If you haven’t heard the name Roy Norris, that is not too surprising, because he was one of the lesser known monsters to destroy innocent young lives for the fun of it. One of the lesser known but one of the most insidious.
California has produced more than its fair share of serial killers, and more than its fair share of “killer couples”. Gerald and Charlene Gallego murdered a total of ten people – nine girls/women and one man. He was sentenced to death but died of cancer in 2002. She was released in 1997, having taken a plea to testify against her husband.
Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin Angelo Buono were known initially as the Hillside Strangler. The police had a suspicion that this monster was more than one man, a suspicion that was confirmed when Bianchi was arrested for murdering two women in Washington State and spilled the beans about the ten earlier murders.
The last murder committed by the Hillside Strangers was February 16, 1978; the two murders by Bianchi were January 11, 1979. Roy Norris and his partner-in-crime Lawrence Bittaker murdered their first victim five and a half months later; their short but sickening spree being directly inspired by Buono and Bianchi. If their story were not so well documented, nobody in Hollywood would even read the script, including Harvey Weinstein.
Roy Norris was born at Greeley, Colorado on February 5, 1948. Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker was born at Pittsburgh on September 27, 1940. He was adopted as an infant, and appears to have had a difficult childhood, dropping out of school for a life of petty crime. This was a waste of talent as at one time he was said to have had the highest IQ of any prisoner in the United States.
In 1974, Bittaker came within a whisker of lifetime incarceration when he stabbed a supermarket employee in the chest while shoplifting. The blow narrowly missed the victim’s heart. It was while incarcerated for that offence that he met Roy Norris, who was already a convicted rapist with an appalling record, and should not have been released as early as 1979, if ever.
Norris is thought to have been the first and only true friend Bittaker ever had. There is nothing necessarily sinister about two men bonding in prison, but there was this time. The two hatched a plan. When they were released, they would kidnap, rape, torture and murder teenage girls. Bittaker was released in October 1978, and found work as a skilled machinist earning nearly a thousand dollars a week, an incredible stroke of luck for a drop-out with a long criminal history. Norris was released in January the following year and moved back home with his mother. He too found a well paid job, and had the two men put their sick fantasy behind them, they might eventually have become half-decent if flawed citizens, although that would have been a tall order for Norris.
Instead, Bittaker bought a van which they kitted out for their scheme. Initially, they made a number of practise runs in their vehicle which they called Murder Mac, one that would be immortalised in 2016 by Rich Hillen as Murder Mack. Then they set about kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering teenage girls.
Fortunately, Whitaker’s ego got the better of him, and he took a memento of their depravity, a tape of a girl screaming, which he played to a criminal associate. Joseph Jackson was the father of two daughters; he told his attorney, and the game was up. Their arrest signalled not simply the end of their crime spree but the end of their friendship, such as it was. Norris took a plea to avoid the death penalty, and testified against Bittaker.
Bittaker stood trial in February 1981, and appeared to relish the proceedings, testifying in his own defense, claiming the victims were prostitutes and trying to palm off everything on Norris. He was convicted and sentenced to death, but shamefully that sentence was not carried out, and he died in San Quentin aged 79 on December 13 last year.
Although they were tried for only five murders, the Toolbox Killers as they would become known claimed at least one more victim. Paul Bynum, the lead investigator on the case. committed suicide in December 1987 aged just 39.
Serving 45 years to life, Norris had entertained some hope of parole, but even California is not that sick. He died in a prison medical facility on February 24, aged 72.
There is plenty of footage on YouTube of the Toolbox Killers including a 2008 documentary so named. After watching that, you will never think of the #MeToo Movement in the same way again.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.