The Toolbox Killers

Shirley Lynette Ledford, was abducted on October 31, 1979. Ledford was abducted as she stood outside a gas station, hitchhiking home from a Halloween party in a suburb of Los Angeles. Investigators believe Ledford accepted a ride home from Bittaker and Norris because she recognized Bittaker, as he is known to have frequented the restaurant in which Ledford held a part-time job as a waitress.

Upon accepting the offer of a lift home and entering the van, Ledford was offered marijuana by Norris, which she refused. Bittaker drove the van to a secluded street, where Norris drew a knife, then bound and gagged Ledford with construction tape.

Roy Lewis Norris was born in Greeley, Colorado, on February 5,  Norris was conceived out of wedlock; his parents had married to avoid the social stigma surrounding illegitimate birth at t.

Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 27, 1940, as the unwanted child of a couple who had chosen to not have children.[9]: 84  Bittaker was placed in an orphanage by his birth mother and was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. George Bittaker as an infant. Bittaker’s adoptive father worked in the aviation industry, which required the family to frequently move around the United States throughout his childhood

Bittaker then traded places with Norris, who drove in an aimless manner for in excess of an hour as Bittaker remained with Ledford in the back of the van. After removing the construction tape from the girl’s mouth and legs, Bittaker tormented Ledford: initially slapping and mocking her, then beating her with his fists as he repeatedly shouted for her to “say something”, then, as Ledford began screaming, shouting for her to “scream louder”. As Ledford continued screaming, Bittaker began asking her as he struck her: “What’s the matter? Don’t you like to scream?”

As Ledford began to cry, she pleaded with Bittaker, repeatedly saying, “No, don’t touch me.” In response, Bittaker again ordered her to scream as loud as she wished, then began alternately striking her with a hammer, beating her with his fists  and torturing her with pliers both between and throughout instances when he raped and sodomized her. Repeatedly, Ledford can be heard pleading for the abuse to cease and making statements such as, “Oh no! No!”  as sounds of Bittaker alternately extracting either the sledgehammer or the pliers from the toolbox can be heard on a tape recorder he had switched on after entering the rear of the van. Norris later described hearing “screams … constant screams” emanating from the rear of the van as he drove.

Shortly after Norris switched places with Bittaker, he himself switched on the tape recorder that Bittaker had used to record much of the time he had been in the rear of the van with Ledford. Norris first shouted for Ledford to: “Go ahead and scream or I’ll make you scream.” In response, Ledford pleaded, “I’ll scream if you stop hitting me,” then emitted several high-pitched screams as Norris encouraged her to continue until he ordered her to stop.

Norris then reached for the sledgehammer as Ledford—seeing him do this—screamed, “Oh no!” Norris then struck Ledford once upon the left elbow. In response, she informed Norris he had broken her elbow, before pleading, “Don’t hit me again.”   Norris again raised the sledgehammer as Ledford repeatedly screamed, “No!” Norris then proceeded to strike Ledford 25 consecutive times upon the same elbow with the sledgehammer, before asking her, “What are you sniveling about?” as Ledford continuously screamed and cry.

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. Roy Norris said, describing his recollections of the audio tape the pair had created of Shirley Ledford’s rape and torture.

After approximately two hours of captivity, Norris killed Ledford by strangling her with a wire coat hanger, which he tightened with pliers. Ledford did not react much to the act of strangulation, although she died with her eyes open.  Bittaker then opted to discard her body on a random lawn in order to view the reaction from the press. The pair drove to a randomly selected house in Sunland where Norris discarded Ledford’s body in a bed of ivy upon the front lawn.

Ledford’s body was found by a jogger the following morning. An autopsy revealed that, in addition to having been sexually violated, she had died of strangulation after receiving extensive blunt-force trauma to the face, head, breasts, and left elbow, with her olecranon sustaining multiple fractures. Her genitalia and rectum had been torn, caused in part by Bittaker having inserted pliers inside her body. In addition, her left hand bore a puncture wound and a finger on her right hand had been cut,.

Bittaker would later claim the tape recording the pair had created of Ledford’s clear abuse and torture offered nothing other than the evidence of a threesome, adding that, toward the very end, Ledford was screaming for him and Norris to kill her.

In November 1979, Norris became reacquainted with a friend named Joseph Jackson, an individual with whom he had previously been incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony.  Norris confided in Jackson regarding his and Bittaker’s exploits over the previous five months, including graphic details of the murder of Shirley Ledford (the only victim whose body had been found at this time). Norris also divulged to Jackson that, in addition to the five murders he and Bittaker had committed, there had been three additional incidents in which he and Bittaker had abducted or attempted to abduct young women who had either escaped their attackers or, in one instance, had actually been raped, but released.

Upon hearing Norris’s confessions, Jackson consulted his attorney, who advised him to inform authorities. Jackson agreed, and he and his attorney informed the Los Angeles Police Department, who in turn relayed the two men to the Hermosa Beach police.

A Hermosa Beach detective named Paul Bynum was assigned to investigate Jackson’s claims as to Norris’s confessions of the murders, attempted abductions, and rapes that he had confided to Jackson had occurred between June and October. Bynum initially noted that Jackson’s statements as to Norris’s confessions did match reports on file of several teenage girls who had been reported missing over the previous five months.  In addition, the incident Norris had confided to Jackson where he claimed he and Bittaker had sprayed mace in the face of a woman, who had then been dragged into Bittaker’s GMC van and raped by both men, matched a report filed in relation to an incident that occurred on September 30. In this filed report, a young woman named Robin Robeck had had mace sprayed in her face before being dragged into a van and raped by two Caucasian men in their mid-30s, before being released. Although Robeck had reported the abduction and rape to police, they had been unable to identify her assailants.

Bynum dispatched an investigator to visit Robeck at her residence in Oregon, to show her a series of mug shots. Without hesitation, Robeck positively identified two photos presented to her as those of the men who had kidnapped and raped her on September 30. The two individuals she identified were Bittaker and Norris.

A search of Bittaker’s apartment revealed several Polaroid photographs which were determined as depicting Hall and Gilliam—both of whom had been reported as missing earlier the same year. Inside Bittaker’s van, investigators discovered a sledgehammer, a plastic bag filled with lead weights, a book detailing how to locate police radio frequencies, a jar of Vaseline, two necklaces (later confirmed as belonging to two of the victims), and a tape recording of a young woman in obvious distress, screaming and pleading for mercy while being tortured and sexually abused.

The mother of Ledford—named by Jackson as being one of the women whom Norris had confessed he and Bittaker had killed—identified the voice on the tape as being that of her only daughter; the voices of the two men mocking and threatening Ledford in the process of her torture and abuse were identified as being Roy Norris and Lawrence Bittaker. Also found in Bittaker’s motel were seven bottles of various acidic materials. (Investigators would later discover Bittaker planned to use these acidic materials upon their next victim.)

Inside Norris’s apartment, police discovered a bracelet he had taken from Ledford’s body as a souvenir. Also found at the homes of both Bittaker and Norris were Polaroid pictures of almost 500 teenage girls and young women, most of which had apparently been taken at Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach,  with others taken by Bittaker at a Burbank high school. Most of these pictures had been taken without the girls’ knowledge or consent.

Norris began to confess, although he did attempt to portray Bittaker as being more culpable in the murders than himself. In what Bynum and Kay later described as a “casual, unconcerned manner,”  Norris divulged that he and Bittaker had been in the habit of driving around areas such as the Pacific Coast Highway and randomly approaching girls whom they found attractive with offers of a ride, posing with the pair for photographs, marijuana. Most of those whom they approached rejected whatever given ruse Bittaker and Norris used to entice them into the van, although four girls had accepted lifts from the pair and had been murdered, with a fifth victim—their first—being grabbed by force.

Rear view of the GMC Vandura van Bittaker and Norris used to abduct their victims

Inside the van, the girls would typically be overpowered, bound hand and foot, gagged, and driven to locations deep within the San Gabriel Mountains, where they would be sexually assaulted by both men, then usually killed by strangulation with a wire coat hanger, although two of the victims had had ice picks driven into their ears before being strangled. Norris admitted to bludgeoning their youngest victim, Lamp, about the head with a sledgehammer as Bittaker strangled her, and admitted to repeatedly striking Shirley Ledford upon the elbow with a sledgehammer before strangling her to death. The bottles of acid found at Bittaker’s motel, Norris stated, were intended for use upon the next victim they abducted, and the acts of torture and humiliation had been committed against their victims “for fun”.

According to Norris, the level of brutality Bittaker had exhibited toward their victims had increased on each successive instance they had lured a girl into the van; their final victim, Ledford, had actually pleaded to be killed in order that her agony could cease. Additional details by Norris provided further corroborating evidence to support his confessions. For example, he knew that their first victim, Schaefer, had left a meeting at a Presbyterian Church shortly before she was abducted and that Schaefer had lost one shoe as she had been dragged into Bittaker’s van. Norris also knew part of Shirley Ledford’s ancestry was Hispanic, and that Bittaker had unsuccessfully asked her to date him prior to October 1979.

Bittaker and Norris killed their first victim, 16-year-old Lucinda Lynn Schaefer, on June 24, 197

On July 8, 1979, two weeks after the murder of Schaefer, Bittaker and Norris encountered 18-year-old Andrea Joy Hall hitchhiking along the Pacific Coast Highway On September 3, Bittaker and Norris observed two girls named Jackie Doris Gilliam, was 15,  and Jacqueline Leah Lamp, who was 13, sitting on a bus stop bench near Hermosa Beach. Lamp and Gilliam had been hitchhiking along the Pacific Coast Highway before Bittaker and Norris observed them as they were resting at the bus stop. Bittaker and Norris offered the girls a ride, which Gilliam and Lamp accepted.

Bittaker died while incarcerated on death row at San Quentin State Prison on December 13, 2019, at the age of 79. His death was reported as being due to natural causes.

Norris was incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. He died of natural causes at the California Medical Facility on February 24, 2020, at the age of 72, having been transferred to this facility one week prior to his death. Since his conviction, he had repeatedly claimed the sole reason he participated in the murders was out of fear of Bittaker. Norris also claimed to have twice contemplated confessing to his and Bittaker’s responsibility in the murders to the police; he also claimed to have deterred three potential victims from entering Bittaker’s van.

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