6 – Hillside Stranglers
Previously in this article, we have covered individual killers, motivated by self-gratification. Now we come to our first tandem act, the Hillside Strangler – or later Stranglers, as it became clear that the deaths were not the actions of one man alone. Chasing two possible perpetrators is a markedly different proposition for law enforcement that trying to catch an individual. In the cases of the Son of Sam, the Yorkshire Ripper and Ted Bundy, the ability of the killer to hide in plain sight and be just one of a large group of potential suspects made them incredibly difficult to isolate and find – much more difficult for two people working in concert.
Moreover, the potential for discovery via forensic science is much increased when there are two potential sources rather than just one. However, a psychological profile is far more difficult to build when there is a group dynamic instead of an individual acting alone, not to mention that most people are expecting serial killers to be one person, which makes any public callouts that could limit activity and protect the public.
In the case of the Hillside Strangler, protecting the public was one of the biggest issues, as the police never effectively stopped the killings and it was only a decision by the murderers to stop – and then a subsequent falling out between them – that resulted in their halt. The killers were later caught only after one of them struck again, this time on his own, in a different state.
Their MO was simple: they would lure women, often prostitutes, into their car while posing as johns or Los Angeles Police Department officers, before taking them to their homes and brutally raping and torturing them. They would then be strangled with a ligature and their bodies dumped in the Hollywood Hills, hence the Hillside Strangler moniker.
The perpetrators were Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, two cousins. They began working together as pimps in LA and initially targeted sex workers. They killed two prostitutes in October & November 1977, but police were slow to react and the murders, as so often happens with the deaths of sex workers, failed to raise much media attention. The stranglings became far more newsworthy, however, when first a restaurant worker and then two young girls, aged 12 and 14, disappeared. It was at the end of November that the LAPD realized that they were dealing with a serial killer and dubbed him the Hillside Strangler.
The murders continued and by the end of 1977, the pair had killed 10 women in the Los Angeles area. The police were confident that two people were committing the murders, as they found two sets of DNA evidence on the bodies, but had few leads regarding their identities. Only when Bianchi was captured by Washington State police after a double murder of two students in Bellingham, WA, was the connection made. His license plate was linked back to one seen near two of the abductions, while in turn, his lawyer also mentioned his cousin, Angelo Buono as being a suspect. It was not until January 1979 – close to a year after the last murder – that Bianchi and Buono were finally charged and eventually, convicted.