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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Execution No Salve for Ravaged Lives

LOS ANGELES -- Barbara Biehn spent years crafting the miniature Christmas village that dominates her living room. It is a scene of tiny skaters and hand-painted houses -- an idyll of calm and neighborly good cheer. It is everything that her wrecked life is not.


In Biehn's world, it is unsafe to venture outside after the sun goes down. It is hard to make friends, easy to hide away. And serial killers are real.


One of them, William G. Bonin, robbed her of a 16-year-old son, setting off more than a decade of heartaches not likely to end Friday, when Bonin is scheduled to die by lethal injection at San Quentin Prison. After the 1980 murder of her son, Steven Wood, Biehn watched a second son slide into despair, then into drug abuse and mental problems. Finally, 29-year-old Carl Wood killed himself with a shotgun in 1989 -- on Bonin's 42nd birthday.


Overcome with horrible memories, Biehn and her husband fled their Bellflower, California, home for rural Arizona four years ago. She lives a hermit's life now, passing her days working on crafts projects under the gaze of a giant photograph of Steven.


"I live in a different world now," said Biehn, 57. "My Steven's gone. My Carl's gone. There's too much to remember."


She is not alone. The sheer scale of Bonin's crimes -- he was convicted of the murders of 14 young men in 1979 and 1980 in Los Angeles and Orange counties -- represents a monumental toll when measured by the dozens of parents, siblings and friends whose loved ones fell prey to the so-called Freeway Killer.


But the loss is more completely gauged by the many ways the tragedy spun off troubles over the years. One mother fell into a decade-long battle with alcohol. The mother of another victim succumbed to cancer that relatives say was hastened by the emotional strain; her deathbed regret was not surviving to see Bonin executed. A teen-age boy who survived being raped by Bonin the day before starting high school lost interest in books and dropped out, and still has trouble spelling some basic words.


Some parents threw themselves into political action, founding or joining groups that sought harsher treatment of criminals. Biehn started Voting Initiative Concerning Tougher Imprisonment of Molesters and Sex Offenders, or VICTIMS, and spent the first two years on a successful push to end an outpatient program for sex offenders.


But such efforts soon became "too overwhelming," said Sandra Miller, whose 15-year-old son, Russell Duane Rugh, was slain in 1980. When Miller sought relief in the bottle, it brought only new sorrows.


"I had the perfect happy family," said Miller, now 49. "After this, it was like the whole world fell apart."