Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Peculiar Story of Penny Bjorkland

August Norry, victim from his Find a Grave page.

August Norry, victim from his Find a Grave page.

At about 10:00 p.m. on the night of February 1, 1959, police found the car owned by gardener August Norry, 30, at the end of what was often referred to as a “lover’s lane” on Christmas Tree Hill in Corte Madera, California. The vehicle was ominously bloody and riddled with bullet holes. It also had spent bullets inside it. Officers feared Norry had been killed. Those suspicions were confirmed the next day when Norry’s corpse was found in the San Bruno Hills. Murderpedia reports, “Forensic evidence showed that Norry was shot while sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. Blood on the inside of the door proved that the car’s door was open when he was shot. He was then shot some more through the passenger side window. The car was then driven fifty yards off the road, through a barbed wire fence where Norry was unceremoniously dumped, face up on the ground, where he was again shot multiple times. In all there were eighteen bullet holes in Norry, fourteen of them [which] went completely through his body. He was shot three times in the head, three times in the neck, three times in the chest, twice in the stomach, and the rest were in his limbs.”

That Norry had sustained eighteen bullet wounds, several of them after he was dead, strongly suggested that this slaying was a crime of passion.

Detectives investigating Norry’s background discovered that August Norry had been a minor league baseball player and an Arthur Murray dance instructor in his youth. He had served in the Korean War and been wounded. After military service, he used his G.I. Bill to attend landscape architecture school. At the time of his death, he worked full-time as a Lake Merced Country Club landscaper. He had a second job on Sundays as a gardener on a San Leandro chemical plant’s grounds.

Norry was married to Darlene Norry, 20, who was pregnant.

A slender man with prominent ears, piercing dark eyes, and spiky dark hair, the mustachioed Norry had a reputation as a ladies’ man. Perhaps for this reason, Murderpedia describes Daly City and San Mateo County Police as “mercilessly” questioning Darlene.

Lake Merced Country Club co-workers told investigators Norry may have had a romantic relationship with another woman.

One report appeared to support the suspicion that Norry had been done in by a disgruntled girlfriend. A young boy informed police he had seen a young, blonde woman driving Norry’s car recklessly at about 4:00 p.m. on February 1 in the vicinity.

Investigators learned that the bullets that had killed Norry were unusual: .38 caliber blunt-nosed wad cutters typically used for target practice.

After two-and-a-half months of investigation, San Mateo Sheriff’s Department detectives Milt Minehan and William Ridenour found the manufacturer of the bullet mold. From that company, Minehan and Ridenour learned that 10,000 such bullets were sold. Then investigated buyers of such bullets in the Bay Area.

Minehan and Ridenour talked to bullet buyer Lawrence Schultze on April 14, 1959. Schultze recalled selling a box of fifty wad cutters to friend Rosemarie “Penny” Bjorkland, 18. Bjorkland worked in an office and lived with her parents.

Schultze also recalled that he, his girlfriend and Penny, had traveled to the San Bruno Mountain to test fire rounds. The San Bruno Mountain was close to where Norry was murdered.

On April 15, 1959, Minehan and Ridenour went to the Bjorkland house. It was a comfortable working-class home. Penny’s parents and three brothers were perplexed to learn that police wanted to talk with her, but did not object to the cops waiting for her to return home from work.

When she came home, the detectives saw a pretty, blue-eyed young woman. Blessed with a shapely figure, fair and freckled, she sported ruby red lipstick and had her curly strawberry blond hair drawn into a ponytail. Bjorkland appeared calm and granted them permission to search her room. They did – and found newspaper clippings about the Norry murder.

Rosemarie 'Penny' Bjorkland in police custody.

Rosemarie 'Penny' Bjorkland in police custody.

The detectives took Bjorkland to the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department. For several hours, she remained relatively silent. At about 5: 40 a.m. on April 16, 1959, she confessed. A few hours later, officers drove her to the scene of the crime where, giggling nervously, she re-enacted the murder.

What astounded detectives, and soon the news media and public, was the motive Bjorkland related. David Everitt reports in Human Monsters, that Bjorkland said with a certain embarrassment, “For about a year and a half I’ve had the urge to kill someone. I’ll admit that the motive sounds crazy but I wanted to know if a person could commit a crime like this and not worry about police looking for her or have it on her conscience.”

She claimed the crime had gratified her curiosity. “I’ve felt better mentally since I killed him,” she said. “Like it was a great burden lifted off of me. I have no bad memories about it.”

Bjorkland described herself as a “normal, average girl.” Schoolmates from high school remembered her as nervous, a quality that may have led to her chronic nail biting habit. She was also remembered as a loner. Once high school authorities caught her with a container of orange juice and Vodka in her locker.

In her confession, Bjorkland said she had stolen a .38-caliber revolver from a friend’s bedroom in January. She had impulsively decided on the crisp Sunday morning of February 1 that it would be the day on which she would murder someone. She tucked the army-issue handgun into her pedal pushers and set out to find her victim.

She was walking up a steep hill in the Daly City hills when Norry offered her a ride. She was in the passenger seat when she pulled out her gun and shot aimlessly out the open window. Understandably alarmed, Norry told her to stop shooting and put the gun away.

She obeyed.

Norry stopped the car. They spoke casually for a few minutes. Suddenly, Bjorkland pulled the gun out again and repeatedly shot Norry. She exited the passenger door and walked around to the driver’s side. She opened the door and shot and kept on shooting until the gun clicked on empty rounds. She reloaded and pushed the dead Norry onto the passenger side.

Bjorkland drove the car off the road and through a wire fence. She pulled the corpse out and rolled it onto scrub brush. She shot the dead body until the revolver again clicked on empty shells. She reloaded the gun and shot six more bullets into the corpse.

Asked why she continued shooting a corpse, she answered, “I had the overpowering urge to shoot him. I kept shooting, emptying my gun and reloading. That was the only reason. There was no other.”

Leaving Norry’s body in the brush, she drove off in his car and parked it on Christmas Tree Hill. Then she went home and enjoyed dinner with her family. The next day, she dropped revolver and unused bullets down a storm drain.

Further questioning revealed that Bjorkland had met Norry once before the crime. In January, she saw the gardener unloading lawn clippings. They talked casually and stopped at a drive-in restaurant for a snack. He drove her home. She recalled that he had falsely claimed to be single. Everitt writes, “Groping for some understandable motive, the police asked Bjorkland if Norry had sexually molested her in any way. She shook her head no.”

She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on July 20, 1959. Since she had entered a guilty plea, the only concern of the court was what punishment to mete out. Several psychiatrists examined Bjorkland, but were unable to find any diagnosable mental abnormality.

At the court hearing, Bjorkland showed little concern and occasionally laughed.

The judge sentenced her to life imprisonment. Appearing glum, she told reporters, “I am unhappy.”

Pregnancy is inevitably an intense time in any woman’s life and Darlene Norry’s emotions during her pregnancy were inevitably complicated by her heavy burden of shock and grief. That burder was complicated by the fact that, as Norry’s wife, she was inevitably a suspect. Indeed, Darlene Norry indicated to journalists that she was offended by continuing police questioning, partly because she believed it implied she might have had a role in the slaying. Shortly after her husband’s death, she went to live with an aunt in Santa Rosa, California. She did not learn of Bjorkland’s arrest from the police, but from a relative. Darlene Norry complained to a reporter that cops “were around to insult me just before they caught her. That is the reason I had to get away for awhile.”

Darlene Norry gave birth to daughter Cynthia on September 17, 1958.

Bjorkland is reported to have been paroled from the California State Prison for Women at Corona in the mid-1960s. Cynthia Norry, who never knew her father, would have been in grade school by then.

Bjorkland’s whereabouts and activities after her parole are unknown. It is also not known whether or not she ever apologized to Darlene Norry for making her a widow or to Cynthia Norry for depriving her of a father.

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