Authors: Kathy Braidhill
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This book is dedicated to my mother.
I would like to wholeheartedly thank the men and women of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's Office and state Department of Justice who investigate, track and try perpetrators of horrifyingly senseless murders. I thank Riverside County Sheriff's Department Det. Joe Greco for his investigative skills and soul-searching candor in putting a human face on the daunting prospect of finding a most unusual serial killer; former Riverside County Sheriff's Department Det. Chris Antoniadas for his selfless dedication to police work, his impressive investigative expertise and true grit; Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Rich Bentley for his lawyerly expertise; Riverside County Sheriff's Department Inv. Andre O'Harra for his expertise on jail life. I also thank Riverside County Sheriff's Department Det. James McElvain, Det. Rene Rodriguez and Officer Wyatt McElvain for their hard work. I would like to express my undying appreciation for Riverside County District Attorney Inv. George Hudson for his assistance and support on this project. I thank criminalists Marianne Stam, Ric Cooksie and photographer Jim Potts.
I thank and appreciate my “6 a.m. Happy Hour” workout buddies for keeping our souls and spirits balanced and our heart rates soaring; my West Coast Swing dance buddies for understanding when I disappeared during the last months' final push; ballet teachers Gilma Bustillo, Charles and Phillip Fuller of Le Studio for their kind and thoughtful guidance; and ballet instructor Joseph Nugent of the Pasadena Dance Academy and Theater, for his unique blend of humor and barre work.
Most of all, I thank my friends and family for their moral support and loving enthusiasm.
To Die For
is a work of nonfiction. The events depicted in this book are true. Much of the dialogue has been reconstructed from personal interviews, police records, and courts documents. Additionally, some scenes have been dramatically recreated in order to portray most effectively the personalities of the individuals involved in this story and the atmosphere surrounding the events depicted in this book. The names of the following individuals are pseudonyms: Tom, Darlene, Joanie Fulton, Jason Wilkins, Jim Wilkins, Kellie Jacobs, Jean Smothers, Charles Van Owen, Linda Dorsey, Julie Bennett, Lisa Thompkins, Laureen Johanson, Sharon Callendar, Rhonda, Carrie Ann, Michael Carpenter, Yvonne, Rob Beaudry, Chris Dodson, Evan Campbell, Cindy Anderson and Marion Snyder.
WHAT DANA DIDÂ â¦
â¢ June Roberts, 66, was strapped to a chair in her home, strangled with a telephone cord, and bludgeoned in the face with a wine bottle. As Dana Sue Gray went about her business, her boyfriend's five-year-old son waited in the front seat of her Cadillac parked out front.
â¢ Dorinda Hawkins, 57, was strangled and left for dead in the antique store where she workedâbut Hawkins survived to tell of her blonde, female attacker. According to Dana Sue Gray, Hawkins was being condescending to her. Said Gray, “I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to vomit. I wanted her to die.”
â¢ Eighty-seven-year-old Dora Beebe opened her door to a stranger asking for directions. That stranger was Dana Sue Gray, who proceeded to strangle her with a phone cord and bash her so hard with an iron that it dented. Gray claimed to have been angered when Beebe opened her door and allegedly complained, “I don't have time for this.”
Dana Sue Gray is a rarity, even among the small sorority of female serial killers dwarfed by dime-a-dozen male serial killers. There are 36 documented female serial killers whose murderous careers spanned the late 19th and 20th centuries. A serial killer is defined by the FBI as one who commits a murder in one location followed by a period of time where they live a relatively normal life without criminal activity, followed by another murder in another location and another crime-free period. This kind of killer is distinguishable from from someone who commits multiple murder or mass murder in a single event or in a killing spree, which include multiple incidents over a more compressed period of time.
Female serial killers typically kill their partners, children, or people under their care, and the overwhelming majority do so at a distance, with poison or guns. Dana is highly unusual by her choice of victim and the gruesomely intimate
method of ending their lives by using her hands and a phone cord to strangle, then a handy tool to bludgeon. There are only two known serial killers who chose strangulation as a primary means to dispatch their victims: one of them killed her own children for profit, and the other killed other people's children. According to
Murder Most Rare
(Kelleher), there are no known cases in which a woman strangled her victims both with a ligature and manually, then finished them off by bludgeoning.
The other unique aspect of Gray's crimes is her choice of victims. Kelleher categorized serial killers by motive, such as black widows, killers who murder for profit, angels of death and those who are clearly mentally disturbed. Women overwhelmingly kill their husbands or boyfriends, their children, other people's children or people for whom they are caring. Once they have a pattern, or a modus operandi, they don't typically digress. There are no other known young serial killers who target elderly women. In the lexicon of serial murder, Dana was a switch-hitter. Two of her victims were those with whom she had a remote family bond, and the other two were complete strangers.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
What makes Dana rare is her method of killingâusing far more force than was necessary to end the lives of frail and elderly victims in two cases, and a woman 30 years older than her in another. Dr. Patricia Kirby, a psychologist, once a homicide detective for the Baltimore police and a former FBI profiler, said that if Dana truly wanted credit cards, she would have found a way to obtain them without harming anyone. Kirby suggests that it was the act of killing and, in particular, the act of struggling with her victims that was her goal. Dana sought lethal excitement much the same way she sought excitement by leaping out of airplanes, windsurfing and other thrill sports. Lunch, beauty-shop pampering and shopping afterward was the celebration of the kill.
Given the extreme violence that Dana exhibited in murdering her victims, Kirby and others have wondered when Dana's killing spree truly began and question the relationship of the loss of her nursing job with the start of her killing spree. Hospital authorities for each of the institutions that employed Dana insist there were no “unusual” deaths during the time that Dana was employed there.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 1994, 9 A.M.
The phone was ringing. No one knew Norma was dead. But there she sat, upright in her comfy gold armchair for two days, an oversized, wood-handled utility knife buried to the hilt in her neck, the matching fillet knife in her chest. Other than one broken, pearly pink fingernail on her right hand, gracefully draped over the arm rest, she bore no other marks. Norma Davis, in a fleeting glance, looked no more sinister than an 86-year-old heart patient napping in front of the television, head sagging to one side, with a brown, fringed afghan covering the flowered-print blue slipper she wore on her foot. The coagulated pool of blood had seeped up around the wounds, darkening the animal designs on her black sweater.
It was obvious that Norma had been murdered in her chair, her roost, the place she curled up to watch TV, read her beloved books, knit, open mail and perhaps entertain visitors, including her last. The nubby gold armchair holding Norma's body belonged to a matching set of two, both of which sat in the second-floor den of her condo. The chairs faced a wood console-style TV set that she'd decorated with family photos and ceramic animal figures. A bag of golf clubs was propped against the TV. Both chairs backed up to the wrought-iron railing overlooking the first floor. Surrounding the chair, and on the dark, Mediterranean-style, carved-wood side table, were all the necessities for someone who, once they settled into their favorite chair, didn't want to be bothered getting up again: the TV remote-control, a small flashlight, two needlework bags, a romance novel and reading glasses, a pink pitcher and glass, a blue plastic pillbox, a fabric-and-lace photo album and a small fencing-style letter opener. On the other side of her chair was a wastebasket. The discarded mail was dotted with blood.
The phone had gone silent. There was a tentative tapping at the front door. Unlocked, it swung open.
It was 9:15 a.m. Alice Williams knew Norma was usually up by 6. She'd tried calling twice yesterday and once this morning. When there was no answer, she thought she'd come by and check on her. They were both 86 and had been like sisters ever since Norma moved to Canyon Lake five years ago. It was time for a trip to the beauty salon and they usually went together. It was Norma's habit to leave the front door open when she was expecting someone. Since she was hard of hearing, Alice yelled as loud as she could.
Alice's voice wasn't as strong as it used to be. But something was wrong. Norma usually had the television turned up to an ear-splitting pitch. It was silent. Maybe she had gone out. Norma had been so excited last week because she had passed her driver's test. She hated being confined to the house.
Alice slowly made her way through the spotless living room and into the gleaming kitchen. Everything looked orderly. No, Norma hadn't gone out. Her brown patchwork purse was in its usual place by the refrigerator. Alice looked at the plastic seven-day pillbox on the counter, but nothing registered. She peeked into the downstairs den, where the mirrored bar showcased gleaming glasses and an array of golf trophies. As she made her way into Norma's bedroom, Alice's mind raced to the last time she had seen Norma. It was Monday, Valentine's Day. That was just two days ago. They had gone to the bank to cash Norma's Medicare check. She got $148 in cash. Then Alice drove her to the hardware store, where Norma had two keys made. They made their round of errands early in the day, as usual. She dropped Norma off by about 11 a.m. Had Norma been expecting a visitor? She couldn't remember.
Norma's bed was unmade, a closet door stood open and a pile of purses rested on the floor. On the chair was an open, empty vanity case, its mirrored lid agape. In one of the guest rooms, a drawer in the otherwise empty chest stood open.
Norma was not downstairs. Alice was getting worried. Going up stairs was hard at her age. She pursed her lips, grabbed the handrail and steadily put one foot in front of the other. At the landing, she paused and leaned against a white-upholstered chair. She did not see the smear of blood on the seat. She continued up the stairs. A few feet from the top, Alice looked left into the second-floor den and her gaze rested on her best friend's body in the chair. She tried to scream, but could only gasp as her knees started to buckle.