporter said that Brudos is certain he won’t kill again, “but he won’t say why.”
The article goes on to point out that a young woman on a tour of the prison encountered him. When he took her hand, she felt that something wasn’t right in the way he looked at her and jerked it away. The encounter chilled her. “Human’s have an instinct,” says the reporter, “and it is important to heed it; lives depend on it.”
But Brudos indicated that his own life depended on not divulging anything in the presence of reporters, who attended the parole hearings. “These people here will get me killed,” he was quoted in the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Apparently he believed that publicity of his crimes from more than thirty years ago would inspire violence against him within the prison.
In August 2003, as they have done in the past, the parole board members once again denied Brudos the freedom he sought. They made their decision after only a half hour interview with the convicted killer, saying they did not need a full hearing. The Gazette-Times applauded this wise decision. A man who could mutilate and murder five [sic] young women, they decided, was not a likely candidate for responsible citizenship, especially since he did it all without ever alerting his wife to the devious acts he performed inside his home-based workshop.
Vronsky reports that Brudos is considered a model patient, denies his crimes, and walks around the prison unsupervised. He’s apparently a computer wiz. Someone in a chat room noted online that the prison allowed him to sell leather key fobs with his name engraved on them through their prison store. (Rule indicates in a 1988 update of her book that Sharon Wood purchased one, a reminder of her ordeal and a symbol for assisting with her work in empowering women to defend themselves against physical attack.)
Brudos is up for parole again in August 2005 — the year that Rule predicted he was actually eligible for release, based on serving the minimum time for his three consecutive sentences. The results will likely be the same, as long as there is community outrage over his past acts. Hickey says that under Oregon’s outdated system, he will come up for a hearing every two years until he dies or gains his freedom. “He has adjusted to prison life, Hickey claims, “and has turned his energies to his personal computer and printer, which makes life in a cell much more meaningful.” Unfortunately, he’s got plenty of time to figure out the angles and probably will exploit all the possibilities for getting out for as long as he can. Rule predicted he’d served at least 36 years. That’s how long it has been.

Game Over

Jerome Brudos’ three life sentences ended on March 28, 2006, at the age of 67, as reported in Salem, Oregon’s Statesman Journal.  The longest-incarcerated inmate (almost 37 years) at Oregon State Penitentiary was thought to have died from natural causes.
When Brudos pled guilty in mid-1969 to the strangulation murders of three young women, he was convicted and imprisoned.  Apparently, states Salem-news.com, crime writer Ann Rule, who authored the only book about Brudos, predicted he’d be in prison for about 36 years.
A model prisoner and computer expert, Brudos held out hope for release, going before the parole board at regular intervals and insisting he was no longer a danger to society.  However, he never expressed remorse for his crimes, blaming his lethal act on his mother’s abuse.  At times, he even recanted his confessions and said he was not guilty.  Yet he’d also admitted that killing had relieved stress.
Although he was denied parole, over the years he received privileges in the prison, including unsupervised mobility.  He was found dead in his bed around 5:10 in the morning.  Other reports indicate that he’d had treatment for colon cancer, and during the week before his death had been going to the prison infirmary.

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