The Life and Crimes of Serial Killer William Bonin, The Freeway Killer

Apples Don't Fall Far From the Tree

William Bonin
Mug Shot

William Bonin was a serial killer suspected of sexually assaulting, torturing and killing at least 21 boys and young men in Los Angeles and Orange County, California. The press nicknamed him the "The Freeway Killer," because he would pick up young boys who were hitchhiking, sexually assault and murder them, then dispose of their bodies along the freeways.

Unlike many serial killers, Bonin had multiple accomplices during his murder spree.

Known accomplices included Vernon Robert Butts, Gregory Matthew Miley, William Ray Pugh and James Michael Munro.

In May 1980, Pugh was arrested for stealing cars and while in prison provided detectives details connecting the freeway murders to William Bonin in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Pugh told detectives that he accepted a ride from Bonin who bragged that he was the Freeway Killer. Later evidence proved that Pugh and Bonin's relationship went beyond a one-time ride and that Pugh participated in at least two of the murders.

After being placed under police surveillance for nine days, Bonin was arrested while in the process of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in the back of his van. Unfortunately, even while under surveillance, Bonin was able to commit one more murder before his arrest.

Childhood - Teen Years

Born in Connecticut on January 8, 1947, Bonin was the middle child of three brothers.

He grew up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father and a grandfather who was a convicted child molester. Early on he was a troubled kid and ran away from home when he was eight years old. He was later sent to a juvenile detention center for various small crimes, where he allegedly was sexually molested by older teens.

After leaving the center he began molesting children.

After high school, Bonin joined the U.S. Air Force and served in the Vietnam War as a gunner. When he returned home, he married, divorced and moved to California.

A Vow to Never Get Caught Again

He was first arrested at age 22 for sexually assaulting young boys and spent five years in jail. After his release, he molested a 14-year-old boy and was returned to prison for an additional four years. Vowing never to get caught again, he began killing his young victims.

From 1979 until his arrest in June 1980, Bonin, along with his accomplices, went on a raping, torturing and killing spree, often cruising California highways and streets for young male hitchhikers and school children.

After his arrest, he confessed to killing 21 young boys and young men. Police suspected him in 15 additional murders.

Charged with 14 of the 21 killings, Bonin was found guilty and sentenced to death.

On February 23, 1996, Bonin was executed by lethal injection, making him the first person to be executed by lethal injection in California history.

Freeway Killer Victims

  • Thomas Lundgren, age 14, murdered on May 28, 1979. Accomplices Vernon Butts and William Pugh
  • Mark Shelton, age 17, murdered on August 4, 1979
  • Marcus Grabs, age 17, murdered on August 5, 1979. Accomplice Vernon Butts
  • Donald Hayden, age 15, murdered on August 27, 1979. Accomplice Vernon Butts
  • David Murillo, age 17, murdered on September 9, 1979. Accomplice Vernon Butts
  • Robert Wirostek, age 16, murdered on September 27, 1979
  • John Doe, age 14-20, murdered on November 30, 1979
  • Dennis Frank Fox, age 17, murdered on December 2, 1979. Accomplice James Munro
  • John Doe, age 15-20, murdered on December 13, 1979
  • Michael McDonald, age 16, murdered on January 1, 1980
  • Charles Miranda, age 14, murdered on February 3, 1980. Accomplice Gregory Miley
  • James McCabe, age 12, murdered on February 3, 1980. Accomplice Gregory Miley
  • Ronald Gaitlin, age 18, murdered on March 14, 1980
  • Harry Todd Turner, age 15, murdered on March 20, 1980. Accomplice William Pugh
  • Glen Barker, age 14, murdered on March 21, 1980
  • Russell Rugh, age 15, murdered on March 22, 1980
  • Steven Wood, age 16, murdered on April 10, 1980
  • Lawrence Sharp, age 18, murdered on April 10, 1980
  • Darin Lee Kendrick, age 19, murdered on April 29, 1980. Accomplice Vernon Butts
  • Sean King, age 14, murdered on May 19, 1980. Confessed accomplice William Pugh
  • Steven Wells, age 18, murdered on June 2, 1980. Accomplices Vernon Butts and James Munro

Co-Defendants:

  • Vernon Butts - Butts was 22 years old and a factory worker and part-time magician when he met Bonin and began participating in raping and murdering at least six boys. He hung himself while awaiting trial.
  • Gregory Miley - Miley was 19 years old when he got involved with Bonin. He pled guilty to participating in one murder for which he received a sentence of 25 years to life. He is currently in prison.
  • James Munro - Bonin was Munro's boss and landlord when Munro participated in the murders of two boys. In a plea bargain, he pled guilty to one murder and received a sentence of 15 years to life. He is still in prison, but trying to appeal claiming he was tricked into a plea bargain.
  • William (Billy) Pugh was the most active accomplice who was charged with one murder, although he confessed to killing two victims. He received six years for voluntary manslaughter in a plea bargain.

Arrest, Conviction, Execution

After William Bonin's arrest, he confessed to killing 21 young boys and young men. Police suspected him in additional 15 other murders.

Charged with 14 of the 21 killings, Bonin was found guilty and sentenced to death.

On February 23, 1996, Bonin was executed by lethal injection, making him the first person to be executed by lethal injection in California history.

During Bonin's murder spree, there was another active serial killer by the name of Patrick Kearney, using the California freeways as his hunting ground.