On October 31, 1979, 16-year-old Lynette was on her way home around 10.30 pm from a Halloween party in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles when she encountered two real-life monsters — Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, also known as the “Tool Box Killers”.
Bittaker and Norris – The Tool Box Killers
Bittaker and Norris offered Lynette a ride home in their van; she accepted because she recognized Bittaker as a regular customer at the restaurant she worked at part time. Within 5 minutes of Shirley Lynette entering the van Bittaker drove the van to the silent place, then Shirley was thrown to the back side of the van. Norris wrestled her to the floor, stripped the clothes of the her. Then they bound her hands behind her back.
They then drove to a remote area, and started to torture her, Bittaker immediately turned on the tape recorder and started slapping and beating Shirley. At the beginning of the tape, the sounds one hears are of Bittaker slapping her.
Then, towards the middle the sounds are of Bittaker beating her about the chest with his fists and tormenting the screaming and pleading girl with vise grip pliers on her genitals, breasts and nipples. (Bittaker subsequently earned the nickname “Pliers” from his desire to twist and tear girls’ nipples with his pliers – he had used them in the torment of at least one previous victim.)
The two then switched places, with Norris turning on the tape recorder and then himself ordering Lynette to scream, while hitting her with a sledgehammer. Lynette told him, “I’ll scream if you stop hitting me.”
But Norris didn’t stop. He hit her in the left elbow with the sledgehammer over 25 times in total, while Lynette screamed and cried. At one point he asked her, “what are you sniveling about?”
After two hours of torture toward the end of which Lynette was begging them to just kill her. Norris strangled her with a wire coat hanger. The two then opted to dump her body on a random lawn in the Sunland neighborhood, because they wanted to see the press reaction to its discovery.
Autopsy of Shirley Lynette Ledford
Lynette’s autopsy revealed blunt force trauma to the head, face, and breasts, and her left elbow was completely shattered. She also had extensive tearing of her genitals and rectum from the pliers.
Arrest & Trial
Norris and Bittaker were apprehended in November, after Norris told a friend about Lynette’s murder, as well as 4 others he and Bittaker had committed in the previous few months; in those they had dumped the victims’ bodies in remote locations, so they had not yet been found. The friend notified the authorities, and both monsters were arrested on November 20, 1979.
At trial, confronted with the tape, Bittaker actually had the audacity to claim that it was just a threesome, and pointed out that Lynette had asked them to kill her.
Roy Norris was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder, and sentenced to 45 years to life. He was eligible for parole in 2010, but he died in prison on February 24 of this year, age 72.
Norris later expressed remorse for his crimes, but Lawrence Bittaker was wholly unrepentant; when the tape of Lynette’s torture was played for the jury, he actually smiled. He was convicted on five counts of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death; however, due to multiple appeals, he ultimately died in prison in December 2019 at age 79.
Bittaker and Norris’ other victims were all, like Lynette, teenage girls: Andrea Hall, 18, Lucinda Schaefer, 16, Jackie Gilliam, 15, and Jacqueline Leah Lamp, 13.
In 1987, Paul Bynum, who had been the chief investigator of the Bittaker-Norris murders, committed suicide at age 39. His suicide note stated that the murders “haunted” him.
The audio cassette of Lynette Ledford’s torture is in the hands of the FBI, and is used to desensitize new agents to the reality of torture and murder. When actor Scott Glenn was preparing for the role of Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, he listened to the tape. He later said it brought him to tears, and caused him to change his stance on capital punishment, from anti to pro.
Ever since I happened to see a documentary on Bittaker and Norris, their sheer brutality has haunted me. That anyone could take such great pleasure from causing people such great pain and suffering just boggles my mind.