Vonda Pelto, Ph.D., Feminist Hero, Broke Barriers Working with Serial Killers at LA Men’s Central Jail, 1979-83
January 28, 2023 Vonda3310 0 Comments
Los Angeles, CA—Within the realm of women’s march to gaining equality in the workplace, there are many unsung heroes who held down the grass and cleared a path for those to follow. One of them is Vonda Pelto, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist who, in August 1979, entered the hall of mirrors world of serial killers at Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail. One of largest and most dangerous jails in the world, housing over 5,000 inmates, her position was created after the suicide of Vernon Butts, one of the notorious Freeway Killers. She arrived a naïve girl from a small desert town and left, three years later, a wizened, hardened women whose views of humanity were changed dramatically, and not for the better.
Her job was not to counsel these unrepentant reprobates, but just to chat them up and provide an emotional sounding board to keep them safe until they were convicted and sent to prison. Highly embarrassed when Butts killed himself, the LA County Sheriff’s and Mental Department didn’t wish to leave anything to chance. With an office adjacent to vicious killers like Hillside Stranglers Kenneth Bianchi and Angela Buono, the main Freeway Killer Bill Bonin or Sunset Strip Slayer Douglas Clark, her daily interactions with such characters proved a tonic which altered Pelto’s mind, body and soul in dark and drastic ways.
Vonda should be celebrated as a feminist trailblazer in a realm which few women have entered, even today but especially in the late 1970s. She could have elected to turn down the job but, as a freshly minted Ph.D. with no license to practice, she needed the work to support the family and so Vonda braved the fire. Carrying the burden of hearing horrible stories, from men who enjoyed sharing gory details, resulted in nightmares, alcohol abuse and a certain zest for life which was sometimes risky and destructive.
Using official investigative documents, and Bonin’s jailhouse diaries and written confessions, the authors were able solve two 40-year-old murder mysteries and identity how one day, during the murder spree, changed everything to follow. Unlocking why March 24, 1980 is so important in the Bill Bonin story was a tedious aspect of the complicated task to create an amazingly detailed serial killer historical biography. The events chronicled in a flow chart can be seen at http://bit.ly/3ZDDKPG, it constitutes a road map of a story with an infinite number of twists and turns, what ifs and “can you believe that really happened?”
One startling and tragic fact they uncovered: During the ten-month murder spree Bonin was arrested and in custody THREE TIMES, then let go on legal technicalities and bureaucratic missteps which cost many lives.