Bill Bonin: “An Arch Evil Person” or Just an Ordinary- Guy?

by | Aug 25, 2023 | Crime Writing | 0 comments

August 22, 2023. An article in Wikipedia written by a prosecutor at his first trial described Bill Bonin as “The most arch-evil person who ever existed.” (Freeway Killer’s Story: Ghastly Tale of Horror. The Gadsen Times. February 3, 1981. Retrieved November 27, 2018.)

Bonin was convicted of often of the murders linked to the “Freeway Killer” in two separate trials in 1982 and 1983. He spent fourteen years on death row before he was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin Prison in 1996. He was the first inmate in California to die by this method. (California’s ‘Freeway Killer’ Executed.” February 23, 1996. Retrieved November 27, 2018.)

I watched two serial killers during their trial – Bonin’s in Orange Country and Bradford’s in Los Angeles – and was struck by how ordinary each man looked. 

William George Bonin sat next to his attorney in the Orange County courtroom with an expression of tired boredom. That such a monster convicted of raping, torturing, and strangling fourteen young men in the back of his Death Van could be comfortably situated in a courtroom between two attorneys trying to get him a life sentence gave me chills.

Bonin could easily have been mistaken for the guy who stacks shelves at a hardware store or a truck driver working for the Postal Service. He could have been the painter in white overalls painting our deck.   

Bill Bonin and Bill Bradford each held jobs. Bonin was a truck driver for Dependable Driveway, and Bradford called himself a professional photographer even though he had his photos developed at a drugstore. They had friends – Bonin took his girlfriend roller skating on Sunday afternoons, and Bradford liked to hang out at his favorite bar and make a play for the ladies.  

Each man had a preferred drink – Bill Bonin drank Raspberry Kool-Aid with one ice cube. Bill Bradford’s favorite cocktail was rum and Coke – his friends called him Meyer’s B. Bubbly. I don’t know what serial killer Patrick Kearney (who murdered twenty-one young men) drank, but he was thoughtful enough to send St. John a card every Christmas for years.

I opened Bonin’s diary and read about another day in the life of a juvenile rapist: “Got up this morning even though I didn’t feel like it. Then I went for a one-on-one with my therapist. It was a good session. Played tennis against Ray again. He beat me (6-2) this time. Then I won (6-2) then (4-3). I still have a cold/sore throat that I woke up with on Monday. I should take a little rest, or I’ll be pretty bad off. I talked to Ray for a short time tonight. He’s a real, cool person. I hope he’s the same way when he gets back on the streets.”

Bill Bonin had a 130 I.Q., above-average intelligence, a natural athletic ability, and a knack for having and keeping friends. What went so terribly wrong in his life that cost him not only his own life but the lives of so many innocent young men? I saw photos of the boys he murdered and interviewed victim Steven Wood’s mother. My question seemed to have the same answer that the book “Ghosts in the Nursery” asked. The answer lies within the family.

Detective St. John once told me, “A unified family life and happy marriage is the best answer to stopping crime. It’s the best way I know of to keep them out of Juvenile Hall.”