Read Hillside Stranglers Online

Authors: Darcy O'Brien

Hillside Stranglers (6 page)

“She run away from home sometimes,” Mrs. Miller said. “Then she come back. I seen her last month.”

“When last month?”

“Don’t know. Middle of the month, maybe. We had the apartment in Pasadena.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Miller,” Salerno said, “I’m very sorry to tell you this, but we believe your daughter may be dead. Would you mind looking at some photographs and telling me if this is Judy.?”

He showed them the coroner’s pictures. They both agreed that the body was Judy’s. The boy watched the cartoon.

“I’m very sorry,” Salerno said. He started to say more, to try to comfort them. That was a part of his job, maybe the hardest part, one of the many roles he had to play along with the sleuth, the tough guy, the buddy to a witness, the giver of precise court testimony, and, at home, the husband and father. Sometimes he saw himself as an actor, and it was then that he liked to say that after all, this was Hollywood, wasn’t it, and wasn’t Hollywood all bullshit anyway? Sometimes he thought the real Frank Salerno emerged only in a boat on a lake in the Sierras, holding a fishing pole, silent. But comforting victims, that was the most difficult of all. If you weren’t careful, you could get so emotionally involved with these martyrs to the
indifference and improvisational violence of a screwed-up society that you could go to pieces yourself, identify with the victims so much that you forgot who you were and what your primary responsibilities were, to your wife and children.

But Salerno looked at the Miller family and knew that there was little chance he would be able to identify with them. They were already done for. They were holed up in this motel room like people waiting for the end of the world, hoping it would come quickly. They had not needed the murder of their daughter to finish them off. They just sat there, bloodless, unmoving, expecting the worst, maybe even, Salerno thought, relieved that at least one burden had been taken from them. If so, it would not be the first time that he had encountered parents who, either beaten by life or from what was to him an incomprehensible indifference, apparently did not react to what happened to their children. It seemed a kind of emotional paralysis. Himself, he probably worried more about his son’s getting a driver’s license than about his homicide cases, but maternal and paternal love were more natural to animals than to human beings, Salerno had come to believe.

The Millers received in silence his questions about funeral arrangements. He tried to inquire about Judy’s friends. Was she dating anyone? The question mocked itself. They did not know where or how she had been living. He gave them his card and left.

Salerno felt like getting drunk. But it was just eight o’clock. He decided to try the Fish and Chips, which was nearby. The bounty hunter and the whore might be there.

Markust Camden was shoveling in his evening meal. He did not look pleased to see the sergeant, but Salerno went right up to him.

“How you doing, Markust? Everything going all right?”

“Oh, yeah. I just wish people would stop messing with my mind. I told you everything.”

Salerno did not think so. Gently, he probed Camden again about the events of the night before Halloween. What time had he seen Judy Miller? In what direction had she been heading when she left? Camden stuck to his previous answers. Salerno
tried softening him up by asking him about his activities during the day, previous to his seeing Judy Miller.

“Let’s see. It was just a day, man. I don’t know.”

“Well, did you work?”

“I ain’t been working. Somebody needs me, I work. They don’t, I don’t work.”

“What do you work at? You told me you were a disc jockey and a bounty hunter. Did you work at that lately?” Salerno’s voice was middle-register, calculated to reassure rather than to threaten.

“I do a lot of things, man.” He held up his big hands. From two fingers on the left hand, tips were missing. “These are lethal weapons. I go after you, it’s assault with a deadly weapon. I been a martial arts instructor. I can take care of myself and anybody else. I been a personal bodyguard.”

“You must be pretty tough.”

“Listen. You want something done? I’ll take care of it. I’ll do anything necessary for you for two hundred and fifty bucks a day.”

“That’s pretty reasonable. Do you own a car?”

“A car? No. I ain’t got wheels at the present time. Wheels come extra.”

Salerno had not considered Markust Camden much of a suspect anyway: there was something too frantic about him for a crime like this. He might have killed people in fights, but Salerno could not imagine him doing something as deliberate as these two murders seemed to have been. And if he was telling the truth about not having a car, that would make him still less suspect. The killers must have had a car. But Camden undoubtedly believed himself a suspect, and if he had seen more of Judy Miller that night, he might be afraid to reveal it.

“They tell me you’re called Youngblood on the street,” Salerno said.

“Yeah. That’s me. I’m Youngblood.”

“Well, Youngblood, try to remember what you were doing on that day. It could help us. It was Sunday, remember? The day before Halloween?”

“Yeah, okay. It’s coming back. It was like this. Okay? I got
up late, right? I went out and crushed somebody’s elbow that owed me some money and then I went and kicked the door in and took care of some other people. Then I took and went back to the hotel—”

“The hotel where you live, right? The Gilbert Hotel?”

“Right. I took and went back to the hotel, took a shower, went out and talked to a police officer—”

“A police officer. Sheriff’s deputy? LAPD? What’s his name?”

“Can’t recall. Jim. Charlie, could be.”

“What did you talk to him about?”

“Nothing in particular. I seen the guy. I talked to him. I seen him around. He’s all right. And after I left him I went down and made a big scene at the hot dog stand and I came back to the Gilbert Hotel and like to put a man in the hospital because he was getting a little bit too upset and after that, that was it. That was my daytime story.”

“This guy was getting too upset?”

“He was blocking the stairs, man. I helped him along. I helped him downstairs. That was it.”

“And later that night, you saw Judy Miller here?”

“That’s right. That’s the last I seen of her.”

“You’re sure that’s the last you saw of her?”

“That’s it. She just split.”

“You have no idea where she went?”

“She could of went anywheres, right? Looks like she went out and bought it, what you tell me.”

FOUR

“It finally made the papers,” Bianchi said. He was on the phone to Buono. “Little dipshit story way back where nobody will read it.”

“You at work?”

“Hell no. I took off. They think I have cancer.” Bianchi enjoyed telling people he had to go for a chemotherapy treatment when he didn’t feel like working. He was lounging in his Hollywood apartment, which he shared with his girlfriend. “I’m at Tamarind. Kelli’s out.”

“I don’t want you calling me about this shit from work.”

“Angelo, Angelo,” Bianchi said in his unmodulated, boyish way, “I know that much. Anyway, it’s in the paper. Might be on the news tonight. They still don’t know who she is. Was.”

“The cunt don’t have no name?”

“Sheriff’s asking for public assistance, can you beat that? Maybe we should help them out. They might offer a reward.
Boy, that would be something. We ought to figure out how to make money from this deal. How many times do you think we could work this thing?”

“The scam’s a winner. The scam’s foolproof. We can do what we goddam like. Just so we’re careful.”

“The Buzzard strikes again.”

“Got to be another,” Angelo said. “We do another, we put every bitch on notice. One other anyways.”

“You know you’re right? I mean, nobody’s going to notice this, looks like.”

“Got to be done. Some girls deserve to die. Dead people tell no tales.”

“Yeah. Tonight?”

“I got too much work piled up here. I’m gonna be beat tonight. I got this Bentley, the guy is pissed it ain’t ready. Maybe Saturday.”

“Saturday’s not too good for me. You know, Kelli likes to go out Saturday nights.”

“I always said you was pussy-whipped.”

“Okay, okay, don’t get me wrong. Saturday’s okay.”

“I got a customer.” Angelo hung up.

Bianchi reread the newspaper article a few times and spent the afternoon watching soap operas and browsing through the latest addition to his library of texts on psychology,
Psychoanalysis and Behavior Therapy.
The walls of his apartment were decorated with framed degrees and certificates, including a Master of Science from Columbia University and a diploma conferring on him the title of “Certified Sex Therapist, in recognition of his attaining the required standards of competency, awarded by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, Washington, D.C.” He kept other bogus degrees at the office he had rented in North Hollywood at a nominal rate from a bona fide psychologist, Dr. Charles Weingarten, who had been most impressed by the spiel Bianchi had spun for him about Gestalt therapy and transactional analysis. Dr. Weingarten had thought the young Dr. Bianchi so pleasant and so sincere that he had been moved to give a struggling colleague a break.

At this office, in a tower on Lankershim Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, Dr. Bianchi offered weight-reduction counseling to young women. Some had responded to a flyer Bianchi had distributed which bore the salutation “Hi, Neighbor!” and asked why anyone would want to pay exorbitant fees for counseling when Dr. Bianchi from Columbia University would answer any five questions for ten dollars. Bianchi’s office walls displayed an Honorary Doctorate in Psychiatry from the National Psychiatric Association of America and a Certificate of Achievement Award of Merit as Intern in Residence, Strong Memorial Hospital, New York City. His practice, however, cannot be said to have flourished. He was leading such a varied, busy life, he had not been able to devote his full intellectual resources to counseling; but there was the future.

In the meanwhile he had another scam cooking. One day, looking respectable in his three-piece suit and carrying his attaché case, he wandered into some offices at Universal Studios, having conned his way past the guarded gates, and hung around as though he had an appointment, waiting for a receptionist to leave her desk. When she did, he grabbed some stationery and left. He knew it would be of use in carrying out his new idea. He would pose as a movie scout. Every other girl he met in Los Angeles aspired to stardom. Why not encourage their hopes and pick up some cash? He was especially short of money now that a prostitution scheme he and Angelo had shared was defunct.

The wind from the east, thirty and forty miles an hour, was whipping the Italian flag Saturday night, November 5, when Bianchi arrived at Angelo’s house. He had been telephoning all week, anxious to make thorough preparations, but Angelo had been closemouthed, as usual, saying he would take care of everything, all Kenny had to do was follow orders. Angelo had suggested, however, that it would be a good idea for Kenny to obtain a police badge, too, and had tipped him off to a swap meet where you could get anything you wanted—badges, guns, uniforms. Bianchi found Angelo watching television in the den and proudly showed him the new badge. It was the star of the California Highway Patrol.

“Great,” Angelo said, “you dumb shit. You think we’re giving traffic tickets?” Angelo’s badge was an LAPD shield. “Well, it don’t probably matter. Cunts don’t know the difference. You get away all right? You get permission to go out like a good boy?”

“Come on,” Bianchi said. “She understands. I come and go as I please.”

“Sure.”

But Kelli and Kenny had fought over his going out on a Saturday night. He had said he needed to be alone. She had accused him of neglecting her because she was pregnant. By the time he had left, he had told her that no man wanted to spend time with a pregnant bitch who was sick all the time, and he reminded her that he had said all along that she should get an abortion. Driving over to Glendale, he was already planning how to mollify her the next day. He would write her a poem and bring her flowers. The poem would be about sadness and loneliness and their child growing within her. She would go for it.

“I’m ready when you are,” Bianchi said.

Angelo looked up at him and stared. Angelo was wearing a T-shirt. Through the hair on his strong, long arms his tattoos showed: on the left forearm, a capital B in Old English lettering, a black panther on the left upper arm; on the right upper arm the head of a panther, on the right forearm a rose with a banner proclaiming “Mother.” He continued staring at Bianchi.

“What are you staring at me, Angelo? Makes me nervous. Hey, Tony, why are you staring at me like that?”

Angelo let a smile form: “You know,
mi numi
. . . you know.”

Bianchi followed Angelo into the kitchen. On the counter he had laid everything out: tape, foam, rag, cord. So prudent, he had already cut everything into the right lengths. He had even stuck the foam onto a long piece of tape, so that all they would have to do was apply it to her eyes and wrap her head. Whoever she would be.

“No sense running back and forth from the shop,” Angelo said. “I’ll get a shirt and my jacket.”

Outside at the car, the wind blowing, the night smogless and starry, Angelo had another idea and stepped into his shop. He produced a flashlight, bright metal with a red plastic rim around the glass. “This’ll be a good touch,” he said.

Bianchi drove this time. At the corner of San Fernando and Los Feliz, just a couple of blocks from Forest Lawn, Angelo pointed to a Mexican fast-food restaurant and said, “Pull over there. I got to eat something.” Bianchi waited in the car until Buono came out, bearing a big beef burrito. As they pulled out of the restaurant, Buono mumbled through a mouthful of tortilla, “Hey, look over there. Beep your horn.”

Across the street at a gas station, Angelo had spotted one of his ex-wives, Candy, and their daughter, Grace. Bianchi beeped, everyone waved, and Bianchi headed the Cadillac for Hollywood.

They turned down Western and out Sunset to the Strip, passing Carney’s, the railroad diner, glancing at each other to acknowledge a now-hallowed spot. The Strip was alive, the traffic thick, the sidewalks crowded, too crowded for a pickup. At La Cienega Boulevard, Buono told Bianchi to head back toward Hollywood. They would try the side streets, the dimly lit ones. “We could check out the parking lots,” Buono said. “I was thinking, she don’t even have to be a hooker, you know?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why she have to be a hooker? With this scam, we could stop anybody. We could stop a fucking nun, see what I mean? We got our pick of the city,
mi numi.
We got it all. You got to think big. We could find us a virgin.”

“You’re really on tonight, Angelo.”

Angelo outlined the possibilities. Why, he wondered, couldn’t they carry their police ruse one step further? They could stop a girl, any girl. Say they’re taking her in. Once she’s in the car, it’s all over. The girl wouldn’t even have to be walking. She could be driving. They could spot some girl driving alone and just follow her. She would stop somewhere. She would be driving home. She would lead them to some side street with nobody on it and they could make their move. Bianchi
agreed that it could work. It was worth a try. With this scam, there was no telling what they could do.

“I can taste it,” Bianchi said. “I can taste it now.”

“Just keep your pecker in your pants till we get home.”

At Highland they turned left, northward toward the Hollywood Hills.

“I’ll try around my place,” Bianchi said.

“Not too close.”

And then they spotted her. A dark-headed girl driving a lime-green Beetle convertible.

“Follow that,” Buono said. “Get close enough we can look her over. Follow her.”

The Beetle turned right onto Franklin with the Cadillac in pursuit, crossed Cahuenga and Vine, passed under the Hollywood Freeway, and turned left on Argyle Avenue, a street of apartment houses.

“Slow down,” Buono said. “She’s going to park.”

Near the corner of Argyle and Dix Street, the girl stopped against the curb and switched off her lights.

“Just double-park behind her,” Buono said. “Get your badge ready. Be cool. Be real cool. Looks good. No one else around.

As the girl got out of her car and started to lock the door, Buono and Bianchi were on her. Buono had his flashlight.

“Police officers,” Bianchi said, quickly showing her his CHP star, which he had pinned to his wallet, and just as quickly slipping it back into the pocket of his leather coat. “May we see some identification?” The girl fumbled in her purse and brought out her driver’s license. Bianchi glanced at the license and handed it to Buono, who shined his flashlight on it.

“Why am I being stopped?” Lissa Kastin asked. “Did I run a light or something?”

“There’s been some trouble, Miss, ah . . .” Buono tried to puzzle out the syllables of her name on the license. Bianchi looked at it under the flashlight.

“There’s been a robbery, Miss Kastin,” Bianchi said. “Your car was pointed out by a witness as leaving the scene.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Lissa Kastin said. “I just got off work.”

“Where do you work?” Bianchi asked.

“Healthfaire Restaurant. I’m a waitress.”

“A waitress. And what is the location of the Healthfaire Restaurant?”

“Vine Street.”

“That’s very near where the alleged robbery took place.”

“You have to go along with us,” Buono said.

“We’ll have to take you in for questioning.”

“But this is a complete mistake,” she said. “I haven’t done anything. There must be hundreds of cars like mine around. There’s been a mistake.”

“It’s a very distinctive color,” Bianchi said. “You’ll have to come with us. Just step over to our car there.”

“You have no reason at all to question me,” Lissa Kastin said. Her voice was beginning to sound angry, and she made a step backward toward her car.

“You don’t want to make a scene here,” Angelo said, approaching her.

“You have no right,” she said, her voice rising.

“You don’t want to start something here on the street, do you?” Bianchi said. “So you’d better just come along with us, and if everything checks out, we’ll bring you back again. If you haven’t done anything, everything will check out. That’s what we have our systems for. You’d better step over to our car now.”

Lissa Kastin hesitated, then walked slowly over to the Cadillac. Buono opened the right rear door and ushered her in, sitting down beside her. As they started up, Bianchi clicked the automatic door locks. He made a U-turn, headed east on Franklin, and passed Tamarind Avenue, his own street. At Western, he turned left, and Angelo said:

“I’m going to have to put handcuffs on you.”

“You must be kidding! What is this? Why do you guys have to play cops and robbers? You don’t have to handcuff me! I’m telling you, I haven’t done anything!”

“It’s procedure,” Angelo said. “It’s police procedure.”

“Wait a minute. There’s no need for you to put handcuffs
on me.” She lowered her voice. “Look, I’m not going anyplace. You’ve got me. I can’t go anywhere. I’m not going anywhere.”

“We really wish we didn’t have to, Miss Kastin,” Bianchi said soothingly from the driver’s seat. “Believe me, if it were up to us, we wouldn’t do it. But you have to understand, some suspects aren’t nearly as cooperative as we know you’ll be. We’ve had some pretty ugly incidents, if you understand me. Officers have been hurt, you know, just doing their duty. So we’ve evolved these procedures. Because if you make one exception, then the whole system breaks down. We hope you understand.”

“Fine,” she said, sighing. She leaned forward, and Buono handcuffed her behind her back.

“I’m double-locking,” he said. “That way they don’t hurt.”

“This is a bunch of baloney,” she said. “You guys are wasting your time. When you check me out, you’re going to find out you wasted your time. This is a false arrest.”

“We have probable cause,” Bianchi said. “I’m sure everything will check out. Then we can take you back.”

“I am completely innocent,” she said. “I’ve never done anything in my life. I’m nothing but a lousy waitress. Why don’t you pick on a real crook?”

“We have to follow up leads,” Bianchi said. “If you’re innocent, you have nothing to worry about.”

From time to time as they drove toward Glendale, Lissa Kastin continued to protest, and when at last Bianchi pulled into Angelo’s driveway and cut the motor, she refused to get out of the car. But Bianchi coaxed her into the house, suggesting that she had no choice, which she did not.

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