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True crime. Casually done.

Jerry Brudos: The Shoe Fetish Slayer

On April 21st 1969, Portland State University employee Sharon Wood walked out of the history department, towards the parking lot across campus where she left her car. She walked this same route dozens of times each week, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first. But what she didn’t know was that, as she made her way through the crowds of students moving between classes, someone was watching her every move. 

As she approached the parking complex, a voice in her head told her not to take the secluded side stairwell — something wasn’t right, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Sharon ducked around the corner, through the main entrance, and down towards the basement level. But just as she reached the bottom of the ramp, heavy footsteps approached from behind. A man grabbed her by the shoulder, and spun her around — a gun to her chest. 

“Scream, and you’re dead.”

But Sharon — quite understandably — did scream. She would have surely alerted the entire campus, had the man not thrown her to the ground, and pressed his hand against her mouth. Sharon fought back: she clamped down her jaws and sank her teeth into the knuckle of his thumb with a crunch, tasting the sharp metallic tang of blood. Now it was the attacker’s turn to scream.

With his free hand, he grabbed Sharon’s hair and smashed her head into the ground, desperate for her to relent. It took a flurry of hard knocks of head against concrete before she slipped unconscious and let him go. The kidnapper had won the battle, but lost the war — a car was approaching them from inside the garage. He left Sharon where she lay, picked up his pistol, and took off.

Sharon awoke to some concerned students surrounding her, with an ambulance crew following soon after. She was too shocked to explain at first, but after collecting herself, she managed to give the police a description of the man: heavyset, quite tall, early to late thirties, cropped light hair and… if she remembered correctly, he was wearing some women’s clothing. 

The cops didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first recorded sighting of a soon-to-be-infamous serial killer that had been stalking Oregon for the past year, murdering and terrorising women. The man who attacked Sharon that day was none other than the Shoe Fetish Slayer — a classic case study for any student of criminal psychology. Not content to just raid through charity shop dumpsters like a normal person, this sadistic murderer went to extreme lengths to satisfy his obsession with female footwear. 

His story — a definitive one from the ‘golden age’ of American serial killers — went on to birth so many pop culture tropes that the original seems a bit cliched in retrospect. This is the story of the murderous fetishist’s gruesome spree, tormented beginnings, and ultimate capture at the hands of the Oregon police and FBI…

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Trouble in Oregon

It all began when a teenage girl named Linda Slawson went missing without a trace from a Portland suburb on January 26th 1968. That evening the 19-year-old was out working her part-time job, selling encyclopaedias door to door. Her parents alerted the police when Linda failed to return home, and a search of her route was conducted. People in the neighbourhood confirmed that she knocked on their door that night, but somewhere along the way she simply vanished: no trace, no witnesses, no body. 

Exactly ten months later, 23-year-old Jan Whitney of McMinnville was driving home from a thanksgiving celebration, when her car broke down. Her vehicle was later found at a rest stop just north of Albany, but Jan wasn’t there with it. Once again, nobody had any idea what happened to her, until an anonymous letter arrived later that same week. 

McMinnville, Oregon
McMinnville, Oregon. By Visitor7, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

The writer claimed to have watched from the rest stop restaurant when the missing women left in a car with a strange man. A public appeal was launched for the writer to come forward, but they never revealed themselves. Handwriting experts advised that the writer had actually tried to obscure their handwriting on the letter, so some believe it may have been penned by the person who kidnapped Jan, as a way to brag about their crime. That was the last lead on the disappearance.

A few months later, on March 27th 1969, Oregon State University student Karen Sprinker was supposed to meet her mother for lunch at the Meier and Frank Department Store in downtown Salem (not the witch trials one, that’s Salem, Massachusetts). Witnesses reported seeing her arriving at the rooftop parking lot, but for some reason she never made it inside the building. Her mother was left waiting, and called the police when she discovered her daughter never made it back to her university dorms either. 

After that, it was the turn of Sharon Wood, who almost came out of the encounter with one extra finger for her trouble. She wasn’t the only one to foil the plans of the Shoe Fetish Slayer — the very next day he went after his youngest target: 15-year-old Gloria Jean Smith. She was walking along the side of the train tracks near Parrish Middle School, Salem on April 22nd, when a green car pulled up alongside her. 

A strange man hopped out and tried to drag the teenager inside, pointing what appeared to be a cheap plastic gun at her head. But the teenager fought back screaming, and broke away. When a local woman saw what was happening from her garden, she called out, and the kidnapper jumped back behind the wheel and fled. Two failed abductions in as many days, but third time was the charm.

The day after, 22-year-old Linda Salee arrived at Portland’s Lloyd Shopping Centre to pick out a birthday present for her boyfriend. She finished up at around 5:30pm, and was last seen walking out of a jewellery store. Somewhere between the shop and her car, she was intercepted by the kidnapper, and disappeared without a trace. It was only after Linda was reported missing that the police started to suspect that a serial killer might be at large.

They wouldn’t have to wait long for their fears to be confirmed…

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A Gruesome Catch

On May 10th, fisherman Sam Wallace went out in the early morning to find a nice spot along the Long Tom River. Walking along the banks, he caught a flash of white out the corner of his eye — something was floating just beneath the surface of the water. Wallace climbed up onto a tree branch to get a better look, and positioned himself above this pale shadow in the dark, murky water.

This probably isn’t your first true crime rodeo, so you won’t be surprised to learn what it was. I mean, fishing must surely rank in the top 3 pastimes in which you’re most likely to find corpses (one spot above hiking, and one below actual graverobbing). And sure enough, as Sam Wallace’s eyes focussed on that ghostly figure beneath him, he saw spindly human hair waving with the current, drifting over the still, grey human face staring back at him.

It was Linda Salee’s body, floating in the river a little over two weeks after her disappearance. When the police divers arrived at the scene to remove the body, they discovered it was tied to a heavy car transmission with copper wire and nylon cord. That’s why she never floated up to the surface completely.  

After carefully removing the remains, the police spent the next two days dredging the riverbed, crawling along through the mud in search of any further victims. On the second day, one of them came across a rusted out car engine, with a nylon cord wrapped around it.Tied to the other side was another female body, suspended in the middle of the water. This was Karen Sprinker, the third woman to disappear, six weeks before. Her heavily-decomposed remains were a gruesome sight, enough that any responsible podcast host would fire out a content warning right about now.

The killer had cut out the victim’s breasts, and stuffed the cavities left behind with brown paper towels, held in with a bra (curiously, it wasn’t the victim’s own). Now the police officially had a serial killer case on their hands, and a clear victim profile too: young, attractive, well-dressed women, most of whom either studied or worked at universities in Oregon. So they started staking out places frequented by young women, and canvassing female students at the universities to see if any of them could help identify the killer. 

And it just so happened that one of them had a pretty interesting story to tell…

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The Sting

On May 14th, 1969, a student at the university contacted the police to report that she had been receiving strange phone calls from a man claiming to be a lonely Vietnam veteran, asking her out on a date. In fact, dozens of women at the university had been asked out on dates by this guy, who had distinct serial killer vibes. Cold calling for a date is a pretty bold move even for the most charismatic casanova, but somehow it actually paid off on more than one occasion.

The woman who tipped off the police had actually gone out with the man in question: a “heavyset man with light hair and freckles”. He convinced her to join him by saying he wanted to discuss psychiatric treatments he learned about while a patient at Walter Reed Medical Centre, something that aligned with her university studies. They went out for lunch and coffee, and things started amicably enough. But towards the end of the date, things got real creepy real fast.

The date took a sour turn when the man reached over the table and placed a hand on her shoulder, massaging it gently. For some reason, he asked her to feign sadness, so he could pretend that he was comforting her. If that doesn’t scream stranger danger, nothing does. Even worse was when he referenced the bodies recently found in the river, asking why she would agree to meet a stranger at a time like this — how did she know he wasn’t going to take her down there and throw her in with them? He did not get a kiss goodnight.

However, he did get a second date, just not with the person he expected. Detectives asked the woman to keep stringing this strange guy along if he contacted her again, which he did, on May 25th. This time when he drove down to her university dorms to get her, it was the cops who picked him up instead. In the style of To Catch a Predator, the cops asked the sweaty-palmed suitor to please take a seat, and led him through to an empty office room in the dormitory. 

During this initial round of questioning, he was revealed to be a 30-year-old teetotal Portland electrician named Jerry Brudos. Jerry was compliant and truthful during that first interview, explaining that he was just trying to find love (despite having a wife at home) and his weird comments were just misfired jokes. So he was allowed to walk free. But the next day, the police followed up with a home visit, and found some interesting items in his garage. Actually, the basement garage space was suspicious in and of itself, locked up tight so even his own wife and two kids couldn’t get inside without buzzing an intercom.

And inside, the detectives caught sight of some rolls of nylon cable and copper wire, with what appeared to be the same distinctive knots used to tether the women to the makeshift anchors in the river. That day they also discovered that Brudos’ mother was the owner of a green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia — the exact same model and colour used in the attempted kidnapping of Gloria Smith. None of that was enough for an arrest, but it was enough to get a search warrant for the vehicles. 

Two days later, the detectives returned with said warrant, and rifled through the cars for evidence. Nothing conclusive came of it, but the whole show apparently spooked Brudos so much that he decided to take his chances on the run. He loaded his wife and two kids into a car and fled up north, possibly heading for Canada. Had he left a little sooner, he might have gotten away for good, but the cops were keeping close tabs on him by this point.

Authorities quickly realised he was missing, and put out an APB for the Brudos family car. They were pulled over later that evening, just a few hours north of Portland. Brudos was arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping, after a positive ID from Gloria Smith linked him conclusively to that crime. His one shot at escape was blown, and the dominoes kept tumbling from there. 

While he was being booked in to Salem County Jail, the guards discovered a piece of unexpected circumstantial evidence that connected him to the Sprinker and Wood cases too: as they stripping him down to change into his jumpsuit, he threw down his trousers to reveal a little surprise: a pair of silky women’s underwear. Not a particularly good look for a new fish. That wasn’t the only kinky little secret that Jerry was hiding either. 

Now that the cops could run a comprehensive search of the garage, they unearthed a hoard of evidence that brought the full weight of his crimes piling down on the Shoe Fetish Slayer like a high heel to the temple…

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Jerry the Stiletto Snatcher 

Before we start rifling through a serial killer’s dirty laundry (both figuratively and literally), let’s take a closer look at the man himself, and how he came to be the way he was. The origin story of Oregon’s most infamous killer begins innocently enough: before he was a ruthless murderer with a penchant for mutilation, Jerry Brudos was just an innocent young boy with a love for lady’s high heels. 

Born in South Dakota on January 31st 1939, Jerry was the second son, a fact his mother Eileen resented deeply, as she had been praying for a girl. She never let the poor little boy forget it. Whenever she wanted to punish her son, she would dress him up in girl’s clothing and mock him. Eileen was repulsed by any mention of sex and sexuality, and used her young son’s eccentricities as an excuse to ostracise him, turning him into the family freak.

By his later toddler years, lil’ Jerry was already well on the way to developing some hefty psychological issues, and it was then that he found an object to attach them to. While wandering around a junkyard at the age of five, he spotted a flash of red among the piles of scrap metal and car parts. It was a discarded pair of open-toed high heels.

Not one to pass up a bargain, Jerry took the shoes for himself, and strutted back home to show off his new look. But unfortunately mum and dad weren’t big fans of drag. When Mrs Brudos heard the unmistakable clanking of high heels on the porch, she opened the door to find her youngest walking around in a pair of shoes about a dozen sizes too big for him. Innocent enough — just because a curious little kid puts on some women’s shoes doesn’t mean he’s set to be a serial killer.

But what came next probably birthed the dark side of Jerry’s obsessions. His puritanical mother once again violently berated little Jerry, and ordered him to sashay away to the dump to return his new favourite shoes. Instead, crafty Jerry stashed his prized possessions, and tried to bring them back into the house in secret. Foiled again, his mother confiscated and burned them, sending his first love up in smoke.

From that point on the act of secretly collecting women’s shoes was inextricably linked with Jerry’s deep hatred of his domineering mother, and by extension, women in general. Eileen imbued her little boy with a wealth of psychological complexes like this. 

So began an obsession that would manifest throughout his entire life — an obsession with women’s shoes and clothes: collecting them, and later on in life, collecting the body parts that came with them…

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Jerry’s first high-heel heist happened when he was in first grade. He noticed that his teacher switched out of her comfy shoes and into high heels at the start of the day. She also kept a spare pair of heels under her desk. Jerry would spend all day staring at them, planning how to get them for himself. One day he racked up the courage to snatch the objects of his affection, and slipped them into his schoolbag. In the end a classmate ratted him out, sending Jerry running out of the room in shame.

Little Jerry also got a reputation for sneaking into neighbour’s homes to steal women’s underwear for his collection. He would befriend the little brothers of teenage girls, and use this as an excuse to access their bedrooms. Each time he was caught, he’d endure another round of beatings and shaming from his mother, and spent much of his youth in and out of various therapy programmes.

Already his burgeoning shoe fetish was a bit more extreme than just getting a bit hot under the collar in Footlocker; by his teenage years, Jerry’s obsession with feet and footwear was developing in some seriously worrying ways. Had he been born in a different era, he may have just grown up to develop a crippling OnlyFans addiction, but in lieu of that his outlets were a bit more… direct.

After he got big enough to start taking what he wanted directly rather than sneaking around, Jerry Brudos was a menace to his neighbourhood. He made a habit of stalking women who walked alone at night, strangling them unconscious then… running off with their shoes. I can only imagine the strange mix of terror and relief as you regain consciousness, and the only thing missing is your high heels.

This shadowy shoe bandit was finally caught out when his sick control fantasies took some another turn. In his mid teens, the family moved to a new town in Oregon for a fresh start, which may or may not have had something to do with their son’s panty raids and strangling expeditions. 

At 16, Jerry spent an entire weekend digging a deep pit on a remote hillside, where he fantasised about imprisoning a woman, and having her beg for mercy. Yes, exactly like Silence of the Lambs (in fact, Brudos was actually one of the main inspirations for Buffalo Bill himself). Thankfully nobody ever found their way into the sadistic teenager’s torture pit, but it was clear that he was becoming more ambitious with his perversions.

When Jerry was 17 years old, he concocted a plan to get a local girl under his control. He stole a pair of her underwear, and told her that he knew who the culprit was and wanted to help her get them back. He convinced the girl to come to his family’s farmhouse, and when she stepped up to the door he set up he grabbed her — his face covered by a mask, and a kitchen knife in his hand. 

He then forced her to strip down and pose, and took dozens of photographs before letting her go. As the terrified girl gathered up her things to leave, she ran into Jerry’s brother, who said that the ‘intruder’ locked him in the barn during the attack. The girl reported the ordeal to the police, but no arrests were made. 

So the next year, Jerry decided to try a similar plan. He kidnapped a 17-year-old girl in his car, and drove her out to a deserted farmhouse, where he proceeded to beat her severely. A couple walking past the property heard the girl’s screams and went to investigate, finding the teenager looming over his victim. Jerry tried to claim that he was actually helping the girl, and he’d already chased the real attacker off. But the couple weren’t buying it — they called the police, and Jerry confessed to everything. 

During a search of his room, they unearthed his cache of stolen underwear and non-consensual pictures, setting his perverted collection back to square one. That’s how Brudos ended up on the psych ward at Oregon State Hospital, where he was officially diagnosed with borderline schizophrenia, sexual fetishism, and severe, pathological mummy issues (my wording, not theirs). Despite being committed, he was still able to go to high school during the daytime, and graduated successfully in 1957 in the bottom third of his class.

His nine months on the mental ward gave Jerry the tools he needed to suppress his violent perversions, or at least the ability to hide them from the psychiatrists to convince them he was cured. But his public face was still a work in progress…

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After being discharged from the hospital, young Jerry decided to trade out the high heels for a pair of combat boots, and take a crack at military life. Luckily the standards for entry to the US army weren’t exactly the strictest during the Vietnam era, so his assault conviction and psychological diagnoses weren’t flagged up as a problem.

But it wasn’t long before maladjusted rookie’s eccentricities started causing some friction in the barracks. According to Radford University’s timeline of his life, Jerry’s main military ambition was to get stationed in Korea, and he “began to have dreams that a Korean girl would seduce him”. Honestly, that just sounds like half the western expat guys in Asia, but Jerry’s fantasies were (as always) more extreme than could be considered psychologically stable.

After being stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia, he was advised to talk about his complex domination fantasies with the army chaplain. The chaplain quickly decided that mad stuff was way above his pay grade, and kicked the can down the road to an on-base psychiatrist. After that meeting, Jerry’s record only states that he was discharged for “bizarre obsessions”, which is the polite and professional way to say “this bloke is absolutely mental”. 

Humiliated and disgraced, GI Jerry returned home to face his sneering parents again. They allowed him to move back into their home… on the condition he slept in the farm shed. To vent his frustration at that little indignity, he went back to his old ways. Jerry strangled a random woman unconscious, then curled up to sleep in his cold, damp shack, caressing her shoes like some kind of foot-fetishist Gollum. 

His life had hit rock bottom, but things started to bounce up from there. Jerry trained as an electrician, and at the age of 22 met a 17-year-old girl named Darcie Metzler, who would become his wife. Her parents were deeply against the match (meaning they had some taste) but their disapproval only drove Darcie deeper into the arms of Jerry. She was the first woman to treat him with any genuine affection. To any outside observers, Brudos became a perfectly normal family man after that. In fact, he was a little more boring than normal: he didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and barely ever swore. 

But behind closed doors, his deviant side was out in full force. In the early years of their marriage, Jerry demanded that Darcie serve him unconditionally as a housewife, and wear nothing but a pair of high heels around the house. That little detail probably seemed a lot more shocking back then. But by all accounts, she was deeply under his control (brainwashed, even). 

The couple moved around for a while before settling in Portland, Oregon. There Jerry got a good job as a radio station tech. The couple had a daughter in ‘62 and a son in ‘67. Throughout that relatively blank spot in his biography, it seems like the love of a good woman kept his dark side mostly under wraps. But psychologists have identified the birth of their son Jason as a turning point, when the violent switch in his head flicked back on.  

While she was in labour, Darcie barred Jerry from entering the maternity ward, for reasons unknown. It’s thought that the resulting sense of betrayal and disempowerment triggered a regression to his old shoe-stealing ways. Not long after his little boy was born, Jerry was walking around Portland, when he spotted a woman walking down the street wearing high heels — just the type he liked. 

Infatuated with her looks and taste in footwear, he spent the next few hours stalking her around town, then followed her back to her house and crept inside. The initial goal was just to grab the shoes and go, but while he was pulling off his little orthopaedic heist, the woman woke up. Jerry leapt on her, and choked her unconscious. He then sexually assaulted her, and ran away.

This was technically the first crime in the spree which won him a place in the serial killer hall of fame, but it wouldn’t be connected until years later. Most of his horrendous crimes weren’t committed out in the world like this one, but locked away behind closed doors, in a custom-built studio/dungeon/man cave from hell…

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Ever since moving into their current home, Darcie and the kids knew that the garage basement was off limits, as was the attic. Brudos implemented a strict entry policy for these rooms — if they ever needed to talk to him while he was inside, they had to press the buzzer on the intercom, and wait a few minutes for the heavy bolts on the door to slide open.

For most of the marriage, it was a space for him to indulge his crossdressing fantasies away from judging eyes. The wife had just got used to the fact that Jerry would disappear into his heavily-fortified wank chamber for hours on end, so nobody thought to question what went on in there (in fact, they probably tried very hard to keep it far from their imagination).  

But whatever sweaty, sticky happenings they imagined behind that garage door, it was nowhere near as disturbing as the reality. After Jerry’s dark lusts returned to the surface in earnest, his pervy little photo studio became a veritable hell on earth for his victims. When the detectives raided the house, they forced open the door to the garage to collect the incriminating cable and wire — further analysis revealed that the knots matched marks found on the necks of the drowned women, and the ends of the rolls were cut with the same tools. 

They also discovered a pulley system installed in the roof, and lockers full of photographic equipment, women’s clothing, and shoes — piles and piles of glamorous shoes. Along with lists of phone numbers and addresses: all of the sorority houses of Oregon State University.

In the attic, there were even more, including boxes of photographic negatives and prints. They featured women posing both clothed and nude, usually in sexually suggestive poses. Some were of Jerry himself, and others featured other familiar faces: those of the three most recent missing women. Looking closely at the faces in some of the images, there was no light in their eyes any more: they were already dead in many of the images. 

Yet still the outfits and poses changed… the women’s bodies were being used as lifeless mannequins for Brudos’ sick photography sessions. His fortress of solitude was actually more of a torture chamber, where he led women to be humiliated and slaughtered. The fact that these were real human beings, not just life-sized dolls for his amusement, didn’t seem to register.

The images he took of those moments — and later his candid confessions — give us a pretty clear picture of what these women’s final hours of life were like. I probably don’t need to warn you, but it’s not a pretty chapter in this already dismal story…

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The Murders

In her book Lust Killer — a deep dive on the Brudos case — true crime author Ann Rule writes that: “Serial killers almost never physically hurt someone they know. It has to be a stranger, a particular victim type. When they are in the killing mode, it is whoever happens to cross their path who fits the profile.”

For Brudos, that profile was a young, pretty woman, preferably blonde, wearing stiletto heels. On that cold, snowy January night in 1968, that’s exactly how encyclopaedia saleswoman Linda Slawson appeared to him when he opened the door. Jerry’s heart skipped a beat — he just so happened to be home alone, and here was a beautiful, defenceless young woman, right there on his doorstep.

jerry Brudos and the victims
Jerry Brudos and the victims

Still framed by the doorway, she gave the usual scripted sales pitch, and Brudos pretended to be interested in buying a package. But first, she should come in out of the cold, so they could discuss it further. Brudos led her into the upper garage, and Linda busied herself laying out samples and paperwork on the countertop. As she prepared her things, a plank of wood cracked against the back of her head, knocking the young woman out cold.

After dragging her downstairs, Brudos strangled his victim to death before she could awake. What came next was the truly disturbing part; for Jerry Brudos, the murder itself was actually just a means to an end. What he truly desired were his victims’ clothes… and corpses. The act of murder itself wasn’t the main thrill, but what came after.

Once Slawson was dead, he spent the rest of the night dressing up the body in his collection of shoes and lingerie. He then slipped into the victim’s own clothes, and arranged the body in all kinds of provocative poses for his sick amusement. A few pieces of cloth weren’t good enough for a souvenir, so he decided to cut off the left foot, so he could use it to model his shoe collection in future.

I’ll say now that there’s no shame in it if stilettos and pinkie toes are your thing — I’m not here to judge you. Just so long as you keep them attached to a living, breathing, consenting human. That’s my line in the sand. Jerry Brudos is an example of what happens when these kinds of proclivities get wrapped up with severe psychological complexes. 

After satisfying his twisted bloodlust for now, Jerry loaded the mutilated body into his car. He drove out to a bridge over the Willamette, and faked a flat tire. Once the coast was clear, he popped the trunk, and heaved the corpse over the railing into the water below…

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Brudos wouldn’t kill again until another chance opportunity presented itself ten months later. Driving along Interstate 5, somewhere between Salem and Albany, the killer passed by a young woman broken down in a rest stop car park. She was sitting with a group of men who had stopped to help earlier — “hippies” according to Brudos. That young woman was, of course, Jan Whitney.

Brudos stopped and offered her a ride to his house to use the phone. He could even grab his tools and try fixing the car himself. She took him up on the offer, which would unfortunately prove to be the worst decision of her life. In Brudos’ car, they drove to his house, dropping the hippies off along the way, lest they interfere with what he had in store for the young woman. When they arrived at his house, Brudos tried the front door — locked.

He told Jan that he’d forgotten his keys, and his wife wouldn’t be back for a little while yet — best to just wait in the car until then. So she returned to the passenger seat, and Brudos slid into the back, right behind her. The two chatted for a while, laughing and playing word games to pass the time. Brudos was just toying with Jan — savouring her company a little longer before turning her into his plaything.

Without warning, he leaned forward and wrapped a leather strap around Jan Whitney’s neck, pulling her back hard against the headrest. With his knee digging into the back of the seat, he strained to pull the makeshift garrotte as hard as he could, and kept pulling until Jan stopped struggling entirely. She suffocated to death before even making it inside. Which, all things considered, is kind of a small mercy.

Once Brudos had her down in the garage space, he hoisted the corpse up on a pulley — it hung slumped over, suspended with the toes just touching the floor. Over the course of the entire evening and through the night, he left the body hanging there, dressing it up in various outfits. And for the first time, he even engaged in necrophilic acts (which for the sake of my sanity, I won’t go any further into here).

The photos taken that night were among the images discovered in Brudos’ collection by police investigators — about as incriminating as a piece of evidence can get. But there was another strange item related to the case which they didn’t quite understand the significance of at first: warped domes of hardened resin, that were clearly homemade. But for what purpose?

Brudos himself provided an explanation later on: they were resin moulds of one of the victim’s breasts, taken after he cut it from her body. At no point in my life have I ever had breasts, but that last sentence still has me squirming. Apparently Brudos did this to try to make metal paperweights in the shape of his victims’ breasts, but he never could quite get the composition right.

Once he was done with these sick experiments, Brudos tied the body to a railroad iron with copper wire, and loaded it into his car. He then once again drove to the Willamette River, and tossed it in. Linda Slawson’s foot had to go too — after ten months it was quite extensively rotted, and was no longer any good for modelling stilettos. 

In both of his killings so far, Brudos appeared to have committed the perfect crime. No witnesses, and no leads for the investigators. But as these things often go, the more confident the killer became in his own abilities, the more loose ends he left hanging…

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Brudos never killed again in 1968, allowing time for the heat to die down around the Whitney case. It wasn’t until the following spring that he struck again. While cruising around downtown Salem on the morning of March 27th, Brudos spotted a tall, glamorous woman wearing a perfect pair of red high heels walking down the street. The sight of it triggered his predatory instincts, and he decided to follow the woman all the way to the Meier and Frank Department Store. He parked his car on the rooftop parking lot of the building, but by the time he got out, his target was nowhere to be found.

Jerry was dejected — the woman of his dreams had given him the slip, not knowing how close she had come to a horrible death. Poor Jerry. A pair of teenaged girls in a car saw him at that low point, sulking in a shadowy corner of the parking lot. After hearing about what happened that day later in the week, they reported driving past this strangely-dressed man as they came up the access ramp. 

He might have even thought about attacking them at that moment, but Jerry was far too much of a coward for that — he needed his victims to be alone. Just as he was about to give up for the day, a lonely woman came walking out of her car, towards the stairwell. She didn’t match his victim profile quite like the woman he followed there earlier, but at this point it didn’t matter. 

This was 19-year-old college student Karen Sprinker, his third victim, and the first to enter his torture dungeon alive. On the department store rooftop, he came up behind her with the cheap kids toy gun he kept in his glove box. Brudos told Sprinker to stay quiet and follow him, or he would shoot her dead there and then. She complied, and was forced into the passenger seat of his car. 

Sprinker was under the impression that if she just quietly gave this guy what he wanted, he would probably let her walk free. So back at the Brudos family home, she kept complying with his demands: she participated in a photo shoot, following her kidnapper’s directions to appease him. After that, he raped her, and told her that he was going to tie her up — maybe for more photographs, or maybe (as she might have hoped) so he could leave her by the side of the road somewhere. 

He tied her hands first, binding them tight behind her back. Then a crude noose around her neck, with the other end of the cord running through the pulley system above. A silent moment passed as Sprinker wondered what was to become of her. Then Brudos hoisted her up into the air with three hard tugs, and let her die of asphyxiation. Just as before, he left the body hanging there all throughout the night.

When the wife and kids got home, he even stepped out to enjoy dinner with them, before going back to his den to sexually abuse and photograph the cold body hanging from the ceiling, with nobody any the wiser. That was the strange duality in his character that his family and coworkers couldn’t quite get their heads around. The idea that a man so quiet and amicable could rape and mutilate without remorse seemed too bizarre to be true. 

When Brudos was done with the remains, he once again mutilated the breasts to take another crack at the resin moulds, then tied the body to a scrapped car engine, and tossed it into the river…

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After the murder of Karen Sprinker, Brudos started to get more systematic in his methods. Rather than waiting for opportunities to fall into his lap, he began staking out the campuses of Oregon State University and Portland State University during that following spring, in search of victims. On these scouting expeditions, he would sit in his car wearing underwear stolen from his previous victims, and other pieces of women’s clothing he had collected over the years.

The first woman to really catch his eye on campus was Sharon Wood, and we already know how that one went down; Brudos was lucky to come out of that encounter with all of his fingers still attached. After that he tried to snatch the young girl into his car the very next day — another botched attempt. It seemed like he was actually quite an incompetent kidnapper when the victims didn’t come to his house willingly. And nothing got him quite as angry as being defied and defeated by a woman; Brudos’ impotent frustrations were reaching boiling point.

So the very next day again, he got all dressed up in his best thong and tights, and went cruising around Portland with murder on his mind. That’s when he spotted Linda Salee, on her way to buy a birthday present for her boyfriend. He followed her to a shopping complex, and lay in wait for several hours as she browsed around the stores. Rather than brute force his way through this one, Brudos decided to try a more deceptive tactic.

When he saw Salee coming, he circled around the car park and came up behind her. Linda turned around in shock at the big guy looming over her. Rather than a gun, this time he produced a fake security badge. He told her that he was a plainclothes police officer, arresting her on suspicion of shoplifting. Salee said that there must have been a mistake — she bought everything she was carrying, and the receipts were in the bags. But Officer Brudos explained she’d have to come down to the station to straighten things out. 

Curiously enough, the ‘station’ just so happened to be his home garage. Not the most conventional place for an interrogation, which is probably how Linda worked out that the man sitting next to her had other intentions. Brudos locked the car doors, and drew his fake pistol, keeping it trained on her as they pulled up to his driveway. That’s when he noticed something that could blow the whole plan: his wife’s car was still parked out front. Brudos broke out into a cold sweat — the house was supposed to be empty. 

Panicking, Jerry told his victim to duck down and stay quiet. He needed a moment to figure out what to do. After a long, tense minute, Darcie came out onto the porch, shouting that dinner was ready. She never spotted the terrified young woman in the car beside her husband.

Brudos had no other option but to obey his wife and maintain cover — he tied the terrified Linda up in the back seat, and went in to eat dinner with his family. The entire time, he worried that the victim might wriggle out of her restraints and run to safety. But it seems like she still believed compliance would be enough to protect her life.

After that uncomfortable family dinner, Darcie went out to spend the evening with friends, giving Brudos the opportunity to sneak the kidnapped woman inside while their babysitter kept the kids occupied. She was used to Mr B spending the evenings down in his man cave, so she never thought anything of it. Neither did she hear the sounds of struggle, when Linda realised she wasn’t going to be let out of that room alive. 

She started to fight back against her captor, clawing and biting as the much bigger man struggled to wrap a strap of leather around her neck. Ultimately Brudos came out on top, but the damage to his already-bruised ego was severe. He enacted some of the most severe humiliation and abuse for this woman, as a punishment for daring to fight back (and almost winning). 

For the very last time, he performed his hours-long ritual of sexual abuse and photography, with one bizarre addition: Brudos decided to play mad scientist, by clamping electrical cables to the victim, and hooking them up to a power socket. His plan was to run an electrical current into the body to see if he could make it spasm. The experiment failed. A psychiatrist could probably write fifty-thousand words on a guy who takes joy out of turning women into inanimate objects, then tries to artificially reanimate them just for kicks. But thankfully we have neither the time nor will to venture quite so deep into the darkest depths of Brudos’ mind. 

And what a strange mind it was. This final victim was saved one indignity, at least. Brudos never mutilated her breasts, claiming that they were “too pink”, and not the right shape. That must have made a lot more sense to him and his twisted logic — to the rest of us, the idea itself just defies understanding. Once all of the sordid details of his crimes were released through the press, the American public too were dumbfounded, especially the people of Oregon, where he remains probably the most infamous local criminal. 

And for a long while, he held the record as the state’s longest-serving inmate…

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The Trial

Before they could get him behind bars though, the state had to build up their case. When we last left off, they had him behind bars for kidnapping, and were preparing to add on charges for the four missing women we covered. But because Brudos never took photographs or a souvenir from his first victim, and her body was never found, only the final three murders actually went to trial

In those three cases, the evidence from the attic and garage was pretty conclusive — proving that he did the crimes wasn’t the hard part. The difficulty would be countering Jerry Brudos’ insanity plea, and proving that he was completely lucid while kidnapping, torturing, and killing his victims. He certainly remembered plenty of the details. After his arrest, Jerry quickly opened up about his crimes; initial interrogations with Detective Jim Stovall in early June yielded all the grisly details of his 16-month spree. But still, his plea was ‘NGRI’: Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. 

A tough corner to fight, considering he had actively hunted for victims, prepared his kill space in advance and left it set up throughout, kept his souvenirs, and systematically disposed of the bodies. All of this suggested a man not quite right in the head, but not one that wasn’t in possession of his faculties.

His legal counsel must have pointed this out, because just three days before the first trial date approached, the Shoe Fetish Slayer changed his tune. Brudos pleaded guilty to all three murders, and received a life sentence for each, to be served consecutively. One month later, based on information from the killer, the body of Jan Whitney was finally found, still tied to a railroad spike, deep down in the Willamette River. 

Unfortunately, the whereabouts of Linda Slawson’s remains are still unknown…

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Aftermath

With the villain behind bars, that might seem like the end of the story, but there was one part which still puzzled investigators: how exactly did the wife fit into all this? Are we really supposed to believe that her husband kidnapped and murdered four women right under her nose, without her knowledge? 

It’s pretty dubious, and the suspicions seemed confirmed in the August after Brudos’ conviction. A neighbour came forward to report that she witnessed Darcie Brudos helping to carry the body of Karen Sprinker from the house to the car the night she was killed. I’m assuming the corpse was wrapped up in something, or that report was long overdue. 

It was only after the key dates were made public during the trial that this neighbour put two and two together, and realised that suspiciously heavy rug might have had something else inside. So Darcie was arrested, and charged with aiding and abetting. She was found not guilty later that year, because even if that report was true, there was no way to prove she knew what she was carrying. And in her defence, after his arrest, Jerry actually pleaded with her to burn the piles of incriminating clothing and images in his collection. She refused to go along with it. 

Either she had no idea all that time; or she did know but was powerless to stop him; or she was totally complicit and was now letting him take all the flak. Whether or not she really was involved in her husband’s crimes, she wanted nothing to do with him now that he was to spend his life in prison — Darcie moved state, filed for divorce, changed her name, and got a court order forbidding her ex-husband from seeing his kids should he ever be released.

But that day never came. Brudos retired from murder for a new life at the Oregon State Penitentiary, where he spent the rest of his days. Because of the nature of his crimes, and the fact he was the most famous transvestite in a 1970s prison, he had a really rough start. Prison authorities logged dozens of incidents in which Jerry Brudos was beaten or sexually assaulted by other prisoners — one in which he was hospitalised with a water bucket, cracked over his head. 

In an attempt to escape this hell, the killer appealed his conviction at every level possible. Each time the verdict was upheld, and in 1999 he was even told by the prison parole board that he would never be getting released. Partly because he refused to talk about his crimes openly, so they were suspicious he hadn’t properly accepted what he did. “I’m trying to get on with my life,” he nonchalantly told a reporter in 2005.

But there wasn’t much life left to be getting on with. Jerry Brudos died at the age of 67 on March 28th 2006, after suffering from terminal liver cancer. As for the legacy he left behind, four families had to come to terms with the horrifically violent end he inflicted upon their daughters. All of that pain and fear, just so a pathetic little man can feel powerful for a few hours. 

And it’s possible that he might have ended the lives of many more. Authorities matched up 12 unsolved disappearances which occurred around Oregon during the years in which Brudos was most active, meaning that there might have been many more bodies tethered to the bottom of rivers and lakes, left undiscovered to this day…

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Dismembered Appendices

1. If you thought it was suspicious that Darcie just so happened to be absent when Jerry killed most of his victims, there’s an explanation for that. Some reports mention that she got a glimpse of his collection of lingerie selfies back in 1967, and decided to spend a lot more time away from the house as a result. Brainwashed accomplice, or exasperated wife — you decide. 

2. While Jerry was being studied by all the top criminal psychologists of the fledgling profiling profession, he himself started working on getting some qualifications behind bars: two degrees in science and two in… counselling. If your counsellor is a violent necrophiliac convict, then I’d say you’ve got far bigger problems than whatever’s going on in your head.

3. But it wasn’t all work and no play behind bars. Jerry kept the old flame alive by writing to women’s shoe companies, asking for materials to fuel his sexual fantasies. At the time of his death, there were piles and piles of these crinkly catalogues lining the walls of his cell; I can only hope they gave a hazmat suit to the poor intern that had to clear them out. 

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