Tag Archive for Colorado

Doughnuts and Death

Doughnut shops and a .32 caliber pistol were common threads in a strange tapestry woven by the McCrary family of Athens, Texas in the 1970s.
The family, a close-knit clan of hard-drinking sexual predators and their compliant women, traveled throughout the south and west part of the United States, leaving a trail of hold-ups, kidnappings, rapes, and murders until a botched grocery store robbery provided the link police needed to solve at least a dozen murders in California, Texas, Colorado, and Florida.
Authorities could prove that Sherman McCrary, his son, Danny, Sherman’s wife, Carolyn, their daughter, Ginger, and her husband, Raymond Taylor were responsible for 12 murders and suspected that their death toll was closer to 24 killings.
They were “a family in which criminality was a way of life,” said one investigator.
The McCrary clan’s crime spree was spread out in terms of distance, but not in terms of time.
The first killing linked to them occurred in August 12, 1971 and the last was in March 1972, but during that time police believe the men of the family robbed and raped numerous doughnut shop waitresses who were kidnapped and slain to avoid leaving witnesses to their robberies.
Meanwhile, the women stood by and knowingly allowed the crimes to happen.
“I am guilty of staying with my husban while he cometed robberys because I don’t have anywhere to go,” wrote Carolyn, who was described by a probation officer as “very limited in both intellectual and social levels.”
“Most people wont hair because I don’t have an ecition and am in poor helth or am not large enough so I stay with my husban,” Carolyn wrote. “It may sound crazy but I love him so very much.”
The McCrarys were known in Athens as troublemakers, but nothing beyond car break-ins and public drunkenness were found in police files there. The men worked as itinerant ranch hands and carnies, while the women worked as waitresses. From their base of operations in East Texas, they would travel around the south, sometimes working, most often committing crimes.
“There is no question that the family operated as a family group and participated knowingly in the various acts and benefited from these acts,” a probation officer wrote about the family after the Santa Barbara, California, robbery that brought an end to the spree.
Danny and Ginger both concurred in the officer’s statement.
“In the family,” Danny told police, “children don’t question the parents.”
Ginger’s statement echoed her mother’s viewpoint.
“I love my husband and it never occurred to me to do anything but stay with him,” the 22-year-old mother of four told authorities. “I guess staying with him and doing what my husband told me to do was born and raised into me.”
Sherman confessed that he began doing stick ups when he began suffering from a bad back and couldn’t get work. That made him feel “like less than a man,” he said. His health began to suffer because he was drinking a quart of whiskey each day.
“Crime became like a business to me,” he said.
Raymond Taylor justified his crimes because he was “a family man.”
“I know what I done was morally and legally wrong,” he wrote in a confession to California police. “However all the money that I have taken was spent to support my family. I spent all my time and money with my wife and family.”
Neither Taylor nor the McCrary men commented on how their wives felt about the rapes committed before their female hostages were killed.
The first crime laid at the feet of the McCrary clan happened when the family kidnapped Sherri Lee Martin, 17, from a Salt Lake City doughnut stand. At least two men robbed the shop of $200 and took Sherri with them in her car. Her body was found on September 4 in the Nevada desert. She had been shot several times with a .32 pistol.
A week later, Leeora Rose Looney, 20, was taken from a doughnut store in Lakewood, Colorado. Again, the robbers fled in their victim’s car. Leeora was found three days after the robbery in a cattle pasture. She had been strangled and shot several times with a .32 pistol.
This time, police had witnesses who later identified the elder McCrary and Taylor as having been in the store a little while before the robbery.
On September 28, 1971, the clan struck again. They robbed and kidnapped 26-year-old Elizabeth Parryman from a restaurant near Texas Tech University. Her body was found near Amarillo on December 19.
Less than a month later, Forrest Covey, 24, and his 19-year-old wife, Jena, disappeared from a drive-in grocery store which Jena managed. Their bodies turned up in an abandoned barn east of Dallas on October 24. Each had been shot at least six times. This time, in addition to the .32 caliber pistol, a .22 was also used.
By this time, police knew that the same .32 was used in each of the crimes, thanks to NIBIN, the National Integrated Ballistics Information Program, which allows law enforcement agencies to compare ballistics data from their crime scenes to others.
Despite the knowledge that a serial killer was on the loose, police were no closer to catching the killer or killers.
Three days after the Covey disappearances, on October 20, 1971, Susan Darlene Shaw, 16, was kidnapped from a doughnut shop in Mesquite, Texas. Her ravished body was also found on October 24, floating in Lake Ray Hubbard, north of Dallas. She had been shot a half-dozen times by a .22 and a .32 caliber handgun.
Two Florida beauticians, Bobbie Turner and Patricia Marr, disappeared on November 30. Their bodies turned up about 40 miles away. Bobbie’s daughter, 16-year-old Valerie was also missing and her skeleton would not be found until June 25, 1972 outside Starke, Florida.
In February 1972, Cynthia Ann Glass was found shot to death in Woodland, Washington. She had been killed with a .22 that matched the slugs taken out of the Coveys. Police also believe the family was responsible for the murders of a 69-year-old janitor and a barmaid who disappeared from their tavern in Kansas City.
Those crimes only scratched the surface, authorities said.
“We don’t know the number that may be involved,” said Santa Barbara police Captain Charles Thompson. “Murders all over the country are being investigated.”
It was a botched heist in Santa Barbara, where a police officer was shot in the head that finally brought the spree to an end.
Raymond Taylor tried to pull the robbery himself and shot Officer Dennis Huddle, seriously wounding him. The bullet surgeons removed from Huddle’s head was fired from a .32 that set off alarm bells in NIBIN and alerted agencies from Washington to Florida.
After the shootout with Huddle, Taylor commandeered a car and escaped, but he was quickly traced through another car he had abandoned in the supermarket parking lot.
“He came to the house, and he come in, and he was scared up,” Danny McCrary told police. “He come in and was pretty white and he had a few marks on his side.
“He said ‘I think I killed a police.’”
Sherman McCrary and Raymond Taylor were subsequently convicted of robbery and attempted murder and sentenced to 5-years-to-life. Sherman went to Folsom, while Raymond was sent to San Quentin. Danny McCrary, who was 19 at the time, and his mother were sentenced to county jail for harboring fugitives. Ginger was extradited to Colorado to face a bad check charge. While she was there, she gave birth to her fourth child, a son.
Shortly after the NIBIN results were confirmed, Danny McCrary was extradited to Texas to face murder charges in connection with the Covey slayings.
Appearing before a Colorado grand jury, Ginger implicated her father, mother, and husband in the murder of Leeora Looney. She was given immunity from prosecution for her cooperation. The trio was extradited there to stand trial. Murder charges had, by that time, also been filed in Nevada.
Carolyn pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact in the Looney murder and received a two-year sentence.
The men from the McCrary clan all went on trial at about the same time in 1973 — Danny in Texas, and Sherman and Taylor in Colorado.
Eventually, Taylor won a motion to have his trial severed from Sherman’s and at Sherman’s trial, a tape was played where he blamed the killing on his son-in-law.
“I heard him holler something back to her,” he claimed. “He was socking her or something. I was too far away to see. I was disgusted.”
The jury didn’t believe him and Sherman McCrary was convicted on Leeora Looney’s murder. Shortly after, Raymond Taylor was also convicted. They received life terms.
A few weeks after his father was convicted of murder in Colorado, Danny McCrary was found guilty of murdering Jena Covey (he was not on trial for killing her husband). He stood emotionless while he received a life sentence from the judge.