I survived: Evansville woman survived attack by serial killer
All week, we're sharing incredible stories of people who beat the odds and survived the unthinkable.
A simple nighttime walk turned into a nightmare for an Indiana college student. Years later, this "serial killer survivor" talks about the blessing that has come from making history in a horrific way that is nothing short of a miracle.
"I knew I was one-of-a-kind all of along. I had no idea that anything like this would happen," said Holly Dunn Pendleton of Evansville.
She remembers Labor Day weekend in 1997.
"My boyfriend and I went to a party. We left the party to go take a walk by the railroad tracks," she said.
When she and Chris Maier got up to leave, she says, "A man approached us. He asked us for money and proceeded to tie us up and gag us and ended up hitting my boyfriend."
Chris comforted her, saying "Everything's going to be okay."
It was the last thing he said. Chris was killed; Holly was raped.
"He hit me five or six times in the back of my head and also in my face and just tried to kill me," she said.
With her jaw and eye socket broken, she lay there unconscious.
"I think there was definitely a time when I thought I wasn't going to survive. I said a prayer and thought if I'm gonna die, I'm ready," she said. "But I somehow survived."
Holly is the sole survivor of the notorious "Railroad Killer," Angel Resendez, who murdered as many as 14 people across the country. All of the crimes were by railroad tracks.
"The detective on the case thought the railroad tracks played a big part in the crime, so he would send the DNA to other cases that had DNA and he just happened to send it to one in Texas and all of a sudden it matched, and all of a sudden we had a suspect because they had fingerprints," Holly said.
That Texas case was the 1998 rape and murder of a 39-year-old Houston doctor. Finally, Resendez was caught and stood trial.
"He changed his appearance often so he didn't necessarily look the same. But when I heard his voice that I had absolutely no question that it was him, I knew his voice and I knew it was him," Holly said.
Holly helped send him to death row, yet she never gave a victim's impact statement.
"I wanted to know was, 'Why did you choose us? Why did you do this?' You know, I wanted some answers. I wasn't going to get those. So I think I would have been more frustrated trying to tell him anything. He heard all I had to say in court," she said.
Resendez was executed in June 2006.
Meanwhile, Holly has turned that tragic event into a blessing to help other victims.
A former library is now a non-profit agency in Evansville. It's called Holly's House.
It would have been one option for Holly to just give up, perhaps move on in life and forget all about the past. But she decided to use her traumatic experience to help others.
At Holly's House, crime victims of all ages can be interviewed and medically examined in a non-threatening environment. Holly believes victims can become intimidated by speaking with multiple investigators at police stations and hospitals after a crime has occurred. There's also the chance they could come into contact with the suspect. Holly's House eliminates those problems.
"If they're interviewed once by the prosecutor, once by the police, once by their family, whoever might talk to them, the story might change every single time they tell the story because of who they're talking to," Holly said.
At Holly's House, they only have to share their traumatic story once, as police, Child Protective Services and prosecutors are in a room next door.
"This is where the team sits and actually watches the interview happening on the television. This is the microphone and they can actually talk to the interviewer through this microphone through this in their ear and they can ask specific questions things they need to know," Holly explained.
In the lobby of Holly's House, there's a fountain that symbolizes hope, faith and dreams to conquer.
"The large rocks that are in the fountain represent victims that have been to Holly's House," she explained.
Holly's own dreams have come true. She is married, and after seven years of fertility issues, Holly and her husband have a child, William Benjamin.
"To just have him now and hold him. I look at him often and just think, he's such a little miracle," she said.
Holly is a miracle in herself, thanks to a supportive family along with the Evansville community.
"Our donors are amazing. All we have to do is ask and they give us what we need. All the labor was donated, a lot of the materials. We opened up 100 percent debt free," she said.
During the attack, when her boyfriend told her, "Everything's gonna be okay," she explained, "I don't think at that point I really realized what those words meant but everything has been okay for and it has been amazing. I survived it and can try to do my best and make good things happen and help people."
You can donate a teddy bear to Holly's House that's given to young crime victims. Learn how to get involved.