The Slaying of Shirley Lynette Ledford
Most of us know the potential dangers of hitchhiking, but that's because we've grown up being warned by our parents not to do so.
This wasn’t the case for 18-year-old Shirley Lynette Ledford however, and on October 31, 1979, she would come to instantly regret getting into a stranger’s van. Roy Norris and Lawrence Bittaker spotted Ledford as she was standing outside of a local gas station. Being Halloween night, even if someone was to hear her initial screams, many would just imagine it to be from the night’s festivities.
Initially, it was Lawrence Bittaker who assaulted Ledford, but this could only happen after he had her gagged with duct tape and completely immobilized. Bittaker had a passion for not only inflicting pain on his victims but also hearing them beg for mercy, which he never granted. At first Bittaker began slapping Shirley’s face and then punching her in her breast with a clenched fist. He then switched on the tape recorder and Ledford screamed, the harrowing sounds which can be heard on the recorded audio tape. “What’s the matter? Don’t you like to scream?”
Some point during the ride to Shirley’s ending death location, Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris switch places and Bittaker takes over the driving responsibilities. Now it is Norris’s, who is more sexually sadistic, turn with Ledford. Norris made her felate him, but nothing can prepare her for what is about to come next.
Reaching inside his toolbox, Norris pulls out a hammer. *Some sources I’ve seen claimed it was a sledgehammer that he used, but I could not verify the size. Either way, it was a hammer.
Norris: Make noise there, girl. Go ahead and scream or I'll make you scream!
Ledford: (Loud, pleading tone) I'll scream if you stop hitting me!
Norris: (Enthusiastic tone in voice) Oh yeah?
Norris: Keep it up girl!
Norris: 'Till I say stop!
Using the hammer as a weapon, Norris sadistically strikes Ledford’s left elbow, eventually shattering the bone completely. We can then hear Norris repeatedly striking Ledford’s broken bone each time with more force than the last blow.
Ledford: You broke it!
Norris: I barely hit it.
Ledford: (Pleading and sobbing) Don't hit me again!
Norris: Oh yeah?
Norris can be heard lifting the sledgehammer from either the floor of the van or, possibly, the wooden frame of the bed the two had constructed in the rear of the van.
Ledford: (Screaming) No! No! No! No! No! (Bludgeoning sounds can be heard, interspersed with repeated high-pitched screams)
Ledford: No! No! No! No! No! (Scream) Oh no! No! No! No!
He strikes Shirley at least 25 times with the hammer on her left elbow. She releases another piercing and wincing scream with each strike until you hear the voice become distorted and unintelligibly because of the mass of pain she is undergoing.
Norris: How's that?
Bittaker: (Driving) What's going on?
Norris: I was just beating on her elbows with the hammer.
Ledford: Oh! (Screams as Norris again repeatedly strikes her elbow with the hammer).
Norris: What are you sniveling about?
Ledford: (Scream). No! Oh. Owww! I, (Repeated screams).
Reaching inside his toolbox, Norris pulls out a set of pliers and inserts the clamped in inside of Ledford’s vagina. Using no surgical precision, or any rhyme or reason, Norris clamps any loose genital skin and pulling violently. Shirley Ledford is not only raped, but her privates are completely mutilated.
Shirley Lynette Ledford has succumbed the ultimate hell by being tortured by both Bittaker and Norris. At one point in the audiotape, we can hear her begging for her death. “Do it. Just kill me!” she screams.
Using a wire coat-hanger Norris twist and tightens the soft metal around Shirley’s neck using those same pliers to completely shut off her ability to breathe. Leford’s nude and mutilated body is then dumped “in a bed of ivy in a suburban neighborhood, where it was discovered by an early morning jogger.”
A postmortem medical examination discovered the coat hanger still affixed to her neck. Her body had “extensive bruising and tearing on the breast.” There was sperm inside her mouth vagina and anus and her genitals were badly bruised.
Unwanted and Disowned by Parents
Most serial killers have a history of escalating crime, mostly for violent offenses, and Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris are surely no exception.
Also, like many soon to be killers that I have covered in the past, these two were products of their parent’s abandonment. However, what really separates these two is the crimes they started committing at an early age.
Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker was born on September 27, 1940, in Pittsburgh, PA to a family who immediately got rid of him. His father, a metalworker and aviation mechanic, and mother, a homemaker, never wanted to be married and especially never wanted a kid to take care of. Bittaker was immediately labeled a mistake and disowned by his parents, and not able to get the parental connection needed for a child’s growth, spun to a life of crime.
Bittaker’s first offense was as early as 12-years-old when he was arrested for shoplifting. Bittaker would later claim that his small-time criminal offenses resulted from his parent’s abandoning him to get back at society. Bittaker was a smart child, an IQ of 138, but dropped out of highschool at 17-years old.
Sexually Abused By Foster Parents
In researching the Tool Box murders, it is easy to see that Roy Norris was the true sexual deviant. His method of sadistic torture is enough to make any sane person gag, or perhaps vomit. Many sexual deviants and sex murders such as Roy Norris share similar traumatic childhood events of sexual abuse. Norris was no exception.
Born on February 5, 1948, Roy Norris was placed in the care of a Hispanic foster family. Norris would later admit that they sexually abused him as a child by his foster father. The child rotated back and forth between an abusive foster home and his actual home with the parents who have never loved him.
Met in Prison
It’s no surprise that prison inmates form friendships. A prisoner is usually locked up with peers that share similar ideas and passions, even if those passions include raping and torturing other humans.
Bittaker and Lawrence looked forward to their release and began planning their future crimes together. The plan included buying a van which they would end up calling the “Murder Mack”, outfitting the cabin of the van with torture devices such as a bondage bed and toolbox which they would use on their victims.
What’s perhaps the most disgusting thing about their planning however was the victims they were seeking. The two wanted to rape girls of each age between 13 and 17.
The First Victim of the Toolbox Killers
After as many as 20 “dry runs” in which they picked up teenage girls, offered them marijuana, had them in their van, but did not torture or murder them, they were now ready to begin their murder spree. The two chose California’s Redondo Beach as their prime target. Redondo Beach provided a steady stream of potential victims, underage girls, who were hitchhiking, to and from the beach. As Norris and Bittaker drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, they spotted their first victim.
16-year-old Lucinda Lynn Schaefer refused the offer for a ride, but Roy Norris wanted her and so did Bittaker. Maybe it was because she was a blonde who looked the age. Either way the two were determined to rape, torture, and mutilate her.
They parked down the street, blocking her walking path and faking a car malfunction they posed no threat to the walking teenager. When she was in distance, Roy Norris pushed Schaefer into the Murder Mack, turned up the radio to drown out her screams, and headed towards the San Gabriel Mountains where they would eventually toss her corpse down an embankment.
Both Bittaker and Norris agreed they would give each other one hour for each rape. While one man is torturing the victim inside the van, the other is walking around the perimeter and looking for any curiosity seekers or hikers.
They raped Lucinda Shaefer several times before killing her and after an initial attempt to strangler her, Bittaker grabbed a wire coat hanger and a pair of pliers to finish the job. Once Schaefer’s air was completely cut off and they were satisfied that she was dead, the two men rolled her body down an embankment. The thought process being that local animals would help dispose of the body and thus destroy any evidence that could be used to convict the two men.
Jackie Gilliam, 15, and Leah Lamp, 13
Some serial killers decide to try their luck with two female victims at once. The stakes are much higher with two since there is much more that can go wrong. It would be easy to lose control of one victim, and they may get away risking your identity when they go to the police. However, with two serial killers together, Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, plus sedatives, to calm or incapacitate one or both of the victims, it would be easier to manage.
On September 2, 1979, Jackie Gilliam, 15, and Leah Lamp, 13, were hitching near Redondo Beach when the 1977 silver GMC van pulled up, offering them a ride and a chance to smoke marijuana. The two teenage girls accepted, however they quickly realized the gravity of their mistake when the van headed towards the mountains instead of the beach.
Court documents on this case read as following: “Neither defendant nor Norris was sexually interested in Lamp. Learning that she was a virgin, he set up a tape recorder to record her cries during the rape. After Norris also raped Gilliam, they retied the girls, and all remained in the van overnight.”
In the morning time, Bittaker takes Leah Lamp up the hill and forces her to felate him and “upon returning, arranged for Norris to take a series of photographs of him with Gilliam, beginning with clothes, then nude, then during intercourse and oral copulation.”
Jackie Gilliam was the first of the girls to die that day after Bittaker shoved an icepick through her ear and strangled her to death. When her body was recovered by law enforcement the icepick was still sticking through the bone.
Using a sledgehammer, Roy Norris repeatedly bashed in the head of Leah Lamp until she was deceased. When her body was found by law enforcement, there were several large dents in her skull bone.
The girls were then tossed down the embankment.
Norris Arrested for Selling Marijuana
Both Roy Norris and Lawrence Bittaker were apprehended soon after their fifth and final victim, Shirley Ledford.
After one unsuccessful abduction, the duo lay low before resuming their spree. During this time Norris, who was proud of his work, bragged to a former friend and showed him some of the 500 Polaroids taken of the rape and mutilations. Police arrested Norris on November 20, 1979, while under surveillance for selling marijuana, which gave police ample time to build their case.
They sentenced Bittaker to death after Roy Norris turned State’s Evidence on his former partner, accepting a plea deal of 45 years. Bittaker avoided death in 4 decades as he filed many frivolous appeals and lawsuits against prison staff. Lawrence Bittaker died of natural caused on December 13, 2019, at 79 while awaiting his execution date.
Roy Norris died of natural causes on February 24, 2020, at 72. Together the murderous duo was known as the Toolbox Killers.