Murder of Kirsten Costas

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Kirsten Costas
Kirsten Marina Costas

(1968-07-23)July 23, 1968
DiedJune 23, 1984(1984-06-23) (aged 15)
Cause of deathStabbing
EducationMiramonte High School
  • Arthur Costas (father)
  • Berit Costas (mother)

Kirsten Marina Costas (July 23, 1968 – June 23, 1984) was an American high school student who was murdered by her classmate, Bernadette Protti, in June 1984.[1][2]


The daughter of affluent parents, Arthur and Berit Costas, she and her brother, Peter, grew up in the small suburban town of Orinda, California.[3] Costas attended Miramonte High School, and was a member of the school's varsity swim team and the cheerleading squad.[4]


On June 23, 1984, Costas was lured with a phony invitation to a dinner for the Bob-o-Links, a sorority-like group at school.[1] According to Protti's later testimony, she had planned to take Costas to the party to befriend her, but Costas got angry when she was told that there was no dinner for the new "Bobbies". The girls quarreled, and Costas fled to the home of Alex and Mary Jane Arnold, living nearby, telling them that her friend had gone "weird".[3] When Costas could not reach her parents by telephone, Alex Arnold drove her home, noticing that a Pinto–the Protti family's car–was following them.[3] At the Costas home, Arnold, sitting in his car, saw Protti attack Costas.[5] He thought that he was seeing a fist fight, but in fact Protti stabbed Costas five times with a butcher knife and fled.[3] The Costas' neighbors called an ambulance, but Kirsten was mortally wounded and died at a nearby hospital.[6]

It took the police almost six months to find Costas' killer.[3] Protti passed a lie detector test, but her alibi went unverified. After attempting to confirm Protti's alibi, police suspected that the girl had lied. Following a conversation with an FBI officer who informed her that her arrest was imminent and that they knew she killed Kirsten, Protti wrote her mother a letter in which she made a full confession.[citation needed]

Protti claimed to have found the kitchen knife by chance, and her elder sister, Virginia Varela, testified in court that she kept that knife in her car to cut vegetables.[3] The Costases did not believe Protti's story – they asserted that nobody would use a butcher knife to slice tomatoes and that Protti, casually dressed on that evening, never intended to take Kirsten to a party but had planned to murder her. Protti was sentenced to a maximum of nine years, but was released seven years later on parole.[citation needed]


The Costas family left Orinda and moved to Hawaii in 1986.[7]


American filmmaker James Benning covered the aftermath of the murder in his 1987 documentary Landscape Suicide.[8]

In 1994, the story was made into a television movie entitled A Friend to Die For (also known as Death of a Cheerleader), with Tori Spelling as Stacy Lockwood, a character based on Kirsten Costas and Kellie Martin as Angela Delvecchio, a character based on Bernadette Protti.[9] It was remade by Lifetime as a 2019 television movie, starring Aubrey Peeples as Bridget Moretti and Sarah Dugdale as Kelli Locke, characters based on Protti and Costas, respectively. Additionally, Kellie Martin also had a small role.[citation needed] Costas' murder was featured in Season 5 of Deadly Women and was the subject of Season 1, Episode 3 of Investigation Discovery's The 1980's: The Deadliest Decade.[citation needed]

Costas' murder was featured in an episode of Killer Kids called Rumors & The To-Do List.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Girl, 16, Convicted in Classmate's Slaying : Teen-ager Feared Victim 'Was Going to Tell People I Was Weird'". Los Angeles Times. March 14, 1985. Retrieved September 28, 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "The State". Los Angeles Times. April 2, 1985. Retrieved September 28, 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c d e f Lubow, Arthur (May 12, 1985). "In a Deadly Explosion of Teenage Unhappiness, One Life Is Cut Short, Another Blighted by Murder". People. 23 (19). Retrieved August 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Calif. murder suspect, 16, called polite, loving person". Courier-Post. Associated Press. December 15, 1984. p. 3A. Retrieved August 19, 2019 – via CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) Free to read
  5. ^ O'Connor, John D.; Matier, Phil (March 12, 1985). "FBI witness ties jealousy to Costas murder". The San Francisco Examiner. p. B1. Retrieved August 19, 2019 – via CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) Free to read
  6. ^ Douglas, John E.; Burgess, Ann W.; Burgess, Allen G.; Ressler, Robert K. (2011). Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes (2 ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 173–175. ISBN 978-1-118-04718-7.
  7. ^ "Protest over parole of schoolgirl's killer". The San Francisco Examiner. Associated Press. June 26, 1992. p. A6. Retrieved August 19, 2019 – via CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) Free to read
  8. ^ Kehr, Dave (February 5, 1987). "Chilling film examines 'Landscape' of murder". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Kovalchik, Kara. "Five murders and the movies they inspired". CNN. Retrieved December 26, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)