Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buono and Bianchi, the Hillside Stranglers

Seattle Connection

On January 12, 1979, the police in Bellingham, Washington were told that two Western Washington University students were missing. The two women roommates, Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder, were not the type of people to take off irresponsibly without telling anyone. When Karen didn't show up for work, her boss became worried. He remembered that she had accepted a house-sitting job in a very wealthy Bayside neighborhood from a security guard friend of hers.

Bellingham police contacted the security firm, who in turn called the security guard to ask him about the supposed house-sitting job for one of the company's clients. The security guard claimed he knew nothing about it and had never heard of the two missing women. The security guard had told his employer that he had been at a Sheriff's Reserve meeting the night the two women disappeared.

When police found out that the security guard was not at the Sheriff's Reserve meeting as he had told his employer, they decided to contact the security guard directly. They found him to be a friendly young man who had skipped the Sheriff's meeting because it was on first aid, which he already knew.

The police had no indication that the two women had met with foul play. It was very possible that they had just gone away for the weekend and had forgotten to tell Karen's employer. However, Terry Mangan, the former priest who was the new Bellingham police chief, was not comfortable with that explanation.

When he visited the girls' home, he found a hungry cat -- an unusual situation for an otherwise very pampered pet. In their home, he found the address of the Bayside house where the two of them were to house-sit. A look at the records of the security firm brought up the name of that same security guard in conjunction with the address in which the girls were to house-sit.

Also, police learned that the security guard had used a company truck the night the women disappeared, supposedly to take it into the shop for repair. However, the guard never took the truck in for servicing.

Chief Mangan was becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of the two missing women. He asked the Highway Patrol to check on sites that might be used to dump bodies or abandoned cars. "I think we have to consider this a kidnapping and maybe a homicide."

The next step was for the police to search the Bayside address where the girls were supposed to house-sit. They found a wet footprint in the kitchen that had been left a few hours earlier, but there was no sign of the girls or Karen Mandic's car.

Police found a neighbor who had been contacted by a security guard and had been asked to check on the house each day except for the night that the girls disappeared. That night, the guard told the neighbor, there was special work being done to the alarm system and he didn't want her to be taken as an intruder.

Next, Chief Mangan enlisted the help of the news media, requesting that they describe the missing women and car to their audiences. Shortly thereafter, a woman called about a car that had been abandoned near her home in a heavily wooded area.

Inside the car were the bodies of Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder. Both had been strangled. Other bruises suggested that they had been subjected to other injuries as well.

While the missing women were sent to the morgue, Chief Mangan ordered that the security guard be picked up for questioning. They needed to proceed cautiously since this suspect was a trained security officer. As it turned out, the security guard gave them no trouble whatsoever when they picked him up.

He was a handsome, friendly, intelligent and articulate husband and father by the name of Kenneth Bianchi.


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