In 1979 a woman told police a story
about how her mother
had taken her sister out into the woods and set her on fire while she
still alive, she had done this with the help of her mother. She
told them the story of how her mother and brothers had also taken the
of her other sister and left it in the woods. Theresa Knorr as witness to the abuse her sisters
later, to things that caused their deaths at the hands of her mother.
she was not believed because he story was bad and bizarre. On two
occasions, police didn't take her seriously, thinking that she had to
making it up.
The story of the abuse and murder of
Suesan and Sheila
Knorr was one so horrible that people found it hard to believe. That is
until some detectives in Northern California realized that her story
like it might be related to two bodies which had never been identified
and had been a mystery for a long time.
On July 17, 1984, a woman named
Maybel Harrison was
driving on a California highway when she saw a bright light in the
She thought it might be a fire and stopped her car to check it out.
couldn't get a good enough look to see what was going on, she made her
way down the slope and when a horrible stench found it's way up the
Maybel ran up the hill and stopped a man in a truck. She told him there
was a fire down the slope and he grabbed a fire extinguisher and they
ran down the hill. Robert Eden put the fire out and he and Maybel were
both shocked at what they saw, it was a human body. Eden called the
from his CB radio.
Tahoe City Detectives Russell Potts
and larry Addoms
requested the services of Michael Saggs, a criminologist and Donald J.
Nunes, the Placer Country Sheriff. The men took soil samples and began
to take pictures of the area. The body was badly burned, however, it
clear due the presence of badly burned breasts that it was a woman. 30
piece of evidence were collected from on and around the body. A green
toothbrush, a pair of Gloria Vanderbuilt jeans, a scarf, an under wire
a bracelet, disposable diapers as well as other clothing, were among
items round. The body was taken to the Placer Country Morgue.
A police sketch of Suesan after her body
Forensic Pathologist, Dr. A.V. Cunha
autopsy less than two hours later. It was discovered that the woman was
between 18 and 22 years old, five feet three inches tall and weighed
115 pounds. It was clear that the person had been abused and there were
two puncture wounds on her back. Though her injuries were life
threatening, the cause of death was
listed as smoke
Theresa Jimmie Cross was married in
1964 at the age
of 18. Already pregnant with her first child. That marriage ended in
shooting her husband, Clifford Clyde Sanders . In court, she claimed
killed him to protect herself from being hit.
"I grabbed a gun to make him
keep from hitting
me and it went off,"
The District Attorney didn't agree:
"This is clearly premeditated
murder. "Not every murderer can look like the
witch in Snow White. She is 18 and
but that doesn't overcome the fact she
maliciously shot and killed her
Deputy District Attorney Donald
On August 4, 1964, Theresa entered a
plea of innocent
by reason of self-defense. She was acquitted by a jury in that case.
Theresa had two children at that
time, Howard, who
was born in 1963 and Sheila who had been born in 1965. Theresa met and
married a man named Robert Knorr and in four years, should would give
to four more children. Suesan, William, Robert and Theresa. The second
marriage wasn't much better than the first and lasted until Robert
left in 1970. Theresa would marry two more times, she would keep her
name of Cross with both of them.
Theresa and her children lived for 13
years in a
suburb of Sacramento called, Orangevale. In 1983 she moved her children
to a run down neighborhood in Sacramento. The neighborhood was supposed
to be a tough one, though even there, the family stood out. People who
lived in the neighborhood said that apartment the Cross family lived in
was always dirty and smelled like urine. Theresa wouldn't allow the
to use the front door and they always seemed to be nervous. Most of the
children had no more than an eighth grade education and Theresa didn't
like to let them out of her sight. One of Suesan's child-hood friends
that if the bus was late, Suesan would get upset knowing that she was
to get beaten for being late home from school, even though it wasn't
Things were getting worse. During an
picked up a gone and shot Suesan in the chest. The bullet did not exit
her body and instead, lodge into her back. Suesan would recover without
ever having received medical attention for the gunshot wound.
Suesan Knorr turned 17 in 1984 and
told her mother
that she wanted to move out of the home. Theresa said she could as long
as she allowed her to removed the bullet from her back just in case she
ever wanted to report her for child abuse, there would be no evidence.
Desperate to get out of the house, Suesan agreed.
On the kitchen floor, using whiskey
capsules as an anesthetic, Theresa ordered her 15-year-old Robert to
the bullet out of Suesan's back with an X-Acto knife . Suesan grew
as the site where the bullet had been removed, became infected. At that
point, her mother decided that she needed to disappear. With the help
her sons, William and Robert, Suesan was driven 100 miles away near the
Squaw Valley Ski Area. They laid her down on the ground and while she
still alive, set her on fire.
In late Spring of 1985 Theresa
decided that she need
to make more money than what was coming in from the state. It was
that Sheila would go to work as a prostitute. Not willing to disobey
mother, against her will, Sheila was soon bringing home hundreds of
every day. One blessing out of all if it was that her mother
seemed to be almost proud about what
doing and she didn't beat her as much and gave her some freedom,
her to come and go as she pleased.
That freedom would come to a halt in
May of 1985
when it was suspected by her mother that Sheila had become pregnant.
being accused of having VD, Sheila said she wasn't pregnant and had
VD through the use of a toilet. Sheila was beaten black and blue and
into a tiny closet as punishment. Theresa left strict
orders that the door was NOT be
all, even though inside the closet was extremely hot. The door could
be opened for any reason and Sheila was to not to be given food or
"She wanted Sheila to confess.
That was mother's
way. Beat them until they confess."
Theresa Cross was the kind of parent
her children. The children were beaten until they did what she had
of them. When a child dared to go against what she said, what she
or what she expected, she would kill that child to get them out of her
"I knew they were weird, but I
they were that weird,"
Susan Sullivan - a former neighbor
There came a point when Sheila did
confess and her
mother accused her of lying and left her in the closet. Theresa could
her sister crying out for help and moaning. After about three days of
in the closet there was a loud thump hear coming from the closet. The
was left closed and nothing more was heard from Sheila. A few days
when the door was finally opened it was discovered that Sheila had
to climb up some small shelves and because they could not hold her
they had fallen causing her to crash to the floor. Sheila was dead, her
body already beginning to rot, in the fetal position.
Theresa threw some blankets and a
pillow into a cardboard
box and once again, ordered her two sons to help in her disposing of
body of one of their siblings. They carried the box to the car and and
were soon on their way up Interstate 80. Theresa pulled off of the road
near a field and told her sons to take the cardboard box out of
car. Sheila's body was left near a
Hours later, Elmer Barber was making
the rounds at
the Martis Creek Campground when he found the cardboard box containing
Sheila's remains. Elmer would be haunted for the rest of his life, by
he saw inside the box. Nevada Country Sheriff's were there within hours
and with very few clues and no real evidence to be found, they were
to identify the remains of the woman in the box. The cause of death was
listed as undetermined.
Theresa Knorr stayed with her mother
for three years
after the killings and then at the age of 16, she ran away from home.
Theresa eventually married and one
night while watching
"America's Most Wanted", she decided to try one more time to get
to listen to her story about her sisters. Police Sergeant Ron Perea of
the Nevada County Sheriff's Office was the one to take her call.
told him all that she had told the others about the abuse and killings
of her sisters. Ron Perea wanted to interview her in person and met
her the next day. The interview lasted for several hours. Ron took his
notes to the District Attorney's office and a task force was put
to investigate the story. Pretty soon it was realized that the Jane Doe
reports they had on two women, were similar to the two women Theresa
On November 4, 1993 felony complaints
Cross and her two sons, William and Robert Knorr were filed. Finding
three would prove to be easy enough. William was living in a Sacramento
Suburb, working at a warehouse. Robert was found in a Nevada jail.
was traced and found when Salt Lake City authorities called and told
about her drivers license application and how she had been arrested for
drunk driving five days earlier. Sergeant John Fitzgerald flew to Salt
Lake City and knocked on the door of the listed address for Theresa
Theresa answered the door and luckily, the police caught her in the act
of packing to move, she had been aware of the ongoing investigation.
William and Robert were, at first,
not willing to
talk to about what had happened to their sisters. Eventually, they both
talked and confessed to their parts in the deaths of both of their
Appearing in front of Superior Court
Judge J. Richard
Couzens Theresa Cross was charged with two counts of murder and two
of conspiracy to commit murder with two special circumstances, multiple
murder and murder by torture. She pleaded not guilty and was taken to
Sacramento County Jail.
On the same day, Judge J. Richard
Couzens ruled that
Robert Knorr would be charged as an adult. Robert struck a deal with
prosecutor to testify against his mother for a lighter sentence. A
later, the prosecutors dropped all of the charges against him except
one, it was a conspiracy charge.
Theresa learned about Robert's deal
and decided she
didn't want to take any chances and end up with the death penalty. She
would plead guilty if they would not seek the death penalty. District
John O'Mara agreed. On October 17, 1995, Theresa went to court and
her plea to not guilty. Judge William R. Ridgeway said that
the crimes Theresa had committed were
beyond belief. Theresa was sentence to two life sentenced to be served
consecutively and if she lives to be 80, that will be when she is
for parole in the year 2027.
Robert was still serving his sentence
for murder. For his part in the murders of his sisters he was sentenced
to three years in the state prison. That sentence would run
with the one he was already serving.
Will was placed on probation and
ordered to undergo
therapy for his part in the murders of his sisters.
Theresa Knorr was not sentenced at
all and has chosen NOT
to reveal her new, married name. I for one am glad that she had the
it must have taken to come forward a second time after no one believed
her the first time. God bless you Theresa!
I want to thank the man who brought to my
attention that Theresa Knorr has passed away. Theresa passed way on
December 8, 2011.
A Grave memorial for Theresa
December 14, 2011 1:03 am
Theresa Marie Knorr was
born August 5, 1970 and went to be with the Lord on December 8,
She leaves behind a loving companion, Raymond Bernard; a brother,
Robert; two pets; and numerous friends and loved ones.
services will be held; a remembrance will be held at a later date.
occurred in the state of California
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