On October 31, 1979, 16-year-old Shirley Lynette Ledford accepted a ride home from two men outside a gas station in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Forty-eight hours later, after being bound with construction tape, repeatedly raped, and enduring sexual torture with pliers and a sledgehammer, the teen’s body was found dumped on a random lawn.
Ledford was the final victim of Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker and Roy Lewis Norris, the serial killers nicknamed the “Tool Box Killers” due to their habit of sexually torturing victims with equipment they picked up from the hardware store. The men murdered five teenage girls over a five-month period in Southern California.Bittaker, who was described by FBI agent John Douglas as the most disturbing individual upon whom he has ever performed a criminal profile, first met Norris in 1977 when both men were imprisoned at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. The two struck up a friendship, and shared fantasies of sexual violence — including their fantasy of murdering one girl of each teenage year from 13 through to 19 after they got out of prison.
Two years later, when Bittaker, 38, and Norris, 31, had finished their jail terms, they teamed up on the outside. They bought a silver 1977 GM cargo van, which they nicknamed the “Murder Mack,” and went out to hunt for victims.
Bittaker and Norris killed their first victim, Lucinda Lynn Schaefer, 16, on June 24, 1979. Both men raped Schaefer in the back of the van before strangling her with a wire coat hanger and vice-grip pliers. Two weeks later, the men encountered Andrea Joy Hall, 18, hitchhiking on the Pacific Coast Highway. They sexually tortured Schaefer and made her pose for Polaroids before driving an ice pick through her head, strangling her, and finally throwing her over a cliff.
On September 3, the men offered Jackie Doris Gilliam, 15, and Jacqueline Leah Lamp, 15, a ride before holding them captive over a two-day period during which they once again sexually assaulted the girls and terrorized them before killing them.Bittaker and Norris abducted Ledford on Halloween night. After getting her into the van, Bittaker attacked her with a sledgehammer and raped and sodomized Ledford while Norris drove. The men then swapped places, and Norris continued to torture Ledford before strangling her to death.
They ordered Ledford to scream, and captured her horrifying death on a tape recorder.
Between murders, the men raped a young woman named Robin Robeck on September 30. After she positively identified the men from their mug shots, they were placed under surveillance, and eventually arrested. After their arrest, Bittaker would claim that the audio recordings of Ledford’s torture played in court were a threesome, and that she had only been acting.But a search of Bittaker’s apartment and van turned up overwhelming evidence of the duo’s guilt, including several Polaroid photographs of the dead women, tools including a sledgehammer, a plastic bag filled with lead weights, a book detailing how to locate police radio frequencies, a jar of Vaseline, two necklaces and a bracelet belonging to the victims, and a tape recording of a young woman screaming and pleading for mercy — which Shirley Ledford’s mother later identified as her daughter’s.
The remains of Jacqueline Leah Lamp and Jackie Doris Gilliam were eventually found by investigators in the San Gabriel mountains. The bodies of Lucinda Schaefer and Andrea Hall have never been found.
Bittaker was sentenced to death for the five murders on March 24, 1981, and is currently on death row in San Quentin prison in California, where he reportedly continues to sign correspondence with his nickname “Pliers” Bittaker. Norris agreed to testify against Bittaker in a plea deal and was sentenced to 45 years to life in prison in 1980. His parole was last denied in 2009.
Main photo: Lawrence Bittaker [Wikimedia Commons]