Lisa Rinna's Mother Lois Once Survived a Serial Killer's Attack

Photo: Jesse Grant/WireImage

Photo: Jesse Grant/WireImage

By Kristen Rogers Anderson

Tuesday night on The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, Lisa Rinna dropped a bombshell — that her mother, Lois, survived an attack by a serial killer known as the Trailside Killer in 1961.

But this wasn’t the first time she had discussed this piece of her personal history and how it shaped her worldview. In 2017, Lisa Rinna made an appearance on Heather McDonald’s Juicy Scoop podcast and told her mother’s story.

On the podcast, Lisa says Lois was 30 years old and living in California when she was waiting at a bus stop and her shy, pleasant coworker David pulled up and offered her a ride. She thought, “Why not?” Lois and David had worked in an office together for about 3 years and she felt sorry for him because of his severe stutter. She had even met his wife and new baby, so she felt comfortable around him. She accepted his offer and got in the car.

But when David pulled sharply down a deserted road, Lois’ comfort began to dissipate.

“What are you doing, David?” she asked.

He replied, “I don’t know, Lois...I sometimes get these feelings that come over me.” Strangely, his stutter was gone.

Lisa says everything happened quickly after that. Military police happened to be driving along the same route as David and Lois and noticed the car’s abrupt movements, so they followed them down the road -- and in the midst of talking to an increasingly uncomfortable and confused Lois, David noticed their vehicle. He decided to go for broke and fulfill his urges quickly.

He immediately stopped the car, retrieved a knife from the glove compartment, jumped on top of Lois in the passenger seat and began attacking her.

Lois reached up to grab the knife, cutting her hand in the process, and David reached into his back seat for a hammer, which he used to throttled her until the police reached them. As he tried to escape, he was shot in the stomach and apprehended.

Lois was so shocked and delirious, Lisa recounted, that her purse had fallen as she escaped from the car and she focused on grabbing its scattered contents instead of running to the safety of the officers.

But she snapped to attention when she heard that she and David were going to be in the same police vehicle headed away from the scene, and understandably panicked. An ambulance was called for her and she rode to the hospital safely on her own.  

David Carpenter would go on to serve 6 years of a 14 year sentence for attempted murder, gaining early freedom by participating in a plea deal. He spent only a few years on the outside before heading to prison again for kidnapping, this time for 7 years. Once released, he became a suspect in the notorious Zodiac killings, but was cleared — and began the killing spree that had him dubbed the Trailside Killer. Carpenter precipitated a wave of panic in California in the 1970s when the bodies of at least 10 raped and murdered women were found mainly along park trails.

After the authorities connected Carpenter to the crimes, Lois testified against her attacker and former coworker at the sentencing in 1984, her family present in the courtroom looking on in support. Her testimony helped secure his conviction, and today Carpenter is still on death row at age 88.

Lois’s story of surviving a serial killer is the stuff of true crime drama, but Lisa Rinna’s experience of growing up the daughter of someone who’s survived trauma is compelling in its own way. Children are accustomed to parental admonishments, and “Oh, MOM” eye-rolls at perceived over-protectiveness are as teenage standard-issue as rebellion and weird hair experiments. But an entirely new layer is present when the parent has been through something genuinely horrific, gaining first-hand knowledge that bad things do sometimes happen.

“I grew up with a whole lot of fear, mom was so overprotective,” Rinna said of her childhood. “It made me who I am and it makes me very leery; it makes me very protective. My boundaries go up quite easily, I would say.”

Part of what’s terrifying about Lois’s account of her attack by David Carpenter is that her boundaries were up but he was able to somehow navigate around them, flying under the radar with his shyness and a stutter that made him endearing to some. It’s a reminder that not all bad people reveal themselves as such, broadcasting “off”-ness and causing unexplainable gut feelings -- sometimes they’re just the guy from your office that you feel a little sorry for.

Lois is still alive and well, a beloved and sweet presence whenever she pops up on Housewives, and many fans were shocked to hear about what she had gone through. She’s an embodiment of the flip side of the wolf in sheep’s clothing that Carpenter represented — a strong woman who’s endured more horror than you could guess with a smile on her face.