Mostly, however, it was Wilder’s phenomenal charm and his extraordinary ability to manipulate not only his victims but everyone around him, that allowed him to develop into a horrendous serial killer.
Over the course of 20 years, Wilder committed dozens of appalling crimes, from Australia to mainland US and Hawaii. He matured into the most depraved and merciless killer it is possible to imagine, but his bloodlust and carefully concealed malice against women, especially those who were both young and pretty, started on a desolate and windswept beach on Sydney’s southern fringes.
On a summer’s day in January 1965, Marianne Schmidt and her friend, Christine Sharrock, both 15, disappeared. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave in the sand dunes at Wanda Beach.
Despite countless theories and leads over the past five decades, the ‘Wanda Beach Murders’ remain one of Australia’s most infamous unsolved cases 54 years on.
In his book The Pretty Girl Killer, author Andrew Byrne sheds new light on the case that could link Christopher Wilder to the murders.
Wilder lived in Australia from birth until 1969, and was residing on Sydney’s Northern Beaches at the time of the murders.
“Just weeks after the Wanda Beach murders, Wilder’s mother was arranging more psychiatric treatment – this time group therapy – for her aberrant son. It isn’t clear why, but she must have had reason to think the ECT therapy had not worked. Did she believe her son was responsible for the murders?” Andrew writes.
“The circumstantial evidence was strong. Wilder was living in the same suburb as the Wanda victims, frequented the shop where Christine worked, knew the train station well, and, because it was the height of summer, the building sites he worked on would have been shut down for the holidays.
“The most damning evidence against Wilder, however, would not surface for another four years. When it came, it would be from the most unlikely of sources. His wife.”
Wilder – who shot himself dead in 1984 as police tried to apprehend him – was named as one of the official suspects at the time, but he escaped scrutiny from the police even though he’d been put forward by his wife, Christine Paluch. But why?
In the book, Andrew writes: “The newlyweds set up home in a housing commission unit in Union Street, West Ryde. Within a few months, the marital bed had become a terrifying place of pain and torture.
“Three months into their marriage, Christine left him for the first time, after she found photographic equipment and a pile of negatives of naked women.”
On February 19, 1969, Christine left Wilder. “She never saw her husband again, and five days later, with her mother and sister, she walked into Hornsby police station and told
the startled officer on the front desk she believed her estranged husband could be the Wanda Beach killer, and she had information that could help.”
But by the time the police visited the Wilder family home, in November 1969, he had already moved to the US.
“Obviously, attempts were made to track down Wilder, but as they didn’t get around to knocking on the door of his family home until nearly nine months later, those detectives were either hopelessly inadequate, frighteningly slow or, more probably, didn’t take Christine’s claims seriously. At best, they must have considered her allegations unbelievable; at worst, a fabrication.
“Christine’s daring not only to speak up but also to accuse her husband of a murder would have been unorthodox, to say the least. Maybe, just maybe, if attitudes had been a little more enlightened, if there had been just one female officer on the Wanda investigation, then things might have turned out very differently.”
This is an edited extract from The Pretty Girl Killer by Andrew Byrne (Viking) out now!