I’ve been so tired lately. I get the kids to bed and either end up there myself by 9 or end up asleep on the couch. It’s sad. I’m old. How did I get to this point? In college, I’d stay up all night studying or writing an eight page paper. I’d go out until 3AM and wish there was some afterparty that would last until 5. Now I struggle to keep my eyes open through the first fifteen minutes of a movie. I pick up a book and read the same sentences 3 times, continuously dozing off. Gah. Being 30 stinks. I’m complaining again. I’m sorry . You’re my outlet! Forgive me! Let’s get back to the California Hillside Stranglers before we break up.
On October 18th, 1977, nineteen year old Yolanda Washington became the first victim of the stranglers when her naked body was found on a hillside near the Ventura Freeway. Yolanda’s body had been cleaned of forensic evidence; she had ligature marks around her neck, wrists, and ankles, and she had been raped. Two weeks later, on October 31st, the second victim, 15 year old Judy Miller, was found in a flower bed near the curb of a residential area. Her body was covered with a tarp by a neighbor who didn’t want school children to see her as they boarded the bus.
Judy Miller was a runaway who had also been working as a prostitute. On the night of October 30th, She was working the area outside of a 24 hour diner when she was picked up by Angelo Buono. Just as they were about to leave, Kenneth Bianchi confronted them and informed Judy she was under arrest for prostitution. Buono and Bianchi raped and tortured Judy that night before strangling her to death and dumping her body in the La Crescenta neighborhood. Her body also bore the same five point ligature marks that Yolanda had. This second murder indicated to detectives that they were dealing with serial killers.
In both instances, the women had been killed and then transported in vehicles before being dumped in areas where they would be quickly found. The women also had both been bound, raped, and tortured before being strangled. The second murder begins Bianchi and Buono’s impersonation of law enforcement – one they would frequently use in order to coerce women. If you remember from Part 1, Bianchi wanted to be part of law enforcement and attempted to be accepted on more than one occasion. This was Bianchi’s twisted way of becoming an authoritative figure in order to get what he wanted.
The third victim, twenty-one-year-old Lissa Kastin was found only 6 days later. In all, ten women and children were killed in a matter of 4 months. The hillside strangler’s youngest victims were twelve-year-old Dolores Cepeda and fourteen-year old Sonja Johnson. Their already badly decomposing bodies were found on a hillside near Dodger’s Stadium by a nine-year-old boy. The girls had also been strangled and raped.
Kenneth Bianchi was the mastermind behind the killings. He decided on them and performed them as a ritual. His killings coincide closely with relationship problems he had with his pregnant wife at the time. Angelo Buono, on the other hand, acted as the clean up crew that kept the two from being caught after murdering ten women. Buono would remove the bodies of forensic evidence.
After a botched 11th murder, Angelo confronted Ken. Angelo had become increasingly upset with Ken’s messy killings and felt that Ken’s poor decisions would get them caught. Ken then went on to inform Angelo that he had been going on ride-alongs with the LAPD and that he was being questioned about the Hillside Stranglers. At this time, a rage-filled Angelo forced Ken out of town and Ken moved to Bellingham, Washington in May 1978.
In January of 1979, Bianchi was working as a security guard in Bellingham. He had an assignment to guard a home and invited two women to the house who he had met earlier. Prior to the women’s arrival, Bianchi went around to neighboring houses and told them not to leave their homes due to suspicious activity. The women, once they arrived to the house, were forced down to the basement and strangled. The women, twenty-two-year-old Karen Mandic and twenty-seven-year-old Diane Wilder were both area college students. Without Buono around to clean up the bodies and remove the scenes of evidence, however, Bianchi left a trail that led authorities straight to him in less than 24 hours. At the time of his arrest, his M.O. was then linked to that of the 10 other victims in California who had been murdered in a similar fashion. This would be the Hillside Strangler’s undoing.
Bianchi was arrested and, to acquire leniency in his sentencing, agreed to testify against Angelo Buono. Buono was found guilty primarily on Bianchi’s testimony against him and was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 9 women. Buono died in prison in 2002 of a heart attack. Bianchi was also sentenced to life in prison and remains there today. He was denied parole in 2010 in Sacramento and will be eligible for parole again in 2025.
There are a number of weird/horrible things to mention about Bianchi, Buono, and these horrific murders.
- Many of the women were tortured with cleaning products, electric shock, and carbon monoxide by the men.
- Law enforcement did not release to the public that there were actually two men involved in the serial killings. They called the killer the “Hillside Strangler” despite finding two distinct sets of DNA in semen and acknowledging that it would be impossible for only one man to carry the bodies from the vehicles the were transported in.
- Bianchi did do ride-alongs with the LAPD. He talked to them in depth about the “hillside strangler”, gaining knowledge about what the LAPD was looking for and had noticed about the killings.
- Bianchi and Buono, pretending to be police officers, apprehended one Catharine Lorre in November of 1977 with the intent of killing her. However, upon realizing she was the daughter of famous actor Peter Lorre, known for playing a serial killer in the movie M, they let her go without incident.
- When Ken Bianchi was caught, he refused to acknowledge his involvement in the strangler killings in California. Psychiatrists interviewed him to determine his sanity and one even hypnotized him. While hypnotized, Bianchi claimed that his alter-ego “Steve Walker” a second personality within him, performed the killings. Another psychiatrist debunked his claims, however, as individuals with personality disorders cannot turn on and off their personalities as Bianchi was doing. The psychiatrist also informed Bianchi that usually individuals with multiple personalities typically have three or more personalities. Nearly immediately after this, Bianchi came up with another personality, “Billy”.
- The trial of Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono was the longest in history at the time in 1981. It lasted for two years, primarily because of Kenneth’s uncooperative and contradictory behavior.
- The Alphabet Murders which occurred near Rochester, New York, hometown of Kenneth Bianchi, have never been solved. The victims first and last initials matched the towns in which their bodies were found. Carmen Colon was found in Churchville. Michelle Maenza and found in Macedon. Wanda Walkowicz was found in Webster. Kenneth was an ice cream vendor at the time of the murders and was circumstantially linked to two of the crime scenes (witnesses saw Kenneth’s car near the scenes). However, Kenneth has never been tried for the murders and has repeatedly claimed his innocence. Look that one up, ya freaks!
So, there you have it. Part 2 of the horror that was the Hillside Stranglers. Now, please go watch a terrible (but necessary) rom com and happy cry. Here’s what I recommend –
If this doesn’t make you feel better, you are not human. But seriously, hug someone you love and eat half a bag of potato chips. You’ve earned it!