Serial Killings Are a Darker Part of State’s History

Times Staff Writer

Chester Dewayne Turner was identified by Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton last weekend as the prime suspect in the deaths of 12 women between 1978 and 1998. Police believe the women were victims of the most prolific serial killer in city history. Here are some of California’s more infamous multiple murderers. Although their crimes may have faded from memory, some of their nicknames have not.

“The Zodiac Killer” was California’s most prolific and memorable, yet faceless, serial killer who taunted police and manipulated the media through boastful letters that kept score of his killings, which he said reached 37 or more in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s. He obtained his astral moniker after he scribbled zodiac signs around several of his crime scenes. He was never captured.

Juan V. Corona, a former farm labor contractor and the state’s most prolific convicted killer, was found guilty twice, in 1973 and 1982, and sentenced to life in prison without parole for hacking to death 25 transients and itinerant farm workers near Yuba City in Sutter County. Corona, who is assigned to Corcoran State Prison’s protective housing unit, has been denied parole six times.

“Gorilla Murderer” Earle Leonard Nelson was officially linked to 22 murders in 1926 and 1927 in California, other states and Canada, where he was captured, convicted and executed for strangling and sexually assaulting mostly elderly women. His prodigious strength earned him the moniker.


“Trash Bag Killer” Patrick Wayne Kearney of Redondo Beach pleaded guilty of cutting up 21 young male victims in 1977 and 1978 and leaving their body parts in trash bags along Southland freeways. He has confessed to at least 32 slayings in 10 counties between 1968 and 1976. He is at Mule Creek State Prison.

“Score Card Killer” Randy Steven Kraft, a soft-spoken computer programmer, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1989 for strangling 16 hitchhikers, mostly from Orange County, after drugging and sexually assaulting them. He is on death row at San Quentin. His killing spree ended in 1983 when police pulled over his car in Mission Viejo and found a dead Marine in the passenger seat. Photographs of some of his victims and a handwritten, coded “death list” were also found in his car, suggesting he may have killed as many as 65.

“Freeway Killer” William Bonin, an unemployed Downey truck driver, was charged with murdering and raping 16 boys and young men and dumping their bodies along roadsides in Orange and Los Angeles counties in 1979 and 1980. He confessed to 21, was convicted of 14 and was executed in 1996.

The “Zebra Murders” trial ended in 1976 with the conviction of four “Death Angel” members of a Black Muslim splinter group in San Francisco who were involved in random attacks on whites, killing 14 and wounding several others. The moniker came from police radio channel Z, which law enforcement officers used when working the case.


“Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez was convicted of 13 torture-murders in the L.A. area in 1984 and 1985; he remains on death row.

Leonard Lake and Charles Ng tortured and killed 11 people in a kidnapping and sex-slavery spree in Northern California in 1984 and 1985. Lake took a cyanide pill to commit suicide. Ng, whose 1999 trial was moved to Santa Ana because of pretrial publicity in Northern California, was convicted and sentenced to death. He is on death row.

“Skid Row Slayer” Michael Player was linked to the shooting deaths of 10 transients and the wounding of another in five weeks in 1986. Player shot and killed himself with the same .38-caliber pistol used in four of the skid row killings the day after the last victim was discovered.

In the “Hillside Strangler” case, cousins Angelo Buono Jr. and Kenneth Bianchi were convicted of sexual torture killings in 1977 and 1978. Most of the grisly murders took place at Buono’s Glendale upholstery shop, and the bodies were dumped on hillsides. Buono, who died in 2002, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for nine of the 10 killings. Bianchi was convicted of five in Los Angeles and two in Washington state. He got a life sentence through a plea bargain and will be eligible for parole next year.

The “Skid Row Slasher,” Vaughn Orrin Greenwood, was convicted of slashing the throats of nine transients as they slept in alleys and other areas downtown and in Hollywood in 1974 and 1975. He was suspected of killing at least 13 people. He was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison, and is in Ironwood State Prison in Blythe.

Charles Manson and “family” members were convicted in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and seven others. They were sentenced to die in the gas chamber, but when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972, their sentences were commuted to life. All have been denied parole.

“Coed Killer” Edmund Kemper III killed his grandparents in 1963, when he was 15, and was released from a mental hospital six years later. He was convicted of killing eight women in the Santa Cruz area during the early 1970s. He also killed his mother and a friend of hers. He turned himself in and is serving a multiple life sentence at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville.

James “Bluebeard” Watson, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered Southerner, was caught in 1920, having left a bloodstained trail of seven dead wives in cities from Canada to Washington to Idaho to Los Angeles. He married 22 women who had responded to his ads in newspapers, and he was suspected of killing 10 of them in his quest for fortune. Watson was arrested with a list of 60 other prospects. He died of pneumonia at San Quentin.


“Trailside Killer” David Joseph Carpenter was convicted of seven murders in Marin County and the Santa Cruz Mountains in the early 1980s; he is on death row.

“Sunset Strip Killer” Douglas Clark was suspected in 25 killings, eventually convicted of shooting and stabbing six women during sex acts and attempted the murder of a seventh in 1980. His accomplice, Carol Bundy, (who was not related to Seattle serial killer Ted Bundy) confessed to killing two, including her former lover.) Bundy, serving a life sentence, died of heart failure in prison in 2003; Clark is on death row.

“Vampire of Sacramento” Richard Trenton Chase, seized by a delusion that he had to consume human blood, shot and slashed six people in 1978, including a 22-month-old baby whose organs he hacked open before drinking the blood. He died of a drug overdose in 1980 while serving a life term.

“Redondo Beach Killer” Roy Norris and partner Lawrence Bittaker raped and killed five Southland teenage girls and recorded their screams on tape in 1979. Norris was given 45 years to life in prison and Bittaker is on death row.