|“||Make noise there, girl! Go ahead and scream or I'll make you scream!||”|
— Norris on one of the pair's recordings
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 afterward, he was sentenced to two years for auto 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 center in Missouri through good behavior. 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 afterward, he was imprisoned for violating his parole and suspicion of robbery. 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. 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. In June, they abducted their first victim, 16-year-old Cindy Schaeffer, whom they forced into her truck, duct-taped her mouth, and bound her ankles and wrists. After raping, torturing, and killing her at a fire trail in a nearby mountain, they dumped her body in a canyon. The following month, they abducted 18-year-old Andrea Hall, took turns raping her, taunted her by encouraging her to scream, and then killed her. On September 3, they abducted two girls, 15-year-old Jackie Gilliam and 13-year-old Leah Lamp, and held them captive for two days, raping them and recording their captivity the entire them. Then, they murdered both. They then abducted Shirley Sanders on September 30 and raped her, but she managed to escape. She was able to report the assault, but couldn't identify her attackers or remember the car's license plate number, and the matter wasn't pursued any further. On October 30, they abducted and murdered their last victim, Shirley Lynette Bedford, deciding to dump her body on a lawn in Hermosa Beach instead of in the wilderness. Unlike their previous victims, she was raped and tortured while the car was being driven around instead of when it was parked at the duo's usual killing site.
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 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 died while awaiting execution in 2019. Norris became eligible for parole in 2009, only to be denied. He was denied parole again in 2019 and died on February 24, 2020.
Bittaker and Norris targeted Caucasian girls in their teens, most of them with dark-blonde hair. Their goal was to kill one victim of each teenage year, i.e. one 13-year-old, one 14-year-old, one 15-year-old, etc. Striking roughly once a month, they would pick up their victims while driving around in the "Murder Mack" and approach them with a simple ruse. They would then either trick them into hitchhiking with them or snatch them from the side door of the car and drive them to a secluded fire trail on San Gabriel Mountains.
Once they had privacy, the victims would be tied up, sometimes gagged, raped by both and tortured with hand tools. They were typically killed with one of two methods. The first method was strangulation with a straightened wire coat hanger, which was tightened around their necks with a pair of vise-grip pliers. The second method was stabbing icepicks through their ears and into their brains and being finished off by strangulation. They would also sometimes record the rape and torture with a Polaroid camera or a tape recorder. The victims' bodies were then dumped in the wilderness, with the exception of Shirley Lynette Ledford, whose body was dumped on the lawn of a private residence.
The following were crimes committed by Lawrence and Bittaker separately
- Unspecified locations:
- Unspecified date in 1957: An unspecified hit-and-run caused by Bittaker
- Unspecified date in 1960: A victimless robbery committed by Bittaker
- November 1969: Unnamed female motorist (Norris assaulted and attempted to rape her)
- February 1970: Unnamed woman (Norris intended to rape her)
- May: Unnamed female college student (attempted; Norris bashed her head with a rock and slammed her head into a street; previously stalked her for an unspecified amount of time)
- August: Unnamed woman, 27 (was strangled to the point of unconsciousness with her scarf and raped by Norris)
- Unspecified date in 1974: Gary Louie (attempted; was stabbed in the chest by Bittaker)
The following were the murders committed by Lawrence and Bittaker together
- 1979, Los Angeles, California:
- June 24, Redondo Beach: Cindy Schaeffer, 16 (raped and non-fatally manually strangled, then fatally strangled with a wire coat hanger)
- July 8, Manhattan Beach: Andrea Hall, 18 (raped repeatedly and stabbed in both ears with icepicks and fatally manually strangled)
- September 3-5, Hermosa Beach: Jackie Gilliam and Leah Lamp (both were raped, tortured, physically abused, and held captive for two days)
- Jackie Gilliam, 15 (stabbed in both ears with icepicks and fatally strangled)
- Leah Lamp, 13 (struck in the head with a baseball bat, manually strangled, and hit on the head with a sledgehammer seven times)
- September 30, Hermosa Beach: Shirley Sanders (attempted; maced and raped, but escaped before they could try to kill her)
- October 31, San Fernando Valley: Shirley Lynette Ledford, 16 (raped, tortured, sodomized, beaten, struck on the elbows 25 times with a sledgehammer, slashed her breasts, strangled with a wire coat hanger, and mutilated her face post-mortem)
On Criminal Minds
- Season One
- "Extreme Aggressor" - The Toolbox Killers was mentioned as an example of killing teams.
- "A Real Rain" - The Toolbox Killers was mentioned by Reid when the BAU discover that the unsub kills his victims by driving sharp instruments (later mentioned to be flint knives) through the ears of his victims into their brains to kill them. He compares it to Bittaker and Norris's habit of thrusting ice picks into their victims' ears.
- Season Two
- "The Perfect Storm" - While the Toolbox Killers were not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, they appear to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsubs, The Canardos - Both teams consisted of killers and abductors who targeted young Caucasian women, encountered their victims on roadsides and lured them into their vehicles with ruses (though sometimes the Toolbox Killers would simply snatch them up), drove them to secluded locations and proceed to bound, rape, torture, and finally kill them by ligature strangulation (though the Toolbox Killers also stabbed victims), and recorded their murders. Additionally, the scene where they abduct one of their victims by asking her for directions and then pulling her into their van through the side door is similar to how the Toolbox Killers would snatch their victims.
- Season Three
- "Lo-Fi" - The Toolbox Killers were again mentioned as an example of killing teams.
- Season Four
- "Soul Mates" - While the Toolbox Killers were not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, they appear to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsubs, The Soul Mates - Both teams consisted of ephebophilic serial killers, rapists, and abductors who were also sexual sadists, committed crimes prior to their killings, targeted women, abducted, raped, and killed them by strangling them. In addition, in both cases, it was initially assumed that only one person was committing the murders.
- "Roadkill" - The Toolbox Killers were mentioned when the BAU mention how serial killers have special relationships to their cars, referring to their "Murder Mack".
- Season Six
- "Remembrance of Things Past" - While the Toolbox Killers were not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Norris in particular seems to have been an inspiration for the episode's main unsub, Lee Mullens - Both are serial killers and abductors with jobs as electricians, targeted young Caucasian women, had sexual elements in their crimes (Mullens sodomized his victims, while Norris raped them), were members of killing teams, and were given nicknames for their crimes.
- Season Eight
- "Outlaw" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Bittaker and Norris appear to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsubs, The Outlaw Bikers - Both are ephebophilic serial killing teams that had one member who dropped out of school, committed crimes prior to meeting and were incarcerated for them, met while incarcerated after one member saved another from another inmate (at least some in the Biker's case), were involved in drug paraphernalia (possibly in the Biker's case), targeted both young women and teenaged girls (though the Bikers also killed males), and bound and raped them before killing them. Also, Benjamin Wade becoming an informant to Hotch and Lewis could be a slight nod to how Norris testified against Bittaker.
- Bittaker and Norris are similar to William Bonin and his accomplices - Both were ephebophilic and hebephilic serial killers, serial rapists, and robbers, Bittaker and Bonin had families that moved, committed petty crimes as teenagers, both Bonin and Norris were sent to Atascadero State Hospital and released, served in the military during the Vietnam War, Bittaker and Bonin became known amongst the teenage population for giving contraband to them and allowing them to socialize at their residences, and as serial killers they targeted teenagers and young adults of one gender (males in Bonin's case, females in Bittaker and Norris'), lured or forced them into vans, they would them bind, rape and torture them in various ways (including shoving icepicks into their ears) before strangling them to death with a ligature, and Bonin and Bittaker were sentenced to death and died at San Quentin State Prison (though Bonin was executed while Bittaker died of natural causes).
- Wikipedia's article about Bittaker and Norris
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Bittaker and Norris
- Radford University's summaries:
- About.com about Bittaker and Norris
- The Killer Book of Serial Killers (2009)
- Interview with Bittaker in Bizarre magazine
- Robert Keller's blog article on Bittaker and Norris