Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buono and Bianchi, the Hillside Stranglers

Early Victims

Sgt. Frank Salerno
Sgt. Frank Salerno

The rampage of Thanksgiving week threw into the spotlight three earlier murders of prostitutes or suspected prostitutes, beginning in October.

On October 17, 1977, a tall, leggy prostitute called Yolanda Washington was raped and strangled. Her nude body was dumped near the Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Almost two weeks later, Sergeant Frank Salerno, a detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was called to the town of La Crescenta, north of the Glendale area to investigate the homicide of a woman. It was a pretty grim sight for that Halloween morning of 1977.

The naked body of the woman lay close to the curb in a middle-class residential area, covered with a tarp by the property owner so as to shield the body from the children in the neighborhood. The bruises on her neck showed that she had been strangled. She had ligature marks on both wrists and ankles as well as her neck. Insects feasted on her pale skin. On her eyelid was small piece of light-colored fluff that Salerno saved for the forensic experts. It did not appear that she had been murdered there in La Crescenta.

The body was placed deliberately where it would be found quickly -- a nasty wake-up call to that respectable middle-class neighborhood. There was no indication that the victim had been dragged to the spot where she lay, so Salerno theorized that she had been carried from a car, possibly by more than one person.

She was small and thin, weighing about 90 pounds and appeared to be about 16 years old. Her hair was reddish brown and was medium length.

The coroner determined that she had been strangled around midnight, some six hours or so before she was found Halloween morning. It was also clear that she had been raped and sodomized.

After a couple of days, she still didn't match any missing person's report. Salerno persuaded the newspapers to run a small story on her, along with a sketch and a request to contact the police if anyone recognized her. Still no one came forward to identify her.

Judith Miller
Judith Miller

Salerno took to the streets around Hollywood Boulevard, which was a mecca for runaways, addicts, prostitutes and the homeless. With her sketch in hand, he showed it to hundreds of street people. The name Judy Miller kept surfacing as a young destitute whore. A man named Markust Camden, who described himself as a bounty hunter, said he saw Judy Miller leave the Fish and Chips restaurant at nine p.m. on the evening before she was found dead.

The prospects for solving this particular homicide were not promising. Salerno's only other clue, the little piece of fluff that he found on the victim's eyelid, could not be identified.

A week later, on the morning of Sunday, November 6, 1977, the naked body of another strangulation victim was found in Glendale near a country club. Salerno talked to the Glendale police and recognized the similarities between the two victims. Both had been strangled by ligature and their bodies had been dumped within six or so miles of one another. Both girls had the same five-point ligature marks (ankles, wrists, and neck). There was evidence of rape, but not sodomy, in the newest victim.

Looking at the scene where the body had been deposited, Salerno was certain that at least two men were involved. There was a sizeable guardrail between the road and the spot where the body lay. It would have taken two men to lift the stocky victim over the guardrail.

Lissa Kastin
Lissa Kastin

This victim quickly had a name. She was Lissa Kastin, a 21-year-old waitress at the Healthfaire Restaurant near Hollywood and Vine. She lived just off Hollywood Boulevard. She had made a comment to her mother than she was thinking of turning to prostitution to earn some extra money. Lissa had last been seen leaving the Healthfaire Restaurant just after nine o'clock on the night she was murdered.

Eventually, Salerno tracked down the Miller family and got a positive identification on the first victim. The family was down on its luck and had nothing to contribute about their daughter's friends.

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