Crime File

Hillside Stranglers – III : The Beginning of the End

Between October 1977 and February 1978, Angelo Buono, Jr., and his cousin Kenneth Bianchi kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed at least ten women and girls between the ages of twelve (12) and twenty-eight (28), and dumped the bodies of most of their victims like trash around the hills surrounding greater Los Angeles. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of the killers who terrorized Los Angeles in late 1970s.

Angelo Buono was a physically unattractive man whose nose was the most dominant feature of his face. He was in his forties with dyed black hair and poor teeth. Angelo Buono was born in Rochester, New York, on October 5, 1934, but after his parents divorced, he came with his mother, Jenny, and older sister, Cecilia, to the south of Glendale, California, in 1939. Jenny started working in a shoe factory to support her family. Angelo went to a public school and was raised a Catholic, but both religion and education failed to grow a moral compass in him.

Buono had an overpowering sexual drive, which made it necessary for him to be well-behaved and decent towards women so as to get all that he could from them. Also, it was impractical to be rude to women all the time despite his deep-seated contempt for the opposite sex and his desire to hurt and humiliate them. Although he remained emotionally tied to his mother until she died in 1978, he often called her “whore” and “cunt” to her face. His hatred for women was, therefore, absolute. His role model was the infamous rapist, Caryl Chessman, who drove around in Los Angeles in 1948 forcing girls into his car, taking them to a deserted spot and making them perform oral sex on him. That’s who Buono found admirable. Chessman was convicted and sentenced to death in May 1948 and was executed on May 2, 1960.   

In 1955, when Buono impregnated Geraldine Vinal, a girl from his high school, he married her quickly only to leave her just as promptly a week later. Vinal gave birth to Buono’s first son, Michael Lee Buono, in 1956 when Buono was once again in prison for car theft. After his return from the prison, Buono declined to pay a penny in child support to Vinal and would not let Michael call him “dad” either.

Angelo had another son, Angelo Anthony Buono III, in 1956 with Mary Castillo, who became his wife in 1957 and gave birth to Peter Buono in 1957 itself, Danny Buono in 1958, Louis Buono in 1960 and Grace Buono in 1962. Two years later, in 1964, she sought divorce because of Buono’s violent disposition, including his tendency to indulge in violent sex and other perverse sexual demands; not to mention she was also tired of being called a “cunt”. Furthermore, when she did not give him the kind of pleasure he desired, he would routinely batter her with slaps and kicks never caring if the children saw him do that. In fact, it appeared that he wanted them to see the violence instead.

Once again Angelo did not pay any child support compelling Mary to go on welfare to provide for the kids. Forced by her circumstances, Mary went to Angelo and tried to reconcile with him. He responded by handcuffing her, thrusting a gun in her belly and threatening to kill her. That was the last she saw of Angelo, or thought of reconciling with him.

Nanette Campina, a 25-year-old mother of two, came across Buono around the time of his divorce with Mary got to a close and a relationship blossomed between the two. In 1965, Buono moved in with her and her children, and had two sons of his own with her – Tony in 1967 and Sam in 1969. Nanette got the same brutal treatment from Angelo as Mary had received but chose to stay with him despite all, only for the fear of her life because he made it plain to her that he was not going to let her live if she left him. But when Angelo started abusing her fourteen-year-old daughter, Nannette decided to leave Angelo irrespective of the risks involved. Angelo is said to have bragged to his friends about raping his step-daughter and then handing her to his sons for their pleasure. He might have been lying and exaggerating massively. Nannette left California with her children forever. And that was the end of that story.

Angelo quickly found another woman to get married to and did in 1972. This was Deborah Taylor. But the two of them never lived together. They never divorced either. By 1975, Angelo was doing well upholstering automobiles and managed to earn and save enough to buy himself a place at 703 East Colorado Street to set up his residence-cum-workshop. Since he worked alone and did not need assistance, he had no employees and, thus, had complete privacy to use the place as he pleased.

Angelo had a knack for attracting young girls perhaps because he was self-assured, confident, quite direct and a good deal smug, which attracted the young, naive girls, who did not have much sexual experience, which allowed Angelo to make his perverse sexual demands seem like they were part of normal, adult sexual behaviour.

When his cousin, Kenneth, joined Angelo in Los Angeles in late 1975, Angelo sported a head of hair dyed black with gold chains around his neck and lots of very young girls around him.

In Angelo, Kenneth found a street-smart role model from whom he learnt quite a few things, including how to get served by a hooker by flashing a badge and how not to let “a cunt” have an upper hand and how to put “them in their place”. Since Kenneth did not have any money on him, the two thought of enlisting a few prostitutes to work for them. Sabra Hannan and Becky Spears, two runaway teenagers, fell into their trap and were forced into prostitution. The cousins kept them under constant fear and they were no better off than prisoners. However, Becky somehow got in touch with David Wood, a lawyer, who managed to get her out of the city and thus out of the clutches of the pimping cousins. After a short while, Sabra, too, managed an escape. The income dried up, and now Kenneth and Angelo needed more girls to revive their dead prostitution racket.

Posing as policemen they tried to abduct a girl, who turned out to be Catherine Lorre, the daughter of Actor Peter Lorre, and the two let her go unharmed. Only after their arrest did she realize how lucky she had been that night.

They finally found a young woman for their purpose and put her in the same room in which they had kept Sabra. A prostitute called Deborah Noble sold them a list of regulars who engaged the services of the prostitutes. Deborah Noble together with her friend, Yolanda Washington, handed over the list to Angelo in October 1977. During their meeting, Yolanda mentioned that she picked her clients at a certain place in Sunset Boulevard. She should not have volunteered the information, particularly when the two of them were giving a phony list to Angelo. Perhaps she did not know that it was a fake list, or she did not think that the consequences of cheating Angelo could be as devastating as they turned out to be. When they found they had been conned, the two looked for the two women. Unable to find Deborah, they took it out on Yolanda, who was found where she had told she was usually found. Yolanda was the cousins’ first victim. The two enjoyed the power they held over their victim and derived immense pleasure from the pain they inflicted on them.

After the Arrest     

After his arrest, Kenneth knew that the evidence against him was difficult to beat, and so he started devising a plausible defence. Kenneth had been a compulsive liar all his life, and he could tell lies quite convincingly. It did not take him long to convince his court-appointed attorney, Dean Brett, that he was not right in the mind and was perfectly capable of and very willing to commit suicide, which led to Brett’s calling in a psychiatric social worker to have a chat with Kenneth. The social worker found it hard to believe that a man as gentle as Kenneth could kill someone unless he was suffering from some form of such mental disorder that made him a completely different person under certain circumstances – multiple personality disorder, in short. That’s precisely what Kenneth wanted people to believe.

He had studied a bit of psychology in college and had seen a few such movies revolving around multiple personality disorder. So, when Dr. John G. Watkins, an expert on multiple personalities and amnesia, came over to interview Kenneth, he was more than well prepared. He had started setting up his legal defence – insanity. 

Dr. Watkins began his interview by hypnotizing – at least trying to hypnotize – Kenneth, and Kenneth began his performance slipping on his alternative personality – Steve Walker. It was this other person living inside him, this Steve Walker, that had been killing the girls in Los Angeles with Angelo Buono. It was Steve Walker who had killed the two women in Bellingham as well. Kenneth was as blameless as a newborn. It was a convincing performance. Dr. Watkins did not suspect a thing. But detective Salerno was also there. And he did not fail to note that the mask had slipped a few times, like while referring to Steve Walker, Kenneth used “he” instead of “I”. Speaking as Steve Walker, he could not refer to Steve Walker in third person. However, Dr. Watkins did not fall for it. Salerno was distressed although in setting up his insanity defence Kenneth was implicating Angelo all the way.

Markust Camden had seen Judith Lynn Miller get into a car the night of her death. Camden picked the picture of Angelo from a set of pictures identifying him as the man he had seen taking Miller although he did not recognize Kenneth. The only problem was that he was taking treatment at a mental hospital for depression, which fact was going to be used by the Defence to impeach Markust’s reliability as a witness.

Beulah Stofer, the woman who had witnessed Lauren Wagner’s abduction, had no problem picking Kenneth and Angelo as Wagner’s abductor from the bunch of pictures shown to her. Dr. Watkins, convinced of the compromised mental state of Kenneth Bianchi, was to testify in support of Kenneth’s incompetence to stand trial by virtue of insanity. Another expert was called in to evaluate Kenneth afresh – Dr. Ralph B. Allison. Dr. Allison’s area of expertise was multiple personality disorder.

Dr. Allison did not do any better than Dr. Watkins in detecting the practiced performance Kenneth played out for his consumption. In fact, Dr. Allison looked a bit frightened by Kenneth’s alter ego, Steve Walker.

However, there was one person Kenneth had not been able to fool at all – detective Salerno. Also, the prosecution was in no mood to let Kenneth get away by way of insanity. Dr. Martin T. Orne was brought in to examine Kenneth. Dr. Orne specialized in hypnosis and was asked to examine if Kenneth was faking the disorder. Dr. Orne had a procedure by which he could ascertain if the subject was genuinely hypnotized or was acting like he or she was. Out of four tests, Kenneth failed three. He was faking.

Just to be sure of his finding, Dr. Orne laid another trap. He told Kenneth that his diagnosis of multiple personality disorder did not stand on firm foundations because usually the victims of the condition do not have just two personalities but several. Kenneth fell for it and promptly created a third personality, a second alter ego and called him Billy, and then went ahead to serve up two more. Kenneth was certainly not suffering from any mental condition. He was playacting to obtain a suitable diagnosis to plead insanity in defence. 

The prosecution also asked another specialist, Dr. Saul Faerstein, to examine Kenneth. Dr. Faerstein had a session with Kenneth and returned unimpressed by his performance. Against Dr. Watkins and Allison, the prosecution presented Dr. Orne and Dr. Faerstein, who stated that Kenneth Bianchi was not suffering from any debilitating mental condition and was perfectly competent to stand trial.

The District Attorney placed a deal on the table offering him a life without parole in California in return for pleading guilty to the Washington slayings and some of the Hillside ones in addition to testifying truthfully against his cousin and accomplice, Angelo Buono. So, Kenneth could either choose to die in Washington or spend the rest of his life in a penitentiary in California. There was no good reason for Kenneth to turn the offer down, and he did not.

However, LA detectives were not completely sure that Kenneth would provide credible information and would testify against Angelo. Furthermore, according to the law in force in the State of California, one could not be convicted solely on the force of the testimony of an accomplice, which could only be used for corroborative purposes and could thus be used only in conjunction with and to back facts established by other pieces of evidence.

…to be continued

About the author

HemRaj Singh

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