Killers Close to Home


Author: Riley Hooper

In the late 1970s, a serial killer lived only two miles from the Occidental College campus.

Within a four-month span-Oct. 17, 1977 to Feb. 16, 1978-he and his cousin and partner in crime raped and strangled 10 women. Two of these victims were followed from the Eagle Rock Plaza shopping mall and abducted just a few blocks away from campus near Avenue 46 and York Blvd.

The bodies of the 10 women were found within a few mile radius from campus-the nearest found one-and-a-half miles away in Highland Park; the farthest found only eight miles away, just past La Crescenta.

These murders and the subsequent trial have come to be known as the Hillside Strangler case. Now the subject of two films and countless books, the case is one of the most famous serial murder accounts in history-and it all happened not too long ago, not too far away.

As Deputy Attorney General in charge of the murder trial Roger W. Boren wrote in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, the “Hillside Strangler” could just as easily been called the “Glendale Strangler”: “One could draw a circle around Glendale using the intersection of Glendale Avenue and Colorado Street as its center,” Boren wrote, “and within that circle roughly locate all of the sites where the victims’ bodies were discovered.”

An Eagle Rock resident under the fake name of Deirdre Blackstone wrote an LA Times article in 1979 in which she explained how the friendly, tight-knit community she had known transformed during the time the killers were on the loose. Business had gone down in the local grocery stores and shopping malls. Children who once played Kick the Can on the street and couples who would take walks through the neighborhood stayed indoors out of fear.

“Groups of gum-chewing girls in look-alike hairdos and jeans who used to haunt the Eagle Rock Plaza-they, too, are keeping close to home,” Blackstone wrote. As Blackstone said, although crime was not an unusual phenomenon in Los Angeles, this time it was different.

“This is where I live, and someone not far away may be looking for one more victim,” she wrote.

Although the murders attracted endless media attention, there are no articles about the case in archives of the Occidental student newspaper, which then went by the name of The Occidental. Nevertheless, the murders had an effect on the Occidental community.

“It was the only time my freshman year that my father called me,” Antoinette Ballinger said, who attended Oxy in the 1970s and is currently finishing her senior year. ECLS Professor Eric Newhall remembers how people were “tense and on edge.” Campus Safety kept students up to date on the killings and warned women against being off campus late at night, Psychology Professor Anne Schell said.

Coined the “Hillside Strangler” by the media, the name stuck, even though there turned out to be two killers who acted together. The Hillside Strangler murders were the work of cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono. During the late 1970s, Buono lived in a home and owned an auto upholstery shop at 703 E. Colorado Street in Glendale.

According to an account by the Biography Channel, in 1975-at the age of 26-Bianchi came to Los Angeles and moved in with Buono, his 43-year-old cousin. The men soon set themselves up as pimps, and in October of 1977, they turned to serial rape and murder.

Most of the victims were strangers to the men, although they lived near or might have associated with them. All were young women ranging from ages 12 to 28, but aside from that, there was no distinct pattern. The victims varied in race-one black, two Chicanos, and seven whites-and occupation: three prostitutes, four drifters and two college students.

All of the victims found had been sexually molested, strangled, and dumped on a hillside in or around Glendale. Most of the bodies were found with ligature marks on the neck, wrists and ankles, and nine out of the 10 were found nude. Investigators were able to pick up on these distinctive signs in order to determine the case as serial murder and to convict the murderers.

As presented in District Attorney John Van de Camp’s complaint from the subsequent murder trial and outlined in the 1979 LA Times article “Strangler Killings-A Chilling Account,” the victims are as follows:

Yolanda WashingtonOctober 17, 1977″The first victim was Yolanda Washington, a 19-year-old waitress, who was known to be a part of the Hollywood scene. Miss Washington was picked up off the street voluntarily and subsequently handcuffed and raped. Although the complaint does not say so, an investigative source said she was strangled in an automobile. Miss Washington was murdered Oct. 17, 1977, and her body was left at 6510 Forest Lawn Drive, near Griffith Park.”

Judith MillerOctober 31, 1977″Judith Ann Miller, 15, strangled on Oct. 31, 1977. Miss Miller was picked up near 8300 Sunset Blvd. late at night. Her body was found on Alta Terrace, high in the La Crescenta foothills. She had last been seen by her mother on Oct. 15.”

Lissa KastinNovember 5, 1977″Lissa Teresa Kastin, 21, strangled on Nov. 5, 1977. Miss Kastin worked as a waitress in a Hollywood health food store, was not considered part of the Hollywood street scene and harbored an ambition to enter show business. The complaint says she was abducted in Hollywood. Her body was found in a hilly area of Glendale near the Chevy Chase Country Club.”

Jane KingNovember 9, 1977″Jane Evelyn King, 28, murdered on Nov. 9, 1977. Buono and Bianchi ‘persuaded’ the victim to get into a car with them, the complaint says, near 5900 Franklin Ave. in Hollywood. The body of Miss King, an aspiring actress and model, was found near the westbound Los Feliz offramp of the southbound Golden State Freeway.”

Dolores Capeda & Sonja JohnsonNovember 13, 1977″Dolores Capeda, 12, and Sonja Johnson, 14, murdered Nov. 13, 1977. The two girls were abducted near the corner of No. Ave. 46 and York Blvd. in Los Angeles [after the killers followed them from the Eagle Rock Plaza shopping center]. Their bodies were found discarded near the 1500 block of Landa St. [which intersects Stadium Way, near Elysian Park and Dodger Stadium].”

Kristina WecklerNovember 19, 1977″Kristina Weckler, 20, strangled Nov. 19, 1977. Miss Weckler was an art student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The complaint says she was ‘persuaded’ by Bianchi, who lived in the same Glendale apartment complex, ‘to accompany him to a party.’ Her nude body was found in the 4100 block of Ranons Way in Highland Park.”

Lauren WagnerNovember 28, 1977″Lauren Rae Wagner, 18, murdered Nov. 1977. Miss Wagner, a business college student from Sepulveda in the San Fernando Valley, was abducted near her home. Her nude and strangled body was dumped in a residential area in Mt. Washington.”

Kimberly MartinDecember 13, 1977″Kimberly Diane Martin, 17, murdered Dec. 13, 1977. Miss Martin was abducted from an apartment at 1950 Tamrind Ave. in Hollywood where Bianchi had lived. Her body was found strangled and nude on a steep hillside below the 2000 block of N. Alvarado in Los Angeles.”

Cindy HudspethFebruary 17, 1978″Cindy Lee Hudspeth, 20, murdered Feb. 17, 1978. Miss Hudspeth, a Glendale cocktail waitress, accompanied Buono and Bianchi to the upholstery shop and then to the adjacent house where she was murdered. Her body was found nude and stuffed into the trunk of a car which had been pushed off the Angeles Crest Highway above La Crescenta.”

Following these 10 murders, Bianchi moved to Bellingham, WA. According to the 1980 LA Times article “Bianchi Loved Her, Mother of His Child Says,” Bianchi went to Washington in 1978 to be with his girlfriend Kelli Boyd and their newborn son, Ryan.

They resumed living together as usual, but on the night of Jan. 11, 1979, Bianchi left the house and proceeded to strangle two Western Washington University students, Karen Mandic, 23, and Diane Wilder, 27. Upon leaving the
bodies in a car, Bianchi went back home to his family.

“It was just a regular night. You know, he asked me about the baby, we watched television, we called it a night,” Boyd was quoted as saying. According to Boren, Bianchi was arrested for those crimes the next day, within about an hour of when the victims’ bodies were found. Soon after, Bianchi was identified as the Hillside Strangler.

As stated in the 1979 LA Times article “Buono Charged in Ten Hillside Strangler Killings,” Bianchi pleaded guilty to the two accounts of first-degree murder in Washington and five that had occurred in Los Angeles.

In exchange, Los Angeles prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. Bianchi also agreed to give a truthful account of his and Buono’s participation in the 10 Hillside Strangler murders. Bianchi served as a lead witness to testify for the prosecution of his cousin Buono.

Ultimately, Boren said, Bianchi and Buono were convicted in the murders of the 10 Hillside Strangler victims-Buono charged with nine accounts, and Bianchi with five of them. Both Bianchi and Buono were given life sentences. (Bianchi actually received two life sentences, in both Washington and California). Buono went to Calipatria State Prison in Calipatria, California, where he died in 2002 at the age of 67 from a heart condition. Bianchi is currently in the Washington State Prison in Walla Walla, Washington.

In 1979, an LA Times article titled “Bianchi’s Ties to Mother Termed ‘Pathological'” outlined psychiatric assessment of Bianchi. Born in Rochester, New York in 1951 to a woman thought to be an alcoholic prostitute, Bianchi was given up for adoption upon birth. At 11 months old, he was adopted by Nicholas and Frances Bianchi. Psychiatrists said Frances showed her love through “smothering control,” which, they believe, greatly impacted Bianchi’s “hostility toward women.” Psychiatrists describe Frances as “overprotective” and “very emotionally disturbed.”

When Bianchi was just a child, his adoptive mother would take him to doctors, although none of them found anything wrong with him. At the age of eight, he developed bladder problems and struggled to control wetting his pants. Later he struggled with impulses to steal clothes and tools, and finally the desire to rape and kill. As a teenager, Bianchi told psychiatrists he was terrified by girls.

Psychiatrists believe Bianchi’s relationship with his mother and “need to exert control over women” played a huge role in Bianchi’s involvement in both the pimping and slaying of women.

During the trial, psychiatrists struggled to diagnose Bianchi with multiple personality disorder. As the LA Times article on Bianchi states, psychiatrists chosen by the defense claimed Bianchi had multiple personalities, while those chosen by the prosecution claimed he faked having multiple personality disorder.

Boren cited this same situation in his account, saying that Bianchi’s attorney found a mental defense for Bianchi by using hypnosis to “unlock his multiple personalities.” While interviewed by a psychologist chosen by the defense, Bianchi displayed two personalities-“Ken,” the nice guy, and “Steve,” the crude murderer. However, Boren noted, most psychologists found that Bianchi was faking both hypnosis and multiple personality disorder.

According to the 1979 LA Times article “Bianchi Cousin,” Buono was known as a “lady’s man,” and had a history of poor relationships with women, aside from that with his mother. Born in 1934 in Rochester, Buono’s parents divorced when he was eight. Soon after, his family moved to Los Angeles. Buono dropped out of school before finishing junior high.

In 1955, at the age of 21, Buono married his first wife, 16-year-old Geraldine Yvonne Vinal. A half-day after they were married, Vinal abandoned him. The pair did, however, have a child.

Just two days after this first marriage was annulled, Buono-still living at home-married 17-year-old Mary Catherine Castillo. This marriage lasted seven years, during which the couple had five children.

In 1963, Castillo filed for divorce, accusing Buono of causing her “grievous bodily injury and mental suffering,” testifying that he had threatened her with a loaded gun, threatened to cripple her and struck her in front of their children. After this, Buono was married a third time, at the age of 43, to 21-year-old Tai Fun Leung.

The Hillside Strangler trial remains the longest murder trial in United States history, lasting from November 16, 1981 to November 18, 1983 (two years and two days). By the end of the trial, jurors had become close friends, celebrating birthdays and traveling together.

The investigation period lasted 20 months, during which a team of police workers, called the Hillside Strangler Task Force, worked around the clock to solicit, collect and try their best to analyze an overwhelming 10,000 “clues” telephoned in by the public. When the killers had been found, the task force members celebrated with a party to remember the victims, whom they had become emotionally attached to.

The Hillside Strangler case was an emotional rollercoaster for all those involved-the police officer who stopped by the coroner’s office every morning on his way to work for almost two years to check for new victims; young women in Eagle Rock living in constant fear that they could be next; jurors, psychiatrists, lawyers and judges who devoted countless hours in and out of the courtroom to help put an end to the horror; girlfriends and mothers who never suspected their boyfriend or son would turn out to be a serial killer; and finally, the friends and families of the victims.

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