Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker and Roy Lewis
Norris are two American serial killers who together kidnapped,
tortured, raped, and murdered five young women over a period of five
months in California in 1979.
Before they met
Shortly after his birth, Bittaker was adopted by Mr.
and Mrs. George Bittaker. George worked in aircraft factories, which
required the family to move often, from Pennsylvania to Florida to
Ohio and finally to California.
Bittaker, who had a tested I.Q. of 138, dropped out
of high school in 1957, after several run-ins with juvenile
authorities and police. Shortly thereafter he was picked up for car
theft, leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident, and evading arrest.
He was imprisoned in the California Youth Authority until he was 19.
The FBI arrested Bittaker in Louisiana several days
after his release for violating the Interstate Motor Vehicle Theft
Act. Convicted in August 1959, he was sentenced to 18 months in an
Oklahoma federal reformatory. His behavior there soon got him
transferred to a Missouri medical center. He was released after
serving six months of his sentence.
In December 1960 he was arrested in Los Angeles,
and in May 1961 was sentenced to 1–15 years in a state prison. A
psychiatric evaluation determined Bittaker to be paranoid and
borderline psychotic, with little control over his impulses. Despite
these findings, he was released in 1963.
He was picked up two months later for parole
violation and suspected robbery, and again in October 1964. While in
prison he was again given a psychiatric evaluation, and again
determined to be borderline psychotic.
In July 1967 he was arrested and convicted of theft
and leaving a hit-and-run accident. He was sentenced to five years,
but was released in April 1970. However, in March 1971 he was picked
up for burglary and parole violation. He was sentenced to six months
to 15 years in October. He served three years of that sentence.
He was arrested again when he stabbed a supermarket
employee in the parking lot of the business. Bittaker had stuffed a
steak down his pants and the employee had followed him outside and
tried to stop him. The man survived, and Bittaker was convicted of
attempted murder. He met Norris while in prison at the California
Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.
In 1976 Bittaker was hired as the manager for the
Holiday Theater in the Reseda area of the San Fernando Valley.
He was given another psychiatric evaluation, which
rejected the borderline psychotic finding, saying instead that he was
a classic sociopath. Another psychiatrist called Bittaker a
sophisticated psychopath. Despite the psychiatrists' warnings, he was
released in November 1978 and moved to Los Angeles.
At 17, Norris dropped out of school and joined the
Navy. He spent most of his service stationed in San Diego, and served
four months in Vietnam. He saw no combat while there.
Back in San Diego, Norris was arrested on November
1969 for attempted rape. Three months later, out on bail before his
trial, he was arrested again. He had tried to attack a woman in her
home. Police arrived before he could harm her. At this point Norris
was discharged from the Navy for psychological problems.
In May 1970, while still out on bail, he attacked a
female student on the San Diego State University campus. He had jumped
the woman from behind, hit her on the head with a rock, then slammed
her head several times on the concrete. The woman survived, so Norris
was only charged with assault with a deadly weapon. He was sent to
Atascadero State Hospital as a sex offender and spent five years there.
When released he was considered no further danger to others.
Three months after his release Norris attacked and
raped a 27-year-old woman. Convicted of forcible rape, he was sent to
the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo. While there he met and
befriended Bittaker. Norris claims Bittaker saved his life twice in
prison, which bound him to Bittaker according to the "prisoner's code".
Norris was released on January 15, 1979 and moved
in with his mother in Los Angeles, this is where it is believed he
began an incestuous relationship. Bittaker contacted Norris and they
continued their prison friendship on the outside.
Bittaker and Norris hatched a plan to rape and kill
local girls. Bittaker bought a 1977 GMC cargo van, which they came to
call "Murder Mack", because it had no side windows in the back and a
large passenger side sliding door. From February to June 1979, they
gave their plan a test run. They drove along the Pacific Coast Highway,
stopped at beaches, talked to girls and took their pictures. When the
pair was arrested, police found close to 500 pictures among Bittaker's
On June 24, 1979, they claimed their first victim,
16-year-old Cindy Schaeffer. They picked her up near Redondo Beach,
Norris forcing her into the van. He duct taped her mouth and bound her
arms and legs. Bittaker drove the van to a fire road on San Gabriel
Mountains out of sight of the highway. Both men raped the girl, and
then Bittaker wrapped a straightened wire coat hanger around her neck.
He tightened the wire with vise-grip pliers, strangling her to death.
They wrapped her body in a plastic shower curtain and dumped it in a
They picked up 18-year-old Andrea Hall hitchhiking
on July 8. Norris hid in the back of the van and Bittaker talked her
into the van. After she had gotten in Bittaker offered her a drink
from a cooler in the back. When she went to the cooler Norris jumped
her, bound her arms and legs, and taped her mouth shut. They took her
to the fire road and raped her several times. Bittaker dragged her
from the van, and Norris left to get beer. When he returned, Hall was
gone, and Bittaker was looking at Polaroid pictures of her. He had
stabbed her with an ice pick in both ears and strangled her. He threw
her body over a cliff.
On September 3, while driving near Hermosa Beach,
the pair spotted two girls on a bus stop bench and offered them a ride.
Jackie Gilliam, 15, and Leah Lamp, 13, accepted their offer. The girls
became suspicious when Bittaker parked the van near a suburban tennis
court. Lamp went for the back door and Norris hit her in the head with
a bat. A short scuffle broke out, but with Bittaker's help Norris
subdued the teens and bound them both. Bittaker then drove them to the
fire road. They kept the girls alive for two days, raping and
torturing them the whole time with a wire hanger and pliers. They even
made an audio recording of the events. Eventually Bittaker stabbed
Gilliam in both ears with an ice pick. When she didn't succumb to her
injuries, both men took turns strangling her until she died. Bittaker
then strangled Lamp while Norris hit her in the head with a
sledgehammer seven times. They dumped the bodies over a cliff, the ice
pick still in Gilliam's head.
They kidnapped Shirley Sanders on September 30,
macing her and forcing her into the van. Both raped her, but she
escaped. Police had showed her pictures of the men and she had
identified the men as Lawrence and Roy.
They kidnapped 16-year-old Lynette Ledford on
October 31, raping her and torturing her, while driving around Los
Angeles instead of heading to their usual mountain spot. Bittaker
stabbed the young girl several times and also tortured her with the
pliers. During her torture, her screams and pleas were tape-recorded
as Bittaker repeatedly beat her elbows with a sledgehammer, all the
time demanding that she not stop screaming; he eventually strangled
her with a wire hanger, using the pliers to twist a cinching loop
around her throat. Instead of tossing her body over a cliff, they left
it on a random lawn in Hermosa Beach to see the local reaction in the
newspaper. The body was found the next day and caused quite a stir,
being only days since the arrest of "Hillside Strangler" Angelo Buono.
Arrest, trial and sentence
Norris had been telling prison friend Jimmy Dalton
all about the murders. Dalton thought the stories were lies until
Ledford's body was found. He talked to his lawyer and they went to the
Los Angeles Police Department with information about Norris.
At the trial, both Norris and Bittaker were charged
with murder, kidnapping, forcible rape, sexual perversion and criminal
conspiracy. Bittaker was convicted of rape, torture, kidnapping, and
murder on February 17, 1981 and sentenced to death. As of February
2008, Bittaker is still on death row, where he still receives mail,
which he signs using his nickname "Pliers" Bittaker. Norris was also
sentenced, but was spared a life sentence or being executed in return
for his testimony against Bittaker. Norris was denied parole in 2009,
and will be eligible in another ten years.
Lawrence Sigmund BITTAKER and Roy Lewis NORRIS
Southern California has something for everyone. A temperate climate
year-round is a boon to agriculture, industry and tourism. Mountains
and deserts beckon hikers, while beaches lure surfers and sunbathers.
Farms and citrus groves employ underpaid migrant workers from Mexico.
Tourists head south, seeking adventure in the streets of Tijuana,
Tecate and Mexicali. The Hollywood dream factory devours wannabe
stars. Money leaves a trail of stench on Rodeo Drive.
darker side, of course, is unmentioned in the guidebooks and
brochures. As always, crime goes hand-in-hand with affluence. Drugs
flow across the border. Prostitutes work the streets near the studios
of Disney and Universal. Runaways sleep in culverts, alleyways, or in
seedy crash pads such as Hollywood’s notorious “Hotel Hell.” Street
gangs and dealers transform streets into shooting galleries.
are also the predators –- aside from the ones in gold chains in
Southern California is Psycho Central. The region has earned its grim
reputation the hard way, producing a full ten percent of the world’s
identified serial killers between 1950 and 2000. Predictably, the
killers are now celebrities, with nicknames tailor-made for the
tabloids, and their inferior cousin, television.
Night Stalker. The I-5 Killer. The Skid Row Slasher. The Hillside
Strangler. The Freeway Killer. The Koreatown Slasher. The Candlelight
Killer. The Southside Slayer. The Trash Bag Killer. The Sunset Slayer.
The Orange Coast Killer.
studies have explained the disproportionate number of serial killers
in Southern California, but some of the answers are as obvious as a
talentless Hollywood nymphet. The first is population. Hunters go
where there is game, and Southern California offers an abundance of
prey. Los Angeles’ population stood at 3.6 million at the turn of the
new century, with another 1.2 million in San Diego. Overall, the
sprawl from Santa Barbara to the Baja border totals 20 million.
Innumerable others live “off the record” -- runaways, illegal
immigrants, the homeless, fugitives, and those who simply have fallen
through the cracks.
those 20 million inhabitants and others yet unrecognized, a predator
can find abundant “targets of opportunity.” These include hitchhikers,
prostitutes, fringe dwellers, unattended children, and the forgotten
elderly. Many won’t be missed. If their bodies are recovered from a
shallow grave, a highway culvert or a garbage dumpster, who will care?
Mobility is key. Southern California invented the automobile cult. The
population is large, but the density is low. A teeming highway system,
for example, has made Los Angeles the global capital of bank robbery.
predictable irony, a predator named Mack Ray Edwards helped to build
the freeways, slaughtering children from 1953 to 1969, planting their
bodies overnight in soil that he would pave with asphalt in the
morning. By the time Edwards hanged himself on San Quentin’s death
row, the next generation already was cruising those freeways in style.
names are nightmarish legend. Harvey Glatman. Thor Christiansen.
Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono. Patrick Kearney. William Bonin and
Fernando Cota. Randy Kraft.
the worst are now all but forgotten today, except by the families of
victims and some cops. These slayers never had nicknames, because
reporters never learned of them until they were in custody.
of has selected a nickname.
signs his prison fan mail “Pliers”.
"Bigger than Manson"
Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on
September 27, 1940. Mr. and Mrs. George Bittaker adopted the infant
who would be known as Lawrence shortly after he was born. George’s
work in aircraft factories occasioned frequent moves for the family,
from Pennsylvania to Florida, then to Ohio, and finally California.
Something of that rootless childhood stuck with Lawrence, and he
dropped out of school in 1957, after several brushes with police and
juvenile authorities. Soon after dropping out of high school, Bittaker
was arrested in Long Beach for auto theft, hit-and-run, and evading
arrest. That bust earned him a trip to the California Youth Authority,
where he remained until he turned 19.
days of his California parole, Bittaker was picked up by FBI agents in
Louisiana, charged with violating the Interstate Motor Vehicle Theft
Act. Convicted on that charge in August 1959, he was sentenced to
serve 18 months at a federal reformatory in Oklahoma. His behavior
there soon earned Bittaker a transfer to the U.S. medical center at
Springfield, Missouri, where doctors released him after he had served
two-thirds of his sentence.
Arrested next for a Los Angeles robbery, in December 1960, Bittaker
was convicted in May 1961, slapped with an indeterminate sentence of
one to 15 years in state prison. A 1961 psychiatric examination found
Bittaker to be manipulative and “having considerable concealed
hostility.” Despite “superior intelligence,” he was diagnosed as a
“borderline psychotic” and “basically paranoid.” The following year, a
second psychiatrist noted Bittaker’s “poor control of impulsive
behavior.” These diagnoses notwithstanding; he was paroled in late
1963, after serving barely one-sixth of his possible maximum sentence.
never seemed to agree with Larry Bittaker. Two months after his
conditional release, he was jailed again for parole violation and
suspicion of robbery. Another parole violation sent him back to prison
in October 1964. Interviewed by a psychiatrist in 1966, Bittaker
confessed that stealing made him feel “important,” then curiously
added that his crimes occurred “under circumstances that were not
totally my fault.” Another diagnosis of borderline psychosis was
recorded -- and authorities released him yet again, only to again see
another parole violation in June 1967.
month later, Bittaker was tagged for theft and leaving the scene of a
hit-and-run accident. Convicted on those charges, he drew another
five-year sentence, but he was paroled after serving less than three
years, in April 1970. Arrested for burglary and parole violation in
March 1971, he was convicted on both counts that October, receiving an
additional sentence of six months to 15 years.
California prison system at that time was in such disarray that it was
hardly surprising that Bittaker was freed three years later, in 1974.
His next crime began as simple shoplifting, shoving a steak down the
front of his pants in a supermarket. But it escalated to attempted
murder in the parking lot, when Bittaker stabbed an employee who tried
to stop him.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Robert Markman examined Bittaker before
trial and rejected the earlier findings of borderline psychosis. He
branded Bittaker a “classic sociopath.” As Markman explained that term
later, in his memoir Alone with the Devil (1989), the diagnosis
simply meant that Bittaker “was incapable of learning to play by the
rules, he would never learn by experience, and he would just keep
butting his head against the barriers of acceptable behavior.”
short, he was a hopeless case, beyond any known treatment or
Markman also warned that Bittaker was bound to escalate his criminal
behavior, moving on to more serious crimes. He was “a highly dangerous
man, with no internal controls over his impulses, a man who could kill
without hesitation or remorse.” Bittaker later reinforced this
surmise, telling a cellmate that someday he planned to be “bigger than
psychiatrists concurred with Markman. A 1977 jailhouse evaluation
found Bittaker “more than likely” to commit new crimes upon his
release. A year later, in July 1978, another psychiatrist dubbed
Bittaker “a sophisticated psychopath” whose prospects for successful
parole were “guarded at best.” Again the warnings were ignored, and
Bittaker was released in November 1978.
before he had made a special friend.
"No further danger"
Lewis Norris was born in Greeley, Colorado, on February 2, 1948.
Unlike Bittaker, Norris lived in his hometown until he was 17, when he
dropped out of school and joined the Navy. He was stationed in San
Diego, but in 1969 Norris spent four months in Vietnam. Norris never
saw combat, but he did see drugs. Marijuana was his drug of choice,
and it was widely available.
Southern California by November 1969, Norris attacked a female driver
in downtown San Diego. He forced his way into her car and attempted
rape. It only took three months for Norris to get arrested again. Free
on bail pending trial for attacking the motorist, Norris knocked on
another San Diego woman’s door. He asked if he could use her
telephone. When the woman refused, he tried to break in through a
living room window, then ran around back to the kitchen. Breaching a
window there, he finally entered the house, but police arrived before
he could harm his intended victim.
point, the navy had seen enough of Norris. He received an
administrative discharge for “psychological problems” after he was
diagnosed as having a “severe schizoid personality.” Still awaiting
disposition of his previous assault cases, Norris attacked a young
woman in May 1970, on the campus of San Diego State College. He
tackled the student from behind, clubbed her with a stone, and then
slammed her head repeatedly into a concrete sidewalk. This time the
charge was assault with a deadly weapon, and it was finally enough to
take Roy Norris off the streets. He was confined to Atascadero State
Hospital as a mentally disordered sex offender. He spent five years
there before being released on probation. Officially he was described
as someone who would bring “no further danger to others.”
proved the prediction wrong three months later, in Redondo Beach.
Cruising the streets on a motorcycle, he spied a 27-year-old woman
walking home from a restaurant after a quarrel with her boyfriend.
Norris stopped to offer her a ride, which she declined. Undeterred by
the rejection, Norris leaped off his bike and attacked the woman,
strangling her into semi-consciousness with her own scarf. Dazed, she
did not resist as Norris dragged her behind a nearby hedge and raped
were unable to act because of her vague description of her attacker.
But one month later the woman saw Norris again. She memorized his
license number. Convicted of forcible rape, Norris was shipped to the
California Men’s Colony at San Louis Obispo.
could have been worse. The “colony” is easy time, as California
prisons go--a cakewalk compared to Soledad, Folsom, or San Quentin.
Norris also met a friend at the colony who would change his life.
Reminiscing years later, Norris would claim that Larry Bittaker twice
saved his life at San Louis Obispo. The experience bound him to
Bittaker, although the details are vague. The “prison code” demanded
that Norris follow any plan Bittaker devised, no matter how bizarre.
helped, of course, that they shared near-identical fantasies of
domination, rape and torture. Next time a woman fell into his
clutches, Bittaker confided, he would kill her afterward, a sure-fire
method of evading punishment. In fact, he thought, it might be fun to
play a game, selecting one victim for each “teen” year, 13 through 19,
and to see how long each victim could be kept alive and screaming.
Bittaker was paroled on November 15, 1978, returning to Los Angeles,
where he found work as a machinist. Norris was freed exactly two
months later, on January 15, 1979. He moved in with his mother at an
L.A. trailer park, and used his navy training to find work as an
electrician. Bittaker wrote to Norris in February 1979 and arranged a
rendezvous at a cheap downtown hotel. Over drinks, they renewed their
prison friendship and repeated their dark desires.
was coming to the Southland.
nearly hunting season.
first step toward fulfilling his vision, Bittaker purchased a silver
1977 GMC cargo van. The van had its advantages – there were no side
windows to worry about and there was a large sliding door on the
passenger side. If their intended victims spurned the offer of a ride,
Bittaker reasoned, they could “pull up real close and not have to open
the doors all the way” to snatch someone from the sidewalk.
named the van “Murder Mack.”
February to June 1979 Bittaker and Norris cruised up and down the
Pacific Coast Highway. They stopped at beaches, flirted with girls,
and often took their photos. Norris later estimated that they picked
up 20 prospects without harming one, and his estimate may have been
low. Detectives later counted some 500 photos of smiling young women
among Bittaker’s belongings. Most were never identified.
were test runs, Norris later explained. The rape and murder could wait
until they found the perfect isolated spot to take their victims.
Sometime in late April, cruising aimlessly, the hunters found a remote
fire road in the San Gabriel Mountains, overlooking Glendora. A
padlocked gate barred access, but Bittaker smashed the lock with a
crow bar. They were in.
they needed was a girl.
found her on June 24, 1979.
Bittaker would later tell police that the day “started innocently
enough.” He spent the night in Murder Mack, parked outside the trailer
Roy Norris shared with his mother. They spent the morning working on a
bed Bittaker had constructed in the back of the van. The bed was
mounted on a frame with space beneath it to conceal a body. At about
11:00 a.m. they began prowling. Bittaker described it as “a nice
Sunday to cruise around the beach area, drinking beer, smoking grass
and flirting with the girls. We had no set routine.”
made the rounds, driving north and hitting all the stops between
Redondo Beach and Santa Monica, keeping an eye out for female
hitchhikers. Sometimes they’d park the van and scout a stretch of sand
on foot. It was 5:00 p.m., back in Redondo Beach, when they found a
likely target. She took them both completely by surprise.
Bittaker and Norris later quarreled over who was first to notice
16-year-old Cindy Schaeffer. Each man accused the other of pointing
her out and suggesting that she be the first contestant in their
“game.” Ironically, she was not at the beach or wearing a swimsuit. In
fact, Schaeffer was walking back to her grandmother’s house, after a
Christian youth meeting at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Murder
Mack pulled alongside and Norris offered her a ride. Schaeffer
declined and ignored the van as it trailed behind her. Then the van
surged ahead and swung into a driveway, motor idling.
met her on the sidewalk, smiling, repeating his offer. As Schaeffer
brushed past him, Roy grabbed her and muscled her into the van. The
sliding door worked perfectly, muffling her cries for help as Bittaker
cranked up the radio’s volume. Norris grappled with Schaeffer and then
sealed her lips with duct tape. He also bound her wrists and ankles.
One shoe was left behind on the sidewalk as Murder Mack sped away.
prison-penned memoirs, Bittaker later recalled that “throughout the
whole experience, Cindy displayed a magnificent state of self-control
and composed acceptance of the conditions and facts over which she had
no control. She shed no tears, offered no resistance, and expressed no
great concern for her safety. I guess she knew what was coming.”
perhaps Bittaker simply lied.
drove to the mountain fire road and parked out of sight from the
highway. The men smoked grass and questioned Schaeffer about her
family, until they tired of the routine and ordered her to strip.
Bittaker left the van for an hour or so, giving Norris some privacy.
Then he came back to take his turn. In custody, months later, each
accused the other of insisting that Schaeffer die. Norris first tried
to strangle Schaeffer, but he bungled the job. He left to vomit in the
returned, Norris said, Bittaker was choking Schaeffer, but “her body
was still jerking...alive to some degree...breathing or trying to
breathe.” Bittaker then handed Norris a wire coat hanger and they
twisted it around her neck, tightening the makeshift garrote with
vice-grip pliers. Norris recalled that Schaeffer “convulsed for 15
seconds or so and that was it. She just died.”
Wrapping the body in a plastic shower curtain, Bittaker and Norris
drove back along the fire road until they found a deep canyon. They
lifted Schaeffer’s body from the van and heaved her into the chasm.
Bittaker said the desert scavengers would clean up after them.
been nearly perfect, the exhausted friends agreed, but there was
time, they would keep a trophy of the hunt.
Bittaker and Norris went hunting again on Sunday, July 8, 1979. In
early afternoon they saw a likely prospect, thumbing rides along
Pacific Coast Highway. But the driver of a white convertible pulled in
ahead of them and plucked her from the roadside. Norris grumbled over
their bad luck, but Bittaker counseled patience. They would follow the
convertible for a while and see where the hitchhiker was dropped off.
patience was soon rewarded. The convertible’s driver signaled for an
exit ramp ahead, braking first to deposit his passenger on the berm.
She stuck a thumb out, waiting for the next ride. Meanwhile, Norris
left Murder Mack’s passenger seat and threw himself under the raised
bed in back. It was a change in strategy, to make the van appear less
Hall was 18 and thankful for the ride. She introduced herself to
Bittaker as he pulled back into traffic, gratefully accepting his
offer of a cold drink. Hall went to fetch it from a cooler in the rear
of the van, choosing a soda and turning back toward her seat. Norris
lunged from hiding then, and swept her legs out from under her. More
grappling on the floor of Murder Mack, more blaring music from the
radio as Bittaker drove on. Hall fought for her life, but Norris was
too strong. Twisting an arm behind her back until she finally
surrendered, the submission enabled Norris to bind her wrists and
ankles and cover her mouth with tape.
fire road was familiar territory now. There was no time for small talk
with their second victim. They repeatedly raped her by turns. When
both of them were tired, Bittaker loaded his Polaroid camera, dragged
Hall from the van, and sent Norris on a beer run, down the mountain to
a small roadside convenience store. When Norris returned, he found
Bittaker alone, smiling over photos of Andrea Hall, her face contorted
told me that he told her he was going to kill her,” Norris later
informed police. “He wanted to see what her argument would be for
staying alive. He said that she didn’t put up much of an argument.”
Bittaker told Norris that he had stabbed Hall twice with an ice pick,
once in each ear, but he had to strangle her when she refused to die.
When the murder was finished, Bittaker said he had pitched her off a
Bittaker and Norris made their third foray on Labor Day, September 3.
Cruising through Hermosa Beach, they spotted two girls seated on the
bench at a bus stop, where Pier Avenue met Pacific Coast Highway.
Fifteen-year-old Jackie Gilliam and 13-year-old Leah Lamp weren’t
waiting for the bus, but they seemed happy to accept a ride with no
special destination in mind. Bittaker and Norris later told police the
girls were also glad to accept Larry’s offer to smoke a joint.
Lighting up, he passed the joint around and told his passengers that
he was heading for the beach. Jackie and Leah challenged him moments
later, as Bittaker turned away from the ocean and started driving
northward, but he stalled them with excuses, claiming he merely wanted
to find a safe place to park while they got high. The girls protested
when Bittaker parked near a suburban tennis court. Leah started to
open the door, but Norris was faster, swinging a sawed-off baseball
bat against her skull.
fierce struggle ensued. Bittaker waded in to help Norris, finally
subduing the teenagers and trussing them with duct tape. Only when
they were secured and silenced did he notice several tennis players
watching from the nearby courts. Worried that someone might call the
police, Bittaker gunned the van and sped away toward his hideout in
the San Gabriel Mountains. But no one called the police. The witnesses
returned to their tennis games, dismissing the strange incident.
Bittaker and Norris kept their latest hostages alive for nearly two
days. They kept an audiotape of their rape and torture. Among other
things, the tape captured Norris raping Jackie Gilliam, demanding that
she play the role of a cousin who was the object of some of his sexual
of the game and running dangerously late for work, Bittaker repeated
his trick with the ice pick, stabbing Gilliam in both ears. As with
Andrea Hall, it made her scream but failed to kill her, so the rapists
took turns strangling Jackie to death. Afterward, they turned on Lamp,
Bittaker squeezing her throat while Norris pounded her head seven
times with a sledgehammer. They pitched their victims off a cliff,
with the ice pick still imbedded in Jackie Gilliam’s skull.
Sunday, September 30, they selected Shirley Sanders, an Oregon
resident visiting her father in Manhattan Beach. When she declined a
lift in Murder Mack, they sprayed Sanders with chemical mace and
dragged her kicking from the sidewalk. Both men raped her in the van,
but they were careless and she escaped. Sanders reported the assault,
but she could not identify her assailants. She did not remember the
license plate. Unable to pursue the matter further, she returned to
"Scream, baby, scream"
next month was nerve-wracking for Bittaker and Norris, worried that
police might come for them at any moment. Bittaker found a new
apartment in Burbank, while Norris remained with his mother. The
killers began to relax as the weeks passed without any signs of police
pair went hunting again on Halloween night, deviating from their beach
routine to prowl the residential streets of the Sunland and Tijunga
district in the San Fernando Valley. They spotted 16-year-old Lynette
Ledford hitchhiking and offered her a ride. She happily accepted--and
within five minutes Norris wrestled her to Murder Mack’s floor.
Bittaker chose not to waste time driving to the mountains. They could
rape and torture Ledford just as well, he reasoned, while they drove
around the suburbs of Los Angeles. Norris took the driver’s seat,
while Bittaker turned on the tape recorder and went to work on their
captive. The tape records him slapping her, demanding, “Say something,
do you want me to say?” she responds.
slapping continues, interspersed with cries of pain. Frustrated,
Bittaker asks Ledford, “You can scream louder than that, can’t you?”
tries to accommodate him, but Bittaker wants more. Soon he goes to
work with the vice-grip pliers. “Scream, baby!” he urges.
Norris’s voice is heard. “Make noise there, girl!” he orders. “Go
ahead and scream or I’ll make you scream!”
scream if you stop hitting me,” Ledford sobs when Norris starts
striking her elbows with a hammer.
swings the hammer 25 times while he chants mindlessly, “Keep it up,
girl! Keep it up! Scream till I say stop!”
Bittaker parked the van and prepared for the kill. “I got a section of
coat hanger,” he later told police, “and wrapped it around her throat
and tied it up with the pliers.”
Emboldened, they thought it would be amusing to see what happened if
they dumped their victim on someone’s front lawn. They chose a yard at
random in Hermosa Beach, and loaded Ledford’s corpse into a bed of
ivy. The corpse was discovered the next morning.
find shocked Los Angeles, since it came only days after the arrest of
“Hillside Strangler” Angelo Buono. The police said they were unaware
of any other Buono victims. There were missing girls and women on the
books, of course, but who could say if they were dead? More to the
point, how could police identify the killers in the latest unsolved
sense, Lynette Ledford spoiled the fun. She was the second 16-year-old
Bittaker and Norris had murdered; leaving three “teen” ages
unaccounted for. The hunters did not worry, though. From where they
sat, it seemed as if they had all the time in the world.
they were mistaken.
Norris himself was part of the problem. Despite the murder game’s
shortcomings, Norris enjoyed it so much that he simply couldn’t keep
quiet. By October 1979 he had started bragging to another friend from
prison, Jimmy Dalton, emphasizing his role as a criminal mastermind.
Dalton thought it all was talk until Ledford’s body was found. He
called his lawyer and they both went to the Los Angeles police. L.A.’s
finest listened to Dalton’s story, then passed him to detectives in
Hermosa Beach, where Ledford’s corpse had been discarded.
Beach detective Paul Bynum headed the Ledford investigation. He had
no forensic evidence to support a charge in the Ledford slaying. But
Dalton’s mention of a silver van rang a bell in Bynum’s memory. He
dispatched an officer to Oregon to interview Shirley Sanders who was
attacked one month before. Photographs were proffered for Sanders to
examine. Leafing through the stack, she picked out Bittaker and Norris
as the men who had kidnapped and raped her.
approached Deputy District Attorney Steve Kay, who had prosecuted
Norris on his previous rape charge, in Redondo Beach. Kay cautioned
patience, even though a quick arrest would halt the murder spree. They
needed time to build a strong case. Police mounted surveillance on the
pair. Once again, Norris was the weak link. He was seen selling
marijuana on the street.
made their move two days before Thanksgiving 1979. They arrested
Norris for parole violation on the marijuana charge, while Bittaker
was jailed on suspicion of kidnapping and raping Shirley Sanders.
Norris waived his right to counsel, and sparred with the interrogators
for a while. Eventually he crumbled, casting himself as a reluctant
accomplice to murders planned and carried out by Bittaker. The “prison
code” demanded that he go along for the ride, Norris insisted. After
all, he owed Bittaker his life--but apparently, not his silence.
strength of Norris’s confession, both men were charged with five
counts of first-degree murder, plus additional charges of kidnapping,
robbery, rape, deviant sexual assault and criminal conspiracy. Each
defendant tried to blame the other for the most egregious acts. Norris
now claimed that he had been high on drugs most of the time, unable to
resist Bittaker. But the audiotapes told a different story, revealing
Norris as a full participant. Norris realized he would have to do more
to avoid the death penalty.
February 1980 Norris led Detective Bynum, Steve Kay and members of the
Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team on a tour of the San Gabriel
murder sites. They found Leah Lamp and Jackie Gilliam, with Bittaker’s
ice pick still buried in Gilliam’s ear, but no trace was found of
Cindy Schaeffer or Andrea Hall. They were lost forever. But Norris had
delivered enough evidence to clinch his plea bargain.
Reluctantly, Steve Kay agreed to waive the death penalty and grant a
life sentence with parole eligibility in return for Norris’s testimony
against Bittaker. Before a defendant is formally sentenced, California
requires a report and a sentencing recommendation from a parole
jail inquisitor noted Roy’s “casual, unconcerned manner” as he
discussed the five murders without regret. In the officer’s opinion,
Norris “appears compulsive in his need and desire to inflict pain and
torture upon women. The defendant himself acknowledged ...that in the
commission of rape upon a woman it was not the sex that was important
but the domination of the woman. In considering the defendant’s total
lack of remorse about the plight of the victims, he can realistically
be regarded as an extreme sociopath, whose depraved, grotesque pattern
of behavior is beyond rehabilitation. The magnitude and the enormity
of the defendant’s heinous, nightmarish criminal behavior is beyond
the comprehension of this probation officer.”
that finding on file, Norris was sentenced to 45 years to life, with a
minimum of 30 years to serve before parole. He will be eligible for
release in 2010. (Given his record and the nature of his crimes, it is
unlikely in the extreme that Norris will be released then.)
Kay was committed to seeking the death penalty for Lawrence Bittaker.
In an unwitting tribute to Bittaker’s jailhouse ambition, Kay declared
that for sheer brutality, the crimes of Charles Manson’s cultists
“didn’t come close” to Bittaker’s rampage. Despite his experience in
prosecuting rapists, murderers and every other kind of felon, Kay
twice broke down weeping during Bittaker’s three-week trial.
part, the defendant seemed to enjoy the proceedings. Bittaker had
prepared for trial by writing his memoirs, fittingly titled The
Last Ride. Though warned repeatedly by his attorney, Bittaker
insisted on finishing the manuscript, apparently convinced that jurors
would believe his assertion that Norris masterminded the operation.
The gamble failed, and on February 17, 1981, Bittaker was found guilty
on five murder counts and 21 other related felonies.
California, like all other states, holds its criminal trials in
stages. The first determines guilt or innocence; the second, if a
defendant is convicted, determines punishment. To support a death
sentence, California prosecutors must demonstrate “special
circumstances”—such as slayings deemed “especially heinous, atrocious
or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity.” Bittaker’s personal
audiotapes were replayed for the jury, which promptly recommended
Norris another probation report was generated. Bittaker’s examiner
wrote that “during the years this officer has been submitting
evaluations to the court, he has had occasion to interview many
individuals convicted of brutal crimes, but none to the extent of the
one[s] for which this defendant has been convicted. During the
interviews with him, although verbalizing some feeling for the teenage
deaths that he has caused, there is no outward expression or emotion
displayed. His total attitude was almost as if he had been able to
divorce himself from the emotions felt by the major portion of
report concluded that there was “little doubt that he would return to
a life of crime, and possibly a life of violence” if released into
society. The jury’s recommended sentence clearly “would be the most
permanent protection available.”
judge agreed, and Bittaker was sentenced to death on March 24, 1981.
penalty sentences are neither sure nor swift. Appeal of a death
sentence is automatic, regardless of the defendant’s wishes. Two years
elapsed before the California Supreme Court appointed Bittaker’s
appellate attorney, six more before the same court affirmed Bittaker’s
death sentence on June 28, 1989. Bittaker was absent on October 4,
1989, when Torrance judge John Shook set his execution for December
29, but he had little to fear. His attorney filed yet another appeal
that automatically stayed the execution. On June 11, 1990, the
California Supreme Court declined to hear the case again.
that same year, while actor Scott Glenn was preparing for his role as
an FBI profiler in The Silence of the Lambs, he visited the
Bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico, Virginia. Legendary
profiler John Douglas gave Glenn a tour of the facility. Glenn
listened to the Bittaker/Norris tapes and he left Douglas’ office in
tears. He told reporters that he entered the office as a death penalty
opponent. He left staunchly in favor of capital punishment.
Bittaker was not busy drafting appeals, he amused himself by filing
frivolous suits against the state prison system. There were more than
40 in all by October 1995. In one case, where he claimed he had been
subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” by receipt of a broken
cookie on his lunch tray, state officials paid $5,000 to have the suit
dismissed. Before the state was granted summary judgment, they had to
prove that Bittaker could skip his lunch and still survive by only
eating breakfast and dinner.
all great fun and cost Bittaker nothing, since California prisoners
are permitted to file their suits for free. When not pursuing nuisance
litigation, Bittaker enjoyed a daily game of bridge with fellow
inmates Randy Kraft, Douglas Clark and William Bonin, themselves
convicted serial killers with an estimated 94 victims among them. The
game was left short-handed in February 1996, after Bonin was executed,
but Bittaker has other diversions. In the late 1990s, a catalogue of
prison memorabilia offered his fingernail clippings for sale to
murder groupies. And there is fan mail -- enough to keep him busy
between card games.
Bittaker often signs his letters with a nickname.
Kessler. The FBI. New York: Pocket Books, 1993.
Markman and Dominick Bosco. Alone with the Devil: Famous Cases of a
Courtroom Psychiatrist. New York; Doubleday, 1989.
Angeles Times and Herald-Examiner articles, 1979-1998.