Susan Fitts Sullivan found it more than a little disconcerting when she saw her 1981 high school yearbook photograph on a Quincy police Facebook posting about dead serial killer Christopher Wilder and a 15-year-old girl murdered in Florida in 1984.
The Whitman-Hanson High School graduate had questions rippling through her thoughts: Did she unwittingly survive an encounter with a brutal killer? How did he have her high school photo? Was she safe today? What about her two classmates, whose photographs from 1981 were also posted? Are they okay? And what could possibly tie her to Colleen Orsborn, the murdered teenager?
“There was this initial feeling – Oh‚ my God, could I have been a potential victim?” Fitts Sullivan said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Why was my picture found with a [murder] victim? And then I thought about it a bit more and I said, ‘No. There’s got to be something else why our photos were there.’”
Fitts Sullivan’s instincts turned out to be correct: It was something else.
The answers to her questions start with the cold case unit at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department whose jurisdiction includes Orlando, Fla., where the body of Orsborn was found on April 6, 1984, potentially making her among serial killer Wilder’s final victims.
Wilder was fatally shot on April 13, 1984, in Colebrook, N.H., during a struggle with two New Hampshire State Police troopers who spotted him driving a New York murder victim’s car as he tried to cross into Canada 10 miles away.
At the time, Wilder was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and was the target of an nationwide manhunt. He was suspected of kidnapping, torturing and murdering eight teenagers and women; kidnapping three others and trying to kidnap a woman in Wenham, Mass., on Route 128 just hours before he died in New Hampshire.
During the spree he also, inexplicably, helped a teenage girl he kidnapped in California return home by dropping her off at Boston’s Logan Airport so she could catch a flight back to California.
While authorities recovered Orsborn’s body in 1984, it wasn’t until 2011 that DNA technology conclusively proved the remains belonged to the 15-year-old girl who left her Daytona Beach home one month before her body was found in a shallow grave.
Adding to the tragic death of Orsborn was the handwritten letter postmarked Manchester, N.H., that her family received in 2001 in which the writer claimed that he - not Wilder - was responsible for her death. The unsigned letter writer claimed he had buried her body in an area Florida authorities said roughly matched where she was, in fact, found.
Earlier this year, a Florida cold case detective opened Orsborn’s file and found four wallet sized yearbook photos of teenaged girls; three of which were stamped with the name of the photography studio that took them - Miller Studios of Quincy.
And on one of the digitally remastered photos was written “Jen” or “Jennie.”
Sheryl Percy, the second-generation owner of the Quincy Center studio her father opened in 1948, said in an interview that Florida police asked her this summer if she could tell them who the girls were on those three photos.
“I would like the brain to say I could remember every person we photographed … but I did not” recognize them,'' Percy said adding the studio took some 3,500 annually in the 1980s. Records were long gone, too.
But Fitts Sullivan certainly recognized herself when a friend emailed the Quincy Facebook posting to her. And Fitts Sullivan recognized the second woman because it was her best friend from high school who is now married and living in Indiana. She also knew who the third woman was.
And Jen? Or Jennifer? Who was she?
Jennifer turned out to be yet another member of the Whitman-Hanson Class of 1981 who was in fact handed wallet-size photos by her classmates that year. Fast forward three years and Jennifer takes a trip to Disney World in Orlando - where she loses her wallet with the photographs inside of it.
Somehow the photos of the Class of 1981 found their way into Colleen Orsborn’s homicide unit file - her body was found in Orlando - where they sat until this year when a new detective started looking into the 36-year-old homicide and could not immediately establish who the teenagers were or why their photos were there.
Authorities said Thursday that all of the women - the fourth photo was of a woman attending high school in New Hampshire at the time - have been located and that Jennifer has been interviewed. None had ties to Wilder or Orsborn and there is no longer any connection between them and the criminal investigation.
"Regardless, detectives in the Cold Case Unit will continue to investigate Colleen’s murder,'' Quincy police wrote in an update of the department’s Facebook page Thursday.
Fitts Sullivan said she had already reached the same conclusion after doing some Internet searching Wednesday night. She quickly concluded she had no connection to Wilder and she soon realized that she also had no possible ties with Orsborn during her short life.
“I said a prayer for her,” Fitts Sullivan said.