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The Hillside Stranglers

DeathsDoor
Jan 15, 2015
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Kenneth 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 of Rochester.

Early life

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.

Murders

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.

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 encountered.

Trial

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 disorder.

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 Strangler.

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.

Murders

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 Johnson.

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 arrested.

Trial

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 it.

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 sentence.

Veronica Compton

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.

Yolanda Washington was the first victim of the Hillside Strangler. Yolanda was 20 years old at the time of her death. Her naked body was found on the slopes of the distinguished Forest Lawn Cemetery, the resting place of movie stars, on the night of Oct. 18, 1977. The body was naked, cleaned by the killlers so as to leave no clues, and posed in a lascivious position. Yolanda was raped and strangled.

Judith Ann Miller was the second victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was 15 years old at the time of her death. On Oct. 31, 1977, her naked body was found on a hillside, laying close to the road, in the middle-class residential neighborhood of La Crescenta. She had been raped, sodomized and strangled to death. Her wrists, ankles, and neck bore the marks of the ropes that had bound her, as was the case with Yolanda Washington and those victims to come. She was small and thin, weighing about ninety pounds. The coroner determined that she had been strangled to death around midnight, some six hours or so before she was found. She had last been seen leaving the Fish and Chips restaurant at nine p.m. on the evening before she was found dead. Judith’s family was down on its luck and had nothing to contribute about their daughter’s friends.

Elissa Teresa Kastin, twenty-one, was murdered on Oct. 6, 1977 making her the third victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was a waitress at the Healthfaire Restaurant near Hollywood & Vine and lived just off Hollywood Blvd. She had made a comment to her mother that she was thinking of turning to prostitution to earn some extra money. She had last been seen leaving the Restaurant just after nine o’clock on the night she was murdered. Her naked, strangled body had been found near Chevy Chase Drive in Glendale, near a country club. There was evidence of rape, but not sodomy. 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 the guardrail, police estimated.

Jill Barcomb, 4th victim of the Hillside Strangler. Jill was 19-years old at the time of her death. She was living in Hollywood, having recently moved from New York shortly before her death and was last seen alive on November 9, 1977. Her beaten and strangled body was discovered the next day in Franklin Canyon, north of Beverly Hills. She had also known Judith Miller, another victim. Jill had pleaded guilty to prostitution in Syracuse, N. Y. in January 1977 and was placed on a one year probation. She was arrested once for violation of her probation and was allowed to continue on probation in September of that same year. Six weeks later she was found nude, beaten & strangled. Tests showed she had been sexually molested.

Kathleen Robinson was the fifth victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was 17 years old. She had been living in Hollywood and was a high school student. She was last seen alive on November 17, 1977 near the beach in Santa Monica. She was found strangled the next day in a parkway near Pico Boulevard in the Los Angeles Wilshire area. According to authorities, she had not been sexually molested. She had been living with her mother at the time of her murder and was a frequent hitch hiker.

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Kristina Weckler was the sixth victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was 20 years old. She died on Nov. 20, 1997. Her nude body was found in an obscure area in the ills between Glendale and Eagle Rock. Kristina was a quiet honors student at the Pasadena Art Center of Design. She lived in an apartment at 809 E. Garfield Avenue in Glendale. Kristina’s parents lived in San Francisco.

sonja_johnson

Sonja Johnson was the 7th victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was 14 years old. Sonja, who was from Eagle Rock and a student at St. Ignatius school in Highland Park had been missing since November 13. She had gone shopping at the Eagle Rock Plaza, with her friend, Dolores “Dollie” Cepeda. A witness had seen the girls get off a bus and go over to a large two-tone sedan to talk to someone on the passenger side of a car. A person on the passenger side of the witness’ car corroborated the theory that they were two men, probably the killers. On Nov. 20, 1977 the bodies of Sonja Johnson and her friend were discovered by two little boys, whose parents did not believe them at first, in Elysian Park.

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Dolores “Dollie” Cepeda was the 8th victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was 12 years old. Dolores, who was from Eagle Rock, had been missing since Nov. 13 when she had gone with her friend, Sonja Johnson to the Eagle Rock Plaza. A witness had seen the girls get off a bus and go over to a large two-tone sedan to talk to someone on the passenger side of a car. A person on the passenger side of the witness’ car corroborated the theory that they were two men, probably the killers. On Nov. 20, 1977 the bodies of Dolores Cepeda and her friend were discovered by two little boys, whose parents did not believe them at first, in Elysian Park. Dolores had been a student at St. Ignatius School in Highland Park.

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Jane Evelyn King, twenty-eight, was killed on Nov. 23, 1977. She was the 9th victim of the Hillside Strangler. Her body was found dumped at a southbound Los Feliz off-ramp of the Golden State Freeway. Her maggot covered body was estimated to have been there approximately two weeks.

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Lauren Wagner was the 10th victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was 18 years old. She had been a student at Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley and lived with her parents. This photo is a copy of Lauren’s photo from her high school yearbook, class of 1977. Her parents had found her car parked across the street from their home with the door ajar. They had gone to bed the previous night, expecting her home before midnight. When her father questioned the neighbors, he found that the woman who lived at 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 evening. Two men had pulled their car up beside hers. There was some kind of disagreement and Lauren ended up in the car with the two men. Her body was found on Tuesday, November 29 in the hills of Mount Washington on Cliff Drive.

kimberly_martin

Kimberly Diane Martin was the 11th victim of the Hillside Strangler. She was 17 years old. Police found her naked body on Dec. 14, 1997. Kimberly was a tall blonde girl who had been working for the Climax “modelling agency” (prostitution). Kimberley’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.

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Cindy Lee Hudspeth was 21 years old when she died on February 16, 1978. She was the 13th victim of the Hillside Strangler. Her strangled, violated body was put in to trunk of her Datsun and was pushed off a cliff on Angeles Crest Highway. She had been a clerk that everybody liked. She hoped to make enough money to go to college one day and planned to give dance lessons to help raise the money. A vivacious young woman, she had won several dance contests. She had last been seen in her apartment building at 800 E. Garfield Ave. from where 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. Cindy had lived across the street from another victim, Kristina Weckler, even though the two women did not know each other.

laura_collins

There is some discrepancy about Laura Collins being one of the Hillside Strangler victims. The back of one of these two photos says “not linked to 10 others”. However she is shown as a victim in the Hillside Strangler Task Force poster. Laura Collins was 26 years old at the time of her death.

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Jane Evelyn King, twenty-eight, was killed on Nov. 23, 1977. She was the 9th victim of the Hillside Strangler. Her body was found dumped at a southbound Los Feliz off-ramp of the Golden State Freeway. Sheet in background marks where her nude body was found. Police investigators can be seen in the foreground.

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Police investigators inspect the car Lauren Wagner was seen driving parked within 50 feet of her house the night before her body was found in Glassell Park.

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Los Angeles Police Department, homicide detectives investigate the murder site of Lauren Rae Wagner. The body was found November 29, 1977 on the west side of Mount Washington in Glassell Park at 1217 Cliff Dr.

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Close friends of the Wagner family carry the casket containing the body of Lauren Rae Wagner, 10th victim of the Hillside Strangler. Services were held at Our Lady of Peace Church, Sepulveda, with more than 250 persons attending.

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2006 N. Alvarado, Echo Park, the place where Kimberly Diane Martin’s body was found. Body can be seen in the center of the photo, with police personnel and residents of the area in the background.

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2006 N. Alvarado, Echo Park, the place where Kimberly Diane Martin’s body was found. Body is being removed by the coroner’s office.

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Los Angeles, California: A member of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office yells instruction up a hillside as members of the Los Angeles Police Hillside Strangler task force investigate the body of a woman (her leg can be seen) found in the truck of a car. Cindy Lee Hudspeth, 20, is thought to be the 13th victim of the Hillside Strangler. The car, spotted by a helicopter February 17th, had been driven or pushed off the highway (February 18, 1978)

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