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William Bonin

William Bonin's mug shot.
Background information
Birth name: William George Bonin
Also known as: The Freeway Killer
Born: January 8, 1947
Willimantic, Connecticut, United States
Died: February 23, 1996 (aged 49)
Cause of death: Lethal injection
Conviction: Attempted Abduction
Sexual Assault
Sentence: Death
Number of victims: 21-36
Span of killings: May 28, 1979 – June 2, 1980
Country: United StatesUSA
State(s): California
Date apprehended: June 11, 1980

William George Bonin (January 8, 1947 – February 23, 1996) was an American serial killer and a twice-paroled sex offender,[1] also known as the Freeway Killer, a nickname he shares with two other serial killers. Between 1979 and 1980, Bonin tortured, raped and killed a minimum of 21 boys and young men, and is suspected of committing a further fifteen. Bonin was convicted and eventually executed in 1996 for 14 of these murders.


Early life

Bonin was born in Connecticut in January, 1947, the second of three brothers. His father was a compulsive gambler and alcoholic,[2] who beat his wife and sons.[3] Bonin's mother, Alice, was also an alcoholic, who frequently left Bonin and his brothers in the care of their grandfather, a convicted child molester. Bonin and his brothers were neglected as children, and were often fed by neighbors.[4]

In 1953, aged six, Bonin was placed in an orphanage,[5] where he remained until the age of nine.[6]

At the age of ten, Bonin was arrested for stealing license plates, and he soon ended up in a juvenile detention center for other minor crimes where he was sexually abused by older boys.[7] By his teens, back home with his mother, Bonin began molesting younger children.

After high school, Bonin became engaged to marry,[8] and joined the U.S. Air Force. Bonin served in the Vietnam War as an aerial gunner, logging over 700 hours of active duty[9] and earning a Good Conduct Medal. While serving in Vietnam, Bonin risked his own life under fire to save the life of a fellow soldier,[10] but also later admitted to sexually assaulting two fellow soldiers at gunpoint.[11] Bonin was released from the U.S. Air Force in October, 1968[12] and returned to Connecticut to live with his mother[13] before moving to California.

On November 17, 1968,[14] at age 21, Bonin committed a sexual assault on a youth. In late 1968 and early 1969, Bonin kidnapped and assaulted a further four youths between the ages of twelve and eighteen.[15] In 1969, Bonin was indicted on five counts of kidnapping and four counts of sexual assault on five youths. Bonin pled guilty to molestation and forced oral copulation and was sentenced to the Atascadero State Hospital as a mentally disordered sexual offender amenable to treatment.[16] In 1971, Bonin was sent to prison, declared unamenable for further treatment.[17]

Bonin was released in May 1974 after doctors concluded he was 'no longer a danger to others', but was back behind bars just sixteen months later for raping a 14-year-old hitchiker named David McVicker at gunpoint and attempting to abduct another teenager,[18] for which Bonin was sentenced to between one and fifteen years in prison at Orange County Jail.

In October 1978, Bonin was once again released, with eighteen months probation. Bonin took a job as a truck driver, rented an apartment in Downey and even found a girlfriend. In 1979, Bonin was again arrested for molesting a teenage boy. This parole violation meant that he should have been sent back to prison, but an administrative error meant he was released.[19] A close friend who collected Bonin from the Orange County police station later recalled that as he was driving Bonin home, Bonin told him: "No-one's going to testify again. This is never going to happen to me again."[20]

Murder spree

Bonin usually selected young male hitchikers, schoolboys or, occasionally, male prostitutes as his victims. The victims, aged between twelve and nineteen, were either enticed or forced into his Chevy van, overpowered, had their hands tied behind their back, were sexually assaulted, tortured and then usually killed by strangulation with their own t-shirt, although some were stabbed or battered to death. One victim, Darin Kendrick, was forced to drink chlorohydrate acid, two victims had ice-picks driven into their ears[21] and another victim, Mark Shelton, died of shock.[22] The victims were usually killed inside Bonin's van and most were discarded alongside various southern Californian freeways. In at least eleven of the murders, Bonin was assisted by one of his four known accomplices.[23]

The first murder for which Bonin was charged was that of a 14-year-old hitchhiker named Thomas Lundgren. The youth was kidnapped, assaulted and killed on the morning of May 28, 1979. Lundgren's body was found near a freeway in Agoura.[24] An autopsy showed that Lundgren had been emasculated, bludgeoned, stabbed, and strangled to death.[25] Bonin carried out the crime with his primary accomplice, Vernon Butts, who is suspected of accompanying Bonin on at least six of the murders.

Three months later, on August 4, 1979, Bonin abducted and killed a 17-year-old Westminster youth named Mark Shelton and the following day, accompanied by Vernon Butts, a West German exchange student named Marcus Grabs, who was stabbed more than seventy times[26] and discarded alongside a Malibu freeway.[27] On August 27, Bonin and Butts abducted and killed a 15-year-old named Donald Hyden and discarded his body near the Ventura Freeway.[28] Between September and December 1979, Bonin killed five more teenage boys, either operating alone or with the assistance of Butts or another accomplice, 19-year-old James Munro, who assisted Bonin in the December murder of 17-year-old Dennis Frank Fox.[29]

On January 1, 1980, Bonin brutalized and killed 16-year-old Michael McDonald. A month later, on February 3 in Hollywood, Bonin, assisted by a young man named Gregory Miley, abducted a 15-year-old hitchhiker named Charles Miranda.[30] The victim was overpowered, assaulted, then garroted. Miranda's nude corpse was then dumped in an alleyway.[31] Bonin then suggested to Miley: "I'm horny, let's go and do another one." A few hours later, in Huntington Beach, Bonin and Miley abducted, raped, and killed James McCabe who, at age 12, was Bonin's youngest victim. McCabe was picked up while hitch-hiking to Disneyland. His strangled, beaten body was found three days later alongside a dumpster in the City of Walnut.

Bonin did not kill again until March 14, when he abducted and killed 18-year-old Ronald Gaitlin, but by the end of the month he had killed a further three times. On April 10, Bonin killed twice on the same day. Three weeks later, on April 29 in Stanton, Bonin and Butts lured a 19-year-old supermarket employee named Darin Kendrick into Bonin's van while parked in the parking lot of the store where Kendrick worked.[32] Kendrick's body was discarded near the Artesia Freeway.[33]

On May 19, Bonin again asked Butts to accompany him on a killing, but Butts reportedly refused to accompany him. Bonin - operating alone - abducted a 14-year-old South Gate youth named Sean King from a bus stop in Downey and discarded his body in Yucaipa.[34][35] Bonin then visited Butts' residence and bragged of the killing to his accomplice.[36]

By early 1980, the murders committed by the Freeway Killer, as he was known in the press, were receiving considerable media attention. On May 29, one of Bonin's acquaintances, a teenager named Billy Pugh, serving a prison sentence for auto theft, heard the details of the murders on a local radio broadcast and suspected Bonin may be behind the killings.[37] Pugh reported his suspicions to the police and, upon investigating Bonin's background and discovering he had a string of convictions for sexually assaulting teenage boys, the police decided to place him under surveillance. The surveillance of Bonin began June 2, 1980.

On June 2, the same day as police surveillance of Bonin began,[38] Bonin killed his final victim; an 18-year-old print shop worker named Steven Wells, who Bonin abducted from a bus stop on El Segundo Boulevard. Wells was killed in Bonin's own apartment, where he was raped, beaten, then strangled with his own t-shirt. Bonin was assisted in this final murder by his lodger, James Munro,[39] and in the disposal of the body by both Munro and Vernon Butts.[40]

On June 11, after nine days of surveillance, police observed Bonin attempting to pick up five separate teenage boys,[41] then succeed in luring a youth into his van. The police followed him until his van parked in a desolate parking lot, where they arrested him in the act of assaulting a 15-year-old identified as Harold T.[42][43]

Freeway Killer victims
1. Thomas Lundgren (14)  – May 28, 1979
2. Mark Shelton (17)  – August 4, 1979
3. Marcus Grabs (17)  – August 5, 1979
4. Donald Hyden (15)  – August 27, 1979
5. David Murillo (17)  – September 9, 1979
6. Robert Wirostek (16)  – September 27, 1979
7. John Doe (14-20)  – November 30, 1979
8. Dennis Frank Fox (17)  – December 2, 1979
9. John Doe (15-20)  – December 13, 1979
10. Michael McDonald (16)  – January 1, 1980
11. Charles Miranda (15)  – February 3, 1980
12. James McCabe (12)  – February 3, 1980
13. Ronald Gaitlin (18)  – March 14, 1980
14. Harry Todd Turner (15)  – March 20, 1980
15. Glen Barker (14)  – March 21, 1980
16. Russell Rugh (15)  – March 22, 1980
17. Steven Wood (16)  – April 10, 1980
18. Lawrence Sharp (18)  – April 10, 1980
19. Darin Lee Kendrick (19)  – April 29, 1980
20. Sean King (14)  – May 19, 1980
21. Steven Wells (18)  – June 2, 1980


Bonin and his four known accomplices in murder were convicted of fourteen murders committed between August 5, 1979 and June 2, 1980, although Bonin was also charged with two additional murders for which he was acquitted at his first trial in Los Angeles County. Of these murders for which Bonin was convicted, ten were committed in the Los Angeles County and four in nearby Orange County, however, the ' Freeway Killer ', was suspected of committing at least 21 murders. The killings for which Bonin was convicted are shown in italics on the table to the right.

In six murders; those of Lundgren, Grabs, Hyden, Murrillo, Kendrick and Wells, Bonin was assisted by his primary accomplice, Vernon Butts, a 22-year-old factory worker who, according to Bonin, was an extremely active accomplice.[44][45] Butts, who had met Bonin at a party in 1978, was a part-time magician who hired out his talents to private parties.[46] Butts also boasted of being a wizard, and slept in a coffin.

Bonin was assisted by 19-year-old Gregory Matthews Miley in the February 3 murders of Miranda and McCabe. Miley then returned to his native Houston in March, 1980.[47].

James Michael Munro, Bonin's lodger and co-worker, accompanied Bonin on two murders: those of Dennis Frank Fox and Steven Wells. The day after Bonin was arrested, Munro fled to his native Michigan.[48]

Following Bonin's arrest, police discovered through Bonin's friends that 18-year-old William 'Billy' Pugh,[49] Bonin's acquaintance who had informed them Bonin may be the Freeway Killer, knew Bonin better than he had initially divulged; police later discovered that Pugh had actually accompanied Bonin on one of his killings; that of Harry Turner, a 15-year-old runaway from Lancaster[50] who was killed on March 20, 1980.[51]

  • Bonin was charged with, but subsequently cleared of, the murders of Sean King and Thomas Lundgren, both aged fourteen. However, Bonin did confess to both murders.
  • In April 1979, just one month before Bonin's first known murder, two hitchhikers named Danny Jordan and Mark Proctor disappeared while traveling to Laguna Beach. Proctor's body was found about a week after they were reported missing. Jordan's was found a few years later. Both of the young boys bodies were found in Palmdale off a hiking trail. Amounts of Chloral hydrate consistent with its use as a sedative were found in their systems. However, Bonin was never charged with either of these two murders.[citation needed]


In custody, Bonin confessed to abducting, raping, and killing 21 boys and young men, naming Butts as his primary accomplice. Police also suspect Bonin may be responsible for approximately fifteen other murders. Between July 26 and July 29, Bonin was charged with 16 of the murders to which he confessed and upon which the prosecution believed they had sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. He expressed no remorse and told one reporter who asked Bonin what he would do if he were still at large: "I'd still be killing, I couldn't stop killing. It got easier each time."[52]

Based on Bonin's confession, police arrested Vernon Butts on July 25, and charged Butts with accompanying Bonin on six of the murders. On July 31, Munro was arrested in Michigan and charged with the murder of Steven Wells and on August 22, Miley was arrested in Texas and charged with the murders of Charles Miranda and James McCabe. Butts, Miley and Munro all agreed to testify against Bonin in exchange for being spared the death penalty.[53]


Bonin was brought to trial in Los Angeles County, charged with the murder of twelve of his victims whose bodies had been found within this constituency, on November 5, 1981. Deputy District Attorney, Stirling Norris, who prosecuted Bonin, sought the death penalty for each count of murder for which Bonin was tried, stating in his opening speech to the jury: "we will prove he is the Freeway Killer, as he has bragged to a number of witnesses. We will show you that he enjoyed the killings. Not only did he enjoy it, and plan to enjoy it, he had an insatiable demand, an insatiable appetite - not only for sodomy, but for killing." [54] Both Miley and Munro testified against Bonin at this trial. Bonin was physically linked to many of the murders by blood and semen stains, hair and carpet fibres. Medical evidence showed that six of the murders for which Bonin was charged were committed by a unique 'windlass' strangulation method, which was referred to by Stirling Norris as "a signature, a trademark."

"He had a total disregard for the sanctity of human life. Sadistic, unbelievably cruel, senseless and deliberately premeditated. Guilty beyond any possible or imaginary doubt."
Los Angeles County Judge William Steele pronouncing sentence upon Bonin.[55]

The trial lasted until January 5, 1982. After six days of deliberation,[56] the jury convicted Bonin of ten of the murders, but cleared him of the murders of Thomas Lundgren and Sean King. Bonin was sentenced to death for the ten murders of which he was convicted.

Bonin was cleared of the murder of Sean King because he had led police to the body of the victim in December, 1980, with the agreement that his leading police to King's body could not be used against him in court:[57] he was cleared of Thomas Lundgren's murder because he chose to deny this particular killing at his trial.[58]

In March, 1983, Bonin was tried in Orange County,[59] charged with the murder of four further victims who had been found murdered between December 1979 and April 1980. On August 26, 1983, Bonin was convicted on all four counts of murder.[60]

Bonin spent fourteen years on Death Row, awaiting execution in the gas chamber. Bonin did appeal several times against his conviction, without success.[61]

In 1992, following the execution of Robert Alton Harris, the State of California opted to use lethal injection as an alternate method of execution to the gas chamber, branding the gas chamber a 'cruel and unusual' method of execution.[62]


Bonin was executed on February 23, 1996, sixteen years after his arrest. He was executed by lethal injection inside the old gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison. Bonin was the first person to be executed by lethal injection in the history of California.[63] In his last statement, given to the Warden one hour prior to his execution, Bonin again expressed no remorse for his crimes and left a note which simply stated: 'I feel the death penalty is not an answer to the problems at hand. I feel it sends the wrong message to the people of this country. Young people act as they see other people acting instead of as people tell them to act. I would advise that when a person has a thought of doing anything serious against the law, that before they did, they should go to a quiet place and think about it seriously.' [64] William Bonin was 49 at the time of his execution.

  • Bonin's main accomplice, Vernon Butts, accused of accompanying Bonin at least six of the murders, hanged himself with a towel on January 11, 1981, while awaiting trial.[65] Butts had told police the killing spree had been "a good little nightmare."
  • Gregory Miley, a 19-year-old casual labourer from Texas, was given a sentence of 25 years to life for the February, 1980 murder of 15-year-old Charles Miranda.
  • James Michael Munro was sentenced to 15 years to life, for the murder of Steven Wells. Munro has repeatedly appealed against his sentence, claiming that he had been tricked into accepting a plea bargain.[66]
  • Bonin's fourth accomplice, Billy Pugh, aged 18, who had been present at the murder of 15-year-old Harry Turner in March 1980, was given a six-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

Other "Freeway Killers"

In July, 1977, three years prior to Bonin's arrest, Patrick Kearney, who also selected young men as victims from the freeways of Southern California, was arrested. He had also discarded many of his victims alongside freeways, although many of his victims were dismembered and discarded in trash bags.[67]

Following Bonin's arrest, young men and boys continued to turn up dead along the freeways of Southern California, leading police to initially believe that he had other accomplices who were still active. However, these later murders turned out to have been committed by Randy Steven Kraft, who was arrested in May, 1983. Kraft acted entirely separately from Bonin, however he happened to have a similar disposal modus operandi, and many of his victims were United States Marines who were drugged before they were killed. The three independent killers collectively may have claimed up to 130 victims.

See also



  1. ^ "Around the Nation; California Murderer Gets Death Sentence". New York Times. March 13, 1982. Retrieved November 4, 2009. 
  2. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 161
  3. ^
  4. ^,2409332&dq
  5. ^
  6. ^,2409332&dq
  7. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 161-162
  8. ^
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^
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  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
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  18. ^
  19. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 163
  20. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 163-164
  21. ^ True Crime ISBN 9-770261-264039 p10
  22. ^,535795&dq
  23. ^ [2]
  24. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 152-153
  25. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 153
  26. ^
  27. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 174
  28. ^,4499818&dq
  29. ^ [3]
  30. ^,4924367&dq
  31. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 172
  32. ^,1349311&dq
  33. ^
  34. ^,6266733&dq
  35. ^,4236800&dq
  36. ^,6225569&dq
  37. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 165
  38. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 166
  39. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 166
  40. ^ [4]
  41. ^ [5]
  42. ^ [6]
  43. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 159-161
  44. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 173-174
  45. ^ [7]
  46. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 166
  47. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 172
  48. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 181
  49. ^,3320409&dq
  50. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 172
  51. ^,2214973&dq
  52. ^ True Crime ISBN 9-770261-264039 p11-12
  53. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 171-172
  54. ^ True Crime ISBN 9-770261-264039 p11-12-13
  55. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 175
  56. ^ True Crime ISBN 9-770261-264039 p12
  57. ^
  58. ^,3431094&dq
  59. ^,3415183&dq
  60. ^ [8]
  61. ^ [9]
  62. ^ [10]
  63. ^ [11]
  64. ^ [12]
  65. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 174
  66. ^ [13]
  67. ^ Angel of Darkness ISBN 0-7088-5342-0 p, 137

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