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12 Shocking True Stories of America’s Worst Serial Killers
True Murder Cases included in this volume;
Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris: a pair of deadly psychopaths who kidnapped, raped and tortured teenaged girls, recording their dreadful deeds on tape.
Joe Ball: murdered and dismembered at least three women, but did he feed their remains to his pet alligators?
John Wayne Gacy: one of America's most notorious serial killers. Gacy killed at least 33 young men, burying the bodies in the crawlspace of his house.
Keith Jesperson: the Happy Face Killer used his job as a long-haul truck driver to dispense death from coast to coast.
Velma Barfield: born-again Christian, model parent, serial murderer of six people, including her own mother.
Gerald Stano: went to the chair for over 40 brutal murders, but was he a serial killer or just a serial confessor?
Micajah & Wiley Harpe: arguably America's first serial killers, the Harpes rampaged through Mississippi and Kentucky, killing, robbing, and raping as they went.
Lorenzo Gilyard: a rare serial killer who stopped killing of his own accord. And he might have gotten away with murder had DNA evidence not nailed him as the deadly Kansas City strangler.
Jerry Brudos: a cross-dressing foot fetishist and necrophile, Brudos kept some of his victims' body parts as bizarre keepsakes.
Lemuel Smith: already serving life for a series of brutal murders, Smith claimed one last victim, a female prison guard who he savagely choked and mutilated.
William W. Rogers: a surgical nurse who took his work home with him, leaving a trail of dismembered corpses throughout New York and New Jersey.
Joseph Kallinger: enlisted his 13-year-old son as his accomplice in a series of horrific home invasions.
Lawrence Bittaker & Roy Norris
The Toolbox Killers
The popular public perception of a serial killer is of a lone predator, prowling the streets for unwary victims. But there are actually a surprising number of serial killers (as many as 10 to 28% by some estimates) who hunt in pairs. Some of the names – Bianchi and Buono; Lake and Ng; Bonin and Butts, to name a few - have entered the public consciousness as nightmarish legend. Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris are less well known. This may be because their crime spree occurred in an extremely compacted period of time and they were arrested before the media even picked up on the brutal series of homicides. But make no mistake about it, this psychopathic pair are among the most vicious and depraved killers in the annals of serial murder.
Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 27, 1940. Adopted at birth, he was raised by George Bittaker and his wife, Marie. George worked in the aviation industry and his work meant that the family moved frequently, first to Florida, then Ohio, and finally to California. Lawrence was a troubled child and had several brushes with the juvenile authorities before dropping out of school in 1957. Soon after, he was arrested for auto theft and being involved in a hit-and-run. That earned him a term in the California Youth Authority, where he remained until he was 19.
Within days of his release, Bittaker was in trouble again, this time for driving a stolen vehicle across state lines. Convicted on that charge in August 1959, he was sentenced to 18 months at a federal prison in Oklahoma. He was released after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
His next arrest was for a robbery in Los Angeles, in December 1960, which sent him back to prison for 15 years. While serving this term, Bittaker was subjected to a series of psychiatric test, which found him to be a “borderline psychotic” with “poor impulse control,” a “classic sociopath,” who would likely escalate his criminal behavior and who could “kill without hesitation or remorse.”
Despite this, Bittaker was released in late 1963, having completed barely one-sixth of his sentence. Not that prison had taught Lawrence Bittaker any lessons. Two months after his release, he was back inside, setting off a cycle that would see him in and out of prison on a regular basis, for crimes ranging from robbery to hit-and-run to attempted murder.
One of the correctional facilities where Bittaker did time was the California Men's Colony at San Louis Obispo. It was there that he met Roy Norris.
Roy Lewis Norris was born in Greeley, Colorado, on February 2, 1948, and was raised in that town, remaining there until be dropped out of high school and joined the Navy at 17. He spent all of his tenure in San Diego, save for four months in Vietnam in 1969, where he served as a non-combatant.
Back in California in November of ’69 Norris got himself into trouble for the attempted rape on a woman. While out on bail for that offense, he attacked another woman, this time trying to break into her home. This latest attack earned him a medical discharge from the Navy, after he was diagnosed as having a “severe schizoid personality.”
Norris soon proved that assessment right. While awaiting trial for his previous assault he attacked a student at San Diego State College, clubbing her with a stone before slamming her head repeatedly into a concrete sidewalk. Arrested on that charge he spent five years as an inmate of Atascadero State Hospital.
Three months after his release in 1975, Norris attacked a woman in Redondo Beach, California, strangling her into unconsciousness before dragging her into some bushes and raping her. The woman was unable to identify her attacker, but a month later she spotted Norris cruising on his motorcycle. She wrote down the license plate number and passed it on to the police. Convicted of rape, Norris earned himself a trip to the “Colony” at San Louis Obispo.
It is easy to see what drew Bittaker and Norris to each other. These two reprobates shared similar fantasies of rape, torture and domination. Norris listened closely when Bittaker told him that he planned on being, “bigger than Manson.” Soon the pair had concocted a monstrous plan for kidnapping, raping and torturing teenaged girls. In fact, they decided it might be fun to select a victim for each “teen” year, from 13 to 19.
Bittaker was released on parole on November 15, 1978, Norris two months later, on January 15, 1979. In February 1979, Bittaker contacted Norris and they arranged to meet for drinks. It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to their planned campaign of rape and murder.
Not long after, Bittaker bought a silver 1977 GMC cargo van, which was perfect for their purposes. The van had no side windows, but there was a large sliding door on the passenger side. If the intended victim turned down the offer of a ride, Bittaker reasoned, they could always pull up close and snatch her right off the street. He christened his new vehicle, “Murder Mack.”
Over the next four months, from February to June 1979, Bittaker and Norris took Murder Mack out on a series of test runs. They cruised the beaches, tried to pick up girls and asked them to pose for photos. Norris later reckoned that they gave rides to maybe 20 girls during this time, without harming any of them.
But even while they were picking up girls and releasing them unharmed, Bittaker and Norris were searching for an isolated spot where they might take their victims once they were ready to swing their plan into action. Sometime in April, they found the perfect place, a remote fire road in the San Gabriel Mountains, close to Glendora.
Eventually, on June 24, 1979, they were ready. They spent that morning fitting a bed into the back of Murder Mack, especially constructed with room to conceal a body underneath. Then, at about 11:00 a.m. they began searching for a victim. Throughout the afternoon, they cruised the beaches from Redondo to Santa Monica, without any luck. Then, at around 5:00 p.m., they spotted Cindy Schaeffer.
The pretty, blonde, 16-year-old was walking back to her grandmother's house, after a Christian youth meeting at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church when Murder Mack pulled alongside and Norris leaned out and offered her a ride. Cindy declined and kept walking as the van drove slowly behind her. Then Bittaker gunned the engine and swung the vehicle into a driveway, cutting the girl off.
Norris slid the door open and stepped onto the sidewalk, smiling, asking her again if she wanted a ride. Cindy tried to walk around him, but he cut her off, grabbed her and forced her into the van. As he slammed the sliding door shut, Bittaker cranked up the volume of the radio to cut off Cindy’s cries. As the van sped away, Norris subdued the girl and then sealed her mouth with duct tape and bound her wrists and ankles.
They drove her to the mountain fire road and parked out of sight from the highway. They ordered the terrified girl to strip, then took turns raping her. When they were done, Norris tried to strangle her with his hands, but he couldn’t do it and had to go outside to throw up in the bushes. When he returned Bittaker was strangling the girl. Eventually, they twisted a wire coat hanger around her throat, then tightened it until Cindy went into convulsions and died. They later wrapped the body in a plastic shower curtain and tossed it into a ravine.
Two weeks later, Bittaker and Norris went hunting again. On Sunday, July 8, they spotted a pretty young hitchhiker, but before they could pick her up, a white convertible stopped and gave the girl a ride. Far from being put off, the predators simply followed the convertible and waited until the driver dropped his passenger off. While Norris concealed himself under the bed in back, Bittaker pulled over and offered the girl a ride. She gratefully accepted.
The girl introduced herself as Andrea Hall and said she was 18-years-old when Bittaker asked. Once they were underway, he told her to help herself to a cold drink, stashed in a cooler at the back of the van. Andrea thanked him and fetched herself a soda, but as she turned her back, Norris slid out from under the bunk and attacked her. She fought hard, but Norris soon subdued, bound and gagged her. Then Bittaker drove for the fire road.
Once there, Andrea was repeatedly raped by both men. Eventually, Bittaker picked up his Polaroid camera and pulled Andrea from the van. He then told Norris to drive to Glendora for beer.
When Norris returned he found Bittaker alone. Bittaker showed him some photos he’d taken of the terrified girl. He said that he’d told Andrea to beg for her life, but when her arguments hadn’t been convincing enough he’d stabbed her in each ear with an ice pick. That had made her scream, but it hadn’t killed her, so he’d strangled her and pitched her body over a cliff.
Bittaker and Norris went prowling again on Labor Day, September 3. At Hermosa Beach, they spotted two girls sitting at a bus stop, and offered them a ride. Fifteen-year-old Jackie Gilliam and 13-year-old Leah Lamp were happy to accept and also accepted a joint that Bittaker passed around. He told the girls they were going to the beach, but as they turned north and started driving inland, the girls began to ask questions. Bittaker said that he wanted to find a safe place to get high. He brought the van to a halt near a suburban tennis court and Leah, perhaps sensing something was wrong, made a move for the door. Norris cut her off, clubbing her with a baseball bat.
As Jackie and Leah struggled, Bittaker joined Norris in the back and between them they managed to subdue the teenagers. As they bound and gagged the girls, Bittaker noticed that several of the tennis players were watching from the nearby courts. He quickly got behind the wheel and sped off. But he needn’t have worried. The players got back to their tennis game, not one of them bothering to call the police.
This time, Bittaker and Norris kept their victims alive for two days, raping and torturing them. And they added a sickening new twist, making an audiotape of their atrocities. When they eventually had to leave, Bittaker drove an ice pick into both of Jackie Gilliam’s ears, then, with the young girl writhing in excruciating pain, he strangled her to death. The men then turned their attention on the cowering 13-year-old. Bittaker squeezing her throat while Norris caved in her head with a sledgehammer. They pitched their victims off a cliff, the ice pick still imbedded in Jackie Gilliam's skull.
Bittaker and Norris now believed they had their little murder enterprise down to a fine art. On Sunday, September 30, they snatched Shirley Sanders, an Oregon resident, from a street in Manhattan Beach. Both men then raped her in the van, but somehow Sanders managed to escape. She reported the assault, but she was unable to provide a reliable description of either man, giving the police little to go on.
Fully expecting to be arrested, Bittaker and Norris laid low for a month, but when no police officers came knocking at their door, they went hunting again. On Halloween night, they found 16-year-old Lynette Ledford hitchhiking near Tijunga in the San Fernando Valley. Within 5 minutes of picking her up, Norris had Lynette bound and gagged on the floor of Murder Mack.
The killers were getting more confident now. Bittaker chose not to drive into the mountains. They decided to rape and torture the girl as they cruised the suburban streets. Norris took the wheel while Bittaker climbed in the back and turned on his tape recorder. The recording, later played as evidence during Bittaker’s trial, is particularly harrowing.
There are sounds of Bittaker slapping the girl. “Say something, girl!” he demands “What do you want me to say?” Lynette responds. The slapping continues. Lynette cries out in pain. Bittaker: “You can scream louder than that, can't you?” Lynette screams louder, but Bittaker isn’t satisfied. He goes to work on her with a pair of vice-grip pliers. "Scream, baby!" he urges. The next voice on the tape is Roy Norris. “Make noise there, girl! Go ahead and scream or I'll make you scream!” “I'll scream if you stop hitting me,” Lynette sobs. Norris then starts hitting her elbows with a hammer, while he chants: “Keep it up, girl! Keep it up! Scream till I say stop!"
Eventually tiring of tormenting the girl, Bittaker parked the van, wrapped a wire coat hanger around her throat and tightened it with a pair of pliers. He then decided that it might be amusing to dump the body on someone’s front lawn, as the Hillside Stranglers had done (Angelo Buono, one of that diabolical duo, had been arrested just days before). Lynette Ledford's brutalized body was discovered the next day, lying in a bed of ivy. She’d been stabbed and slashed numerous times and her body was covered in brushes where Bittaker had ripped at her flesh with his pliers.
Given the depravity of the killers, the short spacing between their murders and the ready number of victims available to them in greater Los Angeles, it is frightening to consider how many innocent young women might have fallen victim to Bittaker and Norris. But, fortunately, Roy Norris had a big mouth. He began bragging about the murders to a former cellmate named Jimmy Dalton. Dalton didn’t believe him at first, but after Lynn Ledford's body was found he made a call to the LAPD, who passed the information on to Hermosa Beach detectives (Ledford's corpse had been found in that jurisdiction).
The silver van rang a bell with Hermosa Beach detective Paul Bynum. He’d heard it mentioned in connection with the rape of Shirley Sanders just a month before. Sanders was contacted and quickly picked Bittaker and Norris out of a photo line up.
Bynum arranged to put the pair under surveillance and got a break just two days later, when Norris was spotted selling marijuana on the street. Norris was arrested for a parole violation, and a couple of days later, Bittaker was taken into custody on suspicion of kidnapping and raping Shirley Sanders.
Under interrogation, Norris quickly crumbled, but insisted that he was Bittaker’s reluctant accomplice. He said Bittaker had once saved his life in prison and that the “prison code” demanded that he go along with anything Bittaker told him to do. The audiotapes though, told a different story, showing Norris to be a full participant.
Realizing that he would most likely be facing the death penalty, Roy Norris sought a deal. In early 1980, he led investigators to the San Gabriel murder sites where they found Leah Lamp and Jackie Gilliam, although no trace of Cindy Schaeffer or Andrea Hall was found and they remain missing to this day.
Norris was sentenced to 45 years to life. He came up for parole in 2010 and was turned down. His next scheduled parole date is 2020, but given the nature of his crimes it is unlikely that he will ever be released.
Bittaker meanwhile, went on trial for five counts of first-degree murder. On February 17, 1981, he was found guilty on all five murder counts plus 21 other related felonies. He was sentenced to death. He currently resides on death row at California’s San Quentin prison.
American Monsters Volume Seven includes 11 more riveting stories of America's worst serial killers