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Is it nature vs. nurture? Could it be genetic? What is it about some men that makes them want to kill, that makes them have to kill? Confusion of sexual orientation combined with violent sexual urges seem to be a factor. Violent childhoods, abusive relationships with parents are believed to be related. But this couldn’t possibly explain all of them. Could it?
In this, my second article called "Portrait of a Serial Killer," we examine some of the factors that may lead these killers down this dark road.
Gerard John Schaefer Jr.
Gerard John Schaefer Jr. was born March 25, 1946, the oldest of three children. And though outside observers believed him to have an "idyllic" childhood, Schaefer would argue differently, calling himself the "illegitmate product of a forced marriage."
At an early age (12 or so) Schaefer stated that he would masturbate while wearing women's panties. He also practiced masochistic bondage on himself, stating, "I'd tie myself up to a tree, struggle to get free, and I'd get excited sexually and do something to hurt myself."
Soon, his aggression toward himself wasn't enough to satisfy his urges. "I would fantasize hurting other people, women in particular." Schaefer's obsession with torture and death led him to immerse himself so deeply in intricate fantasies that he "didn't know what was fact and what was fantasy."
Schaefer's Warning Signs
Schaefer had some traits in common with other serial killers:
- He had a volatile relationship with his father.
- He expressed sexual deviance. He cross-dressed and wore women's underwear—though he later claimed that he only said that to avoid the Vietnam draft. He was also a peeping Tom.
- He enjoyed killing animals, which he practiced from his youth into adulthood.
- He had a superior intellect, allegedly an IQ of 130.
Schaefer's Job History
In 1969, Gerard was fired from his job as a teacher for “totally inappropriate behavior." Unfortunately, no details can be found on what this behavior actually entailed.
He then applied to the priesthood, but was rejected for “not having enough faith.”
He entered into law enforcement as a patrolman in 1971 at the age of 25.
The Sadistic Crime Spree Begin
July 21st, 1972, while on duty, Schaefer abducted two teenage hitchhikers and took them to a remote wooded area. Schaefer threatened to rape and kill them, or sell them into prostitution. But he received a call. Swearing that he would return, he left the two young girls tied to a tree.
The two girls, ages 17 and 18, escaped and made their way to the nearest police station, which also happened to be Schaefer's station. When Schaefer returned to the woods and found the girls missing, he called his station and said that he had done “something foolish." Incredibly, he Schaefer attempted to cover his actions by creating a story that he was trying to scare the two girls and show them the dangers of hitchhiking.
His story wasn't believed, and he was ordered back to the station, fired and charged with false imprisonment and assault.
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Two months after getting out on bail, Schaefer kidnapped two more teenage girls. This time, he succeeded in torturing and killing Susan Place (17) and Georgia Jessup (16). He buried their bodies on Hutchinson Island.
In court, facing the original charges of false imprisonment, he made a plea deal for aggravated assault and received one year in jail.
Police Discover a Trove of Shocking Evidence
In April of 1973, six months after their disappearance, the remains of Susan Place and Georgia Jessup were found. The two girls, who had vanished while hitchhiking, were tied to a tree at one point before being killed. The many similarities between the two women Schaefer had abducted a year earlier led police to obtain a search warrant for his now-divorced mother's place of residence.
In Schaefer's bedroom, police uncovered a trove of evidence—stories he had written describing rape, torture, and the murder of women. Physical evidence such as jewelry, identification cards, diaries, and teeth. By the amount of evidence found, police estimated that over the past few years, Schaefer had killed around 30 young women.
In October 1973, Gerard John Schaefer Jr. was formally charged with the murders of Susan Place and Georgia Jessup. He was convicted and given two life sentences.
Robert Stone, who led the prosecution, later stated that Schaefer was "the most sexually deviant person I had ever seen. He made Ted Bundy look like a Boy Scout."
Prison and Death
Over the next 22 years, Schaefer would repeatedly confess to murders and then retract the statements. He filed 19 appeals and dozens of frivolous lawsuits. He snitched on other inmates and threatened both inmates and guards. He was under constant attack from his fellow convicts, who threw feces and urine at him, and set his room on fire.
But his letters of threat and attempted intimidation continued. He would claim to be a mafia boss, or some other form of power, and threaten other inmates with violence and death.
While in prison, he also wrote several stories entitled "Blonde on a Stick" and "Flies in Her Eyes," just to name a few.
Vincent Faustino Rivera
On Sunday, December 3, Schaefer was found stabbed to death in his cell. Convicted murderer Vincent Faustino Rivera was charged with slitting Schaefer's throat and stabbing him 42 times. Rivera received an additional 53 years onto his life sentence.
If you watch his prison interviews, you can see that Schaefer's demeanor and mannerisms are chilling. Though he is speaking to another person, that person's presence doesn't seem relevant to Schaefer. It's almost as though he's talking through them, or speaking an inner dialogue that the other person cannot hear or understand.
Additional Victim Linked to Schaefer?
In 2022, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office stated that they may have linked an additional victim to Schaefer's killing spree.
Fifteen-year-old Susan Gale Poole was murdered in 1974, and for nearly 50 years her case remained unsolved. Then genetic genealogists used new DNA profiling technology to identify skeletal remains found in a Florida swamp as belonging to Susan.
Authorities believe she may have been one of Schaefer's victims.