Welcome to the latest edition of Crime Feed’s book club. Be sure to come back each month for the latest suggested reading and share your reviews in the comments below.
Between October 1977 and February 1978, cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, Jr. murdered 10 women and left their bodies in the Hollywood Hills.
Los Angeles was terrified. Quickly dubbed by the media as “The Hillside Strangler,” (it was unclear there were two people behind the murders at the time) Bianchi and Buono began killing prostitutes and then moved on to targeting women randomly on the street. The duo posed as police officers and lured women into their vehicle under false pretenses.
The police were puzzled; but as the murders began accumulating and multiple types of DNA were discovered at the scene of the crime, they realized two people must be behind it.
Their youngest targets were 12-year-old Dolores Cepeda and 14-year-old Sonja Johnson; the cousins, posing as police offices, offered the girls a ride home—saying there was a burglar in the neighborhood. On the same day, Bianchi and Buono abducted Kristina Weckler—Bianchi’s old neighbor who had spurned him in the past. She was the first victim that showed signs she had been tortured before being killed.
Investigative journalist Darcy O’Brien was inspired to start writing true crime after his roommate, Ronald M. George, was called to be the judge of the Hillside Stranglers trial. Four years after the trial began, O’Brien published his book, The Hillside Stranglers—giving an extensive account of the murder spree and the true terror the cousins inflicted.
If happiness is doing as one likes, Thanksgiving was a joyful season for Buono and Bianchi. Not only did they accomplish two fresh murders; they at last received the recognition they felt due them, publicity beyond a flak merchant’s dreams, the entertainment capital of the world enthralled by their acts. As they watched the news together they took particular pleasure in learning that the media, and presumably the police, were crediting them with two or three murders they had not even committed, including a girl way out in Pomona. “They’ll have us in Nevada soon,” Angelo said.
Bianchi paid more attention to the publicity than Buono, who had always been indifferent to fame. Kenny subscribed to The Times and read all of it every day. A man who understood the value of information, he reveled in the spotlight. It was better than having a hit movie, and as nothing much else was going on in the world except the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations, Kenny could rightly feel that he was the center of everyone’s attention. At work, he would hear the office girls chattering nervously about the sex-mad murderer who was loose in the city. Coyly, impishly, ever the tease, he would wink and say to them, “You never know. He could be anyone. Why, I could be the Hillside Strangler … “ That would get a rise out of the ladies every time.
For nearly two weeks after Lauren Wagner, publicity and the still-warm memories of their most recent killings were enough to buoy the cousins. They had accomplished so much, even the virgin they had decided should follow Jane King. That Sunday at the Eagle Rock Plaza they had noticed Dolores Cepeda and Sonja Johnson boarding a bus and had decided to follow them. A double play! The possibility of capturing both girls multiplied pleasurable anticipations: an orgy, then a twin killing. When the girls got off the bus on York Boulevard, Angelo and Kenny motioned them over to the car, flashing their badges. Kenny told the girls that a burglar was loose in the neighborhood. He was armed and dangerous. The girls had better accept a ride home from the police.
Dolores and Sonja, who had just stolen about a hundred dollar’s worth of costume jewelry from a shop at the Plaza, were anxious to cooperate for fear that their crime would be discovered; and at first, when they were told to strip down at Angelo’s “satellite police station,” they thought that they were being searched.
Angelo and Kenny, after getting their sexual fill of the girls, each of them raping and sodomizing both, murdered Sonja first in the spare bedroom. When they came into the living room to get Dolores, she asked plaintively:
“Don’t worry,” Angelo said. “You’ll be seeing her soon.”
The jewelry the girls had stolen was a great temptation to Kenny, but Angelo was watching too closely and made sure that it went into the dumpster along with their clothing and the jewelry they had been wearing, ceramic pins of unicorns, cloudbursts, rainbows, a thin gold-plated necklace with charms—a floating heart, a teddy bear.
Kenny happened to be driving Kelli’s Mazda station wagon this time, and it proved convenient transport. With the two bodies laid out in the back under a blanket, Angelo directed Kenny to the cow patch. It gave Angelo particular pleasure to dump the bodies there, an arbor alive for him with bittersweet romantic memories, trysts, courtships, and later family picnics.
Then came Kristina Weckler. They had driven over to Hollywood and observed the heavy concentration of police, and they knew that there were others undercover. They required something nearer to hand. Kenny, remembering Kristina as a girl who had spurned him at 809 East Garfield, checked to see whether she still lived there by making an anonymous phone call to her, telling her he would like to eat her underwear, while Angelo stood by the phone, grinning. A few days later, on that Saturday night, with Angelo waiting in the Cadillac, Kenny knocked on Kristina’s door and, showing her his badge, said:
“Hi. Remember me? It’s Kenny Bianchi. I used to live next door. How’s it going? Listen. I’m a member of the Police Reserve now. See”—he chuckled, shaking his head self-deprecatingly, emanating a gee-whiz sincerity—”they even give you a badge. I was just patrolling the neighborhood and I noticed your car, the VW, right? Well, wouldn’t you know it, looks like somebody’s crashed into it, right there in the parking lot. If you’ll come out and help me write up a report, it might help you collect on your insurance.”
That was all it took.
This article originally appeared in The Lineup.
Main images via AP Photo/Lennox McLendon/ AP (POOL)