On the surface, the differences between Bernadette Protti (2nd photo) and Kirsten Costas (1st photo) were superficial. They both lived in a well-to-do area of Northern California outside Berkeley, were good students and athletes at Miramonte High School and active in their communities. 

Sure, Bernadette’s family wasn’t as well-off as a lot of the kids in school, and while 15-year-old Kirsten was considered quite popular and a member of the “elite clique,” Bernadette had friends and was generally accepted by the school population. Bernadette was accepted and popular in her own way,” a classmate once said. “But she had this obsession with being liked. I could never understand why she thought she wasn’t.  Underneath, however, Bernadette’s inferiority complex was slowly and surely taking over her psyche. She began to displace her feelings by blaming Kirsten, who was described by friends as “pretty” and “vibrant,” for her own sense of inadequacy.

Eventually, this instability would cause her to lash out at the person she felt responsible for her failures. In Bernadette’s twisted mind, there was only one way to improve her sense of self-worth and that was by removing the physical manifestation of her pain — Kirsten Costas.  It isn’t possible to fix a time when Bernadette’s complex took over and dictated her homicidal impulses. There were a series of events which led up to Kirsten’s murder, and just which was the final straw is unknown and irrelevant.

Both Kirsten and Bernadette belonged to a high-school service organization known as the Bob-o-Links or the “Bobbies” which resembled a sorority. As their sophomore school year ended, the girls both tried out for the varsity cheerleading squad. Kirsten made it; Bernadette did not.  “I didn’t make it and I can’t believe it,” she told a friend.  Bernadette suffered another setback when she was rejected for membership in the Atlantis Club, another exclusive organization and was not selected to work on the school’s yearbook. 

Kirsten became the expression of Bernadette’s “failure” and the insecure 15-year-old fixated on a passing remark Kirsten made to her on a ski trip earlier in the year.  “She never liked me. The thing that got me mad was that it hurt,” Bernadette told police after she was arrested for killing Kirsten. “She just said stuff that made me feel bad.”   The girls were skiing and Bernadette, the daughter of a retired public servant, was using “this really crummy pair of skis and some boots. I was having fun anyway, and she made some comment about them.” On June 22, 1984, while Kirsten was at a cheerleading camp, a young woman called her home and spoke with Kirsten’s mother. The girl told Berit Costas that Kirsten was invited to a secret Bob-o-Links initiation dinner the next night. When Kirsten returned home the next day, she was told of the dinner and made plans to attend.  On the night of June 23, the other members of the Costas family prepared to head to the baseball game where Kirsten’s brother was playing. Berit Costas told her daughter to enjoy herself at the dinner and to remember to turn on the porch light.  The Costases would never see Kirsten alive again. 

Around the same time, Raymond Protti drove his daughter to a house near their home where Bernadette said she had a babysitting job. She asked him to leave the car, an orange Ford Pinto, in front of the house because she would feel safer. Raymond Protti agreed and walked the 150 yards back to his home.  A few minutes later, Bernadette drove off in the Pinto and headed for Kirsten’s home. She picked up Kirsten and told her that the Bob-o-Links dinner was simply a rouse for Kirsten’s parents. In fact, they had been invited to an unsupervised party.  According to Bernadette’s confession to police, Kirsten agreed to go to the party, but wanted to stop off at a nearby hangout to smoke some pot. Kirsten’s parents, when they heard Bernadette’s taped confession, strongly disputed the allegation that their daughter was even a casual drug user. 

Bernadette, however, said she didn’t want to smoke.  “We just talked, you know, argued, not argued really, but she didn’t think it was any big deal, and I just didn’t want to,” Bernadette told police. “She thought I was just being weird.”  According to Bernadette, Kirsten stormed out of the car and headed to a nearby home where she told the homeowners, family friends, that she had been with a friend at the church who had “gone weird.” Kirsten’s actions tend to confirm her parents’ contention that their daughter was not a drug user. After all, if the girls were heading to a party, why wouldn’t Kirsten simply wait until she got there to light up if Bernadette was unwilling?  Regardless, Kirsten accepted a ride home after she could not contact her parents.

On the stand during Bernadette’s trial, the friend testified that Kirsten was visibly upset but not frightened.  On the way home, the man noticed that a light-colored Pinto appeared to be following them. Kirsten assured him that it was no big deal. Arriving at the Costas’s home, Kirsten told the man that her family was out, and that instead she was going next door. He watched her cross the lawn. While doing this, he caught a glimpse of a female figure pass by his car in pursuit of Kirsten.  While Kirsten was on the porch of the neighbor’s house, Bernadette attacked her with a large knife she found in the Pinto. She stabbed Kirsten five times, two foot-long gashes in her back and two to Kirsten’s front, including a 15-inch slashing wound that penetrated her left arm, chest and left lung.

The remaining wound was a defensive wound on Kirsten’s right arm.  The wounds to Kirsten’s back punctured her right lung, passed through her diaphragm, and lacerated her liver.  Screaming for help (one witness described it as “a blood-curdling yell”), Kirsten staggered to her feet and ran across the roadwhile Bernadette fled in the Pinto.  “‘Help me, help me, I’ve been stabbed,’” a witness reported that Kirsten said. “She was in shock. I tried to hold her hand and pray a little on the side.”  The Costas family returned home shortly after the attack only to find their normally quiet street abuzz with police and an ambulance. They saw Kirsten being loaded into the ambulance and they followed it to a nearby hospital.  The popular cheerleader, however, was mortally wounded and died at 11:02 p.m. Not far away and an hour before Kirsten died, Bernadette arrived home and took a nice walk with her mother. Nothing seemed amiss.  Bernadette was one of many students who attended Kirsten’s funeral and over the course of the summer took classes to prepare for her confirmation in her church.  “I was really good at blocking it out of my mind, and I still am,” she told police. “That’s why I can live through every day, because it doesn’t seem real.”  To police it was very real and they began a massive investigation of the tragedy. They had just two leads: “the female figure” and the light-colored Pinto.

They conducted more than 300 interviews — including four with Bernadette — tracked down around 1,000 leads and examined 750 Ford Pintos (include the Protti’s car).  To police she was a likely suspect, but to her friends she was seemingly incapable of such a violent, blitz-type attack.  “I knew she had the Pinto, but she was the last person you’d think of,” a friend said. “She seemed as upset about the murder as everybody else.”  After making little progress, the local police contacted the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit for assistance to create a psychological work up of the killer. Known colloquially as “profiling,” the process is technically “criminal investigative analysis.”   Using the profile, investigators narrowed their suspect list to one person: Bernadette Protti (”It sounds just like me,” she told the FBI agent).  Bernadette was brought in for more questioning and agreed to a polygraph exam. She failed parts of it, while other parts were inconclusive. Police still lacked sufficient evidence and Bernadette returned home. Her conscience began to weigh heavily on her and she put her thoughts down in her journal:  “I have caused a lot of hurt and pain to a lot of people. I don’t want to hurt people anymore. I want to go to heaven when I die. I regret what I did. I can’t bring Kirsten back or change time. If I kill myself, I will hurt people even more (my family).” 

She considered whether to commit suicide but her religious upbringing prevented this. “I would go to hell if I killed myself.”  Because she was 15 years old at the time of the offense, California law required that Bernadette be tried as a juvenile. She never disputed the crime.  In 1986, she was convicted and sentenced to the maximum term: nine years in the custody of the California Youth Authority.  “My heart is empty. I ache. I’m half a person,” Berit Costas testified at Bernadette’s sentencing hearing. “She probably will be given her freedom in a few years. I ask the people of California, is this justice?”  Bernadette was paroled when she was 23 and when she was released from supervision at 25, moved out of state with her family. The Costas family also left California. 

Source: Mark Gribben.com