Abducted and tortured by one of America's most prolific serial killers

By Megan Palin

WARNING: Graphic content

Jennifer Asbenson was just 19 years old when she was abducted, tortured and almost killed in a remote desert by one of America's most prolific serial killers.

For the first time since she escaped 24 years ago, Asbenson has returned to Desert Hot Springs in California.

It's where her abductor Andrew Urdiales pulled out a gun and tried to rape her before opening a bag full of blades, taking a bite out of her neck and savagely bashing her.

Asbenson was still bound and gagged as Urdiales then dragged her body over rocks and cactus back to his car, put her in the boot and started driving.

She knew it was her only chance to escape. She broke her wrists free, waited for the car to slow down, unlatched the boot and ran for her life.

Jennifer Asbenson re-enacted her ordeal in the desert. Photo / Youtube
Jennifer Asbenson re-enacted her ordeal in the desert. Photo / Youtube

Just a few months ago, on the 24th anniversary of the ordeal, Asbenson returned to the scene of the crime with a friend, a chair and a video camera. She demonstrated how to break free from restraints then stared into the lens and told the full story about what happened to her in September 1992. The footage was recently uploaded to YouTube.

"I wanted my viewers to be there with me, in real time," Asbenson told news.com.au.

"I wanted them to hear everything in my own words, without interruption. I wanted them to feel like they were experiencing it with me. I am not ashamed or embarrassed to be a human. So I do not edit myself. I thought people would appreciate the rawness of it."

Urdiales had already brutally murdered five women when he crossed paths with Asbenson near her home in Cathedral City, California, on September 27, 1992.

Andrew Urdiales went on to murder three women because no one believed Jennifer Asbenson. Photo / Supplied
Andrew Urdiales went on to murder three women because no one believed Jennifer Asbenson. Photo / Supplied

The young nurse had missed her bus while buying candy for the disabled girls she worked with at a nearby hospital when Urdiales saw her distress. It was about 9.50pm and Asbenson was rostered to work the 10pm-6am shift. Urdiales wound down his window and asked if she wanted a ride. She turned him down but as he went to drive away she changed her mind.

Asbenson had already been warned by her employers that if she was late again she would be sacked.

"I automatically thought 'he can't be any kind of crazy person because why would he pull away and not come attack me'?" she said.

"He didn't do anything bizarre. I even felt bad for prejudging him.

"He said [a few weird things] but nothing to jump out of the car for.

"He goes to drop me off and I got out of the car and he asked me for a phone number."

Andrew Urdiales drove Jennifer Asbenson to Desert Hot Springs, California. Photo / Supplied
Andrew Urdiales drove Jennifer Asbenson to Desert Hot Springs, California. Photo / Supplied

Asbenson gave Urdiales a fake phone number and went to work. The next morning when she finished her shift he was outside in his car waiting for her. It was just after 6am.

"I started walking and I could hear gravel underneath the wheels just turning over the dirt," she said.

"I didn't even look because I knew it was him.

"At that age I had not heard any stories of serial killers. I grew up with no electricity, no running water, television, nothing like that. I was extra naive."

Urdiales stopped the car and invited Asbenson to breakfast. She laughed and turned him down. He offered her a ride home.

"I thought 'Okay, I'll take a ride home, that sounds fine'," she said.

Convicted serial killer Andrew Urdiales is serving life without parole in a California prison. Photo / Supplied
Convicted serial killer Andrew Urdiales is serving life without parole in a California prison. Photo / Supplied

Just moments after Asbenson got in the car Urdiales brought up the fake number she had given him and turned on her.

"He just started screaming and he pulled at my hair and called me names and said 'no that wasn't the number, some old lady answered that'," she said.

"He grabbed me by the hair and he shoved my head into the dashboard.

"I remember thinking that it was a joke and I couldn't process it. And then a gun came out."

Asbenson said her whole world turned upside down as fear gripped her.

"When I saw the gun I went into shock," she said.

"Then twine came out."

Jennifer Asbenson believes she died in the desert but was jolted back to life.
Jennifer Asbenson believes she died in the desert but was jolted back to life.

Urdiales pulled her hands behind her back and tied them together. He put a hat and sunglasses on her and pushed her seat all the way back. He started driving.

"My thoughts as he was driving were 'please don't turn where I think you're going to turn because that means we're going into the middle of nowhere. Out by the windmills. Out where there's nothing'," she said.

"I started telling him I'd 'do anything: I'll rob a bank with you, whatever you want'.

"I was using any skill I'd ever learned in life to try and get out of this man's possession."

Nothing worked. Urdiales' only response was to stare out the window and yell "shut up" at Asbenson. A "sense of evilness" overwhelmed her.

"I knew that he was evil but I didn't know what I was in for," she said.

Asbenson's biggest fear was soon realised when Urdiales drove his car into the desert, in sight of the windmills, out where there was nothing.

"At this point I knew I was going to die," she said.

"But I didn't know what he was going to do to me before he killed me and that scared me most of all."

Urdiales sprang into action and started to attack Asbenson. He was forceful, methodical, fast and precise.

"He punched me and he started cutting my shorts and ripped my underwear off, it was all going so fast," Asbenson said.

"I just saw a knife. I stopped talking.

"The only thing I could think of the whole time was 'I am in hell'.

"When I looked at his eyes they were just black.

"And I remember thinking that I was staring into the eyes of the devil."

Asbenson said Urdiales tried to rape her but failed because he suffered "erectile dysfunction".

"That kind of makes me happy to say because I know I'm making him angry," she said.
But the worst was yet to come.

He ordered Asbenson to say she loved him but she struggled to get the words out.

"He grabbed my underwear and kept shoving them in my mouth until they went down my throat and I started gagging on them," she said.

"He tied the bra around my mouth to hold them in my throat. I thought I was going to die right then from gagging on my own vomit.

"I started to get a reflex that made the underwear dislodge from my throat so then I was able to make a noise and tried to say 'I love you'.

"Every second seemed like an eternity."

Dissatisfied with Asbenson's declaration of love under duress, he started to strangle her.
"I just remember feeling like I was gagging and I couldn't breathe in or out. I wasn't in pain. I closed my eyes because I didn't want to die seeing him," she said.

"Then with all my heart and soul I thought: 'Life is so short. What is this? I'm dying today? While my friends are sleeping? While my parents are sleeping? While the lady at work is helping the children? I'm in the middle of this desert being murdered'."

As Urdiales continued to squeeze the life out of the teen, a sense of calm washed over her, until she "saw white".

"I didn't see the desert. I didn't see his face," she said.

"I didn't have recollection of anything."

Asbenson doesn't know how much time passed until she was conscious again. She
believes she died until she was jolted back to life.

"I saw his eyes again, close up and the far away, close up and far away," she said.
"I didn't know what was happening.

"Suddenly I felt my body again. Kind of like when you're falling asleep in a chair and you wake up. It just rushed to me. And then I realised why I would see him close up and far off.

"It was because he was banging my head and pounding my chest.

"I don't know if he resuscitated me or not.

"This is the only part of the story I don't know because I wasn't there."
Urdiales wasn't done with Ms Asbenson yet. He wanted to "torture [her] some more", she said.

"I just laid there with my arms still twined behind my back as he sucked on my neck and I felt his slobber just running down between my breasts.

"I just thought 'hurry up, hurry up and kill me'. Then he sat up. And when he sat up he opened his mouth for just a second and I saw blood and skin in his teeth and blood coming down his mouth.

"I really didn't care at the moment but it did make me aware that he had just tried to bite a chunk out of my neck.

"And that was not slobber, that was blood."

Just when she thought things couldn't get any worse, Urdiales opened the boot of his car, and pulled out a bag of knives. Asbenson's body surged with adrenaline as panic set in.
"I just thought 'hell no, I might be dying today but I don't want to be cut up with knives'," she said.

"So I just started running. My biggest fear was being left out here in this desert with nobody to find me."

She didn't get far until Urdiales stopped her in her tracks.

"I couldn't think straight so I didn't know if I was shot or what," Asbenson said.
"All I know was I fell back and I hit my head on the ground.

"But then I started moving. I remember looking on the sides of me and seeing the gravel going by me and I realised he was pulling me through the desert by my hair.
"He pulled me through cactus, through rocks, I couldn't feel any of it."

Urdiales dumped Asbenson's battered and bloodied body into the boot of his car.

The last thing she saw before the door slammed shut was a bird in the sky.

"It looked evil to me," she said.

"Everything looked evil. I didn't know if this had been the whole world all along or if it had just happened."

Asbenson had been fighting for her life at the hands of a serial killer for almost two hours as she struggled to break free from the restraints in the darkness of the car boot, just before 8am. Miraculously, the twine started "popping off" her wrists, behind her back.
"I ripped [the boot interior] apart and I turned the latch, and I held the top of the trunk because I didn't want it to fly up," she said.

As the car slowed, Ms Asbenson "jumped out and ran".

"I think 'don't look back, don't ever look back'. But I look back. He was chasing me down
the middle of the road with a machete. So I just ran, a car was coming towards me, it was a truck. I was spent. It could have run me over. But instead, it was two marines and they stopped. I told them what happened, they had a pair of jeans that fit me perfectly."

The marines took Asbenson to a petrol station in the nearest town, about 20 minutes away and the police were called.

But the nightmare was far from over. No one believed her. Not even her own mother or the authorities, according to Asbenson.

It would be another five years after the attack on Jennifer Asbenson that Andrew Urdiales was finally caught. Photo / AP
It would be another five years after the attack on Jennifer Asbenson that Andrew Urdiales was finally caught. Photo / AP

It would be another five years until Urdiales was caught; in 1997. In that time he murdered another three women. He confessed in detail to eight murders and the abduction and attack on Asbenson. She was the only victim known to have escaped with her life.

Urdiales was convicted of three murders in the states of Indiana and Illinois and sentenced to death. The death penalty was later abolished in Indiana and those on death row were sentenced to life without parole. He was also commuted to life without parole in Illinois.

Urdiales was extradited to the Orange County jail in California in 2011. A trial for the murders of the other five women and the attack on Asbenson is expected to start this year.

Asbenson told news.com.au she will testify and push for the death penalty.

She said she still carries emotional and psychological scars from the attack and often thinks about the eight women Urdiales murdered.

But she has also tried to move forward with her life.

Asbenson, 43, works part time and has a 20-year-old daughter, and is writing a book.
"I taught myself to revert back to my imagination to get through tough times," she told news.com.au.

"I taught my eyes to only see beauty and added amazing words into my vocabulary. I began to see differently, walk taller, make better eye contact and realised I had a purpose
on this Earth," she said.

"I didn't want my daughter to ever wish she had a different mum, so I turned myself into a different person."

She might have reinvented herself but Asbenson in not afraid to reflect on the past. She said returning to the desert for the first time since she was nearly murdered wasn't an emotional experience.

"The desert didn't hurt me, so why should I be afraid of it?" she told news.com.au.

"The places I went in my mind were scarier."

Jennifer Asbenson is self-publishing an autobiography one chapter at a time to her "The
Girl in the Treehouse" Facebook page. She is also the creator and founder of the 5th Warrior Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the safety of others through education, empowerment, inspiration, advocacy, prevention and awareness.

-Megan Palin

- news.com.au

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