Panic in the Hollywood hills
Their pimping business had limited success, their first two “girls” managing to escape, after suffering tremendous abuse at the hands of Buono, but Bianchi had, by this time, become accustomed to the additional income. They found a new girl, but an attempt to recruit more punters went disastrously wrong, when they were conned into buying a “trick” list, consisting of names of men who frequented prostitutes, from a prostitute called Deborah Noble, and her friend Yolanda Washington. Enraged by the rip-off, and unable to trace Noble, Buono and Bianchi tracked Washington down on 18 October 1977, beating, raping and strangling her with a piece of fabric, before dumping her body near the entrance of Forest Lawn Cemetery, which they deliberately posed in a grotesque manner. This first killing took their brutal, misogynistic partnership to a new level, and triggered a wave of horrific slayings that held LA in thrall.
Their next victim was teenage runaway Judy Miller, who was found in a garden in the Glendale Hills on 31 October 1977. She had also been strangled, and her naked legs were deliberately positioned in a diamond shape. Their third victim, Elissa Kastin, was savagely beaten, raped and strangled, her naked body found close to Buono’s home on 6 November 1977.
Three days later, on 9 November 1977, the nude body of 18-year-old prostitute, Jill Barcomb, was found north of Beverly Hills, showing the same characteristics as the previous three victims. Police began to suspect that they might be dealing with a serial killer, but as the victims had been prostitutes or runaways up to that point, there was little media attention, and no real political will, to address the mounting body count.
Then a high school student, 17-year-old Kathleen Robinson, was added to the body count on 18 November, followed by 2 more young victims, 12-year-old Dolores Cepeda, and 14-year-old Sonja Johnson, on 20 November. All were found on various Hillside sites, showing similar injuries, and the stakes were raised exponentially: these were no longer marginal members of society, but vulnerable young victims. The full glare of the LA media was brought to bear on a killer nicknamed “The Hillside Strangler” by sensationalist tabloid media.
General panic ensued, naturally, given that the young victims had all been raped, sodomised and strangled, but the fear factor was ratcheted higher when details about the decomposing remains of 20-year-old Kristina Weckler, found on another site on 20 November, were released: the killer had injected cleaning fluid into her, as well as brutalising her. Clearly the killer was refining his sadistic techniques, and the police were becoming increasingly convinced that there were, in fact, two killers working together. During the investigation of Weckler’s disappearance, police interviewed Bianchi, who lived in the same apartment complex as she did, but did not at any time consider him a suspect.
Within 10 days, two further victims were discovered; 28-year-old student Jane King, on 23 November, who had been dead for some time, and 18-year-old Lauren Wagner, on 29 November, who had been severely tortured by burning. Wagner’s death, unlike Jane King’s, had clearly occurred after Kristina Weckler’s, and confirmed the police hypothesis about torture techniques being refined by the killers with each new victim.
One of Lauren Wagner’s neighbours saw her arguing with two men shortly before her disappearance, giving the police their first real lead in the manhunt. Both men seen had been Latino, with one significantly older than the other, and driving a dark car with a white roof.
The last victim in 1977 was 22-year-old prostitute, Kimberly Martin, found on 9 December, but investigators found no further substantial leads as a result of her death. While police were expecting the sort of violent escalation usually associated with serial killers, attacks stopped after Martin, and the next victim was taken more than 10 weeks later, on 20 February 1978; 23-year-old Cindy Lee Hudspeth was found in the boot of her car, which had been pushed over a cliff. She exhibited the signature strangulation marks associated with the Hillside killings. She was also a neighbour of Kristina Weckler, and therefore Bianchi, but this association was not really pursued, and a lack of any further victims caused the Hillside Strangler Task Force to be disbanded shortly thereafter.
Kelli Boyd, Bianchi’s girlfriend, had borne a son, Sean, by him, in February 1978. Having tired of both Bianchi’s lifestyle and LA, she decided to return to her parents in Bellingham, in Washington State, in March 1978. Bianchi pleaded to be reunited with her and she relented after 3 months, but stipulated that he had to come to Bellingham, which he duly did in May 1978. For a while Bianchi made a success of family life, taking a job as a security guard and earning the trust of his employers, but the placid way of life did little to assuage his murderous urges, and within six months he was actively seeking new victims. This time, however, he acted alone.
On 11 January 1979, two University students suffered the consequences of his urges. Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder, conned by Bianchi into believing they were applying for a house-sitting job, were attacked, raped and strangled and their bodies were dumped in Mandic’s car. Police found a piece of paper in the car, detailing the meeting with Bianchi, and they quickly realised, under questioning, that they had their killer, despite his respectable demeanour. Painstaking forensic analysis of the car and Bianchi’s home tied him indisputably to the murdered students.