Normally, lawyers and judges trust that justice will always prevail and that the punishment always fits the crime. Occasionally, however, some cases slip through the cracks.
In the late 1970s, a serial killer known as the ‘Hillside Strangler’ left the residents of Los Angeles so terrified that women were afraid to leave the house after dark. Eventually, police finally uncovered who had been responsible for all the grisly deaths, but when it came time to the trial, the prosecution and even the judge admitted they were disappointed with the final decision…
A Grisly Discovery
On October 18, 1977, police received a call about a body discovered on a hillside near the Ventura Freeway in southern California. When detectives from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department arrived at the scene, they found the body of a woman named Yolanda Washington.
Yolanda’s naked body had been left positioned on the hillside for people to see. When police further examined the body, they determined that Yolanda had been raped and then her body had been cleaned before being left on the hill. They also found light marks left from a rope around Yolanda’s neck, wrists, and ankles…
After starting an official investigation, Police discovered that Yolanda was a prostitute who was known to work on a specific stretch of Sunset Boulevard. Sex work is extremely dangerous, and the police assumed a client or a pimp was behind the murder.
The Second Victim
Because of Yolanda’s profession, police figured her death was an isolated incident and weren’t worried that her killer was a threat to the general public. However, a few weeks later, police were called to a crime scene in La Crescenta, a neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, that was eerily similar to Yolanda’s…
On November 1, 1977, the nude body of a teenage girl was found dumped on a parkway in the middle of a residential area. Like Yolanda, this victim was found with ligature marks on her neck, wrists, and ankles. The victim, 15-year-old Judith Miller, was a runaway who sometimes was forced to work as a prostitute.
While investigating the new murder, police discovered evidence that Judith had been raped and sodomized before she was killed. Detectives also determined that she had last been seen on October 31, 1977, on Sunset Boulevard talking to a man driving a 2-tone sedan…
Connecting The Dots
In the days after discovering the 15-year-old’s body, police were hard at work trying to collect evidence and find any clues that might link the 2 similar murders. However, just 5 days later, another naked body was found that confirmed the police’s worst fear.
A Serial Killer
On November 6, 1977, police were called to a crime scene near the Chevy Chase Country Club in Glendale, California. Like the other previous victims, this woman was found naked, had the same ligature marks on her neck, wrists, and ankles, and had been brutally raped. Police now knew a serial killer was on the loose…
A Terrifying Development
Police determined that their newest body belonged to 21-year-old Elissa ‘Lissa’ Kastin. While almost everything matched the crime scenes of the killer’s previous 2 victims, police discovered something different about this victim that made them truly terrified.
A New Target
Unlike the first 2 victims, who were both sex workers, Lissa was not a prostitute and she wasn’t a runaway. Lissa had been a waitress and was also a professional dancer for The L.A Knockers. Police previously believed the killer was only targeting sex workers, but this meant that women all over Los Angeles were in danger…
The Killer Strikes Again
As police feared, 2 more victims were found a few weeks later on November 20, 1977, on a hillside near Dodger Stadium. Police were able to identify the bodies, which had already started to decompose, as 12-year-old Dolores ‘Dolly’ Cepeda and 14-year-old Sonja Johnson.
The Two Teenagers
The 2 young girls were last seen on November 13, 1977, heading home on a bus. Even though their bodies had started to decompose, police were able to determine that they had also been raped and strangled like the other victims. Then, on the very same day, another body was discovered…
The Honor Student
Earlier on November 20, 1977, the body of 21-year-old Kristina Weckler was found by hikers. She was naked and had been placed on a hillside between Glendale and Eagle Rock. Like all the other victims, she had been tied up and was covered in bruises. This time, however, the killer injected the honor student with Windex.
By this point, the local media had started reporting about the serial killer targeting young girls and women, and the public were terrified. “It was a horrible, horrible time, a time of great fear for the people of the city, especially for women,” then-Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said…
Every time a new victim was discovered, the terror only grew. “When the crimes were going on and on and were unsolved, there was a real feeling of terror–nude, strangled women showing up dead on various hillsides,” said California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George.
The Hillside Strangler
By the end of November 1977, 2 more victims, including a 28-year-old actress and an 18-year-old business student, had been discovered. There naked bodies had been placed on hillsides, which is where the killer started to be referred to as the ‘Hillside Strangler’ in the news…
In the next few months, 2 more victims were discovered, however, after February 1978, the murders suddenly stopped. Even though the killer had stopped, a task force of 162 members of law enforcement never stopped looking for him. It wasn’t until nearly a year later on January 19, 1979, that police linked the murder to a man named Kenneth Bianchi, who had been arrested in Bellingham, Washington for the murder and rape of 2 women.
The Plea Deal
The public had been lead to believe that the killer was a single man, but because of how the victims had been posed, the police knew the killer had to have a partner. So when they had Bianchi in custody, they offered him a plea deal if he gave up his partner…
As detectives hoped, Bianchi took the deal. In exchange for leniency, Bianchi plead guilty and testified against his partner, his own cousin Angelo Buono. During the trial, it was revealed that the 2 cousins would pretend to be cops to pick up and then kidnap women. They would then go back to Buono’s house, rape and torture their victims before finally strangling them, clean the bodies, and finally pose them on hillsides around Los Angeles. After nearly 400 witnesses testified, the 2 men were sentenced to life in prison.
“I would not have the slightest reluctance to impose the death penalty in this case were it within my power to do so. Ironically, although these two defendants utilized almost every form of legalized execution against their victims, the defendants have escaped any form of capital punishment,” Judge Ronald M. George said.
A Higher Power
Today, Bianchi is still serving his life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary. Buono, on the other hand, died on September 21, 2002, while serving his life sentence in Calipatria State Prison in California. “Oh, good! God works in mysterious ways. The death penalty has finally been administered by a higher power than the County of Los Angeles,” Robert Philibosian, who was the top prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office, said when he heard the news of Buono’s death.