Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lawrence Bittaker & Roy Norris

Murder Mack

As a first step toward fulfilling his vision, Bittaker purchased a silver 1977 GMC cargo van. The van had its advantages – there were no side windows to worry about and there was a large sliding door on the passenger side. If their intended victims spurned the offer of a ride, Bittaker reasoned, they could "pull up real close and not have to open the doors all the way" to snatch someone from the sidewalk.

Larry named the van "Murder Mack."

The 'Murder Mack
The 'Murder Mack" van

From February to June 1979 Bittaker and Norris cruised up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. They stopped at beaches, flirted with girls, and often took their photos. Norris later estimated that they picked up 20 prospects without harming one, and his estimate may have been low. Detectives later counted some 500 photos of smiling young women among Bittaker's belongings. Most were never identified.

They were test runs, Norris later explained. The rape and murder could wait until they found the perfect isolated spot to take their victims. Sometime in late April, cruising aimlessly, the hunters found a remote fire road in the San Gabriel Mountains, overlooking Glendora. A padlocked gate barred access, but Bittaker smashed the lock with a crow bar. They were in.

Now all they needed was a girl.

They found her on June 24, 1979.

Bittaker would later tell police that the day "started innocently enough." He spent the night in Murder Mack, parked outside the trailer Roy Norris shared with his mother. They spent the morning working on a bed Bittaker had constructed in the back of the van. The bed was mounted on a frame with space beneath it to conceal a body. At about 11:00 a.m. they began prowling. Bittaker described it as "a nice Sunday to cruise around the beach area, drinking beer, smoking grass and flirting with the girls. We had no set routine."

A lonely stretch in the San Gabriel Mountains
A lonely stretch in the San Gabriel

They made the rounds, driving north and hitting all the stops between Redondo Beach and Santa Monica, keeping an eye out for female hitchhikers. Sometimes they'd park the van and scout a stretch of sand on foot. It was 5:00 p.m., back in Redondo Beach, when they found a likely target. She took them both completely by surprise.

Bittaker and Norris later quarreled over who was first to notice 16-year-old Cindy Schaeffer. Each man accused the other of pointing her out and suggesting that she be the first contestant in their "game." Ironically, she was not at the beach or wearing a swimsuit. In fact, Schaeffer was walking back to her grandmother's house, after a Christian youth meeting at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. Murder Mack pulled alongside and Norris offered her a ride. Schaeffer declined and ignored the van as it trailed behind her. Then the van surged ahead and swung into a driveway, motor idling.

Norris met her on the sidewalk, smiling, repeating his offer. As Schaeffer brushed past him, Roy grabbed her and muscled her into the van. The sliding door worked perfectly, muffling her cries for help as Bittaker cranked up the radio's volume. Norris grappled with Schaeffer and then sealed her lips with duct tape. He also bound her wrists and ankles. One shoe was left behind on the sidewalk as Murder Mack sped away.

In his prison-penned memoirs, Bittaker later recalled that "throughout the whole experience, Cindy displayed a magnificent state of self-control and composed acceptance of the conditions and facts over which she had no control. She shed no tears, offered no resistance, and expressed no great concern for her safety. I guess she knew what was coming."

Or perhaps Bittaker simply lied.

Cindy Schaeffer, victim
Cindy Schaeffer,

He drove to the mountain fire road and parked out of sight from the highway. The men smoked grass and questioned Schaeffer about her family, until they tired of the routine and ordered her to strip. Bittaker left the van for an hour or so, giving Norris some privacy. Then he came back to take his turn. In custody, months later, each accused the other of insisting that Schaeffer die. Norris first tried to strangle Schaeffer, but he bungled the job. He left to vomit in the weeds.

When he returned, Norris said, Bittaker was choking Schaeffer, but "her body was still jerking... alive to some degree... breathing or trying to breathe." Bittaker then handed Norris a wire coat hanger and they twisted it around her neck, tightening the makeshift garrote with vice-grip pliers. Norris recalled that Schaeffer "convulsed for 15 seconds or so and that was it. She just died."

Wrapping the body in a plastic shower curtain, Bittaker and Norris drove back along the fire road until they found a deep canyon. They lifted Schaeffer's body from the van and heaved her into the chasm. Bittaker said the desert scavengers would clean up after them.

It had been nearly perfect, the exhausted friends agreed, but there was something missing.

Next time, they would keep a trophy of the hunt.



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