|William George Bonin|
Executed February 23, 1996 by Lethal Injection in California
9th murderer executed in U.S. in 1996
322nd murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in California in 1996
3rd murderer executed in California since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
|William George Bonin|
W / M / 32 - 49
W / M / 17
W / M / 15
W / M / 17
Dennis Frank Fox
W / M / 17
W / M / 15
W / M / 12
W / M / 19
Harry Todd Turner
W / M / 14
W / M / 15
W / M / 14
W / M / 16
Darin Lee Kendrick
W / M / 19
W / M / 17
Steven Jay Wells
W / M / 18
Known as "The Freeway Killer," Bonin, along with four young accomplices, kidnapped, robbed, raped and murdered a total of 14 teenaged boys between 1979 and 1980 in Los Angeles and Orange County. In most cases, Bonin would pick up hitchhiking boys, and once inside the van would have sex with them, then strangle them with their clothing. Their bodies were then dumped along the freeway. After an accomplice was picked up on other charges and gave a statement implicating Bonin, he was placed under surveillance by police. Nine days later, the police apprehended Bonin in the act of raping and sodomizing a teenager. The police found a length of white nylon cord and three knives in the van. His execution was the first by lethal injection in California. He had previously served time at Atascadero State Hospital for sex crimes committed against five young boys in 1969. In 1974 he was released on probation, and in 1975 his probation was revoked for kidnapping and raping two teenaged boys. He was released again in 1978. By June 1980, he had raped and murdered 21 teenaged boys and young men.
People v. Bonin, 254 Cal.Rptr. 298 (Cal. 1989) (Direct Appeal-LA County).
People v. Bonin, 250 Cal.Rptr. 687 (Cal. 1988) (Direct Appeal-Orange County).
Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815 (9th Cir. 1995) (Habeas).
Bonin v. Calderon, 77 F.3d 1155 (9th Cir. 1996) (Habeas).
California Department of Corrections
Defendant William George Bonin, the "Freeway Killer," kidnapped, robbed, raped and murdered a total of 14 teenaged boys between 1979 and 1980. His co-defendants were also young men between the ages of 17 and 21. The defendant was sentenced to death in 1982 for 10 murders throughout Los Angeles County. About one year later he was convicted in Orange County of the other four murders, for which he received a second death sentence.
Bonin also was suspected of murdering other males, whose bodies were found around the same period of time in Kern, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino Counties. The defendant was not prosecuted for those crimes. The following is a chronological, case-by-case summary of the crimes in each of the two counties from which Bonin received a death sentence.
LA COUNTY Victims:
Marcus Grabs (17), Donald Hyden (15), David Murillo (17), Charles Miranda (15), James McCabe (12), Ronald Gatlin (19), Harry Todd Turner (14), Steven Wood (16), Darin Lee Kendrick (19), Steven Jay Wells (18), Harold T. (15 - Bonin's last victim; was not killed)
Co-defendants: Vernon Robert Butts (committed suicide while at LA Co. Jail); Gregory Matthew Miley (CDC# C42801; First degree murder - 25 yrs to life); William Ray Pugh (CDC# C53164; Voluntary manslaughter - 6 yrs);James Michael Munro (CDC# C44535; Second degree murder - 15 yrs to life)
With the help of four co-defendants, defendant Bonin kidnapped, robbed, raped and murdered 10 teenaged boys in Los Angeles County between1979 and 1980.
On August 5, 1979, the defendant and co-defendant Butts accosted Marcus Grabs, 17, in Newport Beach sometime between 6 and 10 p.m. Marcus,a German student on a backpacking tour of the United States, was sodomized, beaten and stabbed 77 times. His nude body was found the next day beside a road in Malibu, with an orange nylon cord loosely wrapped behind his head and a piece of ignition wire around one of his ankles.
On August 27, 1979, at 1 a.m., the defendant and co-defendant Butts picked up Donald Hyden, 15, near the Gay Community Services Center in LosAngeles. His nude body was found at 11 a.m. near Liberty Canyon and the offramp of the Ventura Freeway. Donald had been strangled by ligature and stabbed. He had been sodomized and it appeared that attempts had been made to cut off his testicles and slash his throat.
On September 9, 1979, in the early morning, David Murillo, 17, was bicycling to the movies in La Mirada when the defendant and co-defendant Butts abducted him. David's nude body was found three days later on a Ventura Highway offramp. His head had been bashed in with a tire iron, and he had been sodomized and strangled with a ligature.
On February 3, 1980, in the early morning, the defendant, driving a van with co-defendant Miley, picked up Charles Miranda, 15, in West Hollywood. They drove several blocks away, parked, and the defendant sodomized Charles. The co-defendant tried to sodomize him, but was unable to sustain an erection. After the co-defendant took six dollars from Charles, the two men tied his feet and hands together. The defendant wrapped Charles' shirt around his neck. Using a jack handle, the defendant twisted the shirt like a corkscrew until Charles was dead. The autopsy also revealed a blunt object had been inserted into Charles' anus. The defendants drove to an alley in downtown Los Angeles, dumped Charles' nude body, and drove on to Huntington Beach, seeking other victims.
A little while later, they began talking to James McCabe, 12, who said he was on his way to Disneyland. They invited James into the van. While Bonin had sex with him, the co-defendant, Miley, drove. Later, the two men held the victim down, beat him, strangled him with his shirt, and crushed his neck with a jack handle. After taking money out of James' wallet, the defendants left his body next to a dumpster in the City of Walnut, where it was found Feb. 6.
On March 14, 1980, Ronald Gatlin, 19, was picked up by the defendant in Van Nuys at about 8:30 p.m. Ronald's nude body was found the next day in Duarte, near the juncture of the 210 and 605 freeways. He had been sodomized and strangled with a ligature. There were wounds to the neck and right ear that apparently had been made by an ice pick and the body showed signs of beating.
Sometime on or after March 20, 1980, the defendant and co-defendant William Pugh picked up Harry Todd Turner, 14, in Hollywood. Harry's nude body was found the morning of March 25 in an alley behind a Los Angeles business. He had been beaten, sodomized, and strangled by ligature.
On April 10, 1980, Steven Wood, 16, was picked up by the defendant at about 12:15 p.m. in Los Angeles. Steven's nude body was found the next morning in an alley behind an industrial complex near the Pacific Coast Highway and Long Beach Freeway. He, too, had been beaten, sodomized and strangled by ligature.
On April 29, 1980, at 9:15 p.m., the defendant and co-defendant Butts accosted Darin Lee Kendrick, 19, in the parking lot of a supermarket in Stanton. Darin had been collecting shopping carts and was lured into the van on a pretext of being sold some drugs. His nude body was found the next morning in an industrial park in Carson near the Artesia Freeway. In addition to being sodomized and strangled by ligature, Darin apparently was forced to ingest chloral hydrate which left him with caustic chemical burns on his mouth, chin, chest and stomach. Darin also had an ice pick through his right ear that caused a fatal wound to the upper cervical spinal cord.
On June 2, 1980, at about 5:40 p.m., the defendant and co-defendant James Munro were driving a van in Downey when they picked up a hitchhiker, Steven Jay Wells, 18. Initially, Steven agreed to have sex with the defendant. Later, he allowed himself to be tied up, expecting to be paid for having sex with a friend of the defendant's. The defendant and co-defendant tied Steven up, took his money, beat him, then strangled him with his T-shirt. They placed Steven's body in a cardboard box and carried it out to the van. At about 8 p.m., they drove to the residence of co-defendant Butts who told them to take the body and "drop it off somewhere." Co-defendant Munro and the defendant then drove to Huntington Beach where they left Steven's nude body at the rear of a closed gas station, where it was found June 3.
The defendant was apprehended after co-defendant Pugh, 17, was arrested on auto theft charges on May 29, 1980. He told detectives that he had accepted a ride home from a party with the defendant, who had talked about killing young boys. The defendant was placed under surveillance beginning June 2, 1980.
On June 11, 1980, his van was followed to Hollywood. He was observed talking to five different young men standing on street corners before 15-year-old Harold T. entered his van. The defendant parked, with Harold still inside, in a vacant lot on Santa Monica Boulevard. Despite Harold's resistance, the defendant orally copulated him. Shortly thereafter, the defendant was apprehended in the act of raping and sodomizing Harold. The police found a length of white nylon cord and three knives in the van.
(Information for this summary was compiled from the probation officer's report and/or other court documents from the defendant's file.)
ORANGE COUNTY Victims:
Dennis Frank Fox (17), Glenn Barker (14), Russell Rugh (15), Lawrence Sharp (17)
Gregory Matthew Miley (CDC# C42801), James Michael Munro (CDC# C44535). Note: Both co-defendants were also co-defendants in some of the Los Angeles murder cases.
During the same time period as the Los Angeles murders, defendant Bonin and two co-defendants murdered four other young men in Orange County.
On December 2, 1979, the body of Dennis Frank Fox, 17, was found along Ortego Highway about five miles east of the San Diego Freeway. On March 22, 1980, the bodies of Russell Rugh, 15, and Glenn Barker, 14, were found a few miles farther east along the same road. On May 18, 1980, the body of Lawrence Sharp, 17, was found in a trash bin behind a service station in Westminster.
The four victims were all hitchhikers whom the defendant had picked up in his van, and then killed by strangulation. The defendant was assisted in most or all the crimes by two other men, co-defendants Miley and Munro. All of the victims' bodies showed signs of physical beating and the cause of death of each victim was strangulation by ligature. Marks on the body of at least one of the victims indicated that a bar or other similar object had been placed between the ligature and the neck and then twisted, to effect greater compression. Other marks also indicated that the hands and feet of all the victims had been bound, or handcuffed, and the victims had been sodomized.
Defendant Bonin was convicted of these four Orange County murders while already on Death Row for the 10 others he committed in Los Angeles County.
Inmate Bonin was executed February 23, 1996 in the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison. Bonin was the first California inmate to be executed by lethal injection. Warden Arthur Calderon gave the order to begin the execution at 12:09 a.m. and Bonin was pronounced dead at 12:13 a.m. Bonin spent his last day visiting with friends. At about 6 p.m., he was escorted into the death watch cell. For his last meal, Bonin requested two large pepperoni and sausage pizzas, three pints of coffee ice cream and three six-packs of regular Coca Cola.
During the evening, Bonin was visited by the warden and the Catholic chaplain. At 11:30 p.m. he gave the following last words to Warden Calderon:
"That I feel the death penalty is not an answer to the problems at hand. That I feel it sends the wrong message to the youth of the country. Young people act as they see other people acting instead of as peopletell them to act. And I would suggest that when a person has a thought of doing anything serious against the law, that before they did, that they should go to a quiet place and think about it seriously."
Date: 11/17/1968 - KIDNAP, SODOMY W/CHILD
Date: 09/08/1975 - LEWD AND LASCIVIOUS CONDUCT
"Ill Humor: Death's Little Bureaucrats," by Ian Shoales.
The State of California put "Freeway Killer" William Bonin to sleep on February 23, and the media haven't stopped complaining about it since.
Were reporters appalled by the execution? Oh no. Reporters were upset because they weren't sure whether they had seen an execution or not. As Sam Stanton from the Sacramento Bee said, "I'm not sure what we witnessed."
What did they see? Witnesses seem to agree that curtains were opened, revealing William Bonin, eyes closed, lying on a gurney. His chest heaved once, maybe twice. A few minutes later officials came out, announced he was dead, and thanked everybody for coming. Maybe they handed out some little mints.
S.F. Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan said it was "less involving than watching a vet put down a dog" and that Bonin looked like he "was being anesthetized for surgery." An editorial called the execution "clinically antiseptic" and "coldly efficient." In a television interview, I heard public radio reporter Jason Beaubien express disappointment in what he rather tellingly called a "show."
The consensus of witnesses: total rip-off. They paid for a carnival and didn't even see a freak.
The Department of Corrections, in response to these bizarre criticisms, said they weren't trying to hide the process from the public, but to protect the identity of department employees who led the killer into the chamber.
In other words, the private sector wants more bang for its buck, death penaltywise. To accommodate them, the public sector wants to give us more bangs, but to muffle them so we can't identify them as bangs, thus maximizing their potential per tax dollar.
Face it: the death penalty is just an opportunity to create another faceless bureaucracy. One drone takes bids for the toxins to be used, another draws up the purchase orders, one distributes them to the designated carriers, three carry the syringes, ten strap the killer down... Who knows how many civil servants it takes to put a murderer on ice?
Crime Magazine: An Encyclopedia of Crime
"The Freeway Killer," by J.J. Maloney.
He didn't have a name so we called him the Freeway Killer.
He was a murky presence, cruising up and down the freeways of Orange County and neighboring counties, stalking the dimmed tinsel byways of Hollywood, picking up those sad youngsters who came there in search of a dream and found a nightmare instead.
The police would later find the nude bodies sprawled behind filling stations, or in dumpsters -- cast off the way a child discards a doll that has served its purpose.
In January, 1980, I had never heard of The Orange County Register. I had heard of smaller papers and larger papers, but The Register remained anonymous beyond the boundaries of Orange County.
A lot of people still prefer to call it The Santa Ana Register, because that identifies it with something tangible. For some reason a county is less tangible than a city, harder to visualize. Anyway, The Register was still a libertarian newspaper when I was hired, and proud of it. Jim Dean was editor, Pat Riley was managing editor and Marv Olsen was metro editor. I worked directly for Marv Olsen.
The Freeway Killer was my first major assignment. The Register had been following the activities of the killer, but was handling it as a routine police story. In December 1979, Tim Alger, a young police reporter wrote a piece pointing out that bodies were showing up, always strangled. The police didn't give him much to go on. Some said maybe the killings were connected, others said maybe not. The question went unanswered. The story ran and died before the ink had dried. Alger was on the right track, but the other media did not join in, so the story died.
One day I came across an envelope of clippings labeled "Dead Gay Boys." These were the boys being strangled. The sparse articles made me wonder where the label came from. A youth, found dead and strangled, with no name, no history, no clues to the crime -- how do you write him off as a "Dead Gay Boy"?
And why did no one seem to care? No outcry. No task force to catch the killer. At the paper, no one was assigned full time to pursue the story. There was speculation that the body count was now up to 13. That story ran deep inside the paper.
I talked to Olsen, and he agreed that it could be an injustice to the victims to even unintentionally imply they were homosexuals, since that might tend to trivialize the crimes - a lot of people would turn up their noses and say "so what?"
One of the victims was a 12-year old boy who'd disappeared on his way to Disneyland. A little boy who'd wanted to see Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, and instead ended up in an envelope labeled "dead gay boys."
That little boy, James McCabe, was found murdered at a construction site in Walnut on February 6, 1980. His body was tossed into a Dempsey dumpster. He was strangled. His skull was fractured. His penis was bruised.
Marv Olsen is a father. He sat in the coffee shop of The Register, his craggy face lost in thought. I told him monsters might be the norm in Southern California, but in other cities a newspaper would assign half the staff to root out the truth. It would be relentless. Other newspapers would not allow the police to double talk. It appeared certain that a psychopathic killer was on the loose, and that kind of killer, once he starts, repeats and repeats and repeats.
One killer, one spree. If the police wouldn't say it publicly, someone had to.
Marv agreed, and I was assigned full time to the story. Alger would cover developments at the police departments and help develop features. It wasn't half the staff, but it would turn out to be enough.
It quickly developed that there were many more murders than the newspaper suspected, and that the police were trying to keep a lid on the case to avoid another public fiasco such as had been experienced with the Hillside Strangler case, which had mortified the Los Angeles Police Department (also involved in this case).
Once the existence of a serial killer becomes known, the public expects the police to do something about the killer. The Yorkshire Ripper in England had ended one chief constable's career. The Chicago Police Department had bungled the John Wayne Gacy case, and suffered public embarrassment. The Los Angeles Police Department had pitifully bungled the Hillside Strangler case, after spending millions in a fruitless effort to catch the killer, who was finally caught by the tiny police force in Bellingham, Washington.
The police naturally do not want the massive public pressure a serial killer brings to bear on them. And there are differences of opinion among policemen on the wisdom of giving out information to the public. At the Register we felt the public had a right to know -- that, more importantly, hitchhikers had a right to know that the next time they stuck their thumb out they might end up stangled and abused.
The police told me that the strangulation of young men was a normal byproduct of the large homosexual community in the Orange County/Los Angeles area. I obtained data on causes of death in California and the nation and determined that the strangulation of males between 12 and 25 is relatively rare; the rate in Southern California between the years 1972 and 1980 was about 15 times the national average. Furthermore, the murder rate among homosexuals was, if anything, lower than the murder rate among heterosexuals.
We finally decided to take all of our information and give it to a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist and get a professional opinion on whether the murders were the work of one man.
Dr. Albert Rosenstein was that forensic psychologist. I explained to Rosenstein that there were differences of opinion as to whether one killer was responsible for all of the killings -- but he insisted that it was one killer. On March 24, 1980, we broke the story that a serial killer was at work in Southern California. We called him the "Freeway Killer."
As late as April 1980, when the strangled bodies of young men were popping up with increasing frequency, Capt. Walt Ownbey of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said the Freeway Killer was "a total figment in the minds of journalists.
"I believe it was The Orange County Register that started all this," Ownbey added. "This has built up and created a lot of fear about a killer or group of killers, and there is no evidence substantiating any of that."
The Register ground out story after story, day after day. No matter what the police said, the newspaper stuck by its position that a serial killer was preying on young boys in Southern California. The television stations sided with the newspaper, and they began aggressively to cover the story.
Schools began to counsel their students not to hitchhike. A large reward was established for information leading to the capture of the killer. Concerned citizens flooded the newspaper and the local police departments with tips.
It would later be learned that the Freeway Killer drove to Orange County every day to buy The Register. Part of the evidence that would be developed against him came from the fact that he took the story from the March 24, 1980, edition, in which many of the Freeway Killer's victims were identified, and pointed to each of the boys he had killed and admitted to one of his accomplices that he had committed those murders.
Finally, the murders were occurring with such frequency that the police quit denying the existence of the Freeway Killer, and began to coordinate the activities of the various police departments involved.
The break came when a young man in custody for car theft told the police he would give them the Freeway Killer if they would give him a break on the car theft. Although William Bonin had never admitted to this young man that he was the Freeway Killer, the young man said he suspected it because Bonin's glove compartment was stuffed with newspaper articles about the Freeway Killer case.
With the killer's name in hand, police began to follow 33-year-old William Bonin. When they caught him in an act of sodomy in his van, they arrested him and were able to compare fibers from the van with fibers found on the victims. Then Vernon Butts, Bonin's 22-year-old accomplice in six of the murders, confessed. Butts later hanged himself in jail.
Bonin was not a first offender. He had previously served time at Atascadero State Hospital for sex crimes committed against five young boys in 1969. In 1974 he was released on probation, and in 1975 his probation was revoked for kidnapping and raping two teenaged boys. He was released again in 1978. By June 1980, he had raped and murdered 21 teenaged boys and young men.
Then I obtained a top secret police chart listing all of the Freeway Killer victims, along with details of the crimes, a chart I still have.
This top-secret chart, labeled "The Southern California Strangler(s)" revealed that the police had known since early 1978 that a prolific serial killer was at work in Southern California -- and, following the arrest of Bonin, concealed the fact there was a second serial killer still at large. The second killer, Randy S. Kraft, a computer analyst, was arrested in May 1983 (he is now on death row).
William Bonin, was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin Prison on February 23, 1996. Even dead, Bonin continued to make news. Journalists who'd attended the execution first complained that they hadn't seen enough, that the prison kept the curtain closed until moments before the injection began.
When the curtain was opened, Bonin was lying on a gurney with his eyes closed. He appeared to be asleep, although the prison denied that he'd received any sedation. Shortly after the injection began, Bonin's chest rose, then his cheeks began to bulge and his face turned purple (according to one reporter). Then he was pronounced dead and the curtain was pulled shut.
A law suit was filed, arguing that reporters should be allowed to witness the entire death procedure, which would include witnessing the condemned entering the death chamber, being strapped in, watching the injection apparatus being applied -- the whole works.
It was also discovered that Bonin was receiving Social Security benefits while he was on death row. This revelation led to a nationwide effort to get convicts off the Social Security rolls.
Manson Family Picnic
"In the Eyes of a Killer: The California Freeway Killings," by James Michael Munro.
CHAPTER ONE - THE HISTORY OF WILLIAM BONIN
William George Bonin was born January 8th 1947 to a household ran by his mother Alice Bonin, and two brothers. Bonins' father, a veteran of the armed forces, was living in a veterans hospital while his mother and brothers continued to live on the quiet street of Angel Street in Downey, California. William Bonin lived with his mother until he was 8 years old. Then he ran away from home. He got picked up in the state of Connecticut, and was placed in a detention center. After the years had passed, Bonin was removed and was sent home to Downey, California to live with his kid brothers, and his mother. She loved Bill very much, but started to see a lot of changes in her son - which she had to live with for the rest of her life. Little did she know that her son would turn out to be the notorious "Freeway Killer" who took California by surprise until the 1980's had arrived.
As the years were moving on, when Bill was growing up, he was sent to Vietnam. He logged more than 700 hours manning a machine gun. Bonin was assigned to the 205th Assault Support Helicopter unit in Vietnam. Soon after Bonin returned from Vietnam he was arrested, and convicted of sexually assaulting five young men. In each of the cases he would drive the freeways looking for young men to get into his van of death, and torture them as they screamed for their lives - which made this killer even more madder, and ready to kill again. Bonin would strike like a serial killer - hoping the police could not get him. In his eyes, each one got easier each time he would kill.
By the late 1970's Bonins' neighbors began to suspect something was horribly wrong. James Hunter, a man who lives on the next street over, remembered Bonin going after his boy. A woman, who lives just behind the Bonin home, remembers one night when sounds came from Bonins' home. It was frightful to her, and it reminded her of watching a Friday the 13th movie. She could not sleep very well that night, but finally went to sleep like nothing had happened. Little did she know that Bonin was on the prowl, and killing as many as he could before he got caught. There were blood curdling screams coming from that home - which the neighbors would never forget.
Bonin, as he started his killing spree, had to find a job in the daytime to throw the police off his trail of killings - that would put a panic on the streets of California. Parents would escort their kids to church and school, and then pick them up after the day was over - so that the killer would not get their sons. A curfew announcement was placed on TV by the police stating that all kids under 18 must be inside their homes after 6:00pm every night until the killer was caught. Businesses were losing customers, stores were closing, and the Olympics that was scheduled for Los Angeles was canceled, and done in another state because of this killer.
CHAPTER TWO - THE WELLS MURDER
It was June 2nd 1980, and William Bonin was at work with his roommate James Munro. The day was ending and they were on their way home when Bonin saw a hitchhiker on the other side of the street trying to get home. Bonin pulled over, Munro opened the side door of the van, Steven Wells got in, and closed the door. Bonin asked him where was he going, and Steve replied, "Oh, I'm on my way home down the street."
So Bonin, Munro, and Wells were on their way. While they were driving down the road Bonin asked Wells, "Hey, what do you think of gays?" Steven Wells replied, "Oh, they're okay because I'm a bi-sexual." Bonin replied, "Oh really," and pulled over.
Bonin then told Munro to drive the way home. He got in the back of the van with Wells, and started to oral copulate him while Munro was driving to Bonins' home - which was located at 10282 Angel Street, Downey, California. When they arrived at the Bonin home, all three got out of the van, and went inside.
Just then Munro came out, got back in the van, and took off to go to the store. While he was going down the road, a cop stoped him, and asked him what was he doing in the middle of the road. Munro replied, "I droped some tapes, and I am on the way to the store." The cop asked me if I had a license, and I told him, "No, I only got a Michigan license." He told me to take the van home until I had an adult driver. I told him I was 18, and he told me in California I had to be 21.
Well I got back home to Bonins' and I went inside. Bonin came up to me, and asked me what happened. I told him, and he said that we would go to the store later. Bonin then asked me if I wanted to come in the bedroom, and join in on the fun with Wells. I told him no - that all I wanted to do was watch TV. I went into the living room and watched TV while Bonin was having sex with Wells.
Just then Bonin came into the living room, and told me to follow him. So I did. He went back to Wells, and asked him how would he like to make $200. Wells said, " Ya how?" Bonin told him that he knew a guy that liked to have sex with guys tied up, and Wells said, "Okay, it could be fun." Bonin went into the kitchen and got some rope. He came back into the bedroom and tied Wells up. Then he went back into the kitchen, and this time I followed him into the kitchen. I told Bonin, "Hey, you ain't going to hurt him are you?" He said, "Hey, it's too late. I already got him tied up. So I'm going to kill him." I followed him back into the bedroom, and he jumped on the bed and hit Wells in the chest, and told him he was going to do what he said, or he was going to kill him. Wells pleaded for his life.
Then Bonin told me to go get his clothing. I thought that he was going to give back his clothing and let him go. Little did I know that he was serious about killing him. Bonin took Wells t-shirt, put it around Steven Wells neck, and twisted it until he started to jump around. During all this time I was right there freaking out because I never saw anything like this before in my life. Bonin ordered me to hold his feet. I did not know why, because I did not know what the hell I was doing - until Bonin explained it to me after the murder. Then Wells stoped moving around, and Bonin turned him over, and his face was blue.
I asked Bonin why his face was blue, and he told me it was because he was dead. I said, "Dead, what do you mean dead?" He said, "Hey relax. You didn't do anything wrong. I'll take the blame if we get caught. Okay, relax." So I started to relax. He took me into the living room - after he took the body, put it in the van, and covered it up with a tarp. When that was done he told me he was going to wait until it was dark to dump the body, and that he wanted to talk to me. I went into the living room with him and we sat down.
Bonin told me that he was the "Freeway Killer," that he had other partners out there who helped him kill, and that he killed 45 people. I got scared, and started to cry again. He came up to me and told me to stop crying because he was not going to hurt me unless I ran, or called the police.
So we got in the van, and drove over to the home of Vernon Butts - his other crime partner in Downey. He was 6 feet tall, white, and must have weighed about 140 pounds. As we went up to the door we knocked, and Butts came out dressed in a Darth Vador uniform like the Star Wars movie. We went inside, and Bonin told Butts, "This is Jim Munro and he is my new partner." Butts said, "Hi" and showed me all the people he killed. He showed me a closet containing 21 ID cards of all the victims that he killed. Bonin then told Butts to come look at what we did. So we all went out to the van. Bonin uncovered the body, and Butts replied, "Oh how nice. You got another one." Then Bonin asked Butts, "Hey do you want to come with us, or do you want to stay here and watch the news?" Butts told Bonin that he would stay at the house. Bonin told Butts if he saw anything on the news to call him.
So we were on our way to Huntington Beach. When we arrived, we pulled into a closed Mobil gas station, dumped the body behind the gas station, and then took off. Then we went on our way home. As we were driving home - we stoped off at McDonalds, went to the drive thru window, and got some hamburgers.
When we got home we sat down . Bonin was eating a burger, looked up in the sky and said, "Thanks Steve," then looked down and said, "Thanks Steve," and then looked at me and said,"Where ever you are at," and started to laugh. Then he told me he was getting tired and wanted to go to bed. We went into his bedroom and he got into his bed, and I got into mine. Then he turned off the lights. I got up and turned the lights back on, and he asked me what was the matter. I told him I did not trust him, and I did not want him to kill me. He got up, came over to me, and told me, "I know a way you can trust me." I asked him, "How?" He said, "Let me tie you up. So you will know that I will not kill you." I let him tie me up the same way that he tied up Wells. Then he told me that he could kill me, and that there was nothing I could do. I started to cry, and I pleaded for my life like Wells did.
He started to laugh, and told me that he was not going to kill me. But if I ever ran from him he would kill me, and that if he could not get me - his partners would. I told him okay, and that I would not run. So he untied me. The next morning I went to work with him at the Dependable Drive Away trucking company, waited until he was on a run, and I took off and ran away to Michigan. I was so scared. I did not want Bonin, or his partners, to get me. I could not believe what I had gotten myself into. It was like a murder movie. Like Friday the 13th, and this time it was for real. I could not get it out of my mind. I wanted it to all end, but I did not know how. I finally got back to Michigan, and I stayed low for awhile until June 13th 1980 - when I heard that Bonin was arrested for murder.
CHAPTER THREE - THE ARREST OF WILLIAM BONIN
It was June 13th 1980 when Bonin was arrested. I remember hearing on the news that 32 year old William George Bonin, of Downey, has been arrested for the "Freeway Killings" in southern California.
I was shocked when he was arrested, and it made me panic because I did not want to also be arrested. I waited until June 17th 1980 to talk to the cops - to see if I was also wanted for this crime. I came in the morning, sat down, and talked to a cop named Kirk Millicar of the Los Angeles Robbery Homicide Division. He asked me if I went around cruising with Bonin picking up hitchhikers. I told him, "No! I don't know anything." He told me that I could go for now. That night I took off, and I headed for Michigan. When I arrived, 4 days later, I called the LAPD to ask them if they wanted to talk to me again. They told me yes. I told them I would be on the next flight back to California.
Little did they know I was just stalling to get away without being arrested. I stalled the cops for as long as I could - until I got arrested. I remember when Bonin got busted I was hitchhiking and a lady started to yell at me - telling me, "Hey! Are you fucking crazy. The killer is at large." So I told her, "Shut up bitch! He is caught." I flipped her off by sticking my middle finger out at her.
I continued on my way to Michigan. I stayed in Michigan until July 31st 1980 - when I also got busted for the murder of Steven Wells. That is when my nightmare began, and I would never wake up.
CHAPTER FOUR - THE ARREST OF JAMES MICHAEL MUNRO
It was July 31st 1980, and I was hitchhiking in my home town of Port Huron, Michigan. As I was going down the road I spoted my cousin Cindy Porter, and her husband Jeff passing me. They had spotted me hitchhiking. So they pulled over, and I got in their truck. I could not believe it was my cousin. I was freaked out as much as she was to see me with long blond hair that I had died to fool the cops - so that they would not arrest me. So we went on our way to her apartment.
When we arrived, Cindy called her mom - who was my aunt. She told Cindy that she wanted me to stay at her house, and that Cindy was to take me over to her house later. So I sat down and I was eating a sandwich. I asked Cindy if I could use her phone. She asked, "Is it a local call?" I told her I was going to call collect. I called my old girlfriend in California, Tammy Capps, who also went by the name of Rachel Lundren. She was a prostitute I had met in Hollywood.
So I called Tammy, and I asked her if the cops were looking for me. She told me no and hung up. She called the cops, told them that she had me on the phone, and that I was calling back. The cops rushed over to her house, and put a tracer on the phone - to find out where I was at. I told her, when I was calling her back, that I was in Michigan. Then she told me that she wanted to rape me, have sex with me, and that she loved me - just to keep me on the line so that the cops could trace the call to find out where I was at. I stayed on the line for about 15 minutes. I did not know that they were tracing the call until it was too late for me.
After I hung up the phone, I was still eating a sandwich when I heard a knock on the door. My cousin, Cindy, opened the door and the police came in. There were cops everywhere. It looked like the president of the United States was here. The cop that had a clipboard asked Cindy her name. Then he asked Jeff his name. Then he asked me my name. Then as he was leaving he looked at the report, and I matched the description that Bonin gave to the cops. So they got me, and took me outside. As I went outside there was reporters, TV cameras, and cops everywhere. They had taped off the entire area, and hundreds of people were watching - as I was being led off by the Michigan State Police and the Detectives of Michigan. When I got in the car my cousin asked me in shock, "What the hell did you do?" I looked at her and I told her, "I didn't do anything." She just shook her head in disbelief, and in shock. As my parents were sitting down for their evening meal - they had the news on - like they always did in that house - when the following report came over the news that shocked the state.
BEEP - This is a "News Special" from Channel 7 Action News.
Good evening. We are live in Port Huron - where a 18 year old from St. Clair has been arrested in connection with the California Freeway Killings. 18 year old James Michael Munro, from St. Clair, has been arrested in connection with the California Freeway Killings. 45 young men and boys were murdered, and their nude bodies were dumped along the freeways of southern California. Another man who is currently under arrest is William Bonin, the prime suspect. Robbery homicide detectives, from California, are on their way to Michigan, by jet, to get Munro. Munro was arrested at 5pm at his cousins home, and we are waiting for the California authorities to arrive. Thank you.
This was the broadcast that aired all over my home state of Michigan. It shocked all my friends and family members. I viewed this tape so that I would remember what was said on TV about me. I can only imagine the horror and shock in my familys eyes.
CHAPTER FIVE - THE LIST OF VICTIMS
CHAPTER SIX - THE CONVICTION OF JAMES MUNRO
Los Angeles, California - Monday March 15, 1982 - 11:30am - Upon the above date, the defendant being present in court with counsel, James Goldstein. The people are being represented by Sterling E. Norris, Deputy District Attorney of Los Angeles County, the following proceedings were held.
THE COURT: The court will call the matter of James M. Munro case number A-361090. The record will indicate the defendant is present with counsel, Mr. James Goldstein. People are present by Sterling Norris. The court has read and considered the probation report. That will be received into evidence for reference in this matter. All right. Do you desire to add anything to the report Mr. Goldstein?
MR. GOLDSTEIN: I have had an opportunity to review the probation report your honor. However, before we get to that - I have noted that Mr. Munro has written a letter to the court requesting that he be allowed to, number one: withdraw his previous plea of guilty, enter a plea of not guilty, and to have me relieved as counsel of record and to proceed to jury trial on the original charges.
THE COURT: All right. All those motions will be denied. All of them are ridiculous. There is absolutely no bases for them. So they will simply be denied.
MR. GOLDSTEIN: In reference to the probation report - I think the probation officer has summarized, with quite a bit of accuracy, the facts to this court. Only, by way of emphasis, I would indicate to the court that I do feel that Mr. Munro, although not being guilt free, has also been a victim of Bonin, as well as others, in Bonins' crimes. By way of emphasis, I remind the court that Mr. Munro also, at one point in time, came very close to being a victim - in the sense that he too was tied up, and that his life was almost taken by Bonin. Mr. Munro has stated this to the probation officer, and he has also maintained with some consistancy, that the only reason he participated in the acts that he did was out of fear of Bonin. I would just like to bring that to the courts attention - by way of emphasis.
THE COURT: All right. The court understands that, but the court finds no excuse at all for the type of conduct that this defendant has participated in. I think he should, every few seconds, say a prayer that he is not going to the gas chamber with Bonin. For what he has done - I would have no problem sending him there. So I think he is very fortunate.
These were the statements by the Los Angeles County Superior Court. As you read them, to this date, I still am hoping to get the trial I never got in this matter. I am not guilty of murder. I was forced to plead guilty, and threatened with death by the Los Angeles County District Attorneys Office - that if I did not go into court and plead guilty I would be killed.
CHAPTER SEVEN - A STATEMENT TO ALL PARENTS OF THE VICTIMS OF THE FREEWAY KILLER
Hello. I know by now, that you have read my book about the case. I hope that everyone who reads this will sit back, think about it, and look in to their hearts to see if they can forgive me for my actions in this case. I hope Mr. and Mrs. Wells are able to get on with their lives - now that Bonin has been executed. Mr. and Mrs. Wells, I am asking you to please forgive me for my actions. I know that I should not have helped Bonin kill your son Steven Wells. But honestly, I did not kill him, Bonin did. Yes by law I am just as guilty. In fact I feel very very bad for what has happened to all these kids in this case. I hope to God that some day you will be able to look into your hearts to forgive me for my actions. If not, I will understand that also. But please, believe me, I did not kill your son.
Thank You for this time.
CHAPTER EIGHT - CLOSING STATEMENTS
Since 1980, I have sat in prison wondering if some day I will get out, or would I spend the rest of my life in prison. I do understand, after years in prison, what I did was wrong. But do you all out there honestly say - he is guilty of murder, or was I in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ya I was, and I for some reason got caught up in this case. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about what has happened, and how sorry I am for my actions.
If anyone out there cares, or could see your way to look into this case - please do. See if you can help me get free, because I am not guilty of murder. All I want is my life back.
My address is:
James Michael Munro #C-44535
P.O. Box 409000
Mule Creek State Prison
Ione, CA 95640
When you write - if your choose to - please send stamps so I can write you back.
May God be with all of you out there. I hope that someone out there can forgive me, stand up, and demand my release.
The Bishop Home Page
On February 23, 1996, the people of the state of California finally followed through on their decision that the world would be a better place without William Bonin. After fighting for his life for 17 years, the notorious "Freeway Killer" became the first person to be executed by lethal injection in California. For the survivors of the 14 young men and boys whom Bonin was convicted of killing and of the nearly 30 others whom this classic sociopath is suspected of slaying, the Freeway Killer's execution probably lacked an element of justice. Sure, Bonin, called "the poster boy for capital punishment" by Gov. Pete Wilson, paid for his crimes with his life, but his method of death was infinitely more pleasant than that of his victims. Anyone who has had surgery using a local anesthetic, or undergone a colonoscopy or an abortion can relate to how Bonin felt in the few moments before his execution. If he had any knowledge of what was about to happen, he didn't show it. With the strong dose of tranquilizer in his system, he certainly didn't care.
The gurney at San Quentin - Stoned on state-sanction Valium, Bonin was strapped to a hospital gurney in the refurbished California gas chamber and pumped full of three different chemicals. The first, sodium pentathol, a.k.a. "truth serum," rendered him unconscious in about a second. The next dose, pancuronium bromide, paralyzed his muscles and made it impossible for him to breathe, much like curare in a South American Indian blow-gun. The final dose — potassium chloride -- came a few seconds later and instantly stopped his heart. Three minutes after the first injection, Bonin was declared dead. His body was removed by prison officials and when none of his relatives claimed it (they didn't bother coming to the execution in San Quentin), cremated and spread in the Pacific Ocean. In the end, the remains of one of California's most notorious murderers was treated with a great deal more respect than he had for his victims. Most of them were dumped, naked and ravaged along the labyrinthine Southern California highway system, giving rise to Bonin's nom de morte.
Outside the walls of San Quentin, William Bonin had nearly as many supporters as he had enemies. Capital punishment has become such a divisive issue in America that executions become excuses for pro- and anti-capital punishment rallies. Activists and celebrities like Mike Farrell, formerly B.J. Hunnicutt on MASH, and friends and relatives of the victims — and the just plain curious — squared off in the cold rain outside the prison until the word was sent down that Bonin was dead. Bonin's last words, delivered to the warden about an hour before his execution, expressed no remorse for his crimes and merely pointed out that he thought the death penalty was unfair.
Bonin added some words of advice for potential serial killers: "I would suggest that when a person has a thought of doing anything serious against the law, that before they did that they should go to a quiet place and think about it seriously." Bonin, who spent more time on death row than a majority of his victims spent on Earth, was 49.
The First Victim — By seven years old, William Bonin was already on his way to being a lost cause. The child of an abusive, alcoholic father who once gambled away the family home, Bonin and his brother were often left by their mother in the care of her father. Alice Benton left them with their grandfather despite the fact that she had grown up being sexually abused by the man, a well-known pedophile. Bonin's mother spent all of her free time playing bingo, often forgetting to feed her children, and neighbors said the Bonin boys were always hungry, dirty and ill-clothed.
During his eighth year, Bonin served his first stint behind bars, being jailed in juvenile hall for stealing license plates. In that hellhole of a reformatory, Bonin became the sexual plaything to older boys, setting the stage for his own twisted understanding of sex. The detention home was a veritable house of horrors where sexual sadism, Inquisition-like punishments such as submersion in ice water, and threats at the point of a knife were commonplace.
While in detention, according to Connecticut medical records, Bonin had been approached for sex by an older boy and although young William was afraid of the attacker, agreed to participate, provided that he be restrained: "An older boy approached Bonin for homosexual contact, and Bonin was frightened, but Bonin agreed to it if the older boy would tie his hands behind his back--allowing Mr. Bonin to feel more secure and less frightened," the records showed. To Dr. Jonathan H. Pincus, a Georgetown University Hospital neurologist who examined Bonin during his incarceration for the freeway killings, the incident suggests much about Bonin's earlier years. The fact that Bonin, at age 8, was sexually aware and asked for restraints led Pincus to believe he had been a prior victim of sexual assault. "It is inconceivable that he was not sexually abused and forcibly restrained by adult abusers before" the incident, Pincus wrote in a report to Bonin's lawyers.
William eventually returned to his home, where he began fondling his brother and other children in the area. William joined the U.S. Air Force and logged 700 hours in combat or patrol while serving as an aerial gunner in Vietnam, where his service record indicates he was a good soldier, winning a good conduct medal. It wasn't until after he received his honorable discharge that the military learned Bonin had sexually assaulted two men in his outfit at gunpoint. He moved from his native Connecticut to Southern California, where he began the dark descent into savagery that would end in San Quentin twenty-one years later.
"No More Witnesses" — It didn't take long for Bonin to succumb to his demons. His first known interaction with the law came in 1969 when he was accused of sexually abusing five boys in Los Angeles County. In each case, Bonin picked up the boys while driving around then handcuffed and sodomized them. Convicted of the assaults, Bonin was deemed a "mentally disordered sex offender" and rather than being sent to prison, was remanded to the Atascadaro State Hospital. He was examined by several neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists, but what treatment he received for his damaged psyche is unknown. Bonin had no memory of being physically abused. Doctors suspect he repressed the memory. "There is much data to indicate that Bonin was severely and recurrently sexually abused as a child," wrote one psychiatrist who examined William.
Doctors found a variety of other physical and psychological anomalies: brain damage in the area that is thought to restrain violent impulses; manic-depressive illness, and several unexplained scars on his head and backside. Bonin, the doctors said, could not explain the scars. Five years later, Bonin was released from the state hospital and placed on probation for five years. Clearly, by this point, William was unable to control his sick urges. He was a practicing pedophile, but hadn't yet become a killer. On the last day of summer vacation in 1975 David McVicker was thumbing for a ride to Huntington Beach. He was 14. Bonin offered McVicker a ride.
"He was totally cool--there was nothing in the least bit strange about him," McVicker told the Los Angeles Times shortly before Bonin's execution. Bonin asked the young man for sex and McVicker asked him to stop the car. William pulled out a gun, drove to a remote area and raped the boy. Bonin began to choke McVicker with his own T-shirt--the same method Bonin would later use to kill several of his victims. McVicker, gagging, thought he was going to die. When McVicker cried out, Bonin released him and to McVicker's astonishment, "he apologized for choking me." The attack on McVicker was especially notable for a couple of events: first, McVicker was the last successful attack for Bonin in which he did not kill, and it was the last time he would ever be known to admit regret for his actions. Like other victims of sexual assault, McVicker's suffering didn't end when Bonin freed him. To this day, he told the Times, he suffers for Bonin's crime. Feeling dirty and ashamed, he told only his best friend what happened. His mother never wanted to hear the details, McVicker said. School no longer mattered and he quit school that same year. He attended continuation high schools, but never received a diploma. As Bonin's execution neared, McVicker said nightmares replaying the rape plagued him. "Sometimes I wake myself up yelling," McVicker said. "Imagine going to sleep and getting raped 10 to 12 times a night."
McVicker did go to the police and based on his testimony, Bonin was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct and sent back to prison. He served about three years behind bars. Despite having been convicted of kidnapping and two counts of sodomy with a child in 1968, being diagnosed as a sexual predator and demonstrating criminal sexual conduct seven years later, Bonin was released by the California prison system in 1978. Less than a year after being released from prison for the McVicker attack, Bonin found himself behind bars once again. He was picked up by Orange County officers while he assaulted a 17-year-old hitchhiker.
Incredibly, a records mix-up allowed Bonin to walk out of jail before his trial. Not surprisingly, he never showed for his day in court. That simple clerical error would eventually result in the deaths of more than three dozen young men. Freed by a stroke of fate, Bonin had no intention of ever leaving witnesses to his crimes. A friend who would eventually collect a $20,000 reward for a tip that lead to Bonin's capture remembers talking with William shortly before he disappeared into the seamy underworld of Los Angeles. "I can remember he said, `No one's going to testify again. This is never going to happen to me again,'" his friend recalled in an interview 10 years after Bonin's arrest.
Shortly after Bonin's release, the slayings by the fiend the media dubbed "the Freeway Killer" began. The Freeway Killer At the end of 1979, Southern California was in a state of near panic. Parents were afraid to let their children out of the house, and it appeared that the police were powerless to stop a vicious killer who liked to rape, strangle and stab. The Freeway Killer could practice his grisly trade at will.
The first to die was an exchange student from Germany named Marcus Grabs. The 17-year-old was on a backpacking tour of the United States. Marcus was last seen hitchhiking on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach on August 5, 1979. His last mistake in this world was accepting a lift from William Bonin. Sometime between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to police, Bonin and a friend, Vernon Butts, picked up Marcus, sodomized and beat the German and left his nude body in Malibu Canyon. Grabs had been stabbed more than 70 times and was found with a yellow nylon rope around his neck. An electrical cord was wrapped around one ankle. William later told a friend that he had killed Marcus Grabs out of self-defense, although this explanation is unlikely to be true.
Vernon Butts was a lowlife drifter with a long criminal record of petty offences who was what prosecutors refer to as "doing life in prison on the installment plan." He had been in and out of penal institutions, and was excited by sadistic homosexual activities — undoubtedly something he had picked up during one of his stays behind bars. Butts accompanied Bonin on several of his killing forays, and was as depraved and twisted as William. Together, they would prowl the highways of Southern California in Bonin's olive drab van, looking for teens to ravage. Butts would eventually be arrested for his role in the freeway killings and saved the taxpayers of California a great deal of time and expense by hanging himself in his Los Angeles County jail cell.
Three weeks after Grabs' nude body was found in Malibu Canyon, 15-year-old Donald Hyden of Hollywood turned up dead and mutilated in a trash bin near the Ventura Freeway. He had last been seen near the Gay Community Services Center in LA. Bonin and Butts had struck again. Hyden was raped and strangled with a ligature. His throat had also been slashed and an attempt had been made to castrate him. On September 12, 1979, the body of David Murillo, 17, was found near the Ventura Freeway. He had disappeared while riding his bike to the movies three days earlier. His head had been bashed in with a tire iron, he had been sodomized and strangled with a ligature.
For some time, Orange and Los Angeles County officials denied that they had a serial killer on their hands. Although the modus operandi of the three killings were similar, it wasn't until several more slayings occurred that authorities acknowledged what the media had been reporting for weeks. But the facts were there: somewhere in Southern California a serial killer was loose leaving few clues and seemed free to murder whenever the mood struck. "Like a Dope Addict" Bonin either laid low for several months, or changed his method of operation significantly enough to avoid being suspected of any killings until December 1979 when the body of Frank Fox, 17, was found in similar condition to the previous victims, near Ortega Highway and the I-5 freeway.
Psychiatrists at his Los Angeles trial said Bonin was likely in a manic state when he killed. His violent sexual urges would finally be irresistible. "He described feeling excited by the prospect of killing someone, of being barely able to wait for sundown so he could begin to cruise to pick up someone for this purpose and obtain some sense of release," wrote one psychiatrist who examined Bonin. Earl Hanson, a Los Angeles attorney who represented Bonin when he confessed to the murders, compared Bonin's thirst for violence to a dope habit. "He had to constantly increase the dosage to get the same euphoria," Hanson told the Los Angeles Times.
On the morning of February 3, 1980 Bonin and another sexual psychopath, Gregory Matthew Miley, were cruising the highways when they saw 15-year-old Charles Miranda in West Hollywood. Picking up the young man, they drove for several blocks and parked the van. Bonin then sodomized Miranda and urged Miley to do the same, but Miley was "unable to sustain an erection," according to official reports. Frustrated with his impotence, Miley raped the teen with a blunt object. Then Bonin took over again.
Sterling E. Norris, the prosecutor who convicted Bonin of 10 murders, said Bonin often goaded and belittled his accomplices into helping with the killing. "Can you do it?" Bonin asked Miley as he choked 15-year-old Charles Miranda. "Let me show you how to do this." Bonin strangled Miranda with the boy's shirt, using a tire iron to twist the shirt like a tourniquet around Miranda's neck. Miranda's nude body was found in a Los Angeles alley. "Bonin loved the killing," said Norris. "He delighted in talking about it." Driven with blood lust, Bonin and Miley drove around some more after dumping Miranda's corpse. They wanted to kill again.
Their next victim was 12-year-old James McCabe who was waiting at a bus stop for a bus to Disneyland. While Miley drove around, Bonin assaulted the youngster and strangled him, again using the boy's shirt and a tire iron. James McCabe, who was looking for a trip to the Magic Kingdom and met lurking death instead, was found three days later near a dumpster in Walnut City. Bonin and Miley used the $6 they found in his wallet to buy lunch. Resumè of Death Other murders followed quickly: Ronald Gatlin, 18, of Van Nuys. Disappeared from North Hollywood March 14, 1980. Sexually assaulted and strangled. His body was discovered the next day in Duarte. Harry Todd Turner, 14, Los Angeles. Disappeared from Hollywood on March 20, 1980. Sexually assaulted and strangled. His body was found five days later near the Santa Monica Freeway. Glen Norman Barker, 14, Huntington Beach. Sexually assaulted and strangled. His body was found March 22, 1980, beside Ortega Highway. Russell Duane Rugh, 15, Garden Grove. Disappeared while waiting for a bus to take him to his fast-food job. Sexually assaulted and strangled. His body was found March 22, 1980, beside Ortega Highway, alongside the body of Glen Barker. Steven Wood, 16, Bellflower. Last seen April 10, 1980, on his way to school. Sexually assaulted and strangled. His body was found the next day. Lawrence Eugene Sharp, 18, Long Beach. Last seen April 10, 1980. Sexually assaulted and strangled. His body found May 18, 1980, in a trash bin behind a Westminster service station. Darin Lee Kendrick, 19, Cypress. Disappeared April 29, 1980, from a Stanton store where he worked. In addition to being sodomized and strangled by ligature, Darin apparently was forced to ingest chloral hydrate which left him with caustic chemical burns on his mouth, chin, chest and stomach. Darin also had an ice pick through his right ear that caused a fatal wound to the upper cervical spinal cord. His body was found the next morning.
Bonin had the police running in circles and was enjoying the publicity his killings were receiving. He would point out to his friends the work that the Freeway Killer was doing and once remarked that "this guy is giving good gays like us a bad name." He was keeping a scrapbook of his work in his van. A nondescript arrest would soon blow the case wide open, however. In May, police busted a car thief named William Pugh. The 17-year-old was more than just a thief, however. He had been along for the ride when Bonin killed Harry Turner and would eventually serve six years for voluntary manslaughter — part of a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. In an attempt to save his own skin, Pugh told authorities that he had accepted a ride home from a man who had boasted of the Freeway Killings. Police began looking for William Bonin based on Pugh's allegations.
On the morning of June 2, 1980, Bonin and another accomplice, a mentally challenged drifter named James Munro picked up 19-year-old Steven Wells. According to Munro's testimony, Wells agreed to accompany the men back to the apartment they were sharing so that they could have sex. Munro, who is serving a 15-to-life sentence in Ione Penitentiary in California for his role in Wells' death, said that Bonin and Wells had sex and Bonin offered Wells $200 if he could tie up the young man. Wells agreed, Munro said, and shortly after he was bound, Bonin began to assault him verbally and physically. Munro said he watched TV in another room while Bonin tied up and sexually assaulted the youth in his own mother's bedroom. Bonin called him in, he said: "At that point I knew it was real. Bonin went to get a glass of water and I told him, 'No, don't do this.' But Bonin said, 'It's too late. There is nothing that you or I can do to stop it.'"
Bonin said Munro helped kill Wells, but Munro claims he was in another room when the man was strangled. Regardless, his actions amounted to first-degree murder, which could have put him in the gas chamber right next to Bonin and Butts. After Wells was dead, Bonin and Munro took the body in Bonin's van over to Butts' home, who told them to "go dump it somewhere." The next day, Wells' body was found behind a gas station dumpster. Sadly, if the killers had tarried just a little longer at their apartment, they would have been observed by the LAPD detectives who had begun surveillance of William Bonin. There was a chance that they would have been able to save Wells' life.
Capture and Confession — Over the next few days, detectives kept a close eye on William Bonin. For the next week his activities were unremarkable. He would go to work as a truck driver each day and return home to his apartment late at night, after visiting with friends around town. The night of Wells' murder, Bonin had hinted to Munro that the drifter had better keep his mouth shut or else. Munro, fearful for his own life, fled back home to Michigan. Nine days after Wells' murder, Bonin's demons apparently returned and he began looking for a new victim.
Police officers tailing his van observed him trying to pick up five different young men, finally succeeding with a 15-year-old boy. They watched as Bonin drove to a deserted beach parking lot and by the time they approached the van, they were able to arrest Bonin in the process of sodomizing the teenager. Tape and rope similar to that which bound his victims was found in the van, as well as William's scrapbook for Freeway Killer stories. Butts was picked up shortly after Bonin, and Munro was arrested by Michigan State Police a month later. The Freeway Killer team was behind bars. This time there would be no clerical errors.
Bonin expressed no remorse for what he had done although he did demonstrate embarrassment and regret at being apprehended. Once confronted with the evidence he freely confessed to police. After his arrest Bonin told a reporter "I'd still be killing. I couldn't stop killing. It got easier each time." Bonin confessed to killing 21 young men and boys. He shared aspects of each crime in horrifying detail. Describing how he Munro murdered Wells, Bonin sounded like he was describing a weekend event to coworkers on Monday morning. "Both me and Jim beat him up prior to killing him," Bonin can be heard saying in a soft monotone on police tapes. "He said he wouldn't tell anyone, just to let him go. "When we finally got around to killing him, we put a shirt around his neck. I twisted it, and he was strangled."
Years later, Bonin's lack of feeling during his confession would still be remembered by those who were there. "This guy was impassioned about what he did. He loved it," said Sterling E. Norris, the Los Angeles deputy district attorney who prosecuted Bonin. "Listening to his confession was like sitting in a room of horrors. Here we are talking about killing kids, killing one and throwing him out like a piece of trash, and then going back to get another. It made me sick."
"A Caring Man" — Bonin's trial was short and sweet. It didn't take long for the prosecution to poke holes in his claim that Butts was the mind behind the madness and it didn't take long for the jury to decide that William Bonin had to die for his crimes. But Bonin wasn't finished yet. He took advantage of the American legal system and appealed his sentence. Every time an appeal failed, he tried a different route. He tried to bargain with the knowledge he had of other unsolved murders, but his aid wasn't worth his life, authorities said. Finally, 17 years after the judge pronounced sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court told the lower federal courts that no more stays would be issued unless they were issued by the Supreme Court. Bonin, had a date with the executioner.
In his 17-year fight, Bonin encountered one piece of good luck. After Robert Alton Harris died slowly and uncomfortably in the California gas chamber, a state court ruled that that method of execution was cruel and unusual. An alternate method would have to be found. California settled on lethal injection. In almost every instance, lethal injection was found to be a quick and relatively painless way to execute a convict.
By the time Bonin had worn out his appeals, he had published a book of short stories, had an exhibition of his abstract paintings at a gallery in Seattle, and corresponded with many of the survivors of his victims. He once told the mother of one of his victims that her son had been his favorite victim because "he was such a screamer". But still, Bonin would not give them the satisfaction of even one word of apology. He had even been able to win friends on the outside with his "caring nature." "He has a very basic sense of caring for human beings," said Alexis Skriloff, Bonin's biographer "I know that's completely the opposite of what everyone sees."
The day of the execution, Bonin was taken to a special holding cell on Death Row, issued new uniform pants and shirt, and given access to his spiritual advisor. For his last meal, he ate pepperoni and sausage pizza, Coca-cola and chocolate ice cream. He ate alone. At 11:01 p.m. prison guards called the telephone company to get the official time and to double-check that the phones in the death chamber were working. An hour earlier, technicians had been in the chamber, preparing the syringes and other medical supplies needed for the execution. Fifteen minutes before midnight, Bonin was taken from the holding cell and walked into the execution chamber.
We have to take the word of the prison staff for how he acted during this time, because no witnesses were allowed to see William until he was strapped down on the gurney and the tranquilizer had been administered. The execution was scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m., but was delayed for 8 minutes while technicians struggled to find a good vein for the IV. Witnesses said it was impossible to tell if he was even alive at this point, because he was laying with his eyes closed, breathing in a very shallow manner. By 12:13 a.m. William Bonin was dead.
The final insult to the people of California didn't come until several weeks later when it was revealed that Bonin's family had been cashing his social security disability checks. Bonin's mother, Alice Benton, told a newspaper she used the money to make about $75,000 in payments on her Downey home. The benefit payments, which Bonin began receiving for a mental disability in 1972, should have ended when he went to prison in 1982. But the money kept flowing even though prison officials notified the Social Security Administration that Bonin was behind bars. The error came to light only after a funeral director notified Social Security of Bonin's death.
Of the men who assisted Bonin during his killing spree, only Miley and Munro remain in prison. Miley is serving a 25-to-life term for 1st Degree murder, and Munro has served more than the minimum of his 15 to life sentence for his second-degree murder plea. He was eligible for parole in 2000, but the parents of Steven Wells have made it a point to make sure he serves the maximum. Munro, who complained recently that he hasn't had a decent night's sleep since he entered prison, has begged the Wells for forgiveness and says he regrets not only participating in the killing of their son, but his guilty plea as well. "I was just a stupid kid. If I'd known that 15 years to life meant I was never going to get out of prison, I would never have pleaded guilty," Munro told the LA Times.
For the survivors of the Freeway Killer's madness, Bonin's execution hasn't meant an end to their grief. "Now I stay home all the time, I'm paranoid, I don't go out after dusk. The only thing that gets me out of bed is my hobbies, like crochet and painting," said the mother of one of Bonin's victims. "People say time makes things easier. Well, I'm still waiting. I wish I could be happy; I just can't find my way out of this maze." For others, the search for their missing children goes on, and the only person who can say for sure whether Bonin was their killer died in the execution chamber at San Quentin.
The mother of one victim whose disappearance bears remarkable similarity to Bonin's M.O. found out only on the day of Bonin's execution that the Freeway Killer was going to take his secrets to the grave. She begged authorities for one more day just to ask about her son, but the governor couldn't be located to issue a stay. "He was out of town. We tried up until two or three minutes before the execution," said Barbara Brogli, whose 14-year-old son disappeared about the time Bonin was plying his gruesome trade. His bones were found years later near Ortega Highway. "I would like to know, definitely," she said. "It would be a complete closure. If [Bonin] did do it, the man's been punished and he'll be dealt with at a higher level. . . . For quite a while, I've been really praying to find out, to know whether he's dead or alive, and I've been praying for strength to get through it. I really believe my prayer was answered and God will take care of the rest."
(Left to Right: Vernon Butts, Matthew Miley, James Munro)
Freeway Killer Bibliography
News In Brief 3D Freeway Killer' Suspect. August 1, 1980. Boston Globe.
US/ World News In Brief Suspect Pleads Innocent. August 9, 1980. Boston Globe.
Heilner, Sam. Names And Faces. January 3, 1981. Boston Globe.
Calif. Man Pleads Innocent In Case Of Freeway Killer. January 29, 1981. Boston Globe.
2 Charges Dropped In Freeway Murders. April 1, 1981. Boston Globe.
Blake, Gene. Reporter Tells Details Of Bonin Conversations. December 15, 1981.
US/World News Briefs Freeway Killer Quoted. January 19, 1982. Boston Globe.
Bonin Sentenced To Death In The Freeway Killer Case. January 21, 1982. Boston Globe.
US/World News Briefs Freeway Killer Sentenced. March 12, 1982. Boston Globe.
Bonin Gets Death Sentence. March 13, 1982. Boston Globe.
Jigsaw John, L. A. Detective, Retires At 75. March 15, 1993. San Diego Union-Tribune.
Freeway Killer: Gets Death-Penalty Review. October 6, 1994. San Diego Union-Tribune.
Appeals Court: Will Review Conviction Of Freeway Killer. October 6, 1994. Los Angeles Times.
Freeway Killer: Moves Closer To Execution. June 30, 1995. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Holding, Reynolds. "Freeway Killer" Loses Appeal. June 30, 1995. San Francisco Chronicle.
Egelko, Bob. State Asks Court To Allow Gas Chamber Executions. December 6, 1995. San Diego Union- Tribune (Online Archives)
Egelko, Bob. Execution Date Near Double Murder/ Police Officer's Son To Die By Lethal Injection Jan. 26. January 4, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Lavin, Enrique. Freeway Killer May Finally Face Execution: William Bonin's Final Appeal Is Expected To Be Denied. He Was Convicted In 1982 Of 14 Murders. January 6, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Freeway Killer: Appeal Bid Denied. January 9, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Plate, Tom. Bonin On Death Row. January 16, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Execution Stayed For Convicted Killer. January 20, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Inmate Near Execution Will Make Two Appeals. February 4, 1996. San Diego Union.
Attorneys Again Appeal To Save Freeway Killer. February 6, 1996. San Diego Union.
Egelko, Bob. Freeway Killer: Loses Bid For New Trial. February 16, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Holding, Reynolds. Death Of Serial Killer. February 17, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Filkins, Dexter. The Twisted Life That Led Bonin To Death Row; Crime: Neighbors Recall Signs Of Trouble And Experts Look For Roots Of Serial Killers Murderous Ways. February 18, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Filkins, Dexter. Clues From Condemmed Man's Past; Profile: A Look Into The Shaping Of William Bonin's Deeds Begins At His Old Downy Home And Leads Back To A Dark Childhood. February 18, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Krueger, Ann. California Death Penalty/ A Humane Way To Die? State's 1st Execution By Injection Scheduled Friday. February 19, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Ellingwood, Ken. COLUMN ONE; The Other Victims Of William Bonin; Families Who Lost Loved Ones To The Serial Killer Are Tormented By Grief. February 19, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Chiang, Harriet. PAGE ONE- Boy's Killer Led A Twisted, Tortured Life. February 19, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Morse, Rob. Dead Man Waiting. February 20, 1996. San Francisco Examiner.
Perlman, David. Ethical Dilemma For Physician At Bonin's Execution. February 20, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Krueger, Anne. Death Chamber Next Stop For Freeway Killer. February 20, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Perlman, David. Ethical Dilemma For Physician At Bonin's Execution. February 20, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Hicks, Jerry. Death penalty Qualms, No, It's Time For Bonin To Pay. February 20, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Hatfiald, Larry. Lethal Dose awaits L.A. Freeway Killer. February 20, 1996. San Francisco Examiner.
"Freeway Killer" Denied Clemency. February 21, 1996. Boston Globe.
Jones, Robert A. Robert A. Jones; Hearts Of The City/ Exploring Attitudes And Issues Behind The News; Mopping Up Evil; We Are Talking About The Era Of Big Evil In Southern California, A Period Spanning The La. February 21, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Olivio, Antonio. Wilson Denies Clemency For Freeway Killer: Bonin's Lawyers Will Continue Last- Minute Efforts To Block The Execution, Set For Friday. February 21, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Wallace, Amy. Wilson Denies Bonin's Plea To Halt Execution. February 21, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Wilkie, Dana. clemency rejected for bonin/ freeway killer described as predator by wilson. february 21, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Garcia, Kenneth. PAGE ONE-- San Quentin's Step -By -Step Guide To Execution Procedure 770 Governs Condemmed Convicts' Final Hours. February 21, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Chiang, Harriet. Wilson, Courts Deny Death-Row Appeals "Freeway Killer" Still Trying For Delay. February 21, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Letters To The Editor. February 22, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Egelko, Bob. Court Upholds Gas Chamber Ban. February 22, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Dougan, Michael. Execution Protest March Leaves S.F. For San Quetin. February 22, 1996. San Francisco Examiner.
Fagan, Kevin. "Freeway Killer" Tries To Call Radio Station. February 22, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Davidson, Ross Killer Of 14 Executed In California. February 23, 1996. Electric Library, Reuters.
Harfield, Larry. State's First Lethal Injection. February 23, 1996. San Francisco Examiner.
Chiang, Harriet. "Freeway Killer" Put To Death Bonin Loses Last- Ditch Appeals. February 23, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Chiang, Harriet. Freeway Killer: Put To Death, Bonin Loses Last-Ditch Appeals. February23, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Freeway Killer: Bonin Executed; Capital Punishment: The Sadistic Slayer Confessed To 21 Murders Of Youths That Gripped Orange And L.A. Counties. He Is The First California Inmate To Die By Lethal Inj. February 23, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Kempster, Norman. Bonin Nears Execution As Appeals Fail. February 23, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Krueger, Anne. Condemned Killer Denied Late Appeals. February 23, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Krueger, Anne. Serial Killer Executed At San Quentin. February 23, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Krueger, Anne. Judgment Day On Death Row/ AFreeway Killer Gets Lethal Injection. February 23, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Dougan, Michael. Protest Passions Flare As Bonin Dies. February 23, 1996. San Francisco Examiner.
Krueger, Anne. Deaths Of Killers Are Becoming Routine/ Bonin's Execution Went Almost like Clockwork. February 24, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Alvord, Valerie. Legal Changes Clear Path To Execution. February 24, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Families Of Victims Raise Toast After Calif. Execution. February 24, 1996. The Roanoke Times.
Victims: Kin Celebrate Execution. February 24, 1996. Depot News And Record.
Media Is Out Of Touch. February 24, 1996. Depot News and Record
King, Peter H. My Victim's Better Than Your Victim. February 25, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Dead Man Walking: The Bonin Execution. February 26, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
McLellan, Dennis. Bonin's Execution. February 27, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Secrecy And Bonin's Execution. February 27, 1996. San Francisco Examiner.
Dolan, Maura. Social Security Criticized For Paying Bonin. March 6, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Freeway Killer's Mom Got His Benefit Checks. March 7, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Chiang, Harriet. "Freeway Killer" Payments Embarrass Social Security. March 7, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle.
Bailey, Eric. 3-State Audit Shows Only Bonin Got Payments; Social Security: Survey Covered Condemned Inmates In California, Nevada and Arizona. Probe Of Benefits To Freeway Killer Continues. March 8, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
In The Nation. March 12, 1996. The Roanoke Times.
Adams, Jim. Family of Freeway Killer: Agrees to Repay Government. March 12, 1996. Electric Library, Reuters.
Parsons, Dana. Dana Parsons; The Mother of All Outrages: Bonin on Social Security. March 13, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Executed Man's Mom To Repay U.S. Agency. March 3, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune (Online Archives)
Across The Nation. March 13, 1996. Kansas City Star Newspaper (Online Archives)
Chiang, Harriet. Bonin's Mom To Repay Son's Disability Benefits. March 13, 1996. San Francisco Chronicle (Online Archives)
Williams, Keith Daniel. Friday Execution Special, In A Way. April 28, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Egelko, Bob. Allow Execution Witnesses To See More, State Is Told. May 2, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Moran, Greg. Triple Killer Reaches Death Chamber After 18- Year Wait. May 3, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Moran, Greg. State Executes Triple Murderer/ Killer Of 3 Is Executed 18 Years After Spree. May 3, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Moran, Greg. At Execution, Triple Killer Had No Final Words/ Two Children Of A Victim Witnessed San Quentin Death. May 4, 1996. San Diego Union- Tribune.
Hua, Thao. Remains May Solve Boy's 1979 Disappearence. October 9, 1996. L.A. Times.
Hua, Thao. Remains ID: As O.C. Boy Who Vanished In 1979. October 9, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Boy's Death Appears To Fit Bonin Victims. October 10, 1996. L.A. Times.
There's Still No Closure For Dead O.C. Boy's Family. October 10, 1996. L.A. Time.
Rosenweig, David. There's Still No Closure for Dead O.C. Boy's Family; Jamie Trotter's Kin Must Deal With the Strong Possibility Boy Was a Victim of Serial Killer William Bonin. October 10, 1996. Los Angeles Times.
Full Access To Executions OK. March 4, 1997. San Diego Union- Tribune.