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Holly Dunn’s ‘Sole Survivor’ carries powerful, hopeful message that life can go on after tragedy

Holly Dunn (Jeff Seymore)
November 07, 2017

Holly Dunn is the only survivor of the infamous “Railroad Killer” Angel Maturino Reséndiz – a serial killer who murdered at least 15 people, mostly along railroads, across six different states in the 1990s. This past summer marked the 20th anniversary of Dunn’s survival, and now, she is sharing her account of the events and her journey since then.

Dunn’s book, titled “Sole Survivor,” has been released, and the timing could not be more right, she recently told American Military News.

“It’s so exciting, but it’s a little bit scary,” Dunn said. “I guess I’ve been thinking about that the whole time. That’s my life story, and people are going to read it.”

Dunn said she always knew she would write a book and that it would help people. And, given the timing of the book release, Dunn said she knows it will help people.

“It’s beyond me. It’s bigger than me that this is all happening right now in the media. I’m thankful for it,” she explained. “I truly want people talking about this [abuse] all the time. I want to it to be in the conversation. I think that’s how it becomes not OK that these things are happening.”

Dunn said readers will be able to relate to the book, even if they have not been a victim of abuse.

“I think everyone has been through something. We can all be empathetic for peoples’ feelings of broken-ness,” she said. “All of us in the world have had a time when we’ve felt broken. I think people will know I had that feeling, but they’re also going to get the message of hope – that life can go on, and you can be happy. You can live a good life after a tragedy.”

“What I’m hoping for for survivors is, wherever they are in their healing process, that it jumpstarts them and can further them along, and somehow inspire them to live their good life, live their best life,” she added. “That’s my hope for survivors.”

Dunn has also co-founded a nonprofit group called Holly’s House that helps support victims of intimate crime and abuse.

Despite the horrifying event, “So much good has come from my experience, and as long as I have it on my heart, I will continue to be a voice for victims and try to help them on their journey to recovery,” Dunn had told American Military News.

20 Years Ago

Dunn witnessed the horrific murder of her boyfriend, Chris Maier, and was then raped, stabbed, beaten and left for dead. Twenty years after her narrow survival, she is still sharing the story of her attack and the decades of recovery that followed.

The attacker approached the Dunn and Maier as they were walking along railroad tracks on their way back to their college campus at the University of Kentucky, according to a segment of “48 Hours Live to Tell” on CBS News.

After tying their hands and feet together, Reséndiz murdered Maier by dropping a large rock on his head. He then stabbed and raped Dunn, beat her in the head multiple times with a large board and left her for dead.

When Dunn awoke several hours later, she stumbled back to campus where Chad Goetz, then a university senior, saw Dunn through his window, ran to help her and called the paramedics. At the University of Kentucky Medical Center, Dunn spent five days recovering from her many physical injuries.

Reséndiz continued to commit similar murders along railroad tracks. After a years-long investigation, he was identified and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1999. He surrendered to Texas Ranger Drew Carter in El Paso on July 13 of that year.

The Railroad Killer was convicted of murder after Dunn was able to testify at his trial. On June 27, 2006, Reséndiz was executed by lethal injection.

Holly’s House

Named a People Magazine Hero Among Us, Dunn uses the story of healing after her attack to honor Maier’s life and to help other victims of abuse through the nonprofit Holly’s House, of which she is the co-founder and spokesperson.

Holly’s House is “a non-residential child and adult victim advocacy center. [Their] mission is to empower victims of intimate crime and abuse by providing support, promoting justice and preventing violence,” according to their website.

Among many things, the nonprofit helps clients by assisting with forensic interviews and coordinating free support services for individuals and families in recovery.

“When I was recovering from the attack, I turned to my family, friends and my faith for support,” Dunn recently told American Military News.

“My support system was amazing and a lot of victims don’t have that. If you have just one person to talk to, that can make all the difference for your recovery. That, and more, is what we hope to provide for victims through Holly’s House,” Dunn said.

Co-founded by Dunn and Detective Brian Turpin, Holly’s House opened in Evansville, Indiana, on Sept. 8, 2008.

When the first client, a victim of domestic violence, arrived and said, “I saw this on the Internet and I didn’t know where else to go,” Dunn knew that the mission of Holly’s House was already being fulfilled.

Since 2008, Holly’s House has assisted more than 3,600 abuse victims and taught more than 23,000 students an abuse prevention program.

In addition to her role at Holly’s House, Dunn is a full-time motivational speaker and trainer. Through her work, she encourages those who suffered abuse to overcome their circumstances as a victim by trusting their instincts, thinking of themselves as survivors and taking self-defense classes.

“It’s important for people, especially women,” Dunn told American Military News, “to empower themselves to feel safe by knowing that they are capable of protecting themselves in a crisis.”

There are many times when victims of abuse thank Dunn after a speech for helping them on their journey of healing. It’s during these moments when Dunn finds the inspiration to continue telling the story of her attack and the life of redemption that followed.

Dunn is happily married to Jacob Pendleton, whom she met in college. Dunn told CBS News that Pendleton helped her through her recovery by listening to her talk about each horrible thing that happened to her individually and over time.

The couple has two children, aged one and five, which Dunn names her proudest life accomplishments so far.

Among Dunn’s numerous awards, she was named the Best of Evansville, Woman of the Year in Evansville Living Magazine in 2003; Hero of the Month in Glamour Magazine in 2007; and received the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Greatest Public Service in 2006.

“I didn’t plan any of the wonderful things that happened in the last 20 years,” Dunn told American Military News. Her co-founder presented the idea for Holly’s House to her, and motivational speaking opportunities came to her unasked.

“I don’t know what the next 20 years holds for me or for Holly’s House, but I know that the work is not done,” Dunn added.