Thor Nis Christiansen

Thor Nis Christiansen
Thor Christiansen.png
Born (1957-12-28)December 28, 1957
Died March 30, 1981(1981-03-30) (aged 23)
Cause of death Stab wound
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment
Victims 4
Span of crimes
November 20, 1976–April 18, 1979
Country U.S.
State(s) California
Weapon .22 caliber pistol
Date apprehended
July 11, 1979

Thor Nis Christiansen (December 28, 1957 – March 30, 1981) was a Danish-American serial killer from Solvang, California. He committed his first three murders in late 1976 and early 1977, killing young women of similar appearance from nearby Isla Vista. His crimes motivated large demonstrations opposed to violence against women, and in favor of better transportation for the young people residing in Isla Vista.[1] In 1979, he killed a young woman from Los Angeles. A fifth intended victim escaped with a bullet in her head, and later identified him in a Los Angeles bar.[2]

Early life

Thor Nis Christiansen was born in Denmark, and immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was five years old. The family initially settled in Inglewood, California, and then moved to Solvang, where his father, Nis, ran a restaurant. Christiansen was a good student until his junior year of high school, when he began neglecting his schoolwork. He moved out of his parents' house, dropped out of school, and began working as a gas station attendant. During this time, Christiansen gained a great deal of weight, at one point weighing 275 pounds (125 kg).[3]


Christiansen became obsessed with fantasies of shooting women and having sex with their corpses. He stole a .22 caliber pistol from a friend and committed his first three murders. He then moved to Oregon, lost weight, and moved back to Santa Barbara County to complete his high school diploma at a junior college. Christiansen moved into an apartment in Goleta with a woman in her twenties; they had met while she was hitchhiking.[3] Christiansen committed another murder during this period. Secondary sources indicate Christiansen's modus operandi was to meet his victims while they were hitchhiking, then shoot them in the head with a .22 caliber pistol and sexually assault them post-mortem.

Although several young women had disappeared from Isla Vista, California, in late 1976, Christiansen's first confirmed victim was Patricia Marie Laney, who disappeared January 18, 1977. The next day, her body was found on an isolated road in Refugio Canyon, in the Santa Ynez Mountains northwest of Isla Vista near Rancho del Cielo.[4] Jacqueline Anne Rook's body was found the day after that, near Laney's.[5]

Mary Ann Sarris' body was found on May 22, 1977, near Los Alamos. Laura Sue Benjamin's body was found in a culvert near Angeles Forest Highway and Big Tujunga Road in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles.[6] She was reported to have been a prostitute.[7] Christiansen shot his fifth intended victim, Lydia Preston, in the head, inside his vehicle, on April 18, 1979. She escaped with severe injuries.[2]


  • Jacqueline Ann Rook (b. Jan. 12, 1955),[8] Nov. 20, 1976, aged 21 (Isla Vista, originally from Del Mar, born in Chicago)
  • Mary Ann Sarris (b. Jun. 24, 1957),[9] Dec. 6, 1976, aged 19 (Isla Vista, originally from Santa Rosa)
  • Patricia Marie Laney (b. Sep. 15, 1955),[9] Jan. 18, 1977, aged 21 (Isla Vista, originally from Whittier, though her parents had relocated to Huntington Beach by the time of her death)
  • Laura Sue Benjamin (b. May 7, 1956),[10] May 26, 1979, aged 23 (body found, Los Angeles County; born in New York)


Preston met Christiansen again on July 11, 1979, in the Bottom Line Bar in Hollywood, and reported him to police, who promptly arrested him. Because of Christiansen's address in Goleta, and the similarity of Preston's ordeal to evidence police had collected in the Rook, Sarris, and Laney cases, Christiansen became a suspect in the Isla Vista murders. After his arrest, Santa Barbara County law enforcement realized they had investigated him as a suspect (among approximately one hundred others) in 1977. They noted his possession of a .22 caliber pistol during an earlier arrest for being a minor in possession of alcohol.[2]


Christiansen was first tried in early 1980 in Santa Monica for the murder of Benjamin. He initially pleaded insanity, but withdrew the plea.[11] In June, 1980, he pleaded guilty to the Isla Vista murders,[12] and was sentenced to life in prison.[13]


On March 30, 1981, Christiansen died after being stabbed in the exercise yard at Folsom State Prison. His killer was not identified.[14] According to his defense attorney, James Westwick, psychiatrists had warned that Christiansen would be in danger in prison, due to the sexual nature of his murders and his youthful, blond appearance.[14]


Patricia Laney has become a prominent symbol for groups that advocate against violence to women in the Santa Barbara/Goleta/Isla Vista area. She had been a community volunteer with organizations that advocated against violence to women. The Isla Vista Juggling Festival has been held annually in her memory since 1977, and is still active as of 2019.[15][16]

See also


  1. ^ Dalton, Keith, Santa Barbara News-Press, January 25, 1977, p. 1.
  2. ^ a b c Hurst, John and Belcher, Jerry, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1979, p. B1.
  3. ^ a b Santa Barbara News-Press, 18 June 1980.
  4. ^ Santa Barbara News-Press, 20 January 1977.
  5. ^ Santa Barbara News-Press, 21 January 1977.
  6. ^ Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1979 p. C8.
  7. ^ *YouTube `The Hitchhiker Slayer'
  8. ^ Social Security Death Index; California Death Index.
  9. ^ a b Social Security Death Index; California Death Index; California Birth Index.
  10. ^ California Death Index.
  11. ^ Los Angeles Times, Feb. 15, 1980, p. B2.
  12. ^ Manson, Joe, The Daily Nexus, June 4, 1980, p. 1.
  13. ^ Hardy, Dave, Santa Barbara News-Press, June 18, 1980, p. B-1.
  14. ^ a b Santa Barbara News-Press, 31 March 1981.
  15. ^ Eckstein, Harriet, Santa Barbara Independent, 1996. Archived October 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Santa Barbara Jugglers Association & Club Jugglers at UCSB