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Thor Nis Christiansen
Born: 28 December 1957(1957-12-28)
Died: 30 March 1981 (aged 23)
Cause of death: stabbed to death in Folsom State Prison
Number of victims: 4
Span of killings: January 18, 1977–April 18, 1979
Country: U.S.
State(s): California
Date apprehended: July 11, 1979

Thor Nis Christiansen (28 December 1957 – 30 March 1981) was a serial killer from Solvang, California. He committed his first three murders in late 1976 and early 1977, killing young women of similar appearance from Isla Vista, California. His crimes motivated large demonstrations opposed to violence against women, and in favor of better transportation for the young people residing in Isla Vista. In 1979, he killed a young African-American woman from Los Angeles. A fifth intended victim escaped with a bullet in her head, and later identified him in a Los Angeles bar.


Early life

He was born in Denmark, and emigrated to Inglewood with his parents and on to Solvang when he was five years old. His father, Nis, ran a restaurant in Solvang. He had a high IQ and was a good student until his junior year of high school, when he began smoking marijuana, drinking, and neglecting his schoolwork. He moved out of his parents' house, dropped out of high school, and began working as a gas station attendant; he also gained a lot of weight, at one point weighing 275 pounds.


He was obsessed with fantasies of shooting women and having sex with their corpses. He stole a .22 caliber pistol from a friend and committed the first three murders. He then moved to Oregon, lost weight, and moved back to Santa Barbara County and completed his high school diploma at a junior college. He moved into an apartment in Goleta with another woman in her 20s whom he met while she was hitchhiking. While he was living with her he committed another murder. Christiansen would get his victims in his car; secondary sources indicate that the victims were presumed to be hitchhiking. He would then shoot them in the head with a 0.22 caliber pistol, and then rape them post-mortem. Christiansen shot his fifth intended victim, Lydia Preston, in the head in his vehicle on April 18, 1979, but she escaped, albeit severely injured.

Although several young women had disappeared from Isla Vista in late 1976, the first confirmed murder victim was Patricia Marie Laney, whose body was found on an isolated road in the Santa Ynez Mountains northwest of Isla Vista near Rancho del Cielo two days after her Jan. 18, 1977 disappearance; Jacqueline Anne Rook's body was found the next day near Laney's. Mary Ann Sarris' body was found on May 22, 1977 near Los Alamos. Laura Sue Benjamin's body was found in a culvert near Angeles Forest Highway and Big Tujunga Road in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles; she was reported to have been a prostitute.


Lydia Preston met Christiansen again on July 11, 1979 in the Bottom Line Bar in Hollywood, and reported him to police, who promptly arrested him. Because of Christiansen's address in Goleta, California and the similarity of Preston's experience to forensic evidence in the Rook, Sarris, and Laney cases, Christiansen became a suspect in the Isla Vista murders. After his apprehension, Santa Barbara County law enforcement realized they had investigated him as a suspect (among 100 others) in 1977, and had noted his possession of a 0.22 caliber pistol when he was arrested for drunk driving.


Christiansen was first tried in early 1980 in Santa Monica for the murder of Benjamin; he initially pleaded insanity, but he withdrew the plea. He then pleaded guilty in June 1980 in Santa Barbara to the Isla Vista murders, and sentenced to life in prison. At that time, California did not have the death penalty.


Christiansen was stabbed to death in Folsom State Prison on March 30, 1981; the perpetrator was not identified. Psychiatrists had predicted that he was likely to be killed in prison, as he was young, blond, and his last victim was African-American.


Patricia Laney has become a prominent symbol for groups that advocate against violence to women in the Santa Barbara/Goleta/Isla Vista area. She had been a community volunteer with organizations that advocated against violence to women. The Isla Vista Juggling Festival, which had its 30th meeting in 2006, was dedicated to her commencing in 1977.

The murders in 1976-1977 instilled an atmosphere of fear that effectively brought an end to the 1960s era in Isla Vista.



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