Theresa Cross Knorr’s mother passed away from a heart attack when the girl was only 15, and her father had Parkinson’s disease. She dropped out of school and married her first husband, Clifford Sanders, at the tender age of 16. In 1964 Clifford decided to leave his pregnant wife, she’d been too promiscuous for his liking. As the man was walking towards the door, Theresa shot and killed him; she claimed it was self defense, and this was how the killer got away with her first murder.
Theresa would go on to have three or four more short lived marriages, and to have 6 children; the 3 girls were named Suesan, Sheila, and Terry, and the boys were Howard, Robert, and William. This mother was schizophrenic, a condition which was left untreated for most of her life. She was a very heavy drinker who often believed that people were plotting against her – especially her daughters. The older the girl grew, the more jealous their mother became. She resented their beauty, and their youth; Theresa was known to hold the girls down and force fed them fattening foods such as macaroni and cheese, and they would suffer chipped teeth due to this.
We can’t say that the boys weren’t abused, because they were. The kids were beaten with a board, repeatedly burnt with cigarettes, and used as human dart boards with knives thrown at them. They were subjected to manual labor out in the sun for days on end, and purposely denied the right to sleep. More than once child protective services were called, but nothing was ever done to save these kids. Still, the boys didn’t suffer anywhere near as much as their female siblings. The oldest son, Howard, couldn’t stand living in that house, nor the torture inflicted upon his sisters at the hands of their mother. He left, and that’s when things really went to hell for the girls. One by one they were forced into prostitution, and eventually two of the girls lost their lives.
Since Theresa had pitted her children against one another all their lives, it isn’t too surprising that she used the boys to help torture and murder their sisters. She would have them hold the one targeted sibling down so that she could inflict torture on the child who happened to be on her shit list at the moment. This type of behavior isn’t abnormal for abusive parents; often they’ll choose one child out of the bunch and that’s the one who catches most of the hell. In this family, Suesan was originally the chosen one. When she grew old enough, Suesan was forced into prostitution. Though she absolutely hated it, at least the beatings stopped when she was working – for the moment.
Theresa somehow came to the conclusion that Suesan was a witch, and that she had cast spells on her mother. Theresa decided that this must be the cause of her weight gain, and for this she shot her oldest daughter in the back. The girl was brought to the bathtub where she was handcuffed and left to bleed out. For two long weeks Suesan was kept in that tub, but against all odds she did, somehow, recover from the shooting. Mother graciously allowed her to live, and the minute she was somewhat well, Suesan was sent back out to the streets to sell herself again.
Suesan detested the life which had been forced upon her, and she couldn’t stand to live this way for another minute. She dreamt of a move to Alaska, and of making a nice life for herself there; maybe she could meet a nice man, and have a family of her own. Approximately a year after she was shot, Mother agreed to let her eldest daughter go, so long as Suesan allowed her to retrieve the bullet from her body so that charges could not be pressed against her later on.
Think about how desperate for freedom Suesan must’ve been, that she actually allowed her mother to dig into her back with a knife, without any anesthesia, to remove the bullet which Theresa had put there! This poor girl was given some liquor, street drugs, and laid out in the kitchen; the boys held their sister down during the procedure. Once the bullet was removed, Suesan remained cuffed to the kitchen table.
Sadly Suesan did not recover this time, the wound festered and she grew septic. Mommy Dearest told the other kids that their sister was possessed – that the demon who had taken over Suesan’s body needed to be set ablaze. On July 16th of 1984 the teenager was placed in the trunk of the family car, and driven to an isolated spot in Nevada. The boys placed their still alive sister atop a pile of clothing and lit her up – they didn’t even have the decency to remove the tape which had been placed over their sister’s mouth and around her wrists. Police found the diaper Suesan had been wearing at the scene, which lead them to believe that there must be a missing baby involved in this case.
So next it was Sheila’s turn to bring home the bacon, and she was sent out to the streets to sell herself for mother. Her downfall was becoming infected with a venereal disease. Since selling Sheila was not a viable option anymore, she was worthless to her mother. The girl was constantly tortured, beaten, and starved. Theresa came to believe that her daughter would give her the sexually transmitted disease via the toilet seat, so the girl was kept handcuffed to keep her from accessing the restroom.
When Sheila got very weak, she was kept hog tied in a 2’x2’ broom closet; the girl died of starvation on June 21st of 1985. She was left to lay there for days after she passed, rotting in the hot closet; when the stench became unbearable, Theresa finally told the boys to take their sister to the mountains and dispose of her remains. Her corpse was placed in a cardboard box, driven out to the middle of nowhere, and discarded of like an old refrigerator.
Terry was the youngest girl, and she had been sneaking her big sister sips of water and beer while she was dying in the closet. Before Sheila passed, she made a point of warning Terry – she told her to run; big sister made sure Terry knew that this was a pattern, and that she’d be next on mother’s hit list. So the girl went to her mother and told her she was leaving. Theresa said she’d allow her freedom – but only if Terry burnt the family’s home to the ground; the home still smelt of rotting corpse, and all of the evidence within the home needed to be destroyed. It was decided that Terry must be the one to strike the match. So that’s what the girl did, she poured lighter fluid around the home, and this how the teenager earned her freedom. Theresa tried to back out of the deal and even held a knife to Terry’s throat to force her not to leave, but Terry was determined.
Terry went on to lead a rough life. It would’ve been nearly impossible for the woman to come out of this unscathed, few would’ve been able to overcome all of this trauma. She found herself in and out of jail, addicted to drugs, and involved in the sex work which she so desperately had not wished to partake in. Terry couldn’t live with all that she had seen, or knowing that her there had been no justice for her sisters. For many years she called to inform the police of the murders she had witnessed, she even confided in a therapist! Her story was so detailed, just one quick computer search would’ve proved that she was telling the truth, but it was all was so unbelievably outrageous that everyone immediately deemed her a liar. For several years everyone blew her off, but Terry never gave up; finally she got in touch with an investigator who remembered the badly burnt corpse of a girl with diapers nearby. The scene has been haunting as the investigator always believed that a baby was in danger. This detective listened to Terry, and finally both cold cases were solved; her sisters bodies were identified, Terry got some closure, and those two poor girls were laid to rest.
After most of her children left her, either due to murder or disgust, Teresa had moved around a lot; William was the only one who struck by her side. Since mother now had no young girls to send out into the streets to earn a living, they had to fend for themselves. William eventually robbed a bar, and during the commission of this crime he shot a bartender. The man died, William was sentenced to serve sixteen years incarceration, and Teresa moved to Utah where she gained employment as a maid while using her maiden name.
On November 15th of 1993 Theresa was finally arrested for killing both of her daughters. She’d planned to plead not guilty, until she realized that her son, Robert, fully intended to testify against her; at this time the killer admitted to her crimes, and she was sentenced to serve life in prison. She will be eligible for parole in 2027. As for Terry’s brothers, Robert and William, ultimately they were also victims of an villainous mother. For their roles in their sisters deaths, one brother was given 3 years in prison, and the other was placed on probation.
Another interesting fact. In 1983 the corpse of Theresa’s sister, 39 year old Rosemary Norris, was discovered. She had last been seen alive shopping in Sacramento; she was strangled to death, and dumped at a dead end road in Placer County. Theresa was never charged with this, as far as I know it’s still a cold case. Admittedly I have not dug too deeply into this, but it is strange – worth mentioning.
Sadly Terry died in December of 2011. Thankfully she did live long enough to see her tormentor brought to justice. Let’s hope her soul is finally at peace.
• Before I start receiving hate mail I want to be very clear about this. I am not judging nor insulting any sex workers here. I am, however, disgusted that a person would be forced into this sort of work against their own free will – especially sold by their mother.