Survivors of serial killer Christopher Wilder speak out for first time

Tina Risico shares her brush with death in new doc, "The Beauty Queen Killer."

May 16, 2024, 5:03 PM

Over 47 days in 1984, a man who would become known as "The Beauty Queen Killer" unleashed shocking violence on young women, some of whom were aspiring models. Now, in 2024, some of the victims are speaking out for the first time about surviving the enduring torture that killer Christopher Wilder put them through.

"The Beauty Queen Killer: 9 Days of Terror," a new true-crime docuseries that explores the stories of the women who survived Wilder's rampage, will begin streaming on May 16 exclusively on Hulu.

Wilder's method of operating was to approach young women in shopping malls, kidnap them, and then sexually assault and rape them. He ultimately killed most of his victims, but three survived. One of Wilder's victims was 16-year-old Tina Marie Risico.

PHOTO: Floyd Clarke, deputy assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, addresses reporters at FBI headwuarters in Washington, April 13, 1984.
Floyd Clarke, deputy assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, addresses reporters at FBI headwuarters in Washington, April 13, 1984, to discuss the possible shooting and killing of murder-kidnap suspect Christopher Wilder in Cilebrook, N.H.
Ron Edmonds/AP

Risico describes her time with Wilder as nine hellish days. She says Wilder forced her to help him abduct another teenage girl and bear witness to her captor's brutal crimes.

After decades of silence, Risico reveals how she survived those nine terrible days with Wilder, 40 years after she was abducted.

"I was 16 at the time and I am 56 years old now," Risico said. "A lot hasn't been opened in 40 years. I think it's time. I want to share my side of the story, my truth. Why did Tina survive being tortured and controlled? If nobody has ever been in that situation of captivity, it's difficult for people to grasp the concept. But I lived it."

Life-changing trip to mall

On April 4, 1984, Risico's life changed forever when she went to the Hickory Farms store in the Del Amo Fashion Center, in Torrance, California, to apply for a job. It was there that the 16-year-old student at Shery High School would meet her kidnapper.

Risico says that Wilder, who had cameras around his neck, approached her at the store and told her she was beautiful. She says he then proceeded to give her information on his fake modeling agency and claimed that he could make Risico into a model and wanted to take pictures of her.

"This is the one point that I regret every second of my life, every day," Risico said. "I got in the car with this perfect stranger when all bells and whistles were going off in my head. Why didn't I listen to my instincts? Why didn't I listen to the voice in my head? Don't get into the car with a stranger."

Risico says she noticed that Wilder's car had a distinct odor, but she overlooked it because of his charming personality and convincing modeling pitch.

PHOTO: Christopher Wilder, sought by the FBI nationwide in the disappearance of eight women since Feb. 26, is shown in a 1981 video dating service tape, April 8, 1984.
Christopher Wilder, sought by the FBI nationwide in the disappearance of eight women since Feb. 26, is shown in a 1981 video dating service tape, April 8, 1984.

Risico said Wilder pulled off the side of the road in the Anaheim woods, and the two walked up to a wooded area. And that's when Wilder's demeanor changed, says Risico, who alleges that Wilder pulled out a gun and forced her to strip naked.

"He taped my face, put sunglasses on me, and put a hat on me," Risico said. "And at this time he was escorting me to the car…like, now I feel captive. I was feeling fear…desperation… anxiety. I had no idea what kind of monster this person was."

Wilder drove Risico to a hotel, where she says she was forced to do sexual acts. He began to torture her with his knife and used electric shocks to sexually abuse her.

"I felt helpless," Risico said. "Very helpless. Helplessness is an awful feeling. When all of a sudden you realize your civil rights and your whole morality is being taken and controlled by someone else. And in order to survive, you have to obey. And I didn't like it, but I had to deal with it."

Risico describes her days with Wilder as very long. On her seventh day with Wilder, the two traveled to Gary, Indiana, and that's when she says she would be forced to be an accomplice to his crimes.

More victims emerge

Before Risico, Wilder had already victimized several people. The FBI was already on his trail. He continued, however, to kidnap and rape young women.

Wilder killed his victims in a span of two months, starting from Feb. 26, 1984. The first reportable incident involved Rosario Theresa Gonzalez, who went missing after a visit to the "Miami Grand Prix" racetrack. Her body was never recovered.

A week after Theresa Ferguson disappeared, 23-year-old Elizabeth Kenyon disappeared on March 8, and her body was never found. After Kenyon, Wilder would try the same scheme with five other women before meeting Risico on April 4. Four of the five women died, and one, Linda Grober, survived a night of terror.

Wilder decided to do things differently for his next victim.

This time, he would use Risico to help with recruitment. In Gary, Indiana, Risico says Wilder told her to recruit a girl he felt was pretty. Risico approached the girl, told her she was beautiful and how there was a modeling show in the mall. Then Wilder followed up and gave her his modeling spiel. He then explained how they must get in the car and drive to his warehouse for more clothes.

After pulling a gun and forcing the girl into a car, Wilder drove them to a motel, and that's where Risico said she watched as Wilder raped the girl.

"After he was done raping her, raping me, he allowed -- he said 'you need to go take a bath,'" Risico said. "And while I was in the bath I could see the lights dimming on and off, so he was electrocuting her. And she was screaming. I could hear her from the bathroom. But there was just one moment -- I don't know if she could understand what I said -- but I had a moment to look at her between her and I, and he didn't see it, and I just said silently, 'I'm sorry.'"

Wilder took the girl to the woods and started to suffocate her. He then stabbed her as she tried fighting back.

Wilder stabbed her in the lungs and left her in the woods with just her pants. Once he left, the girl was able to hail down a passing car. She ended up in a hospital, where she received help and told her story.

Risico returns home

All over the news, there were reports of the girl's kidnapping and rape.

"This is when he started getting crazy," Risico said . "I think he feared now the FBI are on the right track and they weren’t too far behind. And you could just sense he’s -- closing in on him. He’s done. He was very sketchy and scary. And from that point he said to me, 'we need to change cars.'"

Wilder was driving up to Canada when he made contact with 33-year-old Beth Dodge as she was leaving a New York shopping center. As she was about to get in her gold Pontiac Firebird, Wilder approached her with a gun. He pushed her into the car and took off.

"[Wilder] told me to follow, we peeled off the road in this gravel area like a turn out," Risico said. "The minute she got out of the car with him, he told her to walk ahead and he just shot her straight in the back. I mean point blank just pfff."

PHOTO: Tina Maria Risico sits for interview with HULU.
Tina Maria Risico sits for interview with HULU.

After Dodge's death, Wilder took Risico to the Boston airport. He bought her a plane ticket to her hometown and said goodbye. Once Risico arrived home, she says she faced reporters' relentless inquiries for information. She says she went to police and explained everything that happened.

Meanwhile, Wilder was spotted in a Pontiac Firebird, the car belonging to Dodge. He was heading toward the Canadian border, about 12 miles north, in the small town of Colebrook, New Hampshire.

During a struggle with two police officers, Wilder shot himself. The bullet passed through his body and hit one of the officers, injuring him. Wilder then fired again, dying by suicide.

After Wilder's death, Risico says she was interrogated by police on her involvement.

"It's difficult to come to grips with. She sees Beth Dodge being executed," Duncan McNab, a former police detective who has written about Wilder, said. "She's dropped off by Wilder at Logan Airport, and she sits there and doesn't call the police. Flies back to California. Heads off to do some shopping. It's very strange behavior."

Although Risico witnessed crimes, the investigators determined she was a victim during the nine-day terror that ended with her safe return to Torrance.

"Why did I survive and they didn't? I don't know. That's everyone's question," Risico said. "I never screamed. I never retaliated. I succumbed and, you know, was vulnerable to him. I don't like playing games, but it was a game. I'm gonna survive in playing this game."