Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Love and Death: The Sunset Strip Killers

First Shock

At about 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 12, 1980, a Caltrans worker picking up trash along the Ventura Freeway embankments came across the nearly nude body of a teenaged girl. The young brunette lay facedown on a bush-covered embankment on the Forest Lawn Drive ramp that spilled onto the freeway. According to the Los Angeles Times, she had been shot in the head with a small caliber weapon.

Not far away, another girl around the same age lay dead. She was blond and she had been shot as well--in the head and chest--but her pink jumpsuit had not been removed. Nevertheless, it was slit up the leg as if whoever had killed her had been interested in some post-mortem activity. Louise Farr wrote in The Sunset Murders (the definitive account of these crimes) that there was fresh blood on this girl's face.

Apparently the girls had been killed elsewhere and then dumped down the sloping embankment. Possibly they had been hitch-hiking. They had no ID on them and their bodies were bloated from spending several hours that day in the sun. Even for Los Angeles, it had been an unusually hot summer. The police realized that unless someone reported them missing, it would not be easy to make an identification.

Kenneth Bianchi & Angelo Buono
Kenneth Bianchi & Angelo Buono

The investigators did note that this discovery was near the spot where murder victim Laura Collins had been dumped in 1977—a killing that had not yet been solved. Also, Yolanda Washington, victim of the Hillside Stranglers, had been killed and dumped on the opposite side of the road, closer to the famous Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery. Her killers, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, had been caught the year before and were in prison awaiting trial, but such murders often inspire copycats. It was clear that the two bodies had been placed there only a short time before and were in plain view, as if the killer did not care if they were found—a behavior similar to the Hillside Stranglers.

The next day, as the Dow hit 876 on the New York Stock Exchange—on Friday the 13th--Angelo Marano of Huntington Beach entered the city morgue to look at the bodies. He was distraught to discover that his worst fears had happened: the dead girls were his missing daughter, Gina, and stepdaughter, Cynthia Chandler. Gina was 15, Cynthia 16. He and his wife had been looking for them for more than a day, and when he'd seen the news report, he'd gone straight to the police.

Despite the family's request to be left alone, there were people who would talk about the girls to reporters, and it turned out that they were drug abusers, truants and frequent runaways. It was not clear when they'd last been seen. Newspaper accounts made it sound as if they had indulged in risky behavior.

Map of LA County with Sunset Strip area marked
Map of LA County with Sunset Strip
area marked

The autopsies indicated that when she was found, Cynthia had been dead for more than twelve hours, placing time of death around midnight. She clearly had been dragged across a rough place after she was killed. Gina had been shot twice in the head, and there was no obvious sign on either girl of sexual assault, although semen was located inside the vagina of one of them. There was some discussion among the police of possible necrophilic activity.

Soon a call came into the station from a woman who implicated her boyfriend in the killings but who refused to offer details that could help to locate him. She could have been just a crank caller—always an accompaniment to such crimes—but she was correct about how the murders had been done. She knew details that had not been released to the media. Her report that she and her boyfriend had recently washed the car, inside and out, was consistent with the way a killer would act who wished to remove evidence. But the switchboard cut her off and she did not call back. If she had, some lives could have been saved and she might not have taken the path she did.

It was no crank call.

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