Jennifer Asbenson

Jennifer Asbenson, the only known surviving victim of Chicago serial killer Andrew Urdiales, is starting a foundation aimed at preventing women from becoming victims of violent crimes and helping survivors cope.

Jennifer Asbenson was abducted, bound, gagged, raped, thrown in the trunk of a car and left half naked in the California desert at age 19 by a serial killer.

As the years dragged on after the attack without any leads in the case, people started doubting her story.

"They didn't know how it could have been real. It was almost like the cops didn't believe me," she said. "I felt like, are you kidding me? Nobody believed me and it started to make me feel crazy."

It would be five years before Andrew Urdiales, a former U.S. Marine from Chicago's Southeast Side, would be arrested, thanks to the work of a rookie Hammond cop.

"I was fortunate enough to escape, but over the years it has sometimes seemed that it was easier to fight to live that day than it was to just exist the days after," Asbenson said.

'Just be normal'

After Asbenson's attack, she wrapped her wrists to cover the damage caused by being bound. People who saw the bandages would ask about her injuries.

"The marks started to go away and people stopped asking," she said. "They helped me tell my story."

She soon found a reason to wrap her wrists again.

"I got a razor and started cutting to open my wrists up so I could wear the coverings, so people could ask and I could release that anxiety," Asbenson said. 

The anxiety caused her to lose friends and become estranged from family members.

A friend invited her on a double date and urged her to "just be normal." In the backseat with her date as the couples went out for the evening, the young man asked what she was whispering.

"I was memorizing license plates and asked if anyone had a piece of paper and a pen so I could write them down," she said. "I was looking for him everywhere I went."

While at a friend's house, she was in the bathroom late at night cutting her wrist when the friend walked in.

"She saw me and immediately called 911," Asbenson said. "At the time, it wasn't called cutting, just attempted suicide ... I wasn't suicidal at all."

She doesn't remember the ride to the mental hospital.

"I had a breakdown, lost my mind," she said. "I woke up strapped to a bed in a room with a camera and a little square in the door they could see me through. I thought, 'What the heck? Let me out of here.'"

'The black angel'

The trip to the mental hospital was one of many that would occur over the next four years, where treatment consisted primarily of strong doses of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs and questions about her attack.

"They asked if I thought I could have made up the story and I started to wonder if maybe I did," she said. "Then I thought, 'I'm going to live here forever because I'm nuts.'"

Asbenson said despite through the fog of the medications, she tried to remain on her best behavior so she could be released, but always found her way back.

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"He couldn't get me," she said. "I can sleep there. I'm safe. They check on me once an hour."

A man who worked at the mental hospital whom Asbenson refers to as "The Black Angel" sat next to her at a table during one of her many trips back to the hospital and changed her life.

"He said, 'You are going to live here forever if you keep doing what you're doing. You get on these medications and become psychotic,'" she said. "He pointed out people who were normal when they got here. He said he could lose his job, but he wanted to help."

The man taught her how to fake taking her medication so she could get off the drugs and on the path to wellness.

"After a couple of years, I started doing it," she said, saying she flushed the mediations down the toilet.

She eventually weaned herself off the medication and "The Black Angel" said he noticed the changes.

"I started seeing hope," she said. "They hadn't caught him yet, but I knew it was real and all it took was one person to believe me and help me. Without him, I would still be there."

She got a boyfriend on her trips in and out of the hospital and learned she was pregnant after she was released from the hospital.

"I said I need to change every single thing and I'm never going back again."

Finding beauty

After Asbenson's daughter was born, she vowed shield the child from her fear and anxiety.

She decided to make a change, using just her words.

"I started saying things like, 'How are you this glorious morning?' and it changed things," she said. "I had to try to turn it around and see beauty."

Urdiales confessed to Asbenson's rape and abduction and to seven of the eight murders he was charged with committing. He was convicted of three Illinois murders, including two on the Chicago side of Wolf Lake near the Hammond border. Two Hammond women fell victim to Urdiales and he is now awaiting trial in Orange County, Calif. for the murders of five women there.

Asbenson testified in the two Illinois trials and plans to testify in the Orange County trial as well. A date has not been set for those proceedings.

She has become friends with some of the family members of the five California murder victims.

"I just feel so bad for the families," Asbenson said.

Asbenson is now working to help victims and prevent others from falling prey to attackers with a new foundation and website called The 5th Warrior Foundation.

She believes her life was spared so she could share her story and help others survive.

"I am happier than I have ever been and I am fearless," she said. 

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