Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buono and Bianchi, the Hillside Stranglers


Kenneth Bianchi
Kenneth Bianchi

Kenny could be called a lot of bad things, but stupid wasn't one of them. Locked up in the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham, he had lots of time and motivation to use his gray cells. Already an accomplished liar, he convinced Dean Brett, the lawyer appointed by the court to represent him, he was suffering from amnesia. Brett was so concerned about Kenny trying to commit suicide that he had a psychiatric social worker called in to talk to Kenny.

The psychiatric social worker could not comprehend how such a mild-mannered, considerate person could have strangled two women unless he was suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Kenny got the message and crafted a wonderful scam, using his sprinkling of psychology from college and whatever he gleaned from seeing the movie classic, The Three Faces of Eve, years before.

Then Kenny really got lucky. The movie Sybil, another story of multiple personalities, was being shown on television just before Kenny was to be interviewed by Dr. John G. Watkins, an expert on multiple personalities and amnesia. This was the first step in an insanity defense, so Salerno and Finnegan caught a plane to Washington State.

Kenny was very well prepared for his performance. Shortly after Dr. Watkins believed that he had hypnotized Kenny, Kenny went into his evil persona routine. It was Steve Walker -- Kenny's supposed alter ego -- who killed the girls in Los Angeles with his cousin Angelo. Steve also "made" Kenny strangle the two women in Bellingham.

Despite Kenny's preparations, he slipped up a number of times when he was pretending to be Steve and referred to Steve as "he" when it should have been "I." Salerno picked up these slips immediately, but Dr. Watkins did not seem to notice.

Dismayed that Dr. Watkins was completely falling for Kenny's act, Salerno called Grogan to tell him what was going on. Grogan answered, "Okay, I got a great idea. The judge says to Bianchi, 'Mr. Bianchi, I tell you what I'm going to do. I am going to let Ken off. Ken is acquitted. But Steve gets the chair.'"

Distressing as it was for the detectives to watch Kenny create this insanity defense, it did have the advantage of implicating Angelo.

Later, Salerno presented a photo lineup to Markust Camden, the man who had seen Judy Miller get into a car the night she died. He picked out Angelo from the photo lineup immediately, but did not recognize Kenny. The only downside to this positive identification was that Markust had checked himself into a mental hospital for depression -- something that a defense lawyer would use to try to discredit Markust's testimony.

Grogan had a similar experience when he showed the photo lineups to Beulah Stofer, the woman who had seen Lauren Wagner abducted. She selected Bianchi and Buono right away.

When Bianchi's lawyer indicated that Dr. Watkins's testimony would be the basis for Kenny filing a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the court brought in additional expertise. Dr. Ralph B. Allison, a psychiatrist who was expert on the subject of multiple personalities, talked with Kenny.

Dr. Allison was even more taken in than Dr. Watkins was by Kenny's now-practiced performance. According to Darcy O'Brien, Dr. Allison seemed to be frightened by the threatening persona of Steve that Kenny created for him.

Salerno thought the name of Kenny's evil persona sounded familiar. In going through Kenny's papers, they found it. Thomas Steven Walker was the name on a letter Bianchi had signed to apply for a California State University diploma that he would use to fraudulently offer psychological counseling services.

The prosecution had no intention of letting Kenny get away with his insanity defense. Dr. Martin T. Orne, a major authority on hypnosis, was called upon to determine if Kenny was faking. Dr. Orne had developed procedures by which he could determine whether a subject was actually hypnotized or was just pretending to be. Kenny's responses to three out of four tests proved that he was faking.

Dr. Orne had another little trap for Kenny. He told Kenny that there might be a problem with the diagnosis of multiple personalities. "That's pretty rare for there to be just two [personalities]," Dr. Orne told him. Usually, there were three and often, many more than that. "Dr. Orne wanted to establish that Kenny was reacting to cues and clues thrown out by doctors. If Kenny was faking multiple personality disorder, he would find a way to invent a third personality." (O'Brien)

Not one to disappoint the doctor, Kenny had been listening closely and quickly invented a new persona named Billy. Soon there were two new additional personalities to please Dr. Orne. Kenny's head was getting crowded.

The prosecution also brought in Dr. Saul Faerstein to interview Kenny. Faerstein did nothing to coddle Kenny and Kenny became worried that his performance was not playing to a receptive audience this time.


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