Starting in October 1977, Hillside Stranglers Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono murdered 10 women and dumped their bodies in the hills surrounding Los Angeles.
Within just 30 days in late 1978, the Hillside Strangler left the bodies of five young women and girls in the hills surrounding Los Angeles. By the end of the killer’s horrific streak, he raped, tortured, and murdered 10 victims between the ages of 28 and 12. And to the horror of the authorities and citizens alike, the Hillside Strangler was soon discovered to actually be the work of two disturbing predators: Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin, Angelo Buono Jr.
Before the Hillside Stranglers’ massacre abruptly stopped in February 1978, a nine-year-old boy found two of the stranglers’ victims. He was with his friends on an adventure, searching for buried treasure in the local dump’s trash heap. From afar, the boy would later tell the police that they just looked like mannequins.
That’s why he was willing to climb up over the filthy mattresses and get a close enough view to see what they really were: two little girls, one 12 and one 14 – neither much older than he – stripped naked and left to rot. They’d been there in the trash and the heat of the sun for a week. Their pretty young faces had started to decay and there were swarms of insects crawling all over them.
Those two young girls – Dolly Cepeda and Sonja Johnson – wouldn’t be the last to die. Before the sun went down that night, another body would be found.
This is the terrifying story of the Hillside Strangler.
Who Were Kenneth Bianchi And Angelo Buono?
The massacre did not start until Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin, Angelo Buono first got together in January 1976 when Bianchi moved from Rochester, N.Y. to live with his cousin, Buono, in Los Angeles. However, Bianchi would later be found responsible for several murders on his own.
As is the case with many a murderer, Bianchi had a troubled past. His mother was unstable and unable to care for him and so he was adopted. He was himself an unstable youth and later adult, who had difficulty holding down steady work.
But with his cousin, he landed on a money-making scheme that would grow into a murdering spree.
The older cousin, Angelo is believed to have acted as a sort of role model for the younger cousin, Kenneth, and subsequently was able to sway him. The child of divorced parents, Buono was raised by his mother. But from even an early age, Buono seemed to have loathed women. Though he married several times he proved to be an abusive husband.
Angelo Buono, consequently, hit on the heinous idea that would become a murder spree first: they would become pimps, he told his cousin, and bring in teenaged runaways no one would miss and force them to turn tricks.
Bianchi and Buono first took in two teenaged girls named Sabra Hannan and Becky Spears. Then, once they had them in Buono’s home, they locked them up and forced them to sell their bodies.
Bianchi and Buono were brutal. They beat the girls, pimped them, raped them, and beat them even more when they tried to resist. They locked them in their rooms and only let them leave when they begged for permission.
Sabra enlisted the help of a lawyer named David Wood. Both women made successful escapes.
“I was tired of getting beat up, tired of all the threats, and tired of engaging in prostitution,” Sabra would tell a jury years later when the men who had tortured her were put on trial for murder.
She was lucky that she got away because not long after she left, Bianchi and Buono’s violent tendencies only worsened.
Their first murder came a little after Sabra and Becky’s escape. Determined to keep their pimping business alive, Bianchi and Buono paid a prostitute name Deborah Noble for a “trick list” with the names and numbers of customers in L.A. Noble showed up at their house with another prostitute, Yolanda Washington, and sold them a phony list. Bianchi and Buono quickly realized this and wanted vengeance.
They knew where to find Yolanda, who had told them where she often worked.
The Grisly Murders Of The Hillside Stranglers
Yolanda Washington’s body was found naked on a hillside near the Ventura Freeway on Oct. 18, 1977. She’d been tied up with fabric around the neck, wrists, and legs, and pinned down. She’d been violently raped and then her body had been washed cleaned to remove the evidence and left naked on the hill.
A music store owner named Ronald LeMieux was the last person to see her alive. He’d later testify that two men flashing police badges had pulled her off the street, handcuffed her, and pushed her into the back seat of an unmarked car.
That would become Bianchi and Buono’s trademark for most of their murders: they would pretend they were cops, flash a fake badge, and tell a woman she was coming downtown. Then they’d take her to Angelo Buono’s upholstery shop and make sure she was never seen again.
Less than two weeks later, the Hillside Stranglers struck again. This time they killed a 15-year-old runaway who’d been surviving by selling her body on the streets. Her body turned up on Nov. 1, 1997, dumped in a residential area in La Crescenta.
A waitress named Lissa Kastin turned up next, just five days later, and she was the first woman they killed who wasn’t a prostitute. On Nov. 20, the bodies of Dolly Cepeda, Sonja Johnson, and Kristina Weckler all turned up on the same day.
The manner of death for Weckler was found to be particularly troubling, as investigators found that the Stranglers had experimented with injecting her with household surface cleaners.
Women in L.A. learned to live in fear. One woman, named Kimberly Martin, joined a call girl agency hoping that they’d keep her safe. But instead, the agency accepted a call from two men using a pay phone and sent her out to her death.
Martin’s body was found on Dec. 14, 1977. She was found nude, strangled, and with electrical burns on her palms. She was 18-years-old and she was the ninth victim of the Hillside Stranglers.
There would be a little more than two months of peace before the killers would strike a tenth and final time, leaving the body of a woman named Cindy Hudspeth in the truck of her Datsun, inches from the edge of a cliff.
Then, suddenly, in February 1978, the massacre stopped.
The Trial And Sentencing Of The Hillside Stranglers
Kenneth Bianchi had left L.A. just as the spree finished. He had fallen in love and spent much of his time in L.A. trying to win the hand of a woman named Kelli Boyd in marriage.
Boyd never agreed to marry him, but she did give him a son. She gave birth to their boy Ryan just days after the Hillside Strangler struck for the final time. Weeks after giving birth, Kelli Boyd broke things off with Bianchi and moved to Washington State, and in May 1978, Bianchi followed her to Bellingham, Washington.
But the killer inside Bianchi seemed insatiable.
On Jan. 12, 1979, Bianchi kidnapped and murdered two young students at Western Washington University.
Without Angelo Buono helping him, Bianchi was clumsy about covering his tracks and the police caught him the next day.
He’d killed the women in Washington the same way he’d killed those girls in L.A., and when the police pulled him in, they found that he was still carrying a California driver’s license. Kenneth Bianchi, they quickly realized, was one half of the Hillside Strangler.
When they threatened him with capital punishment, Bianchi broke down and gave up his partner, Angelo Buono. During his trial, Bianchi tried to plead insanity and stated that he had multiple personality disorder. The court didn’t buy it.
Bianchi pleaded guilty to the Washington murders and five of the California murders and testified against his cousin to avoid the death penalty. He consequently received six life sentences where Buono received life without parole. The jury ultimately voted against capital punishment.
With his final words to the court, the presiding judge, Ronald George, cursed the rules that kept him from sentencing them to death.
“Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi slowly squeezed out of their victims their last breath of air and their promise for a future life. And all for what? The momentary sadistic thrill of enjoying a brief perverted sexual satisfaction and the venting of their hatred for women,” the judge railed. “If ever there was a case where the death penalty is appropriate, this is the case.”
Buono died while imprisoned in 2002, Bianchi is still living out his sentence after marrying a Louisiana pen pal in September 1989. His 2010 request for parole was denied.
After this look at the Hillside Stranglers, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, learn about another L.A. monster, Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker. Then, check out the horrifying history of L.A.’s cursed Cecil Hotel.