Photo of the Day

Vincent walks her two dogs, Danny, left, and Mikey. Vincent and her two sons also have hamsters, fish and an ill-tempered parrot. Photo: Ron Wurzer/Seattle Post-Intelligence

Victims Get A Life Sentence

Shared DNA is Not a Reason to have a Relationship with a Monster

One night when she couldn’t sleep,?Mary Vincent?got out of bed and drew her face. Within an hour, her large, dark eyes were looking back at her, drawn in pencil and accompanied by handsome high cheekbones, firm jaw and generous mouth. She even drew the tiny dent on the tip of her nose.

Considering that she hadn’t drawn anything more demanding than a shopping list since childhood, her proficiency was remarkable, but not to her.

“I’ve always been good with my hands,” she said.

True — except she doesn’t have hands.

In a nation beset by violent crime, even the most spectacularly vicious acts often fade quickly from the public consciousness, as if some sort of collective repression simply buries images too ghastly to retain. Certain horrors, however, seize the imagination and provoke public outrage years after the hideous drama has been concluded.

Larry Singleton was convicted of raping 15-year-old Mary Vincent, hacking her forearms off, and leaving her for dead in a California canyon. It was an act so barbaric that it was never forgotten; when Singleton, was paroled he was hounded out of one community after another. Not one town would have him, and the outcry forced him to accept refuge within the walls of San Quentin Prison, where he remained for the duration of his parole.

Lawrence Singleton?s daughter didn?t want to believe her father was a monster, but the evidence was there and she said she had ?no doubt that he was guilty.? He had also physically attacked her as a teen so she knew first hand what his temper was like. She was 15 years old at the time of the crime.

The family of Singleton as well, and many others whose crimes become national and world news do have to face the public?s scorn.

Extreme cruelty makes criminals famous, and this one is famous for more than cruelty. He’s also famous for the break he got from the legal system. Convicted of first-degree rape and attempted murder, Vincent’s attacker served only eight years of a 14-year sentence before being paroled for “good behaviour.”

Remembering his threat to finish the job, Mary Vincent lived on fear’s edge until he was arrested in Florida in 1997 for carving up another woman. This time he killed somebody, and this time he was sentenced to death. He died in jail in 2002 from cancer at age 74.

Singleton also devastated a young dream.

Mary Vincent?was not?surprised at his other crime. He took her life years ago.

“He really did,” she says with a slight shudder, with awful pain in her words. “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.”

“I’d have been lead dancer at the Lido de Paris in Las Vegas,” Vincent continues. “Then Hawaii and Australia. I’m serious. I was really good on my feet and my dance instructor had it all worked out.

“But when this happened, they had to take some parts out of my leg, just to save my right arm. After that, I wasn’t able to dance any more.”

Lawrence Singleton. Mary Vincent. Mutilator and victim. Names made indelible by an old, horrible crime that rewrote California laws, saw towns and states rise against the release and relocation of sex offender Singleton–and created incessant echoes that have unbalanced Vincent’s privacy, schooling, marriage and countless restarts. When she is able to sleep, old nightmares return.

Mary Vincent draws intricate flowers using a pencil gripped in her hook. “I like to tinker,” she said of modifying her cheap prosthesis arms to suit her purposes.Photo: Ron Wurzer/Seattle Post-Intelligence

In 1978, Singleton, then a 50-year-old ex-merchant mariner, picked up Vincent, then a 15-year-old hitchhiker running from Las Vegas and her parents’ divorce.

Singleton picked up Mary Vincent in his blue van, as the teenager was hitchhiking from Berkeley to Los Angeles. She?d come from home in Las Vegas to visit an uncle and was setting out on her own to see California. Singleton told her he had a daughter, just her age and offered to drive her to Interstate 5, the fastest route south.

Mary?s account of what happened after she met Singleton is taken from information she later gave to law enforcement officers. Telling the young hitchhiker he was actually headed to Reno, he promised to make an improbable detour and drop her in Los Angeles. Blithely settling in for the ride, Mary pulled out a cigarette; the smoke made her sneeze, and she felt a hand on the back of her neck. ?Let?s see if you?re sick,? Singleton said, pulling her toward him. Irritated at being hit on so soon and so crudely, she jerked away and settled against the door out of his reach.

A runaway with street smarts might have been alarmed, but for all of her wanderings, Mary was dangerously naive. Singleton told her he wanted to stop at his house near San Francisco to pick up some laundry; she agreed to help him tote the bundles to the van, and, although he began drinking from a milk carton filled with liquor as soon as they were back on the road, she trustingly fell asleep.

Only when she awoke did the situation become clear: Singleton?s voice had grown more strident, and the road signs indicated they were going in the wrong direction, heading straight toward Nevada. Angered, she felt around her seat until she found a long, pointed stick; she brandished it at Larry. ?I can take care of myself,? she said in her thin, little-girl voice. ?Turn around right now.? To her surprise, he did as she ordered. ?I?m just an honest man who made an honest mistake,? he said. ?I?m not gonna hurt you.?

The nightmare began when Singleton pulled off the freeway soon after sunset and followed a deserted road down a canyon, saying he had to go to the bathroom. Mary relieved herself by the side of the road, and as she was tying her sneaker, she felt a crushing blow across her back. A second punch exploded against the back of her head. With one hand, Singleton slid open the van door and shoved her inside. ?Don?t scream or I?ll kill you,? he said.

Within seconds, Mary was lying in the back of the van, her hands tied behind her. When the sexual assault was over, he left her on the floor of the van; heaving himself stark naked into the driver?s seat, he drove a few miles down the canyon road before stopping again. Cutting her hands loose, he told her he would set her free if she obeyed him. She was presented with a cupful of liquor: ?Drink it or I?ll kill you,? he ordered.

Raped a second time, stunned by terror and alcohol, Mary passed out. When she came to, Singleton told her to get out and lie on the edge of the road. Terrified, she heard him go to the van, rummage around a little and then walk back. Grabbing her left hand, he screamed, ?You want to be free? I?ll set you free.?

But he was worried she would be identified and in some way, traced back to him. That was why he cut off her arms with an?axe, to get rid of her fingers and their prints.

He chopped off her left arm below the elbow in three strokes of the axe. Mary was screaming, fighting to pull away, blood was spurting everywhere. He held her down, grabbed her right arm, and chopped it off in two strokes. Then he threw the girl over a railing into a culvert, saying, ?OK, now you?re free.?

She was shoved down a steep embankment and stuffed into a concrete pipe. Singleton had miscalculated. Mary was alive.

Fifteen year old Mary Vincent seen in this 1978 file photo

Several hours later she awoke, dazed and confused in the?old culvert, then?she set off across the hellish landscape, walking miles under a hot sun, trying to orient herself.?She walked, naked, in the direction of the sound of traffic she began to hear in the distance before she came to a road. Exhausted and still dazed, she leant against a large rock by the roadside.

The first person to find Mary after the attack was a man driving with his wife in a pickup truck close to the Del Puerto Canyon close to San Francisco, California. The man, ?Jim Gooder, at first thought the girl was wearing a bikini, but as he drove closer he saw that the girl – stood slumped against a large rock alongside the roadside – was naked: then he saw what he later said was the “shock of my life:” the girl had no forearms.

Gooder?along with his wife, immediately pulled ?over to offer desperately needed assistance. The girl was in distress but seemed confused: she wasn’t screaming or crying but did seem disorientated. Probably in shock himself, one of the first things Gooder asked the girl was what had happened. The girl was called Mary: she was fazed and, Gooder later stated, “moaning and semi-conscious.” Mary simply said “He raped me.” The couple tied tourniquets over the stumps of her arms, sliced clean through just below the elbow on each arm, and covered the girl with clothing to protect her modesty and eased her into their pickup before they raced to the nearest phone.

When the Gooder couple reached the first phone they came across, an ambulance was summoned with urgency and Mary was raced to a hospital, still conscious. Very shortly after she arrived at hospital, Mary began to wonder why she couldn’t feel her body or grab anything: She then screamed repeatedly “My arms! My arms! Where are my arms?”

Mary had not bled to death because her arteries had been totally severed in a ‘clean’ slice. The resulting spasms had stopped the flow of blood; thus stopping her from bleeding to death. Police had no doubt her attacker or attackers had intended to kill her: One officer later referred to her survival as “a pure miracle.”

Doctors (undoubtedly shocked and saddened at Mary’s plight) quickly informed police that there was a good chance that the girl’s missing limbs could be re-attached if they were found soon. Officers, carrying ice boxes, began a desperate search of the Del Puerto Canyon for Mary’s missing forearms. Unfortunately, despite an intense search, there was no sign of Mary’s forearms arms and given the climate in California, the time period in which they could be reattached soon passed.
In the hospital, Mary’s distraught family rushed to her bedside. Lucy Vincent, Mary’s mother, was unable to attend immediately: When police officers told her what had happened to her daughter, she fainted. The whole family was understandably hysterical. Lucy Vincent had to repeatedly persuade Mary’s father, Herb not to kill whoever had done this to Mary, inferring to him that his daughter needed him as did Mary’s six siblings and that if he took the law into his own hands he’d be jailed.

From her hospital bed Vincent was able to describe her attacker so well that a police sketch artist produced a drawing of a man that (name deleted, a former neighbour) a San Pablo, Calif., housewife and bowling aficionado, instantly recognized as her longtime friend and neighbour, The former neighbour of this person was one Lawrence “Larry” Singleton, a 51-year-old merchant seaman, now living in Sparks, Nevada. He was arrested on October 9; 1978. Vincent also picked his picture out of six others before the grand jury.

Pausing while working on a commissioned family portrait, Vincent wipes her brow. Photo: Ron Wurzer/Seattle Post-Intelligence

One of the first things Lawrence Singleton admitted to police upon his formal interrogation was that he had indeed picked Mary up on the afternoon of September 30, a day in which he claimed to have been drinking heavily. He claimed that at the same time as he had picked up Mary, he had also picked up two young male hitchhikers – one of whom he claimed had paid Mary for sex. Singleton admitted that he himself had had sex with the girl, who he disdainfully described as “a runaway,” but he was adamant he had not attacked her, nor had he cut off her arms. He claimed that he had passed out afterwards and that when he came round, one of the hitch-hiker’s was at the wheel of the van, that Mary was no longer in the van, and the hitchhiker was driving towards San Francisco.

The obvious implication of Singleton’s story to police was that one or both of the two mysterious male hitchhikers had attacked Mary while he was passed out in the van. Police were certain the story was a fabrication: They had already heard from Mary Vincent,?who had informed them there was no-one but herself and the overweight middle-aged man in the van when she was attacked. Mary positively identified Singleton as the man who had attacked her. Singleton’s van was impounded, and a thorough search of the vehicle and his house were conducted. At Singleton’s home, police discovered a tan rug of the size and shape of the flooring of the rear of Singleton’s van, still wet from a thorough washing, hanging upon a clothes line in the back garden. Also at Singleton’s home were two axes.

Learning to function without her hands, she said, was painful: ?I wanted to totally give up. But whenever I said, ?I can?t do it, I won?t do it and I don?t want to,? a very stubborn hospital therapist would say, ?You can, you will and you must.? ? While she is now skilled enough to shoot pool and write, quotidian tasks can still be trying. ?There are times when it takes an hour or two to get myself together in the morning because I get so frustrated that I cannot stop crying,? she says.

Mary?s emotional recovery has been slowed by the sensational nature of her ordeal: Five months after she was released from the hospital, she was required to appear in court when Singleton was tried on charges of rape, sodomy, oral copulation, kidnapping, mayhem and attempted murder. With Mary present, the recording of Singleton?s statement to police at the time of his arrest was played in court. He said that the girl was a hard-bitten runaway who smoked ?reefers? and threatened to maim him and accuse him of rape if he refused to drive her to L.A. According to Singleton, she had sex with two other scruffy hitchhikers (whom he assumes later attacked her), then offered to have sex with him as well.

The 15-year-old took the stand and testified in a firm voice, but she couldn?t look at Larry Singleton. In describing the rapes, she said, ?I hurted. I hurted.?

The culvert where Singleton stuffed Mary Vincent after he cut off her forearms.

In March 1979, a San Diego jury convicted Singleton and he was given a 14-year prison sentence after a jury had found the 51-year old merchant marine guilty of rape, kidnapping, attempted murder and mayhem in the brutal assault and mutilation of a 15-year-old female hitchhiker. In 1979, these violent, sex-related offences did not carry the life sentence they would today in California, and the leniency of the legal system shocked and outraged many. What was most surprising, however, was not his sentence. It was that Larry Singleton had worked his crimes around in his mind so completely that they did not warrant punishment at all.

Singleton was convinced that the psychiatrists who were evaluating him had it all wrong. Prison psychiatric reports written at several points during the eight years he ultimately served in San Quentin determined him to be “a paranoid personality, severe,” “schizoid” and capable of “angry and destructive outbursts on those weaker than he.”

But according to Singleton, the shrinks did not understand the psychology of a seaman such as himself. He told them, that he’d been threatened by the 15-year-old hitchhiker. She was a prostitute who kidnapped him after he was nice enough to give her a ride. Then she tried to maim and kill him. “Everything I did was for survival,” he said. He wanted everybody to understand that he was the victim, not the girl. But that did not mean he hated prostitutes. “Sailors,” he said, “are never hostile to prostitutes.”

Singleton?s daughter said that after her father?s arrest she lived with a neighbour woman until she turned 18 and went to college.

Six years into her?father?s sentence she knew he would be getting out early as he was an ?ideal inmate?. ?So, in 1984 when she was 21, three years prior to his proposed parole, she called the California prison where he was staying (San Luis Obispo?s California Colony for Men). ?She told whoever she talked to that she was afraid her father remained a threat to her safety and in general was still dangerous.

When she was 21, she quickly made several changes in her?life: She graduated from college with her first degree ,then changed her last name legally, and moved from Nevada to California. ?Then moved back to Nevada to marry her college boyfriend. ?Within the year she knew she would be moving to (blank) where he had family and would be working for (blank)

So, in a period of a year, she had two name changes, and moved states 3 times. ?When she left Reno, she told anyone who her father might possibly contact to try to find her, to tell him she ?flaked out? or something, got married to someone they didn?t know and left town. She gave them a PO Box so they could stay in touch. ?She realizes how naive this sounds today, but was concerned he might hurt or harass them. When she was about 20 years old with the assistance of a Ph.D. psychology intern, she had wrote a letter to her father telling him she was terminating the relationship.

She asked California prison personnel what could be done to keep him in longer, and was told there was nothing. ?They suggested she obtain a restraining order at the time of his release. ?She said, I tell you he is a danger, and said that before the first crime; I?ve changed my name multiple times and am moving across state lines?.and you all suggest a piece of paper that will tell him exactly where I am, what my name is, and not to come within, say 300 feet of me!

The neighbour woman she had moved in with and lived with from about age 15 1/2 until she was 18 had discouraged her both from terminating the relationship, and from considering changing her name. ?She told her, it was her ?responsibility? to?.I don?t know, not hide? ?She? then and now ? wonders if she was not motivated by fear of my father.

Singleton was so notorious in California for his singular act that when he was paroled to Contra Costa County in 1987, and after serving a bit more than half of his 14-year prison sentence, town after town refused to allow him to settle there.

Authorities attempted to settle him in one Bay Area town after another; angry crowds and Tampa’s Chapter of Guardian Angels led protests, screamed, picketed and eventually prevailed.” In Rodeo, about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, a crowd of approximately 500 local protestors were up in arms and forced officers to move him under armed guard from a hotel room.

Authorities tried housing him across the street from Concord’s City Hall, but that was met with protests and failed too. He was removed from one apartment in Contra Costa County in a bullet-proof vest after 400 residents surrounded the building to protest a decision to place him there permanently. Governor George Deukmejian ordered that Singleton be placed in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin for the duration of his one-year parole.

Eventually, a deal was made and Singleton was allowed to go back to Tampa, his hometown, to serve out his probation. That?s where he graduated from rapist and mutilator to outright murderer.

The outrage at his sentence resulted in legislation, supported by Mary Vincent, which prevents the early release of offenders who have committed a crime in which torture is used: in 1987 Singleton’s parole led to passage of California’s “Singleton bill”, which carries a 25-years-to-life sentence. ?The leniency of the legal system shocked and outraged many. One journalist who interviewed him remarked, “What was most surprising to me, however, was not his sentence. It was that Larry Singleton had worked his crimes around in his mind so completely that they did not warrant punishment at all.” Right before Singleton’s parole ended, Donald Stahl, the Stanislaus County prosecutor at Singleton’s trial, said, “I think, if anything, he’s worse now. He has not taken responsibility. He lives in a bizarre fantasy land and acquits himself each day. He doesn’t accept his guilt and won’t resolve never to do it again.”

For Mary Vincent, it didn’t matter that he was thousands of miles away. As long as he was somewhere, she was terrified. She moved to Washington State and married a landscape designer in 1987, but that marriage did not last more than three years. She was so paralyzed with fear that she had difficulty leaving her home for routine errands. Eventually, she moved into a derelict gas station near Tacoma. Then she became anorexic, her weight plunging to below 100 pounds.

Coping with the past pulled her family apart. Her marriage failed because the new husband couldn’t tolerate public intrusions. There were book deals that failed and movie offers that went nowhere. Vincent tried the catharsis of assisting others, visiting high schools with an intensely personal message: “It doesn’t matter what you think. You’re not 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I used to think that. . . . But look what happened to me. Because there’s always somebody who can take you down if you don’t stay aware.”

Even that inspirational campaign failed. A boy in one audience yelled obscenities at Vincent. It was a personal, dark attack she no longer risks by continuing school appearances.

Vincent said, when Singleton was released from a California prison, she lived with the fear he would find and kill her.

“Whenever I heard his name, I go into a panic, so to anyone who is ever around me, I say: ‘Don’t say that name.’ I don’t watch television, because if I ever see a picture of him, I just start shaking.”

Scars are etched so deep, the memories vivid for so long, Vincent will never be free.

Then just where is Mary Vincent?

She is concentrating on the skills of a proven survivor; schooling herself to accept human weaknesses and the grays of individual relationships. She has faith in prayer, her sons, Clayton and reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

“I’m a Hobbit at home,” she says. “Always wanting to serve, looking after everybody, cooking things, that’s my therapy. As well as knowing everything has a way of working itself out.”

She also disappears for hours within the writings of science-fiction author Piers Anthony.

“They’re uplifting books,” she says. “They make me feel like I’m one of the characters and not some mutant outcast.”

For when lost in that alternative universe, Vincent admits, she still has arms.

Lawrence Singleton is seen in in court in Tampa.

Singleton returned to his native Florida after his release. In 1990, he was twice convicted of theft. He served a 60-day sentence for stealing a $10 disposable camera in spring 1990 and in the winter received a two-year prison term for stealing a $3 hat. Before his sentencing for the latter crime, he described himself to the judge as “a confused, muddleheaded old man.?

On?a cloudy Wednesday, the now 69-year-old?Lawrence Singleton began his day by installing a drainpipe alongside his newly renovated home in the Orient Park neighbourhood of east Tampa, Fla. He’d transformed the abandoned barracks his brother Herb bought him into a showplace. His yard was perfectly preened. He fastidiously wiped his cat’s paw prints off neighbours’ cars. “Bill,” as Singleton called himself these days, brought steaks to neighbours and happily watched their kids play with Kala, his Rottweiler puppy. Down at the Brandon Crossroads Bowl, where Singleton was a regular in the Monday afternoon league, his fellow Golden Agers found him “a friendly guy,” a good bowler, who’d stop by the snack bar for a midday beer.

Some of his bowling buddies heard he had a past — a rape in California. “Bill” insisted he’d been “framed.” Singleton seemed no more ominous than any other aging native son who returns to spend his last years at home and at peace.

No one in Florida — not his family or friends, not the state correctional officials, not the psychiatrists at the mental hospital where he was briefly confined, not the sheriff who took a complaint from a relative worried over comments Singleton made about a neighbour girl, and certainly not Roxanne Hayes, the 31-year-old prostitute and mother of three who agreed to come to his immaculate home on that Wednesday afternoon — no one understood Singleton’s capacity for violence. In fact, only one person seemed truly to comprehend the savage rage Lawrence Singleton could inflict on another human being, and that was his first victim, Mary Bell Vincent.

One?Wednesday in February,1997, a neighbour called police to report Singleton assaulting a woman in his home. When the police arrived and knocked, Singleton came to the door with a condom dangling from his dangle. He was covered in blood. Inside, the police?found his victim: Roxanne Hayes, in a bloody heap on a sofa, she had been stabbed multiple times in the upper body.

The state of Florida flew Mary Vincent down for the trial. She didn’t flinch when asked to identify him but didn’t dare take a deep look, either. “I wanted to see his eyes,” she said. “Eyes are important. When he was on top of me, I was looking at the axe, trying to stay alive. I asked later if I could look him in the eye, but it didn’t happen.”

He took her arms, her innocence and cast a large shadow on her life, but one thing Vincent refuses to give him is a name. She never uses it. When he comes up, which isn’t often, she calls him “my attacker.”

During her testimony, she described Singleton’s attack and the toll the ordeal had taken on her. The judge sentenced Singleton to death. Singleton died in 2001 of cancer in a prison hospital at the North Florida Reception Center in Starke, Florida

Marys tough times came early. A middle child in a military family of seven children, she left home in a hurry one day when a sister told her that their dad was coming home with one of his migraines and was mad at her. “You better run,” said the sister.

“I left home to save my life,” Vincent said. “It wasn’t to seek wild times. I didn’t know anything about the world or the opposite sex.”

She lived in the streets, spending nights behind garbage cans and inside unlocked cars. “It was safe to do that back then,” she said, without irony. When she hitched the ride that nearly killed her, she was in a tentative, general way, beginning to head home.

“He threw me off a cliff,” she said. “I should have broken bones. I should have bled to death. I didn’t, and I never passed out. I remember everything. I wanted to give up and go to sleep, but I felt someone there with me, a presence who wanted me to survive. A voice told me to get up and get help, or someone else would die.”

Afterward, her parents came to get her but were, in her opinion, never much help. “They couldn’t handle it,” she said. “They took it harder than me. I’m telling them, ‘I need you,’ but they couldn’t do it. They were more interested in what they felt about what happened to me than what I felt.”

After finishing high school in Las Vegas, Vincent travelled around looking for a place to create her own life. She found it in Gig Harbor. She likes the people, working-class like herself, and she likes the view of the wide water, the ever-changing gray of the sky and the sense of forest creeping in around the edges of the town.

“I didn’t have a family, so I wanted to make one,” she said. “I remember being 4 years old and somebody asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, ‘I want to be mother to the world.’ When I became a mother, I really had something big to live for.” She didn’t get to enjoy it for long. After her attacker got out of jail, she froze up inside. Afraid to stay in one place too long, she went through a series of bodyguards and ended up living in a deserted gas station.

Although she mourns for the woman who died, the arrest and death of the man responsible has given her a “tremendous feeling of freedom.”

The nightmares are still there. She’s still afraid to go to sleep and can’t sleep long. “I’ve broken bones thanks to my nightmares.??I’ve jumped up and dislocated my shoulder, just trying to get out of bed. I’ve cracked ribs and smashed my nose.

The young woman whose arms Singleton cut off has led a chaotic life in and out of the public and media spotlight. There is no doubt that this woman suffered the worst kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but also that Singleton?s daughter does as well.

Singleton?s daughter feared her father, and felt some relief?when her father died on death row in 2001.

But the scars of the things they did to them and to others are harder to heal. The shame of it all. Intellectually, they know that they are not responsible for what they did or what they were, yet, winning the trophy for the ?most evil father in the world? award isn?t something anyone wants to brag about. Knowing something intellectually is not the same as accepting it emotionally.

Singleton?s daughter has become a successful professional, yet she has not found validation of her situation in others because her experience is pretty unique. The ?club? of individuals whose loved ones are publicly spotlighted as monsters is a painful initiation that is like an albatross around their necks.

It is very difficult to admit that someone we love(d) and/or respected is truly a monster.?Coming to terms with events over which people had no control, no blame and should shoulder no shame, is not an easy thing to do.

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