Killing For Fun

May 7, 2012 - by Mark Pulham

May 7, 2012

Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker

Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker

Repeated psychiatric evaluations conducted by various prison doctors showed that Lawrence Bittaker was a psychopath who should not be paroled. Yet he was paroled time and time again before being convicted of brutally raping, torturing and murdering five teenage girls over a four-month period in 1979. 

by Mark Pulham

The San Fernando Valley is a familiar sight for moviegoers. The Valley is the home to Universal Studios, and is filled with beautiful homes, and is a destination point for visitors from all over the world. It’s the setting for such films as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the Back To The Future series. Less wholesome is the fact that it’s also the porn center for the United States, with 90 percent of legally distributed porn films that are made in the U.S. being made by companies based in the Valley.

Despite the less than respectable industry that is based there, the Valley is a great place to live.

But at the end of 1979, the Valley got an unwelcome shock.

For the previous couple of years, Los Angeles had been terrorized by a series of murders committed by the Hillside Strangler, a singular name given to two killers, cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, with some of the victims connected to the Valley.

There was relief when Angelo Buono was arrested on October 22, to join his cousin in custody, maybe the city could relax.

But the relief was short lived.

It was Halloween night in the San Fernando Valley, and a young girl was hitchhiking in the Sunland-Tujunga residential district. It was late, and when the GMC van drew alongside her, she was grateful for the ride. But, appropriately for Halloween, her night turned into one of terror.

For the residents of one house in Hermosa Beach, the fictional horrors of the night before turned into a real one the next morning. Displayed on their lawn, like a discarded Halloween prop, was the naked and tortured body of the young girl.

The police and the community were stunned by the discovery. Ten days had passed since the arrest of the second Hillside Strangler, could there have been a third that no one knew about? But it was plainly obvious that this was not a strangler victim, this was something much worse. The community was horrified, they had just ended one serial killer spree, and now they were facing another.

But this young girl was not the first victim, she was the last, and unknown to the residents of the city, this was a team that had been working for months.

 

Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker

On September 27, 1940, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a woman gave birth to a baby boy that she never wanted, and soon gave up for adoption. He was soon taken by Mr. and Mrs. George Bittaker, and baby Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker became part of a loving family.

George worked for the aircraft industry, a job which took him and his family on frequent moves around the country, until finally they ended up in California. Maybe it was this rootless lifestyle, this instability, which made Lawrence rebellious. Whatever it was, by the time he was 16, Lawrence had dropped out of school and was beginning to get into trouble with the authorities.

Within a short space of time, he had been arrested for hit and run, auto theft, and evading arrest. He ended up serving time with the California Youth Authority, where he stayed until he was 19.

No sooner had Lawrence been paroled when he was in trouble again, this time in Louisiana, where he was picked up by the FBI after he broke the Interstate Motor Vehicle Theft Act. Bittaker had been out of prison only a matter of days.

This conviction, in August, 1959, got him a sentence of 18 months in an Oklahoma Federal reformatory. Bittaker’s behavior there caused the authorities to transfer him to the U.S. Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri. After serving just two thirds of his sentence, the doctors released him.

By December, 1960, Bittaker was arrested again after committing a robbery. He was convicted of this crime in May the following year, and this time the sentence was indeterminate, one to 15 years in the state prison.

There, he was given a psychiatric examination, and he was found to be a manipulative and borderline psychotic with concealed hostility. A second examination later found that he also had poor control over impulsive behavior. The opinion of the experts was that Bittaker would never stop committing crimes.

Despite these expert opinions, he was paroled in late 1963. He had served just one sixth of a possible maximum sentence.

Bittaker’s life had taken on a bizarre pattern. He would commit a crime, get sent to jail, and then, shortly after, he would be released and then promptly repeat the whole thing again.  Just two months after he was released in 1963, he was jailed for parole violation, and was also suspected in a robbery.

Paroled once more, he went back to prison in October, 1964. While inside this time, he was given another psychiatric examination. Once again, the experts considered him to be a borderline psychotic. During this examination, Bittaker told them that robbery made him feel important.

Unbelievably, and despite the opinion of experts, the authorities once again released Bittaker. And once again, in June, 1967, he violated parole. Within a month, Bittaker had been arrested for hit and run, and theft. Convicted, he got a sentence of five years, but was paroled in April, 1970. He had served less than three years.

In March, 1971, he was arrested for burglary and, as usual, parole violation. His conviction the following October ended with a sentence of six months to 15 years. Once again, he was released early, this time in 1974, after serving just three years.

Shortly after, Bittaker decided to do some shoplifting, and while in a supermarket, he picked up a steak and hid it down his pants, then walked out. An employee saw him and followed him out to the parking lot, where he confronted Bittaker, who then pulled out a knife and stabbed the employee. The employee lived, and Bittaker was charged with attempted murder.

Once again, Bittaker under went a psychiatric examination, this time by a forensic psychiatrist named Dr. Ronald Markman. Markman did not agree with the opinions of the other experts who had examined Bittaker. Markman concluded that Bittaker was not a borderline psychotic, but was, instead, a classic sociopath, explaining that Bittaker was incapable of learning the rules of society. He would never stop committing his crimes, and in fact would escalate to more serious offenses.

Bittaker was sent to the California Men’s Colony, a male only state prison in San Luis Obispo. Some prisons, such as San Quentin, are harsh places, where a sentence is considered “hard time.” But the Men’s Colony is not like that. Considered to be a soft prison, it’s more relaxed and not tough.

 

The Psychopath Meets the Schizoid

Roy Norris
Roy Norris

At the Colony, Bittaker made a new friend, a man named Roy Norris.

Bittaker was given yet another evaluation, this time in 1977. The conclusion was that Bittaker would likely continue to commit new crimes once he was released. One year later, in 1978, another psychiatrist said that Bittaker was a sophisticated psychopath and that he would never be successfully paroled.

So, that November, the authorities released him from prison.

Bittaker’s new friend, Roy Lewis Norris, was eight years younger, born on February 2, 1948, in Greeley, Colorado. Unlike Bittaker, Norris’s family didn’t move around and his life was fairly stable. But, like Bittaker, he was rebellious and at the age of 17, he dropped out of school. Norris joined the Navy and was stationed at San Diego until 1969, when he was sent to Vietnam for a four month tour of duty. Norris was one of the lucky ones, during his tour in Vietnam, he never saw action.

By November, 1969, Norris was back in the United States, and once again stationed at San Diego. During that month, Norris managed to force his way into a woman’s car and attack her. He was captured and charged with attempted rape. Three months later, while Norris was out on bail pending his trial, he went up to a house and knocked on the door. A woman answered the door and Norris asked if he could come in and use the telephone. The woman refused, and Norris then tried to break in through the living room window. He was unsuccessful and so ran around to the back of the house and attempted to break through the kitchen window. This time he was successful, but the woman had been given enough time to call the police, and before Norris could do anything, the police arrived and arrested him.

Understandably, the Navy no longer wanted Norris to be associated with them, and he was administratively discharged due to psychological problems. After an examination, he had been diagnosed with a severe schizoid personality.

In May, 1970, while he was still awaiting the disposition of the two charges against him, Norris attacked a woman on the campus of San Diego State College. Norris ran up and tackled her to the ground from behind, and then hit her on the head with a rock. Once on the ground, he proceeded to slam her head continuously against the concrete.

Miraculously, the woman survived her injuries, and Norris was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Norris was sent to the Atascadero State Hospital, a psychiatric institution, where, after examination, he was diagnosed as a mentally disordered sex offender. Norris spent five years at Atascadero, at which point the doctors there decided that he was “no further danger to others.”

Three months after he was released, Norris was in Redondo Beach, cruising around on a motorbike. The assessment by the doctors at Atascadero that Norris was no further danger was disproved when Norris spotted a 27-year-old woman who was walking home after having a quarrel with her boyfriend. Norris pulled up and asked her if she wanted a lift. The woman said no.

Norris was not the type to be put off by this, and so he leapt off the bike and attacked her. Grabbing her scarf, he pulled it tight around her neck, strangling her until she slipped into semi-consciousness. Unable to resist, she was dragged behind a hedge where Norris raped her.

Dazed, the woman was unable to give a good description of her attacker, and the police were unable to capture him. However, a month later, the woman was out and she saw Norris on his motorbike. She immediately recognized him, and this time, she took down his license number and called the police.

Norris was convicted of forcible rape, and was sent to the Colony, and his fateful meeting with Lawrence Bittaker.

Norris and Bittaker hit it off. They were a perfect match for each other, but it was not one made in Heaven.

As the two men got to know each other, they discovered they had similar interests, particularly rape and murder. Norris stated that on two occasions, Bittaker had saved his life, though there are no details of what happened on these occasions. But the fact that Bittaker had saved him, according to a “prisoner’s code,” meant that Norris was bound to his older companion, and would do anything that he asked of him.

Bittaker gave Norris some friendly criticism. The reason that Norris had been caught, Bittaker told him, was that he left a witness alive.

During their time together, the two men became close, and Bittaker came up with what he considered a fun thing to do when they were both out of prison. They would pick up a girl from one of the teen years, 13 through to 19, and kidnap her. The object of the game was to see how long they could keep her alive and screaming before they killed her. They would do it, as Norris would later say, “for fun.”

 

The “Murder Mack

After Bittaker was freed on November 15, 1978, he moved to Los Angeles and waited for his friend to be released. He didn’t have to wait long. Two months later, on January 15, 1979, Roy Norris was set free and he moved in with his mother in Los Angeles. It has been suggested that Norris was having an incestuous relationship with his mother, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this.

1977 GMC cargo van
1977 GMC cargo van

Soon, the two men met in a bar and began planning their escapades.

The first thing to do was acquire a suitable vehicle. They bought a 1977 GMC cargo van, which was perfect for their purpose as it had no side or back windows, which meant that everything they did in the back of the van was unobservable. It also had a large sliding door on the passenger side, just what they needed to snatch anyone who was unwilling to be persuaded into the van. Later, they made alterations to the van to make it the perfect vehicle for abduction, rape and murder. They even gave it a nickname, the “Murder Mack.”

Between February and June, the two men drove up and down the Pacific Coast Highway where they would stop at beaches, talk with some of the girls there and snap photographs, seemingly acting like a couple of normal guys, rather than two men practicing for a killing spree. During this period, Norris later said, they picked up at least 20 girls, all of whom they could have abducted, but didn’t.

These five months were their test runs, finding places where they could pick up the girls, and finding places where they could indulge in their “fun” with no chance of getting caught.

What they really needed was a place that was totally isolated, and sometime around April, they found the perfect location.

It was in the San Gabriel Mountains, in northern Los Angeles County, and the home to Mount Baldy and the Mount Wilson Observatory. Surrounded by the Angeles National Forest, it was remote enough for the men and their purpose. In addition, they had come across a gated fire road and smashed the padlock to gain access. Now, with everything in place, it was time to start the game.

 

Victim No. 1 – 16-Year-Old Lucinda “Cindy” Schaeffer

It was Sunday, June 24, 1979, and Lucinda “Cindy” Schaeffer had been to the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Redondo Beach, where she had taken part in a Christian Youth meeting.

Cindy Schaeffer
Cindy Schaeffer

It was around 5 p.m., and Cindy decided to leave the meeting early and make her way toward her grandmother’s house in Torrance. Cindy headed off along the Pacific Coast Highway.

For Bittaker and Norris, the day had started off fairly ordinarily. They worked on the van for most of the morning, fitting a bed into the back, with enough space underneath it to conceal a body. They also put in a cooler and a toolbox. After they had finished the alterations, sometime around 11 a.m., they began to drive aimlessly around, stopping at beaches and chatting with girls, drinking some beers, and always on the lookout for someone who would be suitable for their adventures.

As they drove along the road in Redondo Beach, Bittaker spotted Cindy and remarked, “There’s a cute little blonde.”

They pulled the van up alongside her and Norris called out to her, asking if she wanted a ride somewhere. Cindy told him that she didn’t and carried on walking. The van pulled ahead and stopped, and Norris got out. When Cindy got closer, Norris asked again, and once again, Cindy declined. This time, as she attempted to walk past him, Norris grabbed her. The sliding door opened and Cindy was forced into the van, screaming. To muffle the noise, Bittaker turned the radio up high.

Norris struggled with Cindy in the back, but then managed to get a strip of duct tape across her mouth, and managed to bind her wrists and ankles. The sliding door was closed and the van sped off. On the sidewalk sat one lone shoe, dropped from Cindy’s foot as she was dragged into the van. No one had noticed a thing.

The two men drove through the city and into the hills, then along the fire road far enough that they were hidden from view from the highway. Cindy was dragged from the van and dumped on the ground, and the two men began to relax. They smoked some grass and then began to question the terrified girl, asking about her family and her boyfriend.

Eventually, the men grew tired of this, and started what they came there for. They ordered the 16 year old to strip.

Bittaker took a walk while Norris spent the next hour raping her and forcing her to perform oral sex. When Bittaker came back, he took over, raping her repeatedly, while this time, Norris took a walk.

When Norris returned, the two men spent the rest of the night taking turns raping and torturing her.

Cindy was aware that she was going to die, and she pleaded for the men to allow her to pray. They wouldn’t let her. Finally, deciding to end the game, Norris began to strangle her, but he made a mess of it. He went off to the bushes and started to vomit.

Bittaker took over and started to choke the girl, but Cindy kept jerking about. Bittaker made the comment that it was more difficult to strangle someone than it showed on television. Bittaker went to the van and came back with a wire coat hanger and he got over her head and around her throat. Using a pair of vice grip pliers, both men used it to twist and tighten the hanger like a garrote. Cindy convulsed for a few more moments before her body went limp and she stopped moving. The coat hanger was so deeply embedded in Cindy’s neck that it had cut through the flesh, and blood was seeping out.

The men got a plastic shower curtain from the back of the van, spread it on the ground, and placed Cindy’s body on it. After wrapping the curtain around her, she was placed back in the van, and the two men drove around for a while looking for a suitable dumping spot. Finally, they came across a deep canyon. They removed Cindy from the van and tossed her into the canyon, confident that it was unlikely to be discovered, and that the wildlife in the area would take care of any evidence anyway.

The two men drove back into Los Angeles, pleased with the night’s accomplishments, but also feeling unsatisfied. Something was missing; it could have been a better experience. The next time, they would do things better.

 

Victim No. 2 – 18-year-old Andrea Joy Hall 

Two weeks later, on Sunday, July 8, the two men went out hunting again.

Andrea Hall
Andrea Hall

Manhattan Beach is roughly halfway between Redondo Beach and the Los Angeles airport, and it was there, along the Pacific Coast Highway, where Bittaker and Norris spotted their next victim. Andrea Joy Hall was hitchhiking along the highway when they saw her. She was ideal, but their plans were foiled when a white convertible pulled in ahead and asked if she wanted a lift. Grateful, Andrea climbed into the car, and they drove off.

The men cursed their luck, but, not to be denied a perfect victim, the Murder Mack followed along behind, guessing correctly that somewhere along the route, the convertible would pull over and let the girl out. Around noon, that’s exactly what happened.

Seeing their chance, the van pulled to a stop next to her and she was offered a lift. It looked to her that there was only one man in the van, so she said yes and got in. Bittaker drove off, and asked Andrea if she was thirsty, telling her that there was a cooler in the back of the van with some cold drinks in it if she wanted to get one.

Andrea went to the back to get a can of soda, and when she turned back, Norris lunged out of the hiding place under the bed and attacked her.

Andrea wasn’t a pushover, and there was a struggle, but finally, Norris managed to sweep her legs out from under her and succeeded in getting her arms behind her back. Norris tied her wrists and ankles, and covered her mouth with tape.

This time, after they reached their hideout on the fire road, they dispensed with the conversation altogether. Andrea’s clothing was torn off and both men took turns raping the terrified 18 year old.

When both men were finished, Bittaker took out a Polaroid camera and loaded film into it. Bittaker dragged Andrea from the van, and then told Norris to go and buy some beer. Norris climbed into the van and drove off, leaving Bittaker and Andrea alone on the fire road. Norris went to a small convenience store somewhere down the mountain and then drove back. When he returned, Bittaker was alone, and grinning to himself over some Polaroid photographs he had in his hand.

The photographs were of Andrea, her face stricken with terror. Bittaker told Norris what happened. After he drove off, Bittaker told Andrea that he was going to kill her, and asked her to give him reasons as to why he shouldn’t do it. Andrea told him, pleading for life, and then Bittaker told her that he didn’t think her reasons were good enough. All the while he took snaps of her expression as she realized that she was doomed.

To kill her, Bittaker went to the toolbox and brought out an ice pick. Grabbing Andrea, he jammed the pick through her ear and into her brain. He then removed it, and did the same with the other ear. But it didn’t kill her. Because she failed to die straight away, Bittaker strangled her to death, and then threw her body over a cliff, once again confident that wildlife will clear up the mess for them.

 

Victims No. 3 and 4 – 15-Year Old Jackie Gilliam and 13-Year-Old Leah Lamp 

Jackie Gilliam
Jackie Gilliam

There was a break of almost two months before Norris and Bittaker went cruising again. It was Labor Day, September 3, and this time the stakes would be higher for the two men, but their enjoyment would be doubled.

The two men drove along the Pacific Coast Highway, and as it passed through Hermosa Beach, they spotted two girls sitting on a bus stop bench at the corner of the PCH and Pier Avenue. Jackie Gilliam and Leah Lamp had been heading toward the beach, walking and hitchhiking, when they sat down to take a break. When the van pulled over and offered them a lift, they accepted.

The van drove away, and at first, the girls didn’t notice anything was wrong. But then one of them noticed that they were not heading toward the beach. Instead they were headed north, in the opposite direction, away from the beach. The Murder Mack was heading toward the mountains.

The girls began to complain, but Bittaker, driving, said they wanted to go somewhere first, somewhere safe where they could smoke some pot and get high. The girls continued making complaints and said they wanted to get out, and Norris was trying to shut them up, but failing.

Leah Lamp
Leah Lamp

Bittaker pulled into the parking lot of a tennis court so he could help Norris. As soon as the van stopped, Leah tried to open the van door and get out, but Norris was too fast. He grabbed a baseball bat and swung it hard, hitting Leah in the head. Now a struggle began with Norris and Jackie. As she tried to get away, Bittaker punched her in the face as hard as he could. Dazed, both girls were subdued, and then Bittaker noticed that some tennis players were looking and wondering what was going on.

Bittaker called out some explanation and the van was driven off. Unbelievably, despite what they just witnessed, not one of the tennis players thought about calling the police and reporting what they saw. The van headed toward the San Gabriel’s and safety.

Jackie and Leah were continuously raped and tortured with wire coat hangers and pliers, and Bittaker took around 25 photographs of their ordeal. To add to the photographic trophies, Bittaker has also brought along a tape recorder, and they taped themselves brutalizing the girls.

After almost two days of terror and pain for the girls, the men decided it was time to kill them. As with Andrea Hall, Bittaker took an ice pick from the toolbox and jammed it into Jackie’s ears and into the brain. Once again, it did not result in death. Bittaker and Norris then took turns strangling her until finally, Jackie breathed her last.

The two men then turned to Leah, who had watched the whole thing. Bittaker took her around the throat and strangled her while, at the same time, Norris picked up a sledge hammer and used it to smash her seven times on the head. Both bodies were then tossed over a cliff like garbage, the ice pick still embedded in Jackie’s skull.

Jackie Gilliam was 15 years old, Leah Lamp just 13.

 

Victim No. 5 Escapes After Being Raped

On Sunday, September 30, Shirley Sanders was walking along when the Murder Mack pulled up along side her. Shirley was from Oregon, but she was in California to visit her father, who was living in Manhattan Beach. The driver asked Shirley if she needed a lift. Shirley said that she didn’t and carried on walking. Once again, not taking no for an answer, one of the men sprayed her with pepper spray and dragged her into the Murder Mack. They sped away and the two men raped her while she was in the van.

But this time, they made a mistake. Possibly because they were becoming over confident, the two men relaxed their guard for a moment too long. Seeing her chance, Shirley managed to get out of the van and ran. The two men didn’t catch her.

Shirley reported the rape to the police, but she was unable to supply them with a license number, and she was unable to identify the men who attacked her. All she could tell them was that the van was silver. The police, with so little to go on, were unable to pursue the matter any further. Shirley’s age is not known, but she had to have been within the age range that Bittaker and Norris were targeting.

For the next month, Bittaker and Norris laid low, wondering if there would be a knock on the door. But, as time passed, they realized they were safe. It had been close. Bittaker moved to a new apartment, but Norris continued to live with his mother.

As the days and weeks passed, and no one had come looking for them, the men began to relax, and confident that they were not being sought by the police, they began to cruise the streets once more.

 

Victim No. 6 – 16-Year-Old Shirley Lynette Ledford 

On Halloween night, Bittaker and Norris went out hunting for another victim. This time, they didn’t go along their usual route, the PCH corridor. Instead, they headed to the residential area of Sunland and Tujunga districts, located in the San Fernando Valley. And there, Shirley Lynette Ledford was hitchhiking when the van drew up alongside her. It was getting late, around 10:45 p.m., and she was glad that someone had stopped to drive her.

Lynette Ledford
Lynette Ledford

Lynette climbed into the van and they drove away. Within five minutes, Norris had grabbed the 16 year old and wrestled her into the back of the van.

With a second deviation from their normal practice, the men decided not to drive up to the fire road. Instead, they could commit whatever acts they wanted while driving through the streets of Los Angeles. Norris took over the driving while Bittaker went into the back with the naked and terrified girl.

Bittaker switched on the tape recorder and then began to slap and punch Lynette, demanding that she scream as loud as she can. The petrified girl tried to do her best and screamed, but it was not enough for Bittaker.

From the toolbox, he took a pair of vice grip pliers and began to pinch and tear at her body with them, targeting her nipples and vagina. Somewhere along the route, Norris joins in, and both men continue Lynette’s night of torture. Ice picks are also used on the girl, and all the while, Bittaker is demanding that she screams louder and harder.

To get her to scream, one of the men picked up a three pound sledge hammer and, probably as the other man is sodomizing her, he brought it down with a full swing onto Lynette’s elbows, shattering bone. Twenty five times the sledge hammer falls as Lynette screams in pain.

The men finally tire of her, and they wrap a wire coat hanger around her throat. Using the pliers, they tighten the wire and garrote her.

Bittaker and Norris decided that this time they would not dispose of the body by throwing it from a cliff. Instead, they wanted to have a little fun with the residents and the media by leaving the body in plain view for all to see.

They drove around until they found a suitable lawn, finally choosing one in Hermosa Beach, then they dragged the body from the van. The men placed the tortured and mutilated body of Lynette Ledford on a bed of ivy before climbing back into the van and driving away. Her body was found the next morning.

Lynette’s autopsy revealed a horrifying list of injuries. Petechial hemorrhage and compression marks were found on her neck, confirming that strangulation was the cause of her death, but there was much worse. Her face, head, and breasts showed signs of blunt force trauma, caused when the men were punching her about the body. The linings of her rectum and vagina showed tears from the insertion of the pliers, and her elbows showed destruction from the pounding they took from the sledge hammer. Her fingers were cut, and there was a puncture wound in her hand, most likely caused by an ice pick. In addition, her wrists and ankles showed ligature marks, a sign that she had been restrained.

The killing and display of Lynette Ledford was a big mistake. While they were murdering girls and throwing their bodies from the cliffs into the canyons, the two men were relatively safe. Teenage girls go missing all the time, and there was nothing to suggest that they had been murdered. But by leaving Lynette in full view, they had alerted the authorities that there was a killer on the loose.

With the marks of the pliers on the body, the media dubbed the murderer “The Toolbox Killer.”

 

The Downfall

But the display of Lynette’s body was not the only mistake, and what would eventually seal their fate was from within the team itself.

Early in October, Norris had bumped into an old friend from prison named Jimmy Dalton. Stupidly, Norris began to brag about the four girls he and Bittaker had already murdered, describing their exploits in great detail.  Dalton didn’t believe one word of it, thinking Norris was trying to make himself look important.

But then, Lynette’s body was discovered and hit the media. Dalton realized that the description of Lynette’s injuries and death were very similar to what Norris had told him.

Dalton contacted his lawyer, and both of them went to the Los Angeles police, where Dalton told them about Norris’s boasting about killing the four girls, and how the body found in Hermosa Beach was exactly what Norris described. After listening to what Dalton had to tell them, they passed him along to the detectives at Hermosa Beach. Detective Paul Bynum, who was leading the investigation, listened carefully to Dalton’s story. Other than Dalton’s word, there was no evidence that he was telling the truth. But something he said had struck a chord. Dalton had told them the men were driving around in a silver van. Bynum recalled that the one thing that Shirley Sanders, the rape victim from Oregon, was able to tell them was that they were in a silver van.

Bynum sent an officer to Oregon along with a bunch of photographs for Shirley to look through. Shirley slowly went through each photograph one by one and finally, from all the photographs, she picked out two. They were Bittaker and Norris. She told the officer that these were the two men that had attacked her.

With this information, Bynum went to see Steve Kay, the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney. Kay had already prosecuted Norris once before, on the Redondo Beach rape. Quickly picking up the two men would immediately end the killing spree, but Kay decided that patience would be better. He wanted a strong case, and a quick arrest may not provide that. Instead, surveillance was placed on the pair.

Norris then made another mistake. While out and under the watchful eyes of the police, he was seen selling marijuana, which was a parole violation. He was arrested. Bittaker was also picked up and charged on suspicion of the kidnap and rape of Shirley Sanders.

The overly confident Norris waved his right to counsel and the interrogation began. For a while, Norris’s confidence held, but soon, it began to erode and finally, Norris folded and began to confess to the murders, though he shifted all the blame to Bittaker. According to Norris, he was only doing what Bittaker asked because of their prison code as Bittaker had saved his life. The prison code evidently didn’t include not turning on him.

Both men were charged with the first degree murders of the five girls. There were also other charges, including criminal conspiracy, deviant sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, and rape.

As Norris tried to put all the blame on Bittaker, Bittaker, in his turn, tried to blame Norris. Norris would later claim that for most of the time, he was high on drugs and therefore unable to disobey Bittaker.

However, a search of the Murder Mack turned up the audio tapes that the pair had made while they were murdering the girls, and it was clear to the police the extent of Norris’s involvement with the killings. Norris would have to do much better if he was to avoid execution. In an attempt to evade the death penalty, Norris fully turned on Bittaker in return for a life sentence.

The following February, 1980, Norris took Steve Kay, Detective Bynum, and a mountain rescue team to the sites where they dumped the bodies. Eventually, the skeletal remains of Leah Lamp and Jackie Gilliam were discovered, what was left of them. Still embedded in the skull of Jackie Gilliam was the ice pick that Bittaker used on her. The remains of Cindy Schaeffer and Andrea Hall have never been found.

Steve Kay was reluctant, but he waived the death penalty for Norris in return for his co-operation. Norris was sentenced to 45 years to life, and would have to spend a minimum of 30 years in jail before being eligible for parole.

 

Bittaker on Trial

Bittaker went to trial, and Kay sought the death penalty. Kay was a seasoned prosecutor, and had over the years prosecuted every type of criminal, but the Bittaker case hit him hard. Twice during the trial, Kay broke down and wept at the brutality that the defendant had inflicted on these young girls. Bittaker, on the other hand, seemed to be amused by the whole proceedings.

Lawrence Bittaker in 2007
Lawrence Bittaker in 2007

While awaiting trial, Bittaker wrote his autobiography, despite repeated warnings from his lawyer. Bittaker believed that the jurors, upon reading his account, would find that Norris was the one who was to blame. He was wrong.

After three weeks, the trial came to an end, and on February 17, 1981, Bittaker was found guilty of the five murders, plus 21 other related charges.

The second stage of the criminal trial, now that he had been found guilty, would be to determine what punishment he would suffer. Prosecutors must demonstrate to the court that there are special circumstances that support the call for a death sentence. The audio tapes that the pair made during their killings were played for the jury, and the jury recommended the death penalty.

On March 24, the judge agreed with the recommendation of the jury, and Bittaker was sentenced to death. In addition to the death sentence, he was also sentenced to 199 years to life, a precaution in case in the future, someone commutes the death sentence.

But there can be a long time between a sentence of death and the carrying out of the sentence. An automatic appeal delayed the execution for two years, and another six years passed before a court affirmed the sentence. It was set for December 29, 1989. His attorney filed another appeal. In 1990, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In 1990, the actor Scott Glenn was getting ready for his role of Jack Crawford, the FBI profiler in the film The Silence Of The Lambs. Glenn met up with top FBI profiler John Douglas. Glenn was shown around Quantico in preparation for his role. In his book Mindhunter Douglas recalls how Glenn was a firm opponent of the death penalty and believed in the rehabilitation process. Douglas showed him some of the things they had to work with. Douglas allowed Glenn to hear the audio tapes that Bittaker and Norris recorded. Glenn left the office in tears. He said to Douglas, “I had no idea there were people out there who could do anything like this.” Glenn left Quantico with his mind changed, he was now firmly in favor of the death penalty.

Roy Norris
Roy Norris

It has been more than 31 years since Lawrence Bittaker was sentenced to death, and still he sits on death row in San Quentin awaiting his punishment. (The last execution in California took place in 2006 and since then there has been a Federal Court ordered moratorium on the death penalty in California over the lethal injection controversy.) He spends his time writing appeals and filing frivolous lawsuits, including one where he claimed to have been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by the prison system. What was the cruel and unusual punishment? He’d been given a broken cookie with his lunch rather than one which was unbroken. It cost the courts, and the taxpayer, $5,000 to have the case dismissed.

Other times he spends his day playing cards with his fellow prisoners, such as serial killers Randy Kraft and Douglas Clark, and, up until his execution in 1996, William Bonin. He also gets fan mail from serial killer groupies, who also buy memorabilia such as his fingernail clippings. His fans write to him, and Bittaker writes back to them, and signs his letters with his nickname, “Pliers.”

Norris’s 30 years were up in 2010, and he was eligible for parole. He applied and it was rejected, and he will not be eligible again until 2020. Roy Norris is now 64 years old, and will most likely never set foot outside a prison again. Lawrence Bittaker will be 72 at the end of this year, and with his appeals, frivolous lawsuits and delays, he will more likely die from old age before the state executes him. For both men, they have, effectively, got life sentences for the murder of five girls.

But did they kill only five?

When the Murder Mack was searched, they found the tools and the implements they used in their tortures, they found the audio tapes that they recorded while taking the life of their five victims. But they also found photographs, several hundred of them, all teenage girls. The police went through all of them. Nineteen of the photographs show girls that have been reported as missing.

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