Ogden, Utah. April 22, 1974.
When 20-year-old Stanley Walker was late getting home from his job at the Hi-Fi Shop on Washington Boulevard, his family worried. His father, Orren, 43, thought the Jeep they’d just bought might have broken down, so he drove down to the shop to see if his son needed a ride. When Orren didn’t return after a few hours either, his wife and 16-year-old son followed.
They found a darkened store that had been looted. They could hear noises from the basement—it was Orren, screaming for help. Orren’s wife called the police, while his strapping son broke down the basement door.
Orren was alive, but badly hurt. He’d been shot in the head, a pen was embedded deep within his ear, and there were oozing sores in and around his mouth.
The assailants had forced their victims to drink Drano.
The four other people in the basement, including Stanley Walker, had been shot in the head and had the same chemical burns around their mouths. Stanley was dead, as was his coworker, Sherry Michelle Ansley, 19, who’d been working there just a week.
Carol Naisbitt, 52, had come in search of her son too; she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at St. Benedict’s Hospital. Doctors didn’t expect her son Cortney, 16, to survive his head injury or the damage to his respiratory system and upper digestive tract. He lived but was never the same.
It was among the most gruesome and senseless crimes Utah had seen. Police quickly identified William Andrews and Dale Selby Pierre as the perpetrators, and they were found guilty just six months later—but civil rights groups would question whether the two black men saw a fair trial in this shaken white Mormon community.
It was just before the store’s 6 p.m. closing time when two vans pulled up to the Hi-Fi Shop at 2323 Washington Blvd. Keith Roberts and another man stayed in the vans. Two other men acted as lookouts, while Dale Selby Pierre, 22, and William Andrews, 19, entered the shop and pointed their guns at the store’s two employees, Stanley Walker and Michelle Ansley .
Another victim soon wandered into the scene. Cortney Naisbitt wanted to thank Walker for letting him park his car behind the store while he stopped at nearby Inkley’s Camera to pick up the slides from his parents’ trip to Hong Kong. A high school student who dreamed of becoming an aeronautical engineer, Cortney had just finished his first solo flight; he was due in ground school at 7 p.m.
Cora Beth Baggs had walked with him part of the way. After hearing that Cortney’s cousin, Hi-Fi Shop owner Brent Richardson, was away at a trade show, she decided she should try to get home in time for dinner. They parted ways and she was spared. But when Cortney walked into the shop, Pierre and Andrews forced him and the clerks into the basement, binding their hands behind their backs with speaker wire.
While the thieves cleaned out the store, Orren Walker arrived, looking for Stanley. Pierre shot at him. The Walkers tried to convince their assailants to just take the equipment and go, promising that they wouldn’t identify them. Pierre ignored them and told Andrews, “Get the bottle.” Andrews did, and, holding his gun on Orren, poured some of the bottle’s contents into a green cup Pierre held. Pierre told Orren to drink, telling him that it was just vodka and sleeping pills. When he refused, Pierre tied him up.
The two assailants started to argue with each other. Andrews said he didn’t want to go through with it.
Carol Naisbitt’s arrival interrupted them. Her husband Byron and another son had tried to convince her not to worry about Cortney, but she’d already drove to Weber State College to see if he’d made it to his ground class, then called a few of his friends. Finally, she followed her initial hunch and went by the Hi-Fi Shop.
Andrews and Pierre tied her up too. Pierre forced her to drink from the green cup. Carol choked on the thick liquid, spitting some of it up through her nose. Then she began to vomit.
Her son was next. He too gagged and vomited, and then he went into convulsions. Andrews and Pierre forced Stanley and Michelle to drink. Orren managed to spit most of it out and faked the heaves he’d seen wrack the others.
Pierre and Andrews poured another round for their captives. To make sure their victims swallowed, they put duct tape over their mouths after pouring in the caustic solution—but the pus oozing from the sores forming around the victims’ mouths prevented the tape from sticking.
Andrews went upstairs. Pierre shot Carol in the head. Then Cortney. Then Orren (he missed again). He skipped Michelle, shot Stanley, and shot Orren again.
While Michelle begged for her life Pierre led her to the adjacent room, untied her, made her strip, and raped her. When he was done, he let her use the bathroom. She tried to joke about it. He told her, still naked, to return to her spot and lie down. He shot her in the head.
Pierre checked Orren’s pulse and strangled him with an electrical cord. Orren tightened the muscles in his neck as Pierre pulled the cord, and played dead. He was still able to breathe when Pierre stopped. Pierre then jabbed a ballpoint pen into Orren’s ear; it punctured the eardrum and came out through Orren’s neck.
The assailants left with $25,000 in stereo equipment (what they missed—Carol Naisbitt’s Rolex, diamond ring, and gold bands—was probably worth more). And the unvanquished Orren Walker crawled toward the basement stairs.
Unraveling a Twisted Plan
Police officers Gale Bowcutt and Kevin Youngberg arrived at the Hi-Fi Shop just after 10 pm. They encountered a terrified teenage boy and woman, and a dazed and badly injured man. Orren Walker’s wife and son had found him but it was too late for Stanley.
Inside the shop, the officers were overwhelmed by the stench of fresh blood and vomit. They found four bodies downstairs. Stanley Walker and Michelle Ansley were dead. Cortney Naisbitt was gasping for air. The officers assumed the gurgling sound the boy was making came from a sucking chest wound, but they couldn’t see one; the effects of the caustic chemical he’d swollowed were suffocating him. They turned him upside down to let the blood and fluid drain from his throat, then did the same for his mother, Carol.
Ambulances arrived, and more police, including Sgt. Dave White and homicide investigator and tactical squad member Don Moore.
After the pen was removed and his gunshot wound and chemical burns were treated at McKay-Dee Hospital, Orren Walker described his assailants to White: two black men, the taller of whom did most of the talking, while the one with a Caribbean accent dealt out the violence. He also recalled two light-colored vans in the parking lot.
An experienced cop, White was shocked by the ordeal Walker had survived. He couldn’t think of a suspect he knew who could commit such a savage crime, but he had in fact dealt with a case involving one of the perpetrators.
In October, 1973, Air Force Sgt. Edward Jefferson died, stabbed in the face multiple times with a bayonet. Tips pointed to “Dale from Trinidad,” a young helicopter mechanic. The victim had lost his keys when Dale Selby Pierre was at his apartment and found them the next time Pierre was there. Pierre had stolen the keys, had them copied under a fake name, and then planted them in his victim’s apartment. They fought over this, and allegedly Pierre killed the sergeant.
White was never able to prove it. He found Pierre one of the least intimidated suspects he’d encountered, always cool, ever able to convince himself that he was above the law.
Pierre also had a habit of scoping out cars at a used car lot, stealing them—and then coming back the next day and getting mad when the car wasn’t there for him to buy. The ruse wasn’t much of a cover for his crimes. He was awaiting trial on three counts of auto theft at the time of the Hi-Fi massacre.
Two boys collecting glass bottles found some of the victims’ IDs and credit cards in a dumpster next to the Hill Air Force Base barracks. They handed the goods over to the recycling facility manager, who dialed the phone number listed on Michelle Ansley’s checks. When he learned she’d been murdered, he called the base police, who gave civilian authorities the names of two men fitting Walker’s description: Dale Selby Pierre, 22, and William Andrews, 19.
Cops searched the duo’s rooms and found a list of stores, including the Hi-Fi Shop, plus detailed information on high-end electronics, and a lease for a storage unit. The unit held a mountain of stereo equipment and personal items belonging to store owner Brent Richardson—and everything was covered with Pierre and Andrew’s fingerprints.
Witnesses reported that Andrews and Pierre had long been planning to rob the store, and to kill anyone who got in their way. A scene in the 1974 Clint Eastwood vehicle “Magnum Force” gave them the weirdest part of their plan: In the film, a prostitute dies dramatically after being forced to drink Drano.
Those caustic burns in the victims’ mouth were caused by drain cleaner.
A Quick Trial–And a Series of Appeals
With the town of Ogden in a panic over the Hi-Fi Massacre, the trial was moved to nearby Farmington. Ogden Judge John F. Wahlquist presided.
Prosecutor Robert Newey happened to have grown up with Cortney’s father, Dr. Byron Naisbitt. Pierre and Andrews’ first court-appointed lawyer had to recuse herself from the case, as Byron Naisbitt was her gynecologist.
Orren Walker was the main witness. Cortney Naisbitt was unable to testify. The boy had emerged from his coma and was starting to make progress, but his health remained tenuous. He still had trouble speaking or moving, and he was plagued by life-threatening infections as he recuperated. It would be years before he’d have any memories of the events that nearly killed him.
On November 20, 1974, Dale Selby Pierre and William Andrews were convicted on two counts of aggravated robbery and three counts of first degree murder. Keith Roberts was convicted only on the robbery charge; he was released on parole in 1987. Pierre and Andrews both received a death sentence for each of the three murders. Previously, Utah’s condemned could choose between the gallows and a firing squad; by the time of Pierre and Andrews’ deaths, lethal injection was an option.
The NAACP and other groups campaigned to reverse the death sentences. Andrews and Pierre were black; the victims, most of the authorities and the entire jury were not only white, but mostly Mormons, belonging to a church that then did not permit black ministers, in a state that tended to grant white killers life sentences but kill black criminals.
The trial’s bias problems weren’t just statistics and abstractions. During a lunch break, someone slipped one of the jurors a paper napkin with the words “Hang the niggers.” The defense wanted the proceedings declared a mistrial; Judge Wahlquist refused.
At his final hearing, Pierre finally acknowledged that he committed the murders. But he said he’d used the Drano just to shut his victims up. And he insisted that he’d shot them only because, high on valium, marijuana, and beer, and poisoned by years of discrimination as a black man in the United States, he snapped when Carol Naisbitt called him a “godless nigger.”
Cortney Naisbitt, who’d recovered increasing details by 1987, denied that his mother had said that, and claimed that she never would have used that phrase. It’s absent from Orren Walker’s account, and Pierre’s explanation of this trigger doesn’t fit with the accepted timeline, in which Pierre shoots at Walker first.
Pierre was put to death by lethal injection on August 28, 1987. He’d had grandiose dreams of becoming a millionaire entrepreneur behind bars, but at the end had only $29, which he bequeathed to Andrews.
Andrews admitted buying and pouring the Drano (the pair initially claimed they’d found it in the bathroom and spontaneously decided to use it), but he denied that he’d intended it to be lethal. This was an important part of his appeals in the years following Pierre’s death. Pierre, not Andrews, fired all the shots. Andrews wasn’t even in the room. This helped cast his death sentence as an injustice, an excessive punishment.
But Andrews was executed by lethal injection on July 20, 1992. In the death chamber, the movies came up again: Andrews complained about the ugly, insulation-coated ceiling with its exposed beams and ducts, and told his executioners that they should consider letting prisoners die surrounded by nature and soothing music, like in “Soylent Green.”
The massacre left Cortney Naisbitt with physical, mental and emotional problems that gradually improved but never dissipated. He managed to return to high school and to graduate with his class, but he was no longer the quick, bright student he had been. He tried flying a few times, but it was too difficult. So was college: He took occasional courses at Weber State College, but never graduated. In 1981, he moved out of his father’s house and took a job with the Department of Social Services in Ogden. In 1985, he married Kathy Hunter, a Seattle woman who’d been similarly traumatized by violent crime, and who had contacted him through Gary Kinder, who detailed the Naisbitt family’s ordeal in Victim. Cortney died on June 4, 2002, at just 44, after a lengthy undisclosed illness.
Orren Walker died on February 13, 2000. He was 69.
Sources on following page.