Alessio Bianchi (born May 22, 1951) is
an American serial killer. Bianchi and his cousin Angelo Buono, Jr.,
together are known as the Hillside Stranglers. He is serving a
term of life imprisonment in Washington. Bianchi is also a suspect
in the Alphabet murders, three unsolved murders in his home city
Bianchi was born in Rochester, New York, to a
prostitute who gave him up for adoption two weeks after he was
born. He was adopted at three months by Frances Scioliono and
her husband Nicholas Bianchi in Rochester.
Bianchi was deeply troubled from a young age,
and his adoptive mother described him as being "a compulsive liar
who had risen from the cradle dissembling". He often worried her
with his penchant for trance-like daydreams. Despite having above-average
intelligence, he was an underachiever who was quick to lose his
temper. He was diagnosed with petit mal seizures when he was five
years old and passive-aggressive disorder when he was 10. After
Nicholas' death from pneumonia in 1964, Frances had to work while
her son attended high school.
Shortly after Bianchi graduated from Gates-Chili
High School in 1971, he married his high school sweetheart; the
union ended after eight months. Supposedly, she left him without
an explanation. As an adult, he dropped out of college after one
semester, and drifted through a series of menial jobs, finally
ending up as a security guard at a jewelry store. This gave him a
great opportunity to steal valuables, which he often gave to
girlfriends or prostitutes to buy their loyalty. Because of many
petty thefts, Bianchi was constantly on the move.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1977, and started
spending time with his older cousin Angelo Buono, who was
impressed with Bianchi's fancy clothes, jewelry, and stories of
getting any women he wanted and "putting them in their place".
Before long, they worked together as pimps, and, by late 1977, had
escalated to murder. They had raped and murdered 10 women by the
time they were arrested in early 1979.
Bianchi and Buono would usually cruise around
Los Angeles in Buono's car and use fake badges to persuade girls
that they were undercover cops. Their victims were women and
girls aged 12 to 28 from various walks of life. They would then
order the girls into Buono's "unmarked police car" and drive
them home to torture and murder them.
Yolanda Washington, age 19 October
Judith Ann Miller, age 15 October
Lissa Kastin, age 21 November 6,
Jane King, age 28 November 10, 1977
Delores Cepeda, age 12 November 13,
Sonja Johnson, age 14 November 13,
Kristin Weckler, age 20 November 20,
Lauren Wagner, age 18 November 29,
Kimberely Martin, age 17 December 9,
Cindy Lee Hudspeth, age 20 February
Both men would sexually abuse their victims
before strangling them. They experimented with other methods of
killing, such as lethal injection, electric shock, and carbon
monoxide poisoning. Even while committing the murders, Bianchi
applied for a job with the Los Angeles Police Department and had
even been taken for several rides with police officers while they
were searching for the Hillside Strangler.
One night, shortly after they botched their
would-be eleventh murder, Bianchi revealed to Buono he had
attended LAPD police ride alongs, and that he was currently being
questioned about the strangler case. After hearing this, Buono
erupted in a fit of rage. An argument ensued at one point during
which Buono threatened to kill Bianchi if he did not flee to
Bellingham, Washington. In May 1978 he did flee to Bellingham,
joining his girlfriend and son currently living there.
On January 11, 1979, Bianchi lured two female
students into a house he was guarding. The women were 22-year-old
Karen Mandic and 27-year-old Diane Wilder, and were students at
Western Washington University. He forced the first student down
the stairs in front of him and then strangled her. He murdered the
second young girl in a similar fashion. Without help from his
partner, he left many clues and police apprehended him the next
day. A California driver's license and a routine background check
linked him to the addresses of two Hillside Strangler victims.
Following his arrest, Bianchi admitted he and
Buono, in 1977, while posing as police officers, stopped a young
female by the name of Catharine Lorre with intentions of abducting
and killing her. But after learning she was the daughter of actor
Peter Lorre, they let her go. Only after he was arrested did
Catharine learn of the true identity of the men whom she
At his trial, Bianchi pleaded not guilty by
reason of insanity, claiming that another personality, one "Steve
Walker", had committed the crimes. Bianchi even convinced a few
expert psychiatrists that he indeed suffered from multiple
personality disorder, but investigators brought in their own
psychiatrists, mainly the psychiatrist Martin Orne. When Orne
mentioned to Bianchi that in genuine cases of the disorder,
there tend to be three or more personalities, Bianchi promptly
created another alias, "Billy". Eventually, investigators
discovered that the very name "Steven Walker" came from a
student whose identity Bianchi had previously attempted to steal
for the purpose of fraudulently practicing psychology. Police
also found a small library of books in Bianchi's home on topics
of modern psychology, further indicating his ability to fake the
Once his claims were subjected to this scrutiny,
Bianchi eventually admitted that he had been faking the disorder.
To acquire leniency, he agreed to testify against Buono. However,
in actually giving his testimony, Bianchi made every effort to be
as uncooperative and self-contradictory as possible, apparently
hoping to avoid being the ultimate cause of Buono being convicted.
In the end, Bianchi's efforts were unsuccessful, as Buono was in
fact convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1980, Bianchi began a relationship with
Veronica Compton, a woman he met while in prison. During his trial,
she testified for the defense, telling the jury a false, vague
tale about the crimes in an attempt to exculpate Bianchi and also
admitting to wanting to buy a mortuary with another convicted
murderer for the purpose of necrophilia. She was later convicted
and imprisoned for attempting to strangle a woman she had lured to
a motel in an attempt to have authorities believe that the
Hillside Strangler was still on the loose and the wrong man was
imprisoned. Bianchi had given her some smuggled semen to use to
make it look like a rape/murder committed by the Hillside
Bianchi is serving his sentence at Washington
State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.
Kenneth Bianchi was denied parole on Wednesday,
August 18, 2010 by a state board in Sacramento (according to Los
Angeles County district attorney's office spokeswoman Sandi
Gibbons). He will be eligible to apply for parole again in 2025.
Hillside Strangler is the media epithet for two men, Kenneth
Bianchi and Angelo Buono, cousins, who were convicted of
kidnapping, raping, torturing, and killing girls and women ranging
in age from 12 to 28 years old during a four-month period from
late 1977 to early 1978. They committed their crimes in the hills
above Los Angeles, California.
The first victim of the Hillside Strangler
was a Hollywood prostitute, Yolanda Washington, whose body was
found near the Forest Lawn Cemetery on October 18, 1977. The
corpse was cleaned and faint marks were visible around the neck,
wrists, and ankles where a rope had been used. It was discovered
that the victim had been raped.
On November 1, 1977, police were called to a La
Crescenta, Los Angeles, California neighborhood, north east of
downtown Los Angeles, where the body of a teenage girl was found
naked, face up on a parkway in a residential area. The then
homeowner covered her with a tarp to protect the neighborhood
children from viewing her on their way to school. Bruises on her
neck indicated strangulation. The body had been dumped, indicating
she was killed elsewhere. The girl was eventually identified as
Judith Lynn Miller, a runaway prostitute who was barely 15 years
old. This event caused the homeowner to relocate his family out of
state for their protection. The coroner's report further detailed
her being bound much like the first victim, Yolanda Washington.
Five days later, on November 6, 1977, the nude
body of another woman was discovered near the Chevy Chase Country
Club. Similar to Judith Lynn Miller, she had been strangled with a
ligature. The woman was identified as 21-year-old Lissa Teresa
Kastin, a waitress, and was last seen leaving work the night
before she was discovered. Whereas some of the other victims were
prostitutes, Lissa Kastin was a characteristically "good girl" who
had also worked part time for her father's real estate and
construction business. A ballet student, she was saving money to
continue her training and hoped to become a professional dancer.
Two girls, Dolores Cepeda, 12,
and Sonja Johnson,14 boarded a school bus and headed home on
November 13, 1977, The last time they were seen was getting off
this bus and approaching a car. Inside the car were reportedly two
men. A young boy, cleaning up a trash-strewn hillside near Dodger
Stadium found two bodies, six days later, November 20. Both girls
had been strangled and raped, and were identified as Cepeda and
Later that same day, November 20, 1977, hikers
found the nude, sexually assaulted body of Kristina Weckler, 20,
on a hillside near Glendale. Unlike previous victims, there were
signs of torture, indicated by oozing injection marks.
On November 23, 1977, the badly decomposed body
of Jane King, 28, an actress, was found near an off ramp of the
Golden State freeway. She had gone missing around November 9. With
the continued discovery of bodies in hilly areas, a task force was
formed to catch the predator, dubbed the "Hillside Strangler."
On November 29, 1977, police found the body of
Lauren Wagner, 18. She also had been strangled with a ligature.
There were also burn marks on her hands indicating she was
tortured. The law enforcement task force Los Angeles Police
Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Glendale
Police Department began to assume that more than one person was
responsible for the murders, even though the media continued to
use the singular, Hillside Strangler.
On December 13, 1977, police found the body of
17-year-old prostitute Kimberly Martin on a hillside.
The final victim in Los Angeles was discovered
on February 16, 1978, when a helicopter spotted an orange Datsun
abandoned off a cliff in the Angeles Crest area. Police responded
to the scene and found the body of the car's owner, 20-year-old
Cindy Hudspeth, in the trunk.
Some time in 1977, the two men gave a ride to
Catharine Lorre with the intent of killing her as well. However,
when they discovered that Catharine was the daughter of Hungarian
actor Peter Lorre, famous for his role as a child murderer in
Fritz Lang's masterpiece film M, they let her go without
incident. She didn't realize who the men were until they were
After intensive investigation, police charged
cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, Jr. with the crimes.
Bianchi had fled to Washington where he was soon arrested for
raping and murdering two women he had lured to a home for a house-sitting
job. Bianchi attempted to set up an insanity defense, claiming he
had a personality disorder, and a separate personality from
himself committed the murders. Court psychologists, notably Dr.
Martin Orne, observed Bianchi and found that he was faking the
illness, so Bianchi agreed to plead guilty and testify against
Buono in exchange for leniency.
At the conclusion of Buono's trial in 1983,
presiding judge Ronald M. George, who would later become Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court of California, said he would impose
the death penalty without a second thought if the jury had allowed
Bianchi is serving a life sentence in the
Washington State Penitentiary of the Washington State Department
of Corrections in Walla Walla, Washington. Buono died of a heart
attack on September 21, 2002, in Calipatria State Prison of the
California Department of Corrections, where he was serving a life
In 1980, Bianchi began a relationship with
Veronica Compton. During his trial, she testified for the defense.
She was later convicted and imprisoned for attempting to strangle
a woman she had lured to a motel in an attempt to have authorities
believe that the Hillside Strangler was still on the loose and the
wrong man was imprisoned. Bianchi had given her some smuggled
semen to use to make it look like a rape/murder committed by the
Hillside Strangler. She was released in 2003.
The so-called "Alphabet
murders" (also known as the "double initial murders") took
place in the early 1970s in the Rochester, New York area; three
young girls were raped and strangled. The case got its name from
the fact that each of the three girls' first and last names
started with the same letters (Carmen Colon, Wanda Walkowicz, and
Michelle Maenza) and that the bodies were found in a town that
started with the same letter as the girls' names (Colon in
Churchville, Walkowicz in Webster and Maenza in Macedon).
Carmen Colon, 11, disappeared November
16, 1971. She was found two days later 12 miles from where she
was last seen. Although found in the town of Riga, the village
of Churchville is the town's center of population, and the town
of Chili is nearby.
Wanda Walkowicz, 11, disappeared April
2, 1973. She was found the next day at a rest area off State
Route 104 in Webster, seven miles from Rochester.
Michelle Maenza, 11, disappeared
November 26, 1973. She was found two days later in Macedon, 15
miles from Rochester.
While hundreds of people were questioned, the
killer was never caught. One man, considered to be a "person of
interest" in the case (he committed suicide six weeks after the
last of the murders), was cleared in 2007 by DNA testing. In the
case of Carmen Colon, her uncle was also considered a suspect
until his suicide in 1991.
Another suspect was Kenneth Bianchi, who at the
time was an ice-cream vendor in Rochester, vending from sites
close to the first two murder scenes. He was a Rochester native
who later moved to Los Angeles, and with his cousin Angelo Buono
committed the Hillside Strangler murders between 1977 and 1978.
Bianchi was never charged with the Alphabet murders, and he has
repeatedly tried to have investigators officially clear him from
suspicion; however, there is circumstantial evidence in that his
car was seen at two murder scenes. The third girl had told her
father that she was going out to buy ice-cream; she disappeared
between Bianchi's store and another one, close to the station
where Bianchi vended ice-cream. Bianchi has denied committing the
murders, and has also attempted to get his name removed from the
police investigators' lists in Rochester. He remains under
In 2001, the Discovery Channel aired a program
revisiting the murders. A 2008 film called The Alphabet Killer
was very loosely based on the murders. In 2010, a book called
Alphabet Killer: The True Story of the Double Initial Murders
was released by author Cheri Farnsworth, detailing the actual
events, from the time they occurred through to the present.
The Hillside Stranglers
more than a few homicides to get the attention of the people in
a city the size of Los Angeles. Murders are a daily occurrence,
particularly when one involves a person living in a high-risk
lifestyle, like a prostitute. So when three women were found
strangled and dumped naked on hillsides northeast of the city
between October and early November of 1977, very few people lost
sleep over it. Only a couple sharp homicide detectives got
nervous that this was just the beginning.
Everything changed Thanksgiving week when five young women and
girls were found on hillsides in the Glendale-Highland Park
area. These five young women - one of which was twelve, another
only fourteen - were not prostitutes, but "nice girls" who had
been abducted from their middle-class neighborhoods.
Newspapers and television stations talked of rape, torture,
abduction and murder. The collective consciousness of a populace
numbed by violence was suddenly and unpleasantly engaged. The
city went into a panic.
"Hillside Strangler" was coined by the media, even though police
were convinced that there was more than one person involved.
People did what they always do in a panic: they warn their
children to be careful; buy large dogs; install new locks on
their doors; take self-defense classes; carry guns and knives to
this seemed to work, however, since the stranglers still did not
have any problems getting new victims.
Sunday, November 20, 1977, LAPD Homicide Detective Sergeant Bob
Grogan was hoping to be able to enjoy his day off when he was
called to an obscure area in the hills between Glendale and
Eagle Rock. As he tried with difficulty to locate the site, he
thought to himself that whoever was using this area to dump
bodies must be very familiar with the neighborhood to even know
this place existed.
girl was found naked in a modest, middle-class neighborhood.
Grogan immediately noticed the ligature marks on her wrists,
ankles and neck. When he turned her over, blood oozed from her
rectum. The bruises on her breasts were obvious. Oddly enough,
there were two puncture marks on her arm, but no signs of the
needle tracks that indicate a drug addict.
Grogan examined the scene, he saw no indication of any
disturbance in the foliage nor any sign that the body had been
dragged there. He made a mental note to himself that the murder
occurred somewhere else and a man, maybe two men, had carried
her body and dumped it there in the grass.
hours later that afternoon, Grogan's partner, Dudley Varney, had
been called to investigate two homicides on the other side of
that same hilly area. The two dead girls had been found by a
nine-year-old boy who had treasure hunting in a trash heap on
the hillside. It was a pretty horrible sight, made all the more
grotesque by the decay and army of insects that had taken over
there was no indication that the murders had occurred where the
bodies were found, nor was their any evidence that the bodies
had been dragged there. Small as the young girls were, there was
the probability that more than one killer was involved in
dumping their bodies on the hillside.
not take long to identify the girls as Dolores Cepeda, twelve,
and Sonja Johnson, fourteen, both of whom had been missing for
about a week from St. Ignatius School. The girls had been last
seen getting off a bus and going over to a large two-tone sedan
to talk to someone on the passenger side. A person on the
passenger side corroborated the theory that there were two
killers, probably both men.
day, the first girl that Bob Grogan investigated was identified
as Kristina Weckler, a quiet twenty-year-old honors student at
the Pasadena Art Center of Design. As he searched her apartment
at 809 East Garfield Avenue in Glendale, Grogan was overcome by
sadness and, then, rage. Her effects and her diary showed her to
be a loving and serious young woman who should have had a bright
future ahead of her.
not help but think fearfully of his own teenage daughter. When
Kristina's devastated parents came from San Francisco to pick up
her belongings, Grogan pledged to them that he would find her
killer or killers.
November 23, the day before Thanksgiving, another young woman's
body was found, this time near the Los Feliz off ramp of the
Golden State Freeway. Her maggot-covered body was estimated to
have been there some two weeks. She had been strangled like the
others, but it was not certain if she had been raped.
weeks earlier, the young woman had been a vibrant and attractive
blonde with a figure like a model. Jane King was twenty-eight at
the time she was murdered.
authorities lost no time in creating a task force, initially
composed of thirty officers from LAPD, the Sheriff's Department
and the Glendale Police Department. Like every other task force
formed in a high-profile case, the officers were soon
overwhelmed with worthless tips and suggestions from
killers took the holiday weekend off, but that was all. On
Tuesday, November 29, Grogan was called to the hills around
Glendale's Mount Washington area. The naked body of a young
woman was found lying partially in the street. The ligature
marks on her ankles, wrists and neck were the Hillside
Strangler's calling card.
something was different: it looked as though she had burns on
her palms. Like the strange puncture marks on Kristina Weckler's
arms, it looked as though the killers were experimenting -
possibly with methods of torture. There was also something else
that was different - a shiny track of some sticky liquid, which
had attracted a convoy of ants. If this substance was semen or
saliva, there was the possibility that the killer's blood type
could be determined. Tests on semen found in the earlier victims
had revealed nothing.
same day, the young woman was identified as Lauren Wagner, an
eighteen-year-old student who lived with her parents in the San
Fernando Valley. Her parents had gone to bed the previous night,
expecting her to come home before midnight. The next morning,
they found her car parked across the street with the door ajar.
Lauren's father questioned the neighbors, he found that the
woman who lived in the house where Lauren's car had been parked
saw her abduction. Beulah Stofer, the neighbor, said that she
had seen Lauren pull over to the curb around nine o'clock in the
had pulled their car beside hers. There was some kind of
disagreement and Lauren ended up in the car with the two men.
went to talk to Beulah immediately. Her Doberman barked
furiously at him as he went to her door. Beulah was a
bespectacled asthmatic in her late fifties and almost at the
point of nervous collapse. She had just had a phone call from a
man with a New York accent.
lady with the dog?" he asked her. When she said that she had a
dog, he told her to keep her mouth shut about what she had
witnessed or he would kill her. Beulah did not realize that
Lauren had been abducted. She thought that she had just
witnessed a quarrel and she wasn't even sure it had been Lauren.
described the killers' car as a large dark car with a white top.
One of the men had dragged Lauren from her car into his. She
heard Lauren cry out, "You won't get away with this!"
was so terrified by the incident that she did not even tell her
husband who had been home the whole time. The horror of the
whole thing had thrown her into a violent asthma attack.
sure that there were two men: one was tall and young with acne
scars; the other one was Latin-looking, older and shorter with
bushy hair. She was certain that she could identify them again.
though Beulah claimed that she was standing at her window when
Lauren was attacked, her descriptions of the men were too vivid
to have been seen at such a distance. The window was a good
thirty feet from the street. Grogan was sure that Beulah had
really been out in her front yard and hid in the bushes when the
commotion began. Otherwise, with her dog barking the whole time,
she never could have heard Lauren tell her captors that they
would never get away with it. Perhaps, Beulah would tell the
whole truth when it and if it became necessary.
the abduction of Lauren Wagner, the killers saw the whole city
as their cruising ground. Nowhere was safe. At least when the
crimes were confined to Hollywood and Glendale, police could
intensify their efforts in those areas. Now, it was a crapshoot.
Nobody knew where the stranglers would strike the next time.
rampage of Thanksgiving week threw into the spotlight three
earlier murders of prostitutes or suspected prostitutes,
beginning in October.
October 17, 1977, a tall, leggy prostitute of African-American
descent called Yolanda Washington was raped and strangled. Her
nude body was dumped near the Forest Lawn Cemetery.
two weeks later, Sergeant Frank Salerno, a detective with the
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was called to the town
of La Crescenta, north of the Glendale area to investigate the
homicide of a woman. It was a pretty grim sight for that
Halloween morning of 1977.
naked body of the woman lay close to the curb in a middle-class
residential area, covered with a tarp by the property owner so
as to shield the body from the children in the neighborhood. The
bruises on her neck showed that she had been strangled. She had
ligature marks on both wrists and ankles as well as her neck.
Insects feasted on her pale skin. On her eyelid was small piece
of light-colored fluff that Salerno saved for the forensic
experts. It did not appear that she had been murdered there in
was placed deliberately where it would be found quickly. As
though it was a nasty wake-up call to that respectable
middle-class neighborhood. There was no indication that the
victim had been dragged to the spot where she lay, so Salerno
theorized that she had been carried from a car, possibly by more
than one person.
small and thin, weighing about ninety pounds and appeared to be
about sixteen years old. Her hair was reddish brown and was
coroner determined that she had been strangled to death around
midnight, some six hours or so before she was found Halloween
morning. It was also clear that she had been raped and
couple of days, she still didn't match any missing person's
report. Salerno persuaded the newspapers to run a small story on
her, along with a sketch and a request to contact the police if
anyone recognized her. Still no one came forward to identify
took to the streets around Hollywood Boulevard, which was a
mecca for runaways, addicts, prostitutes and the homeless. With
her sketch in hand, he showed it to hundreds of street people.
The name Judy Miller kept surfacing as a young destitute whore.
A man named Markust Camden, who described himself as a bounty
hunter, said he saw Judy Miller leave the Fish and Chips
restaurant at nine p.m. on the evening before she was found
prospects for solving this particular homicide were not
promising. Salerno's only other clue, the little piece of fluff
that he found on the victim's eyelid, could not be identified.
later, on the morning of Sunday, November 6, 1977, the naked
body of another strangulation victim was found in Glendale near
a country club. Salerno talked to the Glendale police and
recognized the similarities between the two victims. Both had
been strangled by ligature and their bodies had been dumped
within six or so miles of one another. Both girls had the same
five-point ligature marks (ankles, wrists, and neck). There was
evidence of rape, but not sodomy, in the newest victim.
at the scene where the body had been deposited, Salerno was
certain that at least two men were involved. There was a
sizeable guardrail between the road and the spot where the body
lay. It would have taken two men to lift the stocky victim over
victim quickly had a name. She was Lissa Kastin, a
twenty-one-year-old waitress at the Healthfaire Restaurant near
Hollywood and Vine. She lived just off Hollywood Boulevard. She
had made a comment to her mother than she was thinking of
turning to prostitution to earn some extra money. Lissa had last
been seen leaving the Healthfaire Restaurant just after nine
o'clock on the night she was murdered.
Eventually, Salerno tracked down the Miller family and got a
positive identification on the first victim. The family was down
on its luck and had nothing to contribute about their daughter's
Thanksgiving week, only Frank Salerno of the L.A. Sheriff's
Department had known that a serial killer was at work. After
Thanksgiving week, it was the top priority for the entire law
enforcement community of Los Angeles. Eight victims in the space
of two months. The investigation went into high gear, but the
killer or killers took a couple of weeks off.
mid-December, police were called to a vacant lot on a steep
hillside on Alvarado Street where they found the body of
Kimberly Diane Martin, a tall, blonde call-girl who had been
working for the Climax "modeling agency."
time the police department had what seemed like two reasonably
good leads. Kimberly Martin's last client had beckoned her to
Apartment 114 at 1950 Tamarind, which turned out to be a vacant
apartment. The murderer had called from a pay phone in the lobby
of the Hollywood Public Library on Ivar Street.
Unfortunately, nothing much came from these leads and the police
did not have any immediate arrests. But things became quiet for
awhile. There were no more victims in December or January.
mid-February, there was another victim. On Thursday, February
16, an attractive young women named Cindy Hudspeth was murdered.
Her strangled, violated body was put into the trunk of her
Datsun and was pushed off a cliff on Angeles Crest.
day when the police investigated, it was clear from the ligature
marks that the Hillside Strangler was at work once again. Police
focused on the details of Cindy's life in the hopes that they
could determine who was with her when she disappeared.
had been a twenty-year-old clerk that everybody liked. She hoped
to make enough money to go to college one day and planned to
give dancing lessons to help raise the money. A vivacious young
woman, she had won several dance contests. She had been last
seen in her apartment building at 800 East Garfield Avenue. She
had probably been headed toward Glendale Community College,
where she worked nights answering the phone. Between her
apartment building and the community college, Cindy had been
kidnapped in the late afternoon.
Hudspeth had lived across the street from another victim,
Kristina Weckler, even though the two women did not know each
other. Detectives Bob Grogan and Frank Salerno both believed
that there was a good chance that at least one of the killers
lived in Glendale.
relationship between the LAPD and the LA Sheriff's Department
had been notoriously bad for many, many years. Petty squabbles,
jealousies, jurisdictional and territorial issues limited
cooperation among the members of these two key law enforcement
agencies and were a boon to criminals who took advantage of that
situation. However, in this particular case, the two key
investigators -- Frank Salerno of the Sheriff's department and
Bob Grogan of LAPD -- worked well together and made a point of
ensuring that information was shared between both large law
this harmony, the investigation was going nowhere. The few clues
they had produced no good suspects. They knew the kind of person
they were looking for, but that wasn't much help in a huge
metropolitan area. Darcy O'Brien in his excellent book, Two of a
Kind, summarizes what the forensic psychiatrists had to say:
"The Strangler was white, in his late twenties or early
thirties, and single, separated, or divorced -- in any case not
living with a woman. He was of average intelligence, unemployed
or existing on odd jobs, not one to stay with a job too long. He
had probably been in trouble with the law before. He was
passive, cold, and manipulative -- all at once. He was the
product of a broken family whose childhood was marked by cruelty
and brutality, particularly at the hands of women." Armed with
that information, Grogan said: "Gee, all we got to do now is
find a white male who hates his mother."
unusual twist to the investigation was the arrival in L.A. of a
psychic from Berlin. Grogan was polite, but unenthusiastic when
the psychic wrote in German what they should be looking for:
passed and the Hillside Strangler seemed to have retired. The
activities of the task force wound down and detectives began to
work on other cases.
January 12, 1979, the police in Bellingham, Washington were told
that two Western Washington University students were missing.
The two women roommates, Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder, were not
the type of people to take off irresponsibly without telling
anyone. When Karen didn't show up for work, her boss became
worried. He remembered that she had accepted a house-sitting job
in a very wealthy Bayside neighborhood from a security guard
friend of hers.
Bellingham police contacted the security firm, who in turn
called the security guard to ask him about the supposed
house-sitting job for one of the company's clients. The security
guard claimed he knew nothing about it and had never heard of
the two missing women. The security guard told his employer that
he had been at a Sheriff's Reserve meeting the night the two
police found out that the security guard was not at the
Sheriff's Reserve meeting as he had told his employer, they
decided to contact the security guard directly. They found him
to be a friendly young man who had skipped the Sheriff's meeting
because it was on first aid, which he already knew.
police had no indication that the two women had met with foul
play. It was very possible that they had just gone away for the
weekend and had forgotten to tell Karen's employer. However,
Terry Mangan, the former priest who was the new Bellingham
police chief, was not comfortable with that explanation.
visited the girls' home, he found a hungry cat -- an unusual
situation for an otherwise very pampered pet. In their home, he
found the address of the Bayside home where the two of them were
to house-sit. A close look at the records of the security firm
brought up the name of that same security guard in conjunction
with the address in which the girls were to house-sit.
police learned that the security guard had used a company truck
the night the women disappeared, supposedly take it into the
shop for repair. However, the guard never took the truck in for
Mangan was becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of
the two missing women. He asked the Highway Patrol to check on
sites that might be used to dump bodies or abandon cars. "I
think we have to consider this a kidnapping and maybe a
step was for the police to search the Bayside address where the
girls were supposed to house-sit. They found a wet footprint in
the kitchen that had been left a few hours earlier, but there
was no sign of the girls or Karen Mandic's car.
found a neighbor who had been contacted by a security guard and
asked to check on the house each day except for the night that
the girls disappeared. That night, the guard told her, there was
special work being done to the alarm system and he didn't want
her to be taken as an intruder.
Chief Mangan enlisted the help of the news media, requesting
that they describe the missing women and car to their audiences.
Shortly thereafter, a woman called about a car that had been
abandoned near her home in a heavily wooded area.
the car were the bodies of Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder. Both
had been strangled. Other bruises suggested that they had been
subjected to other injuries as well.
the missing women were sent to the morgue, Chief Mangan ordered
that the security guard be picked up for questioning. They
needed to proceed cautiously since this suspect was a trained
security officer. As it turned out, the security guard gave them
no trouble whatsoever when they picked him up.
He was a
handsome, friendly, intelligent and articulate husband and
father by the name of Kenneth Bianchi.
Bianchi was almost six feet tall and was a trim, muscular man.
His dark hair was well groomed and he wore a moustache. He lived
with a long-time girlfriend, named Kelli Boyd, and their infant
son. Kelli could not believe that someone as kind and gentle as
Kenny could be a suspect in a murder case. Nor could Kenny's
employer, who considered him a valuable and responsible member
of his staff.
Bellingham police mounted a first class investigation of all the
forensic evidence. They were exceptionally thorough in the
handling of every hair and fiber. Pubic hairs fell from Diane
Wilder's body as they lifted it from Karen's car. The Bellingham
police had a white sheet ready to catch any stray, unattached
fibers or hairs than could have easily slipped away.
pubic hairs were found on the steps at the Bayside home. Fibers
from the carpets of that home matched the fibers found on the
dead girls' shoes and clothes. Would these hairs and fibers
conclusively link Kenny to the murdered girls? The answer would
take several days to determine.
Meanwhile, the police wanted to keep Kenny under lock and key.
This was made easier when they found stolen goods in his home --
items stolen from job sites he had been managing.
Mangan remembered the Hillside Strangler case in Los Angeles.
Since Kenny had lived in L.A. before he had come to Bellingham,
Mangan had calls placed to the police in L.A. and Glendale and
to the L.A. Sheriff's Office.
Detective Frank Salerno responded to the Bellingham police call.
Suddenly everything made sense to Salerno. The addresses of
Cindy Hudspeth and Kristina Weckler on East Garfield and the
client Kimberly Martin visited on Tamarind matched Kenny's
places of residence during the times of the murders. He lost no
time getting to Bellingham to assist the police there in the
investigation. He left his partner, Peter Finnigan, to work with
Grogan and others on uncovering Bianchi's activities when he
lived in L.A.
piece, the evidence mounted that Kenny Bianchi was at least one
of the Hillside Stranglers. The jewelry that was found in
Bianchi's home matched the description of jewelry that was worn
by two of the victims: Kimberly Martin's ramshorn necklace and
Yolanda Washington's turquoise ring. And the hair and fiber
evidence further substantiated his guilt.
Alessio Bianchi was born May 22, 1951 in Rochester, New York.
His biological mother was an alcoholic prostitute who gave him
up at birth. Three months later, Frances Bianchi and her
husband, a manual laborer in the American Brake-Shoe foundry,
O'Brien describes him as a born loser: "Kenny appears to have
arisen from the cradle dissembling. By the time he could talk,
Frances knew she was coping with a compulsive liar, and his
childhood unfolded as one of idleness and goldbricking. When he
was five and a half, Frances became worried by his frequent
lapses into trancelike states of daydreaming; she consulted a
physician. The doctor, hearing that little Kenny's eyeballs
would roll back into his head during these trances, reached a
diagnosis of petit mal seizures. But they were nothing to worry
about. He would grow out of them."
his IQ of 116 and artistic and verbal gifts, he was a chronic
underachiever and his grades were erratic. He was prone to
temper tantrums and was quick to anger. Frances took him to a
psychologist, who decided that Kenny was overly dependent upon
significant financial sacrifice, she sent him to a Catholic
elementary school where he did well in creative writing. Mr.
Bianchi died of a heart attack when Kenny was thirteen and
Frances had to go to work to support the two of them. Kenny went
to a public high school where he was polite and neat, avoiding
all of the social turmoil that caught up so many young people in
the late 1960's.
set high standards for his women, which they repeatedly failed
to meet. His Catholic education served him here in a twisted
way. He was able to confuse ordinary women with the Virgin and
could be moved to bitter disappointment, even anger and fury, at
their human frailties. Denying female sexuality even as he was
attracted to it, he objected to V-neck sweaters and tight jeans
and asked absolute fidelity in return for outwardly absolute
devotion. Yet he always dated several girls at once and did not
require of himself comparable standards of purity." (O'Brien)
married a young woman his age when he graduated from high school
in 1971, but neither of them was mature enough to make the
marriage last. Eight months into the marriage, she packed up all
of their goods, left him and filed for an annulment. Kenny was
crushed. He felt betrayed and used.
got over the pain, he started going to a community college to
take courses in police science and psychology, but did not do
particularly well and finally dropped out. He was rejected when
he applied for a job in the sheriff's department. He drifted
into a job as a security guard, which allowed him to steal
things, which he then gave to his girlfriends. The stealing
caused him to change jobs a number of times and he realized that
he wasn't going anywhere in Rochester.
left Rochester in late 1975 when he was twenty-six and went to
live in Los Angeles. He started out living with his older
cousin, Angelo Buono. At first he was seduced by the uninhibited
California culture where sex and drugs were freely available.
Eventually, he got tired of that and started to settle down.
first love was police work, but there were no openings available
in the Los Angles Police Department and the Glendale Police
Department turned him down. Eventually, he got a job working for
a title company and used his first paycheck to get an apartment
at 809 East Garfield Avenue in Glendale and a 1972 Cadillac
sedan, overextending himself financially in the process. Kenny
was never strong on financial responsibility.
were a number of young women who lived in his apartment
building. One of them, Kristina Weckler, tried to ignore his
advances, but others were more receptive. He moved in with Kelli
Boyd, a woman he had met at work. In May of 1977, she told him
she was expecting his child.
wanted to marry Kelli, but she was not sure that she wanted to
accept the offer. While Kenny was very kind to her, he had some
serious faults. He was very jealous, he was immature and he
lied. Kenny lost his job over some pot that was found in his
desk, but he was able to get another similar job in downtown
L.A. He and Kelli moved to an apartment at 1950 Tamarind Avenue
sideline, Kenny had set himself up as a psychologist with a
phony degree and set of credentials that he had fraudulently
obtained. He rented some office space from an unsuspecting
legitimate psychologist. Fortunately, very few people came to
see him for help. When Kelli found out about the counseling
service, she was angry.
October and December of 1977, the city of Los Angeles was
panicked by news of the Hillside Strangler, but this had little
effect on the relationship of Kelli and Kenny. When Kenny
started coughing and having difficulty breathing, Kelli insisted
that he go to a doctor. He told her that he had lung cancer and
was going to have to take radiation and chemotherapy to save his
life. It was a lie.
was traumatized by the news, but did her best to keep his
spirits up. Kenny started to miss work because he claimed that
the therapy was making him ill. One day when he was home sick
from work, detectives came to question him about one of the
Strangler murders that may have taken place in his apartment
building. The detectives were favorably impressed with Bianchi
and did not consider him a suspect.
asked to participate in LAPD's ride-along program, which let
civilians go along in patrol cars as a kind of community
education program. Ken did nothing but talk about the Strangler
relationship between Kenny and Kelli became tense. She would
often go to stay with her brother, but would always go back to
Kenny. In February, their son Sean was born. For awhile, things
were better between them, but the old problems surfaced once
Schwartz in The Hillside Strangler summarizes how Kelli viewed
the difficulties: "Ken was irresponsible about work and about
money. He would goof off, going over to play cards with Angelo
after calling in sick. He owned a used Cadillac, then couldn't
make the payments. She had hoped that the baby would cause him
to have a sense of purpose, to encourage him to change his ways,
but it didn't.
Los Angeles was the problem. Everything was a hustle. People had
no depth, no values, no integrity. Ken did. He was a very moral
man, yet he was young and easily influenced by others. He
desperately wanted approval, and apparently he didn't get it
from just doing his job and following the work ethic. Whatever
the case, Kelli realized that they were finished in that city."
went back home to Bellingham to start over. Her parents and old
friends were there to help. Ken was devastated by the decision.
Once again, his woman abandoned him. Once she was gone, he wrote
to her constantly. Finally, she agreed to give him another
chance and he drove to Bellingham in May of 1978.
police in Los Angeles released a photo of Bianchi to the news
media and received a call from a lawyer named David Wood. Wood
had rescued one of two girls, Becky Spears and Sabra Hannan,
from Bianchi and his cousin, Angelo Buono who had forced the
young women into prostitution by threats and brutality.
Salerno was in Bellingham, Grogan and Salerno's partner, Pete
Finnigan, went to have a little chat with Angelo Buono. Buono
was an ugly man in his forties with dyed black hair, poor teeth
and a nose that dominated his face. The detectives had a strong
hunch that this Angelo character was the other Hillside
Buono is an ugly man physically, emotionally and intellectually.
He is coarse, vulgar, selfish, ignorant and sadistic. He was
also a big hit with the ladies and called himself the "Italian
Stallion." He had been married several times and had a number of
children, all of whom he abused at least physically and
born in Rochester, New York, on October 5, 1934. When his mother
and father got a divorce, he moved with Jenny, his mother and
his older sister, Cecilia, to the south part of Glendale,
California, in 1939. His mother supported the family by doing
piecework in a shoe factory. Angelo was brought up Catholic, but
neither his religion nor his public education had much impact on
him. He remained uneducated throughout his life, spiritually,
morally and academically.
Despite his need for sex and the practicality of occasionally
being decent to a woman in order to get as much as he needed, he
has a deep loathing for women and a desire to humiliate and
injure them. He called his mother a "cunt" and a "whore" to her
face, but was emotionally tied to her until her death in 1978.
Even as a fourteen-year-old, he boasted to his friends about
raping and sodomizing girls.
not surprising that Angelo got in trouble with the law. He was
sent to the Paso Robles School for Boys after he was convicted
for grand theft auto. His proclaimed hero and role model was the
notorious rapist, Caryl Chessman. "Chessman had demonstrated the
possibilities of a police ruse. The red light he had attached to
his car enabled him to con lovers parked in the hills of Los
Angeles into opening their car windows and doors to him. They
took him for a policeman. Showing a .45, Chessman would force
the girl into his car, drive her to another secluded spot, and
usually, make her perform oral sex...To Angelo he was a heroic
combination of guts and brains." (O'Brien).
knocked up a girl from his high school girl in 1955 and married
her. He left her less than a week later. Geraldine Vinal gave
birth to Michael Lee Buono in 1956. Angelo refused to give her a
cent for his support and refused to let the boy call him Dad.
Angelo was in jail again for car theft when Michael was born.
end of 1956, Angelo had sired another son, Angelo Anthony Buono
III. In 1957, he married the mother, Mary Castillo, who then
gave birth every year or two: Peter Buono in1957; Danny Buono in
1958; Louis Buono in 1960; Grace Buono in 1962.
1964, Mary filed for divorce because of his violence and
perverse sexual needs, plus she got tired of always being called
a cunt. Darcy O'Brien recounts a night in their first year
together when Angelo tied Mary spread-eagled to the bedposts and
raped her so violently she was afraid that he was going to kill
her. "...her pain seemed to give him his greatest pleasure, and
when she failed to respond to his pinches and slaps and pile-driver
poundings, he would tell her she was a 'dead piece of ass.' Nor
did she share his passion for anal intercourse. But Angelo was
not a man to be denied. Although he never drank, he beat and
kicked her when she failed to please him, and far from caring
whether the children witnessed the beatings, he seemed to want
them to watch."
again successfully avoided paying any child support and Mary
went on welfare to feed the children. She went to see Angelo
about reconciliation, but he handcuffed her, shoved a gun to her
stomach and threatened to kill her. That was the last time she
thought about reconciliation with Angelo.
1965, Angelo started to live with a 25-year-old mother of two
children named Nanette Campina. With Nanette, he had Tony in
1967 and Sam in 1969. She was treated just as well as Mary was,
but she stayed with him because he made it clear that he would
kill her if she didn't. By 1971, Nanette decided to risk
everything to get away from Angelo, who had begun to abuse her
fourteen-year-old daughter. "She needs breaking in," Angelo
said. Angelo bragged to his friends that he'd raped his
stepdaughter and then turned her over to his sons for their
pleasure. True or not, Nanette took her children and left the
state for good.
1972, Angelo married Deborah Taylor on a whim, but they never
lived together and never got around to getting a divorce.
1975, Angelo had built himself a reasonable reputation as an
auto upholsterer. He bought a place at 703 East Colorado Street
for his residence and his upholstery shop. He had no use for
employees, so the new place gave him the privacy to do any
horrible thing he wanted.
Through some streak of perversity, young girls were attracted
to Angelo. He was cocky, independent, direct and very, very much
in-charge. He became a magnet for teenage girls in the
neighborhood. They were usually naοve and had no idea about sex,
so he had not trouble convincing them that his outrageous
demands were normal.
late 1975, when Cousin Kenny arrived, he found Angelo with dyed
black hair, gold chains around his neck, a large gaudy turquoise
ring on his finger, red silk underwear and a virtual harem of
provided a strong role model for the easy-going Kenny. He taught
Kenny how to get a whore free by flashing a badge in her face
after he got what he wanted. "You can't let a cunt get the upper
hand," he instructed Kenny. "Put them in their place."
Kenny was short of money, Angelo came up with the idea of
getting some girls to work for them as prostitutes. Kenny's
charm could be used to recruit the girls and Angelo's
connections could be used to get the customers. Two teenage
runaways, Sabra Hannan and Becky Spears fell under their
influence. Once under their control, the girls were forced to
prostitute themselves or be subjected to severe physical
punishment. They were virtually being held prisoner.
Eventually, Becky happened to meet lawyer David Wood, who was
appalled at their plight and arranged for her to escape from the
city. When Angelo understood what happened, he threatened David
Wood. Wood had one of his clients -- a mountain of a man -- call
on Angelo to gently persuade him not to threaten Wood any more.
Emboldened by Becky's escape, Sabra ran away from Angelo and
Kenny a short time later. With his pimping income gone, Kenny
missed payments on his Cadillac, which was eventually
had to find more teenage girls. Impersonating police officers,
they tried to abduct one girl until they found out that she was
Catherine Lorre, the daughter of Actor Peter Lorre. Eventually
they found a young woman and installed her in Sabra's old
bedroom. Also, they bought from a prostitute named Deborah Noble
a "trick list" with names of men who frequented prostitutes.
Deborah and her friend, Yolanda Washington, delivered the trick
list to Angelo in October of 1977. Yolanda happened to mention
to Angelo that she always worked on a certain stretch of Sunset
Boulevard. When Angelo and Kenny found that Deborah had deceived
them about the list, they decided to take out their rage on
Yolanda, since they didn't know how to find Deborah Noble.
Yolanda was their first kill.
all of Angelo's and Kenny's kills were being immortalized in
Kenny's Bellingham jail song.
could be called a lot of bad things, but stupid wasn't one of
them. Locked up in the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham, he had
lots of time and motivation to use his gray cells. Already an
accomplished liar, he convinced Dean Brett, the lawyer appointed
by the court to represent him, he was suffering from amnesia.
Brett was so concerned about Kenny trying to commit suicide that
he had a psychiatric social worker called in to talk to Kenny.
psychiatric social worker could not comprehend how such a mild-mannered,
considerate person could have strangled two women unless he was
suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Kenny got the
message and crafted a wonderful scam, using his sprinkling of
psychology from college and whatever he gleaned from seeing the
movie classic, The Three Faces of Eve, years before.
Kenny really got lucky. The movie Sybil, another story of
multiple personalities, was being shown on television just
before Kenny was to be interviewed by Dr. John G. Watkins, an
expert on multiple personalities and amnesia. This was the first
step in an insanity defense, so Salerno and Finnegan caught a
plane to Washington State.
was very well prepared for his performance. Shortly after Dr.
Watkins believed that he had hypnotized Kenny, Kenny went into
his evil persona routine. It was Steve Walker -- Kenny's
supposed alter ego -- who killed the girls in Los Angeles with
his cousin, Angelo. Steve also made Kenny strangle the two women
Despite Kenny's preparations, he slipped up a number of times
when he was pretending to be Steve and referred to Steve as "he"
when it should have been "I." Salerno picked up these slips
immediately, but Dr. Watkins did not seem to notice.
Dismayed that Dr. Watkins was completely falling for Kenny's act,
Salerno called Grogan to tell him what was going on. Grogan
answered, "Okay, I got a great idea. The judge says to Bianchi,
'Mr. Bianchi, I tell you what I'm going to do. I am going to let
Ken off. Ken is acquitted. But Steve gets the chair.'"
Distressing as it was for the detectives to watch Kenny create
this insanity defense, it did have the advantage of implicating
Salerno presented a photo lineup to Markust Camden, the man who
had seen Judy Miller get into a car the night she died. He
picked out Angelo from the photo lineup immediately, but did not
recognize Kenny. The only downside to this positive
identification was that Markust had checked himself into a
mental hospital for depression -- something that a defense
lawyer would use to try to discredit Markust's testimony.
had a similar experience when he showed the photo lineups to
Beulah Stofer, the woman who had seen Lauren Wagner abducted.
She selected Bianchi and Buono right away.
Bianchi's lawyer indicated that Dr. Watkins's testimony would be
the basis for Kenny filing a plea of not guilty by reason of
insanity, the court brought in additional expertise. Dr. Ralph
B. Allison, a psychiatrist who was expert on the subject of
multiple personalities, talked with Kenny.
Allison was even more taken in than Dr. Watkins was by Kenny's
now-practiced performance. According to Darcy O'Brien, Dr.
Allison seemed to be frightened by the threatening persona of
Steve that Kenny created for him.
Salerno thought the name of Kenny's evil persona sounded
familiar. In going through Kenny's papers, they found it. Thomas
Steven Walker was the name on a letter Bianchi had signed to
apply for a California State University diploma that he would
use to fraudulently offer psychological counseling services.
prosecution had no intention of letting Kenny get away with his
insanity defense. Dr. Martin T. Orne, a major authority on
hypnosis, was called upon to determine if Kenny was faking. Dr.
Orne had developed procedures by which he could determine
whether a subject was actually hypnotized or was just pretending
to be. Kenny's responses to three out of four tests proved that
he was faking.
Orne had another little trap for Kenny. He told Kenny that there
might be a problem with the diagnosis of multiple personalities.
"That's pretty rare for there to be just two [personalities],"
Dr. Orne told him. Usually, there were three and often, many
more than that. "Dr. Orne wanted to establish that Kenny was
reacting to cues and clues thrown out by doctors. If Kenny was
faking multiple personality disorder, he would find a way to
invent a third personality." (O'Brien)
one to disappoint the doctor, Kenny had been listening closely
and quickly invented a new persona named Billy. Soon there were
two new additional personalities to please Dr. Orne. Kenny's
head was getting crowded.
prosecution also brought in Dr. Saul Faerstein to interview
Kenny. Faerstein did nothing to coddle Kenny and Kenny became
worried that his performance was not playing to a receptive
audience this time.
Dean Brett presented the findings of Drs. Watkins and Allison to
support Kenny's insanity defense, the prosecution brought
forward Drs. Orne and Faerstein, both of whom stated that
Kenneth Bianchi was competent to stand trial.
Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office offered Kenny a
deal. If he pled guilty to the Washington murders and to some of
the Hillside stranglings, he would get life with the possibility
of parole and he would be able to serve his time in California,
where the prisons were supposedly more humane than in
Washington. In return, Bianchi was to agree to testify
truthfully and fully against Angelo Buono. For Bianchi, the
choice was between death in Washington or life in California."
agreed. Now the Los Angeles detectives got a crack at him to see
if he would provide credible testimony. A number of
investigators, including L.A. County deputy district attorney
Roger Kelly, participated in the interviews. They all hoped that
the interviews would produce information that would help convict
Angelo. In California at that time, a person could not be
convicted only on the testimony of an accomplice. However, if
other evidence confirmed the accomplice's testimony, it could be
used for conviction.
described how he and Angelo pretended to be policemen. They had
fake badges to support that charade. With the victims who were
prostitutes, it was surprisingly easy for them to convince the
victims to get in the car. The "nice" girls were much harder to
important moment in these interviews came when Salerno asked
Kenny what type of material was used to blindfold Judy Miller.
Kenny thought it was foam that Angelo used in his auto
upholstery business. The little piece of fluff that Salerno had
found on the dead girl's eyelids could be just the kind of
corroborating evidence they needed to nail Angelo.
Salerno also found out that the hillside dump sites for the
victims was selected because Angelo was familiar with that area
since one of his girlfriends had lived around there. The
investigators also learned about their attempt to pick up Peter
went on and on, describing each murder in detail as though it
was cocktail conversation. There was no remorse and any concern
about the victims as human beings. He answered the mystery of
the long, torturous death of Kristina Weckler by gas
asphyxiation. This murder was so horrible that even Kenny didn't
want to talk about it. "She was brought out to the kitchen and
put on the floor and her head was covered with a bag and the --
pipe from the newly installed stove, which wasn't fully
installed yet, was disconnected, put into the bag and then
turned on. There may have been marks on her neck because there
was a cord put around her neck with a bag and tied to make more
complete sealing." It took about an hour and a half of suffering
before she died.
Eventually, the reality of his situation dawned on him and Kenny
looked to place the blame on someone else. His lawyer, armed
with the evidence against him, convinced Kenny that he had no
choice but to admit his guilt and accept punishment.
was ordered to serve two life sentences in the state of
Washington. He was immediately transferred to California where
he was sentenced to additional life terms. He was looking at
thirty-five years in California prisons and additional time in
was arrested on October 22, 1979, shortly after Kenny described
his cousin's involvement in the crimes. Bob Grogan had the
pleasure of arresting Angelo. Later, they found Angelo's wallet,
which clearly showed the outline of the police badge he had used
to get his victims to cooperate with him.
the prosecutorial environment in California was going against
bringing Angelo to trial. The DA had dropped the five California
murders charges against Bianchi so that he no longer had the
threat of the death penalty hanging over him. There was less
incentive for Kenny to cooperate.
Kenny was becoming unmanageable. The police in California hated
him and made it clear. Kenny could not accept their disapproval
and started to make up stories to exculpate himself. He dreamed
up a second man who was responsible for the killings.
Eventually, he started to feel guilty for implicating Angelo. He
began to change his story about Angelo's involvement. His
credibility as a witness against Angelo was virtually destroyed.
much in the back of Kenny's self-serving performances was the
prisoner code -- death to informers. If acting like a nut case
allowed Angelo to go free, Kenny wouldn't be targeted as a "snitch."
Whereas if his testimony put his cousin in jail, Kenny's
existence in prison would be jeopardized.
bizarre as Kenny's state of mind was, it did not compare with
that of his creative girlfriend, Veronica Compton. She was
supposedly writing a play called The Mutilated Cutter about a
woman serial killer. She wanted desperately to talk to him to
understand better the mind of a murderer.
Veronica fell in love with Kenny immediately.
saw opportunity in this relationship. He made a startling
proposal -- one that could, if successful, grant him the freedom
to spend his life with her. If she could just go to Bellingham
and strangle a girl to make it look like the same man who killed
Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder. Maybe even plant semen on the
one hell of a favor to ask, but Veronica agreed immediately.
was a nonsecretor, which meant in the days before DNA testing
that his blood type could not be determined from his semen.
Kenny packed Veronica off to Washington with a fresh load of his
semen in a plastic glove.
Veronica got into this project, it was a bit more intimidating
than it seemed in the planning. When she arrived in Bellingham,
she had to build up her courage with large amounts of alcohol
Finally fortified, Veronica lured a woman into driving her to a
motel and coming into the room for a drink. Veronica lunged at
her with a cord and tried to strangle her, but the woman was too
strong and threw Veronica over. In a rare lapse into
rationality, Veronica decided it was time to go back to
rationality did not overstay its welcome and Veronica, when she
arrived at the San Francisco airport, distinguished herself by
creating some kind of hysterical disturbance. To make matters
irreparably worse, Veronica sent a letter and tape to the
Bellingham authorities telling them that they had arrested an
innocent man and pointed to the recent strangling attempt to
prove that the real culprit was still at large. It did not take
terribly sophisticated police work to link the police report of
the woman Veronica tried to strangle with the photo of the lady
who created the disturbance in the airport that same afternoon.
Veronica's future assistance compromised, Kenny love for her
cooled overnight. Veronica got the message and quickly found
herself a new beau -- imprisoned serial killer Douglas Clark,
who made Kenny seem like a Boy Scout. Douglas, who usually
beheaded his female victims after he tortured them, sent
Veronica a valentine with a photo of a headless female corpse.
spontaneous gesture of affection from Clark inspired in Veronica
a great passion. She wrote to Clark, "I take out my straight
razor and with one quick stroke I slit the veins in the crook of
your arm. Your blood spurts out and spits atop my swelled
breasts. Then later that night we cuddle in each other's arms
before the fireplace and dress each others wound with kisses and
loving caresses." Kenny's loss was Clark's gain.
both Kenny and Veronica were in jail.
People v. Buono
Investigators in Los Angeles had developed the corroborating
evidence they felt they needed to complement Ken Bianchi's
implication of Angelo as an accomplice. The fibers found on Judy
Miller's eyelid and Lauren Wagner's hands came from Angelo's
house and upholstery shop. Animal hairs stuck to Lauren's hands
were from the rabbits that Angelo raised. The imprint of a
police badge was on his wallet, along with appropriate puncture
marks from where the badge had been pinned. Beulah Stofer and
Markust Camden positively identified Angelo from a photo lineup.
none of this was important to the prosecutor, Roger Kelly. Kelly
had a reputation for not pushing cases where there was any
significant chance he would lose. The deterioration in Ken
Bianchi's credibility was a key issue in Kelly's reluctance.
case against Angelo was assigned to Superior Court Judge Ronald
M. George. Katherine Mader and Gerald Chaleff were appointed by
the court to defend Angelo. The first key decision was whether
or not to sever the nonmurder counts (sodomy, pimping, rape, etc)
from the murder counts. If the counts were separated, the jury
would not necessarily hear about the unspeakably brutal
character Angelo was and his treatment of women.
George decided to sever the murder counts from the nonmurder
counts to avoid a reversal on appeal, fully expecting that the
prosecution would find some way to introduce some of the most
damaging character testimony about Angelo into the trial in some
July 6, 1981, Ken Bianchi gave an unbelievable performance. To
convince the court that they could not use his testimony against
Angelo, Kenny said that he may have faked the multiple
personality disorder, but he didn't know whether he was telling
the truth or not when he said that Angelo was involved in the
murders. In fact, he didn't think he himself was involved in any
of the killings either.
Kenny's performance in court, Prosecutor Roger Kelly moved to
dismiss all of the ten counts of murder against Angelo and to
drop any prosecution of him as the Hillside Strangler! From
Kelly's viewpoint, the case was unwinnable. Normally, the judge
will go along with the prosecutor's wishes, but Judge George
wanted some time to think it over.
July 21, Judge George gave his ruling on the motion to dismiss
the charges against Angelo: "We believe there is more than
sufficient evidence to show presumption of guilt by Mr. Buono...and
I think the evidence the People put on at the preliminary is
sufficient to withstand any conviction, the jury believing Mr.
Bianchi, and could convict Mr. Buono." The judge then listed the
various elements of the evidence that Kelly had failed to note
when he tried to have the case dismissed -- which the judge felt
was more than enough to meet the requirement for corroborating
evidence of an accomplice. Particularly critical were the Lauren
Wagner fibers, which came from the very chair in Angelo's house
where Bianchi had said that she had been assaulted.
judge then concluded: "...dismissal would not be 'in the
furtherance of justice'...nor is it the function of the court
automatically to 'rubber-stamp the prosecutor's decision to
abandon the People's case...Applicable standards indicate that a
prosecutor must under ordinary circumstances pursue the
prosecution of serious charges where there is sufficient
evidence for a jury to convict, without concern for the
consequences to his reputation should he be unsuccessful in
obtaining a conviction.
Kelly's motion to dismiss the charges as denied. Not only that,
but the judge expected that if the District Attorney's Office
could not get its act together to effectively prosecute Angelo
Buono, a special prosecutor would be appointed.
a huge public airing of the controversial decision by Judge
George, the DA's Office withdrew from the case. Attorney General
George Deukmejian brought in two prosecutors, Michael Nash and
Roger Boren to evaluate the evidence. A special investigator,
Paul Tulleners, was to assist in this activity. The new team
quickly decided that the evidence was strong enough to prosecute.
They presented their findings to a panel of four well-respected
prosecutors that the attorney general had asked to advise him on
this matter. All four of the prosecutors agreed that Deukmejian
should prosecute Angelo Buono.
November, the case went to trial, but was immediately disrupted
by continuances, motions by the defense that were appealed all
the way to the California Supreme Court. Then there was the
matter of jury selection which took three and a half months. The
trial began for real in the spring of 1982.
steady parade of witnesses, including the girls he had
brutalized, Becky Spears, Sabra Hannan and others, attested to
Angelo's sadism. When it came time for Kenny to testify, he was
in no mood to cooperate. That is, until Judge George indicated
that he was violating his plea-bargain agreement, which meant
that he would be sent back to serve his time in the strict and
uncompromising environment of Walla Walla prison in Washington.
Kenny changed his tune. While Prosecutor Michael Nash was able
to get Kenny to cooperate, defense attorney Chaleff, upon cross-examination,
elicited entirely contradictory statements from Bianchi.
George and the jury were transported to the hillsides on which
the victims were found. These elaborately planned "jury-views"
included a presentation by the key detective at each victim site.
It was particularly dramatic in the darkness overlooking the
hillsides of the Elysian Valley, where helicopters illuminated
where the youngsters Dolores Cepeda and Sonja Johnson were found.
It was pointed out to the jurors that Angelo's mother's house
and the house where he lived with his former wife were close by
these remote spots.
more than a thousand exhibits and 250 witnesses, the prosecutors
got an excellent break. The woman who Angelo terrorized in the
Hollywood library while he was waiting for Kenny to make his
calls to the Climax modeling agency the night they killed
Kimberly Martin, came forward to testify that Angelo was the man
that had menaced her. This testimony tied Angelo to the pay
phone, which had been used to summon Kimberly to her death.
Finally, the prosecution was finished and the defense began
their efforts. Angelo was not cooperating with his attorneys.
Their presentation was considerably shorter. They tried to
impugn the testimony of Markust Camden on the basis of mental
instability, but were not very successful. Then the defense put
on a ridiculous attempt to show that a sticky substance that had
been found on Lauren Wagner's breast was left by someone other
than Buono or Bianchi. Unfortunately for the defense, their
arguments were demolished when it was proven that the substance
was secretions from the mouths of the ants that were feasting on
inexplicably, defense attorney Katherine Mader decided to put
Kenny's friend Veronica Compton on the stand. She unfolded a
vague and unlikely story about a conspiracy between Kenny and
herself to frame Angelo. Darcy O'Brien, who experienced this
testimony first hand said, "The logic and sequence of this
conspiracy were impossible to follow, and her manner, that of a
starlet courting recognition on a television talk show --
coquettish, then dramatic, tearful, giggly, self-caressing --
was far more arresting than her conspiracy story..."
Prosecutor Michael Nash cross-examined Veronica and, in so doing,
inquired about her plans to open a mortuary with serial killer
Douglas Clark so that they could both enjoy sex with the dead.
He expected her to deny it, but she didn't. In fact, she said
that she was seriously considering it. Not only did Nash succeed
in getting Veronica to talk about all the kinky things that she
and Clark were planning to do together, he got her to admit that
she was angry at Bianchi for talking her into the attempted
strangling in Bellingham. So much for the credibility of that
Boren gave the closing arguments, which took him eleven full
days. He addressed every issue in what had become the longest
criminal trial in U.S. history at that time. He concluded with
"The defense at the end of their argument said to you that you
could be fooled by Kenneth Bianchi. I will say to you that in
the face of all this evidence...both in corroboration of Kenneth
Bianchi and independent of Kenneth Bianchi, -- if in the face of
reason Angelo Buono is not convicted of murder of these ten
women, then you will have been fooled by Kenneth Bianchi. You
will have been fooled by him and you will also have been fooled
by Angelo Buono over there and by his two attorneys. The
evidence supports his guilt and a finding of guilty beyond a
jury was sequestered and even though the jurors had been a
harmonious group for the daunting two years of the trial, it was
not at all clear that they would come to an agreement about
Angelo's guilt. They began deliberating on October 21.
Finally, the jury came to agreement on October 31, 1983, at
least on the murder of Lauren Wagner. Angelo was found guilty.
On November 3, they voted that Angelo was not guilty of the
murder of Yolanda Washington. A few days later, he was found
guilty of Judy Miller's murder. Under California law at that
time, as a "multiple murderer," Angelo faced either the death
penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.
followed guilty verdicts on Dolores Cepeda, Sonja Johnson,
Kimberly Martin, Kristina Weckler, Lissa Kastin and Jane King,
and finally, Cindy Hudspeth.
then took the stand briefly to show his contempt for the entire
process. "My morals and constitutional rights has been broken."
jury, which was to decide whether to give him the death penalty
or life in prison, deliberated for only an hour before sparing
him the death penalty. The judge was not happy: "Angelo Buono
and Kenneth Bianchi subjected various of their murder victims to
the administration of lethal gas, electrocution, strangulation
by rope, and lethal hypodermic injection. Yet the two defendant
are destined to spend their lives in prison, housed, fed and
clothed at taxpayer expense, better cared for than some of the
destitute law-abiding members of our community."
Buono was sent to Folsom Prison, where he stayed in his cell,
fearing injury from other inmates. Kenneth Bianchi was sent to
Walla Walla prison in Washington, but was trying to get
transferred to a prison outside Washington State.
are only two major books on the Hillside Stranglers, both of
which are very good. Two of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers by
Darcy O'Brien focuses more on the investigation from the
standpoint of the Los Angeles law enforcement agencies,
particularly detectives, Frank Salerno and Bob Grogan. Also,
this book delves deeply into the monstrous mindset of the
killers, Angelo Buono and Ken Bianchi. The other book, Hillside
Strangler by Ted Schwarz, is much more focused on the
personality and mental problems of Kenneth Bianchi.
additional books address Ken Bianchi's multiple personality
Reid Meloy, Psychopathic Mind; Origins, Dynamics, and Treatment
Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman, The Serial Killers: A Study in
the Psychology of Violence. London: Virgin Publishing, 1997.
The Los Angeles Times and
the Los Angeles Herald Examiner were used extensively as sources
for this feature story.