By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
What is the perfect opportunity for a killer, than to find another murderer to blame for their deeds?
Kathleen Kimberly Robinson wasn't identified until November 26, 1977. The 17-year-old had been found in a parking lot not far from a brushy area of the Wilshire district, near the corner of Pickford Street and Curson Avenue. She'd been strangled but not sexually molested.
She was identified through a missing person's report, filed by her mother Ruth Vaughn. The mother and daughter lived at 2836 E. Pico Blvd. Kathleen Robinson was last seen the day before her body was discovered on November 17. She told her mother she was going to church.
Prior to her murder, 10 young women were killed and dumped along California roadsides since October 16. Six bodies had been found in a 5-mile radius of Glendale. Despite the proximity of place and time, police believed that the cases were not connected. Kathleen unlike the other victims was fully clothed, whereas six of the victims were nude.
The police organized the "Hillside Strangler Task Force" even though they believed there was more than one person committing the murders. They concentrated on Hollywood Boulevard since many of the victims were involved in the street scene, but not all of them, which included Kathleen Robinson. Her body was the only one outside of a hilly area. However she was known to hitchhike, and her body was discovered a short distance from the Santa Monica Freeway and one of its major off-ramps, Fairfax Ave.
Twenty months after the first "Strangler" victim was discovered Kenneth Bianchi was charged in 5 of the 13 murders.
Bianchi was arrested in Bellingham, Washington after he killed coeds Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder in January 1979. Contrary to Los Angeles, he was now operating in the jurisdiction of a department run by Police Chief Mangan, a former Catholic priest in the Order of Oratorians who later in life got into law enforcement. He had been ordained in 1964 and joined a local police department in Seaside California as a reserve officer in 1966. But he ran into a problem because as a cleric he couldn't carry a gun. He ended up becoming a cop instead of a priest. Despite having a smaller force than the LAPD, he was able to break the case that had eluded authorities for over two years. He died in 2014.
Bianchi claimed he was insane, and that another personality named "Steven Walker" committed the murders. Psychiatrists examined him and found that he did not have multiple personalities, however he was eventually diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder with sexual sadism.
Eventually he pled guilty in order to avoid the death sentence in Washington. He was sentenced to six consecutive life terms. He implicated his cousin Angelo Buono with the murders in California. Buono was charged in 10 of the 13 murders attributed to the Hillside Strangler.
Afterward Bianchi tried to blame a co-worker named Gregory Flockoi for the deaths of the women in Bellingham, however Flockoi had been killed in a motorcycle accident in May, 1979, but nevertheless police had ruled him out.
It was definitive that Kathleen Robinson was not included in the list of Hillside Strangler victims. The question was: if she was not the victim of Bianchi and Buono, who killed her?
During the trial of Bianchi and Buono, George Samshak was serving time in a Massachusetts prison for armed robbery. He told authorities he had committed the murders of Robinson and Barcomb with an accomplice named Peter M. Jones.
Jones who was a maintenance engineer working in Beverly Hills was arrested on suspicion of murder. However he was never charged since police couldn’t provide evidence to support the charge. Shamshak was never charged either.
However there was so much notoriety attached to the cases that even though he had been exonerated, Peter Jones was fired and ended up moving to Maine to escape the adverse publicity. Even there he faced death threats, and someone shooting at his apartment window. When he contacted the LA police department he was told the cases of Barcomb and Robinson were unsolved, and the records of both cases were "destroyed in an earthquake." Jones offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer(s) but no one came forward.
Then in 2010, Rodney Alcala (real name Raoul Alcala-Buquor) was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of Jill Bracomb, three other women and a 12-year-old girl, dating back to the 1970s. Police estimate he may have killed up to 130 people across the country. After pleading guilty in 2013 to two homicides in New York, he received an additional 25 years to life.
Alcala would take earrings as trophies from some of his victims. He posed some of the dead women, one was raped with a claw hammer, and all were strangled and resuscitated to prolong their agony.
He was dubbed the "The Dating Game Killer" because in 1978 he appeared on the Dating Game. He was described on the show as a "successful photographer", and the bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw chose him, but later refused to go on the date with him because she thought he was "creepy".
In 2016, DNA evidence connected him to the 1977 death of a 28-year-old woman whose remains were found in southwest Wyoming. She was six months pregnant. Her name was Chris Thornton, and she was found in 1982, five years after she disappeared. A herder came across human bones, which proved it was a woman with an unborn child. The case went cold until a DNA match was made in 2015.
By then Alcala's attorney said he was too ill to face trial. Alcala died in July 2021, awaiting execution. He was 77 years old.
The murder of Kathleen Robinson remains unsolved; despite the two years the LAPD had a taskforce set up to find out who was murdering women around Los Angeles. Perhaps they were so set in looking for a certain suspect, they overlooked clues that were particular to one murderer who cleverly took advantage of the situation, and knew all he had to do was to make his crime just a little similar and it would be lumped into the handiwork of one person(s).
Bianchi is still serving his sentence in Walla Walla, Washington, and is eligible for parole in 2025.
Buono died in 2002 from a heart attack. He was serving his sentence at Calipatria State Prison. In 2007, his grandson Christopher Buono, 20, committed suicide after shooting his grandmother Mary Castillo, 67, in the head and upper body. She was hospitalized in stable condition. The reason for the shooting was not disclosed.
Castillo married Buono in 1957. She gave birth to Angelo Anthony Buono III in 1956, Peter Buono (1957), Louis Buono (1960), and Grace Buono (1962). Mary filed for divorce in 1964 due to her husband's violence.
Christopher Buono did not know his grandfather's true identity until 2005. Mary Castillo has since died.
Sources - The Los Angeles Times, Pensacola News Journal, The Sacramento Bee
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