Killing Cousins - Murder By Increments Book Two
It's squaresville, Ken would say of his hometown, Rochester. There was nothing there; nothing waiting for him but a job at Kodak.
He invoked Kodak often as a convenient shorthand for all the reasons Rochester was a nothing place, hardly fit for a man like him, a man with dreams and ambitions.
The company that actually invented the digital camera in 1975 haplessly dropped it from their line out of fear it would threaten their core business, a decision that ultimately stripped it of its position as the foremost manufacturer of photographic equipment. Kodak became a poster child for postindustrial irrelevance, as did many mid-size cities in the northeast. Ken couldn't see into the future, but he knew Kodak was a place for losers, and so was Rochester.
The other thing Ken always talked about was the cold. Over one hundred inches of snow a year, nine months of which were spent indoors. The townsfolk awoke in darkness at six o'clock and didn't know if it was morning or night. The May Lilac Festival suffered a regular deficiency of lilacs.
The Buonos weren't bothered about the cold and gloom. They had been toughened by endless days working in the hot sun of San Buono, in the Abruzzio region of Italy. In 1919, when Kenneth's mother Frances was born, Rochester was an industrial boomtown. Her parents were among the millions that migrated from Southern and Eastern Europe after the war. They settled in Utica, Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester in great numbers, and the cities prospered with the influx of labor. The work was hard, the cold and snow horrendous, but there was a good living to be made, new homes, and space to raise families. And that was all that really mattered.
The Buonos were a typical Italian family of their time and place. Devout Catholics, they believed a large family was proof of God's bounty. Frances was one of eight children. Her father worked long, exhausting hours as a manual laborer supporting his expanding brood. Mother was occupied all day with the tasks of managing the household and feeding the children. They were provided for materially, but had little in the way of undivided attention or nurturance from their parents—although such was hardly unusual in Italian migrant families at the time.
Even so, there was perhaps always in Frances a feeling of being overlooked; a hunger for love and attention that seemed forever beyond her grasp. The shy, sweet temperament of Nicholas Bianchi therefore suited her. This was no man about town who she must share with everyone else.
The two met at Jefferson High, where they became fast sweethearts. Even then they were a study in contrasts. Frances was opinionated and liked to take charge. Nicholas was retiring and gentle. He was, according to the mores of the time, an abject failure as a man. He tried to enlist in the army but was rejected because of his phobias of insects and worms, and a chronic stutter, for which he had been mercilessly teased throughout school. He joined the American Brake Shoe company as a laborer, where he would routinely put in twelve-hour days. If he couldn't represent his country he could still do the backbreaking work required of a man with little prospects to put bread on his table, feed a family, and earn some kind of respect in the world. Nobody disputed Nicholas' ability to work, but over time, he developed a gambling habit, and all the punishing hours of labor were often for nothing.
Frances and Nicholas married in 1941, and despite their incompatible natures, in the early years at least, they were thought to be very much in love.
From the beginning Frances knew that she, too, wanted a big family. As soon as they were married, Frances and Nicholas began trying for a baby. Soon, however, it became obvious something was wrong: nothing was happening. She consulted a doctor and learned that not only was she unable to conceive, but that she was suffering a life-threatening condition and needed an immediate hysterectomy.
The procedure was a success, but afterwards, Frances spiraled deep into depression. Her whole life had prepared her for motherhood. The traditional Catholic view held that the birth and rearing of children was a woman's primary purpose. She took her barrenness as a personal failing. The hysterectomy also resulted in premature menopause, further derailing an already perilous emotional state.
Nicholas hated to see his wife so miserable, so it was not difficult for her to persuade him that they should seek an adoption.
The little boy they eventually settled on was the biological son of a young man who shared the same Italian Catholic heritage. Handsome, with fair skin, dark hair, and bright blue eyes, he was just over six pounds at birth and physically robust.
It isn't clear how much the Bianchis knew about his time on earth before he reached their care, but when Frances laid eyes on him, she knew he was the one she wanted. He was perfect.
* * *
Ken's biological mother, Florence King, was a beautiful but dissolute go-go dancer.
Still a teenager, she had already been in and out of children's court for several minor offences, and spent her days drinking, chain-smoking and sleeping with just about any man who crossed her path.
Florence neither knew nor cared what contraception was. At sixteen she fell pregnant with Ken, one of four unplanned children. Soon after she set her sights on a new paramour, a soldier from Buffalo. The child was an inconvenience that did not fall within their plans, and Ken was made a ward of the state.
Baby Ken began life unloved and unwanted, and things would continue for him in this vein for quite some time. A foster arrangement was found for him with an elderly woman in Rochester, but the woman was indifferent to his care, leaving him with friends and neighbors to be looked after. When the authorities became aware of this, Ken was placed in a new foster home, but it seems this arrangement was not much better than the last. Thus, by the time he was adopted by the Bianchis, he had been passed back and forth between numerous caregivers, who displayed a range of inconsistent reactions to him, from short-lived curiosity to indifference and hostility.
Forensic psychologists believe that the lack of a primary bond with a caregiver in the first three years of life is a common element in the childhood backgrounds of sociopaths and violent criminals. It is also a risk factor for a range of mental disorders in the psychotic and dissociative class.
Young Ken had already had a rough start in life. Was he broken at birth?
Perhaps under the right circumstances, with supportive and nurturing new caregivers, things might have turned out differently. Either way, it didn't much matter, because things in fact were about to get even worse.
The first warning of what lay ahead was the court's hesitancy to award full custody of Ken to the Bianchis. Initially the arrangement was for temporary custody. At this time, Ken was three months old. The court's reasons in delaying fulfillment of the request for full custody are a matter of speculation, but the discharge records from Rochester Hospital where Ken was briefly admitted in 1958 contain a note stating the attending doctor's view that the delay may have been due to questions about the Bianchis’ [OM1] fitness as parents. Full custody was finally awarded when Ken reached one year of age, much to Frances' relief. From the beginning she was passionately attached to Ken as an antidote to her own feelings of emotional insecurity, and with only temporary custody, she feared he could be snatched from her at any time.
A further ill omen was the fact that the Bianchis had at one time had two other young children in their care under a fostering arrangement, but these children had been removed from the home by the welfare agency. The discharge records from Rochester Hospital noted that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was “aware” of Frances' activities and that Frances had taken care of other children, but they had been taken from her for reasons unknown.
Then there was the family's financial situation, and all its consequences. Nicholas was in the unfortunate habit of gambling away his wages at the tracks, and the family was continually on the move trying to evade angry creditors who threatened to kill him. Before Ken reached adolescence he would move residences and schools multiple times. This was a chaotic, unstable home environment, no matter what good intentions may have existed.
Frances had wanted to be a good mother—that much seems self-evident. She was socially ambitious and concerned to be seen doing the right thing. She lined the walls of their cramped apartment at the corner of Broad and Saxon in red chinoiserie wallpaper, and had Ken's room painted in bright hues, decked out with a complete set of child's maple furniture. Toys and colorful picture cut-outs were arrayed against one wall. She had clearly envisioned for herself a normal child, and a normal family life. She placed in her home the markers of domestic happiness and fulfillment hoping that somehow that would make it so. She grasped for a conventionality painfully at odds with both of their natures.
The reality that emerged is an example of a narcissistic family system. She obsessively wanted herself to be loved, to be needed, to have another creature be entirely dependent on her. In this way, while appearing to be single-mindedly devoted to Ken's needs, she used him to meet her own.
There was much Frances was unhappy about. But she rarely allowed these thoughts to trouble her mind. She set them to one side and focused on the things she could control. This is an entirely normal, if not always healthy, psychological coping mechanism. In its extreme form, it becomes—in the psychologist's lexicon—repression and denial.
Focusing solely on Ken was a way for France to distract herself from her own problems: the difficulties in her marriage, the family's perpetually chaotic living and financial situation, her own unsatisfied wish to reach a higher stratum in society. All the while, she could appear to be fulfilling a perfectly admirable social role, that of the dedicated mother. The strategy was flawed, however, not only because the problems persisted, but because the pressures on the child became unbearable.
It is possible that Kenneth Bianchi learned at an early age to deal with reality in the way that his mother did. What you dislike, what you cannot tolerate, all the pressures, no matter how unbearable— simply don't give them any conscious acknowledgement.
When entrenched psychological reflexes of denial and repression are paired with abuse, the result, according to some psychological theories, is the phenomenon of splitting. This is when the ego literally shatters, and other identities are created to cope with the abuse and protect or suppress the “core” or original self.
This is mentioned not by way of proof of an argument for Ken's later diagnosis of multiple personality, but rather to demonstrate why the psychiatrists who reviewed the literature on Ken's early life thought the pieces of the puzzle fit together just so.
In the Bianchi home the days blurred together. Nicholas was away at work and Frances had nothing to absorb her attention but the care of the house, and of course, Ken.
Ken was a screamer. So was Frances. In winter these two were stuck together in a kind of tortured intimacy for endless hours. From dawn until bedtime it was an endless cycle of tantrums and Frances' alternating efforts at succor and discipline.
The union was intense to the point of claustrophobia. Ken was the centre of Frances' entire world. Despite the constant rancor he was, in her eyes, a perfect child. The slightest suggestion of any emotional upset or threat to his wellbeing sent her into a tailspin.
Frances was a hypochondriac and doctor-shopper. Over time she also focused this persistent health anxiety on her son. Any hint of illness in the boy, from a sniffle to a sore throat, sent her scurrying to the doctors to have Ken evaluated. Early on she also learned to isolate Ken from other children, for fear he would catch germs. This pattern continued throughout his childhood, and lengthy absences from school were common. Ken was no doubt very lonely, but the only attention he could get was from his mother, and nothing got her attention more than being sick.
Whilst certain physical findings were made for Ken, the paper trail of Ken's medical visits suggest that doctors thought his illnesses were mostly psychological in origin. Also significant is that practically every report mentions the troubled relationship between mother and child and the impression that Frances herself was a deeply disturbed individual.
At first, Frances was concerned about mild coughing and what appeared to be allergies. She felt that Ken was particularly sensitive to pollutants in the air and tried to keep him indoors. Between 4 December 1951 and 22 May 1952, Frances took Ken, who at this time was less than a year old, to the doctor a total of eight times. The doctor diagnosed a persistent low-grade respiratory infection that was slow to respond to the treatment given, but was satisfied by the improvement, and found that otherwise the child was in good health and was growing strong. Mrs. Bianchi's concern and repeated visits were viewed as excessive and troublesome.
There was a momentary reprieve to the Bianchi's constrained living situation with a move to a larger, more desirable apartment in Saratoga Street. The residential area was safer and more upscale, and had a fenced-in yard. This move was no doubt a welcome one for Frances, who was—aside from her desire to attain a higher social standing—worried about Ken running out onto the road. Unfortunately it was to be rather short lived. The next move, to Los Angeles, was necessitated both by Nicholas' creditors catching up with him and by Frances' ongoing concern about Ken's lungs. He had by now developed asthma, and she thought a warmer climate would be beneficial. The family went to stay with France's sister, Jennifer Buono—Angelo Buono's mother.
The record of doctor's visits continued in California. Frances took Ken to the Children's Hospital, Los Angeles for multiple complaints including night sweats, bed-wetting and laryngitis. A note in the medical record makes a rather blunt assessment of Frances: “Mother needs help”.