Well documented case makes for compelling true crime series.
The Hillside Strangler (2021)
So, my wife is a pretty big fan of the true crime genre. Probably not the type that most cops would watch or read, but more of the dramatic retelling of a story. Some of it is fluff and some of it is factual, but usually they are told from the point of view of journalists with little knowledge of police work. We sat down to watch one this week that I thought it was excellent and on point.
This documentary is titled simply The Hillside Strangler (2021). It is a three-episode series that details the investigation into a series of murders in Los Angeles and Bellingham, Washington. It is a story told by the investigators and prosecutors directly involved in the case.
The Hillside Strangler was a series of murders of young women in Los Angeles in 1977 and 1978. There were 10 homicides that were included in the pattern. After February 1978 the pattern went cold without explanation. Detectives in Los Angles were befuddled by the case. It was clearly the work of a serial killer, but evidence pointed to two people working together to commit the gruesome acts, pretty unusual for a serial killer pattern.
The detectives were at a loss until they got a call from the Bellingham Washington Police Department. They had a double homicide where the victims were both young girls and they were both strangled. Bellingham Police had a suspect and they were sure that this was not his first time killing. In the days before ViCAP (the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program to track serial crimes), details of serious cases were usually word of mouth or via media. Bellingham knew that they had a potential serial killer and had tied him to Los Angeles. This phone call would close numerous open cases for the LAPD and introduce the second perp to the case.
The documentary details the investigation from the police standpoint. The perp in the Bellingham case was Kenneth Bianchi. He was arrested and claimed to have a split personality. He freely admitted his role in the crime but claimed a split personality disorder. He denied that he had committed these acts, but his alter ego had done them. The documentary has seemingly hours of police interviews with Bianchi from the 1979 case. This video alone is a compelling and a little terrifying to watch.
The documentary is narrated by the people directly involved with the homicide pattern. LAPD Detective Bob Grogan details his part of the investigation. He is a hardened detective, but still gets emotional 40 years after the case. Bellingham Crime Scene Investigator Robert Knudsen outlines the police response in Washington. He goes over his evidence fiber by fiber. The two explain how the case came together and how they identified the second perp, Angelo Buono.
The documentary also uses the Washington prosecutor Dave McEachran and California Attorney General’s Office Attorney Roger Boren and Michael Nash to explain the problems and legal solutions to Bianchi’s (the first perp) unusual defense. There are some reporter interviews to complement the story, and they play a role in the case.
There is a surprising amount of video from the actual cases for the era they occurred. The Bellingham Police seemed to video their entire case. LAPD crime scene photos are used as well. When combined with the videotaped interviews, it makes for a fascinating documentary. You get a good feel for the crime scenes and policework in general in the late 1970’s.
Each of the 3 episodes run about 45 minutes each. You can burn through them in one sitting. Don’t confuse this documentary with the several other films by the same name and covering the Hillside Strangler. The Hillside Strangler (2021) can be streamed on Spectrum on Demand, Amazon Prime with the Discovery Channel Plus. Check out this link to Justwatch.com to see all options.