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Kristine Johnson: Another Aspiring Model Fell Prey to the Fame and Fortune Racket

Los Angeles- Aspiring actress Kristine Johnson was supposed to be auditioning for the role of a lifetime: A shot at being a Bond girl in a new “007” movie.

The tall, blond, 21-year-old college student modeled her outfit — a miniskirt, nylons, high heels and collared blouse — for her roommate. She told friends she had an appointment in Beverly Hills to meet a photographer with Hollywood connections.

But there was no audition. Johnson never came home.

Her strangled and bruised body was found 16 days later, on March 3, 2003, in a ravine in the Hollywood Hills. A hibiscus tattoo on her back positively identified her.

Johnson, a churchgoing Michigan native, moved to California after graduating from high school to pursue her dream of a career in the entertainment industry.

Her murder was a horrific wake-up call to young Hollywood hopefuls who struggle to get their names and faces in front of star-makers — casting directors, agents, and other insiders who hold the dubious allure of being able to make or break film careers.

Her father Kirk Johnson told reporters that Johnson had talent, but was still trying to get experience, and she may have been too trusting.

“She always gave people the benefit of the doubt, and that scared me,” Kirk Johnson told People magazine.

It was a Saturday afternoon in 2003, the day after Valentine’s Day, when Johnson modeled her audition clothes for a roommate. According to authorities, she told friends she was meeting a photographer who recently approached her at the Century City Shopping Center about a role in the next James Bond film.

He said they were looking for fresh faces, that she was a shoo-in for the part. He told her what to wear.

Johnson put her regular clothes back on, packed up her audition clothes, and drove her white Mazda Miata toward the winding, sycamore-shaded hills of Laurel Canyon.

She got lost along the way, and stopped near Wonderland Avenue to ask a man for directions.

And then she disappeared.

Johnson’s family flew to Los Angeles to join the intensive search effort. Strangers gathered at candlelight vigils in her honor. Her face was plastered on posters, and her name was on the lips of news reporters across the country.

On Feb. 27, Johnson’s 22nd birthday came and went. The only sign of her was her white sports car, discovered in the parking lot of the St. Regis Hotel in Century City on Feb. 24. A valet had parked it on Feb. 16.

On March 3, almost three weeks after Johnson vanished, hikers discovered her body in a ravine in the Hollywood Hills. Her ankles and wrists were bound with shoelaces. She was covered by a sleeping bag.

Her autopsy revealed that she suffered sexual assault, blunt-force trauma and had died of strangulation, according to a report in the Santa Monica Daily Press.

Police already had their number-one suspect in custody.

Victor Paleologus was arrested on Feb. 17, 2003 — two days after Johnson’s disappearance — for allegedly stealing a BMW from a Beverly Hills dealership.

His arrest triggered a parole violation: He had recently been released from state prison after pleading guilty on a 1998 assault to commit rape charge.

During his trial prosecutors presented evidence to jurors about two of the defendant’s six felony convictions.

The details, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times, pointed to a history of violence toward women.

In 1989, Paleologus told a 21-year-old model that he worked for Columbia Records and invited her to a party at L.A.’s Bonaventure hotel, dangling the promise of meeting celebrities. Instead of a party, she was allegedly tied to the bed and attacked.

The woman escaped, and Paleologus was charged with attempted rape, assault and false imprisonment. When the jury deadlocked in 1991, he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment by violence and received three years’ probation.

In 1995, he was charged with breaking into the home of a woman he knew and holding her against her will. He pleaded guilty to burglary and received five years’ probation.

Then, in 1998, he was charged with the attempted rape of a 24-year-old woman who claimed he lured her with the promise of a role in a James Bond movie. He took another plea bargain: guilty to assault to commit rape and was sentenced to state prison.

Paleologus subsequently pleaded guilty to the murder of Johnson, sparing him a possible death sentence for the notorious crime.

The deal was struck in the third week of Paleologus’ trial, following graphic testimony from women who said that before Johnson’s death the purported filmmaker had attacked them after promising them modeling work.

Under the agreement, Paleologus would be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

The 44-year-old man admitted in court to meeting Johnson, 21, at the Century City mall in 2003 and accepted responsibility for her murder.

Although he did not explicitly say he killed her, Paleologus told Johnson’s father, “My sympathies are with you,” and added that he was guilty “as I have outlined to the court.”

Kirk Johnson said he and Kristine’s mother, Terry Hall, had supported the plea deal.

“Justice truly prevailed,” he said. “We got everything we wanted; he will never be on the streets again.”

Paleologus’ attorney, Andrew Flier, noted that in addition to the murder charge, his client had faced six counts of theft, forgery and receiving stolen property that under the three-strikes law would have drawn a 25-years-to-life sentence upon conviction.

“He in essence didn’t get punished for the murder. This is fantastic for the defense,” Flier said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren disagreed with that assessment.

“We wanted the guy off the street, and we wanted him to admit murdering her, which is what he did. We’re thrilled,” the prosecutor said.

During Paleogus’ trial, prosecutors called seven women who testified that Paleologus had lured them to different locations for promised photo shoots or auditions.

Two said he attacked them at the phony auditions.

In one of the incidents, a 1998 attack on a woman in Brentwood, Paleologus was convicted of assault to commit rape.

He served three years and five months before he was paroled Jan. 20, 2003, less than a month before Johnson disappeared.

In testimony at the trial, the assault victim said she met Paleologus at the Skybar in West Hollywood, where he told her he was a production executive and wanted her to work as a model promoting a Bond film.

When she met him a few days later at a closed Brentwood restaurant, Paleologus tied her legs with a nylon strap and tried to remove her clothes, she said. The woman said she was able to fight him off and flee.

Other women testified that Paleologus attracted them with similar offers of work on a Bond movie. Several said he asked them to show up in a standard outfit: a black miniskirt, white top, high heels and tan stockings.

Walgren, the trial prosecutor, credited the women with triggering the guilty plea.

“The cumulative effect of all these women who didn’t know each other coming forward with similar stories definitely had an impact,” he said.

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