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The Most Notorious Los Angeles Serial Killers, from the Hillside Strangler to Lonnie David Franklin Jr.
Before the premiere of The Real Murders of Los Angeles, dive into the city's sinister serial killer past.
Los Angeles is famous for movie magic, glitz and glamour, and the dazzling shimmer of showbiz. But the city also has a dark side — a deadly one.
The Real Murders of Los Angeles, premiering this fall on Oxygen, illuminates the sinister facets of L.A. through in-depth investigations into its most horrific homicides. Crime scenes crisscross the city, reaching into the communities of Venice, Malibu, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and beyond.
The stories are true-crime shockers, and evidence that Los Angeles is no stranger to violent murders. In the 1970s and ’80s, L.A. earned the notorious nickname “serial killer central,” according to a Toronto Sun report.
“There were multiple serial killers operating at one time,” Joni Johnston, a forensic psychologist and author of Serial Killers: 101 Questions True Crime Fans Ask, told Oxygen.com. “It’s a huge city that’s been called the city of dreams.” The collision of dreamers and predators came with a horrific body count.
Before the debut of The Real Murders of Los Angeles, take a look at five of the most murderous fiends to haunt the City of Angels.
Most Notorious Los Angeles Serial Killers
Ramirez was a serial rapist and murderer who rampaged through Southern California from April 1984 to August 1985. During his reign of terror, Ramirez, who claimed to be inspired by Satan and left occult symbols as a calling card, became known as the “Night Stalker,” a reference to the time of day he committed his crimes. Ramirez used guns, knives, and hammers and was connected to 14 slayings of women and men, children and octogenarians. He was found guilty of 13 of them. “His notoriety attracted a slew of groupies,” Johnston told Oxygen.com. He died while on death row in 2013 at age 53.
Known as the Highway Killer, Bonin used the intricate network of Southern California highways and roads as a hunting and dumping ground. After luring victims — hitchhikers, schoolboys, and male prostitutes — into his vehicle, he would overpower and bind them before bludgeoning and torturing them. At times, he had an accomplice. Bonin was convicted of killing, sexually assaulting and torturing 14 boys and young men between May 1979 and June 1980, per California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records. In 1982, Bonin received the death penalty for 10 L.A. murders, and in 1983 was hit with a second death penalty for four slayings in Orange County. On February 23, 1996 at San Quentin State Prison, Bonin, 49, became the first California convict to die by injection, the Associated Press reported.
Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono were convicted of abducting, raping, torturing, and murdering 10 young women and girls ages 12 to 28, People reported. Bianchi killed two more women alone in Washington state. During their L.A. killing spree in the late 1970s, Bianchi and his cousin Buono were labeled with the singular murderous moniker the “Hillside Strangler” because the media assumed the crimes committed in the Hollywood Hills were by one individual. They posed as off-duty police officers to lure their victims to their deaths. Bianchi was handed multiple life sentences, and Buono was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Buono died in prison in 2002 at age 67. Bianchi remains incarcerated in Walla Walla, Washington and is now 72.
Lonnie David Franklin Jr.
Franklin’s brutal L.A. killing rampage with a 25-caliber handgun began in 1985 and went on for more than two decades. Franklin was convicted in 2016 of killing nine women and a teenage girl, Reuters reported. He was given the infamous nickname Grim Sleeper because he took a 14-year break from homicides — from 1988 to 2002. During the penalty phase of his trial, prosecutors connected him to several additional slayings. Detectives believe he may have killed at least 25 women, according to the Los Angeles Times. Franklin, 67, died on death row in 2020 at age 67.
In the 1970s, Kearney would troll California highways and gay bars in search of men to pick up and then rape and murder. He dismembered his victims, stuffed their body parts into heavy-duty garbage bags and dumped them on the side of the road. His murder method earned his duel nicknames: “the Freeway Killer” and “the Trash Bag Killer.” In exchange for taking the death penalty off the table, Kearney pleaded guilty to 21 murders, according to CBS News. In 1978, he received 21 life sentences. Kearney, 83, is currently incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California, per prison records.
Take a deeper dive into the true-crime history of the City of Angels when The Real Murders of Los Angeles premieres this fall on Oxygen.