Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buono and Bianchi, the Hillside Stranglers

A Change of Mind

When Dean Brett presented the findings of Drs. Watkins and Allison to support Kenny's insanity defense, the prosecution brought forward Drs. Orne and Faerstein, both of whom stated that Kenneth Bianchi was competent to stand trial.

Ken Bianchi
Ken Bianchi

"The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office offered Kenny a deal. If he pled guilty to the Washington murders and to some of the Hillside Strangler murders, he would get life with the possibility of parole and he would be able to serve his time in California, where the prisons were supposedly more humane than in Washington. In return, Bianchi was to agree to testify truthfully and fully against Angelo Buono. For Bianchi, the choice was between death in Washington or life in California." (O'Brien)

Kenny agreed. Now the Los Angeles detectives got a crack at him to see if he would provide credible testimony. A number of investigators, including L.A. County deputy district attorney Roger Kelly, participated in the interviews. They all hoped that the interviews would produce information that would help convict Angelo. In California at that time, a person could not be convicted only on the testimony of an accomplice. However, if other evidence confirmed the accomplice's testimony, it could be used for conviction.

Kenny described how he and Angelo pretended to be policemen. They had fake badges to support that charade. With the victims who were prostitutes, it was surprisingly easy for them to convince the victims to get in the car. The "nice" girls were much harder to manipulate.

An important moment in these interviews came when Salerno asked Kenny what type of material was used to blindfold Judy Miller. Kenny thought it was foam that Angelo used in his auto upholstery business. The little piece of fluff that Salerno had found on the dead girl's eyelids could be just the kind of corroborating evidence they needed to nail Angelo.

Salerno also found out that the hillside dump sites for the victims was selected because Angelo was familiar with that area since one of his girlfriends had lived around there. The investigators also learned about their attempt to pick up Peter Lorre's daughter.

Kenny went on and on, describing each murder in detail as though it was cocktail conversation. There was no remorse and any concern about the victims as human beings. He answered the mystery of the long, torturous death of Kristina Weckler by gas asphyxiation. This murder was so horrible that even Kenny didn't want to talk about it. "She was brought out to the kitchen and put on the floor and her head was covered with a bag and the -- pipe from the newly installed stove, which wasn't fully installed yet, was disconnected, put into the bag and then turned on. There may have been marks on her neck because there was a cord put around her neck with a bag and tied to make more complete sealing." It took about an hour and a half of suffering before she died.

Eventually, the reality of his situation dawned on him and Kenny looked to place the blame on someone else. His lawyer, armed with the evidence against him, convinced Kenny that he had no choice but to admit his guilt and accept punishment.

Kenny was ordered to serve two life sentences in the state of Washington. He was immediately transferred to California where he was sentenced to additional life terms. He was looking at 35 years in California prisons and additional time in Washington.

Angelo Buono, after his arrest
Angelo Buono, after his arrest

Angelo was arrested on October 22, 1979, shortly after Kenny described his cousin's involvement in the crimes. Bob Grogan had the pleasure of arresting Angelo. Later, they found Angelo's wallet, which clearly showed the outline of the police badge he had used to get his victims to cooperate with him.

But the prosecutorial environment in California was going against bringing Angelo to trial. The DA had dropped the five California murder charges against Bianchi so that he no longer had the threat of the death penalty hanging over him. There was less incentive for Kenny to cooperate.

Also, Kenny was becoming unmanageable. The police in California hated him and made it clear. Kenny could not accept their disapproval and started to make up stories to exculpate himself. He dreamed up a second man who was responsible for the killings.

Eventually, he started to feel guilty for implicating Angelo. He began to change his story about Angelo's involvement. His credibility as a witness against Angelo was virtually destroyed.

Very much in the back of Kenny's self-serving performances was the prisoner code -- death to informers. If acting like a nut case allowed Angelo to go free, Kenny wouldn't be targeted as a "snitch." Whereas if his testimony put his cousin in jail, Kenny's existence in prison would be jeopardized.

 

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