"You control your own life. Your own will is extremely powerful."
It was the 29th of September 1978. Fifteen year old Mary Vincent needed a ride. She had left her parent's home and wanted to stay with her grandfather in Los Angeles. As she had no money, Mary hitchhiked along a freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area. She wanted to go to Los Angeles by way of Interstate 5.
There were two other people hitchhiking at the side of the road beside Mary. A blue van stopped. He had only room for one of them. The other two hitchhikers told Mary to wait with them but she decided to take the ride. The man driving the van was fifty one year old Lawrence Singleton.
Lawrence was a merchant seaman and he told Mary he would just make one stop at his house in San Pablo and then head towards Interstate 5. After they left his house, Mary fell asleep in his van and when she woke she realised that they had passed Interstate 5. They were heading towards Nevada instead. When Mary objected, Lawrence said that it was a mistake and he was happy to turn around and head back. And that's exactly what he did. They returned to the junction and proceeded south on Interstate 5.
On the highway, Lawrence stopped the van. He needed to relieve himself. Mary got out of the van too. As she bent down to tie her shoelaces, Lawrence struck her using his fist and a hammer on the head and back multiple times. He threw Mary into his van and tied her hands behind her back. After Lawrence tore Mary's clothes, he raped her.
Lawrence got back into the driver's seat and began driving the van again. This time he stopped at a canyon. He raped Mary again and committed an act of sodomy. Mary pleaded with him to let her go, she kept asking if he would set her free. Lawrence forced her to drink something which caused her to pass out. When Mary came around, Lawrence was in the middle of dragging her fifty yards or so from the van. He stopped and cut the ropes from her hands. Lawrence took a hatchet and chopped off Mary's left hand, then her right. It took him five swings of the hatchet to hack off her forearms. Mary was fully conscious throughout the vicious assault. Lawrence threw Mary over the side of the road and stuffed her into a drainage concrete culvert. He shouted at her that she was free now.
Mary lost consciousness and Lawrence drove away, leaving her for dead. At that point, Lawrence believed there was no chance that Mary would survive. He was wrong. Mary, who was naked and covered in her own blood, rolled her elbows in the dirt to try to stop the bleeding. She dragged her body out of the ravine and back up the cliff. It was dark and she was in unimaginable pain but she could hear traffic and she moved towards the sound.
Mary got to the top of the cliff and kept her arms raised "so that the muscles and blood would not fall out."
Mary walked down the road hoping a car would pass. She was walking for hours. A red convertible drove down the road. The people in the car saw Mary. She was naked, covered in blood and had what was left of her arms in the air. They could barely believe what they were seeing and drove off. Mary walked another three miles before she saw another car. This time, the couple stopped to help. They wrapped Mary's elbows in towels and got help.
Mary spent a month in hospital. But she was determined to make sure Lawrence was found. She gave police a very detailed description which allowed for a sketch to be completed and that sketch was seen by Lawrence's neighbor. The neighbor called police.
Police went to Lawrence's home in San Pablo and searched it. Mary's cigarettes were found there and remnants of burnt clothing that appeared to be hers. Lawrence, with the help of a neighbor, had already cleaned his van before police arrived. He removed the carpet and washed it. He thoroughly cleaned the inside of the van.
Lawrence told police that he picked up Mary and after that, he picked up another two male hitchhikers called Larry and Pedro. Lawrence said that they stopped at a bar, smoked dope and paid to have sex with Mary. Lawrence claimed he passed out after that and Larry drove the van to San Francisco. He saw Mary's clothes in the van but Mary was gone. He denied the attacking and raping her.
Mary testified at Lawrence's Trial and had to go through all the details of her horrific assault. She identified Lawrence as her attacker. After Mary finished giving her testimony, she had to walk past Lawrence. He spoke directly to her and said:
"I'll finish this job, if it takes me the rest of my life."
The Jury found Lawrence guilty and Lawrence was convicted of kidnaping, mayhem, attempted murder, forcible rape, sodomy and forced oral copulation.
Lawrence received the maximum sentence possible but unfortunately at that time, Judges could not impose consecutive sentences for each felony. As a result , the most he could get was fourteen years and four months. The Judge wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison but his hands were tied and he sentenced him to fourteen years and four months.
Mary's nightmare did not end when Lawrence was sentenced. The brutality that he inflicted on her changed her life forever. She tried to get some sense of normality back into her life but couldn't. Even though she married and had two sons, she found it hard to leave the house for just routine things and found it impossible to keep a job. She was constantly afraid. She said:
“He destroyed everything about me. My way of thinking. My way of life. Holding on to innocence and I’m still doing everything I can to hold on.”
When Mary was fifteen, before her path crossed with such evil, her ambition was to be a lead dancer at the Lido de Paris in Las Vegas. She was talented enough that she would have made it but after her attack, doctors had to take some parts out of her leg to save her right arm. She could no longer dance.
After his sentence, Lawrence spent the next few years in prison working and helping and due to good behaviour, inexplicably, he won parole. He had served just seven years and nine months.
Town after town in California rejected Lawrence when he got out of prison and he moved to Orient Park in Florida. He had registered with state authorities as a convicted felon as that was required by law. But local law enforcement did not have to notify his new neighbors of his past. Nobody in the area knew who he was. That all changed on the 19th of February 1997.
A house painter was painting a house nearby and happened to look into the window of Lawrence's home. He saw a horrific scene and it was happening in real time. The painter called police and told them what was happening. There was a naked man covered in blood repeatedly stabbing a naked woman. The woman appeared to be unconscious on the sofa. He said that he could hear bones being crushed after each stab.
Police arrived at the house and discovered the naked man was Lawrence Singleton. The woman was thirty one year old Roxanne Hayes. She was a mother of three and a prostitute. She had agreed to meet Lawrence for $20 at his home.
Lawrence claimed that they struggled because she tried to take more money than was agreed and that he didn't mean for her to die. Even though Mary was still suffering, she wanted to testify so that Roxanne could get justice.
Mary told the Jury in great detail about what happened to her. She said:
“I was raped. I had my arms cut off. He used a hatchet. He left me to die.”
It took the jury four hours to reach a verdict. Lawrence was found guilty and given a death sentence. It was extremely difficult for Mary to testify again but she did for Roxanne and for herself. As much as he had taken from her, she was not prepared to allow him take another life. If it had not been for the laws surrounding sentencing at Lawrence's first Trial, he would never have been free to kill Roxanne.
On the 28th of December 2001, Lawrence who was awaiting execution died of cancer.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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