Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi in court
True Crime

Who was the Hillside Strangler and who were all the victims?

An evil pair of killers terrorised 1970s LA

The Hillside Strangler – or Hillside Stranglers, police later discovered – set fear into the hearts of Los Angeles residents as he stalked victims between October 1977 and February 1978.

Their frenzied killing spree during this period saw 10 women between the ages of 12 and 28 brutally slain and dumped.

The nickname for the killer(s) originated as many of the victims’ bodies were discovered in the hills surrounding the city.

Cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono were eventually apprehended and charged – then locked up for life.

Their subsequent trial became the most expensive in the history of California’s legal system at that time…

Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi in court
One of the Hillside Strangler ‘killing duo’ Kenneth Bianchi sobbing in court (Credit: Shutterstock)

Who was the Hillside Strangler?

For many years, it was believed that the Hillside Strangler was just one man, but it eventually emerged that two men were responsible for the vicious crimes – Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin Angelo Buono.

Between October 1977 and February 1978, the pair murdered and raped 10 innocent women and girls, callously leaving their bodies in the hills surrounding LA.

Bianchi ratted out his cousin when he was arrested for two separate solo murders he had committed.

Both men came from disturbed backgrounds.

When he was a teenager, Buono because obsessed with sex and boasted to his classmates that he’d raped many girls.

He also idolised serial rapist Caryl Chessman, the Red Light Bandit.

Buono was married four times, and his second wife Mary Castillo accused him of being physically and sexually abusive.

His third wife Nanette Campino divorced him after he raped her daughter.

During his fourth marriage to Deborah Taylor, he dated a teenager with whom he had two children.

Bianchi was adopted by local residents Nicholas Bianchi and Frances Sciolono after his mother, a teenage prostitute, gave him up.

As a child he was a pathological liar and diagnosed with passive-aggressive personality disorder.

At one point, he had a desire to become a policeman, but dropped out of a police science and psychology course.

Bianchi’s Alphabet Murders link

Years later Bianchi was linked to the Alphabet Murders, a series of killings in Rochester, New York between 1971 and 1973.

Each of the victims’ first and second names started with the same letter.

Although he swore he had nothing to do with the killings, he lived in the area at the time as an ice-cream salesman and his car had been spotted near two of the murder scenes.

However, in 2011 Joseph Naso was was arrested in Reno, Nevada on suspicion of a number of murders dating back to 1977, whose names also had double initials.

While he was convicted for that spate of murders, he was ruled out from the Alphabet Murders when his DNA was tested against a sample from one of the victims.

Where did Bianchi and Buono live?

Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono both lived in LA where they embarked on their killing spree.

Kenneth had grown up in Rochester, New York but moved across the US to live with his cousin in 1976.

When they were short of money, Buono came up with an idea for them to become pimps.

Posing as policemen

They went on the hunt for girls, came across two runaways Sabra Hannan and Becky Spears and forced them into prostitution.

Not happy doing what they were doing, the girls eventually ran away.

This left Bianchi and Buono on a desperate hunt for more women and began kidnapping women by pretending to be policemen to gain their trust.

They would later move on to raping and killing middle class children and women.

Read more: What is the Hillside Strangler’s link to serial killer Richard Ramirez?

How did they kill?

As their moniker would suggest, Buono and Bianchi’s victims were all killed by strangulation. Most of them had been sexually abused as well.

When their bodies were found, their wrists and ankles had ligature marks.

How many victims did they kill?

The Hillside Stranglers murdered and raped 10 women and girls who were between the ages 12 and 28. 
The killings stopped in February 1978, but Bianchi went to kill two more women – Karen Mandic, 22, and Diane Wilder, 27 –  in 1979.
Hillside Strangler's victims
The Hillside Strangler’s victims – innocent women and girls (Credit: Shutterstock)

Who were the Hillside Strangler’s victims?

  • Yolanda Washington

Their first victim was 19-year-old sex worker Yolanda. She was picked up by the Hillside Stranglers, who posed as plain clothes policemen, and was murdered in their car.

Her body was found naked on a hillside near the Ventura Freeway on October 17, 1977.

She’d been violently raped and then her body had been washed cleaned to remove the evidence. Faint rope marks were discovered on her neck, wrists, and ankles.

  • Judith Miller

Judith was a 15-year-old runaway and sex worker. She was working in a diner Bianchi and Buono approached her. They claimed to be police officers and bundled her into their car. She was raped, sodomised and murdered in Buono’s upholstery shop.

Her body was found dumped in a middle-class residential area on November 1, 1977 – there were ligature marks on her neck, wrists and ankles.

  • Lissa Kastin

Lissa was a 21-year-old dancer and waitress who was set upon by the killers – posing as police officers – after her night shift. She was raped, strangled and dumped near the Chevy Chase Country Club.

Who were the Hillside Strangler’s victims?

  • Dolores Cepeda and Sonja Johnson 

On November 13, 1977 Dolores, 12, and her friend Sonja, 14, went missing on a trip to Eagle Rock Plaza. A witness said they saw 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. Their bodies were discovered by two little boys a week later.  

  • Kristina Weckler

Kristina, 20, a quiet student at the Pasadena Art Center of Design, was the sixth victim and her nude body was found in an obscure area in the hills between Glendale and Eagle Rock on November 20, 1977.

  • Evelyn Jane King

The badly decomposed body of 28-year-old Evelyn Jane King, an aspiring actress, was discovered in bushes on November 23, 1977 near the Los Felix off-ramp of the Golden State Freeway.

Her body was so decomposed that experts couldn’t tell if she had been sexually abused. However they could determine that she had been strangled.

Who were the Hillside Strangler’s victims?

  • Lauren Wagner 

On November 29, 1977, 18-year-old business student Lauren Rae Wagner was found murdered in the hills around Los Angeles’s Mount Washington.

She had ligature marks on her neck, ankles and wrists. There were also burn marks on her hands indicating she was tortured.

An eyewitness told Lauren’s father that she had seen her abduction. This woman stated that she saw two men – one was tall and young, the other one was older and shorter with bushy hair – dragging her into a car. 

  • Kimberly Martin 

The body of 17-year-old sex worker Kimberly Diane Martin was found naked with signs of torture on a deserted lot near Los Angeles CIty Hall on December 14, 1977.

Kimberly had recently joined a call girl agency because she was scared of the Hillside Strangler. However, when Bianchi and Buono called the agency to hire a girl, she was the one dispatched to them.

  • Cindy Hudspeth

Cindy was discovered midway down a cliff in Los Angeles on February 17, 1978, after a helicopter pilot spotted an abandoned orange Datsun midway.

When police arrived at the scene they discovered the naked body of the car’s owner – student and part time waitress Cindy – in the trunk.

Her corpse again showed ligature marks, and she had been raped and tortured. 

Read more: Who were all the victims of Dennis Nilsen?

Smirking Hillside Strangler Angelo Buono
Smirking Angelo Buono showed no respect for the Hillside Strangler victims in court (Credit: Shutterstock)

How were the Hillside Stranglers arrested?

The spate of killings suddenly came to an end in February 1978 and police were still none the wiser about who the culprit might be.

At this stage, they believed only one person was involved for the vile crimes.

However in January 1979, Bianchi raped and murdered two young female students studying at Western Washington University in Washington and was arrested the day after.

As these new murders bore striking similarities to the Hillside Strangler killings, the police realised they had finally found the notorious killer.

But more was to come.

Kenneth Bianchi’s ‘multiple personality disorder’

During questioning, Bianchi told the authorities he hadn’t worked alone and named Buono as his accomplice and would later testify against him to avoid the death penalty.

He also tried to convince authorities that he had multiple personality disorder – a claim that was made the day after he’d watched the Sally Field film Sybil about a woman with multiple personalities – but medics saw through his ruse.

Bianchi was given six life sentences at the Washington State Penitentiary, Buono was given a life sentence without parole.

Hillside Strangler survivors

Before they began their reign of terror, Buono and Bianchi forced two runaways Sabra Hannan and Becky Spears into sex work.

Luckily the girls managed to run away.

In 1977, the killers managed to lure Catharine Lorre, daughter of actor Peter Lorre, into their car.

When they discovered who she was related to, they let her go worried that the murder of a celebrity’s child may give police more of a reason to hunt them down.

The Hillside Strangler’s copycat girlfriend

During the two years Bianchi was awaiting trial, he forged a relationship with an actress and playwright called Veronica Compton.

Obsessed with serial killers, she sent him a screenplay called The Mutilated Cutter about a female serial killer.

Veronica became so fixated with Bianchi that he convinced her to go out and perform a copycat killing.

He wanted it look like the Hillside Strangler was still at large.

Slipping her a rubber glove full of his semen during a prison visit, Bianchi persuaded Veronica to lure a woman back to a motel room and strangle her.

However, the woman fought back, the police were called and Veronica was arrested.

Are they still alive?

Bianchi is serving a life sentence in Washington State Penitentiary and is now 69 years old.

His cousin, Buono, died aged 67 in 2002 from a heart attack.

He was serving his life sentence in the Calipatria State Prison, California.

The Hillside Strangler 2004 film
The Hillside Strangler film from 2004 was widely criticised (Credit: Shutterstock)

Where to watch Hillside Strangler films and documentaries

There are various films and documentaries based on the Hillside Strangler killings.

One is a 1984 two-part TV documentary about Kenneth Bianchi and his claim that he had a ‘dual personality’.

In 1989, Billy Zane starred as Kenneth Bianchi in a TV movie version of the murders.

Kenneth Bianchi is also the subject of an episode of the series Serial Killers, available to buy on Amazon.

In 2004 film Hillside Strangler directed by Chuck Parello and written by Stephen Johnston, was released. The film stars C. Thomas Howell as Bianchi and Nicholas Turturro as Buono.

Reviews at the time were far from favourable with one critic on Rotten Tomatoes echoing the views of many.

Megan wrote: “Another repulsive, fetishistic trawl through the life and crimes of a serial killer.”

David reasoned: “Sordid and sleazy, although the lead performances are hard to fault.”

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