Kenneth Bianchi

Crime Files

Kenneth Alessio Bianchi was born in Rochester, New York on 22 May 1951, to an alcoholic prostitute mother, who gave him up for adoption at birth. He was adopted by Frances Bianchi when he was three months old.

Bianchi showed early signs of the problems that dominated his later life: he was an inveterate liar, subject to violent temper tantrums and a poor scholar, despite above-average intelligence. Showing manipulative skills early on, he was always the instigator of bad behaviour, and his foster mother, Frances, attempted to curb his behaviour by sending him to a private Catholic school. He exhibited some flair at artistic writing, but the strict religious regime seems to have coloured his expectations of women, and he would spend his life continually disappointed that most women he met failed to meet his rigorous standards of Catholic purity. Finding out the truth about his abandonment by his birth mother can only have added to his distorted view of women in general.Following the death of his foster father, when he was 13, Frances was forced to go to work to support them, and he returned to the public school system, where he was an unexceptional student. Following graduation, he was married in 1971, but immaturity on the part of both partners resulted in its annulment 8 months later.

Bianchi had harboured a desire to be a police officer since childhood, and took courses in police science and psychology at a community college to further this goal, but his poor application saw him drop out before graduation. A job application at the local sheriff’s department was rejected, so he took work as a security guard. With a constant eye for the easy route, he stole from his employers, which caused him to move jobs frequently. Finally, aged 26 and thoroughly disillusioned with his life in Rochester, he resolved to relocate to Los Angeles in late 1975. He moved in with his elder cousin, Angelo Buono, sparking a deadly relationship that set in motion a chain of events that saw the two of them eventually prosecuted as the notorious serial killers who became known in the media as the “Hillside Stranglers”.

Angelo Buono was a brutal, sadistic man, with a dominant personality. He had a history of sexual violence, and made a profound impression on Bianchi, who was 17 years his junior. Bianchi sought a position with the LAPD once in Los Angeles, but was again unsuccessful; when he did find a clerical job he was soon hopelessly over-extended financially.

Bianchi meet Kelli Boyd, in 1976, who became his long-term girlfriend, but she was unhappy with Bianchi’s lack of financial responsibility, and Bianchi took steps to rectify this, again seeking an easy route. He set himself up as a psychological counsellor, but had no professional qualifications; when Boyd discovered this she was furious.

He then turned to cousin Buono, himself financially secure, with his own car upholstery business, who persuaded Bianchi that they could make money by setting up as pimps, with a string of prostitutes, using Bianchi’s charm and Buono’s contacts.

Timeline

Born22 May 1951The Victims18 October 1977 - Yolanda Washington, 1931 October 1977 - Judith Miller, 165 November 1977 - Elissa Kastin, 218 November 1977 - Jane King, 28 (discovered 23rd November 1977)9 November 1977 - Jill Barcomb, 1818 November 1977 - Kathleen Robinson, 1720 November 1977 - Dolores Cepeda, 1220 November 1977 - Sonja Johnson, 1420 November 1977 - Kristina Weckler, 2029 November 1977 - Lauren Wagner, 189 December 1977 - Kimberly Diane Martin, 2220 February 1978 - Cindy Hudspeth, 2011 January 1979 - Karen Mandic, 2211 January 1979 - Diane Wilder, 27Arrested12 January 1979TrialNovember 1981Convicted31 October 1983

The Aftermath

Prison

Bianchi is serving out his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, the same prison where Gary Ridgway, the “Green River Killer” is serving his life sentence.In June 2002 Bianchi filed a suit against the Whatcom County for lost wages and emotional distress, amounting to several hundred thousand dollars, on the basis that prosecutors had withheld key evidence prior to his trial, forcing him to confess to the killings. The suit was dismissed.Angelo Buono died of heart-related symptoms, aged 67, on 21 September 2002 at the Calipatria State Prison in California.

The Trial

standing trial

Despite the trial commencing in November 1981, numerous pre-trial motions delayed any real progress until May 1982. The mountain of forensic evidence, and the number of victims served to slow proceedings, causing the case to drag on for almost two years. Bianchi tried his best to hamper proceedings, proving a reluctant witness, and making deliberately contradictory statements, causing the judge to threaten to rescind his plea bargain.The jury were largely unimpressed with Bianchi’s efforts and, on 31 October 1983, Buono was found guilty of 9 counts of murder, and Bianchi of the five murder charges that he had pleaded guilty to. The jury also sentenced Buono to life in prison, without parole, rather than to the death penalty, and Bianchi was sentenced to 118 years in prison.

The Arrest

LAPD get their man

Bianchi’s previous residence in LA was quickly established, and a liaison with the LAPD soon flagged up the similarity in MO to the Hillside Strangler killings. A search of his Bellingham home also produced jewellery belonging to a couple of the LA victims, tying him conclusively to those as well. Forensic evidence eventually tied Bianchi to five of the LA killings, and he was charged with these murders in June 1979.Bianchi did everything possible to avoid prosecution, at first feigning multiple personalities to support an insanity plea. He convinced a number of mental health experts, but was thwarted by a shrewd prosecution psychiatrist, who tricked him into inventing even more personae, exposing the ruse.

Police were already aware of Angelo Buono through their investigation of Bianchi’s background, and the proximity of his car upholstery business to a number of the body dumpsites, but could not tie him conclusively to the killings. Determined to avoid the death penalty, which was certain in Washington State, but not in California, Bianchi agreed to testify against his cousin in exchange for prosecution in LA. Bianchi gave a detailed statement about the LA murders, implicating Buono, and pleading guilty to five counts of homicide in LA. Buono was arrested on 22 October 1979, and he was indicted on ten counts of first-degree murder.With the trial now looming Bianchi, always the charmer, and desperate to escape the charges, convinced a female admirer, Veronica Compton, to commit a murder on his behalf. The plan was that she would kill a stranger, mimicking his MO to prove that a “Hillside” murder had taken place while he was incarcerated: he even smuggled a semen sample out of his prison cell so that she could plant it on the murder victim. Although willing to proceed, Compton bungled the murder attempt on 16 September 1980, and she was arrested on 3 October for attempted murder.Following this disaster, Bianchi began to contemplate his own treatment in prison, once it was realised that he had turned informer on his cousin to save himself, and he again tried to influence judicial proceedings by issuing contradictory statements about his pre-trial testimony in July 1981, in the hope that the case would be thrown out of court. The prosecution, knowing how important Bianchi was to any prosecution of Buono, began to waver, but the judge insisted that the case proceed as planned, in November 1981.

 

The Crimes

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.