The Snapshot Killer by Duncan McNab

Reviewed by E. B. Heath

The take home message from Duncan McNab’s The Snapshot Killer might be that a give-them-the-benefit-of-the-doubt attitude towards first time sexual offenders by the judiciary could result in the death of many women.   

Christopher Wilder was charged with rape in his teens. He received only a good behaviour bond and went on to rape and kill nine women in America, and was a suspect in other cases in America and Australia, including the 1965 Sydney Wanda Beach murder of two teenage girls.    

This carefully researched book details Wilder’s early life and reveals a military father and a soft mother who loved her two sons and gave in to their every whim.  The father demanded a ‘yes sir’ ‘no sir’ response when disciplining his sons, a demand that Wilder would require of his victims.  His brother described him as: nervous, a nail biter, rarely calm unless picking up girls.  All fairly standard stuff.  Freud had a few things to say about mothers and their indulged sons, but, of course, there are many spoilt boys who do not go on to cause mayhem in the world.  So his early childhood didn’t signify what was to follow.  And what followed was a litany of sub-human cruelty. 

This cruelty is detailed by McNab; it makes grim reading and one wonders what function it fulfils, beyond fascination for the likeminded.  It does lay bare the inefficiency of the Sydney police in 1965 when investigating the murder of two girls at Wanda Beach.  And a few missed opportunities by American law enforcement as Wilder skipped from state to state.  And, it most certainly illustrates the need for sexual predators to be registered, no matter how young, including links to passports, allowing immigration authorities and the general public to conduct reliable research.   McNab also mentions that Fowler’s The Collector (1963) was much read by Wilder.   This might give some readers pause, perhaps wondering if explicit books detailing sexual crimes against women, apparently alluring for some men, could be considered a form of ‘hate speech’.   Censorship of course is a tricky issue, and usually leads to heated debates, so perhaps McNab was wise to leave that thorny issue alone in this book.   

The The Snapshot Killer is not as enlightening as McNab’s  Roger Rogerson, where, as a young police officer at the time, McNab witnessed the extent of the corruption within the N.S.W. Police Force in the 1970s and 80s.  Roger Rogerson (reviewed on this site) made fascinating reading, illustrating how institutional corruption filters down to the individual working within the system.  But The Snapshot Killer only leaves one thinking that this type of criminal should not be given the notoriety he craves, wishing his name could be expunged, reduced to ‘predator x’.   This approach would save his unfortunate relatives unwanted publicity.  

Hopefully books like this will highlight the need to have better informed judiciary on the subject of sexual predators.

The Snapshot Killer

Duncan McNab

Hachette Australia

ISBN:  9780733641008

Paperback:   $32.99    Pp.318

Ebook:  $14.99  

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