Pliers, screwdrivers, and ice picks seem like common tools you would find in any house. But these instruments served a much darker purpose for convicted serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris. The duo, infamously known as the “Toolbox Killers,” used tools to torture and murder their victims.
After discovering their shared interest in sadism, the two came up with stories about their escalating fantasies. In 1979, Bittaker and Norris put their plan in action, using the roads of California as their hunting grounds. Their crimes gripped the nation, and they were only caught when one of them couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
He Wasn’t Wanted
Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was born to a couple who never wanted kids. After his birth in 1940, he was placed in an orphanage where the Bittaker family adopted him as an infant. Bittaker’s father worked in the aviation industry, so the family moved around frequently.
He was a bright child with an IQ of 138, but Bittaker found school tedious. Instead of focusing on his studies, he began shoplifting to compensate for the lack of love he received from his parents. By the time Bittaker was 16, he had a minor criminal record and had dropped out of high school.
His Family Disappeared
By this stage, Bittaker and his adoptive parents lived in California. He was arrested for car theft, a hit and run, and evading arrest within a year of dropping out. Bittaker was sent to a juvenile detention center, where he remained until he turned 18.
Bittaker had little contact with his adoptive parents while behind bars and discovered that he had been disowned upon his release. Mr. and Mrs. Bittaker couldn’t take his destructive behavior anymore, so they packed up and moved to another state while he was away. He never saw his adopted family again.
He Came From a Rocky Home
Roy Lewis Norris of Greeley, Colorado, came from a slightly different background. He was born out of wedlock in 1948, so his parents got married to avoid judgment from other people. Norris’s father worked in a scrapyard, and his mother was a drug-addicted housewife. It was a harsh environment, and Norris was removed several times.
He occasionally lived with his parents but was repeatedly placed in foster care. Norris was neglected by the foster families and abused by his parents, so there was no safe space for him. He hated his life and tried to commit suicide several times.
The Muscle of the Plan
After being apprehended as a runaway, Norris’s parents told him he was unwanted, and they were getting a divorce. He then decided to drop out of school and join the Navy to escape his family. Norris was stationed in San Diego in 1965 and was deployed to serve in Vietnam in ’69.
Although he did not see active combat during his four-month tour, Norris muscled up and learned how to fight. He was then honorably discharged from the Navy after one tour. However, the reason for his dismissal was anything but honorable and should have been a warning sign for everyone.
His First Troubling Offense
Norris was arrested for his first sexual offences in November 1969. In one incident, he sexually assaulted a woman and tried to force his way into a woman’s car in another instance. A few months later, Norris tried to force his way into someone’s home.
Luckily, the woman called the police, and Norris was arrested before he could hurt her. At the time, he was still in the Navy, and military psychologists diagnosed him with a severe schizoid personality disorder. They discharged him for psychological problems and sent him on his way.
Sent to a Mental Hospital
While on bail for his latest offense, Norris attacked a student he had been stalking at San Diego State University in May 1970. He struck her on the back of the head with a rock and beat her until she was unconscious. Norris was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
Instead of going to prison, a judge ordered him to five years at the Atascadero State Hospital. The doctors classified him as a mentally disordered sex offender. After his release, the doctors said he was “no further danger to others.”
It Didn’t Last Long
While the doctors thought Norris was fine to roam the streets, it didn’t take long for him to attack another woman a few months later. Norris saw a woman walking home from a restaurant and offered her a ride on his motorcycle, but she declined.
Not taking no for an answer, he abducted her and assaulted her. She reported it to the police, but they initially couldn’t find the perpetrator. However, the woman saw Norris’s motorcycle a month later and gave the license plate numer to the police. He was sent to jail once again.
Bittaker Had a Thing for Stealing
Norris had a long rap sheet of assault, while Bittaker was known for theft. Within days of his parole from the juvenile detention center, Bittaker was arrested again for taking a stolen vehicle across state lines. Throughout the ‘60s, he was in and out of jail for robbery.
During one of Bittaker’s prison sentences, two psychiatrists classified him as a borderline psychopath. He was highly manipulative and couldn’t acknowledge the consequences of his actions. Despite his dangerous tendencies, they put him on anti-psychotic medication and released him into society.
His Crimes Escalated
In the early ‘70s, Bittaker was arrested for burglary again and went back to prison for three years after violating his parole. After his release, he was sent back to jail, but not just for theft this time. He attempted to commit murder.
A supermarket employee accused him of stealing and followed Bittaker into the parking lot. He asked Bittaker if he had forgotten to pay, so Bittaker responded by stabbing the employee in the chest. He was quickly apprehended, and the man survived. Bittaker was sent back to prison.
Forming a Scary Friendship
Bittaker and Norris initially became acquainted in 1977 while serving time at the same prison. Bittaker thought Norris was a savvy guy who largely associated with the hardened criminals. The pair gradually became friendly when Norris taught Bittaker how to make jewelry.
Norris said Bittaker saved him from being attacked by inmates twice, and by 1978, the two were close friends. They discovered a shared interest in violence and misogyny, with Norris sharing that he liked to see frightened young women. It explained his lengthy rap sheet.
They Started Plotting
As the two became close, Bittaker and Norris regularly discussed plans to assault and murder teenage girls once they got out of jail. This sick fantasy turned into an elaborate plot to murder one girl of each teenage year from 13 to 19.
As they had different release dates, the pair promised to reconnect once they were both out of prison. On October 15, 1978, Bittaker was released and went to LA to find work as a machinist while he waited for Norris to join him.
He Changed His Reputation
After his release, Bittaker was making about $1,000 a week and became friendly with people in his neighborhood. He described himself as a loner, but people knew him as a generous and helpful man who donated money to the Salvation Army. He also bought food for the homeless.
Bittaker was particularly popular among the local teens. He always had beer and weed in his motel room because it was a common place for teenagers to socialize. They liked Bittaker because he was a cool guy for letting them drink and smoke.
They Rekindled Their Friendship
Three months after Bittaker’s release, Norris got out of prison in January 1979. He moved into his mom’s home in Redondo Beach, and within a month, he assaulted a woman, abandoning her in the desert. He somehow didn’t get caught and managed to find a job.
As they had promised, Norris and Bittaker got in contact with each other. Bittaker sent Norris a letter, and they planned to meet. In late February, the two met at a hotel and discussed their plan to kidnap and assault more women.
They Needed Transportation
Bittaker decided they needed a van instead of a car to abduct the girls. With financial help from Norris, Bittaker purchased a 1977 GMC Vandura in February 1979. The vehicle was the exact description of what your parents told you to stay away from.
The van was windowless on one side and had a large sliding door on the other side. The two thought it would be perfect for snatching girls without having to open the doors all the way. Bittaker and Norris later nicknamed the van “Murder Mac.”
Between February and June 1979, Bittaker and Norris abducted over 20 female hitchhikers. Although they did not assault these girls, they used them to practice luring women into the van voluntarily. It also helped them discover secluded locations where no one would see them.
By April, the pair found an isolated fire road in the San Gabriel Mountains. Bittaker broke the locked gate with a crowbar and replaced it with a lock he owned. They decided it would be the place they could take their future victims.
Their First Victim
After figuring out the logistics of how they would abduct girls, Bittaker and Norris decided they were ready for their first victim. On the day of their first abduction, they finished constructing the bed for the back of the van, beneath which they put tools, clothes, and a cooler with drinks.
Then, they drove to the beach and drank beer while they flirted with some girls. Bittaker and Norris didn’t have any plans until they spotted 16-year-old Lucinda Lynn Schaefer leaving a church meeting in Redondo Beach. Bittaker said, “There’s a cute little blonde.”
She Didn’t Know What Was Coming
On June 24, 1979, Schaefer was approached by the two men who offered her a ride home. They tried to entice her with marijuana, but she kept walking. Norris and Bittaker drove further ahead and parked on the street.
Norris got out of the van, opened the sliding door, leaning back to hide his face. As Schaefer passed, he said a few words before dragging her into the van and closing the door. Bittaker blasted the radio while Norris tied her arms and legs and covered her mouth with duct tape.
She Stayed Calm
Although she initially screamed for help, Bittaker said Schaefer regained her composure and accepted that she had no control. They drove to the fire road, where Norris told Bittaker to take a walk so he could assault Schaefer. Then Bittaker had his way with her.
The pair argued over whether they should kill her or release her. Norris decided to strangle her but gave up after seeing the look in Schaefer’s eyes. Bittaker finished the job and wrapped her body in a plastic shower curtain. They threw her into the canyon and drove away.
They Didn’t Wait Long
Bittaker assured Norris that the animals would eat Schaefer, so there wouldn’t be any evidence left. It was a rush for them, so they didn’t wait long to find their next girl. Two weeks later, on July 8, 1979, they encountered 18-year-old Andrea Joy Hall hitchhiking on the PCH.
They pulled over to offer Hall a ride when another car stopped to do the same. She got in the other car, and Bittaker and Norris followed. They kept their distance until Hall exited the car near Redondo Beach. Bittaker lured Hall over by offering her a drink.
They Followed the Same Routine
When Hall reached in the van to take a drink, Bittaker twisted her arm behind her back, causing her to scream in pain. Norris had been hiding in the van and helped tie her up. Once Hall was inside, they drove to their spot and took turns with her.
While Bittaker was with Hall, Norris thought he saw a vehicle approaching. They dragged Hall into the bushes while looking for the other car but didn’t find anything. After putting her back in the van, they drove further into the mountains.
They Were Harsher This Time
Unlike with Schaefer, Bittaker forced Hall to walk uphill naked alongside the road and pose for pictures. They drove her to a third location, where she was forced to walk uphill again while Norris drove to get more alcohol. When he returned, Bittaker had more Polaroids.
They made her beg for her life and list why she should be allowed to live. Hall did as she was told, but they ultimately put an ice pick through her ear into her brain. Bittaker strangled Hall to make sure she was dead and threw her body off a cliff.
They Took Two Girls
On September 3, 1979, Bittaker and Norris watched Jackie Gilliam and Jaqueline Lamp sitting at a bus stop near Hermosa Beach. They had been hitchhiking along the PCH before the men spotted them. They offered the girls a ride, which they accepted.
Once inside the van, Gilliam and Lamp were offered to smoke. However, they soon realized Bittaker had turned off the Pacific Coast Highway and towards the mountains. The girls protested, but Bittaker and Norris made up different excuses. The girls were scared and didn’t know what to do.
They Tried to Escape
Lamp, aged 13, was closer to the door, so she attempted to open it. Norris quickly noticed and hit her on the back of the head with a bag full of lead weights. He then overpowered 15-year-old Gilliam by tying her up and covering her mouth.
Meanwhile, Lamp regained consciousness and tried to get away again. She was unlucky, and Norris punished her. He dragged her into the back of the van while Gilliam continued to struggle. Bittaker realized there were potential witnesses, so he pulled over to assist Norris.
They Took Their Time
Unlike their first two victims, Bittaker and Norris held the girls for almost two days. They took turns sexually and physically abusing them. Bittaker took Lamp to a nearby hill and made her pose for Polaroids. He asked Norris to take pictures of Gilliam too.
Bittaker tried new and disgusting things with these victims. When he assaulted Gilliam, he made a tape recording of it and forced her to pretend she was his cousin. He did horrible things to her and stabbed her multiple times in the chest.
Bittaker Was Brutal
After almost two days, Lamp and Gilliam were killed. Bittaker put an ice pick through Gilliam’s ear and strangled her. When he went to kill Lamp, it wasn’t as easy. Norris strangled her, but she was still alive, so Bittaker hit her with a sledgehammer.
Bittaker strangled Lamp to make sure she was dead before throwing both the girls’ bodies off the mountain. They always assumed animals would eat their victims’ remains, so they never worried about trying to cover up any evidence or remove their DNA from the victims’ bodies.
Bittaker and Norris found their final victim, 16-year-old Shirley Ledford, on Halloween of 1979. Ledford was waiting outside a gas station waiting to hitchhike home from a party when the men offered her a ride. She accepted and got in their van.
Police believed she recognized Bittaker because he frequented the restaurant where Ledford worked. They offered her marijuana like their other victims but didn’t drive into the mountains. Instead, Bittaker parked on a secluded street, where Norris pulled out a knife, then bound and gagged Ledford.
They Did Something Different
While they usually stuck to the same routine, this time was different. Norris got behind the wheel and drove around aimlessly while Bittaker remained in the back, tormenting Ledford. He slapped and mocked her before beating her and shouting, “say something.”
Ledford started to scream, and Bittaker liked it. She cried and begged Bittaker to stop touching her. However, he didn’t listen. He started hitting her with a hammer, punching her, and torturing her with his tools while he assaulted her. Ledford could be heard screaming on the tape recording he made.
They Switched Places
Once Bittaker was done, it was Norris’s turn. Ledford was terrified and tried to bargain with them. Norris also made her scream while he hit her with a sledgehammer. He broke her elbow and continued to strike her in the same spot.
Ledford wept and screamed for help, but no one came to her rescue. After two hours of pure torture, Norris killed Ledford by strangling her with a wire hanger. Instead of dumping her off a mountain, Bittaker put her body on someone’s lawn to attract media attention.
Left in a Bush
Bittaker dumped Ledford’s body on a bed of ivy and drove away. The following morning a jogger spotted Ledford and called the police. The autopsy revealed the gruesome details of the horrific acts she endured. In addition to being sexually violated, Ledford had many wounds.
The medical examiner was horrified to find that Ledford received blunt-force trauma to the face, chest, and elbow. Investigators had never seen anything so brutal. Unfortunately, they had no leads at first, until Norris couldn’t keep his heinous acts a secret.
Norris Spilled the Secret
Not long after they killed Ledford, Norris was reacquainted with Joseph Jackson, a man he was previously incarcerated with. Norris confided in Jackson about his and Bittaker’s horrific crimes, including graphic details about Ledford’s murder. She was the only body that had been found.
Norris also shared three other times that they captured women who either escaped or were released after they had assaulted them. Norris thought he could trust Jackson to keep the secrets, but Jackson was worried about knowing everything.
Jackson Told Authorities
Jackson didn’t want to be implicated if it was found out that he knew what Norris and Bittaker had done. He consulted with his attorney, who advised him to inform the authorities. Jackson agreed and went to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The police sent Jackson to the Hermosa Beach department, and detective Paul Bynum was assigned to the case. Bynum noted that Jackson’s statements about Norris’s confessions aligned with reports of several teenage girls who had gone missing over the past months.
Investigators Found a Survivor
Norris told Jackson about a woman he and Bittaker sprayed with mace before assaulting and then releasing her in September. When Bynum looked into it, the details matched a report filed by Robin Robeck. She reported the abduction and assault, but the police couldn’t find the assailants.
Bynum had investigators visit Robeck to show her a series of mugshots. Without hesitation, she positively identified two photos of the men who kidnapped her. The two individuals were Bittaker and Norris. Upon linking the men to the assault, police placed Norris under surveillance.
The Men Were Arrested
Norris was caught dealing marijuana, so the police arrested him for parole violation. The same day, Bittaker was arrested for the assault of Robeck. Although she identified them in photos, Robeck couldn’t pick them out of a lineup, but police held the men in custody.
The police searched Bittaker’s apartment, finding the Polaroids he took of Hall and Gilliam, who were reported missing earlier that year. Inside his van, investigators discovered a sledgehammer, a plastic bag with lead weights, and a book detailing how to locate police frequencies.
The Men Didn’t Hide the Evidence
Among other things found in the van, police discovered a jar of Vaseline, two necklaces (later confirmed to belong to the victims), and a tape recording of a young woman in distress, screaming and pleading for mercy. Ledford’s mother identified her daughter’s voice on the tape.
In Norris’s apartment, investigators discovered a bracelet taken from Ledford’s body and Polaroids of almost 500 girls they had taken photos of at Redondo and Hermosa Beach. Most of the photos were taken without the girls’ knowledge or consent. They were sick individuals.
At Norris’s preliminary hearing for the assault of Robeck, he looked visibly stressed. He decided to waive his Miranda rights before the detectives started questioning him. Initially, Norris denied involvement in any assaults, murders, or disappearances. However, after seeing the evidence, Norris broke down.
He couldn’t hold it in any longer and attempted to portray Bittaker as more responsible for the murders than himself. In what Bynum and District Attorney Stephen Kay describe as a “casual manner,” Norris said he and Bittaker had a habit of driving around and approaching attractive girls.
He Told the Police Everything
Norris told investigators how most of the women they approached rejected their ruse, but four girls accepted rides. He admitted that they would tie the girls up and gag them as they drove deep into the San Gabriel Mountains. Norris detailed the disturbing things they did to the women.
Norris told them about his specific involvement in each of the abductions and said the acid found in Bittaker’s motel room would be used on their next victim. He said they enjoyed acts of torture and humiliation “for fun.” Norris said Bittaker’s brutality increased with each victim.
Searching for the Victims
As part of his confession, Norris told the police where he and Bittaker had dumped the girls’ bodies. He agreed to return to the San Gabriel Mountains to search for the girls they abducted and murdered. Despite extensive combing of the area, Schaefer and Hall’s bodies were never found.
On February 9, 1980, the skeletonized bodies of Lamp and Gilliam were found at the bottom of a canyon. An ice pick was still lodged in Gilliam’s skull. Lamp’s skull showed multiple indentations, matching Norris’s story of how she died.
Norris Turned Against Bittaker
After the bodies of the two victims were located, Norris and Bittaker were formally charged with five counts of first-degree murder. While Bittaker was denied bail, Norris’s bail was set at just $10,000. Besides confessing and helping the police, he also agreed to testify against Bittaker.
The prosecution offered Norris a plea deal agreeing not to seek the death penalty against him if he testified in Bittaker’s trial. As part of his deal, Norris pled guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in March 1980.
He Had the Possibility of Parole
As part of his plea deal, the prosecution agreed not to seek the death penalty or life without parole against Norris. He was reviewed by a probation officer, who said Norris tried to put all of the blame on Bittaker and showed no remorse for his victims.
The probation officer added, “The defendant appears compulsive in his need to inflict pain and torture upon women.” He concluded that Norris should be regarded as an “extreme sociopath” who was beyond rehabilitation. Therefore, Norris received 45 years to life, with eligibility for parole in 2010.
Bittaker Stayed Quiet
Meanwhile, Bittaker was charged with 29 counts of kidnapping, rape, sodomy, and murder in addition to other charges of conspiracy. He was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder after persuading two inmates to kill Robeck when they were released. He didn’t want her to testify.
The judge asked Bittaker how he pleaded during his preliminary hearing, and Bittaker remained silent. He refused to answer questions, so the judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. It meant he would stand trial and face the severest punishment.
Norris Was the Star Witness
Bittaker’s trial began on January 19, 1981. Norris was the star witness for the prosecution, who began his testimony a few days into the trial. Norris told the jury how he became friendly with Bittaker in jail and how they formed a plan to kidnap, assault, and kill young girls.
Norris told the court details of each of the five murders they committed in addition to the assault of Robeck and the attempted abduction of two other women. He shared every last detail of their crimes as the victim’s families listened in pain and horror.
Bittaker Couldn’t Keep His Mouth Shut
Besides Norris, several witnesses testified about Bittaker showing them the Polaroids he kept of his victims. Bittaker’s 17-year-old neighbor, Christina Dralle, told the court that Bittaker had shown her a picture of Gilliam, stating, “The girls I get won’t talk anymore.”
Dralle also stated that Bittaker played a cassette tape for her on which she heard two girls screaming while he laughed. Bittaker was a psychopath, so he got off on sharing what he did to his victims, even if it meant getting caught. He liked showing off his keepsakes.
The Defense Tried to Shift Focus
While witnesses for the prosecution went into great detail about what Bittaker told or showed them, the defense tried to shift the blame. Bittaker’s lawyers claimed that Norris was the perpetrator of the murders and that Bittaker only became aware before Norris’s arrest.
To support their case, they called Richard Shoopman, a friend of Norris’, who testified that Norris told him that the shock and fear on the faces of his victims stimulated him. The defense backed it up with the Polaroids of Hall’s frightened expressions.
The Most Horrific Piece of Evidence
Bittaker’s lawyers had a weak defense, and it was practically crushed when the prosecution presented the 17-minute audiotape of Ledford’s abuse and torture. The audiotape, found in Bittaker’s van, came with a warning to the jury because it was hard to listen to.
Norris had previously testified that Bittaker would drive around listening to the tape because he thought it was “really funny.” More than 100 people in the courtroom heard the tape, with many jury members and the audience weeping or covering their ears.
Bittaker Took the Stand
During his trial, Bittaker testified on his own behalf. He denied any knowledge in the abduction and murder of Schaefer, claiming he had paid Hall to pose for the Polaroids found in his motel room. He claimed Hall agreed to his offer of $200 for sex.
Bittaker also tried to say that Norris walked Hall into the San Gabriel Mountains before returning to inform Bittaker he told Hall to “find her own way home.” He had a similar explanation for the murders of Lamp and Gilliam.
He Explained the Tape
In his version of the story, Bittaker told the court that Ledford agreed to scream for the tape theatrically, and nothing happened between them. He said she was not tortured in his presence, but he left Bedford alone with Norris. He tried to pretend like he hadn’t brutally murdered anyone.
Bittaker refused to take responsibility for his part in the murders even though his voice was heard on the tapes with the girls screaming. He blamed Norris like he was completely innocent, but the evidence stacked up against him.
The Jury Decides
In the prosecutor’s closing arguments, he said he wished he could ask for more than the death penalty because Bittaker should know the pain his victims suffered. The defense said Norris’s testimony should be thrown away in favor of Bittaker’s claims.
After deliberating for three days, the jury found Bittaker guilty on five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of kidnapping, and other things. He was then sentenced to death for the first-degree murders. Bittaker showed no emotion because he didn’t care.
He Tried to Appeal
Bittaker appealed his conviction and sentencing, claiming there were procedural errors such as the validity of the warrants used to search his van and motel room. He also argued that the judge shouldn’t have dismissed the woman hired during the jury selection to advise the defense council.
Despite his attempts, Bittaker’s appeal was dismissed with the court ruling the procedural errors were minor and helped find strong evidence against Bittaker. The evidence found in his van and apartment were not the only deciding factors in the overall verdict.
What Happened to Bittaker?
Bittaker’s initial execution date was December 29, 1989, but he appealed this decision. The US Supreme Court upheld that he would be executed and renewed the date for July 23, 1991. He again appealed, and the Supreme Court kept giving different execution dates.
He granted many death row interviews and never once expressed remorse for his crimes. Bittaker only felt bad that he and Norris were arrested, which “ruined his own life.” After many years of sitting on death row, Bittaker died on December 13, 2019, of natural causes.
What Happened to Norris?
Throughout his incarceration, Norris kept claiming he only participated because he was afraid of Bittaker. He initially became eligible for parole in 2009, but Norris declined to attend the parole hearing, automatically deferring his eligibility for ten years. In 2019, he was denied parole again.
In February 2020, Norris died in prison of natural causes. Prosecutor Stephen Kay, the prosecutor for Bittaker’s trial, still considers Norris and Bittaker’s crimes as being the worst criminal case he has ever prosecuted or heard about. He also said Bittaker was more deserving of execution than any other death row inmate.