Revised from DISGUISE OF SANITY Pepperbox Books ©
“They [Bittaker and Norris] lack the internal prohibitions, or conscience, that keep most of us from giving full expression to our most primitive, and sometimes violent, impulses.” – Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Markman (1989)
Midnight Halloween, Shirley Ledford and friends catch a ride at their fastfood job. The driver stops for fuel and asks the riders to pay for gas so they can go to a party, but Shirley is tired and instead walks home. A silver van follows Ledford for a moment then stops directly in front of her. Smiling Roy Norris on the passenger side asks if she needs a lift. The girl enters the sliding door and Norris locks it shut while the driver, Lawrence Bittaker turns the radio loud and heads to Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Ledford would have been safer had she merely fallen into a shark tank.
The year before, while awaiting release from California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Lawrence Sigmond Bittaker and Roy Lewis Norris found they had something in common and made plans for their futures. Nothing too fancy, just a toolbox full of medieval agonies to be preserved in screams with a camera and sound recorder.
Lawrence Bittaker moved to California with his foster parents in 1952 and was first arrested five years later at 17. Following more arrests and time in juvenile jails for burglaries and property crimes, he took a stolen car across several state lines until he was stopped in Missouri. After caged for 19 months in a federal pen, angry Larry Bittaker is now unleashed on the world.
On the bus trip from prison back to Los Angeles he got friendly with four children and their mother. He listened to the mother’s problems and before arriving in Compton, California, they were making wedding plans. Only days out of confinement, Bittaker was already a married man and stepfather of four. He got an apartment but had trouble paying the rent, so he stole a car, committed a few burglaries and got himself back in jail. His new wife left him and Bittaker wrote at his probation hearing that he no longer trusted people because of what his wife had done to him.
A prison psychiatrist said after testing Bittaker that he had a “psycho-sexual disturbance’ and was “potentially homicidal,” although legally sane. He also scored near genius on his IQ test, but just didn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. For the next 20 years Bittaker was in and out of prisons for assault, burglary and grand theft. In 1975 he stabbed a Hollywood market checker in a robbery attempt but just avoided homicide by missing the victim’s heart with his knife strike. Bittaker told a judge reviewing his probation that prison was like home and he might kill if released. Three years later the state of California will gamble that Larry Bittaker had finally been rehabilitated. Let loose again in L.A., Bittaker gets a job as a machinist, lives in a Burbank motel and waits for his prison pal Roy Norris to get out of the joint soon.
Norris met Bittaker in 1977 while serving for a rape conviction, telling everyone who would listen how women had caused most of the problems of his life. Norris said that he liked to overwhelm women with “fear and terror” just as they had always done to him. Within a month of his release, Norris raped again, this time dumping the girl in the desert. He was sent to Atascadero State Hospital to get cured and was back on the streets in time to prepare with Bittaker the plans they had discussed in prison. They bought plastic tape, pliers, rope, knives and an ice pick, with other scream-makers in a toolbox. They also bought a camera and tape recorder. They drove into the mountains to find a nice, quiet spot that would snare screams, finding a fire road just above Glendora. They knew too that dead targets tell no tales.
And now it began.
On June 24, 17-year old Lucinda Schaefer was coming home from bible-study class in Torrance near the beach. Bittaker slowed his van, nicknamed ‘Murder Mack’ where Norris yelled to the girl if she wanted a ride and smoke some dope. Cindy declined and continued walking. Norris jumped out and pulled Schaefer into the van, jamming a rag into her mouth and binding her wrists as Bittaker raced to the hills.
Arriving at their mountain hideaway, both men leisurely rape the girl, then discuss how she should die. Norris hedged against murder, but eventually agreed to kill her himself as Bittaker held Schaefer in place. He tried to strangle Cindy but faltered when the girl started crying. Bittaker, who was less moved by the girl’s tears tried to kill her but told Norris it was a lot tougher than on television. Both men fastened a coat hanger around her neck and slowly tightened with a pair of pliers. Later, according to Norris’ statement to police, when first trying to kill Schaefer he went out of the van and vomited. Whatever happened, Norris apparently got over his nervous compassion in time to murder the girl and go after the next target. When finished with Cindy, they carried her body to the edge of the hillside and threw it into the bush, figuring the animals would eat the evidence.
Schaefer’s nightmare had lasted several hours, but Bittaker wanted to experiment with more exotic agonies. There was a whole world of hitchhikers for him to finally play out his hungry daydrems. He planned to eventually build a small town to imprison kidnapped teenage girls. They would remain naked, chained, tortured and forced into sex acts. Larry could finally feel like a real man (or something) with all those little girls being scared witless. While Bittaker’s murder town was still on the blueprints he went looking for the next victim.
Andreas Hall was hitching and barely missed getting picked up by Bittaker, taking a ride with a car that stopped just ahead. But Bittaker and Norris followed the car carrying Andrea until she got out on a street corner. Then Bittaker offered her another ride and the poor girl got in.
When he finished raping Hall, Norris went back down the mountain road for some food, leaving the girl with Bittaker, hearing sharp screams as he left. Norris brought back sandwiches and Bittaker gave him a stack of poloroid photos. All were stages of Hall’s pain and death. “I told her I was going to kill her to see what kind of argument she’d have for staying alive,” Bittaker said, gesturing to the mutilated girl. “She didn’t have much of an argument.” Norris couldn’t help noticing an ice pick plunged into her ear. It wasn’t fatal,” Bittaker said. “She also had to be strangled.” It wasn’t fatal, but not because he hadn’t tried. Bittaker had pushed the ice pick into one ear, all the way into her brain, but she was still alive. Then he turned Hall over to do the same to her other ear, stomping with his foot until the ice pick penetrated completely and the handle broke. But the girl was still breathing until the wire snapped.
Jackie Gilliam just happened to be hitchhiking when the Murder Mack drove by. Gilliam was careful who she rode with, but after analyzing blue-eyed, smiling Bittaker and be-speckled, slap-happy Norris, she never thought the men would do any more than carry her across town. Bittaker spotted another hitchhiker, 13-year old Jacqueline Lamp, and loaded her beside Gilliam. When the girls realized that the van was going away from their destinations, they waited for a moment to escape As the van slowed, Gilliam broke free and ran near a tennis court, Bittaker barely getting a hand on her, no one listening to her screams. Lamp is knocked unconscious by Norris as Gilliam passes out in the van while being tied by Bittaker.
Both girls wake at the mountain graveyard where they began two days of a very slow death.
50 pictures are exposed of the girls in various stages of poses and torture. Bittaker was getting more sophisticated at taking Polaroids and recording sounds, to capture just the right terrified look, the high-pitched scream. The men took humiliation pictures of both girls but only raped the older Gilliam. Lamp couldn’t stop crying and screaming so they fed her with tranquilizers. Next morning, Norris asked Bittaker to kill Gilliam fast because she had been cooperative, but Larry wanted the long way of execution, saying “they only die once, anyway.” As with Andreas Hall, he drove the ice pick through Gilliam’s ear as far as it could reach, then strangled her by coat hanger and pliers. As Jacky Lamp fell out of the open side door of the van he bludgeoned her to death with a sledgehammer. “She wanted to stay a virgin, so she died a virgin,” Bittaker told Norris as they threw the bodies down a ravine.
Bittaker wanted another victim for his 38th birthday and saw a girl jogging near the beach. She turned into a doughnut shop just as Norris was ready to grab her. They waited nearly an hour for the girl to get back onto the street, but she knew someone inside and kept taking. Bittaker got bored and drove down the highway, slowing as he saw a girl walking by herself. Bittaker got out to follow her as Norris drove the van, but the girl abruptly went into the El Camino College parking lot. Bittaker maneuvered the van to the side of the girl, Norris poised to spring out and abduct her, but she sensed danger and ran away. Not wanting his birthday to be completely wasted, he and Norris went to see a movie instead.
Two nights later, Bittaker follows a girl into the alleyway of her apartment. When he sees no witnesses, Bittaker sprays Mace from a squirt gun at her face. He thought it would be a better way to catch a target, but the chemical agent only makes her scream louder. Bittaker and Norris drive to the street when several neighbors come running. One of them memorizes the plate number.
Bittaker is arrested and initially charged with assault with a caustic chemical, but the rap gets dropped because Mace is a chemical irritant and not a caustic agent. The difference is considerable in both bail and possible sentencing. Bittaker gladly accepts the lighter charge of being an ex-con in possession of tear gas and walked out of the police station just in time for Halloween.
They drive into the San Fernando Valley and pick up attractive Shirley Ledford, just 16, around midnight on Halloween. With Ledford secure, Bittaker asks Norris to drive while he attacks the girl in the back. Norris drove for two hours as Bittaker mutilated Ledford with pliers and hammer, running the recorder until it ran out of tape.
From the court transcripts of the Bittaker-Norris Halloween tapes:
“At this point, after Bittaker had forced Shirley to fellate him, repeated sounds of an administered beating, interspersed with loud screams can be heard as Bittaker savagely beat Shirley about the breasts and, to a lesser degree, head. Bittaker then extracted his pliers from the tool box. Shirley then emits several high-pitched, prolonged screams and cries of agony as Bittaker alternately squeezes and twists her labia, clitoris, nipples and breasts with the pliers. Bittaker then returns the pliers to the tool box. Banging sounds can also be heard throughout, which are believed to have been made as Shirley came into contact with the walls and inner contents of the van as she writhed and flailed.”
Ledford: My God! Please stop it! (Screams)
Bittaker: Is the recorder going?
Bittaker: Scream baby! Scream some, baby.
Norris drives along the Golden State Freeway, then trades places with Bittaker. On tape, Norris taunts the girl to scream, then cracks her arm with a sledgehammer, breaking the elbow. With Ledford screaming, “Don’t hit me again!” Norris slams the sledge on her elbow 25 more times. After two hours, Bittaker prompts Norris to strangle the girl. He fashions a coat hanger around her neck, tightening with pliers as Bittaker had always done. “Do it,” Shirley Ledford begs. “Just kill me!“ are the last sounds on the tape.
Driving while still dark in the residential Tujunga area, Bittaker throws little Shirley’s remains in a front lawn ivy bed, wanting to read the reactions next day in the newsprint. Then he actually gets out and re-positions Ledford’s torn corpse with arms and legs spread-eagle, displaying her welted, deeply cut wrists and ankles from her struggle against the binding ropes.
Bittaker played his torture tapes and exhibited the endless snuff pictures to a few people he trusted at his motel, assuming that all men were excited with bondage pornography. The girls butchered by himself and Norris were also among the collection. It all would come back to haunt him.
Sitting in his motel room, Bittaker fondled bottles of acid he recently bought, preparing for the next adventure. He was going to pick up Norris, abduct another girl and experiment with the burning acid. What he didn’t know was that Norris had just been arrested with the purses of all the victims (along with other trophies) in his apartment, and that he was talking loudly to make a deal for his own life. Investigation of a kidnapping and rape first led detectives to Norris, and Bittaker got arrested later that day.
Inside Bittaker’s room are 500 sex and bondage photos of girls, along with acid and ingredients for making the bizarre elephant tranquilizer PCP. In his van investigators find many of the tapes (including the Ledford massacre), although Bittaker allegedly buried the rest of the snuff photos and other items by the Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Of Bittaker’s Polaroids, 19 of the women posed are identified as girls who had been reported missing. Los Angeles County Sheriff Peter Pitchess said that these teenagers were perhaps murdered as well.
Bittaker told authorities that he had merely given rides to the girls and paid them for sex, leaving them in the good company of Roy Norris. He was shocked, he said, to find that Norris had killed the poor “whores.”
When asked if he felt remorse over the dead girls, Roy Norris said that he only felt sorry that he had to rat on his partner to save is own neck.
While in jail, Bittaker asked an inmate to draw a picture of a girl on the cell wall, then he said to draw a coat hanger and pair of pliers under the figure. Later he sent around signed autographs as “Pliers Bittaker.” He called a federal agent from his jail cell to confess a rape and implicare Norris in a murder. Figuring that the mountain area where most of the girls were killed was a federal park, he would have a better chance under federal law rather than the state. There was no death penalty under fed statutes.
Deputy District Attorney C. Ramsey Randolph called Bittaker and Norris “Two mutates from Hell,” but soon the jury learned that even that epithet was an understatement. So hideous was the tape played in court of Shirley Ledford begging, crying, screaming in agony, with Bittaker commenting and laughing in the background that the defense had a tough job making the jury believe that he was not culpable.
People in the courtroom cried and/or ran into the lobby until the taped evidence was finished playing. Bittaker actually smiled while the tapes screamed. Kay couldn’t help crying himself, telling the media later, “I just picture those girls … how alone they were when they died.”
The young woman who had been maced from her apartment parking area but escaped from Norris and Bittaker was the only victim who had lived to testify. Regarding the other murdered who had no eyewitness, prosecutor Stephen Kay told the jury that when the murders are committed in Hell you don’t have angels for witnesses. Maybe we did have angels but they were all murdered.
When he agreed to take the witness stand, Bittaker cried, explaining his shock at the deaths of all the girls who he had generously given rides in the Murder Mac. The screams from the tapes were merely “pillow talk” from the girls to him. The tape, the physical evidence and the direct testimony of 68 witnesses had another story to tell. And so did Bittaker’s 250-page novel regarding many of the killings that he titled The Last Ride (that the jury did not hear).
The following day, Bittaker was no longer whiney and refused to tell where in Forest Lawn he buried the other snuff tapes and photos. As Randolph cross-examined him, Bittaker said that he thought “normal” rape was not a serious crime, adding “I’ve been raped!” The jury did not agree. After deliberating three days they found him guilty on all 23 felony counts, then heard arguments for the penalty phase of the trial.
“If the death penalty is not appropriate in this case,” Prosecutor Stephen Kay told the jury, “then when will it ever be?” adding, ‘I really apologize to you that all I can ask for is the death penalty. I wish I could ask you to do to this man what he did to these girls.’
Bittaker said he felt nothing for what he had done and continued to blame everyone else for his predicament. He only blamed himself for not having hidden the tapes and photos in the first place. The jury, however had no trouble blaming Bittaker for the murders and in 90 minutes voted for the death house. Torrance Superior Court Judge Thomas Fredricks confirmed the sentence, then added an additional 199 years, just in case the conviction was ever reduced or reversed.
During Roy Norris’ trial, his parole officer testified that Norris “never exhibited any remorse or compassion about his brutal, hideous behavior towards the victims … the defendant appears compulsive in his need to desire to inflict pain and torture upon women…(Norris) can realistically be regarded as an extreme sociopath, whose depraved, grotesque pattern of behavior is beyond rehabilitation.”
On April 28, 1981, Roy Lewis Norris was sentenced to 45 years to life, avoiding capital punishment as part of his plea deal. Nearly the same monster as Bittaker, Norris was up for parole in 2009 (but chose not to attend). His next chance will be in 2019.
While in prison, Bittaker (like Gerard Schaefer) was having fun suing everyone in sight (for free, of course). So numerous and outrageous were his nuisance lawsuits that a judge declared him to be a “vexatious litigant,” and no longer allowed to file suits without approval of the court. Bittaker said in later interviews that his only remorse was getting caught. “Pliers” Bittaker has now lived on San Quentin’s death row for 34 years. Bittaker’s other business ventures included his autographed murdered girls autopsy reports – for a price.
In order to ‘desensitize’ FBI agents, the Bittaker-Norris audio tapes are unleashed at Academy recruits to show what they may be dealing with when encountering monsters disguised as humans.
Chief investigator of the Bittaker-Norris murders, 39-year old Detective Paul Bynum wrote in a 1987 suicide note that he could no longer live because of the slayings and worried that Bittaker and Norris would again be released onto the world.
Prosecutor Stephen Kay said that after the trial he always had the same nightmare; A girl enters Bittaker’s Murder Mac and Stephen runs so very fast to rescue her, but always, always he gets there just as the van drives away with the monsters laughing and the little girl screaming for someone to save her.
Disguise of Sanity Revised/updated 2016 third edition
Twenty-one case histories of ‘recreational’ killers who have murdered, through a disguise of sanity, thousands of people. The bizarre stories, sensational trials and haunting ironies are presented that have most affected change in the criminal justice system and modified attitudes regarding human behavior.
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