Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris
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.
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 possessions.
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 nearby canyon.
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 Shirley 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 July 2011[update], 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.