The Hillside Strangler
I was living in Hollywood at the time of these murders. I was the right age, had the same long brown hair as most of the victims, and I was the same stature. It was scary.
This is the story about Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi. Cousins who kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered young women in the 1970's. Although they were eventually captured and admitted to these known victims, it is unlikely that this is the whole story. I believe that Buono acted on his savage attacks earlier than LE knows of. No doubt it escalated and that is one of the reasons they got caught.
October 18th, 1977: Angelo Buono Jr.and Kenneth Alessio Bianchi pick up prostitute Yolanda Washington on Hollywood Boulevard. After beating, raping and killing her, they dump her body near the entrance of Forest Lawn Cemetery, leaving her splayed in a grotesque manner, the cloth used to strangle her still around her neck.
October 31st, 1977: The nude body of 15 year-old teen runaway Judy Miller is found in a garden in La Crescenta, a suburb near Glendale, California. Her body had been laid on an anthill, her legs posed in the shape of a diamond. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detective Sergeant Frank Salerno notices is a small piece of white fluff her eyelid.
November 6th, 1977: A third victim is found laying nude and lifeless on Chevy Chase Drive, near Buono's residence. 21 year-old Elissa Kastin had been convinced by the two men to come to their house, where she was then savagely beaten, raped, and strangled.
Since at this point the victims were unidentified and believed to be runaways or prostitutes, police do not yet see a connection between the murders, and do not suspect them to be the work of a serial killer.
November 9th, 1977: The nude body of 18 year-old prostitute Jill Barcomb is discovered in Franklin Canyon north of Beverly Hills. Again, the victim has been placed in plain view as if to taunt police. Forensic evidence shows she suffered the same fate as the three previous victims.
November 18th, 1977: The body of 17 year-old high-school student Kathleen Robinson is found in near Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles's Wilshire area. Surprisingly, the body shows no signs of sexual abuse, but since does have the same ligature and strangulation marks, she is believed to have fallen prey to the same killer.
November 20th, 1977: Buono and Bianchi have now committed triple homicide, starting with two schoolgirls, 12 year-old Dolores Cepeda, and 14 year-old Sonja Johnson, whose nude, maggot-ridden bodies were discovered on a garbage heap in Elysian Park by a 9 year-old boy. Just a few miles away, in Highland Park, LAPD Homicide detective Sergeant Bob Grogan is called to the scene where the decomposing body of a third victim, 20 year-old Kristina Weckler lays nude and covered with ants. In addition to evidence of assault, rape, and strangulation, she has small mysterious puncture marks on her arms. The girl was first mistaken for a drug addict, but an autopsy revealed that the wounds had occurred while the killer had injected her with cleaning fluid.
Near the end of the month, the body count on hillsides in the Glendale-Highland Park area had risen dramatically. Since the victims had all been raped, sodomized, and strangled (showing the same ligature marks around the neck, wrists and ankles), and that they had all been meticulously washed and posed at the dump sites, Sergeant Grogan knew he was investigating a case of serial murder. It wasn't long before the media began its sensational coverage of the Hillside Strangler case. Panic ensued.
Of course, detectives Grogan and Salerno had not given away compromising information to the press; Grogan, having realized early on that some of the locations where the bodies had been dumped would have made it nearly impossible for it to be the work of a single man, knew he wasn't looking for the Hillside Strangler, but rather, the Hillside Stranglers.
November 23rd, 1977: 28 year-old Church of Scientology student Jane King is found near the Los Feliz exit ramp of Golden State Freeway, strangled with her own stockings. Although her body is showing signs of decomposition, the now all-too-familiar bruising pattern it is still visible.
November 29th, 1977: The body 18 year-old Lauren Wagner is found. Burn marks on the palms of her hands lead the investigators to believe the killer is now experimenting with more severe methods of torture. Her body is crawling with insects, including a large number of ants which seem to be following a small trail of viscous liquid on her skin. Since all the previous victims had been washed prior to being dumped, Sergeant Grogan is surprised to see what seems to be a secretion of human origin. Could the killer be slipping up? Unfortunately, the substance turned out to be an enzyme secreted by the ants themselves.
Since Lauren's car is found across the street from her home, her father asks other residents of the area if they have witnessed anything strange on the night of her abduction. One neighbor, Beulah Stofer recalls having seen Lauren arguing with two men who had driven up to her as she pulled over to the curb. Lauren was forced into the car, which then took off into the night.
Sergeant Grogan finally had a witness, but when he paid to visit the 51 year-old Mrs. Stofer, she looked quite shaken, as she had just received a threatening phone call from a man with a New York accent who had told her to keep quiet about what she had seen or she would be next. Nonetheless, Mrs. Stofer gave Grogan an good description of the two men's car, which had been a large dark automobile with a white top. She described the two men; both looked Latino, one was older and had bushy hair, while the other was younger, and had a pock-marked face.
Sadly, the investigators neglected to verify the phone company's records, which would have probably helped them learn the identity of one of the suspects. seeing as he would have used directory assistance to get Mrs. Stoufer's phone number.
December 9th, 1977: The body of 22 year-old call-girl Kimberly Diane Martin is found "posed" in a vacant lot on a steep hillside in Echo Park. Police investigate the rendez-vous point and the phone records, but all they find are an vacant apartment, and the phone from which the call originated is in the lobby of the Hollywood Public Library.
Investigators had failed to come up with substantial leads during the fall of 1977, and things weren't about to get better, as the killings stopped. Usually, the violent behavior of serial murderers escalates as they develop a sense of superiority and better techniques to abduct and dispose of their victims. Had the Hillside Stranglers decided to stop killing? Had they been picked up by police on an unrelated charge? Had they moved to another state? Were they simply on hiatus in order to elude capture?
February 20th, 1978: The nude body of 23 year-old Cindy Lee Hudspeth is discovered in the trunk of her orange Datsun. Her car had been pushed off a cliff. She had been strangled, and again, her wrists and ankles showed ligature marks. Incidentally, Cindy Lee Hudspeth shared another common trait with one of the victims; she was Kristina Weckler's neighbor. There was no question that this was again the work of the Hillside Stranglers, and that one or both lived in the area. Unfortunately, the body had been so thoroughly cleaned before disposal that it offered no clues that would help further the investigation, and shortly thereafter, the Hillside Strangler case task force was no more.
Cindy Lee was to be the last of the California victims, as Kenneth Bianchi grew tired of living with the slovenly Angelo Buono and moved to Washington State, where he moved in with his girlfriend Kelli Boyd. The couple had a baby boy, which Kelli thought would help her solidify her relationship with Kenneth. For a while, things appeared to be working for the best; Kenneth took a job as a security guard, where he proved to be competent enough to earn the trust and respect of his employers, but while his girlfriend saw this as a move towards stability, Kenneth was probably thinking more of the advantages of having access to an "official-looking" uniform and a position of authority he could exploit when he approached his potential victims.
Kenneth Bianchi did not need his cousin to help him at this point, he had become a skilled "hunter of humans", and it being almost a year since he had last succumbed to his urges, his need to kill was stronger than ever.
Bianchi made use of his position as a security guard to gain the confidence of Western Washington University students Karen Mandic and her roommate Diane Wilder. He asked the girls if they would agree to house sit for him and his wife. Shortly thereafter, when Karen's boss didn't hear from his employee, he began to worry. Karen had been reliable and it wasn't like her to miss work without calling in first. Furthermore, her boyfriend had not heard from her since she had told him about her house-sitting job. The Bellingham police were called in to investigate the missing person's case.
January 12th, 1979: the bodies of 22 year-old Diane Wilder and 27 year-old Karen Mandic were found in the back of Mandic's car; both show signs of strangulation and ligature marks.
Chief Terry Mangan and the Bellingham police detectives knew from the moment they found the girls that they were not the killer's first victims, and with a thorough follow-up of the leads they had gotten while investigating the girls' disappearance, including a piece of paper found lodged between the front seats of the car on which it was written "334 Bayside 7 pm Ken", they had established a link between them and a security guard named Kenneth Alessio Bianchi.
Bianchi was brought in for questioning, and his performance was so poor that the police knew they had found their man.
The detectives were also careful in collecting forensic evidence from both the car and the Bayside home the girls were supposed to house-sit, matching carpet fibers from the house, and hair collected from a brush found in the house, which matched that of one of the girls A single pubic hair found on one of the girls would later turn out to be a match for Bianchi's. Menstrual blood stains were also present on his underwear.
The detectives then made a connection between Bianchi and the Hillside Strangler murders which had plagued California a year before through his driver's license and the contents of an attaché case they had found in his car; the case contained documents pertaining to his rental of office space from a psychologist in Los Angeles, which was odd considering the fact that he was working as a security guard. When detective Fred Nolte called the LAPD to ask if they had heard of a Kenneth Alessio Bianchi, they told him he had actually applied to join the force, having even participated in a "ride-along program". Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detective Sergeant Frank Salerno was soon in Bellingham, questioning Bianchi about the Hillside Strangler killings.
During a thorough search of Kenneth Bianchi's home, police had found stolen items from some of the places he had been working as a security guard, and more importantly, jewelry which had belonged to two of the California victims, a ring belonging to Yolanda Washington, and Kimberly Martin's "Good Luck Horn" necklace.
While Sergeant Salerno assisted detective Nolte and the Bellingham police, his partner Peter Finnigan and Sergeant Grogan and the LAPD detectives were hard at work investigating Bianchi's activities in LA. Since Kenneth's cousin Angelo Buono owned a car upholstery business near many of the dump sites, it wasn't long before he too would be connected to the murders. Bianchi tried to fool the prosecution's expert witness psychiatrists by feigning multiple personalities, but he made enough mistakes that the insanity defense was soon abandoned.
Bianchi would later agree to testify against cousin Angelo Buono in exchange for prosecution in California, where he could avoid the death penalty, which was in full-effect in Washington State.
While incarcerated, Kenneth Bianchi was approached by a writer named Veronica Lynn Compton, the woman who could have been the "third" Hillside Strangler.
Veronica said she was doing research on serial killers to add realism to a play she was writing called "The Mutilated Cutter". She said that getting inside Bianchi's mind would help her with her work. It wasn't long before she fell in love with Bianchi, who in turn saw a great opportunity to try and have the charges against him dismissed. The plan was simple; he asked Veronica to help him with prove his innocence by strangling a girl and making it look like the previous victims. Surely, the fact that another murder with the Hillside Strangler MO occurred while he was in jail would make the police realize they had arrested the wrong man.
September 16, 1980: Veronica agrees to commit the murder. Bianchi even provides her with semen to plant on the body since he is a non-secretor and his blood type cannot be determined by seminal fluid or saliva.
Veronica Compton flies North to Bellingham, where under the influence of drugs and alcohol, she tries to bring a woman back to her hotel room where she attempts to strangle her. Fortunately, the would-be victim fights back, and escapes.
After failing to go through with the murder, Veronica heads back to California. Upon her arrival, she sends a letter to the Bellingham police telling them they have arrested the wrong man in connection with the Hillside Strangler murders. In the letter, she even refers to the "latest" strangling attempt, not thinking for a moment that the woman who survived could identify her.
October 3rd, 1980: Veronica Compton is arrested and sent to prison for attempted murder. Kenny breaks up with Veronica, who doesn't waste any time finding a new beau; a serial killer by the name of Douglas Clark, a.k.a. The Sunset Strip Slayer, who even goes as far as sending Veronica a Polaroid of himself next to a woman's headless corpse as a Valentine.
July 1981: Kenneth Bianchi, probably feeling remorseful for having snitched on his cousin or perhaps just looking out for number one, tries to confuse the prosecution by issuing contradictory statements pertaining to the case, hoping for a dismissal of charges. Fortunately, Judge Ronald M. George is not impressed by Bianchi's transparent ruse, and the trial is set o go on as planned.
November 1981: The Buono trial begins, and becomes one of the longest trials in US history. For over two years, a never ending parade of witnesses would come to testify, including Beulah Stofer and other key witnesses who had seen the abductions take place and were able to pick out Buono and Bianchi from photo lineups. The piece of fluff recovered from Judy Miller's eyelid turned out to be from a blindfold made from foam that matched samples taken from Buono's upholstery shop, establishing his planned involvement in the torture and murder of the victims. Bianchi pleaded guilty to 5 of the murders, and testified against Buono. who was later found guilty for 9 of the murders.
October 31, 1983: Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi are condemned to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
September 21, 2002: Angelo Buono died of heart failure while serving his sentence at Calipatria State Prison in California. He was 67 years-old.
Kenneth Bianchi is still serving his 118 year sentence at the Walla Walla State Penitentiary in Washington State. In 2002, he filed a lawsuit against Whatcom County seeking several hundred thousand dollars for lost wages and punitive damages for "emotional distress".
Kenneth Alessio Bianchi
Kenneth Alessio Bianchi was born in 1951, in New York, the son of an alcoholic prostitute. He was given up for adoption, and raised by foster parents Frances Bianchi and her husband, who died when Kenny was 13. Early on, there were strong indications that there would be problems later on in Kenny's life; he was a compulsive liar, threw violent tantrums, and although he showed signs of artistic talent an an above average intelligence, he was an underachiever in school.
Kenny was quite the con man, and would often manipulate his classmates into getting in trouble with, or for him. He also had a big ego, and would sometimes claim to have committed brave and adventurous deeds in order to impress the girls.
One of young Kenny's big obsessions in life was to become a police officer. Many serial killers have been individuals who have shown interest in law enforcement or other careers which gave them power and authority. One good example is that of Gerard John Schaefer, an ex-policeman from Florida who was convicted for murdering and mutilating several young women after explicitly detailed murder stories which he called "Killer Fiction" and jewelry belonging to some of the victims were found in his home.
As an adult, Kenneth Bianchi's behavior had not improved. He was still a con man and a liar, going as far as renting an office so he could set up a psychiatry practice. He also still dreamt of becoming a cop, and he participated in the LAPD's ride-along program. Kenneth was arrogant and macho, he was a skilled manipulator, and showed little respect towards his girlfriend, let alone women in general. Of course, anyone who spent enough time with Bianchi could figure out that within the 6 foot-tall well-dressed, physically fit man with a virile mustache lay an insecure, immature individual.
When Kenneth moved in with his cousin Angelo Buono Jr., he knew he had found his soulmate. The pair were well on their way to setting up their own harem of prostitutes when their desires turned to murder. The two egged each other on, raping, torturing, and murdering women without remorse. They often left their victims in grotesque, provocative poses and often showing signs of violent sexual mutilation. One victim was found with a broomstick pushed deep inside her uterus, an act which only served to show the anger Bianchi had towards women. Later, whilst being questioned by police, he said, "Why is it wrong to get rid of some fuckin' cunts?"
Bianchi anger and objectification of women stemmed from a variety of sources, but it would be safe to assume that much of that rage and resentment was towards his own birth mother, and his adoptive mother for having told him who and what she was. Also, religion had featured prominently in Kenneth's childhood, which contributed to his skewed view of women; he objected to girls wearing "sexy" clothes, even jeans, and expected every girl he was with to be a virgin.
Angelo Buono Jr.
Angelo Buono Jr. was born in New York State, in 1934. After the divorce of his parents, he moves with his mother Jenny and sister Cecilia to Glendale, California. As opposed to his cousin Kenny, Angelo lacked good looks, brains, and manners; while Bianchi's early experiences with religion had a strong emotional impact, Buono's attitude was more that of a delinquent, aloof and without a care in the world except that of satisfying his most basic instincts. Buono stole cars for joyrides, and did all the things delinquents do, which resulted in a stay at a juvenile detention facility, where he probably picked up more criminal skills from the more experienced juvenile offenders.
Buono was a monster in the making, both physically, and psychologically. He was already predisposed to an intense hatred and total disrespect for women, already bragging to having raped an sodomized several girls. Buono did not see sex as an act of love between two people, he saw sex as an act of dominance and a aggression. In addition to developing a view of women as sexual objects, he also verbally abused his own mother, often calling her a "bitch" and a "whore".
While still in his teens, Buono fathered a child. He married the young girl but left her soon thereafter, refusing to help her take care of the baby. He later had a child with another woman, whom he married. This time Buono remained with his wife, fathering five more children. In addition to to using his wife to reproduce, Buono would often use her for violent sex, which included bondage, sodomy, and rape. She eventually grew tired of being used and abused, and divorced Buono, who then, in true deadbeat dad fashion, neglected to pay alimony and child support.
Later, the urge to procreate took over once more, and Buono used his latest sweetheart as an incubator. The woman, who already had two children would now give birth to two more sons for Buono. In addition to her duties as a mother, Angelo's new wife became his new sex toy, being submitted to the same violence and abuse as his previous lover. It was only after she realized Angelo was raping her teenaged daughter that she had enough courage to leave her captor.
But Buono did not care, after all, he could always find himself a wife to beat up and degrade. He married another woman, but didn't care enough about her to have her move in with him or bear his children.