From late 1977 until early 1978 the Hillside Stranglers were the bogeymen of Southern California. At the time, the media assumed the murders were perpetrated by one person. Almost no one believed two people would work together to commit such acts of atrocity, but these scary serial killers were more than happy to team up.
Even though they were biologically related, cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr. were two very different kinds of killer. Buono seemed content to go after whomever happened to cross his path, but for Bianchi the killing spree was all about control. At first they targeted random sex workers, but as their infamy grew, the pair began taking on more conspicuous, risky hits. They even killed one victim inside Bianchi's home apartment complex.
Their murder spree lasted less than a year, but the Hillside Stranglers are still some of the most vicious California serial killers of all time.
The Hillside Stranglers Killed 10 Women In Less Than A YearPhoto: FilmRise True Crime / YouTube
Between October 1977 and February 1978 Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr. went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of 10 women between the ages of 12 and 28.
The two cousins first reconnected when Bianchi moved out to Los Angeles in late 1975. When he needed money, Buono decided they should pursue careers as pimps. However, neither had much business acumen, and their enterprise quickly crumbled.
After the two sex workers they managed ran away, the men became totally unhinged. They began trying to kidnap girls by posing as police officers, but had little luck. When an unaffiliated sex worker sold the pair a bogus list of male clients, they responded violently, murdering the woman's friend Yolanda.
Thus began the duo's killing spree that ultimately claimed 10 lives. All the victims were killed at Buono's Glendale automobile upholstery shop. Their bodies were then cleaned and dumped in secluded areas around suburban Los Angeles. Each victim was strangled and sexually assaulted prior to their death.
The Intricate Crime Scenes Signaled The Existence Of Two Killers
After the press realized a series of strangulation murders were connected, they dubbed the killer "The Hillside Stranger" based on the idea that a lone murderer was running through the city, choking women to death, and leaving them to rot in wooded areas. However, police didn't think they were dealing with a single madman.
After each kill, Biachni and Buono arranged the bodies of their victims in provocative positions; it was this kind of attention to detail that gave the cops pause. One victim was positioned so her legs formed a "V," framing City Hall and LAPD headquarters.
Upon visiting a crime scene between Glendale and Eagle Rock, LAPD Homicide Detective Sergeant Bob Grogan realized the victims weren't murdered in the same place they were dumped. Grogan later recalled, “We felt that this was a two-man operation. The bodies [were] being carried to point A to point B, it would’ve taken two to do it."
The Killers Changed Their M.O. Midway Through Their Rampage
The Hillside Stranglers' first victims were sex workers, but before long, Bianchi and Buono began abducting young women indiscriminately. As their choices grew less calculated, the public began to take notice of the rash of murders happening across the city.
Neither Bianchi nor Buono ever explained why they changed their pattern, but judging from Bianchi's obsession with overpowering everyone in his life (mentally or physically) it's likely he was looking for a challenge.
When the bodies of women who weren't sex workers began showing up around Thanksgiving of 1977, the LAPD started paying attention. They put together a task force specifically focused on catching the Hillside Stranglers. This team contained the same police officers who hunted Richard Ramirez (AKA The Night Stalker) a decade later.
Bianchi Tried Escaping To Washington
Shortly after giving birth in early 1978, Bianchi's girlfriend, Kelli Boyd, moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham, WA to be closer to her family and escape the increasingly erratic Bianchi. He followed, apparently hoping a change of scenery would help him turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, that's not what happened.
When Bianchi arrived in Washington he decided to make the change from criminal to cop and applied to be a reserve deputy for the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department. They didn't hire him, so he took a job as a security guard.
Feeling a lack of fulfillment, Bianchi's thoughts returned to the subject of murder; this time his gaze fell on two college-age women, Diane Wilder and Karen Mandic. On Thursday, January 11, 1979 Bianchi allegedly offered the girls $100 apiece to keep an eye on a sprawling ranch house in Edgemoor, WA, for a couple hours.
The next afternoon, the women's bodies were discovered in a green Mercury Bobcat, both victims of strangulation. Bianchi attempted to play it cool, but he couldn't fight the landslide of evidence forming against him. On Friday, January 26, 1979, Bianchi was formally charged with two counts of first degree murder.