5 Women Who Survived Serial Killers & Led To Their Capture
April 19, 2020 ~ By Shari Rose
- Cindy Paulson / Robert Hansen
- Mary Vincent / Lawrence Singleton
- Susan Kuhnhausen / Edward Haffey
- Whitney Bennett / Richard Ramirez
- Lorraine Vigil / Harvey Glatman
1. Cindy Paulson
Cindy Paulson survived encounter with Robert Hansen in Anchorage, AK on June 13, 1983
From 1971 to 1983, serial killer Robert Hansen murdered at least 17 women in Anchorage, Alaska. Known as the “Butcher Baker”, Hansen would kidnap women, assault them, and fly them to remote areas in the Alaskan wilderness. There, he would hunt them down with a rifle. Hansen’s murder spree surely would have continued, had it not been for Cindy Paulson.
Robert Hansen Picks Up Cindy Paulson in His Car
Cindy Paulson was a 17-year-old dancer and sex worker living in Anchorage. When Hansen drove up to Paulson in his car, she agreed to get in. Once inside, Hansen pulled a gun on her and placed her in handcuffs. Hansen then drove to his home, and sexually assaulted and tortured Paulson.
Some time later, Hansen began showing her his large collection of hunting trophies. Cindy Paulson was able to read his real name on these awards, and she says it was at this moment that she realized he was going to kill her. So, she resolved to try and escape, if the chance ever arose.
Eventually, Hansen drove the two of them to a local airfield, Merrill Field airport, where his plane was waiting. Hansen parked, got out of the car, and told the still-handcuffed Paulson to not move, or else he’d kill her.
After he left the car to load his plane, Cindy Paulson threw her body into the driver’s seat and opened the door. No shoes on and hands cuffed, she sprinted for the nearest street. Hansen turned around, and saw her escape. He then gave chase, yelling all the while, but Paulson ran onto Fifth Avenue at about 5 AM. To her relief, a passing driver took one look at her and pulled over.
After a five-hour ordeal, Paulson was finally out of Hansen’s grasp. She asked the driver to take her to the motel where her boyfriend was staying.
At the airfield, Hansen made his way back to his car and quickly sped off. However, an observant security guard took notice of Hansen’s strange behavior and wrote down his license plate and car model.
Back at the motel, Cindy Paulson, still in handcuffs, got a hold of her boyfriend at the front desk. It was at that point that an employee made a call to the Anchorage Police Department.
How Paulson Helped Anchorage Police Identify Hansen
When police arrived, Paulson provided a highly detailed account of her ordeal, including information about Hansen’s car, the street his home was on, and even small details about the gun used against her.
Less than an hour after Cindy Paulson escaped Hansen, she was in a police car, headed for the hospital, as is standard protocol for a victim of sexual assault. While en route to the hospital, they drove past the same airfield Paulson had just run away from. She remembered which area of the airport that she had escaped from, and what Hansen’s plane looked like. Paulson then led police to precisely where Hansen’s blue and white plane was still parked.
Noticing the scene taking place, that same security guard who had written down Hansen’s license plate flagged down these officers and shared his information. Using these details from Hansen’s car and the plane’s registration, Anchorage police contacted the FAA for final confirmation.
As officers pulled into the hospital, they got the call that the registration of the car and plane matched that of Robert C. Hansen.
Cindy Paulson Now
Though it would be another four months or so until Hansen was finally arrested for his crimes, Cindy Paulson’s escape and resulting testimony gave police the break they needed to identify a suspect for the rash of unsolved murders from the past decade.
Paulson’s escape and her assistance in catching Hansen was the subject of “The Frozen Ground”, a movie released in 2013. Paulson spoke with the actress who portrayed her, Vanessa Hudgens, and provided personalized guidance in how to play her in the film. When speaking about working with Cindy Paulson, at the time in her mid 40’s, Hudgens said: “She gave me an extremely solid foundation and told me her earliest memories that she had until where she is to this day.”
2. Mary Vincent
Survived encounter with Lawrence Singleton in Berkeley, CA on September 29, 1978
Lawrence “Larry” Singleton is widely known for his attack on Mary Vincent, as well as the lenient sentence handed to him after being found guilty of an array of violent and depraved crimes against her. After his release, Singleton went on to murder Roxanne Hayes in Sulphur Springs, FL, before finally spending the rest of his life in prison.
Lawrence Singleton Picks Up Hitchhiking Mary Vincent
Mary Vincent, a 15-year-old high school student dealing with the fallout from her parents’ divorce, sought to hitchhike to her grandfather’s house. As Vincent stood with two other hitchhikers on the side of the road, Lawrence Singleton pulled his van over. However, Singleton said he only had room for one in his completely empty vehicle. Tired and overwhelmed from being on her own, Vincent climbed in, and Singleton drove them away.
Singleton then knocked out Vincent with a sledgehammer, tied her up, and sexually assaulted her throughout the night. In the morning, Singleton pulled out a hatchet and hacked off both of Vincent’s arms in an apparent attempt to prevent her body from being identified. Conscious, but in shock and losing massive amounts of blood, Vincent went limp.
As an adult appearing in the show, “I Survived…”, Mary Vincent explains what went through her mind the moment of the hatchet attack:
“He took my left arm and took one swing. And I started to fall, and then he took another swing, and I grabbed his arm, grabbed it real tight, and I couldn’t figure out, holding him, real tight on his arm, but I’m still falling.”
Believing she was dead, Singleton threw her body off a cliff, where she landed 30 feet below in a concrete culvert off Interstate 5.
However, Mary Vincent was not dead. Naked and in searing pain, she fought off the urge to fall asleep and give in. Instead, she covered what was left of her arms in mud, packing it all down to effectively stop the bleeding. Then, she climbed back up the 30-foot cliff and began walking down the street, holding her arms upright so she would not bleed out.
The first car that saw Vincent was carrying two men, and they sped away once they got a look at her. However, the next car stopped and those occupants helped her get medical attention. Finally, Vincent was safe. But the nightmare was just beginning.
Mary Vincent Testifies Against Lawrence Singleton
Wearing prosthetic arms, Vincent faced her attacker in the courtroom six months later and told the jury what Singleton had done to her. He was found guilty of a myriad of sex crimes and attempted murder.
Unfortunately, sentencing laws in California were extremely lenient at this time, even for horrific crimes such as these. As a result, Singleton was given just a 14-year prison sentence, the maximum allowed at the time. Within eight years, Larry Singleton was back on the streets for “good behavior.”
The outrage that resulted from his light prison sentence led to the “Singleton bill,” which stops the early release of perpetrators who commit a crime involving torture. Vincent was a strong supporter of this bill, and its minimum sentence now carries 25 years.
Singleton went on to attack and murder another woman, Roxanne Hayes, in 1997. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Vincent again faced her attacker and testified about what had happened to her. Singleton was convicted of killing Hayes in 1998 and was sentenced to death. He died in prison from cancer in 2001.
Mary Vincent Now
Today, Mary Vincent has two sons and is an accomplished artist. After moving around for a while, she settled in Gig Harbor, WA. She’s also a big fan of The Lord of the Rings, and says she considers herself a “hobbit at home”.
Though she’s thriving now, it wasn’t always like this. When Singleton was released early from prison for good behavior, Vincent once again never felt safe and experienced uncontrollable nightmares. She’d even broken her own ribs from jolting awake during these nightmares.
But Vincent has found ways to make her life her own. She learned how to improve her arm prosthetics using spare parts, and now has a wider range of motion to better craft her illustrations, which she now sells.
She says that while Singleton’s death did not grant her the peace she hoped for, Vincent said that the relief she saw wash over her son’s faces when they learned that Singleton was gone for good may just be enough for her, too.
3. Susan Kuhnhausen (Walters)
Survived encounter with hitman Edward Haffey in Portland, OR on September 6, 2006
While this case does not involve a serial killer, it involves a woman who fought to the death with a man fully intent on killing her. And while she made it out the other side, the would-be murderer did not. This is the story of Susan Kuhnhausen.
Hitman Attacks Susan Kuhnhausen In Her Home
After finishing a shift at Providence Portland Medical Center as an ER nurse, Susan Kuhnhausen headed to her home in Southeast Portland. She saw a note from her husband, Mike, saying that he had left for the beach. Then, 51-year-old Kuhnhausen went upstairs to their bedroom.
Once inside, a man appeared from behind the bedroom door carrying a claw hammer, and attacked her. The man was named Edward Haffey, and he was a hitman with a mudrer-for-hire plot organized by Susan’s husband. Haffey had agreed to kill her for $50,000.
Haffey swung the hammer at Kuhnhausen, hitting her hard in the left temple.
However, as an emergency room nurse for 30 years, Kuhnhausen had self-defense skills up her sleeve that the hitman was not prepared for. Kuhnhausen launched into action, tackling Haffey and pushing him against the wall. It was during this moment that Haffey spoke the only words she heard him say that night: “You’re strong.”
That’s when Kuhnhausen says she knew Haffey was going to kill her, and her adrenaline really kicked into high gear. She was able to take the hammer away, and hit him in the head a few times. He wrested the hammer back from her, so she grabbed his throat and began to strangle him.
However, when Haffey’s face turned purple, Kuhnhausen let him go, and ran down the hallway. But Haffey caught up to her, and began punching her. She managed to pull him to the floor, and bit him all over, believing that even if she died, investigators may be able to link her bite marks to him.
In the struggle, Kuhnhausen screamed at him to tell her who sent him, but he never said a word. She then got her body on top of his, and wrapped her arm around his neck. He tried to flip her, but her self-defense training allowed her to stay in control. Eventually, Haffey stopped moving. Kuhnhausen grabbed the hammer and ran to her neighbor’s house to call 911.
Police Link Hitman to Kuhnhausen’s Husband
That evening, Portland police found Haffey dead in Kuhnhausen’s home. He had brought a backpack with him containing an array of strange items, including a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and diabetes pills. Police then found a daily planner. On the date of September 4, an entry said: “Call Mike” with Kuhnhausen’s phone number. It turns out Haffey was a coworker of Mike’s at the adult video store where they both worked.
Susan Kuhnhausen learned that same night that she had killed Haffey. On the show, “I Survived…” she recounted how she felt in those first moments after learning her would-be killer was dead:
“I immediately began to think about his family. Everybody has somebody who loves them. Children, a wife, a mother, a dad … the worst of this is not that somebody tried to kill me, but that I had to kill someone else to survive. But I have no shame because I did not choose this death for him. I chose my life. I chose life.”
One week after the attack, police found Mike Kuhnhausen hiding in Sunnyside, OR. The following day, Susan filed for divorce.
On August 30, 2007, Mike pleaded guilty to soliciting a murder-for-hire plot. He was sentenced to only seven years in prison. Susan spent that time traumatized and having the feeling that someone was always following her. She moved to a new home in Portland and spent time practicing at the shooting range to prepare in case Mike ever came back.
However, Mike Kuhnhausen died in prison from cancer, three months before his scheduled release.
Susan Kuhnhausen Now
Susan, whose last name is now Walters, is deeply involved with victim advocacy, self-defense training and is a motivational speaker. She has worked closely with organizations in the Portland area, including WomenStrength and GirlStrength programs, and the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center.
4. Whitney Bennett
Survived encounter with Richard Ramirez in Sierra Madre, CA on July 5, 1985
From April 1984 to August 1985, Richard Ramirez went on a home invasion and killing spree in Los Angeles and San Francisco, killing more than a dozen people and severely injuring even more. Ramirez was dubbed the Night Stalker by the media, though he was also known as the Valley Intruder for his practice of breaking into homes. He was finally captured in Tucson, AZ, in 1985, and was sentenced to death.
Ramirez Attacks Whitney Bennett In Her Home
After visiting with some friends during the evening, 16-year-old Whitney Bennet fell asleep in her bedroom in her family’s home. During the night, serial killer Richard Ramirez opened her unlocked bedroom window, carrying a tire iron.
Ramirez repeatedly beat the sleeping teenager in the head with the weapon. He then went to the kitchen to find a knife. However, Ramirez couldn’t find one, and instead tried to strangle Bennet with a telephone cord. But as sparks flew from the cord, Ramirez believed this was a sign of divine intervention. He dropped the cord and fled as Bennett began coughing and breathing.
As Bennet yelled for her parents, they found her badly beaten and bleeding. Ramirez had left behind the tire iron and a bloody footprint in her bedroom. Bennet needed nearly 500 stitches to her head, as well as some cosmetic surgery, but she fully recovered from her injuries.
Bennett Testifies Against Ramirez & Leads Police to Killer’s Capture
During Ramirez’s trial three years later, Bennet testified about her encounter with Ramirez, though some details were fuzzy from her head injuries. Ramirez was found guilty of all charges, including 13 murders and 11 sexual assaults. He died from cancer while on death row on June 7, 2013.
Whitney Bennett Now
Frank Salerno was a detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who worked on the Richard Ramirez murders. After retiring from the force in August 1993, his squad threw him a retirement party. It included hundreds of people, such as friends and family from past cases, including Whitney Bennet and her family.
Now a young woman in her 20s, Bennet was introduced to Salerno’s son, Michael, during this party. They exchanged numbers, began dating, and were eventually married.
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5. Lorraine Vigil
Survived encounter with Harvey Glatman in Los Angeles, CA on October 27, 1958
Referred to in media coverage as the Glamour Girl Slayer or the Lonely-Hearts Killer, Harvey Glatman posed as a photographer promising young women the chance at a modeling career. With this cover, he kidnaped, restrained, tortured, and murdered women. He went on to commit three confirmed murders, though he is suspected of killing a fourth woman.
Lorraine Vigil Answers Harvey Glatman’s Ad
Lorraine Vigil, a 28-year-old aspiring model, answered Glatman’s modeling ad she found in the newspaper. She agreed to have him drive her to his photography studio. While on the freeway, Glatman began driving erratically. He ignored Vigil’s cries to slow down, and she said he wouldn’t even look at her.
Suddenly, Glatman stopped the car on the side of the road and said the car had a flat tire. He then pulled out a gun and tried to tie Vigil up. However, she immediately began to fight, grabbing the muzzle of the gun to try and gain control of the weapon.
During the struggle, Glatman said that he wouldn’t kill her if she stopped fighting, but Vigil did not believe him. While fighting over the gun, Glatman fired a bullet that grazed Vigil’s thigh. She then bit his hand and he dropped the gun. She took hold of the weapon. They both fell out of the parked car, just as a patrolman was passing by.
The officer recognized the crime taking place and quickly arrested Glatman.
Vigil Experiences Fallout From Media Coverage
Once in custody, Glatman quickly confessed to three murders he committed while posing as a photographer. He led police to the women’s bodies he buried in the desert after they found photos of his victims in his toolbox.
Because Vigil had survived the attack and directly led to Glatman’s arrest, effectively ending the killing spree of an early serial killer, she was the subject of a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, her landlord, Mrs. Harry Ellis told the press she was planning on asking Vigil to move out of the building as a result. She said:
“I don’t like this publicity. I warned Lorraine about the hazards of being a model but she would not listen to me.”
Ah, the 1950s.
Glatman was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He was quickly executed in a gas chamber less than a year later on September 18, 1959.