The weird sexual obsessions that ruled the life of Jerry Brudos grew unchecked for years until they consumed his life and the otherwise ‘normal’ family man became a walking time-bomb. What might once have been a harmless fetish for women’s shoes and clothes eventually became an outlet for his feelings of deep hatred, rejection, anger and frustration. The result was four brutal murders, committed without a hint of pity or remorse. When, after his arrest, a detective asked him the simple question, ‘Do you feel some remorse, Jerry? Do you feel sorry for your victims, for the girls who died?’ Brudos picked up a piece of paper, screwed it up and threw it on the floor. ‘That much,’ he said. ‘I care about those girls as much as that piece of wadded up paper.’
The younger of two brothers, Jerome Henry Brudos was born on January 31, 1939, in Webster, South Dakota. His childhood was dominated by his cruel and highly critical mother, Eileen, who had never bonded with him, wanting a daughter instead. His father, aware of her dislike for his younger son, was more protective, although short-tempered. The family was poor, moving frequently, his father taking on casual jobs wherever he could, finally ending up in Corvallis, Oregon. While his mother lavished all her attention and love on elder son Larry, Jerry was left to his own devices, roaming the neighborhood freely. On one of his outings to his favorite junkyard, he came across a pair of patent leather, high-heeled shoes and brought them home. The angry rebuke he got from his mother when he put them on to show her confused him. Instead of taking them back to the dump as ordered, he hid them in his room, feeling he had engaged in some illicit act. This was reinforced when, on finding the shoes, his mother burned them and punished the boy severely.
It was then, at the age of only five, that this paraphilia began to rule and ruin his life. Throughout his pubescent years, as a freckle-faced teenager he would steal out at night to remove women’s clothes from washing lines and steal their shoes. On one occasion, he took his teacher’s high-heeled shoes from under her desk, and on another he removed a pair from a sleeping teenage girl. Although caught and humiliated on both occasions, the sexual arousal he got from these acts was too powerful to resist.
Brudos’s education failed him, too. Described as a ‘dull and sickly kid’ suffering from childhood illnesses and severe migraines but with a normal IQ, he failed to pass the second grade. At 16, Brudos had his first nocturnal ejaculation, which instead of being explained was punished by his mother. At this stage in his development, he began to develop violent fantasies towards females. He dug a tunnel in a hillside with the aim of luring a girl there and attacking her. Brudos recalled that, although he had no knowledge of intercourse or indeed rape, the idea of possessing a female excited him.
His obsessive behavior finally brought him to the notice of police when, at the age of 17, he forced a woman to pose for naked pictures at knifepoint. A year later, he accosted a girl and lured her into his car. When she refused to remove her clothes, he began to beat her up. She was saved by a passing couple who took the hysterical girl and the now docile Brudos to the police. Classed as a juvenile offender, he was sent to the Oregon State hospital for psychiatric evaluation, where doctors said they saw no evidence of violent tendencies or mental illness but diagnosed him as suffering from ‘adjustment reaction of adolescence with sexual deviation, fetishism’.
Brudos was treated in a mental ward for nine months, during which time he was allowed to attend high school during the day, showing a talent in math and science. After his release, he went back to live with his unhappy family and continued with his higher education. Excelling at electronics, he graduated in 1958 and a year later enlisted in the army, where he trained as a communications technician but was found unfit for service and was discharged six months later.
Back with the family in Oregon, Brudos continued to increase his collection of stolen underwear. Unbeknown to members of his family, he had begun to stalk women, knocking them down and fleeing with their shoes. Despite his weird behavior, Brudos managed to find himself a wife, Darcy, a shy 17-year-old whom he had made pregnant. A second child came along and the family settled in Portland, Oregon, where Brudos worked as an electrician. Darcy knew nothing of her husband’s mental problems and fetishes, and the first three years of their marriage were apparently loving and tender. Their sex life was very active, she later said, and Brudos bought her presents on holidays and anniversaries. However, she soon began to notice a change in his character, he became depressed and his migraines increased. She complained about his inability to hold down a job, causing them to move 20 times in their seven-year marriage. She was also disturbed by the distance he kept from their daughter, Karin, and the increasingly bizarre sexual demands that she no longer found enjoyable.
With this rejection, the murders started. Displaying a typical pattern in serial killings, Brudos committed his first with little planning. The second, only a few months later, was better thought out, but the third and fourth were pre-meditated and organized. Although murder was never part of Brudos’s pre-homicidal fantasies, he later admitted that he had long-held yearnings to preserve female corpses so that he could dress them in his favorite lingerie and pose them at will.
The first murder by this outwardly ordinary, 28-year-old family man was committed on January 26, 1968. The victim was salesgirl Linda Slawson, aged 19, who happened to knock on the door of the Brudos home in Portland’s Salem district to try to interest him in a set of encyclopedias. With his family upstairs, Brudos beat the young woman into unconsciousness and strangled her. Then he abused and raped the corpse, dressing it with clothes from his collection and photographing his handiwork. Finally, he chopped off the left foot and, with a newly fitted shoe, put it in his refrigerator. It is extraordinary to note that while the murder was taking place, Brudos’s mother was upstairs babysitting – and psychiatrists have speculated that his final act of butchery might have been sparked by memories of her fury when, as a child, he had come home with those shoes from the dump. After the killing, Brudos bound the body of poor Linda to an old car engine block and disposed of it in the nearby Willamette River.
Three other murders followed. In November 1968, Brudos spotted 23-year-old Jan Whitney standing beside her broken- down car and inveigled her to his home to collect a toolbox. There, he strangled her, sodomising her corpse before dressing the body and photographing it. He left it hanging on a hook in his locked garage for several days, returning to abuse it again and again. His final savage act was to amputate one of her breasts, which he kept ‘as a paperweight’, the rest of her body being dumped in the Willamette.
Unlike the bodies of his first two victims, the next two were discovered within days of each other. A local fisherman found the corpse of Linda Salee in a river about 15 miles south of Corvallis. The 22-year-old student, who disappeared in April 1969, had been raped and her body attached to cables to see whether it would react to electric shocks after death. Close by, police recovered the body of Karin Sprinkler, aged 19, also a student, missing since March. She had been raped before and after being strangled. When her body was found, both her breasts were missing. Both corpses had been tied to a heavy part of a car engine with similar cord and copper wire. The knots were also similar, and the copper wire was twisted in a manner in which electricians trim electrical wire.
Police inquiries among Karin’s fellow students at Oregon State University revealed that several girls had received phone calls from a man asking to meet them. He had claimed to be a Vietnam veteran with psychic powers and most of the girls he had phoned had wisely turned him down. However, one foolhardy student who had taken up his offer reported that he was fat, freckled and very odd. He had referred to ‘those two poor girls whose bodies were found in the river’ – and even told her she was wise in declining his offer of a drive in his car because, as he put it: ‘How do you know I wouldn’t take you to the river and strangle you?’ When Brudos called the girl for a further date, she rang the police and a trap was set.
When detectives visited Brudos at his garage workshop, he showed little concern at allowing them in and answering their questions. He even let them take away one of the incriminating knots. Only when a handgun was found in his car was an arrest warrant issued, and the killer was captured hiding under a blanket in the back of his car while his wife drove. When they got him to the police station, they discovered that he was wearing women’s underwear.
At first, Brudos remained silent but skillful interrogation soon had him bragging and confessing to the murders. Now armed with a search warrant, police raided his home and garage and uncovered drawers of carefully sorted women’s clothes and shoes. They found that his electrician’s wiring exactly matched that used to bind the corpses. They discovered a woman’s breast, hardened with varnish, in full view on the mantelpiece. The most damning evidence of all was a photograph of Jan Whitney’s abused body hanging from a hook in his garage. At the victim’s feet was a mirror showing a reflection of the man taking the gruesome snapshot. It was clearly Brudos. In fact, all the victims had been photographed shortly after death.
Initially, detectives could not believe that Brudos’s wife Darcy could be unaware of her husband’s crimes. She was charged with accessory to murder and her children were removed but she was eventually cleared of a charge of abetting the murder of Karen Sprinkler and reunited with them. Brudos himself was charged with the four murders. He pleaded insanity but psychiatric reports declared him sane and he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Oregon State Penitentiary. There, he became a model prisoner, allowed a large measure of freedom by the guards. He was given the responsibility of the upkeep of the prison’s record computers, the vending machines and the cable TV network. There were several life-threatening attacks on Brudos by fellow inmates, all of which he survived, never disclosing his assailants’ identities. He remained in love with Darcy until his death of liver cancer on March 26, 2006.
This article is an excerpt from Serial Killers: Murder Without Mercy by Nigel Blundell.
This post was written by Nadia Vella