The Toolbox Killers
“Make noise there, girl! Go ahead and scream or I’ll make you scream!” – Norris on one of their recordings.
Roy Norris and Lawrence Bittaker, who became known as the toolbox killers because their murder weapons of choice were everyday tools from… you guessed it… a toolbox. They met while they were both in prison in 1977.
They became close buds during their stay. Their bond was tightened through their common fascination with rape and murder and their hatred for girls was a mutual emotion that sealed their friendship.
Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker
Bittaker was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was put up for adoption as an infant. His adoptive father, George Bittaker, worked at aircraft factories, forcing him and his parents to move around often. He grew up in four different states before his family settled in California.
Though he had an IQ of 138 (within the 99th percentile), he dropped out of high school when he was 17, having already been arrested on several occasions for petty crimes. Shortly afterwards, he was sentenced to two years for car theft, evading arrest, and leaving the scene of a hit-and-run. Just days after finishing the sentence in the California Youth Authority, he was arrested by the FBI in Louisiana for violating the Interstate Motor Vehicle Theft Act.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison to be served at a federal reformatory in Oklahoma, but was transferred to a medical centre in Missouri through good behaviour. He later claimed to have had his first sexual experience there, but wouldn’t give any details other than that it was with a woman there. After serving only one-third of his sentence, he was released. In 1960, he was arrested for robbery in Los Angeles. The next year, he was sentenced to 1-15 years in a state prison. A psychiatric evaluation of him stated that he was paranoid and a borderline psychotic as well as manipulative.
In spite of this, he was conditionally released in 1963. Just two months afterwards, he was imprisoned for violating his parole and suspicion of robbery and over the following 15 years, he was frequently incarcerated for various crimes. One of his last sentences was for attempted murder for stabbing a clerk in the parking lot of a grocery store after attempting to shoplift a steak. While serving a sentence at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, he met Roy Norris.
Roy Lewis Norris
Norris was born in Greeley, Colorado and joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. Most of his service time was spent in San Diego, California, though he spent four months in Vietnam, but never saw combat. In November of 1969, he was arrested for attempted rape when he attacked a female motorist. Three months later, while out on bail, he was arrested again for breaking and entering into woman’s home with the intention to rape her, but was stopped by police.
He consequently received an administrative discharge from the Navy on the grounds of “psychological problems” and “severe schizoid personality”. In May the next year, while still on bail, he nearly killed a female San Diego State College student by slamming her head into a street after bashing her head with a rock. Because she survived, he was only charged with assault with a deadly weapon. He was placed in the Atascadero State Hospital, a psychiatric institution, as a mentally disordered sex offender and was released after five years when he was deemed as being of “no further danger to others”.
Only three months later, Norris strangled a woman to the point of unconsciousness and raped her. A month later, he was identified as the assailant and was convicted of forcible rape. While serving his sentence in San Luis Obispo, he met Bittaker, who, he claimed, saved his life twice. When they found that they shared the same sadistic fantasies, they made a plan to start raping and torturing girls together and killing them to make sure they wouldn’t be caught. (Should’ve spent longer on this part of the plan 👀)
After being paroled, Bittaker got a job as a machinist in Los Angeles. Two months later, Norris was paroled as well, moved in with his mother in Los Angeles and got a job as an electrician. In February, 1979, they made contact with each other and set their plan in motion.
Killings, Arrest and Incarceration
“We’ve all heard women scream in horror films … still, we know that no-one is really screaming. Why? Simply because an actress can’t produce some sounds that convince us that something vile and heinous is happening. If you ever heard that tape, there is just no possible way that you’d not begin crying and trembling. I doubt you could listen to more than a full sixty seconds of it.”
– Norris, regarding one of the recordings he and Bittaker made
Bittaker bought a 1977 GMC cargo van, which had no side or rear windows and a big door on the passenger side through which the victims could be snatched.
They nicknamed it the “Murder Mack” and spent a few months doing trial runs, simply cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway and occasionally stopping at beaches to talk to girls and take their pictures.
THE KILLINGS BEGIN – CINDY SCHAEFFER
On June 24, 1979, Bittaker and Norris selected their first kill. Her name was Cindy Schaeffer and she was just 16 years old. She had been at her church for an evening meeting and was seen by the two men as she attempted to get a ride to her grandmother’s house. When the van pulled up beside her and Bittaker offered her a lift, she declined and walked on. But, refusing their offer was not enough to deter the men and, at first opportunity, they jumped her, forced her into the van and headed toward the mountains.
Over the next several hours both men tortured and repeatedly raped the young girl. Afterwards each tried to strangle the life from her body but neither were able to accomplish that feat. They resorted to strangling her with wire hanger before dumping her lifeless body over a cliff.
Unlike Cindy, 18 year old Andrea Hall, the duo’s next victim, was a much easier kill. She was lured with a ride and a drink and thus willingly crawled into the ‘murder mack’ on July 8th. Now, not unlike Cindy, Andrea too spent her last hours being tortured and raped over and over again. After a day of dishing out all of the hell he could expend on the young lady, Lawrence Bittaker jammed an ice pick into each of her ears.
JACQUELINE AND JACKIE
On Labor Day, Jacqueline Lamp, 13, and Jackie Gilliam, 15, were headed to the beach for an afternoon of surfing. When Bittaker and Norris offered them a ride, they happily hopped aboard.
When the girls finally realised that the van was heading in the wrong direction, they tried to escape, but to no avail. Two days later, they were both dead. And this time the rapes and tortures were all caught on photographs.
On Halloween the serial killers struck again. This time it was 16 year old Shirley Ledford. Shirley was hitchhiking home from a party in a Los Angeles suburb when the ‘murder mack’ cruised up beside her.
Most of the sledgehammer beatings, the rapes, and the torture she received with a pair of pliers was recorded as trophies for the villainous duo. Her horrifying screams could be heard vividly through the audio recording they had made. Like Cindy, a wire hanger was used to strangle her to death. This time, however, they did not take the time to drive the body to the dumping ground in the mountains. They simply threw her corpse onto a lawn in the Los Angels suburb and politely drove away.
The press nicknamed them “The Toolbox Killer”, since they were believed to be a single perpetrator. In October, Norris bragged about his and Bittaker’s murders to Jimmy Dalton, a friend of theirs from prison, who initially thought the stories were lies. However, when Ledford’s body was discovered, he reported Norris to his lawyer, who passed the information on to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Two police detectives began staking out Norris and arrested him for marijuana possession and parole violation when he was spotted dealing it on the street shortly before Thanksgiving that year. Bittaker was also arrested for abducting and raping Shirley Sanders.
After a long interrogation, Norris confessed to being involved in the murders, but insisted that he was mainly an accomplice and had been high on drugs during the murders, beginning to pin the murders on Bittaker. He was allowed to plea-bargain, enabling him to place all of the blame on Bittaker; Norris also helped investigators find the bodies of Jackie Gilliam and Leah Lamp. Both men were charged on several counts of kidnapping, rape, robbery, deviant sexual assault, criminal conspiracy, and murder, each blaming the other.
When the audio recordings they made of their murders turned up, Norris was of course revealed to have been an active participant. Ultimately, likely due to his assistance in the investigation, Norris was sentenced to 45 years to life in prison. In 2010, he applied for parole and was denied, being ineligible for another ten years. Bittaker was sentenced to death and is still (November 2017) on death row.