Many people think of surf and sunshine when they think of California. The huge, beautiful state that separates most of the US from the Pacific Ocean is a dream: a laid-back, low-stress way of life and maybe even a chance to become famous.
But just like the palm trees that line its sunny streets can hide rat nests, California has been home to some of the most famous people in the United States. From the Zodiac Killer to the Night Stalker to the Grim Sleeper, many well-known predators have either been in California or did most of their bad things there.
This list looks at some of the most terrifying serial killers in California. From the past to the present, California has had a bloody history that is almost unmatched by the rest of the United States. This casts a dark shadow over a state that is known for its warmth. Let’s read in detail about California’s 16 Most Terrifying Serial Killers .
1. Lawrence Bittaker and His Bag of Scary Tricks
Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris scared people in the Los Angeles area in 1979. Over the course of about six months, they killed the five young women. When Bittaker and Norris met for the first time in jail, they quickly became friends because they were both sadists. In June 1979, they picked up their first victim, Lucinda Lynn Schaefer, who was 16 years old.
Bittaker’s M.O. was to get young women into his van, where he and Norris would use tools from the infamous “toolbox” on them.
They even made an audio recording of what they did, which was played in the courtroom during their trial and made some people throw up. Bittaker is still on death row in California, where he has the cruel nickname “Pliers.”
Place of birth: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
2. The Golden State Killer Was Not Caught for Many Years
The Golden State Killer, who is also called the “East Area Rapist” and the “Original Night Stalker,” is a dangerous attacker who is thought to have killed at least 13 people and attacked 45 others sexually in California in the 1970s and 1980s before suddenly stopping in 1986.
The Golden State Killer was a small, nimble man who broke into the homes of his victims, who were often a married pair, and beat the man while he held the woman down. The GSK also had the creepy habit of calling his victims just to mess with them if they got through the nightmare he gave them.
On April 25, 2018, the cops said they had caught a person they think is the man terrorizing California. Investigators tied former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo to two of the victims by finding that his DNA matched a sample of the killer’s DNA. They did this by looking at a database of family trees. Authorities charged DeAngelo with 26 different crimes.
3. 61 Young Men May Have Been Killed by the Scorecard Killer
Between 1972 and 1983, Randy Steven Kraft killed a lot of people in horrible ways. Most of Kraft’s bad things happen in southern California, so his M.O. is to do bad things there. was to pick up young guys, give them a lot of alcohol, hurt them, and then kill them.
When Kraft was finally caught in 1983, the police found an interesting thing in the trunk of his car: a list of the names of 61 men who were all thought to have been victims of Kraft since 1972.
The tweet below shows the image of the Scorecard Killer:
His lawyers fought against the list being used as evidence, but in the end, Kraft was found guilty on 16 charges. No one knows how many people he has killed.
4. Gordon Northcott and the Chicken Coop Killings in Wineville
The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, which were shown in the 2008 Clint Eastwood movie Changeling, is a sad part of Los Angeles County’s past. In the 1920s, young boys were taken from nearby towns and held prisoners on a ranch in what is now called Mira Loma.
In 1930, the town changed its name from Wineville to Mira Loma to avoid attention. Gordon Northcott, a young Canadian man, would touch the boys before killing them with an ax and putting their bodies in quicklime.
The young cousin of Northcott, Sanford Clark, lived on the Wineville farm and saw what Northcott did. It was also said that Clark was involved in inappropriate relationships. When Clark went back to his home country of Canada, he told the officials about what his cousin had done. In September 1928, the property was raided.
Northcott was found guilty of three charges, but he was accused of up to twenty. He was sent to the gallows, where he was said to be crying and looking scared, which was a big change from how he acted in court, where he was arrogant and laughed.
Age: 24 in December (1906–1930)
Place of birth: Saskatchewan, Canada.
5. Rodney Alcala, Who Won “The Dating Game,” is known as a Predator
Rodney Alcala, who wanted to be a photographer, was on the famous TV show The Dating Game in 1978. Even though his rivals later said he was “weird,” Alcala won a date with Cheryl Bradshaw, the bachelorette. But it wasn’t meant to be, because the young woman he liked told him he was “creepy.”
Bradshaw was right, that much is clear. Alcala was able to go on the game show even though he was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old girl in 1972. Also, before the show aired in 1978, he had already killed four people, including 12-year-old Robin Samsoe in Huntington Beach, California.
In 1980, Alcala was found guilty and given a death sentence. In 2010, the Huntington Beach Police Department shared 120 photos that Alcala had. They thought that at least some of the photos were of other victims. No one knows for sure how many people he killed, but it is thought to be in the dozens.
6. What Leonard Lake and Charles Ng Did Was Very Bad
In June 1985, Charles Ng was caught stealing, which seemed like a minor crime. The police had no idea what they would find when they questioned him.
The man from northern California finally led the police to a property he owned with another man named Leonard Lake. It was in a remote part of Calaveras County near the Sierra Nevada Foothills and was like a compound.
What the cops found was really scary: Lake and Ng had built a torture cabin with a fake wall to hold women who had been forced into slavery.
If the property was searched, it would turn up a lot of video records of the men with the people they were holding, as well as more than 40 pounds of burned human remains. Lake and Ng were later linked to the disappearances of two families. In both cases, the men killed the fathers of the babies and left the mothers alone before taking their own lives.
People think that the two guys killed at least 12 people, but the exact number is still unknown. Shortly after he was arrested, Lake took a cyanide pill and died in jail. In 1999, the state found Ng guilty on 11 counts of murder and put him to death.
Age: 39 in December (1945-1985)
Place of birth: California
7. Fear of the Night Stalker Shut Down an Entire City
Richard Ramirez, who was also called “the Night Stalker,” was the perfect scary person. During his bloody spree in the mid-1980s in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Ramirez, a crazy Satanist, attacked about 25 people and killed at least 13. Ramirez was born in Texas.
In the early 1980s, he went to northern California and started committing crimes that got worse and worse.
By the time he was caught in November 1985, Ramirez had made millions of people in Los Angeles afraid. He had killed a lot of men and women of all ages in terrible ways, such as by strangling, beating, and shooting them in the head.
In 1988, Ramirez was found guilty of 13 murders and given a death sentence. In 2013, he died in San Quentin State Prison of cancer.
Age: 53 in December (1960-2013)
Place of birth: El Paso, Texas, United States
Check out more posts related to serial killers: Which 10 Serial Killers With High IQs Fall in the Top 0.13% of the Population?
8. At Least a Dozen Women Were in the Sights of the Hillside Strangler
Angelo Buono, Jr. was a repeat criminal. In the late 1970s, he and his cousin Kenneth Bianchi killed at least a dozen women. It is thought that the two have hurt more people, but Buono was only charged in connection with 10 of them.
The two men worked in the Los Angeles area and became known as “The Hillside Strangler,” a name that came from where they dumped the bodies of their victims in the Highland Park area.
Buono and Bianchi pretended to be police officers and did horrible things to their victims, like shocking them with electricity and giving them poison. Bianchi wanted to be a real cop, so he applied to the LAPD while the two were working together.
He went on a ride-along with police officers and couldn’t stop talking about the Hillside Strangler case, which led to the two’s downfall. When police in Washington state arrested Bianchi on suspicion of killing two women, they were able to link him to Buono and the bad things they had done together.
Both men were in jail in 1979. After one of the longest trials in the history of American law, they were given life sentences in jail.
Died at age 67 (1934–2002)
Place of birth: Rochester, New York
9. How the Zodiac Came to Be is a Mystery
The Zodiac may be one of the most well-known American criminals who has never been caught. In the late 1960s, the Zodiac attacked at least five people in northern California. He or she usually went after young couples and shot or stabbed them.
Witnesses said that the Zodiac was a man who wore a black hood. He became famous when he sent a number of ciphers to the San Francisco Examiner to tease the police.
Some people thought the letters might have clues about who he was, but others thought they were just nonsense meant to throw people off the scent. Amateur detectives still work on them to this day. Whatever the reason, the Zodiac stopped writing suddenly in 1974, but the case is still open. So far, no suspect has ever been caught.
10. The Grim Sleeper is Not Found for More Than 20 Years
The Los Angeles press called Lonnie Franklin, Jr. “The Grim Sleeper” because he seemed to be asleep for a while in the 1990s. He may have killed as many as 25 women.
Franklin did his crimes in south-central Los Angeles in the 1980s when critics think the cops were either very bad at their jobs or just didn’t care. He preyed on people who were on the outside, like sex workers, drug addicts, and homeless people.
DNA proof didn’t link Franklin to at least 10 victims until 2010. However, a stash of photos found in his home suggests that he may have killed many more people. Franklin, Jr. was found guilty on 10 counts and given the death sentence in 2016. He is on death row at San Quentin State Prison right now.
11. Charles Manson and the Disorder of the 1960s
Charles Manson used to want to be a singer and had ties to the Beach Boys. When his group of cultists went on a killing spree in 1969, he became one of the most infamous people in history.
Manson thought he could start a race war called “Helter Skelter,” so he and his followers killed nine people in four places around Los Angeles. During this tour of terror, Sharon Tate, who was pregnant at the time and married to director Roman Polanski, was attacked and brutally killed. This sent shock waves around the world.
Manson was locked up in San Quentin with a swastika tattoo on his forehead. He was engaged to a 25-year-old woman as recently as 2013.
Place of birth: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America
12. At Least 25 Migrant Workers Were Targets of Juan Corona
In 1971, a farmer in Sutter County, California, found a hole in his land that had just been filled. Suspicious, the man called the police. When they came, they dug up the hole and found a dead body. Over the next two weeks, they found 24 more bodies. Most of them had been killed by a knife, but one had been killed by a gunshot.
At the time, it was one of the worst serial murder cases ever found. Juan Corona was found to be responsible in the end, but most of the proof against him was indirect, and no one has ever found out why he did it.
Corona finally admitted his guilt at a parole hearing in 2011. He said that he killed his victims because they were “winos” who were trespassing. He is still in prison serving a life term.
Birthplace: Autlán, Mexico
13. The Killer on the Freeway and His Sadistic Moving Van
In the late 1970s, William Bonin wandered around the Los Angeles area. It was a busy time for repeat offenders in southern California. Another psychopath, Randy Kraft, was also on the run and going after young guys. Even though Kraft may have killed more people than Bonin, it was Bonin’s open sadism that really scared people in California at the time.
Bonin liked to pick up teenage boys, some of whom were as young as 13. Teens who hitchhiked, which wasn’t rare at the time, usually ended up in Bonin’s van, where they were bound and beaten before he strangled them with their own t-shirts using a tire iron.
He was caught in 1980, and even though he admitted to 21 crimes, he was found guilty on 14 counts. Bonin was the first person in the state to die by lethal injection. He was put to death at San Quentin in 1996.
He ate the pepperoni and meat pizza and ice cream for his last meal while watching Jeopardy. Some of the families of the people he killed were at his execution, which made Bonin say, “They think that my death will bring closure, but they’re going to find out that it won’t.”
Age: 49 (Dec. 1947–1996)
Place of birth: Connecticut
14. Chester Dewayne Turner Kept Going, Even After Another Person Was Found Guilty of a Crime
It was a rough time in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s. At least five serial killers are thought to have been active in south LA alone during that time, so when a part-time janitor was convicted of three murders but similar crimes kept happening, no one was surprised.
In 1995, David Allen Jones was found guilty of killing three people after he was forced to say he did it. All of the victims were women, and they had all been choked and beaten. that kept showing up in south LA through the mid-1990s.
DNA evidence would finally clear Jones and lead to the arrest of Chester Dewayne Turner, also known as the Southside Slayer. Turner was a homeless man who killed at least 11 women, making him one of LA’s most dangerous sexual predators.
While Jones was wrongly in jail, Turner killed at least 5 more women. In 2003, after Turner was arrested for sexual assault, he was finally tied to nine victims. In two other cases, he was suspected. In 2014, he was found guilty of four more death sentences, and Turner was put to death.
15. Cary Stayner Was a Notorious Criminal With Sad Roots
Cary Stayner was a serial killer who preyed on people who came to Yosemite National Park. He came from a very sad family. Stayner’s brother Steven, who was 7 years old at the time, was taken by a dangerous person named Kenneth Parnell.
Steven was held captive for seven years before he was able to escape and find his family again. He was 24 years old when he sadly died in a motorcycle accident. Stayner would say that these terrible things that happened to him as a child helped him become the Yosemite Killer.
In February 1999, Stayner killed Carol Sund, who was 42 years old, her daughter Juli, who was 15, and Juli’s friend Silvina Pelosso, who was 16. The three people were attacked violently in their hotel room near Yosemite. Stayner had worked at the hotel as a caretaker. Five months later, Stayner cut off the head of Joie Ruth Armstrong, a park tour guide, and bystanders helped the police catch him.
Stayner was found guilty and given a death sentence in 2001.
Place of birth: Merced, California
16. Wayne Adam Ford, the Truck Driver Who Cut His Victims Into Pieces
Wayne Adam Ford, a long-haul truck driver from southern California, walked into the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in Eureka in November 1998 with a horrifying thing on him: a woman’s cut breast in a zip-lock bag.
Ford later admitted to killing four women between 1997 and 1998. Three of them were sex workers, and the fourth was a hitchhiker. Ford would kill his victims while he was on the road, then cut them up and throw their bodies in bodies of water. He is on death row at San Quentin State Prison right now.
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