California killer Lawrence Bittaker dies in prison at 79

AP National News

This Aug. 24, 2018 photo provided by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Lawrence Bittaker. Bittaker, one of the “Tool Box Killers” who preyed on teenage girls in Southern California 40 years ago, has died of natural causes, state corrections officials said Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

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SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (AP) — Lawrence Sigmond Bittaker, one of the “Tool Box Killers” who preyed on teenage girls in Southern California 40 years ago, has died of natural causes, state corrections officials said Monday.

Bittaker and accomplice Roy Lewis North kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered five girls in 1979. Their nickname came from the tools like a screwdriver, pliers and an ice pick that they used to torture and kill their victims.

Bittaker, 79, died Friday in San Quentin State Prison, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement. The cause of death will be determined by the Marin County coroner.

The killings began that June, with the death of Lucinda Lynn Schaefer, 16. She was followed by Andrea Joy Hall, 18; Jacqueline Doris Gilliam, 15; Jacqueline Leah Lamp, 13, and Shirley Lynette Ledford, 16.

Norris testified against Bittaker after pleading guilty to all charges in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty against him.

A Los Angeles County jury convicted Bittaker of five counts of murder, five counts of kidnapping as well as other charges including criminal conspiracy, rape, oral copulation, sodomy and being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to death on March 22, 1981.

Norris was sentenced to a term of 45 years to life and remains in prison.

Due to various legal challenges and court decisions, California has not executed anyone in years, and earlier this year Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions for as long as he is in office.

According to corrections statistics, 82 condemned California inmates have died from natural causes since 1978, when capital punishment was reinstated after a period in which the state Supreme Court ruled it to be cruel and unusual punishment.

In that span, another 27 inmates have died by suicide, 13 have been executed in California, two have been executed in other states, and 14 have died from other causes. Determinations of the causes of death for four others are pending.

There are now 729 inmates on the state’s death row.

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