When Fran met Bruce Lindahl, he didn’t seem like a monster. Today, more than 40 years later, she considers herself lucky to be alive.
She was 15 and Lindahl was in his early twenties when he first invited Fran and her friends over to his apartment in Lisle, Illinois, she recalled to The Daily Beast. He would buy alcohol for the girls and host parties at his place with his live-in girlfriend.
He initially seemed like a “wonderful person,” according to Fran, whose last name is being withheld at her request. (The Daily Beast does not name survivors of sexual violence without their consent.) He took her ice skating or to the movies, and even earned the trust of Fran’s mother, who allowed him to be the adult driver in the passenger seat when she only had her learner’s permit.
Perhaps most of all, he was charming, she said.
Now, police say Lindahl—who has been dead since the 1980s—could easily prove to be a serial killer.
On Jan. 13, police detectives in Lisle, a Chicago suburb, announced that thanks to advanced DNA forensics they were able to tie Bruce Lindahl to the murder of Pamela Maurer of Woodridge, who was found strangled on the side of a road in 1976.
Mauer, who was just 16 at the time, decided to walk to a nearby store to buy a Coke that night. Police found her body the next morning.
Perhaps most disturbing about the latest developments in the case: The lead detective, Chris Loudon, suggested DNA evidence could eventually tie Lindahl to dozens of other victims of violent crimes ranging from rape to murder.
“If Bruce wouldn’t have accidentally killed himself, the death toll would have likely been astronomical,” Loudon told The Daily Beast, adding that he would “bet his entire paycheck” Lindahl was responsible for at least nine murders—and may be linked to 12. And with at least 25 tips coming in daily, Loudon said, he believed that number could grow.
He and fellow officers have leaned on some of the same techniques that were at least partially responsible for the capture of the suspected Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, in 2018. Through DNA databases from popular services like 23andMe, a composite sketch was created. It bore a striking resemblance to Lindahl.
Lindahl often had run-ins with the law, and investigators had suspected him in a number of heinous crimes prior to his death in 1981. He was charged with kidnapping and raping a woman named Debra Colliander in 1980, but the case fell apart when the victim went missing two weeks before she was set to testify. Her body was discovered in 1982.
By then, Lindahl was dead, having been found in an apartment in the nearby Chicago suburb of Naperville, draped over 18-year-old Charles Huber. Detectives concluded Lindahl accidentally severed his own femoral artery while stabbing the young man 28 times with a six-inch kitchen knife.
But Fran knew Lindahl was capable of wanton brutality and violence before police did.
When she was still a teenager, Lindahl invited her over for drinks early one morning, which had become a regular occurrence by then. When Fran arrived, she recalled, he had her favorite—a scotch on the rocks—ready for her. But after just a couple of sips, she said, she dropped the drink, lost control of her motor functions, and went limp.
Lindahl proceeded to attack her, she said, stripping her of her clothes, taking photographs of her in various poses, and raping her. She recalled the assault continuing until she grew “very, very sick.”
She said she asked Lindahl to take her to a nearby hospital and that he refused, insisting she was OK. Instead, Fran remembered Lindahl going so far as to take some of her friends skiing that same day. She spent the day trying to sleep in the back of his car.
Despite the assault, Fran added, she didn’t feel comfortable completely distancing herself from Lindahl, and their relationship—abusive and violent though it was—would continue for a few more years.
“When Bruce said jump, I said, ‘How high?’” she said.
At the time, and perhaps even today, Fran says, she felt responsible for what happened to her. Although she was just a teenager, she described some sexual encounters with Lindahl that were “consensual” in her mind.
She didn’t tell any of her friends or family. Not only did she worry about being believed, she felt that Lindahl would do “something terrible” to her.
Fran recalled another night when Lindahl insisted she come over to his place. When she arrived, Lindahl’s girlfriend was sleeping in the next room. He then forced Fran to perform oral sex on him and demanded she sneak out the window when he was finished, she recalled.
“I thought if I screamed, he would hurt me,” she said.
Fran still remembers the last time she saw Lindahl, too.
She was 18 and had taken a job that required her to work the graveyard shift. That meant she almost never saw Lindahl anymore. She thought she had escaped him, or perhaps that he had moved on to other women.
Until one morning, when she passed Lindahl’s car on the way home from work. Lindahl must have been waiting for her; he followed her back to her house.
She pleaded with Lindahl that she was tired from work and needed sleep, but he ignored her and followed her into the house, she said. When he grabbed the family Polaroid camera and followed her upstairs, she feared the worst.
To this day, Fran isn’t entirely sure how she convinced Lindahl to leave that morning. But she was able to coax him out of the house and escape unharmed.
Learning of his death was the only way out of being haunted by him.
“I was thrilled,” she said, recalling relief washing over her when she saw him on local news.
Fran never allowed Lindahl to define her life. She started a family and worked hard; years would go by without her thinking about the man. But she never stopped worrying about Lindahl’s girlfriend, she said.
Years after Lindahl died, she thought she ran into her in a Chicago suburb. When Fran asked if she was who she thought she was, the woman denied it and turned white. She was living under a different name than Fran remembered, she said.
“I always worried that maybe she didn’t know Bruce was dead,” she said. “That maybe she was living her life in hiding.”
Over the years, Fran has grappled with guilt and wondered if she should have spoken up sooner. But when she saw the news of his being tied to so many other grisly crimes, she realized how close she may have come to becoming one of Lindahl’s alleged murder victims herself.
She said she doesn’t feel brave or courageous telling her story. But after reading pleas from detectives in media reports, she felt the need to come forward.
“I always felt like everything was my fault. I guess I’ve always been that way,” she said. She subsequently reached out to police and was interviewed by Detective Loudon.
Still, Fran added, she couldn’t help suspecting that keeping her head down saved her at a time when perpetrators of sexual violence were even less likely to be prosecuted than they are today.
“Somehow, I always knew to be afraid,” she said. “I feel lucky I kept my mouth shut.”