Tag Archive for Oklahoma

Killing Spree

Eric Elliott sits in an Oklahoma prison, far away from his family in Ohio. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars, thanks to a two-week odyssey of death and mayhem that began on August 15, 1994 when he met Louis E. Gilbert.
 
Elliott was a troubled young man, but until he met Gilbert, he wasn’t violent. Interestingly, the same could be said about Gilbert. He was a petty thief and ex-con, but had never been trigger-happy until he hooked up with Elliott.
 
The 16-year-old Elliott and the 22-year-old Gilbert met in Newcomerstown, Ohio, birthplace of astronaut Neil Armstrong, but while Armstrong would go on to explore the heavens, Elliott and Gilbert managed only to create a bit of hell on earth.
 
Few people in Newcomerstown liked Gilbert, and few were surprised when he was arrested after his killing spree. They speculated that Elliott tolerated Gilbert because he could buy alcohol.
 
It all started the day Gilbert was released from an Ohio prison for stealing a boat. For some reason, they decided to steal a car and it was all downhill from there.
 
Their first victim was 79-year-old Ruth Lucille Loader of Newcomerstown, who had the car the two men needed to get out of town. Gilbert admitted later on that he shot and killed the 82-pound cancer survivor, whose body was never found despite a massive search by friends and the law enforcement community.
 
Lucy and her late husband had lived in the 12-room farm house on the outskirts of Newcomerstown for more than 50 years and had raised four children there.
 
Her Buick turned up two weeks later, stuck in the mud in Calloway County, Missouri. Like so many other killers, they had followed America’s sewer pipe — I-70 — westward, stopping to wreak havoc and bringing senseless death along for the ride.
 
Elliott and Gilbert abandoned Lucy’s Buick and started walking, eventually stopping at the home of William F. Brewer, age 86, and Flossie Mae Brewer, age 75. After talking with the couple for a half-hour, they forced the couple into the basement of their farmhouse, shot both of them three times in the head, and stole their car, cash, and rifles.
 
The murderers left behind the children of the Brewers, who wondered why two able-bodied young men had to kill when it was just as easy to steal from the elderly couple. William’s cane was found next to his body. A walker was waiting upstairs where he left it. Flossie’s hands had been tied with a phone cord.
 
“They had no reason for what they done,” the son who discovered his parents dead in their basement told a reporter. “It was just plain orneriness. They just had no pity.”
 
With California as their goal, the killers headed out again, turning south toward Oklahoma and another date with death.
 
They ended up at Lake Stanley Draper near Norman, Oklahoma where they met Roxy Lynn Ruddell, a 37-year-old unarmed security guard who watched over a marina and whose job perks included all the fishing she wanted to do. She had been married a little over two years when she was murdered, and was working the night-time security guard job to help realize a lifelong dream.
 
Roxy wanted to own a horse ranch one day, and she had a pickup truck the killers wanted. They took it and kidnapped her as they continued their spree. She was shot and her body was dumped a short time later. A motocross rider waiting for his friends to catch up with him found Roxy’s body alongside a trail near the lake.
 
After finding the body, the bikers headed toward the ranger station, but the Brewers’ abandoned car blocked the trail’s exit.
 
louisgilbertGilbert and Elliott were headed further west with police from three states now on their trail.
 
Two days after Roxy was killed, Gilbert and Elliott were sleeping in a culvert outside Santa Fe, N.M., when state police acting on a tip found them. Two rifles, a shotgun and a pistol were found at their campsite.
 
Family, friends and police from Ohio, Missouri and Oklahoma all wanted a piece of the pair. If it was up to Elliott and Gilbert, they would have opted to head back to Ohio, where they had the best chance of staying alive.
 
In the end, Oklahoma got the first shot at them. Gilbert received the death penalty and Elliott was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
 
Gilbert’s 73 IQ wasn’t low enough to save him from a date with the needle, nor was the fact that his father liked to beat him with a two-by-four. He was executed in 2003.
 
Elliott has never offered any assistance in locating Lucy’s body.

The Most Hated Man in Oklahoma

In June 1978, Air Force Sgt. Melvin Lorenz and his wife, Linda (also a sergeant in the Air Force) were headed north from their duty station in San Antonio, Texas.
 
Their reason for the trip was unpleasant — it was to attend the funeral of Melvin Lorenz’s mother. Little did the family know as they passed through the small burg of Purcell, Okla., that death was closer than they thought.
 
As they drove north, they spotted a single woman sitting in her car on the side of the road with the hood up. Melvin Lorenz was driving and pulled to the shoulder to offer assistance. It was a set-up, and the Lorenz family, acting as Good Samaritans, had walked right into the trap created by a family of killers.
 
One of the killers, Verna Stafford, later described for a spellbound courtroom how her husband, Roger, and his brother, Harold, had been lurking out of sight until Melvin approached the car.
 
When Melvin Lorenz walked over, she said, Roger confronted him with a gun.
 
“Roger demanded his wallet and he wouldn’t give it to him,” she said. “Roger was upset with him and Roger shot him.”
 
“The lady came up to my side of the car” screaming, Mrs. Stafford said in a packed McClain County courtroom.
 
Linda Lorenz tried to hit Verna but Verna fought back.
 
“I caught her on the side of the face and she lost her balance and Roger shot her.”
 
The Staffords then “heard a little voice that was calling for its mother and its father,” from a camper atop the pickup truck, she said, referring to Melvin and Linda’s son, Richard.
 
“Roger had said something to the effect we should not leave anyone behind as a witness,” she testified.
 
Roger then used a knife to cut a hole in a screen in the camper and fired, killing Richard Lorenz. The killers dumped the bodies of Melvin and Linda in a field beside the road. Melvin was 38 years old, his wife was 31, and Richard was 13.
 
The entire crime took about 20 minutes.
 
The Staffords then drove down the road, stopped and heaved Richard’s body in a field. Then, with Harold and Roger in the pickup and Verna following, they drove to Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City and abandoned the truck — but not before stopping at a Stillwater restaurant for a bite to eat.
 
Verna added that Lorenz had offered to give the Stafford some of his money, but not all of it.
 
On the stand, Verna said it was her idea to lure robbery victims by posing as a stranded motorist. She told the court she and her husband needed money to pay for a place to live in Tulsa with their three children.
 
Harold’s motive in participating, Verna said, was to get money to pay for an abortion for his girl friend.
 
The murderous trio made the trip from Tulsa specifically to commit crimes. Their original plan called for Roger and Harold to rob a store, but everywhere they looked, their targets were too busy. They then thought about robbing some motels in Pauls Valley, but that didn’t work out either. Frustrated and headed back to Tulsa empty handed, Verna suggested the stranded motorist ploy.
 
Killing came easy for the Stafford family and particularly for Roger. He told his jail cellmate that he “just banged away” when the time came to fire on the Lorenz family, and that the age of his victims didn’t matter.
 
“It didn’t make any difference whether the person was 2 or 82,” the witness remembers Roger Stafford saying.
 
Felony charges of possession of stolen property and larceny were subsequently dismissed against the inmate, who denied on the stand that any deal had been made with prosecutors.
 
About three weeks after the Lorenz murders, the Staffords struck again. This time, six innocent people died.
 
On July 16, 1978, the killer trio again drove from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to rob the Sirloin Stockade restaurant. They waited in the restaurant parking lot until all the customers had left. At around 10:00 p.m. they left their automobile and Roger Stafford knocked on the side door of the restaurant. The manager answered the door and was greeted by Roger and Harold Stafford pointing guns at him. They forced him to take them to the cash register and the office safe.
 
Inside the restaurant the manager made a terrible decision that cost him and five other people their lives. He began taunting the Staffords, saying that he could not understand why people rob others instead of working for themselves. Roger Stafford hit the manager and demanded that he call his employees to the cash register. The manager complied with the demand.
 
While Harold and Verna held the workers at gun point, Roger and the manager emptied the safe of $1,290. He then ordered everyone into the walk-in freezer. Verna would later testify that Harold reminded Roger that no one was to be hurt.
 
“They’ll get what they deserve,” Roger replied.
 
He then shot the only black employee, and both men opened fire on the remaining employees. Verna Stafford testified that she heard a lot of gun fire and screaming. Roger then told Verna that it was time for her to take part. He placed his gun in Verna’s hand and helped her pull the trigger.
 
“I opened the freezer door, and all I could see was blood and brains,” said Sgt. Lannie Mitchell, the first police officer on the scene. “It was totally incomprehensible.”
 
In a bit of Karmic justice, Harold Stafford died in a motorcycle wreck a week after the Sirloin Stockade murders.
 
It was good, old-fashioned, flat-foot police work that brought Roger and Verna Stafford to justice. In fleeing the scene of the murders, they nearly crashed their beat-up station wagon into another vehicle. That driver managed to get a good look at the man behind the wheel — Roger Stafford.
 
In addition, a man waiting to pick up his girlfriend who worked at the restaurant (and who was one of the victims) also gave a description of the green station wagon.
 
For six months investigators followed leads in five states and found no one. But on Jan. 3, 1979 the police received an anonymous phone call later traced to a drunken Roger Stafford. Stafford named his wife and brother as the killers.
 
Police eventually traced Verna Stafford to Chicago, where they arrested her. She then implicated her husband. Police arrested him March 13, 1979, in a YMCA lobby in Chicago.
 
Stafford received death sentences for all of his murders, but he predicted the sentence would never be carried out.
 
“I’m too good looking,” Stafford said.
 
He was wrong on both counts. The State of Oklahoma put him to sleep permanently in 1995. His last words might be considered a plea for mercy.
 
“Oh, God,” he said as the chemicals began pumping into his veins.