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Thriller Thursday: The Freeway Killer

Due to this post from Roni Loren (thank you for the warning, Roni) I’ve decided to remove most photos from Thriller Thursday. I hope you’re still able to enjoy them!

A twice-parolled sex offender, William Bonin tortured, raped, and killed at least twenty-one young boys and men between 1979 and 1980. He’s suspected of committing at least fifteen more murders.

Like most serial killers, Bonin grew up in a dysfunctional family. Born in Connecticut in 1947, Bonin endured an alcoholic father who beat his family and once gambled away their home. His grandfather was a convicted child molester, and despite her own childhood sexual abuse, Bonin’s mother often left him and his brother in their grandfather’s care. Neighbors said the Bonin children were always unkempt and hungry.

At age eight, Bonin was incarcerated in juvenile hall for stealing license plates. The older boys molested him, instilling a warped understanding of sex in the young child. The facility also dealt out harsh punishments for insubordination, including submersion in ice water.

Connecticut medical records state Bonin was approached for sex by an older boy and agreed to participate if he was restrained, allowing him to feel more secure.

Years later, Georgetown University Hospital neurologist Dr. Jonathan H. Pincus would examine Bonin. He stated Bonin’s early sexual awareness and request for restraint made it inconceivable for him to believe Bonin hadn’t been sexually abused and forcibly restrained by adults prior to his experience at juvy.

After he was released, Bonin began sexually molesting other children, including his brother. As an adult, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a gunner in the Vietnam War, and by all accounts was a good soldier. After the war, Bonin married, then divorced, and eventually moved to California where he began his further descent into sexual depravity.

In 1969, he was accused of molesting five boys in L.A. County. Bonin picked up the boys in his vehicle, then handcuffed and sodomized them. After his conviction, doctors labeled Bonin a mentally disordered sex offender, and he was remanded to the Atascardaro State Hospital. He received treatment but the details are unknown.

Bonin claimed to have no memory of childhood sexual abuse, but doctors believed he was repressing and stated he was severely and repeatedly sexually abused as a child. Bonin was found to have several physical and psychological problems including brain damage in the area thought to restrain violent impulses, manic-depressive disorder, and unexplained scars on his head and behind.

Bonin was released in 1974 and placed on probation. It didn’t take long for him to succumb to his urges once again.

In August 1975, fourteen-year-old David McVicker was hitching to Huntington Beach and accepted a ride from Bonin. McVicker would later tell the Los Angelas Times that Bonin was “totally cool. There was nothing in the least bit strange about him.”

When Bonin requested sex, McVicker asked him to stop the vehicle. Instead, Bonin took out a gun, drove to a deserted area, and raped him. McVicker went to authorities and Bonin was sent back to prison. He served three years, and then despite a kidnapping conviction, two counts of sodomy with a child, and a diagnosis as a sexual predator, was released to prowl on young children yet again. And this wouldn’t be the last time the California penal system gave Bonin an assist.

Yes than a year later, he was arrested in Orange Country for assaulting a seventeen-year-old hitchhiker. A records mix-up freed Bonin before his trial, and he never showed in court.

German exchange student Marcus Grabs was the first known murder victim. On a backpacking tour of the U.S., the seventeen-year-old was last seen hitchhiking on the Pacific Coast highway in Newport Beach on August 5, 1979.

Police state Bonin and his friend Vernon Butts picked up Marcus, raped and then beat him, leaving his naked body in Malibu Canyon. Marcus Grabs was stabbed more than  seventy times and found with a yellow nylon rope around his neck, as well as an electrical cord wrapped around an ankle.

Vernon Butts had a long criminal record and sadistic homosexual activities excited him. He happily assisted Bonin will several of his killings and would eventually be arrested for his role in the murders.

Three weeks later, fifteen-year-old Donald Hyden was discovered mutilated in a trash bin near the Ventura Freeway. Hyden had been raped and strangled with a ligature. The killers had slashed his throat and attempted to castrate the boy.

David Murillo, another seventeen-year-old, was found dead on September 12, 1979. He had also been sodomized and strangled with a ligature.

In the months after Murillo’s murder, several other young men lost their lives to Bonin: Charles Miranda, 15; James McCabe, 12; Ronald Gatlin, 18; Harry Todd Turner, 14; Glen Norman Barker, 14; Russell Duane Rugh, 15; Steven Wood, 16; Lawrence Eugene Sharp, 18; Darin Lee Kendrick, 19. All were found sexually assaulted and strangled.

Finally, luck would slam the case open. In May, 1980, a car thief named William Pugh was arrested. He confessed he’d been with Boninn when he killed Harry Turner. The seventeen-year-old would serve six years for voluntary manslaughter as part of the plea deal that brought authorities William Bonin.

Nineteen-year-old Steven Wells would die at the hands of Bonin and another accomplice, James Munro, before he was captured. Munro’s testimony also helped convict Bonin.

Just nine days after murdering Steven Wells, Bonin was on the hunt again. Police officers tailing him watched as the predator tried to pick up five different men. A fifteen-year-old boy accepted, and Bonin drove to a deserted police parking lot. When officers approached the fan, Bonin was sodomizing the teenager. Tape and rope matching those found on previous victims were in the van, as well as the scrapbook of the Freeway Killer stories that Bonin kept. Butts and Munro were picked up soon after.

Bonin had no remorse, only embarrassment at being caught. He confessed in graphic detail to killing twenty-one men and boys with an near prideful attitude.

“I’d still be killing. I couldn’t stop killing. It got easier each time.” –William Bonin

Bonin confessed to killing 21 young men and boys and shared aspects of each crime in horrifying detail. He was soon convicted and sentence to death, but Bonin worked the justice system by repeatedly appealing his case for seventeen years. Disgustedly, in the extra years of his life, Bonin published a book of short stories and had an art exhibition at a gallery in Seattle. He also corresponded with many of the survivors of his victims, going so far as to tell one mother that her son had been her favorite because he was “such a screamer.” Bonin never offered an apology.

William Bonin was executed on February 23, 1996 at San Quentin. Munro and another accomplice, Miley, remain in prison.

Although Bonin was cruelly tortured as a child, setting the stage for his later assaults and killings, the American justice system also failed his victims. Do you think he should have been given the second chances he was?

Thanks to Jessica R. Patch for suggesting William Bonin for Thriller Thursday.

23 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: The Freeway Killer”

  1. Oh my God. This is so sad. I can’t help but know that the time in Vietnam probably effected him, too. HIs brain was wired so only sex and death made him feel ok. Needing more and more. I think of those kids families.

    • Oh, I’m sure it did. He didn’t have a chance from the start. I do, too, and you really have to point the finger at the system on this one. They had more than one opportunity to get him off the streets. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. It’s hard to believe that our justice system would let this monster get away and repeatedly victimize society the way he did. Just think of all those young men who would be alive today. 🙁

    • Yes, it is. I would like to say that we know better nowadays, and TBTB realize sex offenders can’t be changed, but that’s still not always the case.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. Was this hard to write and put together? You did a good job. I’m just wondering how it made you feel an hour after writing it. We all need to see this and have a reality check. Thanks for the hard work and sacrifice.

    • Yes, it was at times. I try to think more about the writing and not the case, but it’s difficult. I do have empathy for Bonin because he endured horrific things, but the system failed horribly.

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  4. Dang, I didn’t realize how sick of a man he really was! At first, reading about his torture as a child, it made me feel bad but then as the blog went on and I read about what he in turn did, I gotta say I lost most of that. It made my stomach turn.

    Pure evil. Plain and simple. I wonder if he hadn’t been abused so badly if he would’ve been different. What do you think?

    • Me either. He was pure evil, but he’s one of those “perfect storm” cases. You have to wonder if he hadn’t been mistreated and exposed to such horror if he would have been as violent, as you said. I think it’s a mixture – some people are born evil, but environment plays a big role.

      Thanks for the topic and comment:)

  5. I do feel like the justice system let down the victims by setting this guy free to attack time and time again. It’s sad because his upbringing probably guaranteed his fate. But had they recognized or dealt with it much earlier, many young men would still have their lives ahead of them.

    • Absolutely. And how about the officer who waited until the last boy was being sodomized before approaching the car. I suppose he didn’t have cause, but seems to me like he waited too long. He should have pulled them over.


  6. The problem I have with merely blaming his past is that some people endure horrendous pasts as well and choose very different paths. In my mind, it was not a given that Bonin would become a serial rapist and killer. Each choice he made brought him closer and closer to that ultimate outcome. His past most definitely played a part, as did the authorities’ neglect, but I have to believe that we can make certain choices, and among those is getting help when you can’t control yourself. What a horrible story. You treated it well, Stacy. I can’t imagine what these families went through.

    • That’s very true. That’s why I think it’s a mixture of biology and environment. It wasn’t a given he would be a serial killer, but would he have been so violent had he not been molested? Perhaps he would have been a killer but not a sexual predator? It’s really hard to say.

      Thanks so much for the compliment and comment.

  7. Excellent! I totally enjoyed reading this. You did a good job of putting the facts into a concise, entertaining form.

    Did you know that the Co-ed Killer, Edmund Kemper, had also done time in a mental institution but was released? He went into the institution as a teenager and was released soon after he reached adulthood. Wanna know what he did? He killed both his grandparents. And they let him loose.

    Anyway, a lot of bad folks go free and do worse stuff. Bonin was obviously a mental case, but used up all his second chances.

    • Thanks. Like always, I worry if I’m including the right thing or giving too much information. I didn’t know that about Ed Kemper…unreal. It’s a lot like Mary, the child killer. The system has to abide by the law set for the age group, and it’s not right. But in Kemper’s case, if he was a teen he could have been charged as an adult.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  8. Environment does play a role in shaping us. But there comes a point when we make a choice. Even though he was abused as a child, Bonin reached a point in his life where he chose to continue the abuse – and take it a step further towards murder.

    • That’s very true. It does come down to choice. I just believe that evil like this is some kind of genetic anomaly, a disorder. Not to say it’s mental instability, but there has to be something in a person’s DNA that causes them to make such terrible choices, regardless of environment.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. I would say no. But that’s in hindsight. What a horrible childhood. Except at what point do we blame the past and at what point has someone given in to evil and not found help.


    • Very true. Hindsight is always 20/20. His childhood was brutal, but as you said, how much can we blame the past? It’s almost as if some of these killers have the perfect formula for evil.

      And thanks for the tip about your blog. Will check try to fix it:)

  10. Just wanted to let you know that the website address that you comment with on my blog leads to your old blog, not this one. 🙂 Not sure how you can change that.

  11. Stacy, I think the officer waiting until he was sodomizing that boy was the part that made my gut churn the most. Definitely a mind wired in a way to have no empathy and unable to see other human beings as worthy of compassion or remorse. I don’t think he should have been given a second chance, but hindsight is 20/20. Excellent job in writing this piece and compiling his history!

    • Me too. I don’t know why he had to do that but I’m hoping he had no choice. Yes, I think Bonin would be a true sociopath, no empathy or emotional attachment. Very sad – I wonder if he was profiled before his execution? Anyway, thank you!

  12. Tony Pierson

    I was from Bell Gardens and remember Charles Miranda. It haunts me to this day, because I could have stopped William Bonin before he killed some of those kids. I was ~14 (the year escapes me…before Charles was killed though) and I was walking by Colmar elementary in BG. This guy in an old car came up and asked if I knew where Downey was…and I told him yes, and he asked if I wanted to earn $5 helping him move. Without thinking, I said yes. Once in the car, he offered me the last sips of a soda (luckily I said no…Seemed like warm backwash to me). When we arrived at his apartment, I was the first one to walk inside, and I immediately sat by the door (another lucky move). He sat across from me. I looked down and there were porn magazines…which I thought was odd…he also asked for me to lock the door because “the neighborhood was bad”. I also realized about now that the apartment was well lived in…I.e. no need to help him “move in”. At this point, I became spooked and I got up to leave. He pleaded with me to wait, but I was out the door rather quickly. That was the end o the story…I just thought it was a strange pervert…and I never told anyone. But about a year or so later, there was a televised trial on the television (seemed like every day for months). Being a kid, I didn’t really watch much news…but the name “William Bonin” was definitely coming out of the news reports daily….One day, I happened to look at the TV screen, and to my utter shock, the defendant was the same guy that had picked me up. I guess I got lucky…but I am haunted by the fact that I did not go to the police. I guess the only thing I can add to the story is that I believe that the “soda” may have been laced with a bolus of some sort of sedative…and that’s how he may have incapacitated some of his victims. Rest in peace, Charles….

  13. From the research i have done on Bonin, he wasn’t the type to lace drinks with sedatives, he was very much into overpowering his victims with Vernon Butss as his main accomplice, this is evident in the kind of torture Bonin inflicted on these boys, Thomas Lundgren his first known murder is a case in point, emasculated, bludgeoned about the face and head, slashed accross the throat, stabbed and strangled, there was no real consistency with the method of murder, some strangled, somes battered to death, stabbed, ice picks through ears, forced to drink acid, i think this monster was in some kind of manic state when he finally got around to ending the victims suffering which was a delight for Bonin, None of these boys would have gotten away with a quick death.

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