Norris-Bittaker: the gruesome audio the FBI uses to test the limits of its agents, A previous version of this article was published in 2018.
The serial killers and the most abhorrent crimes recorded by human beings are a source of fascination. It is credited by numerous films, series and novels of universal success whose protagonists are beyond what is morally acceptable. They have crossed lines for which society usually does not have resources, beyond astonishment and misunderstanding.
The popular culture that surrounds crimes and criminals tends to focus on a handful of very famous, as Mindhunter illustrated. But there are others who, although they are not so famous, have left a wide mark in criminal and behavioral science. One of them is counted among the most dramatic in the history of the United States, not so much because of the facts (torture, rape, murder of young women: the daily bread of extreme criminology) but because of the graphic and audio material that the murderers left behind their crimes.
They broke the mental limits of many people. Or rather, of many agents enrolled in the FBI.
The events go back to the summer of 1445, when Roy Norris and Larry Bittaker murder five California teenagers. It was a time when there was still not so much fear of hitchhiking. They were lured into their caravans and then abducted, tortured, and sexually abused until their bodies gave out and breathed their last. They dubbed them “the toolbox killers” and had a special fixation on female erogenous zones and pliers. In that order.
Their last known victim, for whom they already had enough torture experience, was Shirley Lynette Ledford , by 16 years. His murderers recorded the audio of that terrible and last episode of his life, which lasted approximately fifteen minutes. The tape is not made available to the general public, but had to be heard by members of the jury in the trial of the killers two years later.
The sound of the most intolerable cruelty It is because of this judicial hearing that it is explained that the tape has transcended. Although can be read a transcript of what appears in the recording, it is recommended not to stop at the facts. We can just keep that young Ledford had to suffer a multitude of attacks, from sodomization to the repeated hammering of a hand and an elbow. The last intelligible words of the young woman were “kill me now” .
In the audiovisual recording of the exterior of the Norris trial -Bittaker we can see how many attendees leave the room in the middle of the audition. They cannot bear it. Some of them are seen crying, saying that nothing in this life had prepared them to hear that. Others vomit. While the audition was going on Bittaker, on the stage, smiled . For him that tape was the final proof that the girl, his partner and he had experienced an exciting love threesome.
That the young woman asked to be killed is nothing more than the definitive proof of that he and his pal had only complied with his wish.
Stephen Kay, the experienced prosecutor at the trial, said that it had been the worst case he had come across in his life. He also claimed that of all the men who had stepped on death row in California County, no one deserved capital punishment more than Bittaker. After many interviews with her after the case, Kay repeatedly recounted the recurring nightmare that tormented him for two years: women screaming with the vivid voice of the young Shirley, suffering the unspeakable, and whom he never managed to save for To be too late.
The lead detective on the case, Paul Bynum, couldn’t even take it. To your 40 years committed suicide. In his final note, Bynum wrote that he couldn’t bear the idea of a world where people like those criminals could get out of jail.
From reality to fiction Norris-Bittaker’s films have also reached our popular culture in a hint. This was a source of inspiration for the character of Agent Crawford (Clarice Starling’s male partner) in The Silence of the Lambs .
The Director Jonathan Demme was friends with a member of the US intelligence agency, who provided him with a copy of the audio of the crime . Demme made her listen to Scott Glenn so that he would be able to better understand the degree of moral defeat exhibited by the older employees of the behavioral science unit .
According to the actor in a later interview, it took just a few minutes to start listening to the tape to try to jump to the other side of the table and punch Demm in the face for subject him to that. At the end of the film Glenn burst into tears and has since become a staunch defender of the death penalty.
That FBI agent who offered the tape for Glenn’s performance development was John Douglas . He is also the author of the book Mindhunter on which, precisely, the homonymous series is based. The main character of the Netflix series is very inspired by this professional, one of the first investigators of the psychology and mental profiles of serial criminals. If we trust his criteria, Bittaker was the most disturbing individual that has ever been investigated.
As we said, this recording changed everything. According to the Times Union , this is one of the desensitization tests that are still being used for future FBI agents in Virginia, so that they understand the in many cases nauseating nature of their work, of putting themselves in the shoes of the most inhumane people on earth … And understanding their interests and motivations.
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