‘Freeway Killer’ Terrorized Southern California During Yearlong Murder Spree

Between 1979 and 1980, serial killer William George Bonin confessed to slaying 21 boys and young men.

William Bonin listens to the polling of jurors after they returned verdict against Bonin in a Santa Ana, Ca., court on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 1983.

Between 1979 and 1980, serial killer William George Bonin confessed to slaying 21 boys and young men.

Photo by: Wally Fong via AP

Wally Fong via AP

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A pedophile serial killer preying on hitchhiking boys and young men confessed to raping, torturing, and murdering as many as 21 victims in Southern California over the span of just one violent year.

William George Bonin, a former truck driver, began his deadly spree in 1979, leaving victims’ bodies along roadways and behind buildings in Los Angeles and Orange County.

The man who would later become known as the so-called Freeway Killer was arrested a decade earlier, in 1969, and sent to Atascadero State Mental Hospital for forcing five boys in South Bay communities to have sex with him. He was paroled in May 1974.

Just over a year later, in September 1975, Bonin kidnapped 14-year-old David McVicker at gunpoint while the boy was heading home from a friend’s place. “It was the last day of summer,” McVicker told KCBS-TV. “I was actually hitchhiking home from Garden Grove to Huntington Beach and he got me.”

Bonin raped McVicker, but he let him go. Bonin was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct and a judge ordered him to spend anywhere from one to fifteen years in prison. He was released on parole from the California Medical Facility in Vacaville three years later, in October 1978.

Bonin then did his best to make good on a promise he made to an officer that he would never let another witness get away, The Los Angeles Times reported.

After McVicker’s ordeal, Bonin’s crimes quickly escalated, kicking off a killing frenzy that claimed the lives of at least 14 boys and men, ages 12 to 19. He confessed to slaying 21 victims but authorities believe the tally could be over 30.

According to police, four accomplices between the ages of 17 and 21 — Vernon Butts, Gregory M. Miley, William Ray Pugh and James Michael Munro — helped Bonin carry out his brutal crimes between 1979 and 1980.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, on Aug. 5, 1979, Bonin and one of his accomplices were in Newport Beach when they attacked 17-year-old Marcus Grabs, a German exchange student who was backpacking in the United States.

The two men sodomized, beat, and stabbed the teenager 77 times. “His nude body was found the next day beside a road in Malibu, with an orange nylon cord loosely wrapped behind his head and a piece of ignition wire around one of his ankles,” prison officials said.

In a case from February 1980, James McCabe, 12, was heading to Disneyland when he got into a van with Bonin and his accomplice, Gregory M. Miley. After Bonin sexually assaulted the child, officials said that “the two men held the victim down, beat him, strangled him with his shirt, and crushed his neck with a jack handle.”

The two then stole money from the child’s wallet and dumped his body by a dumpster in Walnut.

In the late spring of 1980, Bonin was finally caught when his 17-year-old accomplice, William Ray Pugh, was accused of auto theft and he turned on Bonin, telling detectives the serial killer had discussed murdering children with him.

Citing court records, the CDCR said police began tailing Bonin’s van. On June 11, 1980, Bonin was in Hollywood when a 15-year-old boy, identified in court documents as Harold T., got into the vehicle. A short time later, police busted Bonin while he was raping the teenage victim. In the van, detectives found items Bonin used to murder his victims, including rope, wire, and a tire iron.

Bonin was convicted in 1982 of 10 homicides in Los Angeles County and another four out of Orange County the following year. He received two death sentences, and Bonin, 49, became the first California inmate to die by lethal injection when he was executed at San Quentin Prison shortly after midnight on Feb. 23, 1996.

According to reports, Vernon Butts killed himself while being held at the Los Angeles County jail. Gregory M. Miley, who received a sentence of 25 years to life for helping Miley murder two boys, was beaten to death by another inmate at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Northern California, in May 2016. William Ray Pugh was ordered to spend six years behind bars for voluntary manslaughter but reportedly was still behind bars as of 2019. James Michael Munro was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison and remains incarcerated.

Besides Grabs and McCabe, Bonin’s other murder victims included Dennis Frank Fox, 17; Glenn Barker, 14; Russell Rugh, 15; Lawrence Sharp, 17; Donald Hyden, 15; David Murillo, 17; Charles Miranda, 15; Ronald Gatlin, 19; Harry Todd Turner, 14; Steven Wood, 16; Darin Lee Kendrick, 19; and Steven Jay Wells, 18.

For more on the so-called Freeway Killer, tune into The Freeway Killer: Lost Murder Tapes on ID on Oct. 23, 2022 at 9/8c.

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