Kirsten Costas was a 15-year-old Freshman who attended Miramonte Highschool in Orinda in Northern California. She was a petite, wavy-haired brunette who was described as popular among her peers. Outgoing, witty, sarcastic and confident are just a few charactor-traits that describe her. She had a good home life and was the oldest of two children. She enjoyed going to school and excelled in many different things including being a member of the varsity swim team, cheerleader, she worked in the student office and was a member of the “Bobbies”, a sorority that female students attempted to be part of but only a small chosen few achieved.
Freshman class photo of Bernadette Protti (She looks fairly decent in this photo but the photos below in this story will show her looks were often unappealing.)
Bernadette Protti, then 16, was also a student who attended Miramonte High School. She was described as a quiet “bookworm” who studied and received good grades, and someone who had alot of potential when it came to education. She was respectful to teachers and always got her school work done, attended church, arrived to class each day on time, had a good family upbringing. Your typical good teenager who didn’t rebel.
However, from a students point of view Bernadette was kind but a bit of a follower. Every teenager wishes they were ‘popular’ but many aren’t and learn to accept it. Bernadette was the few who refused to accept it. She rarely went out on weekends mainly due to the fact that she was never invited to social-outings, which bothered her because she wanted so badly to be socially accepted.
She was a huge wannabe according to students who grew up with her. She was anxious around many of the popular students, almost on the verge of being socially awkward. She had low confidence, was insecure and had fantasies of being popular. even attempting to become a cheerleader which, by the way, she failed to do.
The closest she had to the in-crowd was a childhood friend who she grew up with and attended church with. They drifted apart as they entered middle and high school and the childhood friend was paired with Kirsten Costas and her clique, while Bernadette didn’t really fit-in or have a clique, but she did however, have a friend. They were average students on the social-rank, maybe slightly lower but not the lowest rank. They didn’t really stand out and many didn’t know who they were.
Bernadette had a hidden obsession with Kirsten. Why? because Kristen was everything she wasnt. She described her in court as “being good at everything”. She not only had the grades, she had the popularity, boys, social life, style, personality and confidence. The severity of Bernadette’s obsession to be accepted would become apparent a little later down the road.
Everyone at Miramonte High School knew Kirsten even if they never met her, they knew who she was. Bernadette had a class with Kirsten but was mainly ignored. She was quiet and reserved and the only times she would get up close to the in crowd was when her childhood friend was speaking to her in their presence.
Bernadette knew that being friends with Kirsten was her biggest chance at popularity because she over-shadowed her friends and although she tried on several occasions to make small talk with Kirsten, her efforts were always subtly rejected, rebuffed or quickly forgotten. Kirsten popularity and confidence made her a little high maintenance and somewhat stuck up. She had her friends, she had the boys, she had a good family, she had everything and didn’t have room reserved for someone like Bernadette who, in Kirsten’s eyes, was just a follower lurking in the background.
Bernadette started taking up babysitting and used the money to purchase trendy name-brand clothing. She put a hard effort into her appearance in yet another attempt to impress but her stylish attempts were not recognized and it even backfired on her one time.
Full body-shot photo of Kirsten Costas (photo is believed to have been taken during a her highschool ski-trip)
In 1985 students go on a ski-trip vacation. Bernadette was super excited to be spending the weekend sharing a dorm-like room with Kirsten and her friends. Finally she thought, a chance to bond. She went out a purchased what she thought was a stylish ski-outfit. Kirsten didn’t think so and made a snide remark on it, sarcastically asking her if she purchased it at a thrift store, which is a second-hand clothing store that sells outfits at an inexpensive price. The store has a low reputation and many assume that families with low-income go there for deals.
Although she didn’t show it, Bernadette was highly upset at the comment and quietly dwelled on it for several days.
Her efforts persisted however. She was definitely a follower and joined many of the same activities as Kirsten’s clique, including a job at the student office where she worked besides Kirsten. Kirsten would ask her to do ‘favors’ that, if caught, could have made Bernadette lose her office privileges. Bernadette agreed and took the chance in an effort to win her admirer over which never worked. She never gained the respect of Kirsten and started becoming more desperate.
This came after her attempt to join the cheerleading squad, which she didn’t make by the way.
Kirsten apparently never took Bernadette seriously. Bernadette was just a child-friend of one of her friends who followed them when she had the opportunity. She never had to struggle with popularity so she wouldn’t have possibly understood the severity and state-of-mind of someone like Bernadette. I’m sure if she knew what the overly sensitive, high-strung teenager was really capable of, she would have stood clear from the gecko. But she didn’t and had no fear of someone like Bernadette who was just a ‘harmless wannabe’ in her eyes.
One night when Bernadette was hanging with (only) close friend, the friend mentioned a party in which a few older high-school boys were throwing. The friend’s sibling was going so she automatically got an invite and decided to bring Bernadette along for company. Bernadette was thrilled at the idea. She instantly thought of inviting Kirsten to this party. She now had the opportunity to show Kirsten that she was going to be at a party thrown by popular high school boys. She rushed to the phone and called the Costas home and when Mrs. Costas answered she told her that she was a “bobbie”, which is a school sorority in which Kirsten was part of, and that they were throwing her daughter a surprise dinner as part of being a new member of the sorority. Mrs. Costas told the caller that she will inform Kirsten and asked what she should wear in which Bernadette replied, something nice but casual for a night out. She didn’t give Kirsten’s mother her name so Kirsten didn’t know exactly who was going to arrive to pick her up, all she knew was that she had to be ready for 8:30PM.
Photo above of Kirsten Costas home on Orchard Road, and below is her parents, Arthur and Berit Costas.
It’s Saturday evening, June 23, 1984 — Kirsten’s parents and brother had already left to attend a dinner for Peter’s little league team. Kirsten is excited and getting ready for her 8:30PM surprise. She attempts to figure it out beforehand and calls a couple of friends that she believes will give up the secret easily. They, also bobbies, tell her that there is no bobbie surprise and that they didn’t know what she was talking about. She somewhat believed them but thought maybe they were just telling her there was no party to keep the surprise going.
Pictured; Bernadette Protti
8:30PM, June 23, 1984 — A car honks its horn outside the Costas residence. Kirsten comes outside to find out who is behind this ‘surprise’ dinner. By this point she’s still curious and still planning on going out. She walks outside, leaving the TV on, to the mustard-colored, less than appealing Pinto and discovers Bernadette behind the wheel. Her excitement turns to amusement. Bernadette isn’t someone she would consider a fun person to spend a weekend night out with. She asks her what’s going on and that there was no bobbie dinner. Bernadette excitedly tells her that she just made it up and that the real surprise is even better. After being asked more than once, Bernadette finally tells her that there’s a party being thrown by (name of students unknown). Kirsten says alright and gets in the car and they drive off.
On their way to the party Kirsten asks Bernadette to pull over in an empty parking lot so she could smoke some weed. She notices a butcher knife and asks Bernadette about it who in return laughs, and tells her that her sister takes it in the car to cut fruits and vegetables. Kirsten thinks nothing of it and instead turns her attention on the party, asking her who was going and how she had gotten invited. When she learned the truth that Bernadette hadn’t exactly been invited she became annoyed and said she was going to walk into a party that she wasn’t invited too. Bernadette tried explaining that it’s ok but kept getting cut off by Kirsten, who told her that she wasn’t going to embarrass herself and to just take her home. Bernadette became desperate and in a loud-tone said “NO, that would spoil everything”, in which Kirsten responded “There was never anything to spoil”.
By this point it was getting close to 9PM. Bernadette was getting increasingly desperate and felt this incident was the final blow to any chances she had at a decent reputation. Her last attempt was to plead with Kirsten. She asked her why she had to be so mean. Kirsten rolled her eyes in response. — She then told Kirsten that all she wants to do is be her friend and how much she admired her and wanted to be like her.
If Bernadette was hoping for sympathy she surely didn’t get it.
Kristen at this point was “weirded out” and told her that she was pathetic and was acting like she was in love with her. When Bernadette tried explaining herself she was called a weirdo.
By this point Kirsten was out of Bernadette’s vehicle and fled to the nearest house, knocked on the door and was met by an older couple, Alex and Mary Jane Arnold. She asked if she could use their phone to call for a ride. She explained to them, while pointing to Bernadette’s car in the distance, had “gone weird” on her.
Bernadette was bawling, she knew she blew it and her already rocky reputation was going to be tarnished forever. She was frantic and knew Kirsten was going to make her the butt of the joke at school. She felt that she was going to be the laughing-stock and needed to silence Kirsten before she could ruin her name even more.
When Kirsten could not reach her parents by telephone Alex Arnold offered to drive her home. On the ride to drop her off he noticed the pinto following them and asked Kirsten if everything was okay with her and her friend, to which Kirsten replied “Yeah, she’s just a little weird”.
Kirsten was supposedly calm during the ride and talked about school and activities. They pulled up to her home on Orchard Road and she stepped out of the car, thanking Mr. Arnold.
She made it to the front door, which was locked, and knocked. That’s when she noticed Bernadette walking towards her fast, yet silent. Bernadette muttered the words “I would have taken you home” too which Kirsten replied, in a loud tone, “Go Away! You are so weird” — Without warning, Bernadette started stabbing her. Kirsten screamed and Bernadette ran off.
Arnold, sitting in his car, witnessed the incident which he thought was a fist fight. He attempted to follow Bernadette’s car but by this point she was long gone. She had fled after the fifth stab. Kirsten neighbor’s heard her screams and came out and noticed her lying on the ground. They called police and comforted the dying teenager until the ambulance came.
Neighbors heard Kirsten’s screams and noticed her lying down in blood. The ambulance was called and she was comforted. She is reported to have struggled, saying “I can’t breathe”, followed by a gurgling noises. She was choking on her own blood and was mortally wounded.
The ambulance raced her to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead. A stab wound had gone through a major artery.
She was just one month short of her 16 birthday.
Everyone was shocked and hundreds attended her funeral, including Bernadette who was seen by witnesses crying.
Investigators were at Miramonte High School the upcoming week, questioningg students and having many taking lie detector tests. Bernadette was one of the chosen ones who took the test. It came back inconclusive which didn’t point to guilt, but didn’t point to innocence either. She was asked where she was on the night of the murder. Her (fake) alibi went unverified and Kirsten’s murder went unsolved for six months.
Rumors and theories quickly spread threw-out school. Students were pointing fingers, but none pointing to Bernadette, the quiet wannabe who secretly idolized Kristen.
Many students harassed a girl who they believed was responsible for Kirsten’s murder. The student was labelled a ‘goth’ and Kirsten use to pick on her, so many assumed she freaked and murdered her in revenge.
The next half a year Bernadette lived her outward appearance as normal as possible, but inside she was holding a deep dark secret which gave her overwhelming guilt.
Six months later Investigators went over all their evidence, they finally had a person-of-interest. Bernadette Protti.
Photo to the left is Bernadette in Court during her trail – Right photo is a school photo
After attempting to confirm her alibi and rereading her lie detector test, investigators realized they had no evidence so they decided to give Bernadette another lie-detector-test which proved, in their mind, her guilt. The test showed some lies and some inconclusive. They interrogated Protti in an attempt to gain a confession.. After speaking with a FBI officer.Protti wrote her mother a letter in which she made a full confession.
Bernadette claimed to have found the kitchen knife by chance, and her elder sister Gina testified in court that she used to have that knife in her car to cut her vegetables. The Costa’s did not believe her story – they claimed that nobody would use an 18-inch-long knife to slice tomatoes and that Protti, casually dressed on that evening, never intended to take Kirsten to a party, but had planned to murder her.
Bernadette Protti was sentenced to a maximum of 9-years, but was released 7-years later on parole. She was released from prison in 1992 at the age of 23 she left Ventura County. She changed her name, got married (name change again after marriage). And I believe had children, not sure how many to be exact.
The Costas left Orinda and moved to Hawaii. They did state that they didn’t agree with Bernadette’s release and were disappointed with the Justice System.
Kirsten Marina Costas (July 23, 1968 – June 23, 1984)
Left; Tori-Spelling played ”Stacey Lockwood” who depicted Kristen Costa, Right; Kellie-Martin played ”Angela ”Angie” Delvecchio.”
This murder-case attracted alot of attention, and in 1994, the case was made into a life-time movie called ”A friend to die for”, or the UK title, ”Death of a cheerleader”. In the movie, the story is told from Bernadette’s point of view, she is portrayed as the real victim who killed her classmate, while Kirsten Costas is portrayed as a mean-spirited bully, constantly teasing girls who were ‘socially below her.’.
A friend to die for did a good-job matching the personalities of both Kirsten and Bernadette. although somewhat exaggerated. According to an individual who attending the same school as the two girls during the early/mid 80’s, the only thing that was a bit off was the appearance. Kirsten Costa was younger than her killer, and shorter with brown hair, while the lifetime-movie depicted her as a tall-blonde who is a little bit older than the jealous Bernadette. Bernadette Protti however, is blonde in real-life and taller than Kirsten.
The group, ‘Seeing Means More‘, named a song “Bernadette
- Bernadette Protti Found – Bernadette Protti Found has information, along with mini rants of her release, etc.
- Kristen Costa Blogspot which was made in honor of the murdered teen.
Although the story below was published in Ladies’ Home Journal — and was the topic of the 1994 made-for-TV movie “Death of a Cheerleader”/”A Friend to Die For” starring Tori Spelling and Kellie Martin — this story has personal meaning to me, because I was a student at the same school. Along with the rest of the town, I watched this whole tale unfold sadly and slowly during the course of several months.
In addition to presenting the story as it was published in November of 1985, I have also added some photos from my own collection, including one from a trip Kirsten and I both took to Washington DC with a school group, as well as other pictures from our ’85 class yearbook.