In the 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon for young people to hitchhike. The freedom that comes with standing on your own, taking a ride from the next colorful stranger was alluring to the counter-culture hippies of the time. Nowadays, you wouldn’t be caught dead hitchhiking with a stranger.
Or maybe you would.
The reason hitchhiking has become synonymous with violence is thanks to the stories you’ve most certainly heard from passengers and drivers alike. Hitchhiking has become such a scary concept thanks to the likes of murderers and serial killers.
Hitchhiking is no longer a romantic, carefree means of travel thanks to people like Gerard John Schaefer, also known as the “Florida Sex Beast.”
Born in 1946 in Wisconsin, Schaefer and his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1960. In his teens, Schaefer began to exhibit behavior we now understand to be typical sociopathic conduct. He was obsessed with women’s underwear, he creeped on women changing in their bedrooms, and he hurt and killed animals.
Schaefer, during his adulthood, tried to find a career that would give him the power dynamic he desired. His first job once out of school was as a teacher. But that didn’t last long, with the principal stating that he was fired for “totally inappropriate behavior.” After that, Schaefer attempted to find a career in the priesthood but was turned away.
Law enforcement was the next logical step for a sociopath looking for a career in power. In 1971, Schaefer joined Florida law enforcement and his behavior didn’t get any tamer.
On July 21, 1972, while out on patrol, Schaefer picked up two hitchhikers: teenage girls ages 17 and 18. It wasn’t long before Schaefer admitted to them that he was abducting them. He drove them to a wooded area where he tied them to a tree and threatened to sell them into prostitution, or kill them.
Schaefer was interrupted, however, when a call came through on his police radio. Upon leaving, he told his captives that he was going to return for them later. Of course, the two girls decided not to hang out. Instead, they broke free from their restraints and high-tailed it to the nearest police station, which just so happened to be Schaefer’s station.
There, the two girls reported that while attempted to hitchhike an officer picked them up and abducted them. Police didn’t have to go hunting for their suspect, as Schaefer himself called in and told his superiors that he had done “something foolish.”
Schaefer explained that he was attempted to scare the girls into realizing that hitchhiking is a dangerous method of travel. His superiors, knowing that this was absolutely not the way law enforcement behaves under any circumstances, didn’t believe Schaefer and instead stripped him of his badge and charged him with false imprisonment and assault.
On September 27, later that year, two girls disappear; 16-year-old Georgia Jessup and 17-year-old Susan Place. They are found six months later buried on Hutchinson Island. They had been tortured and tied to a tree at some point. The similarities led police to obtain a search warrant for Schaefer’s home.
Upon searching the residence, police found violent drawings and “lurid stories” Schaefer had written where he describes how best to capture, torture, and kill women — or “sluts” and “whores” as he referred.
Police also found personal possessions such as jewelry, diaries, even teeth, from at least eight women and girls who had gone missing in recent years.
Among the items was a purse that belonged to Susan Place.
Schaefer was arrested again and charged with the two murders. In October of 1973, Schaefer was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. While he was only convicted of two, police believe that Schaefer was linked to the disappearances of at least 30 other missing women.
On December 3, 1995, Schaefer was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate.