Serial killers rarely leave behind survivors. A survivor could easily jeopardize the killer’s ability to keep killing and assist in putting their attacker behind bars (see the examples below). With the serial killer’s self-preservation at risk, it’s no wonder that there are so few serial killer survivors.
These five people managed to escape attacks by some of the most brutal serial killers of our time, from the Zodiac Killer to the Night Stalker. Some of them even helped bring their attacker to justice.
A “Sign From Jesus” Saved Whitney Bennett from Richard Ramirez
In 1984 and 1985, one killer terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Night Stalker, who has since been identified as Richard Ramirez, had been entering people’s homes, murdering them brutally, sometimes after raping them, and stealing anything he could get his hands on. As the Night Stalker’s spree continued, his crimes became more and more brutal.
On July 5, 1985, Ramirez entered the bedroom of 16-year-old Whitney Bennett. He hit her over the head, knocking her unconscious. Ramirez, who often used the household’s items to attack his victims, went looking for a knife in the kitchen. When he couldn’t find one, he returned to Whitney’s room and began to strangle her with a nearby telephone cord. Sparks flew from the cord, and Ramirez dropped it. Whitney began to breathe again.
Ramirez believed that this was a sign from Jesus Christ, despite his own belief in Satanism. He scrambled away and fled the Bennetts’ home. Whitney required 478 stitches to the scalp as a result of the beating, but managed to pull through. She was later able to testify at Ramirez’s trail, at which he received 13 death sentences.
Rhonda Williams’s Presence Helped End the Candyman Killer’s Reign
Dean Corll, often called the Candyman Killer and the Pied Piper, killed at least 28 boys between 1970 and 1973. He was assisted by two teenage boys, David Brooks and Elmer Henley, Jr. The two boys were offered rewards for bringing Corll prospective victims. After two years of bringing young boys to Corll, Henley brought two people to Corll’s house—Timothy Kerley and Rhonda Williams.
When Corll arrived, he was furious with Henley for bringing a girl. Eventually, Corll decided that he and Henley would each torture one of the victims: Corll would take Kerley and Henley, Williams. Henley decided that this was going too far. He shot Corll, who had undressed to begin raping Kerley, five times, killing the Candyman Killer. The trio of teens then called the police, bringing the full depths of Corll’s crimes to light.
Bryan Hartnell Survived a Brutal Stabbing by the Zodiac Killer
In September, 1969, the Zodiac Killer had already begun sending his infamous letters and codes to San Francisco newspapers. Two couples, Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday and Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau, had been attacked. While Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were out on a picnic, they were approached by a strange man, carrying a gun.
The man was wearing a hood that covered his face, with sunglasses covering the eyeholes. He also wore a bib with a symbol on it—the same symbol the Zodiac signed his letters with.
The man made Shepard tie up Hartnell, then tied her as well. He then stabbed both multiple times, eventually leaving them for dead. The killer then took Hartnell’s car, wrote a description of the murder and drew his symbol on it before calling the police and reporting his own crime. Shepard lived only long enough to give a description of their attacker. Hartnell survived but was not able to see his attacker’s face. An earlier victim, Mageau, also survived his attack and was able to provide a limited description of the killer. The Zodiac Killer was never caught.
Rebecca Garde Pulled Off a Last Minute Escape from the Green River Killer
Gary Ridgway targeted women involved in sex work because he knew police would have a much harder time tracking his victims if they moved and changed their names frequently. One rainy night, the Green River Killer was driving home on the Pacific Highway South when he saw Rebecca Garde. Garde was walking home from her job as a telemarketer. He offered her a ride and $20 in exchange for a sex act. Garde, only 20, accepted.
She got in his car and was driven to the woods. After some time, Ridgway attacked Garde, attempting to strangle her. She managed to push Ridgway hard, into a tree, temporarily stunning him. Garde took her opportunity and ran for help, finding a nearby mobile home to take refuge in. She didn’t report her attack to the police immediately: She had a history of prostitution and drug use and was afraid that the police would arrest her for that, or simply ignore her.
Two years later, in 1984, Garde did report her experience to the police. Ridgway would not be arrested until 2001, when police were able to link him to the murders of four women with DNA evidence.
Kathy Kleiner Survived One of Bundy’s Final Attacks
By 1978, Ted Bundy had already been arrested twice and convicted once for some of his crimes. But he managed to escape jail twice. In early 1978, Bundy was on the run, arriving in Florida after taking a train from Chicago to Michigan, where he stole a car. Unable to get a job without proper identification, Bundy stole and shoplifted for about a week in Tallahassee to get by.
Early on January 15, Bundy broke into a sorority house at Florida State University. Once there, he quickly killed two girls, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy. He sexually assaulted Levy with a hair mist bottle after strangling her.
Then, Bundy moved to the next room, where he found Kathy Kleiner. He violently beat the sorority girl, breaking her jaw and lacerating her shoulder – but he didn’t kill her.
Bundy assaulted two more victims on FSU’s campus before leaving. A few weeks later, Bundy killed one last victim: 12-year-old Kimberly Diane Leach. A week later, he was arrested for the final time. He was sentenced to death and executed in January 1989.
Featured photo of the Zodiac Killer and Bryan Hartnell: Wikimedia Commons