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.