The true story of the Hillside Strangler, the murders spoken about in Night Stalker

The Hillside Stranglers murdered 10 women and girls in LA

CW: details of murder, rape and language some readers might find upsetting

The Hillside Strangler murder case is referenced in the first episode of Netflix’s new true crime documentary, Night Stalker. The crimes of the Hillside Strangler ended six years before Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as the Night Stalker, began his onslaught of abuse and killings across Los Angeles. However the brutality of both cases left lasting impressions on the city, and at the time left inhabitants fearing for their lives. 

The Hillside Strangler, later known as the Hillside Stranglers, murdered and raped 10 women and girls between the ages 12 and 28. Their bodies were discovered in the surrounding hills of LA, often in places where someone would easily find them. Their bodies would show signs of ligature marks, and often sexual assault. 

The police originally thought the acts were committed by one criminal, but later discovered it to be two. Cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr., acted together to terrorise the city and its neighbourhoods. The pair were eventually arrested, with Bianchi given six life sentences and Buono life without parole. 

Hillside Strangler

The Hillside Stranglers pretended to be police officers 

Bianchi and Buono started their killings by attacking sex workers. The Hillside Stranglers would pretend to be police officers, showing the sex workers police badges and then handcuffing them and putting them in the back of their car. In Netflix’s Night Stalker, detective Gil Carrillo described how it often didn’t look like there has been a struggle between the victim and the killer, questioning whether the murderers were actually police officers, or someone the public would trust to get in a car with. The first victim was a woman called Yolanda Washington, who was killed in 1977. 

Less than two weeks after Yolanda’s murder, 15-year-old Judith Miller was killed and found in the hillside. However it wasn’t until women and girls from middle-class neighbourhoods, who didn’t work in the sex industry, were being killed for the media to notice, and subsequently coining the case as the Hillside Strangler. 

In November 1977, Lissa Kastin, Dolly Cepeda, Sonja Johnson, Kristina Weckler and Evelyn Jayne King all died at the hands of the Hillside Stranglers. They were found with ligature marks across their body. Some of the girls has been raped. 

Two more women, 18-year-old Kimberley Martin and Cindy Hudspeth were murdered before the killings stopped abruptly in February 1978. 

How were the Hillside Stranglers caught?

Hillside Strangler

Police in LA were running out of leads, and the investigation was coming up empty. However it wasn’t until police in Washington picked up Bianchi after another two murders that he committed by himself. 

Bianchi moved to Washington in May 1978. In January 1979, he raped and murdered two young female students studying at Western Washington University. Bianchi failed to cover his tracks as well as he had with his accomplice Buono, and the police arrested him the day after the killings. 

Police found Bianchi had a Californian driving license on him. The murders were the exact same as the previous 10 women and girls who had been killed in LA. It was at this point they linked Bianchi as being at least one part of the Hillside Strangler case. 

Bianchi initially tried to claim insanity and that he had multiple personality disorder. Experts knew he was lying. He gave up his cousin Buono, and testified against him to avoid the death penalty. 

The jury voted against capital punishment, however the judge presiding over the case said: “I would not have the slightest reluctance to impose the death penalty in this case were it within my power to do so. Ironically, although these two defendants utilized almost every form of legalized execution against their victims, the defendants have escaped any form of capital punishment.”

Bianchi was given six life sentences at the Washington State Penitentiary. He is still alive today. 

Buono was given a life sentence without parole. He died of a heart attack in 2002 whilst serving time at Calipatria State Prison in California

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, quizzes, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

Related Night Stalker stories recommended by this writer:

• Night Stalker: How a six-year-old girl was key to hunting down the serial killer

• Netflix series Night Stalker is ‘incredible’, ‘terrifying’ and ‘best true crime yet’

• Netflix’s Night Stalker: How many people did Richard Ramirez kill?