Hillside Strangler: When L.A. was a ‘serial killer capital’

Los Angeles has often been called: City of Angels, Tinseltown, La La Land. But it also made a name for itself in the 1970s and 1980s for a far less glamorous accolade: Serial Killer Capital of America. In the decades between the 1969 Manson Family murders and the 1989 conviction of Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker, there were so many serial killings to keep track of that the traumatized Angelenos needed a flowchart to figure it out Keep up. There was the Skid Row Stabber. The Sunset Strip Killer. The Westside Rapist. The Toolbox Killer. The Grim Sleeper. The highway killer. (“He” ended up being three killers who committed a series of separate murders.) During this time, there were reportedly more than 20 serial killers on duty in Los Angeles at the same time.

A four-part true crime documentary premiering Tuesday about Peacock focuses on one of the more infamous cases to emerge from that dark era. The Hillside Strangler: Devil in Disguise follows the rampage of the so-called Hillside Strangler, a phantom behind the murder of 10 women in Los Angeles in 1977 and 1978. The city was gripped by fear as body after body was found was located in the hills above Glendale and Eagle Rock, near Dodger Stadium in Elysian Heights, on a residential street in La Crescenta, near a Los Feliz freeway exit.

Devil in Disguise isn’t as powerful or haunting as Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, but it’s just as intriguing in its deep exploration of another infamous crime that has captured the town’s imagination. It chronicles the murders of victims aged 12 to 28 and the extensive law enforcement investigations and mindset of the men who were ultimately convicted of the murders, cousins ​​Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono.

The story will be told primarily through exclusive new interviews with people close to the case, such as Bianchi’s former girlfriend, and archive footage, including local news clips from reporters covering the latest developments in the Hillside Strangler murders.

Black and white photo of a man in court

Angelo Buono in court in Los Angeles in 1981.

(Wally Fong/Associated Press)

Footage of interrogation sessions with Bianchi stands out here, taking this series deep into the mind of a sociopath who killed at least 12 women (two in Bellingham, Washington) before his capture in 1979. Bianchi is presented as a charming, gentle, and well-groomed young man who once worked as a security guard. Psychiatrists, thinking they hypnotized Bianchi, diagnosed him with dissociative identity disorder and claimed a separate personality from him committed the murders. The filmed sessions provided the basis for an insanity defense — until other mental health experts discovered Bianchi was a master manipulator and compulsive liar who faked his hypnosis.

Bianchi’s girlfriend at the time of the Los Angeles murders, Eagle Rock resident Sheryl Kellison, also appears throughout the series. She was 17 when they started dating and said her 25-year-old boyfriend seemed thoughtful and polite, although he never revealed much about himself. She visited him at his cousin’s auto upholstery shop in Glendale, which homicide investigators later determined was a crime scene. She said Buono was odd and withdrawn, but had no idea the men were orchestrating their reign of terror out of the store.

The cousins ​​lived in a house next door to the Colorado Boulevard store, a location that still serves as a body shop today. They allegedly posed as police officers to lure their victims from nearby locations — an RTD bus bank in Eagle Rock, the Tamarind Terrace Apartments in Hollywood — before raping, torturing, and murdering them, and then dumping their bodies on hills in the thrown away all over town. Sex workers were their earliest victims, a high-risk group that didn’t draw much press when they turned up dead. But when two young girls were found murdered after never returning from a trip to the mall, investigators launched an intense manhunt.

Multiple interviews with people close to the case paint a vivid picture of a town on the fringes and the desperate effort to stop the slaughter. Respondents include former LAPD and Glendale homicide detectives and other law enforcement agencies; family members of victims; a former reporter; a juror from the Buono trial; and playwright Veronica Compton, who was serving time after attempting a copycat murder to cast Bianchi, with whom she was in a relationship, as wrongly convicted.

Devil in Disguise points out that the Hillside Strangler case is the longest criminal trial in US history, culminating in the 1983 trial of Angelo Buono. Another dubious accolade for Los Angeles, the city that makes good true crime documentaries.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-08-02/hillside-strangler-devil-in-disguise-peacock Hillside Strangler: When L.A. was a ‘serial killer capital’

Sarah Ridley

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