On July 26, 2015, Neal Falls (a serial killer) responded to an online ad for an escort service and arrived at the home of a woman named Heather in Charleston, West Virginia. When the unsuspecting woman opened up the door, he stood there with a gun pointed at her face and said these chilling words: “Live or die?” He then proceeded to start choking her to death. The fiesty woman grabbed a rake and smashed him in the side of the head, which distracted him long enough for her to grab his gun and fire behind her, killing him instantly. The woman ran from her home and sought refuge at her neighbors’ home. When the police arrived, they found a chilling discovery: the bad guy had a ‘serial killer tool kit’ in his car (consisting of a bullet proof vest, axes, and hand-cuffs, etc.) and a list of the names and ages of 10 women in different states. The police believe that this serial killer was potentially responsible for the deaths of nine women across three states.
This hero woman basically knocked off a serial killer in one fatal blow, thus saving many other lives. (full story here.)
Is it possible to survive a serial killer? And what can we learn from the ones who got away and lived to tell?
The short answer is yes, it is possible to survive a serial killer, however, it’s not very likely.
But first, two somewhat depressing statistics about serial killers: only approximately 7.5 percent of victims survive a serial killer attack, and 75 percent of the victims of serial killers simply had the bad luck of being targeted by them at random and were not able to evade or disengage from them. (source, Serial Killers, Peter Vronsky, p. 371. and also here.)
In this final post on protecting our kids (and ourselves) from serial killers, I will share the following:
- Research on how the victims actually survived a serial killer (there are five ways);
- Compelling survival stories;
- Things we can learn from these survivors, including if my Top Ten list was applicable (or not);
- God’s protection and the serial killer;
- Closing (deep) thoughts to wrap up this series.
After spending several hours studying this topic and identifying over 40 serial killer survival stories (using books and the Internet), here are the Top Five Ways a person can actually survive a serial killer attack:
45% survived by using their SKILLS. These were the heroes who fought off their attacker, were kidnapped and locked in a bedroom but escaped out a window, or they talked to the serial killer in such a way that he let them go, etc. They used their physical and intellectual abilities and skill to escape their attacker.
20% were LEFT for DEAD but lived to tell. The bad guy thought they were actually dead (but they were barely alive) when he left them to die. These were the stories of victims who were stabbed, run over, strangled, shot, beaten over the head with a pipe, thrown into a well…you name it, they went through it. But the common thread is that by some miracle, they survived their harrowing ordeal.
18% were saved by DIVINE INTERVENTION. The way these women and men survived can ONLY be described as completely miraculous, with even the victims and the serial killers themselves admitting as much (at times).
12% were saved by LUCK. First of all, I don’t really believe in luck and was super tempted to lump this all into the “divine intervention” category. However, I hesitated because the common thread of these men and women is that they had a random turn of events break in their favor for no apparent reason. They didn’t use much of their own skill (sorry to say) and I’m not sure if their escape was a direct miracle of God or not (although to me the fact that they got away was God’s intervention, in my opinion), but either way, God allowed them to be super lucky. 🙂
5% were saved by the POLICE. There were two stories where the cops burst in literally in the knick of time to save the life of the victim who was very close to death. This category deserves a mention as I strongly support the men and women of law enforcement.
Two more final statistics for you. First, I wanted to see how many victims were innocently targeted and taken completely by surprise by the bad guy, and here is what I found:
The victims that were targeted at random and were subject to a sneak attack by the bad guy for which they had no control accounted for 50% of the cases.
The second group were the ones who were either a. Tricked or lured by the serial killer b. Were in a vulnerable situation (drunk and alone late at night, for example), or c. In a vulnerable demographic (for example, a prostitute) or d. Did not use the best judgment.
The ones who were tricked, lured, or became vulnerable to an attack of a bad guy accounted for, you guessed it, 50% of the cases.
- So, by studying the survival stories, I learned that about half of the time there is nothing you can do to avoid a serial killer if you are targeted by them in the first place.
- However, the other half of the time there are still things you can absolutely do to reduce your chances of encountering these killers.
So without further delay, here are some Serial Killer Survival Stories. I have to be honest with you and admit that I was able to keep my emotions pretty much in check until I read a lot of these stories.
My deepest admiration goes out to these amazing, bad-ass men and women for surviving these horrible monsters.
I will start with a story involving the infamous Ted Bundy. One day, a young woman named Rhonda innocently accepted a ride from him and he ended up taking her to a canyon, where he strangled and raped her for several hours. She woke up in pitch blackness and noticed that he was in his car with the dome light on (that was the only light in the canyon, she said) most likely looking over his serial killer toolkit that he kept in his car. Rhonda managed to stand up and began running away from him and fell into a swiftly moving river. She was stopped by a dam grate, crawled up out of the rive, and was able to get help.
She wrote a book about her experience here: I Survived Ted Bundy: The Attack, Escape, And PTSD That Changed My Life. Her on-line story is found here.
In 1991, Tracy Edwards (a man) made the fateful decision to accept an invitation to go home with a man he had just met at a bar named Jeffrey. When he arrived at the man’s apartment, he noticed that it smelled strange and was very cluttered, and that his date began to act strangely as well. He didn’t realize that his new friend Jeffrey was actually the serial-killer-cannible Jeffrey Dahmer. At one point during their evening, Jeffrey put his head on Tracy’s chest and declared that he would cut his heart out. Edwards remained calm, and kept talking to Dahmer, and essentially stalled him from carrying out his sick plan. Edwards punched him in the nose and ran from the apartment, found the police, and they arrived to discover 17 dismembered bodies scattered throughout the apartment.
There were many other stories of survivors who used the skills the Good Lord gave them to sneak out of windows, escape out of cars, fight off their attackers, quietly call 9-11, or just plain trick them into thinking they liked the bad guy. One lady even kissed the killer and gave him her number for later. He left without killing her.
Left for dead stories:
One day I received a Facebook message of a friend who told me that she just read Serial Killers part I and relayed the following true horror story (YES, this really happened to my friend):
Are you sitting down? When I was fourteen years old I had a job as a paper carrier. One morning around 5 am, a man drove past me while I was loading my papers at the spot where the carriers met. The boys on my route hadn’t arrived yet. He parked his car down the street and came walking up to me. A few days prior a neighbor had walked over to to me to get his paper, so that’s who I thought it was. When I realized it wasn’t the neighbor I got a bad feeling, but I kept loading the papers. A voice inside told me to run and when I turned to do it he grabbed me from behind. He told me he had a gun and a knife. He put his hand over my mouth and put me in his car. The first thing I noticed was there were no door handles on the doors in the back seat of his car. He then proceeded to tell me about “all the other girls” he had raped in our local area, which made me very afraid. He drove me to the desert and brutally beat me with his boot — crushing my collar bone — and raped me. During the rape, I tried to talk to him both to make a connection with him (so that he wouldn’t kill me), but also to get details about him so I could give them to the police. When he was done with me, he rolled me up in a sleeping bag and ran over me with his car and left me for dead. But I didn’t die. I got up and hobbled about a quarter mile to a canal, where I was able to call for help when I heard the voices of men and women on horseback. Later, I was able to identify this man in a line-up and, because of my testimony, he went to prison for five years.
Yes, it’s hard to write that. It’s only been recently that I can talk about it. I was terrified. By the grace of God I lived and He has blessed me with a beautiful life.
I’m so glad my friend was able to share her story with me. God has done so much in her life to heal her and set her free. Today she is a happily married mother and grandmother and has a very blessed life.
A waitressing friend of mine shared a similar story years ago: she was riding her bike alone one night coming home from work when she was grabbed by a man who took her to another location. She was beaten and raped for hours. When the man was done with my friend, he attempted to kill her by drowning her multiple times in a nearby body of water. The only problem for him was that my friend was a lifeguard and very adept at holding her breath under water. He kept shoving her head down – down – down, holding her under for about two minutes, and then would bring her back up to see if she was still living. This went on for several minutes until the bad guy just gave up. By some miracle, he decided not to kill her and drove her back to the place where he kidnapped her by dumping her limp (but still alive) body on the side of the road, near her bike.
In 1978, Ted Bundy was near the end of his killing season so he was more crazy, more bold, more reckless, and more violent than ever. One night he broke into a Florida State University sorority house (he let himself in the unlocked front door) and assaulted three women living inside in the most horrific ways (several of them died), but one of the victims — Kathleen Kleiner — miraculously survived. You can read her story here.
Divine intervention stories:
On July 5, 1986, Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) broke into Whitney Bennett’s home and brutally attacked her with a metal iron. He pulled out a telephone cord to strangle her to death, but sparks began flying. Ramirez took it as a sign from God that the young woman wasn’t intended to die that day, so he left her alive and fled the scene. (story here.)
David Gore would often develop a very strong “urge” to kill that would not be satisfied unless he found someone’s life to take. One day, the urge came over him very strongly but he was unable to find a “fresh” victim, and he grew frustrated. He remembered that he had a back-up plan— his sister’s best friend — so he drove over to her house and small talked his way inside. After a few minutes of chatting, he was waiting for just the right moment to grab her or smash her when the phone rang.
Guess who was on the line? His own sister, calling her friend on the phone!
In his own words: “While I was waiting for that moment (to grab her) my sister called her and she was telling my sister that I was there visiting and when that happened I had no choice but to abort because I’d of been the first prime suspect…I mean, I was just seconds away from getting her friend.” (Source, The Serial Killer Whisperer.)
He went on to write about other near misses:
“These girls don’t know how close they came to being a statistic…some of them were no more than 30 seconds away from being put down.” (Source, The Serial Killer Whisperer.)
The woman who got away from serial killer Fred West explained there there were two groups of men who picked up hitchhikers back in the day when hitchhiking was more socially acceptable. The first group were the slightly perverted or flirtatious but otherwise harmless men. The second group were the fatherly types that were concerned about her and tried to warn her to stop hitchhiking. The ones that probably thought “if I don’t stop to pick her up, the bad guys will.”
Unfortunately, this young lady didn’t listen to those fatherly types and was instead picked up by a third group that she didn’t know existed: sadistic serial killers. Fred West and his wife murdered at least 12 women. One day, Fred actually picked her up and then dropped her off later safely, but they made plans that he would pick her up later on the other side of the highway. In her own words:
“Later I started going over the details in my head and it suddenly struck me – Oh my God! – he (Fred West) promised to come back and pick me up on the other side of the motorway. The lorry driver who stopped so instantly, and as if out of nowhere, seems like my guardian angel – if he hadn’t been there I would have had to get back in West’s van.”
You can read her account here.
Finally, Margy Palm was kidnapped by one of the country’s worst and most notorious serial killers – Stephen Morin – but talked to him for several hours non-stop about God. Stephan ended up beaming a Christian that day, let Margy go, and then peaceably surrendered to the authorities. He spent the rest of his life in prison sharing his story and God’s love with other prisoners.
I actually found a youtube video about her amazing experience, and I encourage you to watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZUTtUAy5E8.
To read a New York Times article on this story, click here.
(Heather’s note: Erik, my editor husband, when reading the Divine Intervention and Luck stories, blurted out: “hon, some of these divine intervention stories are luck stories. And some of the luck stories are Divine Intervention stories!” Welcome to my world. There is definitely cross over with a few of the categories.)
Probably my favorite luck stories involved the women who used conversation with the bad guy to (unknowingly to her, and without necessarily trying on purpose) get him to change his mind. A victim of Bobby Joe Long confided to him that she was abused as a child and then he let her go. A victim of Monte Risell let her go because she confided to him that her father had cancer, because his own father had died of cancer.
Another great “luck” story occurred back in the early 1970s in Houston, TX, where a serial killer named Dean Corll (better known as the Candy Man) tricked and lured about 29 young men into his home where he proceeded to murder them. Dean Corll and his family had owned and operated a candy factory and he had been known to give free candy to local children. The only known survivor of Dean Corll was named Rhonda Williams. She was good friends with one of the Candy Man’s co-conspirators named Henley. Henley had actually helped Rhonda escape her abusive home life, so she thought he was a good guy. When Henley brought Rhonda to Corll’s house of torture, the Candy Man became very angry. Henley assured Rhonda that he would help her escape and eventually shot the infamous serial killer to save Rhonda’s life.
In other words, the serial killer’s bad-guy-accomplice actually shot and killed the serial killer in order to protect the innocent victim. That’s pretty darn lucky if you ask me.
While walking down Sunset Boulevard one morning, Rodney Alcala approached a young girl named Tali Shapiro in his vehicle and asked her if she wanted a ride. She refused, saying that she was not allowed to talk to strangers. He assured her that he knew her family and told her that he had a beautiful picture to show her. Though hesitant, she approached his car and was kidnapped by Alcala.
Luckily, another man saw the abduction take place and called the police.
When the police arrived at his door, Alcala tried to stall them but they kicked the door in. Alcala escaped out the back door and the officers found young Tali on the floor of his apartment in a state of near death, as if Alcala had just been pinning her down when they arrived. She was rushed to the hospital and, thankfully, survived her attack.
Tali Shapiro later testified against her assailant, helping to convict him. He was sentenced to death for this and many other crimes, including the murders of four other victims. (this story is taken from: http://listverse.com/2014/05/25/10-survivors-of-serial-killers/)
So what can we do to avoid serial killers (based on the survivors themselves)?
Since I wrote the Top Ten List before even studying the survivor stories, I was worried that perhaps I got it wrong, and none of my Top Ten would apply. I was grateful to see that much of what I wrote was reiterated by the stories of the survivors themselves.
Here are the some ways to avoid serial killers and other bad guys that showed up in my research and also on my Top Ten list:
- Trust your gut and don’t get tricked
- Don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know
- Talk to the bad guy, let him see you are a human being; it could help
- If taken, call 9-11 (very quietly) if you can
- Use any amount of intelligence or skill that you can
- Don’t open up the front door if it’s someone you don’t know
- Don’t be lured by a Tricky Person
- Don’t go out alone at night
- If you see something, say something (or call the cops)
- Serial killers use social media just like the rest of us do, so be careful
- Lock your windows and doors at night
- I go into greater detail on all of the above in my previous post: here.
But listen up: the two common threads I saw again and again, in addition to a vulnerable situation or a risky lifestyle, were:
So many victims unknowingly got into the car of the serial killer, so don’t get into the car of someone you don’t know or trust;
So many victims were lured by a ruse or a scam, so trust your gut and don’t get scammed by a Tricky Person.
If these two points are the only points your remember of this entire series, I will have done my job.
God’s Protection and the Serial Killer:
I am a Christian who is very intellectually honest. As I read story after story of these men brutally raping and torturing and killing so many young girls and men and other victims, I started to wonder: “Where were you, God? Why did you not protect these girls?”
But then I remembered that my husband Erik (a statistician) always tells me that in order to figure something out, you have to first ask the right questions. So I decided that the question I was asking was wrong, and instead asked: “God, did you protect these girls or not?” And the answer I got back was yes, I did.
Once I started looking, I actually saw God’s hand of protection all over the place. From the divine encounter stories, to the stories where something changed and within thirty seconds the girl was saved (by a random phone call, for example), from father figures picking up hitchhikers and warning them to stop, to someone being left for dead but surviving, to the guy who saw the girl get snatched and then he called the cops, to my own friend who heard a voice inside her head telling her to run…I saw God’s hand of help and protection in a variety of different ways.
I also saw God’s hand in my own stories of being watched and followed by creepy men, yet I was able to take notice and evade them.
What about the ones He didn’t seem to protect? What about the very existence of evil? I am not really sure I will have a good answer for this, but as a Christian I believe that someday God will make everything right. There is a verse in the Bible which gives me great hope for all of those who have suffered unjustly:
“He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4, NIV
Right now we are living in the “old order” of things where evil is allowed to prevail to some degree. God does give boundary lines for evil, but sometimes young girls get snatched and murdered by these bad guys as they are caught up in the crosshairs of these boundary lines. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live through an attack of a serial killer or to have someone close to you murdered by one. The only comfort I can offer you is that God sees, God cares, and someday, God will bring justice to your situation. And, someday, He will wipe away every tear.
And, I am so sorry.
Closing Deep Thoughts:
I will leave you with the top 8 thoughts that went through my mind as I studied serial killers on and off over the last few months.
First, I am convinced that many, if not all of them, are influenced by evil spiritual forces. A few serial killers even admitted as much.
- “I actually think I may be possessed with demons.” Dennis Rader. (source: here)
- Joe Methany stated the following: “Do you demons ever tell you or make you feel like want to murder or hurt someone? Mine does! And I used to act on it when I was out there on those streets.” (source: The Serial Killer Whisperer.)
- Ted Bundy would often go into a “trance” in the middle of his murders (as would Arthur Shawcross). Some serial killers themselves admit to being controlled by evil forces: Sean Sellers, the Son of Sam, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Daniel Rolling, for example. And finally, David Gore admitted to slipping into a dark side and being controlled by an evil force.
The methods of serial killers seem to be changing, at least to a degree: Take the recent serial killer caught in Tampa, Florida. His method was not to trick or to lure, but to shoot people randomly. That exact method recently happened in Las Vegas and happens all to often in our schools. However, the story I shared in the beginning about the woman who shot and killed her serial killer only happened two years ago, so both methods are still operational today.
There are definitely threads and connections between serial killers and other things that threaten our kids such as the use of social media, being targeted, tricked or lured, and putting yourself in a vulnerable situation or lifestyle. I will be doing some more posts on other topics in the future including protecting our kids from sex trafficking, which will be my next post in this series.
The serial killer often had a bad childhood himself: One serial killer was raped by his own mother and that profoundly impacted him in terrible ways. Another confessed that he was a lonely little child whom “nobody cared about…who made up personalities to hide behind whenever he felt threatened or insecure.” Many other were emotionally abused by their parents who called them “stupid” many times a day year in, and year out. Many were psychologically and physically abused and many experienced severe head trauma.
Many serial killers later regretted their actions: From the worlds of Joe Methany: “Christmas is the one time of the year that makes me realize that I am truly alone. And I have no one to blame but myself and the bad decisions I have made in my life. If I have learned nothing else during my incarceration, I have learned to appreciate every little good thing that comes my way. I also never forget there are a lot of people out there that will not be able to enjoy life’s little pleasures or holidays because I put them in the ground.” (The Serial Killer Whisperer, pg. 117)
(I need to be intellectually honest and admit that many researchers would disagree with me and say that serial killers are hardened criminals with no conscience and no morals (think psychopath). I think this is partially to mostly true. But I did read many testimonies of very lonely and very sad and remorseful serial killers who were very honest with themselves near the end of their life on earth and regretted much of what they had done to their victims.)
Some of them became Christians in prison: It is only fitting that I use the last words of David Gore before he was executed: “I would like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Elliott that I am truly sorry for my part in the death of your daughter. I wish above all else my death could bring her back. I am not the same man today that I was 28 years ago. When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior I become a New Creature in Christ and I know God has truly forgiven me for my past sins…I just want to say I have had a tremendous amount of remorse and pray you and your family can forgive me.”
They all deserve justice: What they did to these women and men is despicable, horrifying, and deserving to be severely punished. If they are not caught and incarcerated (and put to death) here on the face of the earth, God will judge and punish them when they die and stand before Him. There is no escaping God’s judgment.
Finally, I am approaching the serial killer and other bad guys both from an educational standpoint (what can we learn? how can we avoid them? how can we survive them?) as well as from a spiritual perspective. Since these men are being influenced by evil, you have to consider that as you consider them. As for me? I will continue to pray for God’s protection and wisdom so that I don’t need to come across them in the first place, and then use the authority God has given me, and all the skill I can muster up, to deal with them should something bad ever happen.
Last closing story:
The other night I picked up my daughter from basketball practice, right outside of an elementary school. It was dark and she was standing with another young girl. Both girls were alone. When my daughter bounded into the car I asked about the other girl. “Oh don’t worry mom. She has a phone and her mom just texted her. Her mom will be here in four minutes. So we can go.”
As I circled around the lot, debating on whether to stay with the young girl who was standing completely alone now, I noticed a man walking his dog near the school about fifty feet away from her.
I said to Khloe: “A lot can happen in four minutes. Let’s go hang out with her until her mom comes.”
We pulled up to the girl and chatted with her for a few minutes until her mom came so she wouldn’t have to wait alone. She was such a cute little 13 year old girl and was super glad that we stayed with her.
In some ways it really does take a village to protect a child.
Albert Einstein said the following quote: “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Although I partially disagree with this quote as there are a lot of evil men and women in this world, I do believe we all have a part to play to help keep ourselves and our kids safe. This three part post is my way of “doing something about it.”
I will leave you with two main points. First, trust your gut and don’t get lured or tricked by a bad guy (and don’t get into his car!). Secondly, pray! Pray that the God of heaven will protect you and your children from serial killers and all other forms of evil.
- If you missed part I, where I share my own creepy men stories and give you the bottom line of serial killers throughout the decades as well as currently, click here.
- I talk about ways you can avoid serial killers specifically and bad guys generally, in part II, found here.
- Finally, I am now DONE with researching serial killers. As I started my research on this topic way back in the late summer, I found there was just too much to learn about and chew on when thinking about these twisted men and women. I am happy to now move on to other (less depressing and scary) topics.
- My next post in the Protecting Our Kids series will be about child and teen sex trafficking, especially combined with social media. Stay tuned!