Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Bonin: The Freeway Killer

The First Victim

By seven years old, William Bonin was already on his way to being a lost cause. The child of an abusive, alcoholic father who once gambled away the family home, Bonin and his brother were often left by their mother in the care of her father. Alice Benton left them with their grandfather despite the fact that she had grown up being sexually abused by the man, a well-known pedophile. Bonin's mother spent all of her free time playing bingo, often forgetting to feed her children, and neighbors said the Bonin boys were always hungry, dirty and ill-clothed.

During his eighth year, Bonin served his first stint behind bars, being jailed in juvenile hall for stealing license plates.

In that hellhole of a reformatory, Bonin became the sexual plaything to older boys, setting the stage for his own twisted understanding of sex. The detention home was a veritable house of horrors where sexual sadism, Inquisition-like punishments such as submersion in ice water, and threats at the point of a knife were commonplace.

While in detention, according to Connecticut medical records, Bonin had been approached for sex by an older boy and although young William was afraid of the attacker, agreed to participate, provided that he be restrained:

"An older boy approached Bonin for homosexual contact, and Bonin was frightened, but Bonin agreed to it if the older boy would tie his hands behind his backallowing Mr. Bonin to feel more secure and less frightened," the records showed.

To Dr. Jonathan H. Pincus, a Georgetown University Hospital neurologist who examined Bonin during his incarceration for the freeway killings, the incident suggests much about Bonin's earlier years. The fact that Bonin, at age 8, was sexually aware and asked for restraints led Pincus to believe he had been a prior victim of sexual assault.

"It is inconceivable that he was not sexually abused and forcibly restrained by adult abusers before" the incident, Pincus wrote in a report to Bonin's lawyers.

William eventually returned to his home, where he began fondling his brother and other children in the area.

William joined the U.S. Air Force and logged 700 hours in combat or patrol while serving as an aerial gunner in Vietnam, where his service record indicates he was a good soldier, winning a good conduct medal. It wasn't until after he received his honorable discharge that the military learned Bonin had sexually assaulted two men in his outfit at gunpoint.

He moved from his native Connecticut to Southern California, where he began the dark descent into savagery that would end in San Quentin twenty-one years later.


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