On 29th September 1978, 50-year-old Lawrence Bernard Singleton, a former merchant seaman in the Navy, chopped off 15-year-old Mary Vincent’s hands and threw her off a 30-foot cliff at Interstate 5 in Del Puerto Canyon.
Before we get into the events that led to this gruesome cri*me, I’d like to give you some information about Lawrence Singleton.
Lawrence reportedly had a very bad temper and was a misogynist. He was recently divorced by his second wife. He had a strained relationship with his teenage daughter because they had fought earlier that year and never reconciled.
Prior to this, Lawrence had been convicted for his contribution to the delinquency of a minor. He also had a history of alcohol abuse.
Early September 1978, Mary Vincent ran away from her home in Las Vegas. Her parents were going through a very messy divorce and Mary just couldn’t handle the chaotic situation at home, unlike her six siblings.
She lived on the streets for a brief period before she hitchhiked to her grandfather’s house in California. After some time, she began to feel homesick and decided to hitchhike back to Las Vegas.
She went to the side of the road where there were also several other hitchhikers. They all were holding up vague signs in which direction they wanted to go.
Mary was pointing south to indicate the direction she needed to go. An old man in a van pulled up and offered to give Mary a ride, although where she wanted to go was out of his way. That was the first red flag.
His van was empty and could fit all of the hitchhikers waiting there but he denied their requests. That was the second red flag.
He said he could only take one person and it had to be a female because he was afraid of getting mugged. That was the third red flag.
All of the hitchhikers tried to talk Mary out of hitchhiking with him. Mary being so desperate and lonely thought to herself that she just couldn’t go on another day roaming the streets.
Then, she took a good look at him. He seemed to be in his fifties, looked like a grandpa, and had a kind smile. He said he had a daughter just about her age and Mary accepted his family man demeanor.
She ignored the hitchhikers’ protests and hopped into his van and they made their way. She was extremely exhausted and sleepy. She knew it wasn’t a smart move to fall asleep but she just couldn’t help it.
After some time, she jolted awake and realized they were not going south. This was the fourth red flag.
She quickly questioned Lawrence and he was very apologetic. He said his eyesight was getting worse and it was an honest mistake.
He said he would turn his van around but he wanted to just stop for a bit because his bladder was going to burst as he had been holding it in for too long. By this time, the sun was setting and it was starting to get dark.
While he was relieving himself, he suggested that Mary get out of the van and stretch her legs. This was when the alarm went off in Mary’s head. She realized they were stopped on the side of the road which was completely deserted.
She studied him again. He was an old man nearing his sixties, seemed unhealthy, and was a little on the heavier side. She decided that if she booked it and ran away from him, he might not catch up to her easily.
As she was getting out of the van, she realized her shoelaces were untied. So she planned to get out of the van, tie her shoelaces and take off.
However, when she was tying her shoelaces, she got bonked on the head with a sledgehammer. She immediately passed out.
When she gained consciousness, she was naked and tied up at the back of Lawrence’s van. He raped her repeatedly multiple times all through the night and into the morning.
She cried and begged. She said she wouldn’t tell anyone and to just let her go. He turned a deaf ear to her.
When it was morning, he pulled her out of the van. She was still tied up, naked, and now bleeding. He took a hatchet from his toolbox and swung it at her left arm. She started to feel like she was falling back to the grass.
When we are falling, our reflex action would be to grab onto something to avoid falling. She grabbed onto his arm but she was still falling. She said it seemed to happen in slow motion. She was confused.
When she hit the ground, she saw blood gushing out of her left arm as it had been severed off at her elbow. The pain was excruciating and she felt as if her hand was on fire. Lawrence then swung at her right elbow and that was severed off too.
She just lay there bleeding and saw that he was trying to flick off her left hand that was still clutching his arm tightly.
He then dragged her into the woods. She stayed still to prevent more blood loss. She didn’t scream as she believed that would just make him mutilate her even further.
He then threw her off a 30-foot cliff and left her to die! This was his way of m*urdering her.
Later when he would be questioned, he said he chopped off her arms to get rid of her fingerprints. The dude obviously never heard of dental records. Even Mary’s family would have been able to identify her so I don’t know what he was going on about.
The fall from 30 feet above broke four of Mary’s ribs. She was losing so much blood, was in extreme pain and all she could think was, “What if he hasn’t driven off? What if he comes back to finish me off?”
She then started to feel extremely sleepy and light-headed. That must have been due to her blood loss. She wanted to doze off but heard a voice in her head, “Hey, you can’t go to sleep, you can’t go to sleep!”
She thought that if she fell asleep and died, he would do the same thing to someone else and she didn’t want to let that happen. So she got up into a kneeling position and shoved both her elbows into the mud.
This is a 30-second video of Mary Vincent explaining how she climbed up the cliff:
She said she did that to stop the blood flow. She was just 15 years old and so smart! Then she crawled all the way up the cliff. She didn’t let the pain from her broken ribs stop her.
By the time she reached the top, it was night again. It took her a whole day to climb up.
She started walking on the main road looking for people to help her. She kept her arms up the whole time to stop the blood from gushing out. This place was the same deserted area where Lawrence stopped his van.
In the distance, she heard the sound of cars. She walked in that direction for three miles and it was morning again by that time because she could only move very slowly.
The first car she saw was a red convertible with its top down. There were two men in it. She screamed at them to stop and help her but they put the pedal to the metal.
She was devastated but she said she didn’t blame them because she looked like a horror movie scene; no hands, naked and covered head to toe in blood.
Thankfully, an old truck came by after some time. They were a lost honeymoon couple. They saw her and immediately stopped.
They helped her into the truck and rushed to the nearest phone booth. Keep in mind, that this was in 1978 and cell phones weren’t prevalent back then.
The honeymooners called the paramedics and they sent a rescue helicopter which got Mary straight to the hospital.
This would have been a very traumatic honeymoon experience for the couple.
At the hospital, the doctors were baffled as to how Mary was still alive because she had lost over half of the blood in her body and the remaining blood she had got to a very toxic level.
Mary then gave a detailed description of Lawrence Singleton to the police. The description was so detailed that the police released a composite sketch of the man.
Lawrence’s neighbour saw the sketch and called the police. Lawrence was then brought in for questioning.
Lawrence had the audacity to deny everything and said that Mary wasn’t a hitchhiker but a prostitute. He said if his DNA was found on her, that’s because she is a prostitute and he paid her $10.
The police questioned why she was in this state because if she was a prostitute like he claimed, he could have just paid her and that would have been it. They wouldn’t be in the hospital now.
Lawrence then said that Mary wasn’t the only prostitute in the van as there were others and he also had a guy friend with him. He said he fell asleep and his guy friend must have decided to torture Mary and chop her hands off.
When questioned who was his guy friend, this dude just blurted out, “Larry”. The police saw through his bullshit and arrested him. He was charged with mutilation, kidnapping, and assault of Mary Vincent.
The next Mary saw Lawrence was in court. She was still a teenager and she was terrified as he was just 10 feet away from her when she was on the witness stand. She now had prosthetic arms.
After she testified, she had to walk by him and he whispered to her:
“I’ll finish this job, if it takes me the rest of my life”
With Mary’s strong testimony and all of the evidence, Lawrence was convicted of kidnapping, rape, mayhem (mutilation), attempted m*urder, and se*x cr*ime.
All of this combined, the maximum legal time that he could get in the state of California was 14 years. Just 14 years! Even drug possession leads to more years than that.
The presiding judge said:
“If I had the power, I would send him to prison for the rest of his natural life”.
The worst part of this was, that he was paroled after serving only 8 years! He got out 6 years early! He got reduced time for good behaviour and working as a teaching assistant in a prison classroom.
People were so pissed about this. It seems a quiet law was passed in California due to overpopulation in their prison without letting the public know.
Essentially what this law was about is that a day of the sentence gets shaved off for every day that the prisoners work in prison.
People were outraged by this. If the prison was overpopulated, drug offenders could be released earlier than se*x offenders. It just didn’t make sense.
During his parole, there were a lot of protests, controversies, and political issues that went on. I’m not going to get into that but if you’re interested.
On 19th February 1997 in Florida, a frantic neighbour of Lawrence Singleton called 911. She said that she saw him attacking a woman through the window of his house.
The police immediately arrived at the scene and found Roxanne Hayes dead. She was a single mom of 3 kids and worked as a prostitute to support them. She was st*abbed multiple times in her upper body.
Lawrence was found with blood all over his clothes. He again tried to play defense. He said he’s just an old man who didn’t know what he was doing because he maybe had dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Mary came once more to testify against him. She told the judge that her life was turned upside down by what he did to her and ever since he was sentenced to prison, she had been trying to get her life back together.
She said since he got paroled, all she could hear were the words that he whispered to her:
“I’ll finish this job, if it takes me the rest of my life”
She said she started falling apart; she couldn’t focus on anything, she couldn’t hold down a job and it just ruined her life. She pleaded to the judge to do something because he’s not a confused old man and he’s going to keep hurting people.
Finally, in 2001, the judge sentenced him to death. This is a death sentence I agree with but here’s the bad news. He died of cancer in prison that same year before he was executed.
There was a lot of outrage after this which resulted in legislation. California then passed a ‘Singleton bill’ which prevents the early release of offenders who have committed a cr*ime where torture is used and now the maximum punishment is 25 years to life.
Mary Vincent won a civil lawsuit that awarded her $2.56 million against Lawrence Singleton. However, she was unable to collect even a little bit because he was unemployed. He was in poor health. He was old and he only had $200 in his savings account.
She was only awarded about $6000 from the California victim fund.
She said that when Lawrence died, she didn’t feel any relief. She didn’t feel good because she knew that there were still a lot of evil people like him out there.
Mary ended up becoming an artist. She got married and has two sons. She moved to Orange County. She started the Mary Vincent Foundation to help victims of traumatic cr*imes.