For Jerome Brudos, what started as a youthful obsession with women’s shoes morphed into a depraved life of murder. Brudos was only a young boy when he discovered a high heeled shoe at a local junkyard. Fascinated, Brudos took the shoe home as a trophy, an act that he repeated over and over during his later, far more twisted criminal escapades.
Brudos was born in 1939 in South Dakota, the youngest of two boys. Like many serial killers, Brudos had a tumultuous relationship with his mother. Brudos’s mother had hoped for a daughter as her second child, but she received Jerome instead. Throughout his childhood, she constantly reminded him that he was a burden. Brudos retreated into a fantasy world of his own making, stealing women’s shoes and underwear from neighbors.
At the age of 17, Brudos committed his first violent act, attacking at least one young woman. He was sent away to a psychiatric ward in Oregon, but was only confined there for nine months. Brudos wound up graduating with his high school class and became a mechanical and electrical engineer.
Brudos married at the age of 22 and had two children. With his new family, Brudos settled in Salem, Oregon. On the surface, he was living a typical, family-oriented life, but lurking underneath was the monster that had always been there: a violent man with an intense fetish for women’s shoes and undergarments. Brudos had a workroom attached to the house that no one aside from him was allowed to enter. It would be years before anyone learned of what happened behind the door.
It isn’t certain how many women Jerome Brudos stalked or attacked throughout the 1960s, but in January 1968, Brudos crossed the line and committed his first confirmed murder. Linda Slawson came upon the Brudos’ home in the course of her job selling encyclopedias. Jerome Brudos feigned interest in what Slawson was selling to get her inside his home, where he proceeded to strangle her to death. Brudos later admitted that he kept Slawson’s dead body so he could dress it up as he wished. Before he finally dumped her body in a river, he cut off one of her feet so he could use it to model high heels.
Brudos struck again in November 1968, killing college student Jan Whitney. Brudos cut off one of Whitney’s breasts for a trophy before disposing of her body. Brudos continued his rampage in 1969, killing two more young women, Karen Sprinker and Linda Salee. Just as he had with his earlier victims, Brudos brought the two women back to his secret room, murdered them, dressed up their bodies in lingerie and heels, then eventually dumped them in a river.
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On May 10, 1969, a fisherman south of Corvallis, Oregon discovered a body floating in the Long Tom River: It was Linda Salee. Two days later, police divers found the body of Karen Sprinker. Both women had been tied to car parts to sink their bodies in the river. When police questioned Sprinker’s fellow students at Oregon State University, several of them spoke of receiving phone calls from a man claiming to be a lonely Vietnam veteran looking for a date. Only one student had accepted his offer. She told detectives that the man acted strangely on the date and asked her, “How did you know I would bring you back home and not take you to the river and strangle you?”
Police persuaded the young woman to set up a second date with the mystery man so they could question him. When Jerome Brudos showed up for his date, he did not find a young co-ed waiting for him—instead, he found police detectives. He was questioned and released, but the police were intrigued and decided he bore further investigation. Soon after they began looking into Brudos, a woman who had escaped an attempted abduction identified him as her assailant. Police now had reason to obtain a search warrant for Brudos’ home in Salem.
Officers searched Brudos’ home and his secret, off-limits workspace where they found the evidence that damned Brudos. Inside the chamber, police discovered nylon rope and photos of the dead women, along with the trophies that Brudos kept to remind him of his deeds: shoes, bras, and even grotesque paperweights made of human breasts. Confronted with the proof of his crimes, Jerome Brudos admitted to the four murders and was arrested on May 25, 1969.
Brudos pled guilty and received a life sentence. He died in prison in 2006 of liver cancer at the age of 67. His 37 years behind bars made Brudos the longest serving inmate in Oregon.
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