The Story Of Kenneth Bianchi, The ‘Hillside Strangler’ Who Terrorized Los Angeles In The Late 1970s

Published July 21, 2023
Updated July 24, 2023

Sometimes joined by his cousin Angelo Buono, Kenneth Bianchi raped, tortured, and murdered 12 women and girls over the course of just a year and a half beginning in 1977.

Kenneth Bianchi

Bellingham Police Department Kenneth Bianchi at the Bellingham Police Department in Washington.

From 1977 to 1978, the Los Angeles area was a playground for two deranged individuals hell-bent on brutalizing young women.

The media referred to these men, Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin, Angelo Buono, as the “Hillside Stranglers” in reference to their modus operandi: kidnapping, torturing, sexually assaulting, and finally strangling their victims.

Their reign of terror came to an end when Kenneth Bianchi later attempted to satiate his dark desires without Buono by his side in Washington state, leaving behind clues that would implicate him and his cousin in their brutal killing spree back in California. But before he was caught, Kenneth Bianchi was able to perpetrate some of the most brutal murders in modern history.

This is the story of Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi and how he became one of the most terrifying serial killers of his era.

Kenneth Bianchi’s Turbulent Upbringing In New York

Kenneth Bianchi was born on May 22, 1951, in Rochester, New York, to a 17-year-old sex worker. Two weeks after Bianchi’s birth, his mother put him up for adoption, citing that she was an alcoholic and could not care for him.

In August of the same year, the Bianchi family, comprised of Nicholas Bianchi and his wife, Frances Scioliono-Bianchi, adopted the baby.

As he grew, Bianchi started exhibiting very worrying signs. As soon as Bianchi could speak, his mother noted that he was a compulsive liar.

Bianchi also struggled with frequent bed-wetting and bizarre episodes where he would stare seemingly into space and roll his eyes back into his head.

These episodes were so concerning that Bianchi’s mother consulted doctors on several occasions but was repeatedly told that the episodes were likely just a phase he would grow out of.

The first sign of sexual deviancy came when Bianchi pulled a 6-year-old girl’s underwear down in July 1963, when he was 12.

These incidents occurred up until Bianchi was in high school. During school, he dated multiple young women and even joined social clubs.

When he was 18, Bianchi married his high school sweetheart, a woman named Brenda Beck. However, for unknown reasons, Beck left him after only eight months of marriage.

By 1976, when Bianchi was 25 years old with a string of unsuccessful jobs and a failed marriage, he decided to make some changes in his life and move in with his cousin in Los Angeles.

In the City of Angels, Buono would expose Bianchi to a life of perverse sex and violence.

Moving To Los Angeles, Meeting Angelo Buono, And Beginning A Life Of Violent Crime

Kenneth Bianchi arrived in Los Angeles in January 1976. For the first few months in the city, Bianchi lived with Angelo Buono, his adopted cousin, and became fascinated with his flashy lifestyle.

Bianchi eventually got a job with the California Land Title Company but frequently made excuses to miss work, including telling his employers that he had cancer. By 1977, his company had fired him after finding marijuana in his office desk.

Again, Bianchi was without work and desperately looking to keep himself afloat. He applied several times to work for both the Glendale Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department but was rejected every time.

Buono, a self-described ladies’ man, approached Bianchi with a business proposition in September 1977: becoming pimps.

As part of his business idea, Buono planned to abduct two runaway girls and force them to do sex work. Buono eventually found what he was looking for in teenagers Sabra Hannan and Becky Spears.

However, the girls managed to escape Buono and Bianchi a few months into their captivity, leaving the two men desperate for money.

The two then introduced themselves to local sex workers in hopes of getting more information about the types of people frequenting their business. In their search, they met two women named Deborah Noble and Yolanda Washington, who sold them a fake list of known customers in the area.

When Bianchi and Buono realized that the list was fake and that they had been duped, they became enraged and set off on a rampage against women.

The Hillside Strangler Murders

Hillside Strangler Home

Barry King/Alamy Stock PhotoThe Hillside Strangler’s home in Glendale, California, the location of several murders.

Kenneth Bianchi’s first victim was Yolanda Washington. Based on the information Washington provided when the two met, Bianchi knew exactly where she worked.

Alongside his cousin Buono, Bianchi kidnapped Washington, raped her, then strangled her to death with a piece of fabric in the back seat of his car.

A witness to Washington’s kidnapping stated that he saw two men flash police badges at her before handcuffing her and placing her in the back of a car.

Her body was found a day later.

The two struck again only a few days later, kidnapping and murdering a 15-year-old sex worker named Judith Miller. Only a few days after, the duo kidnapped and murdered a waitress named Elissa Kastin.

This rampage continued for the next few months, with a total of 10 bodies showing up on the streets of Los Angeles, badly beaten, strangled, raped, and tortured.

The city was terrified, and women in Los Angeles began to sleep with one eye open.

“All at once I was afraid the way I’ve been afraid since these stranglings started,” a female business owner in Los Angeles stated to the Washington Post. “I never used to be afraid before.”

Suddenly, almost as soon as it started, the rampage ended. By late February 1978, the murders had stopped, and the city breathed a sigh of relief.

The public didn’t know then that the two men responsible had largely severed their relationship. Bianchi, whose ex-girlfriend had just given birth to his son, moved to Washington to be closer to them.

Kenneth Bianchi’s Downfall In Washington

By 1978, Kenneth Bianchi had left his life in Los Angeles behind to move to Bellingham, Washington, to be closer to his ex-girlfriend and newborn child.

And while Los Angeles slowly tried to piece together a sense of normalcy following the brutal killings, Bellingham was unprepared for the terror that was about to unfold with Bianchi’s arrival.

In January 1979, Bellingham police received a report that two university students, Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder, were missing.

Police uncovered that Bianchi, who had worked as a security guard, likely lured the two young women to a home he was guarding with the promise of paying them $100 to housesit. While there, he strangled the two women and later disposed of their bodies in an abandoned car in the woods.

Given eyewitness testimony, forensics, and the timeline, Bellingham police were certain that Bianchi was their man. A judge issued a search warrant for his apartment, and police found a California driver’s license, jewelry belonging to the victims in Los Angeles, and other items of interest.

Suddenly, the Bellingham police realized that they had something much greater on their hands than a double murder. They found themselves staring at one-half of the “Hillside Stranglers.”

With the evidence stacked against him, Bianchi confessed to police that he and Buono had been responsible for the murders in Los Angeles. On October 22, 1979, police arrested Angelo Buono at his home.

However, while Bianchi may have been present at the crime scenes, he told investigators that he struggled with dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. He claimed that “Steve Walker,” his alternate personality, had committed the crimes.

Ultimately, investigators didn’t buy it, and a judge determined he and his cousin fit to stand trial.

Life In Prison For One Of America’s Worst Serial Killers

Kenneth Bianchi After Sentencing

Los Angeles Public LibraryThe Hillside Strangler Task Force detectives transfer Kenneth Bianchi to the basement of the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles after sentencing.

Bianchi pled guilty to the two murders in Washington and five murders in Los Angeles. He even testified against Buono to avoid the death penalty.

The court handed down six life sentences to Bianchi and one life sentence without parole to Buono in 1981. Finally, the “Hillside Stranglers” faced justice.

Kenneth Bianchi’s new home became the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. There, he filed several petitions to appeal his convictions but has been unsuccessful.

In a bizarre event, a young playwright named Veronica Compton who was obsessed with the serial killer even attempted to get Bianchi exonerated in 1980. Devising a plan to murder another young woman and plant evidence at the scene, Bianchi and Compton worked together to make it seem like the “real” killer was still on the loose.

Veronica Compton

Wikimedia CommonsVeronica Compton, the woman obsessed with Kenneth Bianchi.

This plan failed horribly, and the courts later found Compton guilty of attempted murder. She remained in prison until her release in 2003.

As of today, Kenneth Bianchi remains behind bars in Washington. He is eligible for parole in 2025 and continues to appeal for his release. However, investigators are confident that he will never be a free man again.

“His life stopped in 1979, and he has nothing else to do but pick at [appeals],” Fred Nolte, a former Bellingham police detective who worked on the case, stated to the The Bellingham Herald about Kenneth Bianchi.

After reading about the disturbing life and crimes of Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi, explore the story of Richard Ramirez, a serial killer who also stalked the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Then, discover nine serial killers who terrorized California.

Amber Breese
Amber Breese is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Matt Crabtree
Matt Crabtree is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. A writer and editor based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Matt has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Utah State University and a passion for idiosyncratic news and stories that offer unique perspectives on the world, film, politics, and more.
Cite This Article
Breese, Amber. "The Story Of Kenneth Bianchi, The ‘Hillside Strangler’ Who Terrorized Los Angeles In The Late 1970s.", July 21, 2023, Accessed April 19, 2024.