Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buono and Bianchi, the Hillside Stranglers

A Witness

The killers took the holiday weekend off, but that was all. On Tuesday, November 29, Grogan was called to the hills around Glendale's Mount Washington area. The naked body of a young woman was found lying partially in the street. The ligature marks on her ankles, wrists and neck were the Hillside Strangler's calling card.

But something was different: it looked as though she had burns on her palms. Like the strange puncture marks on Kristina Weckler's arms, it looked as though the killers were experimenting - possibly with methods of torture. There was also something else that was different - a shiny track of some sticky liquid, which had attracted a convoy of ants. If this substance was semen or saliva, there was the possibility that the killer's blood type could be determined. Tests on semen found in the earlier victims had revealed nothing.

Lauren Wagner
Lauren Wagner

That same day, the young woman was identified as Lauren Wagner, an 18-year-old student who lived with her parents in the San Fernando Valley. Her parents had gone to bed the previous night, expecting her to come home before midnight. The next morning, they found her car parked across the street with the door ajar.

When Lauren's father questioned the neighbors, he found that the woman who lived in the house where Lauren's car had been parked saw her abduction. Beulah Stofer, the neighbor, said that she had seen Lauren pull over to the curb around nine o'clock in the evening.

Two men had pulled their car beside hers. There was some kind of disagreement and Lauren ended up in the car with the two men.

Grogan went to talk to Beulah immediately. Her Doberman barked furiously at him as he went to her door. Beulah was a bespectacled asthmatic in her late fifties and almost at the point of nervous collapse. She had just had a phone call from a man with a New York accent.

"You the lady with the dog?" he asked her. When she said that she had a dog, he told her to keep her mouth shut about what she had witnessed or he would kill her. Beulah did not realize that Lauren had been abducted. She thought that she had just witnessed a quarrel and she wasn't even sure it had been Lauren.

Beulah described the killers' car as a large and dark with a white top. One of the men had dragged Lauren from her car into his. She heard Lauren cry out, "You won't get away with this!"

Beulah was so terrified by the incident that she did not even tell her husband who had been home the whole time. The horror of the whole thing had thrown her into a violent asthma attack.

She was sure that there were two men: one was tall and young with acne scars; the other one was Latin-looking, older and shorter with bushy hair. She was certain that she could identify them again.

Even though Beulah claimed that she was standing at her window when Lauren was attacked, her descriptions of the men were too vivid to have been seen at such a distance. The window was a good 30 feet from the street. Grogan was sure that Beulah had really been out in her front yard and hid in the bushes when the commotion began. Otherwise, with her dog barking the whole time, she could not have heard Lauren tell her captors that they would never get away with it. Perhaps, Beulah would tell the whole truth when and if it became necessary.

Now with the abduction of Lauren Wagner, the killers saw the whole city as their cruising ground. Nowhere was safe. At least when the crimes were confined to Hollywood and Glendale, police could intensify their efforts in those areas. Now, it was a crapshoot. Nobody knew where the stranglers would strike the next time.

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