Home>Articles>‘Tool Box Killer’ Lawrence Bittaker Dies In Prison at 79 Despite Receiving Death Sentence

Governor Gavin Newsom. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

‘Tool Box Killer’ Lawrence Bittaker Dies In Prison at 79 Despite Receiving Death Sentence

Bittaker was one of more than 700 murderers reprieved by Gov. Gavin Newsom

By Lloyd Billingsley, December 17, 2019 8:39 am

The killer outlived half the jurors who convicted him, along with the judge, lead detective and assistant prosecutor.


Lawrence Bittaker, the convicted murder who raped, tortured and murdered teenage girls, has died in San Quentin State Prison at the age of 79. As ABC News reports, Bittaker and his accomplice Roy Lewis Norris used screwdrivers, pliers and an ice pick to torture victims and became known as the “Tool Box Killers.”

Lawrence Bittaker (Wikipedia)

In 1979 the pair took the lives of Lucinda Lynn Schaefer, 16, Andrea Joy Hall, 18, Jacqueline Doris Gilliam, 15; Jacqueline Leah Lamp, 13, and Shirley Lynette Ledford, 16. 

Los Angeles assistant district attorney Stephen Kay, who prosecuted the case, told City News Service that Bittaker was “the most heinous murderer to ever set foot in a Los Angeles County courthouse, and that includes Charles Manson.” The killers made a tape of Lynette Ledord as she begged for her life while Bittaker, “twisted her breasts with pliers and smashed her elbows with a sledgehammer.”

Bittaker was sentenced to death in 1981, but as Kay explained last February, the killer outlived half the jurors who convicted him, along with the judge, lead detective and assistant prosecutor. Bittaker also outlived the worst murder in California state history.

In March, Corcoran inmate Juan Corona, 85, died of natural causes. Born in Mexico in 1934 and previously deported, Corona was serving 25 concurrent life sentences for 25 counts of first-degree murder.

Shirley Lynette Ledford. (Wikipedia)

The “Machete Murderer,” mutilated his victims who included: Charles Fleming, Melford Sample, Donald Smith, John J. Haluka, Warren Kelley, Sigurd Beierman, William Emery Kamp, Clarence Hocking, James W. Howard, Jonah R. Smallwood, Elbert T. Riley, Paul B. Allen, Edward Martin Cupp, Albert Hayes, Raymond Muchache, John H. Jackson, Lloyd Wallace Wenzel, Mark Beverly Shields, Sam Bonafide and Joseph Maczak. Four others were not identified. Corona’s victims included two African Americans and a Native American, but the murders were never considered a hate crime.

Last March, Lawrence Bittaker was one of 737 convicted murders to gain a reprieve from Gov. Gavin Newsom. The reprieved murderers included Luis Bracamontes, a previously deported Mexican national who murdered Sacramento County deputies Danny Oliver and Michael Davis in 2014. At his trial the Mexican shouted that he wished he’d killed more cops.

Lawrence Bittaker’s accomplice Roy Lewis Norris cut a deal to avoid the death penalty and is serving a 45-year sentence at the Raymond Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County. In 1978, one year before the pair’s murder spree, Theodore Frank tortured, mutilated and murdered two-year-old Amy Sue Seitz.

Frank’s heinous crime drew the death penalty but his sentence was overturned by Rose Bird, Gov. Jerry Brown’s choice for Chief Justice of California. Bird overturned every death sentence case that came before her and in 1986 voters tossed the Chief Justice by a landslide margin. California voters also ousted Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, both Jerry Brown appointees.

Theodore Frank died at San Quentin in 2001 at the age of 66.

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