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Jerry Brudos

Notable Fact
He cut off the young girl’s left foot, slipped her shoe on it, and stored it in the freezer.

Jerry Brudos, who stalked Salem, Oregon, and the surrounding area in the late 1960s, kept a gruesome photographic record of his victims. He carried out all of his murders while ostensibly carrying on a normal life (well, at home, he and his wife walked around in the nude). His wife, Darcie, would later say that she had no idea what was going on.

Jerry Brudos

Brudos is also one of the physically strongest serial killers on record. As a six-foot, freckle-faced man with eyes turned down at the corners and a moonish face, at 190 pounds, he may not have looked terribly imposing - but it was said that he could lift a three-hundred-pound freezer by himself.

First Victim

Brudos’s first victim was a woman who was selling encyclopedias door-to-door. In January 1968, the slight, short-haired nineteen-year-old Linda Slawson, who lived in the suburb Aloha, got off the bus in Portland at Forty-seventh and Hawthorne streets. She was unclear as to what address she was going to; it was raining, and the paper with the address on it had smeared. As she walked down the block, she saw Brudos in his yard and asked him whether he was the person who was looking to buy encyclopedias. Brudos invited her into the house, told her that his mother and daughter were upstairs playing, and suggested that they go down to the basement where they wouldn’t be disturbed.

Slawson willingly agreed to go downstairs while they chatted about the encyclopedias and how good they would be for his two kids. When they reached the basement, Brudos pulled up a stool for her to sit on. She sat, then Brudos came up behind her and slammed her on the head with a two-by-four. She fell off the stool, unconscious. Brudos got on top of her and finished her off, choking her to death with his bare hands.

While all this was going on, his mother and young daughter really were upstairs playing. He decided to get them out of the house so he could have fun with the corpse. He went upstairs and suggested that his mother pick up some hamburgers for supper, and he gave her the money to do so. She left the house, and Brudos went back downstairs.

He undressed the young woman, getting a thrill out of her lacy and colorful undergarments - women’s undergarments had always thrilled him - and stripped her completely. Then he redressed her, like a child playing with a doll. He then did something he had wanted to do for a long time: He dressed and redressed her in various other undergarments that he had been stealing for years. (In fact, Brudos had been stealing undergarments since he was a teenager. When he first started, he used to snatch them off clotheslines, but then he graduated to something far riskier: He would invade apartments and steal undergarments while the women were in the house. Occasionally they awakened and he would rape them.)

When his mother and daughter returned from the restaurant, Brudos was not deterred. He had a beer, then went back into the basement to continue his games - all in a state of pulsating sexual excitement. Before he was finished with the body, Brudos decided to take something to remember her by: He cut off the young woman’s left foot, slipped her shoe on it, and stored it in the freezer. Brudos had a deep fetish for women’s shoes.

As he was getting rid of the body, Brudos displayed both his cleverness and his strength. He tied part of an engine to her body and, under the cover of darkness, carried her out to his car and stored her in the trunk. He then drove out to a bridge that spanned the Willamette River, parked, and slyly broke out his tire-changing gear as though he had a flat. A car or two went by, and when the coast was clear he opened the trunk and lifted Linda Slawson out with ease, despite the weight of the engine, and dropped her into the water. She sank immediately and stayed down.

Linda Slawson’s disappearance didn’t shock the community. Because of the transient nature of door-to-door sales, when a young person like Slawson didn’t show up back at work, no one gave it a second thought - she had just quit, they assumed. Happened all the time.

Jerry Brudos’s foot and shoe fetish manifested itself when he was quite young. He was stealing shoes from his sisters by the time he was sixteen years old.
 Second Victim

Brudos’s second victim was Jan Susan Whitney, a dark-haired, pretty girl who was 57 and weighed 130 pounds. She disappeared on November 26, 1968. As information gathered later would show, Whitney had left her friend’s house in Eugene, Oregon, and was traveling on Interstate 5 toward her apartment in McMinnville when her car had problems and she had to stop. Jerry Brudos was the one who stopped to help her.

When she disappeared people were very concerned, particularly when her car, a red and white Rambler, was found locked and intact, parked in a rest area just north of Albany, Oregon. But though this was highly indicative of foul play, it seemed to be an isolated disappearance and no one connected it to the disappearance of Linda Slawson nine months earlier.

Then a girl named Karen Sprinker failed to show up for lunch with her mother on March 27, 1969. They had plans to eat and then shop at Meier and Frank’s Department Store, where they were going to pick up clothing for Karen’s spring semester at Oregon State University. After a few hours and a fruitless search for Karen, her mother reported her missing to the Salem police. She explained to the police that Karen was definitely not a runaway, that she was someone special - and indeed she was. At nineteen she had been class salutatorian, a brilliant student, a lovely girl who one day hoped to be a doctor.

Despite this, all the police could do was take a report and wait the required twenty-four hours before instituting a search. They do this because most of the time the missing person will show up within the first twenty-four hours with a logical explanation, and the wait saves time and effort on fruitless investigations. But the next day, when Karen still had not appeared, they started the search.

Eventually the trail led to Meier and Frank’s Department Store, where police made an unnerving discovery: On the top floor of the gray concrete garage was Karen Sprinker’s car without Karen, of course. There was no evidence of foul play, no sign of violence, blood, or semen and nothing to indicate that someone had assaulted or fought with Karen. Her books were on the seat; it was as if she had vanished into thin air.

Since it was broad daylight when Karen entered the garage, and quite a few people passed through it, it was difficult to envision how she could have been abducted. But then one of the detectives theorized that an abduction could have taken place if all the circumstances were right. To get from her car to the store entrance, Karen had to walk down a flight of concrete stairs, then pull open a heavy door to get into the store. Maybe someone was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs and grabbed her? If she cried out, she wouldn’t have been heard through the heavy door, and the traffic noise would drown out her cries for anyone on the street. It was later discovered that this was exactly what happened.

The police interviewed people who were around the department store after they found Karen’s car in the parking garage, as they now knew this was where she had disappeared. Two young girls who had been in the parking garage a couple of weeks before Karen Sprinker reported seeing something bizarre. As reported in the book Lust Killer, by Andy Stack (the pseudonym for ubiquitous crime writer Ann Rule), “We saw this tall, heavy person. All dressed with high heels and a dress. ‘She’ was just standing there in the garage, as if she were waiting for someone. She was tugging at her girdle and fixing her nylons.”

The girls did not think it was a woman but a cross-dressing man. Some of the investigators wondered whether the transvestite could be linked to Sprinker’s disappearance, but as it was purely speculation that this person might be involved, there was nowhere to go with the lead.

Another young woman disappeared on April 23, the perky and pretty blonde Linda Salee. She failed to show up at a meeting with her boyfriend, who was a lifeguard. And the next day, when she didn’t show up at her job at Consolidated Freightways, alarm bells sounded. A subsequent search by police, who now knew of the other missing girls and were aware of what to look for, unearthed Linda Salee’s bright red VW bug on the top floor of a parking garage. The similar MO to that of the disappearance of Karen Sprinker was all too obvious.

Linda Salee’s abduction and murder was confirmed on May 10: A man was fishing in the Big Tom River, about twelve miles south of Corvallis, Oregon, when he spotted a body floating just under the water - Linda Salee. Investigators found that she had been weighted down with a transmission tied to her body with nylon cord.

After this discovery, the police decided to search the river for the missing girls. They didn’t find any more bodies, but two days later, a fisherman discovered the corpse of Karen Sprinker. It had been weighted down with a transmission.

The cops knew this about serial killers with this kind of output and MO: They would not stop. This man would kill, and kill some more, until he was caught or killed. The cops were imbued now with a sense of urgency.

The Salem police, led by Lieutenant Jim Stovall, launched an intensive and widespread investigation. As part of their investigation, Stovall and his team made an assumption: Maybe the killer had tracked Karen Sprinker. Maybe she wasn’t a random victim but someone who had been selected and then captured and killed. They decided to question people at Oregon State University who knew Sprinker, and ask them whether anyone unusual seemed to be hanging around lately or whether they had seen anyone with Sprinker who seemed unusual.

But they didn’t stop there. The team questioned hundreds of coeds at the university, hoping to come up with anyone at all.

"Vietnam Vet"

After weeks of interrogation, the police came across something promising. Three women had received calls from someone who addressed them by their first names and identified himself as a Vietnam veteran. He had asked the girls if they were available for “Coke and conversation.” Two of the girls refused, but one didn’t. She met with the man, who said his name was Jerry.

She didn’t like him. She described him as being about thirty, with red hair and freckles. He was around 60 and on the pudgy side.

The cops were very interested. In a separate prong of the investigation they had learned of a big man with red hair and freckles who had recently tried to wrestle two young girls into a car. The cops told the woman that if the man ever called her again,  she was to try to stall him until they could get to her. One night a couple of weeks later the man called and asked the woman if she could be ready to meet him in fifteen minutes. She stalled,  saying she would - but it would have to be in an hour. He agreed,  and as soon as she hung up she called the police.

An hour later, the man showed up and was greeted by the police. He identified himself as Jerome Henry Brudos. The police had no reason to hold him, but they decided he was worth looking into. When they checked his past, they found he had a troubled history, including a record for sexual assault. They started to “look at him hard,” as the police say, and the more they saw, the more interested they became. They put a trail on him for two reasons: to learn more about him and, if he was the killer, to perhaps save someone’s life.

The officers trailing Brudos caught him loading up his car with luggage on May 30, 1969. It looked like he might be running away, so they made their move. They arrested him.

A Gruesome Confession

The case was broken during interrogation by Lieutenant Jim Stovall. Brudos, despite the warnings of his attorney, just kept talking. He eventually admitted his first murder of the encyclopedia saleswoman, and the floodgates opened. He admitted killing the other girls and added some gruesome details: He had made paperweights out of the breasts of some of them.

But the method he used to kill them was the real horror. He took them to his garage, trussed them, tied a noose around their necks, and, with the rope secured to an overhead beam, winched them off the floor and strangled them. He also liked to photograph them as they died. Indeed, when police examined the picture of Jan Susan Whitney being hung, in a corner of the picture they saw a face reflected in a mirror - the face of the photographer, Jerry Brudos.

The investigation into his background provided some interesting information, from the days when he would steal women’s underwear and shoes to the days of invading apartments to steal the items, and finally to the point where he stole their underwear, their breasts and feet, and their lives.


Brudos was convicted of the killings and sentenced to consecutive life terms. In 1969, he was confined to the Oregon State Penitentiary, a maximum-security facility. He was sentenced under the old system, which meant that he had a parole eligibility hearing once every two years; the new “matrix” system today is based on the severity of the crime and the background of the perpetrator.

Penitentiary authorities say Brudos was a model prisoner, but there was little chance of his parole. Said Kay Hopkins, the cousin of one of the victims, “Being a model prisoner doesn’t mean anything to us or to his next victim.” But no need to worry: Brudos died in 2006.

Not Prom King
While prison authorities thought Jerry Brudos was a model prisoner, he was hardly popular with other inmates. During the years he spent in prison he had a number of “accidents,” including one that left him with a fractured neck

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