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Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr.

Notable Fact
Bianchi’s mother was a bona fide psychopath who used to scream at him constantly and discipline him by forcing his hand into stove burner flames.

Mass murderers usually operate alone. Rage and pain ferment in them until they explode in solitary savagery. But the same is not true of serial murderers - there are team killers in the world of serial murder, and they can be just as deadly as any killer who acts alone. Sometimes these team killers are lovers, sometimes they’re friends or relatives, and sometimes they’re husband and wife; usually there is a dominant partner, though left to their own devices, both are killers in their own right.

Kenneth Bianchi
Kenneth Bianchi

One of the deadliest of these dual death dealers operated in the Los Angeles area during the five months from October 1977 to February 1978. The media dubbed the killer the “Hillside Strangler” because the bodies were invariably found dumped on hillsides adjacent to freeways.

The first victim of the Hillside Strangler was the nineteenyear-old part-time prostitute Yolanda Washington. There was a collective ho hum from the Los Angeles citizens and police when her body was found near 6510 Forest Lawn Drive, next to a cemetery where many stars are buried. Who cared? She was a prostitute, part of society’s debris.

Then the body of a fifteen-year-old runaway named Judith Lynn Miller was discovered on October 31, 1977, on the side of a road near 2833 Alta Terrace, La Crescenta. Later, authorities would learn that Judy Miller was the first of ten victims of the Hillside Strangler to be killed in a similar manner. (Washington had been killed in a car, and her body dumped from it; clearly, the Strangler hadn’t perfected his process yet.) Miller had been tied to a chair, tortured, sodomized with animate and inanimate objects, then strangled. First, though, as with all the victims, she was forced to go to the bathroom so that, in death, when her bladder and sphincter muscles failed, she wouldn’t soil the floor.

Angelo Buono Jr.

 Angelo Buono Jr.

On November 20, 1977, two young girls, fourteen-year-old Sonja Johnson and twelve-year-old Dolores Cepeda disappeared, last seen strolling in the area of Dodger Stadium. Neither of these young girls was a prostitute or runaway—they were just normal young girls taking a walk. When their bodies were found that same day in the 1500 block of Landa Street, in Elysian Park, the alarm went out. Both girls bore the traces of the same savagery that had been perpetrated on Judy Miller.

If the police needed any confirmation that a serial murderer was on the loose, another body turned up: Kristina Wackler, age twenty, whose corpse was found in the 4100 block of Ramons Way, in Highland Park.

Terror in the City of Angels
Los Angeles, like any big city, has known its share of horror, but perhaps it was particularly sensitive to extraordinary murder in 1977 - just ten years earlier, Charles Manson and his followers had terrorized the community with their savage killings.

Los Angeles reacted to the Strangler with the same kind of terror that Manson had triggered, reminiscent of the terror incited by the Boston Strangler.

Overnight, self-defense courses became very popular, prostitutes started to work in pairs - with one writing down the license plate of any car her partner got into - and some people who committed traffic and other minor violations refused to stop when flagged by police because it had been reported that the killer was posing as an officer. A task force was formed, but the killing continued: just three days after the young girls were found, the body of Jane Evelyn King, age twenty-eight, was discovered in Los Feliz, her body tossed like so much garbage on the off-ramp from the southbound Golden Gate Freeway.

On November 29, the body of Lauren Rae Wagner, age eighteen, was found at 1217 Cliff Drive, in Glassell. A little more than two weeks later, on December 14, the body of Kimberly Diane Martin, age eighteen, was found at 2006 North Alvarado, in Echo Park. Then, almost as if the killer were respecting the holidays, the killings stopped, and the fears of the police abated a bit.

Those fears came roaring back with the discovery of Cindy Lee Hudspeth, age twenty, who was found in the trunk of a car off Angeles Crest Highway on February 17, 1978. The MO was different - the victim was in a car trunk - but her body bore the terrible signature of the killer: ligature marks around her ankles and wrists, and horrific damage to her organs caused by inanimate objects. Fear of the Hillside Strangler was at fever pitch, and the task force of some eighty-five detectives was working night and day and had no leads at all. The pressure to solve the case was excruciating, but they just weren’t getting anywhere.

Movin' on Up
Then the killings appeared to stop, which, as it turned out, they had - at least for Los Angeles. After February 1978, no more victims turned up. In total, there had been ten. Despite the fact that the killings seemed to have ended, the task force slogged on frustratingly without results. And then, in January 1979, almost a year after the Los Angeles killings had ceased, task force detective Phil Bullington got an electrifying call. As reported in Mass Murderers: America’s Growing Menace, by Jack Levin and James A. Fox, the call was from the Bellingham, Washington, police. The Bellingham detectives explained that there had been a dual homicide with the pedigree of the Hillside Strangler killings. Two Western Washington University coeds, Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder, had been found raped and strangled in the trunk of Mandic’s car.

Further investigation revealed that someone named Kenneth Bianchi, a security guard, had hired Mandic to house-sit - at a whopping $100 an hour - until his security system could be installed. Rather than spend the time alone at the house, Mandic convinced her friend Wilder to come with her.

The Bellingham police said that Bianchi was a suspect, under arrest, and that they were calling Los Angeles because he had a California driver’s license on him.

Bullington checked into Bianchi’s background, and he found some thrilling coincidences. First, Bianchi had lived in the same building in Glendale as one of the victims, Kristina Wackler. Second, another victim, Kim Martin, was last seen at that very building. Third, the final victim, Cindy Hudspeth, had lived directly across the street from Bianchi.

Bullington and other task force detectives headed north to speak with Bianchi.

A Man of Two Faces
Bianchi denied he was involved in any murders, but after a careful search of his house by a Washington forensics team, they matched pubic hairs that had been found on one of the girls to Bianchi. But there was something else, too. Bianchi seemed to be a man of two faces. He kept telling everyone that he had had a wonderful childhood in his native Rochester, New York, where he grew up in a clean residential neighborhood. But when they looked into it, the cops discovered that Bianchi had had a very troubled childhood, dotted with trips to the reformatory. Psychiatrists detailed deep disturbances not only in Bianchi but also in his mother, a bona fide psychopath who used to scream at him constantly and who disciplined him by forcing his hands into stove burner flames. His father seemed to be a nonentity.

Bianchi was subjected to the kind of parental abuse from his mother that prepares a person for a career as a serial murderer. And he did fill some criteria in his childhood that many psychiatrists look for to spot budding serial murderers. He was a bedwetter and cruel to animals - he once killed a cat as a prank.

Bianchi’s girlfriend Kelli stood by him, as did his boss at the security firm where he worked. Also, Bellingham’s police chief thought Bianchi would make a good policeman and questioned Bianchi’s guilt. It was a case, again, of the human “package” hiding the psychotic contents! But Bianchi’s inconsistencies in his alibis for the Bellingham murders, his pubic hairs found at a crime scene, and the stunning coincidences of the victims’

addresses in Los Angeles, prompted Bianchi’s attorney to have a psychiatrist examine him. Maybe, the attorney figured, the only way out for Bianchi was an insanity defense.

There followed three separate examinations, one by the defense psychiatrist, one by a court-appointed doctor, and a third by a doctor hired by the prosecution. During the first examination, a bizarre new element entered the picture: A new persona emerged from Bianchi while under hypnosis: Steve Walker. Steve Walker, Bianchi claimed, emerged when he was a child hiding from his mother. Steve Walker was tough and strong and cruel and unafraid. And Bianchi made it clear that while he was not capable of murder, Steve was. In fact, Steve admitted it. Said he, as reported in Mass Murderers, “I killed those broads \[referring to the Bellingham murders].”

The psychiatrist wanted to know why. “‘Cause I hate fuckin’ cunts.”

Steve also said he had killed the women in Los Angeles, and then he introduced a new, nonimaginary player: his cousin Angelo Buono.

It was later proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was no Steve Walker, just a clever insanity ruse the Hillside Strangler was two very real people, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono.

Red-Hot Suspect
According to Anthony Kiedis, lead singer and founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers rock band, the police arrested him during the Hillside Strangler murder spree because he fit one of the descriptions of the killers.
Partner in Crime
The older Angelo Buono (he was born in 1934 and Bianchi in 1951) was by far the tougher of the two cousins. Raised in Los Angeles as a macho tough guy by an abusive mother he referred to only as “the cunt,” Angelo Buono had a steel stomach - and a steel heart. He worked in a shop as a car upholsterer, but at one point he became a pimp, somehow having the ability to attract pretty young girls into his stable. He had sex with all of them but only by sodomizing them or having them fellate him. And once the women were in the stable he warned them that if they tried to leave him he would kill them. And they believed him.

Bianchi admired, even idolized, his cousin and moved to Los Angeles in 1976 primarily to be near him. He started to become a pimp himself, and the cruelty the two men displayed toward women in that profession almost naturally progressed to murder. The murders, of course, were marked by extreme cruelty. Indeed, Bianchi’s Steve persona matter-of-factly and chillingly described how the two of them had murdered their first, Yolanda Washington: “She was a hooker. Angelo went and picked her up. I was waiting on the street. He drove her around to where I was. I got in the car. We got on the freeway. I fucked her and killed her. We dumped her body off and that was it. Nothin’ to it.” “Steve Walker” also described how the other victims had been tied to a chair in the bedroom where Buono lived, at 703 Colorado Drive in Glendale, and tortured, sexually abused, and killed.

Bianchi rolled over, as the police say, on his cousin Angelo: In return for a life sentence, he testified against Buono. At first there didn’t seem to be any hard evidence against Buono, and the prosecution was wary about going to trial with just Bianchi’s testimony. However, the judge assigned to the case forced the trial - which took more than two years - and the jury found Buono guilty. He was sentenced to life, just as
Bianchi was.

If Bianchi had not rolled, the men might have gotten away with the murders - or at least Buono might have. Buono was “one hard dude,” a Los Angeles detective said, “a real throwback. We couldn’t break him.”

Bianchi has exhausted all his standard appeals and is still serving his hundred-plus-year sentence in Washington State Prison in Walla Walla, Washington. Bianchi has disavowed his confession to the crimes and supposedly has found Jesus. Buono died of heart disease in September 2002.
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  1. Good retelling of the story. However, you've omitted victim Lissa Kastin from your story:


  2. Sorry, wrong story...it's this one:


  3. If you are going to print the facts about this case, then please use FACTS!!! Sonja Johnson & Deloris Cepeda WERE NOT strolling around Dodger Stadium as you so falsely claimed. Both of them were from the Eagle Rock area & both of them were shopping at the Eagle Rock Plaza mall when Kennith Beanchi & Angelo Buono spotted the pair. Both men followed the girls who took a bus to go home. Beanchi & Buono followed their bus to York & 46th street where the girls got off. The girls were approached by Buono & Beanchi who were portraying themselves as police officers picking the girls up for a curfew violation. Both girls were taken to Buono's residence at 703 E Colorado street where they were killed. Get your facts straight

  4. I live near the Glendale/Eagle Rock area. I have thoroughly investigated this case based mostly on Soja Johnson & Deloris Cepeda. From what I have investigated, both girls had to take at least two buses to get to 46th ave & York from the Eagle Rock plaza mall. From what I can gather, it looks like Beanchi & Buono were most likely watching the girls from a distance. They did not make their move at or near the Eagle Rock mall most likely because there were probably other people in the area. Unfortunately, 46th ave & York is even to this day, a small & narrow isolated street with little people traffic. Most likely why Beanchi & Buono made their move right there. Both girls were found exactly one week later near Dodger's Stadium on a trash heap. Both of thier bodies had full rigor mortis, indicating that they both had been dead at the most, for 72 hours. It is estimated that both girls must have been in the custody of Beanchi & Buono for 3 to 4 days before being killed.

  5. Thanks everybody for the comments

  6. I have to make a correction on something I stated earlier. I stated that both Deloris Cepeda & Sonja Johnson were on a "shopping trip" at the Eagle Rock Plaza mall. When I first heard this, my instincts told me that that story did not make a whole lot of sense. I remember growing up during the 70s, & though it is possible that kids go on shopping trips, it was highly unusual for kids that young to do so during the 70s. I suspected that the pair were most likely working together on the take or five finger discount when they went to the mall. I soon began seeing hints of this through reports that Sonja Johnson in fact had a reputation for having jewelry & being a girl that was young & feisty. I am in no way trying to vilify Sonja on any level. I am only stating the facts. I have been reading Two of a kind The Hillside Stranglers. This book is far more factual & accurate than any book out there & it states that Sonja & Deloris in fact did go to the mall in an effort to secure jewelry for themselves. Beanchi stated during his interview with police that both Sonja & Deloris had stolen $100 worth of jewelry & that when they left the mall & were contacted by Beanchi & Buono, they were in fact told by Beanchi & Buono that there were burglaries in the area & it would not be safe to walk home. The girls most likely cooperated because they had just got through stealing jewelry & did not want to get caught. These facts seem to be the most factual & consistent because Buono & Beanchi had just killed Jane King by offering her a ride the week or so before. Sorry for the false information about the "Shopping trip" & "curfew violation"


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