Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lawrence Bittaker & Roy Norris

Blame Game

In a sense, Lynette Ledford spoiled the fun. She was the second 16-year-old Bittaker and Norris had murdered; leaving three "teen" ages unaccounted for. The hunters did not worry, though. From where they sat, it seemed as if they had all the time in the world.

But they were mistaken.

Roy Norris himself was part of the problem. Despite the murder game's shortcomings, Norris enjoyed it so much that he simply couldn't keep quiet. By October 1979 he had started bragging to another friend from prison, Jimmy Dalton, emphasizing his role as a criminal mastermind. Dalton thought it all was talk until Ledford's body was found. He called his lawyer and they both went to the Los Angeles police. L.A.'s finest listened to Dalton's story, then passed him to detectives in Hermosa Beach, where Ledford's corpse had been discarded.

D.A. Steve Kay
D.A. Steve Kay

Hermosa Beach detective Paul Bynum headed the Ledford investigation. He had no forensic evidence to support a charge in the Ledford slaying. But Dalton's mention of a silver van rang a bell in Bynum's memory. He dispatched an officer to Oregon to interview Shirley Sanders who was attacked one month before. Photographs were proffered for Sanders to examine. Leafing through the stack, she picked out Bittaker and Norris as the men who had kidnapped and raped her.

Bynum approached Deputy District Attorney Steve Kay, who had prosecuted Norris on his previous rape charge, in Redondo Beach. Kay cautioned patience, even though a quick arrest would halt the murder spree. They needed time to build a strong case. Police mounted surveillance on the pair. Once again, Norris was the weak link. He was seen selling marijuana on the street.

Police made their move two days before Thanksgiving 1979. They arrested Norris for parole violation on the marijuana charge, while Bittaker was jailed on suspicion of kidnapping and raping Shirley Sanders. Norris waived his right to counsel, and sparred with the interrogators for a while. Eventually he crumbled, casting himself as a reluctant accomplice to murders planned and carried out by Bittaker. The "prison code" demanded that he go along for the ride, Norris insisted. After all, he owed Bittaker his life — but apparently, not his silence.

On the strength of Norris's confession, both men were charged with five counts of first-degree murder, plus additional charges of kidnapping, robbery, rape, deviant sexual assault and criminal conspiracy. Each defendant tried to blame the other for the most egregious acts. Norris now claimed that he had been high on drugs most of the time, unable to resist Bittaker. But the audiotapes told a different story, revealing Norris as a full participant. Norris realized he would have to do more to avoid the death penalty.

In February 1980 Norris led Detective Bynum, Steve Kay and members of the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team on a tour of the San Gabriel murder sites. They found Leah Lamp and Jackie Gilliam, with Bittaker's ice pick still buried in Gilliam's ear, but no trace was found of Cindy Schaeffer or Andrea Hall. They were lost forever. But Norris had delivered enough evidence to clinch his plea bargain.

With that finding on file, Norris was sentenced to 45 years to life, with a minimum of 30 years to serve before parole. He will be eligible for release in 2010. (Given his record and the nature of his crimes, it is unlikely in the extreme that Norris will be released then.)

 

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