I SPENT THE NIGHT IN THE MURDER MAC VAN …A TOOLBOX KILLER SURVIVOR TELLS HER STORY ON EPISODE 20 SERIAL KILLER WHISPERER

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For four years, Laura Brand dug through files and created lists of potential witnesses who might be able to help her locate some of Lawrence Bittaker’s missing victims. Laura spent dozens of hours in the cage with the sadistic killer but ironically had not seen his veneer crack until she asked him about two teenagers named Steve and Tina. The prolific serial killer circled Laura in the cage, spitting obscenities at her and causing her to tremble slightly. It was the first time that Laura had seen the devil within him turn to face her and she realized she was holding her breath. Laura asked him again. Who are Steve and Tina? Bittaker refused to answer and for the first time told her to leave, Laura obliged but she knew she was on to something. By the time she got to her car the phone on the other end was already ringing and a woman with a quiet voice answered. Is this Tina? This is Laura Brand I’m a forensic criminologist working with Lawrence Bittaker and I am looking for his missing victims and I was hoping you could help.

I guess I am never going to outrun him,” Tina whispers through tears, “so I’ll tell you what I know.

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Lawrence Bittaker on Trial

During the summer of 1979, the freewheeling California culture was a sanctuary for drugs, rock music and bikini clad teenage girls with their thumbs out on the Pacific Coast highway looking for a ride to their next party. The iconic dream of endless summers, fame, sex and drugs, rock and roll on the West Coast lured teenagers from across America to join the party and they came in droves. What these blissful, wide eyed, free spirits didn’t know is that in the late 70’s and early 80’s Southern California was a breeding ground for some of the most notorious serial killers in history. As if the devil himself opened a vortex in Los Angeles there was an unexplained explosion of killers cruising the Sunset Strip and the Pacific Coast Highway in search of wayward, drug addled young girls with dreams of stardom. The list of infamous killers is staggering: the Hillside Strangler, the Sunset Strip Killer, The Freeway Killer were gripping the city in fear and distracting law enforcement from two of the most sadistic killers of our time; Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris who were roaming around in plain sight.

The psychotic duo, a.k.a. The Tool Box Killers were responsible for torturous acts of violence against women that are so sadistic the gory details would bring the most sturdy of law enforcement agents to their knees.

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Scott Motel Burbank, California

16- year old Tina Farconi was a popular teenager who wanted to party and spend time with her boyfriend Steve. They were in love, the kind that consumes you and keeps you awake at night, the kind of first love that revolves around secret plans to run away and get married so you can spend the rest of your life in romantic bliss. Steve was anxious to spend as much time with Tina as he could but they couldn’t go to her parents and they certainly couldn’t go to his house. Steve and Tina were always lingering around the liquor stores waiting for an unsuspecting adult to walk by so they could beg them to buy them alcohol or maybe share some grass. Steve thought it was fate when a wiry man with beady eyes and a wide clownlike smile quickly walked towards them and lowered his head as he spoke asking the question Tina and Steve had been waiting for, “ Hey, my name is Larry. Do you want to party?” “You bet we do!” Steve could not contain his excitement, finally, they had met someone to buy them booze. “I got everything over at the motel,” Larry motioned towards the Scott Motel across the way, “Come on don’t be shy,” Larry smirked and Steve followed.

Tina’s heart was racing, her stomach was knotting like it did when she knew she should listen to that voice inside that started screaming “GO HOME NOW” but she ignored it and squeezed Steve’s hand. Tina just wanted to be cool, she didn’t want to be nerdy and upset Steve so she followed despite the internal warnings that were pumping through her veins.

When they got to the motel room, Tina could feel Larry eyeing her over but she kept her glance firmly on the stained carpet. Voices trickled out of the bathroom and three kids popped out. They introduced themselves and sat on the bed all sharing cigarettes and drinking beers. Larry kept his gaze fixed on Tina but she was not budging, there was no reason to look this man in the eye she told herself, her skin was cold and clammy and goosebumps were racing up and down her neck. If her body was sounding an alarm it would have been for a raging fire, she concentrated on breathing because she was worried she would faint. Steve was completely unaffected and focused on getting high. Larry was handing out joints to everyone, “Here take it” he passed it to Tina who shyly took a hit. Her eyes darted around the dark room and she noticed that there were dozens of polaroids of young girls strewn across the bed. Larry quickly explained that he was a photographer always looking for young girls who wanted to model- you know starlets who come to Hollywood looking for the big break that would lead them to stardom. As he spoke, Tina’s throat began to tighten and she stepped out into the sunlight, letting the warmth shield her from Larry’s stare. Tina could feel Larry’s hatred, it poured out of him like pus from from a bloody scrape, it was sticky and thick and she could feel it roll over her skin with every glance he shot her way. Tina backed away from him grateful for Steve who knew she was uncomfortable around people and he stepped between Larry and Tina as a buffer it was only then that Tina’s heart began to slow to a normal rhythm.

The summer rolled on, the nights melting into days, the days into night, getting high, having sex, drinking beers, the group of kids were all meeting up at the Scott Motel where they had free reign to party all night without parental eyes watching over them. Larry seemed detached but confident that they would indulge him because he was supplying the drugs and booze. There were times when Larry would bring his friend Norris around and the two of them would laugh deeply at one of the girls, commenting on her body or her sex life, making jokes that would startle any normal teenager but they were numb from the drugs and laughed off the creepy guys who were attempting to flirt with them because they had to know there was no chance that any of them would indulge these crazy sexual advances.

Weeks later, after Larry ran out to get more booze Tina asked Steve the question that hung between them all summer, “Why is this old guy hanging out with teenagers buying us booze and giving us grass isn’t it weird? Don’t you think it’s weird?” Steve shrugged, “Who cares as long as he’s buying?” “True,” Tina responded but she couldn’t help but feel that something else was going on, something nagging her pulling on her fear. On a hot night in August, Tina and Steve were laughing about spending the night in a chair at the laundromat because they didn’t want to be apart and they didn’t want to go home, when Larry overheard the conversation. “Don’t be ridiculous you can stay in my van.” “Really?” Steve’s eyes widened at the prospect of having sex in a van with his girlfriend. “Yeah, but there’s only one catch it locks from the outside so once you are in that’s it you can’t get out until the morning are you cool with that?” Tina was not cool with this plan but Steve wanted to spend the night with her so badly and honestly it sounded better than sleeping in a chair at the laundromat. “Tina, you good?” Steve checked in with her and she nodded because how could she disappoint him? How could she be the buzz kill? No, she just had to trust that Steve knew what he was doing right? If she was going to run away and marry him she definitely had to trust Steve.

What the kids didn’t know, is that they were spending the night in the Murder Mac, the gruesome pimped out playground for the psychotic duo who lured unsuspecting hitch hikers into the van and murdered them. During the night, Tina makes a grisly discovery and her instincts kick into high gear. To find out more listen to Tina’s last interview with Laura Brand before her passing in 2023 on Episode 21 Partners in True Crime Serial Killer Whisperer https://p.podderapp.com/1794982497/traffic.megaphone.fm/TNM5997838342.mp3?updated=1710527492.

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If you want to understand how to profile a serial killer check out Mindhunter. You can also listen to an interview with Mark Olshaker on Partners in True Crime: Season 2 The Killing Hour Episode 5: https://p.podderapp.com/1794982497/traffic.megaphone.fm/TNM5393110010.mp3?updated=1677669516

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John Douglas was the inspiration for Jack Crawford in Silence of the Lambs

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