Serial killers typically escape undetected due to a focused, intelligent and determined nature - traits which prove unfortunate for those who become their victims. It is particularly surprising, then, when someone escapes the clutches of one of these nefarious individuals.
What motivates a serial killer? Were they born with the innate capability to kill without remorse? Did they learn hatred and anger through their upbringing? The old Nature versus Nurture debate is particularly relevant here, with opinions and studies to support both sides. The majority agree likely both biology and rearing play essential roles in creating a serial killer.
Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer - these are names many of us know. But what about their victims? Are they remembered? And then, there are the ones who got away, who are rarely considered in the frequent retellings of these killers' lives. Imagine living with the legacy of having been stabbed, sexually assaulted, strangled, or in some other way tortured by a known serial killer; could one ever recover?
The following are some of the people who had the great misfortune to cross paths with some of nature’s most bewildering, horrifying individuals. But these 10 lucky (or unlucky? You decide) potential victims, in fact, survived at the hands of ten of history's most notorious monsters.
10 Teresa Thornhill: Robert Black (4+ victims)
Scottish pedophile and serial killer Robert Black was active in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s. He has been convicted of killing four girls: Susan Maxwell, age 11; Caroline Hogg, 5; 10-year-old Sarah Harper; and Jennifer Cardy, 9. His name is also linked to the disappearance of Genette Tate, who was never found, among others.
Teresa Thornhill is his only known victim to have escaped. She was a petite 15 year old when he grabbed her in 1988. Black tried shoving her into his van, but she fought hard, biting, screaming for help and even grabbing his crotch. Perhaps it was her added years that gave her that extra confidence or the courage to fight him off - or maybe she was just very, very lucky. To this day, Teresa does not like to say his name. Nonetheless, her testimony was crucial in two of his convictions.
9 Rose Steward: Dean Carter (5 victims)
Steward, then 22, was living in Ventura, California in 1984. One night she woke to Dean Carter standing over her. He wore a red bandana over his face, and held a knife. Over the course of the next five hours the 28-year-old sexually assaulted his victim, throttling her repeatedly until she would pass out, then starting all over again.
Although she later reported having been certain of her impending death, she managed to outwit Carter by pretending to be interested in him. That must have been extremely difficult, but it’s likely the only thing that saved her life. When he left the next morning, Steward even had the presence of mind to kiss the killer goodbye, and asked him to call her. The next five women the lunatic attacked were not so lucky, all ending up dead and left in their closets over the following 18 days. Carter is still on Death Row.
8 8.Tali Shapiro: Rodney Alcala AKA Dating Game Killer (7+ victims)
Alcala was a winning contestant on “The Dating Game” who never went on his date because the woman involved found him creepy. Good instincts! Tali Shapiro was 8 when he lured her into his car. Another driver noticed and followed, contacting police.
Alcala took Tali to his apartment where he sexually assaulted, beat, and strangled her. Police kicked in the door and found the girl lying in blood and seemingly not breathing, but she lived. Alcala escaped, however, and was on the loose for 11 more years - all spent killing. More than 1,000 photos taken by Alcala were discovered, of women and teenaged boys in sexual poses. It is suspected many were victims. Although he has seven convictions, investigators familiar with the evidence venture he may have murdered between 50 and 130 women. He is 70 now, and still on Death Row.
7 Bryan Hartnell: Zodiac Killer (7+ victims)
The northern California Zodiac Killer murdered at least seven young men and women between December 1968 and October 1969. The killer named himself “Zodiac” in a series of letters sent to taunt the press. These included four cryptograms, only one of which is considered solved. The man’s identity, though there have been suspects, is still unknown, and the California Department of Justice has kept the file open.
Bryan Hartnell is “the one that got away,” though this is far from a romantic tale. Hartnell was on a picnic with one of Zodiac's female victims when the killer approached, tied them up and stabbed them multiple times. Assuming both dead, he walked calmly away. Hartnell, stabbed six times in the back, survived. He is now not only a lawyer, but a prosecutor.
6 Larry Flynt: Joseph Paul Franklin (8+ victims)
In 1978, the famous adult entertainment magnate Larry Flynt was near the county courthouse in Lawrenceville when he and his lawyer were shot in an ambush by a sniper. This left Flynt partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair, with permanent damage to the spinal cord. White-supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin confessed years later, claiming an interracial photo shoot in Hustler was the trigger. He was never brought to trial for this, but was charged with eight counts of (unrelated) murder and sentenced to death.
Flynt lobbied to take the death penalty off the table, finding the law unethical. He stated he would “love an hour in a room…[to] inflict the same damage on him,” but that “government [shouldn’t] be in the business of killing people.” Franklin was executed in Missouri by lethal injection on November 20, 2013.
5 Corazon Amurao: Richard Speck (8+ victims)
After he died, Richard Speck’s brain was studied by a neurologist who confirmed her findings with colleagues: he had a grossly abnormal overlap between two sections, one of which governs anger and rage. This does not excuse what the mass murderer did, but it attests to Corazon Amurao’s luck at escaping.
In July, 1966, Speck, already a murder suspect, broke into a Chicago townhouse which held nine student nurses. He killed eight of the young women, some by stabbing and some by strangulation, after holding them for hours. Amurao hid under a bed while Speck was out of the room with one of his victims; she stayed there all night. The killer was convicted in 1967, received consecutive life sentences and died of a heart attack in 1991.
4 Jennifer Asbenson: Andrew Urdiales (~10 victims)
In 1992, Jennifer Asbenson was a 19-year-old working a night shift. One evening she missed the last bus to work. A man pulled up in a car and offered her a ride, and she accepted. She found him “charming.” After her shift, he was waiting to offer her a ride home. As nothing had happened the first time, she accepted, but things were very different this time around.
He held a knife to her throat, tied her up and drove to the desert. As per this killer's usual modus operandi he cut off her clothing, shoved her underwear into her mouth, and then sexually assaulted her before strangling her till she passed out. When she regained consciousness he forced her into the trunk of his car and began driving. Asbenson found the trunk’s release mechanism, popped it and jumped out onto the road. Several cars did not stop, but she stood in front of a Marine truck, forcing it to stop. Urdiales was not caught until 1997, was convicted in 2002, and is in prison for life.
3 Holly Dunn: Angel Resendiz AKA the Railway Killer (30+ victims)
Holly Dunn and her boyfriend Chris Maier sat by the railway tracks after a party in 1997. As they were leaving, a man suddenly appeared and blocked their way, demanding money. Before they could respond he was holding an ice pick against Maier’s neck. The man, dubbed the Railway Killer because he used the train to move between states and find victims, tied the couple’s hands and threw them into a ditch running alongside the track. He then got a huge rock and dropped it on Maier’s head, killing him. After sexually assaulting Dunn he hit her across the head repeatedly with something like a board. When she awoke, he had gone. This crime was linked to the serial killer suspected of up to 30 deaths. In 1999, Resendiz surrendered to police, and in 2006 was put to death by lethal injection.
2 Rebecca Garde: Gary Ridgway AKA Green River Killer (48+ victims)
Gary Ridgway strangled scores of women over 20 years, many of them drug users and sex workers. One November night in 1982, Rebecca Garde decided to hitchhike along Pacific Highway South after work to avoid the Seattle rain. Ridgway offered her a ride. To buy marijuana, Garde propositioned him: $20 in exchange for a sex act. Ridgway obliged her request to show his ID, after which she directed him to a trailer park, but he insisted they go into the woods. That’s where he attacked her.
Garde managed to push Ridgway against a tree, then ran to a nearby mobile home. After DNA finally tied him incontrovertibly to four murders, the killer ended up pleading guilty to killing 48 women in the 1980s and 90s, but has told police about an additional 20. He was sentenced to life without parole.
1 Maria Viricheva: Alexander Pichushkin AKA the Chessboard Killer (49+ victims)
Alexander Pichushkin is referred to as the Chessboard Killer because he said it was his goal to kill as many people as there are squares on a chessboard - 64. Believed to have killed between 49 and 60 people, the serial killer, proficient at chess, is in jail for life. Maria Viricheva’s boyfriend was an acquaintance of Pichushkin’s, who, when he saw the woman distressed after a fight with her boyfriend in 2002, took advantage.
He used the promise of financial profit unloading contraband cameras to lure her into a nearby park where he claimed the cameras were stashed. When they arrived at a concrete well it was dark; Pichushkin pushed Viricheva in, smashing her head against the well's hard walls. She fell 8 meters, landing in a sewage pipe whose powerful flow carried her away. She came upon an iron ladder that ran up the side of another well and climbed to the top, where she screamed until someone heard.
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