Thor Nis Christiansen
|Thor Nis Christiansen|
December 28, 1957|
|Died||March 30, 1981
Folsom, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||stabbing|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Span of killings
|November 20, 1976–April 18, 1979|
|July 11, 1979|
Thor Nis Christiansen (December 28, 1957 – March 30, 1981) was a Danish-American serial killer from Solvang, California. He committed his first three murders in late 1976 and early 1977, killing young women of similar appearance from Isla Vista, California. His crimes motivated large demonstrations opposed to violence against women, and in favor of better transportation for the young people residing in Isla Vista. In 1979, he killed a young African-American woman from Los Angeles. A fifth intended victim escaped with a bullet in her head, and later identified him in a Los Angeles bar.
He was born in Denmark, and immigrated to Inglewood, California with his parents and on to Solvang when he was five years old. His father, Nis, ran a restaurant in Solvang. He was a good student until his junior year when he began neglecting his schoolwork. He moved out of his parents' house, dropped out of high school, and began working as a gas station attendant. During this time he gained a great deal of weight, at one point weighing 275 pounds.
Christiansen was obsessed with fantasies of shooting women and having sex with their corpses. He stole a .22 caliber pistol from a friend and committed his first three murders. He then moved to Oregon, lost weight, and moved back to Santa Barbara County to complete his high school diploma at a junior college. He moved into an apartment in Goleta, with a woman in her twenties. They met while she was hitchhiking. While Christiansen was living with her he committed another murder. Secondary sources indicate Christiansen's modus operandi was to meet his victims while they were hitchhiking. He would then shoot them in the head with a .22 caliber pistol and sexually assault them post-mortem. Christiansen shot his fifth intended victim, Lydia Preston, in the head, inside his vehicle, on April 18, 1979. She escaped with severe injuries.
Although several young women had disappeared from Isla Vista in late 1976, Christiansen's first confirmed victim was Patricia Marie Laney, who disappeared January 18, 1977. The next day, her body was found on an isolated road in Refugio Canyon, in the Santa Ynez Mountains northwest of Isla Vista near Rancho del Cielo. Jacqueline Anne Rook's body was found the day after that, near Laney's. Mary Ann Sarris's body was found on May 22, 1977, near Los Alamos. Laura Sue Benjamin's body was found in a culvert near Angeles Forest Highway and Big Tujunga Road in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles. She was reported to have been a prostitute.
- Jacqueline Anne Rook (b. Jan. 12, 1955), Nov. 20, 1976, aged 21 (Isla Vista, originally from Del Mar, born in Chicago)
- Mary Ann Sarris (b. Jun. 24, 1957), Dec. 6, 1976, aged 19 (Isla Vista, originally from Santa Rosa)
- Patricia Marie Laney (b. Sep. 15, 1955), Jan. 18, 1977, aged 21 (Isla Vista, originally from Whittier (though her parents had relocated to Huntington Beach by the time of her death)
- Laura Sue Benjamin (b. May 7, 1956), May 26, 1979, aged 23 (body found, Los Angeles County; born in New York)
Lydia Preston met Christiansen again on July 11, 1979 in the Bottom Line Bar in Hollywood, and reported him to police, who promptly arrested him. Because of Christiansen's address in Goleta, California and the similarity of Preston's ordeal to evidence police had collected in the Rook, Sarris, and Laney cases, Christiansen became a suspect in the Isla Vista murders. After his arrest, Santa Barbara County law enforcement realized they had investigated him as a suspect (among approximately one hundred others) in 1977. They noted his possession of a .22 caliber pistol during an earlier arrest for minor in possession of alcohol.
Christiansen was first tried in early 1980 in Santa Monica for the murder of Laura Sue Benjamin. He initially pleaded insanity, but he withdrew the plea. In June, 1980, he pleaded guilty to the Isla Vista murders, and was sentenced to life in prison.
On March 30, 1981, Christiansen died from a single stab wound in the chest in the exercise yard at Folsom State Prison. His killer was not identified. According to his defense attorney, James Westwick, psychiatrists had warned that Christiansen would be in danger in prison, due to the sexual nature of his murders, and his youthful, blond appearance.
Patricia Laney has become a prominent symbol for groups that advocate against violence to women in the Santa Barbara/Goleta/Isla Vista area. She had been a community volunteer with organizations that advocated against violence to women. The Isla Vista Juggling Festival, which had its 38th meeting in 2014, was dedicated to her commencing in 1977.
- Los Angeles Times: Jan. 20, 1977 p. B26; Jan. 21, 1977 p. 3; Jan. 21, 1977 p. B23; Jan. 26, 1977 p. A3; May 25, 1977 p. B3;Jul. 28, 1979 p. B1; Aug. 21, 1979 p. C8; Sep. 12, 1979, p. B2; Dec. 11, 1979, p. C7; Feb. 15, 1980, p. B2; May 15, 1980, p. B25; Jun. 8, 1980, p. H2; Mar. 31, 1981, p. C.
- Santa Barbara News-Press: Jan. 20, 1977 p. A1; Jan. 21, 1977 p. A1; Jan. 22, 1977 p. A1; Jan. 23, 1977 p. A1; Jan. 24, 1977 p. A1; Jan. 25, 197 p. A1, p. C12; Jul. 27, 1979 p. A1; Jul. 27, 1979 p. A1; Jun. 18, 1980 p. B1; Mar. 31, 1981.
- YouTube `The Hitchhiker Slayer'
- SB Juggler's
- My Favorite Murder Podcast, Episode 27 "Your Hometown Murder Email Round-up" 
- Dalton, Keith, Santa Barbara News-Press, January 25, 1977, p. 1.
- Hurst, John and Belcher, Jerry, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1979, p. B1.
- Santa Barbara News-Press, 18 June 1980.
- Santa Barbara News-Press, 20 January 1977.
- Santa Barbara News-Press, 21 January 1977.
- Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1979 p. C8.
- *YouTube `The Hitchhiker Slayer'
- Social Security Death Index; California Death Index.
- Social Security Death Index; California Death Index; California Birth Index.
- California Death Index.
- Los Angeles Times, Feb. 15, 1980, p. B2.
- Manson, Joe, The Daily Nexus, June 4, 1980, p. 1.
- Hardy, Dave, Santa Barbara News-Press, June 18, 1980, p. B-1.
- Santa Barbara News-Press, 31 March 1981.
- Eckstein, Harriet, Santa Barbara Independent, 1996. Archived October 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.