Executions Gone Wrong Or Divine Intervention?

If a prisoner survives multiple trips to the gallows, should he be set free?

Miss Emma Anne Whitehead Keyse lived in “The Glen,” a small village of Babbacome, England, with her servants, Jane and Eliza Neck, Elizabeth Harris, the cook, and Emma’s brother, John Henry George Lee.

In the early hours of November 15, 1884 Miss Emma’s lifeless remains were discovered with three knife wounds to her head. The murderer also tried to set the body on fire.

John Lee had worked alongside his sister at the The Glen since leaving school. In 1879, he joined the Navy. A medical discharge sent him home to Torquay to work as a footman. But he stole from his employer and was convicted. Upon his release from prison in 1884, he returned to work at The Glen.

As the only male in the household at the time of the murder, police zeroed in on Lee as the prime suspect. Along with other circumstantial evidence, an inexplicable cut on his arm sealed his fate. But did the police have the right man?

Attorney Reginald Gwynne Templar was a frequent visitor to The Glen. After Lee’s arrest, he offered to represent him for free. Which was highly unusual, considering Templar and Miss Emma were good friends. Lee told police Templar was also in the house that night. Odder still, folks wondered how he found out about the murder so soon after it happened.

Could Templar be the killer?

There was little evidence to prove Templar was guilty. Just as little to prove Lee was, either. Nonetheless, police believed they had their man.

“The reason I am so calm is that I trust in the Lord,” Lee told the judge at trial, “and He knows I am innocent.”

John Henry George Lee was found guilty and sentenced to hang at Exeter Prison on February 23, 1885. That day, James Berry, the hangman, went through the usual testing of the trap door, the scaffold, and the rope. But when they slipped the noose over Lee’s head and pulled the lever, the trapdoor wouldn’t open.

They tried to hang him again. And the gallows misfunctioned a second time.

“It would shock the feeling of anyone if a man had twice to pay the pangs of imminent death,” said Sir William Harcourt, British Home Secretary.

Three times a charm, right? Wrong. After the third failed attempt to hang John Lee, officials commuted his sentence to penal servitude (imprisonment with hard labor).

The public interpreted the gallows malfunction as divine intervention. Lee served 22 years for the murder of Miss Emma, describing his time as “moving from one tomb to another.” He was released from prison in 1907.

Numerous stories exist about how Lee spent his life from that point on. Some say he moved abroad; some say he moved to London. Two Lee enthusiasts conducted research in 2009 and placed his grave in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That same research claimed Lee deserted his wife and children in Britain after his release from prison for a second family in the U.S.

Templar went insane and died at an early age. Witnesses say he “babbled about murder on his death bed.”

John Henry George Lee rose to infamy as “The man they couldn’t hang.” His name went on record as “the only person in the world to survive three hangings.” But was he?

A little digging led me to an English criminal named Joseph Samuels. In 1801, a jury convicted Samuels of robbery at the tender age of 15 years old and shipped him to Australia, to serve his time at a penal colony in Sydney Cove.

Security in those early penal settlements were reinforced by isolation—prison guards trusted the Australian wildlife to hunt and kill any escapees.

Despite the risk to life and limb, Samuels and his gang of thieves succeeded in escaping. Once they were safe from the confines of prison, the unruly bunch robbed a wealthy woman’s house. They were in the process of stealing a bag filled with gold and silver coins from her desk when a policeman showed up. One of the gang members shot and killed him. Because Samuels had some of the stolen coins in his pocket when he was eventually caught, the police believed they’d snagged a cop-killer. The wealthy woman also identified Samuels as one of the robbers.

After an intense interrogation, Samuels confessed to the robbery but claimed he had no part in the murder. Almost all of Samuels’ fellow gang members were acquitted due to lack of evidence, except one—Isaac Simmonds, who admitted nothing.

Samuels, however, was sentenced to hang.

On September 26, 1803, twenty-three-year-old Samuels and another prisoner stood before a crowd of onlookers, cheering for the event to begin. Back then, Australia didn’t employ a drop-hanging method of execution. Instead, they placed the prisoner on a cart pulled by a horse. Once the noose was slipped over the prisoner’s head and secured, the executioner would slap the horse to get him to take off. This resulted in the prisoner slowly strangling while being dragged to his death. Five thick cords of hemp made up the rope that reportedly could hold 1,000 pounds without breaking.

Could divine intervention save young Samuels, too?

The executioner slid the nooses around the necks of the two prisoners. Officials gave the men a moment to pray with a priest, and then offered them a chance to make a public statement. Samuels confessed to the robbery, but, he said, he was no killer. In fact, the real murderer was in the crowd right now. Isaac Simmonds, he pointed out, was the one who shot the policeman that night.

Since Samuels had just prayed with the priest and wouldn’t want to die with such an egregious sin on his conscious, the public believed him. Men in the crowd dove on Simmonds and held him for the authorities.

Once the crowd quieted, the executioner slapped the horse. The other prisoner strangled slowly while the noose around Samuels’ neck snapped, causing him to fall off the cart with only a sprained ankle. A second rope was brought in and Samuels was lifted back on the cart. This time, when the horse tugged the cart, the noose around Samuels’ neck unraveled.

The crowd went wild. God had spared his life a second time!

A third noose was secured around Samuels’ neck. Incredibly, the rope broke again. By then, the crowd had whipped into a frenzy, shouting, demanding the release of Joseph Samuels. It was then that the State Marshall ordered a stay of execution until he could track down the governor.

Later that day, the governor inspected all three ropes for tampering but found no signs of anything wrongdoing. Like the townsfolk, he also presumed three broken nooses must be proof of Samuels’ innocence. Things like this just didn’t happen… unless God had intervened.

Isaac Simmonds was arrested, convicted, and hanged for the murder of the police officer. His noose worked just fine. 🙂

I found another story of a teenager who got strapped to the electric chair twice, and survived. I’ll let the prisoner, Willie Francis, describe his ordeal…

I wanted to say good-bye, too, (Captain Foster had cheerfully said, “goodbye Willie”, before throwing the switch) but I was so scared I couldn’t talk. My hands were closed tightly. Then—I could almost hear it coming.

 

The best way I can describe it is: Whamm! Zst! It felt like a hundred and a thousand needles and pins were pricking in me all over and my left leg felt like somebody was cutting it with a razor blade.

 

I could feel my arms jumping at my sides and I guess my whole body must have jumped straight out. I couldn’t stop the jumping. If that was tickling it was sure a funny kind (He had been told it would tickle and then he’d die). I thought for a minute I was going to knock the chair over. Then I was all right. I thought I was dead.

 

Then they did it again! The same feeling all over. I heard a voice say, “‘Give me some more juice down there!’” And in a little while somebody yelled, ‘”I’m giving you all I got now!”

I think I must have hollered for them to stop. They say I said, “Take it off! Take it off!’” I know that was certainly what I wanted them to do—turn it off.

 

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A Real-Life Monster Will Soon Walk Free

By Sue Coletta

Back in 2017, I shared the story of the Toolbox Killers on my blog. I’m reposting it today to help bring attention to the case, because one of the men in the deadly duo dubbed the “Toolbox Killers” is scheduled to walk free this year.

Halloween night, 1979, 16-year-old Shirley Lynette Ledford made one fatal mistake — trusting the two men who offered her a ride. Forty-eight hours later, a jogger found her naked remains on a random front lawn in Sunland, California. Posed with her legs apart, her mutilated corpse lay in an ivy patch.

No one could have imagined the horror she endured.

If you’re at all squeamish, you may want to stop reading. The following is a true account.

It all started in 1977 when 29-year-old Roy Norris met 36-year-old Lawrence Bittaker while incarcerated at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. The two men — later dubbed “The Toolbox Killers” — shared sexually violent fantasies, which led to a maniacal pact. Upon release they planned to rape, torture, and murder teenage girls. Specifically, one girl of each teenage year from 13 to 19. Two years later, they teamed up on the outside and bought a silver 1977 GM cargo van, nicknamed “Murder Mack.”

From February to June 1979, this murderous duo picked up more than twenty female hitchhikers, not to assault but to practice luring girls into the van. They also used this time to search for a desolate locale. In April, they discovered a secluded fire road in the San Gabriel Mountains. Crowbar in hand, Bittaker snapped the lock on the gate to the fire road and replaced it with his own.

All they needed now was a victim.

On June 24th, 16 year-old Lucinda Lynn Schaefer left her Presbyterian Church meeting in Redondo Beach. She couldn’t have known the evil that awaited her.

After Bittaker and Norris finished constructing the bed in the rear of the van, beneath which they placed tools, clothes, and a cooler filled with beer and soda, they drove to the beach around 7:45 p.m. Lucinda was walking down a side street, and Bittaker remarked, “There’s a cute little blonde.” But their first attempt to entice her into the van was unsuccessful. Bribes of marijuana, beer, and a ride home didn’t work. So, they drove past her and parked alongside a driveway, where Norris exited the vehicle, slid open the side-door, and leaned into the van with his head and shoulders obscured from view. As Lucinda passed by, she exchanged a few words with Norris before he pounced, dragging her into the van.

That moment sealed her fate.

With bound wrists and ankles, her mouth duct-taped, Lucinda had no way to defend herself. Despite her initial scream, the only thing she could control was denying these monsters the satisfaction of witnessing her pain.

“She displayed a magnificent state of self-control and composed acceptance of the conditions of which she had no control,” claimed Bittaker in a written statement. “She shed no tears, offered no resistance, and expressed no great concern for her safety. I guess she knew what was coming.”

With the radio volume at full-blast, Bittaker drove to their pre-arainged spot in the mountains. Norris remained in the back of the van with Lucinda. Once on the fire road, the two men took turns raping Lucinda while the other “took a walk.” The only thing Lucinda asked for was “a second to pray” before Norris attempted to manually strangulate her. Forty-five seconds in, and he became so freaked out by her protruding eyes he ran to the front bumper of the van and vomited.

Bittaker remained unfazed. He wrapped his vice-gripped fingers around her neck, her body slowly wilting to the ground. When the convulsions started Bittaker snaked a wire coat hanger around Lucinda’s throat and squeezed it tight with pliers — an act both men would repeat again and again.

The Toolbox Killers - Lawrence Bittaker

Lawrence Bittaker at his trial in 1979.

Norris and Bittaker rolled Lucinda’s dead body in a plastic shower curtain and tossed her into a canyon, where they expected wild animals to cover their heinous act.

A similar cycle occurred two weeks later when the murderous pair spotted 18-year-old Andrea Joy Hall hitchhiking along the Pacific Coast Highway. After raping and torturing Andrea, they forced her to pose for Polaroids. Sheer terror shone in her eyes as she pleaded for her life. Neither man listened. Instead, they drove an ice pick through her skull, strangled her, and then tossed her lifeless remains off a cliff.

On September 3rd, Jackie Doris Gilliam and Jacqueline Leah Lamp waited at the bus stop near Hermosa Beach. Luring the two girls into the van with marijuana and a free ride worked remarkably well. Until the girls noticed Bittaker wasn’t heading toward the Pacific Coast Highway. Rather, he drove toward the San Gabriel Mountains. When 13-year-old Jacqueline slid open the side-door in an attempt to escape, Norris slammed her over the head with a pre-filled bag of lead weights, knocking her momentarily unconscious. He then bound and gagged 15-year-old Jackie Gilliam. But Jacqueline regained composure and again tried to flee. Sadly, she was no match for Norris, who wrenched her arm behind her back and dragged her back into the van.

The Toolbox Killers

Roy Norris shortly before his arrest.

Meanwhile, Bittaker, noting the struggle was in full view of potential eyewitnesses, slid the shifter into park, climbed in back, and sucker-punched Jacqueline in the face, then assisted Norris in binding and gagging the two girls.

They finally arrived in the San Gabriel Mountains, where Jackie and Jacqueline were held captive for nearly two full days, repeatedly raped and forced to pose for pornographic Polaroids.

Bittaker tape-recorded the first time he’d raped young Jackie, telling her to “feel free to express your pain.”

At trial, Norris claimed he buried the cassette in a nearby cemetery, though it’s never been recovered.

These poor girls were tortured in unthinkable ways, including having their breasts punctured with an ice pick. Norris also tore off one of Jackie’s nipple with pliers.

Even death didn’t come swiftly. Bittaker drilled an ice pick into both of Jackie’s ears before strangling her to death. He beat Jacqueline with a sledgehammer, strangled her for fun, beat her again, and then strangled her to death. The Toolbox Killers tossed both bodies over an embankment into a California chaparral.

From the grave Shirley Lynette Ledford, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this post, ignited the strongest emotional response in the jurors and courtroom audience. The prosecutor played 17 grueling minutes of a tape recording that showed the amount of terror Shirley endured before death. The transcript of which you can find here. Before you click that link, I need to caution you. This isn’t easy reading, nor is it easy to listen to the first few minutes of the accompanying video, where Shirley’s blood-curdling screams carry through closed courtroom doors. This sweet, young girl endured masochist behavior at the hands of pure evil. Proceed at your own risk.

Some say 16-year-old Shirley Ledford accepted a ride on that fateful Halloween night because she recognized Bittaker from the restaurant where she’d worked as a part-time waitress. Apparently, Bittaker was a regular.

Moments after Shirley climbed inside the van, Bittaker drove to a secluded side street while Norris drew a knife. He then bound and gagged Shirley with barricade tape.

The nightmare had begun.

Bittaker traded places with Norris, who drove aimlessly for over an hour as Bittaker tormented Shirley, ordering her to “scream louder. What’s the matter? Don’t you like to scream?”

On tape, Shirley pleaded with Bittaker. “No! Don’t touch me!” To which Bittaker replied, “Scream as loud as you wish,” and then bludgeoned her with a sledgehammer, punched her breasts in order to “beat them back into her chest.” As Bittaker raped and sodomized Shirley repeatedly, he tortured her with pliers, tearing her insides till she was no longer “rape-able,” according to Norris.

At trial, Norris described “screams … constant screams” from the rear of the van.

“We’ve all heard women scream in horror films … still, we know that no one is really screaming. Why? Simply because an actress can’t produce some sounds that convince us that something vile and heinous is happening. If you ever heard that tape, there is just no possible way that you’d not begin crying and trembling. I doubt you could listen to more than a full sixty seconds of it.” ~ Serial Killer Roy Norris

Don’t be fooled by that quote. Norris has an IQ of 135. So, even though he tried to downplay his involvement during his testimony, he still switched places with Bittaker to torture and sexually assault this young girl. Norris was also the one who switched on the tape recorder to memorialize their sadistic treatment of Shirley. Both men were equally vicious. They had no empathy for the victims or their families. In my opinion, Norris deserved equal punishment, but he was able to cut a deal by testifying for the prosecution.

Shirley Lynette Ledford

Back in the van, Shirley saw Norris grab the sledgehammer, and screamed, “Oh no! No! No! No! Please, no!”

Norris struck her in the left elbow, shattering the bone. Shirley begged him not to hit her again, but he didn’t listen. Norris struck that same broken elbow 25 more times.

When he finally stopped, he glared at Shirley, who was sobbing, shaking, and terrified.

“What are you sniveling about?” he said.

“Please, just do it! Kill me!”

After two solid hours of unfathomable torture, Norris finally killed Shirley by strangling her with a coat hanger, tightening the wire with pliers. Bittaker opted to pose her body on a random lawn in Sunland to gauge the public’s reaction. Norris agreed. So, under the cover of darkness, Bittaker played look-out as Norris posed Shirley’s mutilated remains on an ivy patch. Not wanting to waste his last chance to humiliate this poor girl, he wrenched open her legs.

Death by lethal injection is too kind for these two, IMHO. They deserve to die like Shirley, Jackie, Jacqueline, and many others.

The autopsy revealed extensive blunt-force trauma to Shirley’s angelic face, head, breasts, left elbow, with her olecranon (the bony tip of the elbow) sustaining multiple fractures. Torn genitalia and rectum was caused in part by Bittaker raping her with pliers. Her left hand bore a puncture wound and a deep slash mark scarred the finger on her right hand. At trial, Bittaker claimed the tape recording was nothing but a threesome, but added that toward the very end Shirley Ledford pleaded for death.

Can you blame her? There’s only so much pain a body can endure. I’d probably pray for death, too.

Investigators eventually found the remains of Jacqueline Leah Lamp and Jackie Doris Gilliam in the San Gabriel Mountains. The bodies of Lucinda Schaefer and Andrea Hall have never been found.

As for Bittaker, an initial execution date was set for December 29, 1989, which Bittaker appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision and set a new date of execution for July 23, 1991. And again, Bittaker appealed. Only this time, on July 9, 1991, the court granted a stay. As of 2017, Lawrence Bittaker remained on death row in San Quentin State Prison.

In total, police found 500 Polaroids and identified 19 missing girls, but Norris only admitted to five murders before he stopped talking. The parole board denied his request for release in 2009. But this year, 2019, he will have served his full 45-year prison term. The worst part? He promised to “have a little fun once he gets out.”

Let’s all take a moment to remember these innocent victims who died way too young, way too brutally. Hug your children a little tighter tonight. This monster will soon walk free.

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Where Do You Find Inspiration?

By Sue Coletta

Whenever I’m plotting a new novel, I read a lot of true crime stories for inspiration. I may even steal character traits from one real world serial killer or victim and combine them with another. Reading triggers the muse to fire off plot, character, and subplot ideas. Somedays, though, the stories are almost too bizarre to believe. In which case, I’ve merely entertained myself for a while. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t call it wasted time, because true stories have a way of worming into our subconscious mind. When we’re in the writing zone, these alleged “useless facts” can morph into an intriguing scene that we never expected. Don’t you love when that happens?

With that in mind, I pose the following question to you, my dear TKZers. Did you know serial killing families existed? I’ve written about them before on my blog, as well as serial killing couples, which aren’t as rare.

Wes Craven found inspiration for his 1977 slasher film The Hills Have Eyes when he read about the horrors of one particular family of serial killers — the Sawney Bean clan. This is their story. (Did anyone else hear Law & Order’s theme song when they read that line?)

In the times of King James I, Mr. and Mrs. Sawney Bean transformed Bennane Cave, by Ballantrae in Ayrshire, Scotland, into their home. Long, twisting tunnels extended for more than a mile underground. The cave also featured several side passageways to accommodate a growing family. And grew they did. Over the years they created their own army of psychopathic cannabals.

Opposed to getting a job to support his new bride, Sawney Bean resorted to robbery. On the lonely back roads that connected the villages, he’d lie in wait for travelers to pass by. Townsfolk believed the roads were haunted due to the massive amount of disappearances.

A budding serial killer stalked those streets.

Bean’s sole reason for escalating to murder was to not leave witnesses. But then, Agnes, his wife, had an even sicker idea. If they butchered their victims, their remains could provide a high-protein diet, which had the added benefit of evidence disposal. Their relationship had already forced them to flee from their homeland in northern Scotland, after locals repeatedly made accusations of Agnes being a witch, claiming she’d been involved in human sacrifice and conjuring demons.

Over the years Sawney and his wife had fourteen children — all as twisted and evil as their parents — who became an army of serial killing cannibals.

During the next two decades, through incest, the children bore more children, who refined the art of murder and cannibalism, often salting and pickling human flesh. According to the Bean family ledger, found many years later, these incestuous acts brought Bean and Agnes a total of 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters, now bringing the Bean clan to a total of 48 inbred, cannibalistic monsters.

Decaying body parts washed up on the beaches surrounding Bennane cave. Which prompted massive search parties. But no one thought to check the cave.

In about 1430 A.D., fate intervened when the Bean army — who had split into several small groups to hunt — attacked a man and his wife while on their way home from the fair. Half the Bean clan dragged the woman off her horse and had already disemboweled her before the other half of the group had a chance to wrestle the man to the ground. Fighting for his life, the distraught husband trampled several members of the Bean clan with his horse. This caused such a commotion a group of twenty bystanders came to his rescue.

During an all-out war, the Bean clan found themselves outnumbered for the first time in their pathetic lives. They retreated to the cave, leaving behind the mutilated remains of the man’s wife and a score of witnesses. The surviving victim was taken to the Chief Magistrate of Glasgow to tell his tale. With the longest missing persons list the country had ever seen, they reported to King James I, who arrived in Ayshire with his own army of 400 men and a pack of dogs.

Together with several hundred volunteers, another search was underway. Yet again, no one thought to search the cave. Until one cadaver dog alerted at the entrance.

Nothing could have prepared them for the horrors inside. The Bean family lived in that cave for 25 years. In total, the number of missing persons during that time is said to be over 1000.

Bennane Cave

Torches in hand and swords drawn, the army soldiered into Bennane cave and into the mile-long twisting passageways to the inner sanctum of the Bean lair. Dank cave walls held row after row of human limbs, heads, and torsos displayed like the window of a butcher shop. Bundles of clothes, jewelry, and picked-clean bones littered the ground.

A fight broke out between the King’s Army and the forty-eight Bean members, resulting in the arrest and apprehension of Sawney Bean and his kin.

Their crimes were so heinous that normal channels weren’t enough, so King James I sentenced them all to death. Twenty-seven Bean men were left to exsanguinate after executioners disarticulated their limbs. The twenty-one Bean women were hung, staked, forced to watch their male kin bleed out, and finally. set ablaze. Through the entire ordeal not one member of the Bean family showed any sign of fear or remorse. Instead, they spit obscenities toward their captors.

Until the moment Sawney Bean drew his final breath, he repeated one continuous phrase, “It isn’t over, it will never be over.”

Legend says, one of the daughters escaped during the fight with the King’s Army and a local family adopted her. At seventeen years old, she married and had a son. In hard times they also killed and cannibalized to stay alive. When the villagers caught wind of their gruesome activities they hung the Bean daughter and her husband, but not before her son escaped to America, settling what was then known as Roanke Island. The entire colony later disappeared without a trace.

Legend also says that if you sit under the hanging tree in Scotland, you can still hear the Bean daughter’s bones scrape against the bark.

I’ll end this post the same way it began. Where do you find inspiration?

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