To repeat the question asked in the last article: How can we distinguish a pattern based on compulsion from one based on desire for fame? Here is the answer:
If we use the actual dates of the murders or the dates of discovery, instead of a belief about a killer’s internal state, we would see that the Hillside Strangler(s) ramped up the body count in November, as well as the “overkill,” to 4 victims within 3 days, with 2 victims suffering from increased brutality. These Thanksgiving cases led to the recognition of a series, which was followed in turn by a period of decreasing frequency and no further cases of torturous behavior. After November 29, the next killing was December 13, and the last in Los Angeles was February 17, 1978 – a lapse of over two months. After that, Buono, who remained in LA., stopped killing. Bianchi, who moved to Bellingham, Washington, did kill again in that area, but did not do so until January of 1979, almost a year later.
If the killing was an addictive action, the bodies might have been hidden – or left wherever it was convenient. It would not have been an important issue. But that is not what happened. The bodies were always placed where they would be readily found, even though disposal was difficult to accomplish and risky to pull off. Bodies were left either near a freeway or off ramp or deposited on a hill surrounded by homes, a spot difficult to get to, and in front of a residence– where many people would spot them and where the killers could readily have been spotted.
“In December another body was found nude and spread-eagled on a hillside facing City Hall” (O’Brien, 1985, p. 147). But that one had been a close call and Buono insisted that the killings stop for a while. Buono had never been as interested in garnering media attention as Bianchi, who read the newspapers every day, was bitterly disappointed by the lack of attention to the first three murders, and went out of his way to increase risks. For instance, he went on ride-alongs with police during the series; he told his work-mates that anyone could be the strangler, even he. We could not know of this at the time, of course, but we could determine they had stopped for a while, based on the dates of the crimes. If the killers were unable to stop, why would the Hillside Stranglers have let increasing amounts of time elapse before killing, with Buono stopping altogether? He is not alone: Many killers have stopped, e.g. Albert DeSalvo was not killing at the end, Gary Ridgeway, Dennis Rader, the Zodiac and even Jack the Ripper, as far as we know.
People may say that, for instance, the Green River killer never stopped, that he just changed his style enough so that his murders were not recognized, but there are too many cases for the rest of us to believe a statement by some “expert” that has never been verified. Of course they can stop: Killers who stop are proof that they do.
On the other hand, if the impetus was notoriety, we would anticipate that Bianchi might continue to kill if he ever lost the feeling that he was the center of attention. Bianchi was the one particularly pleased by the response of police and the press to the November killings. “At last [the killers] received the recognition they felt due them, publicity beyond a flak merchant’s dreams, the entertainment capital of the world enthralled by their acts,” (O’Brien, 1985, p. 147). Just as Bianchi had been disappointed by the failure of police to link the crimes and the media to give them more attention, the so-called BTK killer of Wichita had asked police, “How many do I have to kill before I get a name in the paper or some national recognition?” But when Bianchi moved to Bellingham, he no longer had the excitement of life in Southern California and the feeling he got from the killings being recognized – that he was the center of the world’s attention. He crudely committed two more murders.
In 1985, Levin and Fox wrote the first book ever published on serial (and mass) murders. The idea of escalation was expressed in the book – and in relation to the Hillside Stranglings:
Though all the Hillside Stranglings were heinous, they grew more brutal, true to form, as the victim count rose. Victim seven, Kristina Weckler, was ‘for the fun of it’ injected with cleaning solution causing her body to convulse and then was gassed with a bag connected by a hose to the oven. Victim eight, Lauren Wagner, was tortured and burned with an electric cord on her hands and body (pg. 143).
The authors (1985) gave no citation. Yet I feel certain that neither Levin nor Fox had any idea where the idea came from. The only question I have is why they accepted an idea without knowing its source.
In the next article, we will continue to discuss escalation and to put it in the context of intellectual thievery.