William Bonin

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William Bonin
Bonin's 1980 mugshot
William George Bonin

(1947-01-08)January 8, 1947
DiedFebruary 23, 1996(1996-02-23) (aged 49)
Cause of deathExecution by lethal injection
Resting placeAshes scattered in the Pacific Ocean
Other namesThe Freeway Killer
The Freeway Strangler
Conviction(s)First degree murder with special circumstances (x14)
Robbery (x3)
Criminal penaltyLos Angeles County
Death (March 12, 1982)
Orange County
Death (August 26, 1983)
Victims14 convicted, 21 confirmed, 22-36+ suspected
Span of crimes
May 28, 1979 – June 2, 1980
CountryUnited States
Date apprehended
June 11, 1980
Imprisoned atSan Quentin State Prison

William George Bonin (January 8, 1947 – February 23, 1996), also called the Freeway Killer[2] and the Freeway Strangler,[3] was an American serial killer and sex offender who raped, tortured, and murdered young men and boys between November 1968 and June 1980 in southern California. He was convicted of 14 murders, but he confessed to 21 and is suspected of even more.[4]

Bonin generally operated by luring his victims into his van under the pretense of having consensual sex. He became known as the "Freeway Killer" because most of his victims' bodies were discovered beside freeways. On many occasions, he was helped by one of his four known accomplices. One of them, Vernon Butts, was listed in court as an accomplice for 12 murders; he committed suicide before his trial in 1982.

Bonin's two trials took place in Los Angeles County and Orange County, where he operated. Described by the prosecutor at his first trial as "the most arch-evil person who ever existed",[5] he spent 14 years on death row before his execution by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison in 1996. He was the first prisoner in California to die by this method.

Early life[edit]


William George Bonin was born in Willimantic, Connecticut, on January 8, 1947, the second of three sons to Robert Leonard Bonin Sr. and Alice Dorothy Cote. Both parents were alcoholics, and his father an ill-tempered World War II veteran[6] who physically abused his wife and children.[7][8] His mother suffered from severe mood swings[7][9] and frequented a bingo parlor while her sons remained unattended.[10][11][12] She was regarded as having a domineering and emasculating presence in Bonin's early life.[13]

In January 1950, Bonin's father – a compulsive gambler – gambled away their home in Andover, forcing the family to reside with Bonin's maternal grandmother in Willimantic.[14] In spite of this dysfunctional environment, Bonin and his brothers were actively raised Catholic by their parents and baptized according to church doctrine.[15] They attended St. Mary's Catholic School, where staff repeatedly made complaints of Bonin's aggression toward other students, truancy, and other misbehavior. After riding his bike into a group of young girls, he was briefly placed in juvenile hall.[16] After returning home, he was reportedly more uncooperative toward his parents than before.[17]

In September 1953, Bonin and his older brother, Robert Jr., were placed at the Franco-American School, a Catholic convent, in Lowell, Massachusetts.[18] The convent enforced harsh discipline by staff, with extreme assault being commonplace.[19][20] Bonin recalled nuns forcing him to punch a fence when he misbehaved.[21] Records indicate he was observed to function well in this structured environment.[8]

According to witnesses, Bonin was bullied,[22] and was once defended by another orphan in 1955. According to Bonin, this individual escorted him to a restroom for sexual advances, and tied his hands with a towel at Bonin's request.[16][23][n 1] Bonin was then bound and sexually assaulted by him.[17] As neither parent visited Bonin or Robert Jr., he became worried his parents had died.[21][25] Bonin was to remain at the convent until May 1955, when he returned to live with his parents in a home owned by Bonin's maternal grandfather in Mansfield.[19][26][27]

In Mansfield, Bonin attended Annie Vinton Elementary School with his younger brother Paul, where he was ridiculed as "Bugsie Bonin".[22] He became a juvenile delinquent who quarreled with students. Bonin recalled feeling shame at his sexual attraction to younger children and male teachers.[20][28][29] Neighbors later failed to recollect his parents spending time with their children,[30] and one worried neighbor, observing they were unkempt and hungry, provided meals and clean clothes to Bonin and Paul out of sympathy.[12][19]

Until Bonin's first incarceration, the children were left with their maternal grandfather by Bonin's mother, a known child molester who had sexually abused her. She later speculated her father molested his grandsons.[23][12][31] Bonin and Paul were also left with Robert Jr., who – having received the brunt of their father's abuse[32] – often beat and belittled his siblings.[19]

Largely devoid of consequences and parental supervision, Bonin stole hubcaps, license plates and metal tags off of vehicles around town.[33] In 1957 he was placed in a juvenile detention center for these and other petty crimes.[12][34] While incarcerated, Bonin was molested by an adult counselor.[31][35][n 2]

Following his release, he sexually fondled his younger brother Paul.[23][36] After six months however, Paul informed their mother of Bonin's fondling, and Bonin was forced to sleep in a separate bedroom.[17] Bonin later confessed to molesting young boys[23] and exposing himself to a 10-year-old girl.[33] Upon entering adolescence he attempted incestuous acts with an older female cousin.[citation needed]


Bonin, pictured in the North High School yearbook, c. 1963

In 1959, Bonin attended middle school adjacent to Coventry High School. Despite showing a strong aptitude for math and science, he had otherwise mediocre grades. In late 1960, the family faced the prospect of foreclosure, and Bonin's mother kicked their father out of the home, winning custody of their children.[37][23] The parents reconciled however, after their father was offered lucrative employment as a machinist in Downey, California. In early 1962, they purchased a tract home in nearby Torrance.[19][26][38][39]

Bonin attended North High School in Torrance, where he was regarded as a social outcast. However, Paul later recollected him as an outwardly well-behaved teenager.[40][41] Bonin was uncomfortable around his peers, and is not known to have formed any friendships throughout his adolescence.[42][25] He spent his time frequenting a local bowling alley.[43]

By his teenage years, Bonin held an intense interest in pedophilia,[35] but kept his emerging feelings a secret.[43] His pederasty became the basis of conflict with his mother, leading to frequent arguments.[35][8][44] He rarely attempted to interact with girls, but once reluctantly dated a girl named Linda to please his mother.[45]

After dropping out of high school in 1966, Bonin molested several neighborhood children.[36] His mother reportedly refused to acknowledge these acts, or his escalating antisocial behavior,[46] but frequently worried he would be arrested. She prayed for him and warned him often, much to his frustration.[47] Eventually, she evicted him from their house, for undisclosed reasons.[48][35][23] Lacking motivation, and frequently borrowing money from his parents, Bonin joined the United States Air Force (with his mother's encouragement) in December 1966.[47] He became engaged to Linda, a decision largely determined by Bonin's mother, who felt it would quell his attraction to pubescent boys.[49][8] During the engagement, he repeatedly told Linda that he had recurring nightmares about the sexual assault and murder of a young woman.[2]

Engagement and U.S. Air Force[edit]

Phu Loi Base Camp, where Bonin was stationed in the Vietnam War

During his military service, Bonin completed a General Equivalency Diploma, and served as a cook for four months in Alaska. He was arrested for theft on October 25, 1967, but the charges were dropped due to his imminent deployment to Vietnam.[49] Stationed in Phu Loi Base Camp, he served five months of active duty in the 205th Assault Support Helicopter Unit as an aerial gunner, logging over 700 hours of combat and patrol time.[23][50]

Bonin later claimed that his wartime experiences instilled misanthropic beliefs.[51] Despite this, he is known to have risked his own life on one occasion while under enemy fire to save a wounded fellow airman.[52] For this act, Bonin received a medal in recognition of his gallantry, among other medals.[53][54] He said he engaged in allegedly consensual relations with four young girls, and had a "number of homosexual encounters" in Vietnam, and once in Hong Kong.[55][56] He also confessed to sexually assaulting two soldiers under his command at gunpoint, around the time of the Tet Offensive.[23][57][9]

Bonin served nearly three years, before receiving an honorable discharge on October 25, 1968, at age 21.[58][7] Upon returning home, he discovered that Linda, who had given birth to their son,[2] had left him to marry another man.[8] The end of their relationship reportedly left him extremely frustrated.[58] Working as a gas station attendant, Bonin returned to Downey to live with his parents, whom he resented for frequently requesting his help.[59] Several family members noted differences in his behavior after his military service, although Bonin refused to explain these changes.[44][8]

First convictions[edit]

On November 17, Bonin picked up 14-year-old Billy Jones in Arcadia, while driving his mother's car.[60] Bonin offered to take him home, but he attempted to flee the vehicle in response to Bonin's repeated questions regarding homosexuality. Driving him to a nearby shopping center, Bonin handcuffed and raped him, knocking him unconscious in the process.[61][62] He then dropped Jones off at a park. Returning home, Jones' mother promptly reported Bonin to police.[63][64]

On November 26, Bonin picked up 17-year-old hitchhiker John Treadwell of Torrance. Bonin began asking him about "fags" and homosexuality before accelerating the vehicle and producing a handgun. Bonin parked in a secluded area. He then raped Treadwell and blugeoned him with a tire iron. Bonin threatened that he had friends who would aid in avenging him if Treadwell told "The Man" of what had happened.[65][64]

On December 4, it was reported to the Torrance Police Department by 17-year-old Allen Pruitt that a man with medium-length dark hair and olive complexion had offered him a ride before deviating from the highway and handcuffing the boy, who was extensively sexually assaulted in the vehicle.[65]

On January 1, 1969, Bonin offered a ride to 12-year-old Lawrence Brettman in Hermosa Beach. Ignoring the boy's pleas to let him go, Bonin began threatening Brettman. He parked, and forced Brettman to perform oral sex on him, molesting and robbing him at gun point. He then threatened to kill Brettman if he ever reported the incident.[66][62]

On January 12, Bonin reportedly picked up 18-year-old hitchhiker Jesus Monge, asking him about homosexuality before offering him twenty dollars to perform oral sex. When Monge attempted to exit the vehicle, Bonin physically and sexually assaulted him. He was then handcuffed and raped. Bonin threatened Monge, stating, "I'll rip your nuts off if you don't cool it."[66]

By this point, extensive efforts were being made by local police to locate a potential serial rapist that fit Bonin's description. On the 28th, an El Segundo policewoman confronted Bonin,[66][62] who had frightened a 16-year-old runaway who was present with him in his mother's vehicle, Timothy Wilson. Noting Bonin's frantic state and similar profile to the rapist, she searched and handcuffed him.[67][35] Bonin repeatedly advised her to incarcerate him, before insisting he was not responsible for his actions.[68][n 3] He was indicted on five counts of kidnapping, four counts of sodomy, one count of oral copulation, and one count of child molestation against the five individuals he had abducted and assaulted (or attempted to assault) since the previous November.[35]

In March, Bonin underwent two psychiatric examinations. He was determined to be a sexual psychopath, who had little control over his impulses, and showed signs of depression and inappropriate emotional responses. Initially denying childhood abuse, Bonin confessed to being molested at age eight, and suspected he was molested on various occasions between 9 and 12 years old.[70] In May, Bonin recounted to a probation officer his recent stressful separation, and admitted his guilt in molesting male youths, although he also expressed desire to start a family and become a pilot upon his release.[71] He said that his Vietnam service contributed to his criminal behavior, emphasizing his difficulties in seducing female partners since his return.[72] He was evaluated to be "seriously lacking insight and responsibility" for crimes committed since his childhood. He pleaded guilty to molestation and forced oral copulation, and was sentenced to the Atascadero State Hospital in June 1969 as a mentally disordered sex offender considered amenable to treatment.[73][74]

Incarceration at Atascadero and Vacaville prison[edit]

Bonin arrived at the Atascadero State Hospital on June 17, 1969;[75] he was subjected to a battery of psychiatric examinations[35] which revealed that he possessed an IQ of 121 and displayed traits of manic depression, sexual sadism disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. A physical examination revealed extensive scars on Bonin's head and buttocks, which he claimed to have no memory of obtaining, but were likely sustained in the Franco-American Orphanage.[51] This lack of acknowledgement led experts to conclude Bonin repressed memories of the more extreme aspects of his childhood abuse.[23][76] They also noted the psychological and emotional implications of Bonin's unhealthy relationship with his mother, upon whom he remained emotionally dependent, in spite of her low opinion of him (she considered him "worthless as a human being"[35]).[44]

Bonin regularly attended group therapy sessions while incarcerated. Psychiatrists noted his defensive, aggressive attitude toward other patients, and his refusal to acknowledge his homosexuality.[75][n 4] Bonin divulged his intentions to eliminate any future victims of his sexual assaults, if he deemed it necessary.[77] He was classified as an extreme sociopath with a high probability of recidivistic behavior under periods of psychotic breakdown.[78] His "extremely disturbed" methods of social interaction with others were also viewed as hindering his own treatment.[79] Despite this, Bonin willingly participated in experimental programs and was generally considered a non-violent, helpful, and conscientious patient by staff.[73] He had recited what he perceived psychiatrists desired to hear from him, believing he could manipulate them into granting him an early release.[80] One psychiatrist wrote of Bonin that he "wanted to straighten himself out, but doesn't know how to go about it."[81]

The California Medical Facility, where Bonin was sent in 1971

In 1971, Bonin was sent to the California Medical Facility, having been declared unsuitable for further treatment due to repeated sexual engagement with inmates (two of whom were mentally challenged). This, as well as alienating and irritating fellow patients, resulted in Bonin being beaten on several occasions.[82] Bonin was subject to further psychiatric examination, which dealt with hostility toward his father and older brother. It was noted that his sexual behaviors were compulsive in response to stress.[83] He also sought to raise money for the family of another prisoner, and reportedly applied willingly for at least one treatment program.[73] Bonin was released from prison on June 11, 1974, after doctors concluded he was "no longer a danger to the health and safety of others".[35]

Further offenses and imprisonment[edit]

In July, Bonin rented an apartment in Hollywood with intentions of circulating within the adult gay community, but was largely unsuccessful due to poor social skills and soon relocated to his parents' new house on 10282 Angell Street in Downey.[84] He briefly worked as a bartender in Fountain Valley,[84] and switched to being a truck driver for a Montebello delivery firm named Dependable Drive-Away in December 1974. He was fired from the job in February 1975 for wrecking a trailer. In March, Bonin attended community college classes for two semesters. Around this time, he would pick up hitchhikers for the purposes of having sex, eventually establishing a serious relationship with a single mother.[85]

While cruising for young boys on the night of September 8,[85] he encountered 14-year-old David Allen McVicker hitchhiking in Garden Grove.[86] McVicker accepted Bonin's offer to drive him to his parents' home in Huntington Beach. Shortly after McVicker entered the car, Bonin asked him if he had engaged in homosexuality. McVicker replied that he had not. He asked to leave the vehicle, which prompted Bonin to accelerate it.[25] When McVicker attempted to leave, Bonin produced a gun and drove him to a deserted field. Bonin ordered him to undress, and then beat and raped him.[87][25] Bonin strangled him with his T-shirt and a tire iron. McVicker pleaded for his life. Bonin immediately stopped and apologized, before reverting to casual conversation.[25][n 5] He then drove McVicker to his home,[85] stating on the way, "You know what? You're an alright guy. I was going to kill you but I want to come back for you and use you again."[89]

Soon, McVicker phoned his mother, who promptly informed Garden Grove police of the incident.[35] On October 11, 1975, Bonin was arrested for two assaults months later. Upon arrest, he informed law enforcement that "next time there won't be any more witnesses."[62][90] He was charged with the rape and forcible oral copulation of a minor, and the attempted abduction of a 15-year-old boy two days after Bonin's assault on McVicker.[91] This second victim rejected Bonin's offer of $35 for sex, before exiting Bonin's van and telling him to leave. In response, Bonin drove the van onto the sidewalk in an attempt to strike him.[73]

Bonin pleaded guilty to both charges and on December 31, 1975, he was sentenced to serve between one and fifteen years' imprisonment at the California Men's Facility in San Luis Obispo.[n 6] In 1977, Bonin was subject to further psychiatric examination. It was indicated his sexual involvement with young boys related to his mother's micromanagement of his life.[44] In March 1978, Bonin's father suffered a major stroke (presumably induced by his alcohol addiction[13]) causing him to be hospitalized at the Long Beach Veterans Administration Hospital, where his mother worked as a vocational nurse. In prison, Bonin completed mathematics courses and training as a machinist, in order to secure employment. He also showed significant progress in individual therapy sessions.[85] As a result, he was released from detention on October 11, with eighteen months' supervised probation.[93]


On November 1,[94] Bonin moved to an apartment in the Kingswood Village complex, located approximately one mile from his parents' house.[95] He became acquainted with his 43-year-old neighbor, Everett Scott Fraser.[8] Bonin became a regular attendee at Fraser's parties, where young men, drugs, and alcohol were rife.[95] Fraser considered him a respectful and placid individual, and frequently introduced to Bonin to his young male acquaintances.[8] The two also talked about their homosexuality.[95]

The following month,[96] Bonin established a relationship with a married mother who held a criminal record for child cruelty.[97] He would take trips to Anaheim with her and her kids.[97][98][99]

In April 1979, Bonin's parole supervision concluded.[100] Later, Bonin and his brother Paul relocated to Silverado, and ran a bar called the Alpine Inn. It was continually under scrutiny for noise violations. An incident occurred involving Bonin reportedly locking a 16-year-old runaway in a room of the building,[101] threatening at knife-point to bury his body in the hills.[102] Unable to obtain a permanent liquor license due to Bonin's criminal record, the business venture was short-lived.[103] Later, Bonin purchased a Ford van while working at his older brother's plumbing business.[101]

Acquaintance with Vernon Butts and Gregory Miley[edit]

I met Vernon Butts [and] I admired him. He had it all together. Everybody liked him; it was cool having him like me ... made me feel real important. I never had no friends.
- Bonin, describing his acquaintance with Vernon Butts to psychologist Dr Vonda Pelto.[42]

Through his frequent attendance at Fraser's parties,[98] Bonin became acquainted with 21-year-old Vernon Robert Butts[104] and 18-year-old Gregory Matthews Miley.[105][106]

Born and raised in Norwalk, Butts was nine years old when his father died,[107] and reportedly hailed from a broken home.[108] Described by acquaintances as "shy and easily led" by others, Butts attempted suicide on three occasions prior to meeting Bonin.[109] At the time of his initial acquaintance with Bonin, Butts had developed a local reputation as an eccentric figure[110] who had recently been fired from his employment as a magic store clerk due to his unkempt appearance and increasingly strange and unpredictable behavior. He was bisexual and frequently abused drugs and alcohol.[111][112]

He was a drifter who had been in and out of penal institutions and held an extensive criminal record for offenses such as burglary and arson.[113] He was later speculated by prosecutors to have developed a fascination with sadistic homosexual activity while incarcerated.[114] He claimed to have been both enamored with and terrified of Bonin,[25] whom he claimed held a "kind of hypnotic" control over him.[115] In contrast, Bonin held Butts in high regard for his social popularity, dominance, and intelligence.[42][116] Although both lived externally heterosexual lifestyles,[117] the two soon became lovers.[25] Butts also held "Mystery Parties" in which up to sixteen people searched for various murder artifacts in the city of Downey, such as a hairpin or ice pick.[107] As a result, Bonin and Butts frequently discussed the subject of death.[118]

Miley was an illiterate Texas native and high school dropout with an IQ of 56.[119] Raised in Lakewood, Miley's mother reportedly had a series of dysfunctional marriages and severely neglected him. Miley viewed Bonin as something of a father figure,[120] and he often spent time with Bonin in exchange for a sexual relationship.[121]


The Ford Econoline van used by Bonin to abduct his victims.

Bonin usually selected young male hitchhikers, schoolboys or, occasionally, male prostitutes as his victims. The victims, aged 12 to 19, were predominantly Caucasian or Latino, slender, pale,[122] and long-haired.[110] He either enticed or forced them into his Ford Econoline van,[123][124] where they were overpowered and had their limbs bound with a combination of handcuffs,[125] wire, or cords.[126] They were then sexually assaulted, extensively beaten, and tortured, before typically being killed by strangulation with their own T-shirts and a tire iron.[127]

In order to minimize the chances of a victim escaping from the van, Bonin removed the door handles passenger-side and rear-door.[128] He stowed ligatures, knives, pliers, wire coat hangers, and other such instruments in his vehicle to restrain and torture of his victims. The victims were usually killed inside his van, before their bodies were discarded around and near various freeways.[129] In an apparent effort to weaken investigators, Bonin often discarded his victims' bodies in counties far from their abduction.[25]

One attorney present for Bonin's eventual court case said the escalating levels of brutality he had exhibited toward his victims had been similar to that of a drug addict, requiring an ever-greater increase of dosage to maintain their euphoria.[130] Bonin also likened his urges to addiction, emphasizing to neurologists his feelings of extreme restlessness and sexual frustration in the hours prior to his murders,[131] and that he had felt an intense sense of excitement as he drove in search of his victims.[132] Reserving Sundays for his girlfriend, he typically cruised the freeways on Fridays and Saturdays.[133] Bonin also later described his feeling pleasure at hearing his victims scream, and sodomizing them.[134][73] Dr. Albert Rosenstein, a forensic psychologist, predicted the killer was an intelligent sex offender in his late twenties or early thirties, had spent time in a psychiatric facility, and was abused as a child. He said that, while bisexual, the killer has never been comfortable with their homosexuality, and is repulsed by his actions.[135][n 7]

In a minimum of twelve of the murders, Bonin was assisted by one or more of his four known accomplices.[136][137] Bonin later confessed that he felt a sense of social belonging with his accomplices that he had never experienced with anyone else.[25] Butts is suspected of accompanying or assisting Bonin on at least nine of Bonin's murders.[129]

He would scrapbook newspaper clippings of his murders, and boast to Butts and Fraser about them.[111][138][n 8] Following media coverage of the murders, Bonin enthusiastically mentioned them to co-workers at Dependable Drive-Away.[122] To those unaware of his crimes, Bonin seemed obsessed with the case. He made daily trips to Orange County to buy newspapers.[139] He would also tell people, "this guy is giving good gays like us a bad name."[140]



Thomas Lundgren, the first known Freeway Killer victim.

The first murder for which Bonin was charged was that of 13-year-old Thomas Glen Lundgren.[141] Lundgren was last seen leaving his parents' house in Reseda on May 28, 1979. Shortly before his abduction, Lundgren had reportedly told friends a man had offered to meet him at a skatepark to take photos of him for a skateboarding magazine.[142][143]

Lundgren's partially-clothed body was found the same afternoon in Agoura.[125] His clothes and severed genitals were discovered in a nearby field.[125][129] An autopsy revealed that Lundgren had suffered emasculation and extensive bludgeoning.[144] In addition, he had been slashed across the throat, stabbed, and strangled to death.[125] An expert postulated that Bonin's brutality was likely an attempt to "silence" his homosexual attraction to Lundgren. Bonin was assisted by Butts.[129]


Cajon Pass, where Bonin discarded the body of Mark Shelton

On August 4, Bonin drove from Silverado Canyon to Westminster to spend time with Butts. He soon suggested that they rape and murder a teenage hitchhiker. Butts was amenable to this suggestion,[145] and Bonin encountered 17-year-old boy Mark Shelton near Beach Boulevard. Bonin offered $400 for sexual services. According to Bonin, he masturbated Shelton before Butts began sexually assaulting him.[146][147] Bonin drove into Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, as Shelton had oral sex with him. Bonin soon parked the vehicle and raped him. Enraged with his fear and resistance, Bonin sexually assaulted him, and Bonin and Butts physically assaulted him until he lost consciousness.[148] He was violated with foreign objects, including a stick, causing him to enter a state of shock which proved fatal.[149] He was discarded beside a gravel road in Cajon Pass.[150][151]

The Pacific Coast Highway, where victim Markus Grabs was abducted while hitchhiking

The night of the following day, Bonin and Butts encountered 17-year-old West German student Markus Grabs,[114] attempting to hitchhike from the Pacific Coast Highway. According to Bonin, he engaged in consensual relations with the youth, who agreed to be bound with lengths of cord and ignition wire. Bonin then retrieved a knife, and intimidated Grabs, as Butts drove toward Bonin's home.[152] There, Grabs was again raped and beaten, and Grabs reportedly broke loose and punched Bonin. This caused Bonin to strangle him and stab him 77 times.[152][153] His body was discarded in Malibu Creek the following day.[25][138][152]

On August 9,[154] Bonin was again detained for molesting a 17-year-old boy from Dana Point.[98] This violation of the conditions of his parole should have resulted in Bonin being returned to prison at Orange County Jail; however, an administrative error committed prior to Bonin's scheduled court date resulted in his release.[98][155] On August 13,[148] Fraser drove to collect Bonin from jail. He later recollected that as he drove Bonin home, Bonin said, "No one's going to testify again. This is never going to happen to me again." At the time, Fraser had interpreted this as a statement of remorse.[155]

Resuming his murder spree, Bonin did not show at his court appointment.[88] Bonin had also returned to his parents' house. He gradually developed a reputation as a child molester among local residents, due to his habit of inviting young boys into his house, under the guise of providing alcohol and viewing pornography with them. Some neighbors recalled observing young boys accompany Bonin inside, and they would later hear screaming and crying.[23][156] Bonin's family, who were occasionally present, claimed to have never witnessed Bonin abuse them.[44]

On August 20, Bonin picked up 18-year-old Robert Wirostek in Newport Beach. Bonin allegedly coaxed him to perform oral sex by offering him $50.[157] At knife-point, Bonin bound and raped him, and then drove to Butts' residence.[158] On the drive, Butts performed oral sex on Wirostek, before striking him and taking Bonin's place as driver. Bonin then tortured Wirostek by bending his fingers, then sexually assaulting and bludgeoning him, before strangling him.[159] Wirostek's body was found on September 27,[160] alongside Interstate 10.[157]

On August 27, Bonin and Butts abducted 15-year-old Hollywood boy Donald Ray Hyden on Santa Monica Boulevard.[161] Butts was driving the van. Bonin offered him $50 for consensual sex. When Butts made an accidental wrong turn, Hyden became frantic, causing Bonin to beat, bind, torture, and sodomize him.[162] Bonin then strangled him to death.[73][163] Butts performed oral sex on his corpse before the pair dumped his body at a construction site near the Ventura Freeway. It was discovered hours later.[164] Hyden's rectal damage lead to a coroner's theory that he had been impaled by a large object.[73]

September through December[edit]

On September 9, Bonin and Butts encountered a 17-year-old boy from La Mirada, David Louis Murillo, cycling.[165] After Murillo entering the van, Bonin offered him money for sex, which was refused. He then attempted to fondle Murillo before binding him and driving to Butts' residence. As Butts drove, Bonin sexually assaulted and raped him. He then traded places with Butts, who performed oral sex on and beat Murillo.[166] They then parked the vehicle, bound him, and raped him more. He was extensively bludgeoned,[167][168] then strangled. His body was discovered alongside Highway 101 on the 12th.[125][167][169]

Bonin is not known to have killed again until on or about November 1. He and Butts abducted and murdered an unidentified young man with brown hair, whom Bonin claimed to be 5 ft 6 in tall, and 18 years old.[170][171] At some point, Bonin allegedly said the man to die because "your folks paid us to find you and kill you". The two beat him,[172] and Bonin strangled him to death before inserting an ice pick into his head. His body was discarded alongside State Route 99, south of Bakersfield.[173][174]

On November 30, an unassisted Bonin abducted 17-year-old Frank Dennis Fox, from Bellflower.[175] Bonin sodomized him and strangled him until he died.[62] His body was found two days later alongside the Ortega Highway, five miles east of San Juan Capistrano.[176] The body bore signs of binding and blunt force trauma. No clothing or other identifying evidence was discovered at the scene.[citation needed]

Ten days later, a 15-year-old boy from Long Beach, John Fredrick Kilpatrick, left his home and was offered money for sexual services by Bonin. After engaging in mutual oral sex, Kilpatrick was bound and raped by Bonin before being transported to his parents' house, where he was flagellated with string, and then strangled to death with it.[177] His body was discarded near Rialto.[178] It was found on December 13, but Kilpatrick remained known as a John Doe until August 5, 1980.[179] Because of his troubled background, which caused him to disappear for days at a time, his mother hesitated to report the disappearance. His friends also mistakenly reported seeing him at the mall. As a result, he was not reported missing until February.[180]


January and February[edit]

On January 1, 1980, Bonin encountered 16-year-old Ontario boy Michael Francis McDonald near the Chino Airport. Under the guise of providing drugs for him to sell, Bonin parked behind an apartment building. In the van, Bonin bound, beat, and raped him. His body was found alongside Highway 71 in the outskirts of Chino,[181][157][182] and his body was not identified until March 24.[183]

On the morning of February 3, Bonin invited a 16-year-old boy into his parents' house to drink and have sex. Bonin allegedly caught him stealing $100 from his billfold, and furiously resolved to commit a murder.[131] Later that evening, he drove to Hollywood with Gregory Miley with the specific intention of committing a murder with him. They encountered 15-year-old Charles Miranda nearby the Starwood nightclub along Santa Monica Boulevard.[184][185] According to Miley, Bonin and Miranda had consensual sex in the van as he drove. Bonin then told Miley that Miranda was going to die.[186] Miley asked why Bonin would not just let him go. Bonin replied, "because he'll know us and know the van."[187] Bonin beat, bound, and gagged Miranda,[188] and informed him that he had to be killed due to his earlier robbery. Miranda began begging for his life.[189] Bonin began sexually assaulting Miranda, and Miley unsuccessfully attempted to rape him. In frustration, the two started physically assaulting him and Bonin strangled him to death. His body was later dumped in a Los Angeles alleyway.[119]

Five minutes after discarding the body, Bonin suggested to Miley to "do another one".[188] Miley initially protested and stated he wanted to go home, but eventually complied.[190] A few hours later, in Huntington Beach, the pair encountered 12-year-old James Macabe.[188] Macabe had been dropped off at a corner bus stop by his older brother, who had given him money to take the bus to Disneyland.[190] He was lured into Bonin's van on the promise he would be driven to his intended destination, and that he would be given marijuana.[191]

According to Miley, Macabe got in the van, and Bonin drove to a grocery store. Bonin parked the van, and began hugging and kissing Macebe,[191] before binding him, and telling him he was being kidnapped for ransom.[192] Bonin began punching him,[191] and as Miley drove around, Bonin raped him and bludgeoned him with a tire iron.[184][193][194] Bonin then forced him to sleep in his arms.[90] Upon Macabe's waking, Miley and Bonin beat him into unconsciousness, and Bonin crushed his neck with a tire iron.[192][188] Bonin then strangled Macabe to death, and he and Miley discarded the corpse at a construction site in Walnut.[191] Macabe's body was discovered three days later.[193]

The next day, Bonin was arrested for violating the conditions of his parole; he was remanded in custody at the Orange County Jail until March 4.[195]


Following his release,[196] he was hired as a truck driver at Dependable Drive-Away.[98][95] Bonin angered his boss (who was unaware of his status as a sex offender) by picking up hitchikers in his presence on one occasion, and by taking long, unnecessary routes (which detectives later took interest in).[99]

On March 14, Bonin abducted 18-year-old Van Nuys man Ronald Gatlin. Bonin beat and sodomized him, and hacked at him with an ice pick.[64][197] The following day, his bound body was found behind an industrial building[62] in Duarte.[citation needed]

On March 21, Bonin offered a ride to 14-year-old hitchhiker Glenn Norman Barker.[198] Barker was beaten and raped with objects,[199] then strangled with a ligature, burned with a cigarette[198] and had his rectum distended.[62] Later that day, 15-year-old Russell Duane Rugh was abducted in Garden Grove.[198] He was bound, beaten, and strangled to death, after an estimated eight hours of captivity.[200] The two boys' bodies were discarded in Cleveland National Forest, close to the Ortega Highway,[127] and found on the 23rd.[201]

One Friday evening in March, Bonin offered 17-year-old William Ray Pugh a ride home, as the pair left Fraser's residence.[202] Pugh accepted, and during the ride, Bonin asked him to have sex. According to Pugh, he attempted to leave the van once Bonin had slowed down at a stoplight. Bonin grabbed him, dragged him back inside,[203] and admitted that he enjoyed abducting, restraining, torturing, and strangling hitchhikers. Bonin then informed Pugh how to murder without getting caught.[204] Bonin said that he had chosen to refrain from sexually assaulting and murdering Pugh not out of sentiment, but because the pair had been seen leaving Fraser's party together.[205] Pugh was driven to what he claimed was his home, and when the van left, he ran to his house.[206]

Pugh kept associating with Bonin. On March 25,[167] Bonin and Pugh abducted 15-year-old runaway Harry Todd Turner from a Los Angeles street. Turner had escaped a boys' home in Lancaster four days prior.[119][207] Pugh later testified that he and Bonin lured Turner into Bonin's van with an offer of $20 for sex.[208] After binding and sodomizing Turner,[119] Bonin bit into his penis until it tore,[209] and then ordered Pugh to beat him up. After Pugh bludgeoned and beat him,[208] Bonin strangled him to death. His body was discarded behind a Los Angeles business.[119]


On April 10, Bonin was discharged from parole.[167] He encountered 16-year-old Bellflower youth Steven John Wood walking to school. Wood's older brother had introduced him to Bonin, so he willingly entered Bonin's van.[210] His hogtied body was discarded in a Long Beach alleyway,[211] close to the Pacific Coast Highway.[212] Bonin allegedly waited until dusk to discard it.[213] Wood's autopsy revealed he had been killed by strangulation.[212][214]

On April 29, Bonin encountered 19-year-old Darin Kendrick at his workplace in Stanton.[n 9] Bonin lured Kendrick into the van on the pretext of selling him drugs.[215][216] Bonin then drove to Butts' apartment in Lakewood. There, he asked Kendrick whether he was gay. Kendrick attempted to flee;[217] Bonin and Butts bound him,[152] and Butts sodomized him. Bonin raised the volume of Butts' sound system to cover Kendrick's screams. Butts then held Kendrick's mouth open while Bonin poured chloral hydrate down his throat, causing him to sustain caustic chemical burns.[136][218]

The kid started [fading] out, just kind of [whimpering]. I don't like [raping] some limp piece of meat. It's no fun if they don't let me know how it feels. Guess we gave him too much of the stuff. Next time, I figured I wouldn't use as much. Anyways, I'd gotten my rocks off and the kid was [getting boring], no fun anymore, so I strangled him.
- Bonin, describing the murder of Darin Lee Kendrick.[218]

Kendrick fought his attackers, but stopped, before complaining of dizziness. Bonin then strangled him,[218] and Butts drove an ice pick into his ear, fatalling wounding his cervical spinal cord.[64] His body was discarded behind a warehouse close to the Artesia Freeway.[152][216]


On May 12,[219][220] Bonin abducted and murdered an acquaintance of his; he later stated that he decided to kill them when he had awoken that morning, because he was "tired of having him around".[221][222] The body of 17-year-old Lawrence Sharp[69][n 10] was discarded behind a Westminster gas station. His body was found on the 18th, and his autopsy revealed that he had been bound, sodomized, beaten, and strangled.[224]

Sean King

On May 19, Bonin asked Butts to accompany him on a killing. However, Butts reportedly refused. Unassisted, Bonin abducted 14-year-old South Gate boy Sean King in Downey. King was strangled to death before his body was discarded in Yucaipa.[225] Bonin then visited Butts' apartment and bragged to him about the murder.[157]

By early 1980, Bonin's murders were receiving considerable media attention, and leading gay rights activists had offered a reward totaling $50,000 for information leading to the conviction of the suspect or suspects.[226] Having by this stage determined a definitive link between many of the recent murders, investigators from the jurisdictions where victims had been abducted or discovered had begun sharing information in their hunt for the suspect or the suspect. Six officers from three of the jurisdictions formed a task force dedicated to their apprehension.[89]

By May, Pugh had been arrested for auto theft.[227] On May 28, he overheard the details of the ongoing murders on a local radio broadcast, and confided to a counselor that he knew the perpetrator's modus operandi, which was described to him by Bonin two months prior.[206] This counselor reported Pugh's suspicions to the police, who in turn relayed a confidential tip to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) homicide sergeant John St. John. St. John conducted an extensive interview with Pugh the next day. Although Pugh withheld the fact that he had accompanied Bonin on one of his murders, the information he provided led St. John to deduce that Bonin might be the Freeway Killer.[206][228][n 11]

That same day, Bonin invited 18-year-old homeless drifter James Michael Munro – whom he had encountered while cruising for young male prostitutes[230] – to move into his family's home in exchange for sex. Munro was a runaway from St. Clair, Michigan, who had been evicted from his family's home in early 1980.[231] Munro had gone to California to meet a friend, but became homeless after he was robbed of money that he earned as a male prostitute in Hollywood.[230]


While at Bonin's home, Munro (who was bisexual) began a consensual sexual relationship with him. He accepted an offer of employment at Dependable Drive-Away.[232] Munro later described his initial impression of Bonin as being "a good guy" and "really normal".[233] On June 1, Bonin informed Munro that he wanted them both to abduct, sexually assault, and murder a hitchhiker.[234]

A police investigation into Bonin's background revealed his extensive history of convictions for sexually assaulting teenage boys. St. John assigned a surveillance team to monitor his movements. They began surveilling Bonin on the evening of June 2 – one hour prior to Bonin and Munro discarding the body of Bonin's final victim.[235][236] Hours earlier, Bonin and Munro[104] encountered 18-year-old Steven Jay Wells on El Segundo Boulevard. Bonin and Munro enticed him into the van. According to the pair, upon learning Wells was bisexual, Bonin had consensual sex with Wells, before persuading him to go to his parents' house. There, the two continued having sex.[n 12] Later, Bonin paid Wells $200 to allow himself to be bound with clothesline.[104][238] Wells became suspicious of their intentions, and frantic.[238] Bonin retreated to the kitchen, telling Munro they were both going to kill Wells.[140] They then gagged and beat him in a hallway. Wells pled for his life,[239][240] but Bonin strangled him to death.[23][206] Bonin ordered Munro to retrieve a cardboard box, which the two placed Wells' body inside of, and carried to Bonin's van.[241][234]

Later, while driving to Butts' apartment[242] Bonin informed Munro that he, Butts, and others had committed many of the "Freeway Killer" murders. At the apartment, Bonin invited Butts to view Wells' body in the van.[243] Bonin then asked where he should dispose of the corpse. Munro later testified that Butts dissuaded Bonin from discarding it in the nearby canyons, and recommended discarding him near a gas station.[244] They drove to a disused gas station in Huntington Beach, and discarded him there.[242] The body was discovered five hours later, by two brothers who had parked nearby.[242][245] Bonin and Munro returned to Bonin's house.[239] Later that night, Bonin hinted to Munro (who was fearful for his life[241]) that he should stay quiet regarding Wells' murder, or else face potential death.[246]


After nine days of uneventful surveillance,[246] on June 11, plainclothes police observed Bonin driving throughout Hollywood, unsuccessfully attempting to lure five separate boys into his van,[247] before succeeding in luring one. The police followed Bonin until he parked at a service station close to the Hollywood Freeway, then discreetly approached the vehicle. Upon hearing screams and banging sounds coming from inside the van, these officers forced their way inside.[248] They discovered Bonin raping 17-year-old Orange County runaway Harold Eugene Tate, whom he had handcuffed and bound.[247][249][250]

Bonin was initially charged with the rape of a minor,[251] and held on suspicion of Miranda's murder.[252][253] He was detained in lieu of $250,000 bond. Later, Bonin's girlfriend notified his boss of his arrest, adding that the arrest was in connection to the Freeway Killer case. This caused Munro (who was already apprehensive at Bonin's absence from work that day) to become frantic.[254] The next day, Munro stole Bonin's car and fled back to Michigan,[255] where he temporarily resided before being arrested.[231]

Inside Bonin's van, investigators discovered numerous artifacts which proved his culpability in the Freeway Killer murders. These included various restraining devices, knives, and a tire iron. They also noted the removed door handles. A forensic examination of the van and Bonin's home revealed extensive traces of bloodstains.[221] Inside the glove box, investigators discovered a scrapbook of newspaper clippings related to the murders.[256]

Bonin's 61-year-old father died of cirrhosis of the liver on October 11, 1980, four months after Bonin's arrest. His condition sourced from his excessive alcohol addiction.[6][7]


I tied him up with nylon - this electrician type of wire. I pulled a knife on him and he got scared. I stabbed him in the left arm, it surprised me that I did it. I stabbed him again and then again, and again and again until he was helpless. ... They would try to stop me from stabbing them and I would stab just to stab. I stuck them with the knife in different places because I didn't know where to stab, you know, I didn't know where the vital organs [were] or anything like that.

Excerpts of Bonin's taped confession in 1980 concerning Markus Grabs and other victims[257]

Although initially alleging his innocence in the murders, Bonin confessed his guilt to St. John after reading a letter from Sean King's mother, imploring him to reveal the location of her son's body.[258] Bonin made sure to clarify, however, that it was not to ease the mother's pain,[257] but on the knowledge that, because King was buried in San Bernardino County, police would likely buy him a hamburger for lunch on the extensive trip.[259]

Over the course of several evenings, Bonin confessed to abducting, raping, and killing 21 young men and boys in graphic detail. He expressed no remorse for his actions, but showed extreme embarrassment and regret over being caught. An Orange County investigator recalled that there "was not a policeman in that room that did not want to kill Bonin" for his confession.[257] Bonin stated that his primary accomplice in the murders had been Butts, while Miley and Munro were accomplices in other murders.[260]

Bonin was physically linked to many of the murders by blood and semen stains.[221] Numerous carpet fibers found upon seven of the victims' bodies were a precise match with the carpeting in Bonin's van.[4] Furthermore, on three bodies, investigators found hair samples which were a precise match with Bonin. Medical evidence revealed that six of the murders for which he was charged were committed by a unique windlass strangulation method, which was later referred to by Bonin's prosecutor as "a signature" or "a trademark".[citation needed]

Initially formally arraigned for the murder of Grabs on July 25,[261] by July 29, Bonin had been charged with an additional 15 murders to which he had confessed, and upon which the prosecution believed they had sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.[253] In addition to the 16 murder indictments, he was also charged with 11 counts of robbery, one count of sodomy, and one count of mayhem. He was held without bond.[262]

Bonin was not brought to trial for the murders of Mark Shelton, Robert Wirostek,[263] John Kilpatrick, Michael McDonald, or the November 1979 John Doe,[178] because police did not find sufficient evidence linking him alone to the crimes.[264] This is despite Bonin confessing to the murders of Kilpatrick and McDonald.[265]

On August 8, all charges were formally submitted against Bonin. Three days later, attorney Earl Hanson was appointed as his legal representative. He remained Bonin's attorney until October 1981, when, at Bonin's request, he was replaced by William Charvet and Tracy Stewart.[192]

Accomplices' arrest[edit]

Bonin and Butts' mug shots, taken in 1980

Based on Bonin's confession, police obtained a warrant authorizing a search of Butts' Lakewood property on the same date as Bonin's initial arraignment; this July 25 search uncovered evidence linking Butts to several murders which Bonin had already confessed to. Butts was brought before a Municipal Court on July 29, and charged with accompanying Bonin on six murders, and with three counts of robbery. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told the press: "Bonin and Butts are believed to be responsible for the kidnapping, torture and murder of at least 21 young males between May 1979 and June 1980", 14 of which had been committed in their jurisdiction.[266]

Despite initially proclaiming his innocence, Butts soon confessed to having accompanied Bonin upon each of the murders he was charged with, and to have sexually abused several victims. Butts claimed to have participated in the murders primarily out of fear, claiming, "It was either go, or become the next victim",[267] adding he only found the courage to confess upon learning Bonin was in custody. Butts was adamant he had had only a limited role in the victims' torture, but confessed to actively torturing one of them.[267] He claimed that, upon their successfully luring a victim into the van, he would typically drive a short distance, before stopping the vehicle in order to assist Bonin in restraining and torturing their captive.[110][115][268] He claimed his participation in the murders was typically limited to restraining the victims, but he admitted to mutilating one victim with a wire coat hanger.[269] He said that some victims had been subjected to more extensive blunt force trauma than others because Bonin would escalate the beatings if the victim resisted his sexual advances.[269]

Butts rejected an offer to plead guilty to all charges filed against him in exchange for a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years before the possibility of parole.[111] He did not agree to accept any form of plea bargain, or to testify against Bonin.[270] He was brought before Orange County Municipal Court Judge Richard Orozco on November 14, 1980, where he was formally charged with participating in three further murders committed in the county.[263] His trial was scheduled for July 27, 1981.[115]

Mug shot of Gregory Miley, taken after his extradition to L.A. County, August 1980

On July 31, 1980, Munro was arrested in his hometown, Port Huron, Michigan. He was extradited to California, and charged with Wells' murder.[271] He pleaded innocent to all charges against him on August 14.[272] Miley, who was in Texas, discussed his role in the Miranda and Macabe murders in a recorded phone conversation with a friend, thus substantiating Bonin's earlier confession. On August 22, Miley was arrested, and he was charged by California authorities with the murders of Miranda and Macabe.[273] On December 18, he pleaded not guilty to two charges of first-degree murder;[184] but, at two pretrial hearings in May 1981, he pleaded guilty.[274]

First-degree murder charges were brought against the 20-year-old acquaintance of Bonin, Eric Marten Wijnaendts, in December 1980. After police learned Pugh had willingly accompanied Bonin in Harry Todd Turner's murder, Wijnaendts' charges were dropped in January 1981,[275] with the county prosecutor citing insufficient evidence as the cause.[276][n 13]

Preliminary hearings[edit]

At a preliminary hearing held in Los Angeles County before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Julius Leetham on January 2, 1981, Bonin formally pleaded innocent to 14 first-degree murder charges and numerous counts of sodomy, robbery and mayhem. In eleven of these indictments, a felony-murder-robbery special circumstance was also alleged. Bonin was ordered to return to court on January 7 for pretrial motions and the formal setting of a trial date.[278]

On the 7th, Butts was arraigned on five counts of murder, and three counts of robbery.[278] By this point, he had been listed as an accomplice in the murders of Lundgren, Shelton, Grabs, Hyden, Murillo, Wirostek, Kendrick, Wells, and the November 1979 Jane Doe.[173][279][280] Four days after his formal plea, he committed suicide by hanging himself with a towel in his cell.[119] He had attempted suicide at least four times prior to his arrest;[268] his attorney, Joe Ingber, theorized that his depressive state had been magnified by the impending release of transcripts of his client's testimony at the preliminary hearing, in which Butts had graphically described his victims' torture.[281] He was worried about the effect it would have on his friends and family.[268] The suicide rendered Butts' recorded testimony in three cases inadmissible as evidence. The charges against Bonin in relation to Shelton, Wirostek and the John Doe were therefore dropped in early 1981. Nonetheless, sufficient physical evidence was still present in the case of Darin Kendrick, a murder for which Bonin was subsequently convicted.[citation needed]

Both Miley and Munro agreed to testify against Bonin in court in exchange for being spared the death penalty,[282] and the dismissal of additional charges of sodomy and robbery filed against Munro.[283] In the case of Miley, Norris agreed to accept two separate pleas of guilty to first-degree murder. This was in exchange for two concurrent sentences of life imprisonment, with a possibility of parole after 25 years if Miley agreed to testify against Bonin at both upcoming trials.[192] William Pugh also agreed to testify, having pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter, for which he later received six years in prison.[284]

Murder trials[edit]

Los Angeles County[edit]

On October 19, Bonin was brought to trial in Los Angeles County, charged with the murder of 12 of his victims whose bodies had been found within this constituency. He was tried before Superior Court Judge William Keene.[285] The trial commenced on November 5.[192]

Norris, acting as prosecutor, sought the death penalty for each count of murder for which Bonin was tried. Norris described Bonin's routine and technique with regards to his victims' torture, and how he would reach the "climax of the orgy" by killing them.[286] He asserted that Bonin murdered as a group sport,[204] with accomplices that he had groomed because of their "low mentality".[287] Miley and Munro testified against Bonin, describing their murders in graphic detail.[104][288] Miley testified to his participation in the murders of Miranda and Macabe,[289] describing how the two victims were beaten and tortured before being murdered. He said that Bonin had pressed a tire iron against Miranda's neck, and Miley "jumped down on him", killing him.[194]

The strategy of Charvet and Stewart was to challenge the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses, and to suggest that significant mitigating factors as to the causes of Bonin's behavior lay in the extensive physical, sexual, and emotional abuse he had endured throughout his early life. They summoned Dr. David Foster, an expert on the developmental effects of abuse on children, to testify as to the conclusions of his psychological examinations of Bonin. He opined that as a result of repeated abandonment as a child, Bonin had not received the nurturing, protection, and behavioral feedback necessary for sufficient psychological development. He said the abuse of Bonin had been so consistent and prevalent that he was confused as to the differences between violence and love.[221]

In a direct rebuttal, the prosecution summoned forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, a noted expert in impulse control disorder and sexual sadism disorder, who testified that Bonin's behavior was inconsistent with an inability to control his impulses, and that his actions were reflective of planning as opposed to impulsive behavior. He concluded that Bonin was a sexual sadist, and that although he suffered from an antisocial personality disorder, neither of these conditions had impaired his ability to control his actions.[221]

On November 24, prison inmate Lloyd Douglas testified that Bonin had bragged to him of his culpability in the Freeway Killer murders, while both were in Los Angeles County Jail in 1980. Douglas then alleged salacious details regarding Bonin's torture of victims that were otherwise not supported with valid evidence.[29] In cross-examination, Douglas conceded he had only related these claims to authorities after pleading guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and second-degree burglary against him. He also testified to being Lawrence Sharp's cousin.[290][n 14]

Against overruled objections from the defense, Fresno-based reporter David López waived his previously sought immunity under California's shield law, and agreed to testify on behalf of the prosecution as to the details of seven interviews Bonin had granted him (between December 1980 and April 1981).[291] López testified that Bonin had said he would refuse to talk with any other reporter if López would agree not to broadcast the precise details of the interview. When López had agreed to these conditions, Bonin confessed to him that he was the Freeway Killer, and that he had killed 21 victims. Allegedly, Bonin had confided that although he resented the prospect of being executed, he had opted to commit murder simply because he had enjoyed the "sound of kids dying".[265] When López asked Bonin what he would be doing if he were still at large, Bonin had replied he would still be killing, because "it got easier with each one we did."[292]

Upon cross-examination, Bonin's defense attorney ensured that López conceded that his testimony was based upon what he had recalled from the interviews, as opposed to any handwritten notes. He also denied he had received any form of payment to testify.[48]

Closing arguments[edit]

Closing arguments were in late December. Norris described Bonin as someone who derived extreme pleasure from his victims' suffering, and that he acted with malice aforethought. Norris outlined the torture Bonin's victims had endured, before concluding his closing arguments by urging the jury to "give him what he has earned".[293]

Charvet did not specifically ask the jurors to find Bonin not guilty,[294] instead requesting they only return the "reasonable verdict you can bring". This indicated a likelihood of not guilty verdicts on at least some counts Bonin was charged with. Charvet doubted the credibility of some of Miley and Munro's testimony; he emphasized their turning state's evidence made them tailor their testimony to the desires of the police.[295] He reminded the jury he had exposed inconsistencies in Munro's account of Wells' murder, that Munro lied on numerous occasions, that Bonin had been extensively abused as a child, and of the diagnoses the doctors in Atascadero had reached. He said the prosecution's case was "full of holes", and alleged they had resorted to "revulsion tactics", in the hope Bonin would be convicted upon that basis.[296]


On December 28, the jury formally began their deliberations.[294] On January 6, 1982, they convicted Bonin of ten of the murders for which he was tried.[297] He was found not guilty of the murders of Lundgren and King, of committing sodomy upon Grabs, of committing mayhem upon Lundgren,[298] and of robbing one other victim. Later, the prosecution and defense made alternate pleas for the actual sentence the jury should decide, with Norris requesting the death penalty and Charvet requesting life imprisonment.[299] The jury further found that the special circumstances required within California state law (multiple murders and robbery) had been met in the cases for which Bonin was found guilty, and thus unanimously recommended he receive the death penalty.[286]

Bonin was cleared of King's sodomy and murder, because he had led police to King's body in 1980 under the agreement that his doing so could not be used against him in court. Therefore, the prosecutors had discussed King's disappearance at the trial, but not the discovery of his body.[300] He was cleared of the charges of mayhem and murder against Lundgren because, according to López, he had strenuously denied committing this particular killing in their interviews.[301]

He had a total disregard for the sanctity of human life and a civilized society. Sadistic, unbelievably cruel, senseless and deliberately premeditated. Guilty beyond any possible or imaginary doubt.
- Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Keene pronouncing the death sentence upon Bonin. March 12, 1982.[302]


In February, Charvet argued against imposition of the death verdict returned by the jury.[298] Despite his impassioned appeal, Keene formally sentenced Bonin to death for the ten murders, and ordered that if his death sentence were commuted to one of life imprisonment, the sentences should run consecutively.[303] Bonin was then ordered to await his execution via the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison. He remained unmoved upon learning of the sentence, having earlier informed his attorney he fully expected to receive the death penalty.[304][n 15]

Prior to his scheduled second trial in Orange County, Bonin was temporarily removed from death row and held in solitary confinement, where he remained until the conclusion of this trial.[306] This was largely due to the fact he had previously received a severe beating by an incarcerated gang member with whom he had shared a cell.[307][n 16] While Bonin was in solitary confinement, Charvet attempted to secure a change of venue, saying the extensive pretrial publicity surrounding the case in Orange County would minimize the chances of securing an untainted jury within the jurisdiction. This motion was refused by Judge Kenneth Lae, who ruled in November that there had only been minimal publicity surrounding Bonin's case in Orange County following his earlier convictions.[308]

Orange County[edit]

Bonin was brought to trial in Orange County on March 21, 1983. He was charged with the robbery and murder of four further victims whose bodies had been found within the jurisdiction.[306] He was tried before Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lae.[309] 204 prospective jurors were subjected to voir dire jury selection, until sixteen were picked in June. Bonin's attorney then renewed an earlier filed motion that the trial should be moved outside of Orange County due to pretrial publicity tainting the jury pool. This motion was again rejected by Judge Lae, who ruled that the trial would begin on June 14.[93]

The prosecutor, Bryan Brown, contended that all four victims killed within the constituency had been abducted while hitchhiking, then ordered to strip before being bound, raped, beaten, tortured, and strangled. In each instance, the ligature had left an impression upon the victim's neck. He also noted similarities in each murder, and two of those for which Bonin had earlier been convicted in Los Angeles County: Miranda and Wells.[93] Emphasis was placed upon the fibers found upon each of the Orange County victims – and three Los Angeles County victims – being a precise match to the carpeting in Bonin's van.[310] As such, Brown stated, the four Orange County victims had been killed by the same individual who had killed Miranda and Wells, and his accomplices in the Miranda and Wells murders, Miley and Munro, would testify as to their participation.[104] The prosecution presented forensic experts who testified on the matching fibers, and blood found in the van.[311]

Charvet refuted these contentions, saying that any similarities in modus operandi did not automatically prove his client's guilt, and that the evidence presented did not support the prosecution's contention, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Bonin had murdered any of the four Orange County victims, or the two Los Angeles County victims. Charvet attacked the credibility of Munro, and contended Bonin was simply a scapegoat for four unsolved murders.[306] He also argued that Brown had "spent more time discussing the two Los Angeles cases" Bonin had been convicted for than actually proving Bonin had committed any of the Orange County murders.[312]

During the six-week trial, Bonin's attorneys called two witnesses in his defense. One of them was Munro, who conceded Bonin had communicated with him prior to his testifying in this second trial, requesting that he lie when testifying.[313]

Second conviction[edit]

On August 1, both counsels delivered their closing arguments, and the jury retired. They deliberated for less than three hours, before announcing on the 2nd that they had found Bonin guilty of each count of murder and robbery.[312][314]

After three days deliberating Bonin's penalty, on August 22, the jury announced their recommendations that he be sentenced to death on each count.[315] On August 26, Bonin received four further death sentences.[232][315]

Following these convictions, Bonin was transferred from the Orange County jail back to San Quentin State Prison, to await execution via the gas chamber.[316]

Death row[edit]

San Quentin State Prison, where Bonin was on death row

In his years on death row, Bonin undertook painting and writing. He wrote a series of short stories called Doing Time: Stories from the Mind of a Death Row Prisoner.[317] He became close friends with convicted murderers Lawrence Bittaker, Randy Kraft (who shared the nickname "Freeway Killer"), Douglas Clark, and Jimmy Lee Smith.[290][316][318] He also corresponded with numerous individuals, including the mothers of some of his victims.[319] To the mothers, he never expressed regret or remorse over the murders, purposefully withholding information his victims' families sought, and seemingly deriving pleasure from their discontent.[305] Bonin once informed the mother of Sean King that her son had been his favorite victim as "he was such a screamer".[n 17]

Bonin told both his defense attorneys and several people with whom he corresponded that Butts had been the actual ringleader behind the murders, and that he had simply been Butts' accomplice.[287][n 18] These claims would be refuted by the prosecutor at Bonin's Los Angeles County murder trial, Stirling Norris, who said before Bonin's execution: "He was the leader, and he chose weak people he could use."[287]

Bonin was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in 1992, following the execution of Robert Alton Harris (the first inmate California had executed since 1967).[321] Harris had exhibited evident symptoms of discomfort, including convulsions, for up to four minutes throughout his 15 minutes in the gas chamber.[322] As such, the state of California opted to use lethal injection as an alternate execution metod, branding the gas chamber as "cruel and unusual".[323]


Bonin filed numerous appeals against his convictions and sentencing, citing issues such as jury prejudice, the potential of jury inflammation via listening to numerous victim impact statements (to which his defense counsel had offered to stipulate), and inadequate defense. For these appeals, Bonin hired new lawyers, who initially submitted contentions that Charvet had provided inadequate defense at his trials, by failing to place sufficient emphasis upon Bonin's bipolar disorder and childhood sexual abuse. These lawyers contended that, had Charvet placed further emphasis on these issues, Bonin would have been "humanized" in the eyes of his juries. Each successive appeal proved unsuccessful,[323] and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn Bonin's death penalty convictions in 1988 and 1989.[citation needed]

Despite upholding the convictions, the Supreme Court poured scorn upon Judge Keene for failing to fully heed a warning given by the prosecution prior to the Los Angeles County trial, that Munro had discussed the possibility of agreeing to legal representation by Charvet prior to his testimony. Despite admonishing Charvet for a potential conflict of interest, Judge Keene had permitted him to act as Bonin's defense attorney at his first trial. However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that Charvet had effectively cross-examined Munro at trial, and that Keene's actions, though "inexplicable", had not effectively harmed Bonin's legal defense.[324] Merit was given to Bonin's contention that his defense should have been allowed to stipulate to the testimony of the victims' parents, rather than their being allowed to identify photographs of their sons in both life and death at his trials. Despite this ruling, this finding was also deemed not to have affected the overall verdict.[192]

A final submission to the United States Court of Appeals was submitted in 1994. Bonin contended issues such as his being denied the effective assistance of counsel at his trials, that he had been denied due process at his Los Angeles trial due to the judge's refusal to suppress Munro and Miley's testimonies,[221] that Charvet failed to point out Bonin's brain damage and other mitigating circumstances, and that the judge at his Orange County trial had denied his counsel's motion for a change of venue upon the basis that pretrial publicity had effectively minimized any chance of obtaining an unbiased jury.[288] This appeal was rejected in 1995, with the appellate judges stating they had found no evidence of legal misconduct, and that no evidence existed that the 13 jurors who served upon the Orange County trial had been incapable of judging Bonin with impartiality. As such, the judges declared their satisfaction with Bonin's convictions, concluding that his verdict would not have changed with further mitigating circumstances revealed.[288]

The various experts who had examined Bonin would find conflict with one another's assertions, with Dr. Park Dietz opining that fellow Dr. Foster largely mischaracterized and exaggerated the evidence used to prove Bonin was extensively abused as a child, and mistakenly assumed Bonin's Babinski reflex and other symptoms were indicative of brain damage that influenced his crimes.[73]

On February 20, 1996, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Bonin's plea for clemency on the grounds of inadequate legal representation at both trials.[325]


I think I've accepted the fact that this may come about, and I've made my peace with it and if it happens, it happens. ... As far as how I'm going to feel at that very moment, I can't answer that question. I don't know; I don't think any of us would know until we're there. ... Well, probably I went in the service too soon because I was peaking in my bowling career. ... So I regret that I didn't get to go out and get the instruction, and pursue that. Because I've always had a love for bowling.

Bonin, reflecting on his impending execution and life regrets. February 22, 1996.[326]

Bonin was executed by lethal injection inside the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison on February 23,[327] 14 years after his first death sentence had been imposed.[328] He was the first person to be executed by lethal injection in the history of California.[328]

In his final interview, given to a local radio station less than 24 hours before his death, Bonin said that he had "made peace" with the fact he was about to die, adding that his only major regret in life was that he had not pursued his teenage passion of bowling long enough to turn professional.[329] He expressed his disagreement with the State's decision to execute him, saying he thought the death penalty is wrong.[330] He denied responsibility for his actions,[331] saying that he had no control over his actions.[330] He also said he would not be able to live a normal life outside prison.[332]

At 6 p.m. on the 23rd, Bonin was moved from his cell to a death-watch cell, where he ordered his last meal: two large pizzas, three pints of ice cream and three six-packs of Coca-Cola.[333] His last hours were spent with five people he had chosen, including his attorney, his chaplain, and a prospective biographer. His attorney said that he had not detected any remorse in Bonin.[334]

Around one hour prior to his scheduled execution, the Supreme Court refused to hear Bonin's final plea to overturn his death sentence, deciding that Bonin's attorneys had not failed to give him adequate legal representation by not earlier submitting claims of discovered evidence attesting to Bonin's innocence. The Court of Appeals ruled that his attorneys should not have waited until the last minute to submit arguments to overturn or postpone the death sentence. They also rejected Bonin's claim that he had a right to choose between the gas chamber or lethal injection as his method of execution.[321]

The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison, 2010

At 11:45 p.m., Bonin was escorted from his holding cell into the execution chamber.[335] In his final statement, given to the prison warden an hour before his scheduled execution at midnight, Bonin again expressed no remorse for his crimes; he left a note that stated:

I feel the death penalty is not an answer to the problems at hand. I feel it sends the wrong message to the people of this country. Young people act as they see other people acting instead of as people tell them to act. I would advise that when a person has a thought of doing anything serious against the law, that before they did, they should go to a quiet place and think about it seriously.

Bonin was pronounced dead at 12:13 a.m.[335] He was 49 years old. None of Bonin's relatives chose to witness his execution, although the event was witnessed by several relatives of his victims.[336] According to several witnesses, Bonin's execution passed without complications, and he was heavily sedated throughout the latter stages of the procedure.[113] On this subject, Governor Pete Wilson, who had rejected a submitted plea for clemency from Bonin's attorneys three days before the execution,[325] called Bonin the "poster boy for capital punishment".[268]


Bonin's family refused to claim his remains following his execution. His remains were cremated in a private ceremony with none of his family members present, and his ashes were later scattered over the Pacific Ocean.[337]

Three weeks after the execution, authorities discovered that his mother had openly exploited an administrative error pertaining to her son's social security disability payments – which Bonin had begun receiving for a mental disability in 1972 and which should have terminated upon his 1982 imprisonment – to maintain payments on her Downey home. This administrative error (totaling approximately $79,424) was only discovered after a funeral director notified the Social Security Administration of Bonin's death.[323] His mother agreed to pay restitution for receiving these payments in March, claiming neither she or her son were aware of the illegality of their actions.[338]

Throughout Bonin's trials, and in the years of his subsequent incarceration on death row, experts devoted much speculation and debate as to whether the root cause of his crimes lay in his abusive and dysfunctional upbringing.[n 19] One of Bonin's lawyers was quoted stated it was "virtually impossible for [Bonin] to be a successful human being" given the abuse he had endured, with a prospective biographer said he was essentially unable to handle minute problems in his day-to-day life due to trauma.[12] Opponents and advocates of the death penalty alike acknowledged Bonin had endured extensive abuse throughout his childhood, but much scorn was given to the claims from his attorneys and supporters that his murders had been a direct manifestation of the abuse.[340][additional citation(s) needed]

David McVicker, who witnessed Bonin's execution, was traumatized by his ordeal for several years. He was haunted by nightmares on a nightly basis concerning the incident,[305] dropped out of high school and became dependent on drugs and alcohol. He described the execution as being symbolic of closure.[86][341][342] In the following years, he actively campaigned to ensure that his accomplices, Miley and Munro, remain incarcerated."[343]

Munro was sentenced to a term of 15 years to life for the second degree murder of Wells in 1981. He has repeatedly appealed the sentence, claiming that he had not known Bonin was the Freeway Killer until after Wells' murder, and that he had been tricked into accepting a plea bargain whereby he pleaded guilty to this second degree murder charge.[323] He has also written to successive governors, requesting he be executed, rather than undergo life imprisonment for what he claims is "a crime I didn't commit".[344] He has repeatedly been denied parole and is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison. He is next available for parole in 2029.[345]

Miley was sentenced to a term of 25 years to life for the first-degree murder of Miranda in 1982.[346] He was informed he would need to serve a minimum of 16 years and eight months before he would be considered for parole.[347] While incarcerated, Miley was frequently reprimanded for violating prison rules. He was later sentenced to a concurrent term of 25 years to life for the abduction and murder of Macabe.[348] On May 25, 2016, Miley died of injuries he had sustained two days previously, when he was attacked by another inmate in an exercise yard at Mule Creek State Prison.[349] At the time, his next scheduled parole hearing was to be held in 2019.[350][351]

Pugh was sentenced to six years in prison for the voluntary manslaughter of Harry Turner in 1982.[208] He had initially been charged with the first-degree murder of Turner, in addition to companion charges of robbery and sodomy. However, after five days of deliberation, the jury found Pugh guilty of the reduced charge of manslaughter, and innocent of robbery and sodomy.[352] He served less than four years of his sentence, and was released from prison in 1985.[353]

Known victims[edit]

Bonin was suspected of committing at least 21 murders, and the killings for which he was convicted are shown in italics:


  • Thomas Glen Lundgren (13): Disappeared and found on May 28, 1979, in Los Angeles County
  • Mark Duane Shelton (17): Disappeared on August 4, 1979, and found on August 11, 1979, in San Bernardino County
  • Markus Alexander Grabs (17): Disappeared on August 5, 1979, and found on August 6, 1979, in Los Angeles County
  • Donald Ray Hyden (15): Disappeared and found on August 27, 1979, in Los Angeles County
  • David Louis Murillo (17): Disappeared on September 9, 1979, and found on September 10, 1979, in Los Angeles County
  • Robert Christopher Wirostek (18): Disappeared on September 17, 1979, and found on September 27, 1979, in Orange County
  • Kern County John Doe (15–27): Body found on November 1, 1979, in Kern County
  • Frank Dennis Fox (17): Disappeared on November 30, 1979, and found on December 2, 1979, in Orange County
  • John Fredrick Kilpatrick (15): Disappeared on December 5, 1979, and found on December 13, 1979, in Los Angeles County


  • Michael Francis McDonald (16): Disappeared and found on January 1, 1980, in San Bernardino County
  • Charles Dempster Miranda (15): Disappeared and found on February 3, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • James Michael Macabe (12): Disappeared and found on February 3, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • Ronald Craig Gatlin (18): Disappeared on March 14, 1980, and found on March 15, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • Glenn Norman Barker (14): Disappeared on March 21, 1980, and found on March 23, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • Russell Duane Rugh (15): Disappeared on March 21, 1980, and found on March 23, 1980, in San Diego County
  • Harry Todd Turner (15): Disappeared on March 25, 1980, and found on March 26, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • Steven John Wood (16): Disappeared and found on April 4, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • Darin Lee Kendrick (19): Disappeared on April 29, 1980, and found on May 1, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • Lawrence Eugene Sharp (17): Disappeared on May 10, 1980, and found on May 18, 1980, in Los Angeles County
  • Sean Paige King (14): Disappeared on May 19, 1980, and found on May 20, 1980, in San Bernardino County
  • Steven Jay Wells (18): Disappeared on June 2, 1980, and found on June 3, 1980, in Orange County




  • The film Freeway Killer was released by Image Entertainment in 2010. This film is directly based upon the murders committed by Bonin and his accomplices. The film cast Scott Anthony Leet as William Bonin and Dusty Sorg as Vernon Butts.


  • Bonin, William (1991). Doing Time: Stories from the Mind of a Death Row Prisoner. Red Bluff, Calif.: Eagle Publishing. ISBN 978-1-879027-04-6. OCLC 84045749.
  • McDougal, Dennis (1991). Angel of Darkness: The True Story of Randy Kraft and the Most Heinous Murder Spree of the Century. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-708-85342-9.
  • Rosewood, Jack (2015). William Bonin: The True Story of the Freeway Killer. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1-5196-3119-0.
  • Pelto, Vonda; Butler, Michael (2022). Without Redemption: Creation & Deeds of Freeway Killer Bill Bonin, His Five Accomplices & How One Who Escaped Justice. Barnes & Noble Press. ISBN 979-8-8231-2054-8.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to neurologist Dr. Jonathan Pincus, the fact Bonin, at age eight, was sexually aware is a clear indication he had been sexually abused prior to his placement at the convent. Pincus's official records state: "It is inconceivable that [Bonin] was not sexually abused and forceably restrained by adult abusers" prior to 1955.[24]
  2. ^ Contemporary records from this juvenile detention center indicate Bonin also functioned well under the disciplinary structure of the detention home.[8]
  3. ^ Questioned by police following this arrest, Bonin claimed to be glad of his apprehension, adding he may have murdered the youth and that he felt he was in need of professional help.[69]
  4. ^ Contemporary records reveal Bonin fainted "dead away for ten minutes" from stress related to acknowledging his sexual orientation during his first interview at the Atascadero hospital.
  5. ^ This event would hold significance as being the last incident in which Bonin is known to have expressed any semblance of remorse or guilt for his actions.[88]
  6. ^ Although Bonin denied any culpability of this conviction to fellow inmates, as a convicted child molester, he was beaten on several occasions while incarcerated for this offense.[92]
  7. ^ Another expert, Dr. Jonathan Pincus, later noted that while Bonin felt no remorse, he felt a great sense of embarrassment and shame concerning the details of his crimes, and confusion by his obsessive desire to murder.[132]
  8. ^ Bonin would later claim he murdered Markus Grabs in self-defense to Fraser.[114]
  9. ^ This supermarket was located close to Butts' former workplace.
  10. ^ Bonin would later allege he had been intimately involved with Sharp, and had taken him out to Knott's Berry Farm for a date when his (Bonin's) girlfriend was absent.[69][223]
  11. ^ David McVicker had also contacted authorities by this time to report his suspicions Bonin may be the Freeway Killer.[100] His suspicions were not dismissed, but regarded as one of numerous public tips to be investigated.[229]
  12. ^ Bonin's parents and older brother were on vacation, and therefore absent from the household at the time of Wells's murder.[237]
  13. ^ Wijnaendts was a Dutch-born youth who had encountered Bonin while the two were incarcerated at Orange County jail in early March 1980 (where Wijnaendts had been incarcerated upon charges of public intoxication and battery). Bonin had informed police Pugh had been his accomplice in the murder of Turner, and not Wijnaendts, upon learning of Wijnaendts's arrest.[277]
  14. ^ Douglas also conceded in his cross-examination that he had previously agreed to testify against serial killer Lawrence Bittaker pertaining to alleged jailhouse confessions Bittaker had given to him.[290]
  15. ^ Several family members of Bonin's victims later recounted that Bonin had remained remorseless throughout his trial, seemingly deriving pleasure from their anguish.[305]
  16. ^ This incident had occurred on December 8, 1981; Bonin had subsequently worn sunglasses in court to conceal his black eyes.
  17. ^ King's mother, Lavada Gifford, had first wrote to Bonin in 1989, having read of his becoming a born-again Christian.[320][319]
  18. ^ On one occasion, Bonin claimed Butts had suggested to him the two should embark on a spree of murder in order that Butts would incorporate aspects of these murders into his Dungeons & Dragons game with another man.[42]
  19. ^ Several experts noted the methods of physical and psychological torture inflicted by Bonin on his victims had been similar to those directed toward himself as a child.[339][8]


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Cited works and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
David Edwin Mason
Executions carried out in California Succeeded by
Keith Daniel Williams