At 19, Jennifer Asbenson survived an attack by serial killer Andrew Urdiales

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January 30, 2019 09:00 AM

On a September night in 1992, Jennifer Asbenson was in a panic: The California 19-year-old had missed her bus and was worried she’d lose her job at a home for children with disabilities.

When a man pulled up in a light-colored sedan and offered her a ride, she was slightly hesitant but accepted.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is a Godsend,’ ” Asbenson, now 45, tells PEOPLE.

Sizing up the man’s physical appearance comforted her further: “I could totally beat this guy up if he did anything weird,” she recalls thinking.

The man drove her to her night shift and then invited her to have breakfast with him the following morning, but she was uninterested so she gave him a fake number.

Still, when she finished work, the man was in his car outside and offered her a ride home, which she accepted. “I didn’t feel fear from him because he didn’t do anything the night before,” she says.

She would regret the decision. What followed was a night of terror that haunted her for decades and is the focus of the following episode of People Magazine Investigates. The episode, titled “Monster in the Desert,” airs Monday at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. (An exclusive clip is shown above.)

• For more on Jennifer Asbenson’s harrowing encounter with a serial killer, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. 

Unbeknownst to Asbenson, she’d gotten into the car with serial killer Andrew Urdiales, an ex-U.S. Marine who had already killed four California women.

Less than two blocks away, he exploded into anger over the fake telephone number she’d given him, slamming her head into the dashboard and driving her to a remote desert spot, where he attempted to sexually assault her.

Jennifer Asbenson
Ryan Pfluger

At one point, Asbenson was able to wrestle free from his grasp and run away, but she didn’t get far before he grabbed her by the hair, and shoved her inside his trunk before driving off.

Asbenson, whose hands had been bound, knew if she stayed in the trunk she would die. “Then I just got hysterical strength,” she recounts.

Andrew Urdiales
AP/REX/Shutterstock

She broke her hands free and unlatched the trunk. When the car stopped, she jumped out.

Sprinting down the middle of the road, she looked back and saw Urdiales, swinging a machete above his head, chasing her. “It was like I was in a horror movie,” she says.

But she spotted a passing truck and flagged it down. The two Marines in the truck brought her to a gas station, where she called police.

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Urdiales went on to kill four more women in Illinois and California before he confessed to a total of eight killings.

Asbenson was left to grapple with her trauma, which she has chronicled in a memoir, titled, The Girl in the Treehouse: A Memoir, due out Jan. 29.

And while her memories of that fateful encounter bring a host of emotions, she says, “I feel very lucky to be alive.”

People Magazine Investigates: Monster in the Desert airs Monday, Feb. 4 at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.

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