Not every encounter with a serial killer ends in death, just like not every kidnapping victim dies in captivity. Today, we take a look at five people who not only survived their violent ordeals—but played an important part in bringing their attackers to justice.
Most women who were lured into Ted Bundy’s infamous VW Beetle did not live to tell the tale. Carol DaRonch was a rare exception. On November 8, 1974, the 18-year-old encountered the serial killer in a shopping-mall parking lot in Salt Lake City, Utah; he approached her claiming to be a detective who’d foiled a theft attempt on her car. DaRonch thought his story sounded fishy, but she got into his car to go “file a police report.” Here’s a clip of DaRonch years after the fact, explaining what happened next:
After DaRonch escaped, Bundy quickly found another victim, and continued his Utah killing spree until his arrest (in his VW, with handcuffs at the ready) in August 1975. DaRonch picked him out of a lineup, and her testimony helped convict him for aggravated kidnapping, which kept Bundy in jail while police in multiple states worked on building murder cases against him.
In December 1977, he escaped from jail and fled to Florida, where he continued killing until his ultimate capture in February 1978. DaRonch took the stand during the penalty phase of his first murder trial. In a 1989 article that ran a week after Bundy’s execution, 15 years after her incredible escape, DaRonch spoke to People magazine:
“I’ll never forget that wicked smile as long as I live,” she says.
No one who entered Ted Bundy’s warped universe was left unscarred, and Carol is no exception. “I don’t trust people like I used to,” she admits. “You can’t anymore. It’s an evil world out there.” Still, she thinks she has overcome the worst of her experience. “I’ve decided to try and block it from my memory,” she says. “You can’t live in fear forever.”
Bobby Joe Long’s name isn’t as recognizable as Ted Bundy’s, but he was still a nasty piece of work, confessing to 10 murders and more than 50 rapes in the Tampa, Florida area in the 1970s and ’80s. Lisa McVey was just 17 years old on November 4, 1984, when he grabbed her off her bicycle, blindfolded her, and drove her to an apartment where he sexually assaulted her for hours. But not only did the teenager convince Long not to kill her, she remembered plenty of tiny details that helped the police find him.
By estimating the amount of time she spent in Long’s car after being abducted, McVey was able to help establish a radius for his location. She also was able to estimate the time of day that Long had used an ATM by recalling the television show music she heard playing faintly in the background. Since ATM’s were still relatively rare in 1984, police were able to narrow possible culprits by checking out everyone who had conducted an ATM transaction in that time frame and area. Lastly, the victim had seen enough of Long’s car to provide details that helped identify its year and model.
He was captured two weeks later, which was enough time for him to claim two more victims, but Long’s career in murder ended there. He’s still on death row in Florida. As for McVey, she reflected on her ordeal to the Tampa Tribune in 2011:
McVey says because she had been sexually abused as a child, she was able to “pull up the courage and determination to survive” while Long was abusing her.
“I had street smarts and I did everything I could to remember every detail of where I was and what happened,” she says. She remembered that the car was red and got a glimpse of the word “Magnum” on the dash. She noted the house was in a wooded area.
At one point, Long let her touch his face and later she was able to give police a good description – thin eyebrows, thin moustache, short hair, pock-marked skin.
When she was in his bathroom she touched every wall, the show curtains, the mirror and toilet to leave her fingerprints.
Incredibly, she says, she had entertained suicidal thoughts before her abduction, but the terrifying experience gave her a new appreciation for life.
“When he released me and drove off, I took off my blindfold and saw this amazing oak tree. I had wanted to die before and now I wanted to live.”
She got married and pursued a career in law enforcement, and now works for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, where she’s “an advocate for the welfare of children and those living in abusive situations.”
The scene is set, chillingly, by this 1989 Los Angeles Times article detailing Whitney Bennett’s testimony in Richard Ramirez’s murder trial:
When a telephone call came for Steve Bennett on the afternoon of July 4, 1985, his daughter, Whitney, opened her bedroom window to summon her father, who was outside watering the front yard. Then she forgot to lock her window.
It was through that window, about 12 hours later, that Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez allegedly entered the Bennetts’ remote Sierra Madre home and severely beat Whitney Bennett with a tire iron before making off with her jewelry, leaving a bloody shoe print behind in her ransacked bedroom.
Bennett was just 16 when she became one of few to encounter the Night Stalker and survive—after 478 stitches to close her head wound, and extensive plastic surgery. After offering her emotional testimony at the Ramirez trial (he was convicted of all charges and sentenced to death, but died of cancer in 2013), she later married Mike Salerno, the son of one of the LA detectives who’d worked the Ramirez case.
On July 22, 1991, Milwaukee police officers were confronted with a strange sight—a man frantically racing down the street in handcuffs. That man was Tracy Edwards, and his story of being held by a man who’d threatened to kill him seemed incredible. Until the cops followed him back to Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment, and found a severed head in his refrigerator.
Thus began one of the grisliest serial-murder investigations in history, and Edwards was at the center of it all, offering testimony like this (from Dahmer’s 1992 sanity trial, reported in the Los Angeles Times):
Edwards said Dahmer changed from a friendly man, who offered him money and beer to pose nude for photographs, to a crazed killer. He said Dahmer forced him to lie on the floor and pointed a knife with a six-inch blade at his groin.
“He put his head on my chest, was listening to my heart, and said he was going to eat my heart,” Edwards testified.
... Edwards testified that Dahmer chanted and rocked back and forth while watching the movie “Exorcist III” in his bedroom. Dahmer allegedly became excited during scenes in the movie that depict a priest possessed by the devil.
Edwards said he tried to calm Dahmer, who said he was afraid of being disliked and left alone. Finally, with Dahmer distracted, Edwards said he hit him, fled the apartment and flagged down a police car.
“I told the police: ‘This freak, this crazy guy was trying to hurt me,’” Edwards said.
Dahmer, who confessed to 17 murders, was found sane and received 15 life terms, though he was killed in prison in 1994.
Though Edwards was hailed as a hero for escaping Dahmer’s clutches and putting an end to his crimes, his life never got back on track; his fame brought him to the attentions of authorities in Mississippi, where he faced charges of sexually assaulting a teenage girl. And it got worse from there, according to ABC News:
When Edwards returned to Milwaukee, he filed a lawsuit against the city’s police department for not following up on earlier tips about Dahmer that could have prevented other deaths and his own encounter with Dahmer. He sought $5 million, but the suit was thrown out of Milwaukee court. Edwards was not part of a class action suit that awarded restitution from Dahmer’s estate to the families of his victims, totalling some $500,000.
In the following years, he began to rack up more police charges, including arrests for drug possession, theft, property damage, faiulre to pay child support, and bail jumping.
In 2011, after being homeless for years, he was arrested for after pushing a man off a Milwaukee bridge, where the man drowned in the river below. He received a year and a half sentence for his role in the man’s death, with his Dahmer connection playing a part, according to Fox News:
Tracy Edwards’ attorney argued that the Dahmer encounter had a profound impact on his client, who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and that the remorse he felt over the death last summer of Johnny Jordan just added to his pain.
“He’s going to have another ghost to haunt him all his life,” lawyer Paul Ksicinski told the judge Monday.
In 1966, Richard Speck forcibly entered a Chicago residence that housed nine student nurses, and proceeded to rob, rape, and brutally murder eight of them. Petite exchange student Corazon Amurao managed to survive by concealing herself under a bed—though she’d been the student Speck had first encountered at the home’s front door, he lost count of how many women were present amid all the bloodshed.
After hiding in terror for hours, unsure if Speck was gone, she climbed out a window and screamed for help. Once she’d been rescued, Amurao proved an outstanding witness, helping police artists sketch a portrait of the deadly intruder. As Biography.com reports:
Amurao remembered the distinctive “Born to Raise Hell” tattoo that, along with the [Identikit] image, enabled police to identify their suspect as Richard Speck. Subsequent nationwide enquiries also raised the other incidents in which Speck was suspected, as well as his criminal record. In the days before automated fingerprint identification, it took almost a week to identify the prints found in the townhouse as his.
At Speck’s trial, Amurao’s testimony helped convict him of all eight murders. (The prosecutor described her as “ninety-five pounds of steel and lace.”) He received the death penalty but died of a heart attack in 1991. Amurao returned to her native Philippines, where she got married, finished her schooling, and fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse.
Top image: Carol DaRonch testifies at a pre-sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Ted Theodore Bundy, as Judge Edward Cowart looks on in Miami, Flordia on July 28, 1979. (AP Photo)
Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez photo taken Oct. 24, 1985 (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)
Jeffrey Dahmer photo taken July 26, 1991 (AP Photo/Charles Bennett)
Corazon Amurao Atienza photo taken May 18, 1970 (AP Photo/Edward Kitch)