William Bonin is thought to have killed as many as 44 young men and boys. What lay behind his insatiable desire for death?
For the residents of Orange County in LA, the 1970s was an era of terror. Young boys and teenagers were disappearing, their mostly naked bodies discarded on freeways, in alleys, at petrol stations and national parks.
The boys were usually strangled, although some had other monstrous injuries.
All by the so-called ‘Freeway Killer’, William Bonin.
The body of Marcus Grabs, 17, was found on 6 August 1979. He’d been raped, and stabbed more than 70 times. On 27 August, Donald Hyden, 15, was found in a bin near a highway. He’d been strangled.
And the bodies kept coming. Most had been sodomised or sexually assaulted, then strangled.
The youngest victim, James McCabe, was just 12. The oldest was Darin Kendrick, 19. He’d been raped, strangled and had an ice pick driven 3½in into his head.
Finally, in June 1980, William George Bonin, 33, confessed to killing 21 young boys. He even walked detectives through each crime.
But what turned him into a sadistic murderer?
Born on 8 January 1947 in Connecticut, Bonin’s household was run by his violent, alcoholic father who gambled so much, he lost their home. It’s understood Bonin and his two brothers were often left to fend for themselves. Bonin also spent time in an orphanage.
Court records show he spent a brief spell in a detention centre in the 1950s, although it’s unclear why. However, while there, he was allegedly sexually assaulted.
Doctors later suggested Bonin had brain damage in the area thought to suppress violent impulses and suffered from Bipolar Disorder.
He’d served in the Vietnam War, and logged more than 700 hours manning a machine gun. But Bonin was later found to have sexually assaulted two soldiers under his command, at gunpoint.
In 1969, back home, Bonin abducted and sexually assaulted four teenage boys. He was committed to Atascadero State Hospital as a ‘mentally disordered sex offender amenable to treatment.’
In 1971, he was deemed untreatable, sent to jail, yet released in 1974. Soon after, he picked up a 14-year-old hitchhiker. He drove the boy to a field and raped him.
Bonin began choking the lad with his own T-shirt. The hitchhiker cried out and Bonin released him. ‘He apologised for choking me,’ the boy later said.
By 1979, wanting a bigger thrill, Bonin’s murder spree began. He murdered and raped until he was caught in June 1980.
‘I couldn’t stop it,’ he told a reporter afterwards. ‘It got easier each time.’
Bonin was only convicted of 14 killings, though he’s suspected of brutally assaulting and slaying as many as 44 young men and boys.
He was twice sentenced to die, and spent 14 years on death row.
He never showed remorse or sought forgiveness. On the day of his execution, he gave an interview.
Of the families he said: ‘They feel my death will bring closure, but that’s not the case. They’re going to find out.’
On 23 February 1996, in front of some of the victims’ families and the hitchhiker he’d raped then let go, William Bonin was finally executed by lethal injection. A justice for the victim’s families of sorts.