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As it was unfolding in the late 1970s, the Hillside Strangler case instilled fear in Los Angeles not only because there was a serial killer — or killers – on the loose, but because whoever the killers were, they appeared to be posing as the very people sworn to protect the community.
It was later determined that Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono impersonated off-duty police officers to lure victims to their death. In all, the pair murdered 10 women and girls during their California spree in the late 1970s; Bianchi killed another two victims on his own in Washington state.
Midway through the killings, investigators noted that victim Lauren Wagner, 18, “appeared to have been pulled over,” Michele Kestler, a retired forensic investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department, noted in “The Hillside Strangler: Devil in Disguise,” a new four-part Peacock docuseries streaming now.
Investigators noted marks indicating use of handcuffs on the body of the business school student, who was killed on Nov. 29, 1977, and they realized that either a police officer or someone posing as a police officer may have been the culprit.
As a result, they issued a warning to female drivers stopped by officers to make sure that they were actually being pulled over by police. Women were no longer obligated to pull over; they were told they could instead drive home and then call authorities in the name of safety.
Buono and Bianchi aren’t the only ones who have posed as police officers with the intent of committing crimes. For one, serial killer Ted Bundy lured some of his victims into his Volkswagen Beetle by posing as a police officer, according to the Associated Press.
Michael S. Scott, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, told Oxygen.com that “from newspaper accounts and personal experience, it is a relatively common thing to occur although it likely occurs only once for every several thousand legitimate police encounters.”
Scott stated that “the goals of police impersonation are usually for extorting either money or sex, but they can result in murder, too, either as a direct motive or as an indirect result of the offender seeking to avoid being identified and apprehended.”
Oxygen.com: What can one do if they suspect that a cop trying to stop you is not a real one?
MS: The best actions to take if you suspect that the person trying to stop you is not legitimately a police officer is to drive at the speed limit to a well-lit, public place and/or call 911 to report what is happening and to ask them to verify whether a police officer is in fact stopping you.
Oxygen.com: What are some red flags that someone is not a cop?
MS: The vast majority of traffic stops are made by uniformed police officers in marked police vehicles using overhead red or blue roof lights. If the vehicle behind you does not appear to have flashing lights on the roof and/or is unmarked, then there is a good chance it is someone impersonating the police.
Oxygen.com: If you have already been pulled over and you get the sense that they are a fraud, what is the proper course of action?
MS: If you have already stopped and had an interaction with the person, but suspect they are not legitimate, the best thing to do is to tell that person that you will be calling 911 to verify their identity. If they are not legitimate, that might scare them off. If they are legitimate, they should understand why you are doing this and respect your action.
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