Klipsun Magazine

Bellingham's Most Violent Visitors

Story by Ali LeRoy // Photos by Michael Leese

Bellingham is known for its breathtaking scenery and active community. Views of Mount Baker and Bellingham Bay, a diverse population and a vibrant downtown district showcase the area as serene and friendly. But when the lights turn off, businesses close for the evening and everyone goes home, walking Bellingham at night can be a bit creepy—and for good reason.

The Pacific Northwest has a bad reputation for its resident serial killers. Ted Bundy, Robert Yates and Gary Ridgeway are just some of the most infamous serial killers to call the Northwest home. The theory that the Northwest breeds psychotic killers is dubbed an urban legend, though there is virtually no statistical information to prove or disprove the area's status. Bellingham alone has been linked to no less than four serial killers in the last 30 years, and some unusual and unsolved crimes have occurred in the area as well.

Waterfront Seafood and Bar

The Waterfront Seafood and Bar on Holly Street is small and unassuming. It's a local spot, beyond the college bar-hoppers scene. There is no dance music or peppy bartenders, but the early happy-hour, cheap drinks, and poker tournaments keep the place buzzing. The owner calls it a "family bar," but in 2003, Esquire magazine gave it a different name: the roughest bar in America.

It began when a Waterfront bartender named Wally decided to exaggerate the Waterfront's past patrons after John Allen Muhammad, commonly known as the D.C. Sniper, was arrested. Reporters began asking about his patronage at the bar, and Wally made up a good story, owner Lynne Farmer says. He claimed the bar's patrons included four serial killers linked to the area: Ted Bundy, Kenneth Bianchi, James Allen Kinney, and Muhammad. Farmer says she saw Muhammad and Kinney come to the bar, but Bundy and Bianchi were just tall-tales. The embellished story soon led to a media mob at the bar, and media outlets from as far as Japan began reporting on the "serial killer bar."

"It was really starting to interfere with my regular customers," says Farmer about the media onslaught at her bar. "It got to the point where I just told my staff ‘don't even talk to them anymore' because it was just so out of control."

The negative attention brought forth by the media was more damaging to the bar than the serial killer patrons. Farmer says both Kinney and Muhammad were quiet, friendly and kept to themselves while at the bar.

Yacht Club Murder

Another bartender who created a stir in the Bellingham community was Ron Genther. On Jan. 16, 1960, Genther closed up the Bellingham Yacht Club bar after the Saturday night crowd had gone home. He called the police station to activate the burglar alarm and headed for the door. What happened when he tried to leave is a 50-year-old mystery.

The yacht club janitor came in around 6 a.m. Sunday morning to find Genther's body on the floor in a pool of blood. Genther was stabbed in the groin and left bleeding to death on the yacht club floor, the result of what there seemed to have been a fight between Genther and his killer.

Divers searched the water below the yacht club, but no weapon was found. Newspapers reported that while police initially suspected a theft, they had later changed their theory. Police suspected the man who killed Genther knew him personally, though they never discovered who had a grudge against the 22-year-old Western Student. Since police never closed the case, local Bellingham residents maintain their own theories.

According to Bellingham papers, the well-placed cuts to the arteries in Genther's upper legs were small and precise; suggesting the killer knew what he was doing and had used a small object, such as a scalpel, as his weapon. The only clues investigators were left with were the crime scene, and a few bloody footsteps leading up Cornwall Avenue.

The Hillside Strangler

Kenneth Bianchi was on the run. The year was 1978, and Bianchi and his cousin Angelo Buono, had murdered 10 women in California. Heeding his cousin's advice, Bianchi moved to Bellingham to be with his girlfriend and son and to get away from the investigation that was closing in on him in California. He found a job at the Whatcom Security Agency and attempted to start a new life, but his desire to kill was too much for him to resist. He began looking for his next victim.

On Jan 11, 1979, Bianchi convinced Karen Mandic and her fellow Fred Meyer co-worker Diane Wilder, both Western students, to house-sit for him while he changed the alarm system on a house. While at the Edgemoor neighborhood home, Bianchi fulfilled his blood-thirsty desire by raping and strangling both young women. The next day police were notified that Mandic and Wilder were missing. Police found Bianchi's contact information while searching the women's apartment and he was brought in for questioning.

Terry Mangan, the Bellingham police chief in 1979, found similarities between the girls' murders and the Hillside Strangler murders in California. Police also found items from some of the Hillside Strangler's victims when they searched Bianchi's home. Bianchi eventually confessed to the Hillside Strangler murders and admitted Buono was an accomplice.

Bianchi is one of the most infamous murderers to call Bellingham home. He and Buono were dubbed "The Hillside Strangler" in 1977 because they often left their victims' bodies on a California hillside. In 1980 Bianchi was convicted of the murdering Mandic, Wilder and the 10 Hillside Strangler victims. Bianchi is serving his life sentence without parole in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

James Allen Kinney

Keri Lynn Sherlock, 20, of Braintree Mass., was eager to see the world. She was always friendly and trusting of people. Those qualities concern her mother as Sherlock boarded a bus to travel across the country to Bellingham. She let her daughter go, but made Sherlock promise to call every day. Regrettably, her mother would later learn the validity of her concerns as Sherlock became the latest victim of another Bellingham killer.

Sherlock came to Bellingham in 1998 to visit her uncle, to look at Western as a potential school and to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. As a lover of the outdoors, she went for a hike in the area on Oct 3. This was the last time her uncle, and everyone else, would see her alive. Her body was later found about an hour outside of Bellingham on the Mount Baker Highway. She was raped and beaten to death.

A backpack found near her body led police to James Allen Kinney, a Bellingham resident and Vietnam War veteran with a history of mental illness. A warrant was released for his arrest, but Kinney already fled the area. Kinney also had warrants in Michigan and Ohio for murdering two other women.

Kinney managed to avoid capture for three years. It wasn't until a tip was called into "America's Most Wanted" from a viewer in North Carolina who recognized Kinney, that he was arrested and admitted to Sherlock's murder. Kinney was sentenced to life in jail without parole. He is serving his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary.

What is it about Bellingham?

Is Bellingham swarming with predators looking for their next kill? Mark Young, the public information officer for the Bellingham Police Department, says it is unlikely, but those who did come to the area, such as Bundy, were probably on the prowl.

"A guy like that never stops thinking about killing," Young says. "They're always going to be on the hunt."

Despite the psychotic killers to call Bellingham home, Young says Bellingham is a safe community, and has an average of one to two homicides a year. According to reports from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, 41 murders and 4223 violent crimes occurred in Bellingham in the last 25 years, which is about 1.65 murders and 169 violent crimes a year. The city of Everett, which has a similar population sizes, averages 2.96 murders and about 388 violent crimes per year.

Young says Bellingham is not a magnet for criminals, but some may end up here by default as they attempt to enter Canada, or head to Alaska. Young also says Bellingham is the first stop for many coming to the Northwest from other places, as Bellingham has all forms of travel available: flight, bus, train and boat.

We will never know for sure whether Bellingham's proximity to the border, the abundant wilderness, or the roll of the dice led to the wrathful acts of violence in the area. What we do know is they are a part of Bellingham's history. But Bellingham's crimes are only one part of the vibrant community that makes Bellingham unique.

© 2010 Klipsun Magazine