Without Redemption Reviews
Review of Without Redemption by UK True Crime Writer Paul Cheston, Author of The Babes in the Woods Murders: The Shocking True Story of How Child Murderer Russell Bishop was Finally Brought to Justice
Unique & Amazing Serial Killer Biography
I would unreservedly recommend Without Redemption as the most profound analysis of a serial killer I have read.
It is based on unprecedented access to probation, medical, psychiatric reports, police statements and court documents, and, as an author and journalist, I know how difficult, nay impossible, it is to gain access to such a treasure trove of detail and insight.
But most importantly it has the unique perspective of Vonda Pelto’s own interviews with Bonin and his accomplices and the mass killer’s own handwritten diaries.
The authors spare no one in exposing how Bonin was allowed to game the system and names of those professionals and institutions which put their own vested interests ahead of their duty to have him locked up long before he even started his killing spree.
Michael Butler has a light writing style which keeps the pace moving briskly and never loses the balance between explaining why Bonin killed and the devastating impact of this need to kill on the victims and their families.
About Paul Cheston: He was the Evening Standard‘s dedicated court reporter for 25 years, and was so well respected that on his last day, he was given a valedictory ceremony at the Old Bailey—a privilege ordinarily reserved for departing judges. Paul has reported on all the major murder trials of the last two decades, and his experience, knowledge, and contacts lend weight and authority to this moving and, at times, harrowing book.
All the Makings of Compelling Serial Killer Movie or Mini-Series
Without Redemption sets itself apart from other serial killer bios with the sheer volume of factual detail, one which reads like historical biographies of famous leaders. Freeway Killer Bill Bonin’s whole life is laid out and this allows the authors to carefully track his 30-year journey/descent into murderous depravity. I have worked on a number of productions about serial killers and murderers, and this book has all the elements for a compelling movie, mini-series or docudrama.
First, you have Bonin’s detailed diaries/written confessions which give an inside view of everything; Second, the co-author, Vonda Pelto, Ph.D., having ersatz counseling/confession sessions with three of the six Freeway Killers in jail; Third, reams of documentary evidence about Bonin’s childhood, war service, years in mental hospitals and prisons followed by the months leading up to the murder spree. Next are Bonin’s carefully written stories of the 22 killings all over Southern California, the journalists reporting on his activities and the detectives chasing him.
Then, after his arrest the story really gets juicy, and complex, as everyone jumps in the pool together to hash out the penultimate act. Surprises await around every corner as cases are getting built, deals negotiated and more suspects pursued. Part and parcel are scenes of political backstabbing, deception, lying and coverups, which is followed by Bonin’s huge trial and the final curtain in this tragic drama.
Generous use of newspaper stories fills in the gaps and the whole book moves rapidly forward without too much lollygagging. ‘Without Redemption’ is as close to a complete serial killer historical biography that one might find.
Title Says it All, ‘Creation & Deeds’ of a Serial Killer
Some book titles give a false impression of what they are really about, but that is not the case for ‘Without Redemption.’ The subtitle is ‘Creation & Deeds of Freeway Killer Bill Bonin,’ well that is exactly what is delivered in every way, shape and form. I was actually shocked at how the authors laid out Bonin’s whole life, especially how the nine years he spent in state mental hospitals were related in such detail. Those types of government reports and documents are impossible to acquire, but they had a whole bunch of them covering many different scenarios.
Many factors went into the ‘Creation’ of serial killer Bill Bonin, and all those are explored in way or another in this book. The murders, as told through Bonin’s diaries and interviews, are about 25% of the total story, but one told in a manner unlike few other serial killer stories, especially about Bonin because no had his diaries before.
One of the most interesting sections is after Bonin’s final arrest—the months when evidence was being gathered, other suspects pursued, friends and family getting questioned, deals being cut and, most importantly, when the public found out about Bonin and his crimes. Really a fascinating section which employs Bonin’s diaries and news articles to tell the story.
Be prepared to pay attention, this book is chocked full of good stuff, like the authors figuring out how one day changed everything when paths of four people crossed in total coincidence. Great detective work. The murders, as told through Bonin’s diaries and interviews, are about 25% of the total story, but one told in a manner unlike few other serial killer stories, especially about Bonin because no had his diaries before.
Paints the Whole Picture
Not much of Freeway Killer Bill Bonin’s life, leading up to his first and most important conviction, is left out of this book.
An interesting section is the one after his arrest, where Bonin’s jailhouse diaries are used to tell the inside story. It is fascinating because everyone, I mean everyone, is deceiving and lying to everyone else—homicide detectives from different agencies, prosecutors, witnesses, defense attorneys, press, politicians, district attorneys and, of course, the six Freeway Killer defendants. There are also humorous jailhouse stories that serve to break up the story.
Leading up to the disaster is like descending a slow staircase, and then there is the ten-month murder spree that is chronicled from many different perspectives. Without Redemption definitely deserves the moniker ‘detailed historical biography.’
Co-Author Vonda Pelto is a Player in This Serial Killer Bio
My surprise in this book was how the co-author, Clinical Psychologist Vonda Pelto, Ph.D., actually participated in the story told about the life of Freeway Killer Bill Bonin—she dealt with Bonin and two of his accomplices while working at Los Angeles Central Jail. Pelto had numerous sessions with all three, and other horrible serial killers, and had to listen to their ghastly stories, told in some ways to see her reactions and in other ways to relive their crimes. Her disgust is evident, but she hides it during discussions with Bonin, Miley and Munro, where they all talked about murders in detail.
Aside from that Without Redemption is interesting because it is the story of one person’s slow march to becoming an unfeeling monster. It was scary how the killing took over his life, kind of like Gollum in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ it simply swallowed him up.
The authors really packed in the factual stories of Bonin’s life, from birth all the way through months and months of day-to-day events after his arrest, when the system was gearing up and he was trying to make a deal to avoid the death penalty. This part of the book is when very public events are analyzed from inside and outside, and where big surprises pop up.
A thoroughly fascinating and engaging read.
They tell full story of a serial killer, from beginning to the end!
Serial killer biographers often lack access to many important documents, but that can’t be said of Without Redemption, which reveals for the first time how and why someone got away with double murder! In fact, the Freeway Killer Bill Bonin is the one who covered for his accomplice. One also learns that Bonin was in police custody on numerous occasions during the murder rampage.
It’s obvious the authors must have had boxes and boxes of material to write from—Bonin’s childhood, adult years spent in mental hospitals and prisons, well before Bill Bonin started killing, are ably reconstructed in amazing detail. You can sense the disaster to come as story slowly unfolds.
Then the killing starts and Bonin’s own written words and many different interviews, with homicide detectives and the co-author Vonda Pelto, Ph.D., give the reader a front row seat in the mind of the man who murdered 22 teenage boys, with five accomplices, in a short period of time. Taking place in 1979-80 in Los Angeles, the book paints of picture of how Bonin’s actions created a firestorm among police, the public and the media.
Part three is a fascinating look at what happened after Bonin’s arrest and how detectives rolled up the other killers and built their case against Bonin and his friends. It was a complicated ten-months, but the authors recreate it in fascinating detail, which includes using Bonin’s jailhouse diaries and see how he was manipulating events while also being unable to control his fate.
A historical biography worthy of that term.
What a Story, Personal & Societal Failures on Display
I couldn’t believe it when I realized most of the story took place in areas near where I live and work; Long Beach, Downey, Montebello, Newport Beach, Cerritos, Hollywood, etc. Bill Bonin, in many ways, was created as a serial killer by his environment and experiences, and you get to find out when and where he could have been stopped, before and during the killings. That is heartbreaking.
Yes, it is the full story about Freeway Killer Bill Bonin, but it is also an indictment of societal institutional failures. Careful research shows how public bureaucrats, and short-sighted laws, helped allow the Bonin Freeway Killer tragedy to happen. Plenty of blame to go around, but of course it comes to the man’s inability to control himself, so keep that in mind when reading this fascinating book.
Plus, all kinds of mysteries, like two unsolved murders, get solved 40-years after the events took place, but one must pay attention to fully grasp all these newly revealed facts about the cases.