Born in South Dakota during January 1939, Brudos moved to California with his family as a child. He grew up with a deep, abiding hatred for his domineering mother and a strange, precocious fetish for women’s shoes. Discovering a pair of high heels at the local dump, he brought them home, where they were confiscated and burned by his mother. By the time he entered first grade, Brudos was stealing shoes from his sister; at age 16, now living in Oregon, he branched out into burglary, making off with shoes from neighboring homes, sometimes snatching women’s undergarments from clotheslines.
In 1956, at 17, Brudos beat up a girl who resisted his crude advances on a date, winding up in juvenile court. Ordered to visit the state hospital in Salem as an outpatient while continuing his high school education, Brudos apparently gained nothing from therapy. Joining the army in March 1959, he was troubled by dreams of a woman creeping into his bed at night. A chat with an army psychiatrist led to Jerome’s discharge on October 15, 1959, and he went home to live with his parents in Salem, moving into their toolshed.
Unknown to members of his family, Brudos had begun to prey on local women, stalking them until he found a chance to knock them down or choke them unconscious, fleeing with their shoes. Still virginal in 1961, he met his future wife and quickly made her pregnant, trooping to the altar from a sense of obligation. By 1967, settled in the Portland suburb of Aloha, Brudos began complaining of migraine headaches and “blackouts,” relieving his symptoms with night-prowling raids to steal shoes and lacy underwear. On one occasion, a woman awoke to find him ransacking her closet and Brudos choked her unconscious, raping her before he fled.
On January 26, 1968, 19-year-old Linda Slawson was selling encyclopedias door-to-door when she called on Jerry Brudos. Bludgeoned and strangled to death in his basement, she became the first of five known victims killed by Brudos in Oregon. The second, 16-year-old Stephanie Vikko, disappeared from Portland in July. A third, student Jan Whitney, 23, vanished on November 26 during a two-hour drive from Eugene to McMinnville, her car found abandoned north of Albany, Oregon. So far, authorities were working on a string of disappearances, with no hard proof of homicide. That changed on March 18, 1969, with the discovery of Stephanie Vikko’s remains in a wooded area northwest of Forest Grove. Nine days later, 19-year-old Karen Sprinker vanished from a Salem parking garage, leaving her car behind. Two witnesses reported same-day sightings of a large man, dressed in women’s clothing, loitering in the garage.
As the police were searching for their suspect, Brudos faced a minor crisis in his own backyard. While cleaning house, his wife had turned up photographs of Jerry dressed in drag, and she had also found a “plastic” breast, described by Brudos as a paperweight. (In fact, it was a hunting trophy, treated with preservative.) She missed the other photographs, depicting Brudos with his victims, posing with their bodies, dressing them in frilly underwear like life-sized dolls, but dark suspicion had begun to fester, all the same.
On April 23, 1969, Brudos claimed his final victim, picking off 22-year-old Linda Salee at a Portland shopping mall. Her body, weighted down with an auto transmission, was pulled from the Long Tom River on May 10. Two days later and 50 feet downstream, a team of divers turned up victim Karen Sprinker, weighted with an engine block. The second body wore a brassiere several sizes too large, padded with paper towels to conceal the fact that her breasts had been amputated.
Interviews with local coeds yielded several stories of an aging, self-described “Vietnam veteran” who frequently approached girls on campus, asking for dates. Police staked out the scene of one such rendezvous in Corvallis on May 25, questioning Jerry Brudos closely before they let him go. Picked up on a concealed weapons charge five days later, Brudos broke down and confessed to the murders in detail, directing authorities to evidence that would cinch their case. On June 27, 1969, Brudos pled guilty on three counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. His popularity with fellow inmates is recorded in a string of prison “accidents,” including one that left him with a fractured neck in 1971.