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Lawrence Bittaker with Laura Brand

Imagine getting into a cage with one of the world’s most notorious serial killers? Forensic Criminologist Laura Brand does it every week. For the past decade, Laura has conducted the largest study on serial killers in history, she has interviewed the worst of the worst on San Quentin’s death row earning her the moniker SERIAL KILLER WHISPERER. Laura was featured on Peacock’s TOOLBOX KILLER because of her work with Lawrence Bittaker that led to the location of two missing victims. 

For the past year, Laura has been working with Charles Ng, the volatile, sadistic killer who was convicted of 11 murders, two of those victims were infants. Charles Ng didn’t act alone he had a partner Leonard Lake, who, in dramatic fashion, swallowed a cyanide pill when he was arrested. The psychotic duo are thought to be responsible for 30 victims who have never been recovered. 

Laura has also been interviewing David Carpenter, the Trailside Killer, (Carpenter has never been completely ruled out as the Zodiac Killer), actress Lisa Rinna’s mother was one of his victims who luckily escaped but dozens did not. Laura is also working with the Hollywood Ripper David Gargiulo, sadistic rapist and murderer William Suff, the list goes on and the numbers of unaccounted for victims connected to these serial killers is staggering. Almost all of the serial killers on death row are responsible for dozens of murders that have never been prosecuted, the remains have never been found and those families never get answers.

How is that possible?

When a serial killer is convicted and sentenced to death row the case is closed even if there are still victims missing. Those victims go into cold case files because law enforcement does not have the resources to continue the investigation. With little to no options, families spend decades searching for answers on their own.

Although there are plenty of documentaries and podcasts about all of these serial killers, it is very rare that we get such a close look into the minds of these killers, their motives and their revelations. Charles Ng has never spoken to anyone until Laura started using her tactical empathy on him. For the past year, Laura has been luring Charles Ng into a game of cat and mouse, keeping her eye on the prize — to find the locations of his missing victims. 

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Laura Brand and Charles Ng

When people see the photo of Laura in the cage with Charles Ng, Lawrence Bittaker, or David Carpenter instead of focusing on her work many people begin to comment on her clothing. Why is she dressed like that on San Quentin’s death row? Laura takes it in stride, It’s simple she says, wearing high heels into San Quentin’s death row exudes power and confidence and this commands respect from the inmates. It also helps that she is attractive and uses that to her advantage, but once she is in the cage with them it’s all business, she’s relentless and will keep hammering these serial offenders until she gets answers to her questions. 

We met Laura at San Quentin in February 2024, ironically, I was wearing jeans and you can’t wear blue jeans into San Quentin because the color is too similar to the colors worn by the prisoners. Because of my wardrobe mishap, I had to stay behind, but my husband Rob joined Laura and they got into the cage with David Carpenter. While I was in the parking lot waiting for them, my mind was racing with the worst possible scenarios. This was not the first time my husband has been face to face with a serial killer; Rob was one of the few people to interview Charles Manson. David Carpenter is the oldest serial killer on death row at 93 and he continues to claim he is a victim of the system, but Laura knows better, she is working around the clock to extract the location of two dozen victims. 

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Laura Brand, Trailside Killer David Carpenter and Rob Dorfmann

Laura’s collective study is one of the most comprehensive reports on serial killers and it is vital to understanding why these people choose to morph into psychotic killers. With the information she has gathered, there is hope that we can identify the red flags early in adolescence to get these people the mental health assistance that they desperately need.

The question that Laura has been grappling with is if serial killers are the result of distorted DNA or a product of their abusive, neglectful environments in which they grew up in? This question has been debated since the first serial killer terrorized a city. Laura has spoken to many serial killers who were raised in loving homes and even they don’t know why they have done the things that they have done. One of those killers is Wayne Adam Ford the Highway Killer who was convicted of killing four women in 1998. Wayne actually turned himself into police with the breast of one of his victim’s in his pocket. Are these psychotic acts the result of twisted DNA? It is a possibility. DNA has proven to play a large role in the evolution of a killer, however, does that mean anyone who is related with similar DNA has the same psychotic tendencies? This is the question we sought to answer in MY UNCLE IS THE GREEN RIVER KILLER , Kristen Ridgway, Gary Ridgway’s niece was worried that her children might inherit this killer DNA from her uncle and requested a brain scan be done to compare her brain to her uncle’s.

Laura’s work is crucial, not only because it is the largest collective study on serial killers but it is vital to help locate missing victims. Not many people are dedicating their personal time pro bono to help re-investigate these serial killer cases. Law enforcement is overwhelmed and does not have the resources and they often reach out to Laura for help.

What is disturbing to me is the ridicule that Laura endures; no one is commenting on the tactics of men or the clothing that they are wearing or suggesting that they are doing something illicit to get answers from serial killers. When there is a photo of a male in the cage with a killer he is commended but more often than not Laura is ridiculed. Why? I thought we as a society were above this sterotypical response to an attractive woman doing hard things. Maybe we aren’t.

I have to admit, in the beginning I was skeptical of Laura’s tactics. Having had my own experiences with the serial killer Gary Ridgway while producing My Uncle is the Green River Killer for A&E I know how manipulative and controlling these killers could be, how charm can easily dissolve into psychopathic tendencies within seconds and how they lie, lie, and lie some more to get attention. 

The first time I met Laura I immediately asked her, How do you know if they are telling you the truth? Serial Killers will manipulate you and lie and do whatever it takes to spend time with a pretty blonde. How can you trust their information? Laura has heard it all before and she calmly said, “I have the discovery of their case and I will dig into all of the details of it and call them out on their lies because I use tactical empathy. I listen to them and I show up, week after week after week and build trust with them. Eventually, I break the walls down and then I can extract the information that I need to find the missing victims.” Laura’s matter of fact demeanor is very logical; prisons have a hierarchy and it would make sense that even serial offenders need structure, discipline and consistency. 

Not many people can get discovery (all of the files in the case) or Power of Attorney on a serial killer’s case, but Laura has gained the trust of dozens of killers and they have handed over their files to her. Laura believes the answers she is looking for are in these files and her instincts have proven correct. Currently, Laura is working with multiple cold case units around the country reinvestigating these serial murder cases to find clues that can help her extract pertinent information while she is in the cage. This information is the only thread that can lead to the recovery of victims and without it, the likelihood of finding these victims is slim. 

Although the FBI has the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a branch dedicated to missing people, they are also stretched with limited resources and they do not re-investigate cases of serial killers who have been convicted. A handful of people (myself included) continue to advocate for a federal agency that specializes solely in missing persons with an emphasis on the cold cases of serial killers but there has not been a national movement as of yet.

I have been working with Laura for almost three years and I have watched the sacrifices she has made in her personal life, taking time away from her son and family to make herself available 24 hours a day seven days a week to these serial killers. Laura’s dedication is unwavering. Watching Laura work is eye-opening. While developing her television series SERIAL KILLER WHISPERER we have been privy to her interrogation style which not only includes tactical empathy, but discipline and respect. 

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Sunset Strip Killer Douglas Clark Mug Shot 1980

Douglas Clark, the Sunset Strip Killer is a perfect example. Clark was also part of a duo, working with Carol Bundy. Clark and Bundy would troll the Sunset Strip in the late 70’s early 80’s for young girls, teenage prostitutes and anyone who they deemed an“opportunity”. Once they used their charm on the unsuspecting victim they would lure her home and kill her. Clark was convicted of six murders and Bundy of seven. Two of their victims, the Valencia Jane Does, are completely unidentifiable, their remains found near Magic Mountain in the Santa Clarita Valley. For years, Clark has proclaimed his innocence, as most of these killers love to clamor, pointing the finger at Carol, stating that he was just a bystander in the murders, never pulling the trigger. Clark was so convincing that an entire podcast has been produced about his “innocence” which is insane to me, and I produced a film on wrongful convictions before it was mainstream. There is clear evidence that Clark was guilty of not only the crimes he was convicted of but the murders of multiple victims who remain missing. 

During a video call with Clark in 2023, in the months before his death, Laura managed to get Clark to confess to the murders that for years he proclaimed he had nothing to do with. Even though Clark was on death row for these crimes, he continued his narrative of innocence with anyone he spoke to about the crimes. This confession by Clark was a huge breakthrough for Laura. By admitting guilt, she finally turned the page with him and he began to reveal information about missing victims without realizing what he had done. This is the magic in watching Laura work, she manages to manipulate these killers into unraveling and they quickly begin revealing information as if they are in a trance. We filmed this encounter and watched in shock as Clark continued to ramble on about his unknown victims. This interview with Clark will be released on the television series Serial Killer Whisperer with Laura Brand. 

Because Laura is consistent, she puts in the time, she actually does the work, and she gets answers because she builds trust. Most of these killers have abandonment issues, their childhoods laden with physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect. Their tragic childhoods do not excuse their horrific acts against innocent victims but it helps Laura understand their vulnerabilities so she can work with them to get answers. 

However, the relationships that she has built with these serial killers has not made Laura’s work any less dangerous. Once you step into the cage, the door slams shut and suddenly you are inside alone with a serial killer. There are protocols within the prison and upon entering you sign a waiver because the chances of anyone being able to save you if something should go down are slim. At any time Laura could be killed instantly. So, why does she do it? What motivates someone to do this kind of work? 

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Laura Brand © 2023

The daughter of a college professor, Laura became fascinated with the psychology of why people behave the way that they do at a very young age. Digging into forensics during her teenage years, Laura became passionate about criminology. There is always an inciting incident, a catalyst that propels someone into their destiny and for Laura it was the murder of her best friend by her cousin. That tragedy sparked a drive within her to find answers to burning questions that became her obsession. What makes someone commit murder? Is it DNA or is it something else? What can we do to stop people from murdering one another? 

After graduating with her B.A., Laura dove right into her research creating a questionnaire that she sent out to fifty serial killers. Many of them responded immediately and others, like Lawrence Bittaker were a little more difficult. Laura refused to take no for an answer and she flew from Boston to San Francisco to meet with Bittaker in person. Laura arrived on death row at the age of 25, wearing Louboutin heels, a pencil skirt, a crisp white shirt, a black blazer and her long blonde hair pinned back. Coming from a large Italian Catholic family, Laura wears her crucifix around her neck almost as if it were a weapon daring any of the evil entities she will encounter to mess with her. As she began the walk towards Bittaker’s cage, her knees buckled, what the hell am I doing? It was a fleeting panic that swirled around her but she pressed on. Laura’s mission was to find the location of two missing teens Andrea Hall and Cindy Schaefer. Although Bittaker had confessed to the murders of the girls, law enforcement conducted multiple searches over the years but their remains have never been found. In an emotional call with Cindy’s sister you can hear the desperation to bring Andrea home go to our You Tube Channel @partnersintruecrimepodcast and watch the sizzle, it’s tragic what these families endure. The girls resonated with Laura and she became determined to get Bittaker to reveal their location.

In the 1980’s Southern California was a breeding ground for serial killers. Bittaker was one half of the sadistic duo THE TOOL BOX KILLERS who roamed around in their murder van hunting unsuspecting teenage girls who they would subsequently torture. Bittaker was sentenced to death row for the murder of five girls, including the murders of Cindy Schaefer and Andrea Hall. Bittaker and Norris are suspected of killing dozens of girls who have yet to be found. 

When Laura entered Bittaker’s cage the door slammed shut behind her, echoing through the prison, it was the first time that Laura realized the gravity of what was about to happen, Bittaker could kill her with one swipe, but instead he just hovered in the corner, head bent, almost docile. This is him? This little creep? It’s always a shock to see these “monsters” in real life. None of them would be given a second glance on the street.

Laura took Bittaker’s shyness as a sign that she was in control of the cage and she began her work, looking for some kind of common ground — what the hell would she have as common ground with this sadistic killer who tortured young women for sport? Scrambling, she quickly asked him if he liked Alice and Wonderland? He nodded..she took a breath, Ok, let’s go…this tiny thread of commonality evolved into long discussions about Bittaker’s childhood, and then his murders…eventually leading to a map with the locations of the missing girls. 

Bittaker was just the beginning of Laura’s journey. Today, Laura is currently racing against the clock to do as many extractions as possible before all the inmates are moved from San Quentin to general population prisons around the state. Many of these serial killers will be murdered in general population taking the locations of their victims with them. For the victim’s families it will be a double dose of pain. How can you reconcile never finding your loved one? The pain and suffering of never knowing what happened to the victims who are still out there is what motivates Laura to risk her life to get answers. Will she be able to get the extractions in time? Or will those victims be lost forever?

Join us each week on the Partners in True Crime Podcast Serial Killer Whisperer to hear more. Go to www.partnersintruecrime.com and subscribe (for free) to get weekly emails and information sent directly to your inbox. Laura does a Q & A weekly for our subscribers. Get a sneak peak of Laura’s new television series Serial Killer Whisperer on You Tube @partnersintruecrimepodcast 

Laura has become a role model for anyone considering a career in forensic criminology… and it all starts with a power suit.

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03/15/2024 12:44 am GMT
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