Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Multiple Personalities: Crime and Defense

Faking Good - An Early Case

 The Hillside Strangler
The Hillside Strangler
Late in 1977, eight women were found murdered and dumped along roadways around Los Angeles, California. Thousands of leads were called in and the media dubbed the killer The Hillside Strangler. Yet police believed there had to be not one but two. Ted Schwartz documents the cases in The Hillside Strangler.

A ninth victim was soon found naked on the side of a hill. She appeared to have been posed in a spread-eagle fashion as some kind of insulting statement. This time witnesses had spotted two males with her.

All of a sudden, the murders stopped. Police waited through the holidays with no new bodies linked to the spree. Then on February 17, 1978, a helicopter patrol spotted a car off a highway, and locked inside the trunk was victim number ten---strangled.

Almost a year after the last Los Angeles victim was discovered, in Bellingham, Washington, college roommates Diane Wilder and Karen Mandic were reported missing. On January 12, 1979, a security officer said one of them had indicated they were going to do a job for Ken Bianchi, a good-looking man with a girlfriend and infant son who worked at the security company.

Ken Bianchi
Ken Bianchi
Police questioned him, and although he denied any knowledge of the girls, he remained a suspect. Then they found the girls bodies inside a car parked in a cul-de-sac. They picked up Bianchi for questioning and collected trace evidence, which turned up carpet fibers on the bodies that matched those from inside the house he had sent them to, a lint brush in Bianchi's home with fibers from the same house and hairs from one of the girls, and a pubic hair on one girl consistent with Bianchis.

Angelo Buono
Angelo Buono
The police linked him through his California drivers' license with the string of the Los Angeles murders, and it turned out he had jewelry from two of those girls. They soon connected him with his cousin, Angelo Buono, who ran a car upholstery shop near many of the body dumpsites.

While he was in prison, Bianchi's attorney brought in a psychiatrist, Dr. John Watkins, to examine him. Watkins put Bianchi under hypnosis, got him to admit to several of the murders and to implicate his cousin, and then declared he had multiple personality disorder. He had killed as "Steve Walker" and thus was not competent to stand trial. Three more experts were convinced by his condition as well.

This only annoyed the investigators. The prosecution decided to bring in its own expert, Dr. Martin Orne. Detectives had discovered "Steve Walker" was the name of a college student from whom Bianchi had stolen transcripts to set up his fake psychiatric practice, which suggested he knew enough about psychology to fake a personality disorder.

Dr. Orne used a ploy: He suggested to Bianchi that most multiples have more than two personalities, and it wasn't long before Billy emerged. Bianchi also pretended to touch someone who was not there. Hallucinating is not a symptom of MPD, and they knew then Bianchi was faking it. Under pressure he admitted to the deception.

Bianchi agreed to testify against his cousin in exchange for life in prison, and he pleaded guilty to the Washington murders and five of the Los Angeles murders. On Halloween 1983, the jury convicted Buono of nine of the 10 murders and gave him nine life sentences. Bianchi was given five life sentences on top of the two in Washington.

Years later, despite what Bianchi had said, Dr. Watkins continued to insist he had MPD, which drew criticism from other professionals.

This was not the only case in which a killer tried to elude justice with a fake psychiatric diagnosis. Others quickly followed.