Most Notorious Serial Killers
The Freeway Killer
Bonin was born in Connecticut in January 1947, the second of three brothers born to Robert and Alice Bonin. Both of Bonin's parents were alcoholics, and his father was a compulsive gamblerwho was physically abusive towards both his wife and children. Bonin and his brothers were severely neglected as children, and were often fed and clothed by sympathetic neighbors. In addition, the brothers were often placed in the care of their grandfather, a convicted child molester who had molested Bonin's mother when she had been a child and adolescent, and who is known to have sexually abused his three grandsons.
In 1953, Bonin's mother placed her sons in an orphanage in an effort to protect her children from their father's physical violence. This establishment was known to severely discipline the children it housed for both minor and major breaches of conduct, with the punishments administered including severe beatings, enduring various stress positions, and partial drowning in sinks filled with water. Although Bonin later freely discussed many aspects of his childhood and adolescence, he refused to discuss his memories of being housed within this establishment beyond divulging that he consented to sexual advances from older males only if his abuser would first tie his (Bonin's) hands behind his back. He was to remain at this orphanage until the age of 9, when he returned to live with his parents in the town of Mansfield.
At the age of 10, Bonin was arrested for stealing vehicle license plates and was placed in a juvenile detention center for other minor crimes. While housed at this juvenile detention center, he was repeatedly physically and sexually abused by several people, including his adult counselor. Four years later, in 1961, facing the prospect of the foreclosure of their home, Bonin's parents opted to relocate to California. The Bonin family settled in a modest home on Angell Street in the city of Downey; shortly thereafter, Bonin's father died from cirrhosis of the liver. While living at this address, Bonin is known to have molested both his younger brother, and several neighborhood children. Many of these neighborhood children were lured into Bonin's home with the promise of alcohol, and all his known victims were younger than he was. In addition to these acts of molestation, Bonin is known to have committed several acts of robbery, petty theft, and grand theft in his teenage years.
Bonin usually selected young male hitchhikers, schoolboys or, occasionally, male prostitutes as his victims. The victims, aged 12 to 19, were either enticed or forced into his Ford Econoline van, where they were overpowered and bound hand and foot with a combination of handcuffs, and wire or cord. They were then sexually assaulted, extensively beaten about the face, head and genitals, and tortured before typically being killed by strangulation with their own T-shirts, although some victims were stabbed or battered to death. One victim, Darin Kendrick, was forced to drink hydrochloric acid; three victims had ice-picks driven into their ears and another victim, Mark Shelton, died of shock.
In order to minimize the chances of a potential victim escaping from his vehicle, Bonin removed all inner handles from the passenger-side and rear doors of his van, and stowed ligatures, knives, household tools and other instruments in his vehicle to facilitate the restraining and torture of his victims. The victims were usually killed inside this van before their bodies were discarded alongside or close to various freeways in southern California.
In a minimum of 12 of the murders, Bonin was assisted by one or more of his four known accomplices. According to one attorney present throughout Bonin's subsequent confession, the escalating levels of brutality he had exhibited towards his victims had been similar to that of a drug addict requiring an ever-greater increase of dosage to attain a satisfactory level of euphoria, and Bonin later emphasized to neurologists he had felt an intense sense of excitement as he searched for his victims.
The first murder for which Bonin was charged was that of a 13-year-old hitchhiker named Thomas Glen Lundgren. Lundgren was last seen leaving his parents' house in Reseda at 10:50 a.m. on the morning of May 28, 1979: his body, clad only in a T-shirt, shoes and socks, was found the same afternoon in Agoura. An autopsy revealed that Lundgren had suffered emasculation and bludgeoning to his face and head, with his skull sustaining multiple fractures. In addition, the youth had been slashed across the throat, extensively stabbed, and strangled to death. His underwear, jeans, and severed genitals were discovered strewn in a field close to his body. In the abduction and murder of Lundgren, Bonin was assisted by Vernon Butts, who is suspected of accompanying or assisting Bonin on at least eight further murders attributed to the Freeway Killer.
In mid-1979, Bonin was again arrested for molesting a 17-year-old boy in the coastal community of Dana Point. This violation of the conditions of his parole should have resulted in Bonin being returned to prison; however, an administrative error committed prior to Bonin's scheduled court date resulted in his release. Everett Fraser drove to collect Bonin from the Orange County Jail where he had been incarcerated.
Fraser later recollected that as he drove Bonin home, Bonin made a statement which he (Fraser) had interpreted at the time as an expression of remorse: "No one's going to testify again. This is never going to happen to me again."
Freeway Killer Murders
Two months after the murder of Thomas Lundgren, on August 4, 1979, Bonin and Butts abducted a 17-year-old named Mark Shelton shortly after the youth left his Westminster home to walk to a movie theater near Beach Boulevard. Screams were heard from the vicinity of the Shelton household by neighbors, leaving a strong possibility Shelton was abducted by force. The youth was violated with foreign objects including a pool cue, causing his body to enter a state of shock which proved fatal. His body was then discarded in San Bernardino County. The following day, Bonin and Butts encountered a 17-year-old West German student named Markus Grabs attempting to hitchhike from Pacific Coast Highway. Grabs was bound with lengths of cord and ignition wire and driven to Bonin's home where he was sodomized, beaten, and stabbed a total of 77 times before his nude body was discarded in Malibu Creek, close to Las Virgenes Canyon Road. His body was found the following morning, with one investigator likening the network of injuries inflicted upon the victim to that of a rabid dog unable to determine when to cease biting.
On August 27, Bonin and Butts abducted a 15-year-old Hollywood youth named Donald Ray Hyden. Hyden was last seen alive walking along Santa Monica Boulevard at one a.m.; his body was found by construction workers later the same morning in a dumpster located near the offramp of the Ventura Freeway. Prior to his death by ligature strangulation, Hyden had been bound, beaten about the face, sodomized, then stabbed in the neck and genitalia and bludgeoned about the skull. Evident attempts had also been made to remove his testicles and slash his throat.
Two weeks after the murder of Donald Hyden, on September 9, Bonin and Butts encountered a 17-year-old La Mirada youth named David Louis Murillo cycling to a movie theater. Murillo was lured into Bonin's van where he was bound, repeatedly raped, extensively bludgeoned about the skull with a tire iron, then strangled with a ligature before his nude body was thrown over an embankment into a bed of ivy alongside Highway 101. Eight days after the murder of David Murillo, on September 17, an 18-year-old Newport Beach youth named Robert Christopher Wirostek was abducted as he cycled to his job at a grocery store; his body was found on September 27 alongside Interstate 10.
Bonin is not known to have killed again until on or about November 1, when he and Butts abducted and murdered an unidentified young man approximately 5 ft 10 in in height, and estimated to be between 19 and 25 years old. This victim was savagely beaten, then strangled to death before his body was discarded in an irrigation ditch alongside State Route 99, close to the Kern County city of Taft. Although never identified, Bonin later estimated the age of this victim to be 23, and freely admitted to inserting an ice pick into this victim's nostrils and ear prior to his murder. Approximately four weeks later, Bonin-operating alone-abducted and strangled a 17-year-old Bellflower youth named Frank Dennis Fox; his body was found two days later alongside the Ortega Highway, five miles east of San Juan Capistrano. The body itself bore signs of extensive blunt force trauma to the face and head, with ligature marks on the wrists and ankles indicating Fox had been bound throughout his ordeal. No clothing or other identifying evidence was discovered at the scene. Ten days after the murder of Frank Fox, a 15-year-old Long Beach youth named John Fredrick Kilpatrick disappeared after leaving his parents' home to socialize with friends. Kilpatrick was strangled to death before his body was discarded in a remote area of Rialto. His body was found on December 13; Kilpatrick remained known as a John Doe until August 5, 1980.
On January 1, 1980, Bonin brutalized and strangled a 16-year-old Ontario youth named Michael Francis McDonald; his fully clothed body was found alongside Highway 71 in western San Bernardino County two days after his murder; his body was not identified until March;
Participation of Gregory Miley
On February 3, Bonin drove from Downey to Hollywood in the company of 18-year-old Gregory Matthews Miley with the specific intention of committing a further murder. The pair encountered a 15-year-old named Charles Miranda standing close to the Starwood nightclub, hitchhiking along Santa Monica Boulevard. According to Miley, Bonin and Miranda engaged in consensual sexual activity in the rear of the van as he drove, before Bonin then whispered to him (Miley), "Kid's going to die." Miranda was then overpowered and bound by Bonin, who then asked the youth how much money he had in his possession. When Miranda responded he had "about $6", Bonin ordered Miley to take the youth's wallet, before raping his victim. Miley also attempted to rape the youth, but was unable to sustain an erection. In frustration, Miley assaulted Miranda with various sharp objects, before assisting Bonin in beating the youth. Bonin then strangled Miranda to death with a T-shirt and a tire iron as Miley repeatedly jumped on his (Miranda's) chest. His nude corpse was then dumped in an alleyway alongside East Second Street in Los Angeles.
Five minutes after the pair had discarded Miranda's body, Bonin suggested to Miley: "I'm horny again, let's go and do another one." A few hours later, in Huntington Beach, the pair encountered a 12-year-old named James Macabe at a bus stop on the corner of Beach Boulevard and Slater Avenue. Macabe was lured into Bonin's van on the promise he would be driven to his intended destination of Disneyland. According to Miley, the boy entered the rear of the van voluntarily as Bonin drove to a grocery store parking lot, where he parked the van, and entered the rear of the vehicle. Miley then drove in an aimless manner for what he later described as being a "very, very long distance". As he drove, Miley continually heard Macabe crying as Bonin beat and raped him, before forcing the boy to sleep in his arms. Miley then joined Bonin in beating the child and crushing his neck with a tire iron simply because he "felt like" doing so. Bonin then strangled Macabe to death with his own T-shirt, before the pair discarded his fully clothed, beaten body alongside a dumpster in the city of Walnut. Macabe's body was found three days later.
On February 4, Bonin was arrested for violating the conditions of his parole; he was remanded in custody at the Orange County Jail until March 4.
Ten days after Bonin had been released from custody, on March 14, he abducted and killed an 18-year-old Van Nuys youth named Ronald Gatlin. Gatlin was abducted shortly after he had left a friend's home. He was beaten, sodomized and suffered several deep, perforating ice pick wounds to the ear and neck before being strangled with a ligature. Gatlin's body, bound hand and foot, was found the following day in the city of Duarte. One week later, on March 21, Bonin lured a 14-year-old named Glenn Barker into his van as the youth hitchhiked to school. Barker was also raped, beaten and strangled to death with a ligature; his body also bore evidence of numerous burns to the neck which had been inflicted with a lit cigarette. In addition, Barker had been violated with foreign objects which had extensively distended his rectum. At 4 p.m. the same day, a 15-year-old named Russell Rugh was abducted from a bus stop in Garden Grove. Rugh was bound, beaten and strangled to death after an estimated eight hours of captivity before his body was discarded alongside that of Glenn Barker in Cleveland National Forest. The youths' nude bodies were found on March 23.
Encounter with William Pugh
One Friday evening in March, 1980, Bonin offered a 17-year-old named William Ray Pugh a ride home as the pair left the house of Everett Fraser. Within minutes of accepting the ride, Bonin asked Pugh whether he would like to engage in sex with him. Pugh later stated he panicked and stuttered upon hearing this question and, after sitting in silence for several minutes, attempted to leave the vehicle once Bonin had slowed the van at a stoplight. In response, Bonin wordlessly leaned across and grabbed Pugh by the collar, dragging him back into the passenger seat. According to Pugh, Bonin then confided in him that he enjoyed abducting young male hitchhikers on Friday and Saturday nights, whom he then restrained and abused before strangling them to death with their own T-shirts. In a matter-of-fact tone, Bonin then informed Pugh: "If you want to kill somebody, you should make a plan and find a place to dump the body before you even pick a victim." Bonin then informed Pugh he had not chosen to refrain from assaulting and killing him out of sentiment; he'd been spared because the pair had been seen leaving Fraser's party together.
Pugh was driven to his home without being assaulted.
Murder of Harry Turner
On March 24, Bonin and Pugh abducted a 15-year-old runaway named Harry Todd Turner from a Los Angeles street. Turner had absconded from a boys' home in the desert community of Lancaster four days prior to his meeting Bonin and Pugh. Pugh was to later testify that he and Bonin lured Turner into Bonin's van with an offer of $20 for sex. After binding, sodomizing and biting the youth, Bonin ordered Pugh to "beat him (Turner) up." After Pugh had bludgeoned and beat Turner about the head and body for several minutes, Bonin strangled the youth to death with his own T-shirt before discarding his body at the rear delivery door to a Los Angeles business. Turner's autopsy subsequently revealed the youth's genitals had been mutilated, and he had received a total of eight fractures to the skull inflicted by a blunt instrument before he had been strangled.
On the afternoon of April 10, Bonin abducted a 16-year-old Bellflower youth named Steven John Wood as the youth walked to school, having attended a dental appointment that morning; his nude, extensively beaten body was discarded in an alleyway in Long Beach, close to the Pacific Coast Highway. No clothing or other identifying evidence was discovered at the scene. Wood's autopsy revealed the youth had been killed by ligature strangulation.
Three weeks later, on April 29, while parked in the grounds of a Stanton supermarket, Bonin and Butts lured a 19-year-old employee named Darin Kendrick into Bonin's van on the pretext of selling the youth drugs. Kendrick was driven to Butts' apartment, where he was overpowered and bound by both men. In addition to enduring sodomy and partial ligature strangulation, Kendrick was forced to drink hydrochloric acid by Bonin, causing caustic chemical burns to his mouth, chin, stomach and chest. Butts then drove an ice pick into Kendrick's ear, causing a fatal wound to the youth's cervical spinal cord. His body was discarded behind a warehouse close to the Artesia Freeway, with the ice pick Butts had driven into his skull still protruding from his ear.
On May 17, Bonin abducted and murdered a 17-year-old acquaintance of his whom he later stated he had decided to kill when he had awoken that morning because he was "tired of having him around". The body of this acquaintance, Lawrence Sharp, was discarded behind a Westminster gas station. His body was found the following day, and his autopsy revealed that, in addition to being bound and sodomized, Sharp had been extensively beaten about the face and body, then strangled with a ligature.
Two days after the murder of Lawrence Sharp, on May 19, Bonin asked Butts to accompany him on a killing; on this occasion, however, Butts reportedly refused to accompany him. Operating alone, Bonin abducted a 14-year-old South Gate youth named Sean King from a bus stop in Downey and discarded his body in Live Oak Canyon, Yucaipa. Bonin then visited Butts' residence and bragged of the killing to his accomplice.
Acquaintance with James Munro
Nine days after the murder of Sean King, Bonin invited an 18-year-old homeless drifter named James Michael Munro to move into the apartment he shared with his mother. Munro had been evicted from his family's home in his native Michigan in early 1980 and had been living rough on the streets of Hollywood for several weeks. As such, Munro readily accepted Bonin's accommodation offer. As had earlier been the case with Gregory Miley, Munro-a bisexual who preferred sexual relations with females-also began a consensual sexual relationship with Bonin. He also accepted a subsequent offer of employment at the Montebello delivery firm where Bonin worked. Munro later described his initial impression of Bonin as being "a good guy; really normal", although on the evening of June 1, Bonin abruptly informed Munro he wanted the two of them to abduct, rape, and kill a teenage hitchhiker.
Murder of Steven Wells
On June 2, the same day as police surveillance of Bonin began, Bonin, accompanied by James Munro, encountered an 18-year-old print shop worker named Steven Jay Wells standing at a bus stop on El Segundo Boulevard. Bonin and Munro enticed the youth into the van. Upon learning Wells was bisexual, Bonin persuaded the youth to accompany him to his apartment on the promise he would be paid $200 if he allowed himself to be bound prior to engaging in sex. At Bonin's apartment, Wells was bound, raped, beaten about the face and torso by both men, then informed he was to be murdered before he was strangled to death with his own T-shirt. Bonin then placed Wells' body inside a cardboard box which he and Munro then carried to his van.
The pair then drove to the residence of Vernon Butts, whom Bonin first invited to view Wells' body with the enticement: "We got it in the van; it's a good one. Come on out and see it." According to Munro, upon viewing Wells' body, Butts replied, "Oh, you got another one!" before Bonin asked for advice as to how to dispose of Wells' body. At Bonin's subsequent trial, Munro recalled Butts' response: "'Try a gas station like' or 'where' - I don't know which - 'we dumped the last one.'" Munro also later testified that Butts had actively dissuaded Bonin from discarding the youth's body in the nearby canyons due to the late hour. Wells' body was instead discarded behind a disused Huntington Beach gas station, where it was found five hours later.
After nine days of surveillance, on June 11, police observed Bonin driving in a seemingly random manner throughout Hollywood, unsuccessfully attempting to lure five separate teenage boys into his van, before succeeding in luring a youth into his vehicle. The police followed Bonin until his van parked in a desolate parking lot close to the Hollywood Freeway, then discreetly approached the vehicle. Upon hearing muffled screams and banging sounds emanating from inside the van, these plainclothes officers forced their way into the vehicle; discovering Bonin in the act of raping and strangling a 17-year-old Orange County runaway named Harold Tate, whom he had handcuffed and bound.
Initially charged with the rape of a minor and held on suspicion of the murder of Charles Miranda, Bonin was detained in lieu of $250,000 bond. (The following day, Munro stole Bonin's car and fled to his native Michigan.)
Inside Bonin's van, investigators discovered numerous artifacts attesting to his culpability in the Freeway Killer murders. These items included various restraining devices including lengths of nylon cord, an assortment of knives, a tire iron, and household implements such as pliers and coat hangers. Furthermore, both the interior of Bonin's van and sections of his home were extensively bloodstained, and the inner handles from the passenger-side and rear doors of his vehicle had been removed in an obvious effort to prevent a victim escaping the vehicle. Inside the glove box, investigators also discovered a scrapbook of newspaper clippings related to the murders.
Bonin was executed by lethal injection inside the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison on February 23, 1996. He was the first person to be executed by lethal injection in the history of California, and his execution occurred 14 years after his first death sentence had been imposed.
In a final interview given to a local radio station less than 24 hours before he was executed, Bonin claimed he had "made peace" with the fact he was about to die. He added that his only real regret was that he had not pursued his teenage passion of bowling long enough to have turned professional. When asked whether there was anything he had to say to the families of his victims, Bonin stated: "They feel my death will bring closure, but that's not the case. They're going to find out."
At 6 p.m. on the day he was executed, Bonin was moved from his cell to a death watch cell, where he ordered his last meal: two large pizzas, three pints of ice cream and three six-packs of Coke. His final hours were spent in the company of five individuals whom he had chosen for this occasion. These included his attorney, chaplain, and a prospective biographer. Each later stated that Bonin seemed resigned to his fate; his attorney also added that he had not detected any remorse in his client. At 11:45 p.m., Bonin was escorted from his holding cell into the execution chamber. In his final statement, given to the prison warden one hour prior to his scheduled execution at midnight, Bonin again expressed no remorse for his crimes and left a note that stated:
" I feel the death penalty is not an answer to the problems at hand. I feel it sends the wrong message to the people of this country. Young people act as they see other people acting instead of as people tell them to act. I would advise that when a person has a thought of doing anything serious against the law, that before they did, they should go to a quiet place and think about it seriously."
William Bonin was pronounced dead at 12:13 a.m. He was 49 at the time of his execution. No family member of Bonin chose to witness his execution; the event was witnessed by several relatives of his victims, many of whom wept and embraced when his death was officially confirmed. According to several of these witnesses, Bonin's execution passed without complications, and he was heavily sedated throughout the latter stages of the procedure. On this subject, then-Governor Pete Wilson-who had rejected a submitted plea for clemency from Bonin's attorneys three days prior to the execution-referred to William Bonin as the "poster boy for capital punishment", before adding that California's method of execution ensured Bonin's death was infinitely more pleasant than that endured by his victims.