Survivors turn horrific memories into mission to help others
03/24/2016 1:01 pm PDT
Jennifer Asbenson and Mika Moulton have turned the memories from their horrifying experiences into a mission to help others who have faced similar trauma.
At 19, Jennifer Asbenson's future looked sunny, living the high life in Palm Springs, California. The beautiful young woman with a big heart had a dream job helping disabled kids.
Then life took a terrible turn one dark night when she accepted a ride from a charming stranger after missing her bus to work on September 27, 1992.
Chillingly, the man who picked her up eventually told cops a sadistic story. He calmly confessed to Chicago Police many years later.
"She was waiting for the bus," Andrew Urdiales says in his video-recorded confession. "I pulled down the window and asked her if she needed a ride."
Jennifer was worried about being late for work and went with him. She was soon delivered safely to her destination and when the man offered her another ride the next morning, she readily agreed.
"I remember she said she was getting up like around 6, so I got in my car and I drove back toward that area," said Urdiales.
Jennifer too, remembers every terrifying detail. This time she wouldn't make it to work.
"I got in the car," said Jennifer. "It all happened so fast. In between his door and his seat he pulled out a gun. He was screaming at me, calling me names. He held the gun to my head, and I looked at him and it was just horrifying."
Her attacker remembers all the gruesome details too.
"I just reached over and I grabbed her by the hair. Then she got scared and I produced the gun," said Urdiales. "I told her to turn around, I tied her hands behind her back."
The mysterious man drove Jennifer to the desolate California desert. Her cries for help would go unheard. She was beaten senseless and forced to perform multiple sex acts.
"I just sort of stared out the window while he did what he was gonna do," said Jennifer. "I saw he was getting really angry and it was escalating, and then he just grabbed me by the throat and started strangling me."
"I just had my hand on her throat and I just kept choking and she kept kicking," said Urdiales. "Her saliva was coming out of her mouth. Her face was turning blue and then red."
"I didn't know if he was going to slit my throat. I didn't know what he was going to do, but I knew it was going to be bad," said Jennifer.
Jennifer also didn't know at the time that she'd been snared by a brutal serial killer. He had tortured four other women, killing them all. She said her attacker hit her repeatedly and seemed to enjoy hurting her. He made her black out and come to over and over again.
"I just wanted to die," said Jennifer. "I didn't want to be tortured anymore."
At one point, while her attacker was gathering knives from the trunk of his car, Jennifer saw her chance to flee. With her hands still tied behind her back, she desperately took off running. But in the middle of the desert, there was no place to hide.
"And then suddenly I felt a pain to the back of my head and I just fell, and then I realized I wasn't shot because he had me by my hair and he was just dragging me back to the car," said Jennifer.
"He made me get up and he told me to perform oral sex on him, and I said no," said Jennifer. "When I refused then I stood up and I just said 'Just kill me, I want to die, I want to die right now. I don't want you to torture me anymore, just kill me.' Because I knew he was going to, I just wanted him to do it then because I was sick of being tortured, and when I told him to do that he just shoved the gun in my mouth and I just closed my eyes."
He repeatedly thrust the gun in her mouth, but he never pulled the trigger. Jennifer says asking her tormentor to kill her may be what ultimately saved her life.
"He just started acting different, like he didn't know what he was gonna do," said Jennifer.
He threw her in the trunk of his car and took off again.
"I'm thinking I'm going to be cut up into pieces and that I'm going to die today, that I'm only 19," said Jennifer.
She managed to wedge out of her restraints and used her fingers to pry open the trunk latch while the car was in motion.
"He pulled over immediately, he jumped out and he just started bouncing on the back of the trunk making sure that it was shut, then he jumped in the car and he tried to peel out, and when he got stuck, I just thought 'This is my time to go,'" said Jennifer.
"I just jumped out and I ran down the road and I heard a car coming alongside of me so I just started grabbing at the car," said Jennifer. "I said 'Help, help,' and I held on to their rear-view mirror and they sped up. Eventually they just left me and I turned around, and he was running down the middle of the road with a machete chasing me, and that just made me run faster and then a truck came and I just stood in front of it."
The terrifying nightmare was over.
"They put me in the truck and they brought me to a gas station and then they called 911," said Jennifer.
It would take years for police to find the sadistic monster who tried to rape and kill Jennifer that day. Turns out the man who attacked her was Andrew Urdiales, a former Marine who went on a nationwide killing spree. Jennifer is the only known victim who survived his rampages. When he was finally traced to other murders through the gun he used, he readily confessed.
It was 10 years before Jennifer was finally able to face her attacker in court in Illinois, where he was apprehended. He was eventually sentenced to death for his vicious crimes but had his sentence commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jennifer's suffering was also a life sentence. During her long wait for justice, she sought treatment for both physical and mental wounds.
"When you get out of a situation like that it doesn't always go uphill from there. I lived in terror," said Jennifer.
Then she met someone who would change her life: Mika Moulton, another woman who also suffered unspeakable tragedy, losing her 10-year-old son at the hands of a brutal butcher.
The two women tragically tied together in their resilience would soon intertwine as Jennifer finds a way to make her fear disappear.
The last time Mika Moulton ever saw her son Christopher was a perfect, bright summer day in Aroma Park, Illinois in 1995 when he took off on his bike to meet his friends at the nearby river just two blocks from home. Chris didn't come home on time that evening.
"All of a sudden I just felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me, it was a real feeling, and there was this immediacy that I said I have to go find Chris right now," said Mika. "I knew something was really wrong."
She set out on her own to search for him that dark night. A local officer spotted her exploring the woods all alone.
"He got on his radio and he called for the search dogs and their handlers, and a fire truck then came out and put a big spotlight on the area," said Mika.
For days, police searched for Christopher, and Mika held out hope that he was just lost.
"They called me down to the fire station and I thought I was going down there to see him," said Mika. "They told me 'Yeah we found [his bike] in some woods about a mile away and it was not ridden in there. Somebody actually had to have carried it, and it was hidden in these woods. And I really sunk to my knees. Shortly after that a diver came in with one of his shoes that they found floating in the river."
After that, every time she heard from police, Mika's blood ran cold.
"Then each day they found something else," said Mika. "Another clue here, a piece of his T-shirt in a tree, and his underwear somewhere else hanging from a twig."
Mika never gave up hope of finding him alive, even after she was told police had made an arrest just four days after Christopher went missing.
"'They have Timothy Buss in custody,'" said Mika. "He had lived in our community, and he had murdered a little girl. He was 13 years old and he killed a 5-year-old neighbor girl. He took her and he did horrible things to her, that no 13-year-old should really know about."
As Mika later learned, Timothy Buss did unspeakable things to her son too. He'd been released from prison only 12 and a half years after his murder conviction. When police arrested him again, Mika learned Buss had talked to Christopher and his friends about fishing that day at the river.
"This guy brought out his tackle box with his deep-sea fishing lures in it. Chris got on his bike to head home. And the guy says 'Yeah I'm gonna go too,'" said Mika. "Somewhere in those two blocks is where he was grabbed."
Then on a very black night just eight days after he went missing, Christopher's small body was found in a very shallow grave. Tragically the news got worse. Christopher's mother was given details no parent ever wants to learn but can never forget.
"Christopher suffered. It took a lot of stab wounds, he bled out the trunk of Buss's car, the entire trunk was soaked, the carpet was soaked with blood," said Mika. "So Chris bled out, he stabbed him over 50 times. He tried to shield himself, he tried to fight but he didn't know how, and that hurt really bad for me."
The kids who attend aren't there to play nice. Instead they're learning to fight back.
Mika has also found a way to help other survivors like Jennifer Asbenson. She came to Christopher's Clubhouse hoping to lose her fear, and she found a kindred spirit. Two women tied together by tragedy and now triumph.
"She's the warrior, I'm the warrior, we're on the front lines doing what it takes to make sure it doesn't happen to another person," said Mika.
The ability to know what to do when the unthinkable happens seems to empower everyone who experiences it. Jennifer says her life has changed dramatically since she met Mika.
"I think it's something everybody, every kid, every woman, everybody should know to protect themselves," said Jennifer.
But for Mika, teaching self-defense offers her protection too.
"I teach the women and I teach the kids and I teach the teens and I speak and I go out there and I wear a very, very strong mask, a very thick mask, and I don't even take it off when I'm at home," said Mika.
Mika wants Christopher's Clubhouse to be his lasting legacy, one she hopes will help protect countless lives.