Case Files: Sirloin Stockade Murders

Updated: Mar 16


The date was June 22, 1978.


Melvin Lorenz, his wife, Linda, and their 12-year-old son Richard had left their home in Texas to attend the funeral of Melvin Lorenz’s mother.


Both Melvin and Linda Lorenz were sergeants in the Air Force, stationed at San Antonio.


They were driving a pickup and Richard was in a camper and the family was traveling north on Interstate 35.


Past the Purcell exits, Melvin and Linda saw a car, apparently disabled, at the side of the road. The hood was up and a lone woman was sitting in the car.


The woman was Verna Stafford and she was no stranded motorist.


Verna’s husband, Roger Dale Stafford, and brother-in-law, Harold Stafford, were hiding out of sight, waiting to ambush the first Good Samaritan fooled by Verna’s ruse.


Melvin pulled over and stopped, ready to offer assistance.


But as he walked to the car, Roger Dale Stafford came out of hiding and met him with a gun and a demand for money.


Melvin’s refusal to hand over his wallet enraged Roger Dale, Verna would later testify in McClain County District Court.


He pulled the trigger and shot Melvin in the face.


Witnessing the attack on Melvin spurred Linda to action and she ran toward the car, screaming.


She tried to hit Verna.


“I caught her on the side of her face and she lost her balance and Roger shot her.” Verna Said. Roger had shot Linda twice.


Young Richard Lorenz was in the back of the truck, concealed by a canopy, when he began calling for his mother. With the couple down, the Staffords heard what Verna would later describe as a “little voice” coming from the camper.


Determined to leave no witness to the murderous encounter, Roger Dale used a knife to cut a hole in a screen on the camper and then fired through the opening, hitting the Lorenz’s son.


Linville, the detective on the case, said the amount of blood found in the back of the truck indicates that Richard was still alive after the first shots rang out, because a dead body doesn't pump that much blood. He was removed from the truck and shot again. His body was found about a mile away from the bodies of his parents. They dumped Melvin and Linda’s bodies in a field and tossed Richard’s body in a separate field.


From Oklahoma City, the trio traveled to Stillwater in the Lorenz truck, which a Stillwater man was able to identify and provide information for sketches. The Staffords returned to Oklahoma City and dumped the Lorenz truck at a motel near Will Rogers World Airport.


At trial, Verna testified it was her idea to lure unsuspecting motorists and rob them. She and Roger Dale needed cash to pay for housing for themselves and their three children. Harold wanted money to pay for his girlfriend’s abortion, according to Verna. The Staffords didn’t spend long under the radar. ******************************************************************************** July 17th, 1978: 3 and a half weeks later, On the highway going southwest from Tulsa, Oklahoma a cream green colored station wagon carried three passengers. They were lined up shoulder to shoulder in the front seat. A man named Roger drove, his brother Harold sat on the other end in the passenger's seat, while Roger's wife Verna sat in the middle. The traffic wasn't too bad on that sunny summer Sunday afternoon in between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Roger was enjoying a nice cup of rum, Verna sipped on a rum and coke, and Harold drank beers to pass the time on the two hour drive. The three white adults, who were in their early twenties, were driving halfway across the state of Oklahoma in search of a way to get out of their desperate financial troubles. The solution to escaping a life of poverty and a way to get back on the road and out of Oklahoma was a simple one: hold up a restaurant, take all their money, and scram. Each of the three people had a pistol to use in order to intimidate their victims, and if need be, to take care of any loose ends that might come about in the process. The trio arrived in Oklahoma City between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on July 16, 1978. They stopped at a convenience store to get more Coke, beer, and cigarettes before driving to a secluded park to prepare for their mission. After parking the car and refreshing their drinks the pistols were passed out. Roger took the Colt .357 Magnum, Harold grabbed a Taurus .38 caliber revolver stolen from a pawn shop in Purcell, and Verna equipped herself with the automatic .22 caliber Lugar pistol that was also stolen from a family outside of Purcell on Interstate 35 a few weeks back. Ammunition was distributed and the three loaded back into the station wagon and resumed their journey south. Later in her courtroom testimony, Verna would recall pulling into a restaurant parking lot that had a fake brown cow put up in front next to the sign. Verna was describing the Sirloin Stockade on Southwest 74th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. They parked the station wagon away from the restaurant and watched the last of the patrons walk out of the building, get in their cars and drive home. The sun had set and the lights in the parking lot flicked on, and they waited until the manager walked over and locked the doors. "Let us go," Roger said as he drove the station wagon behind the dumpsters. Verna loads a couple of boxes that were sitting by the dumpsters into the back of the station wagon. "Come on, let us go, Verna!" Roger shouted in a whisper to his wife. Roger and Harold had their guns drawn, Verna carried her weapon in her waistband. They advanced to the door where Roger knocked. After a minute a timid and middle-aged Hispanic man came up to the door. "We are closed," Louis Zacharias said to the dingy trio standing outside, "go home." Roger then tapped on the glass window of the door with the muzzle of the .357 magnum. Zacharias out of fear for his life unlocked the door and let the thieves into the restaurant. They told him to take them to the cash registers and to bring in all of the employees. Zacharias complied. He led them to the registers and brought in the employees. The registers were opened but they had already been emptied out. "Where is the money?" Roger snapped at the manager. Zacharias stuttered, he was now staring down the barrel of a pistol. "Sometimes restaurants will take the cash into a safe after closing," Verna interjected, "they keep it there until they deposit it in the bank." "Okay," Roger said, "take us to the back office." Louis Zacharias led Roger into the back office. "Stay with the employees, bring them to the back." Verna and Harold kept watch over the five staff members, assuring them that they would not be hurt as long as they followed along. Verna heard a loud crash and some shouting from the office, then saw Roger and Louis come out. Roger was carrying the money bag and handed it to Verna. "How could you people take money from hard working people like us?" Zacharias taunted Roger. "I cannot believe people like you, taking money that is not yours and spending it without a thought," Louis continued as Roger started pushing the six workers into the freezer. "You will not get away with this, they will catch you," Louis said, "I am so sick of people like you." Roger became furious. "Everybody get in the freezer and sit on the ground!" Roger commanded the group of people. "No talking! No one is going to get hurt!" Roger's frustration mounted into a rage. His face became red and he brandished the pistol in the manager's face. "No one was supposed to get hurt," Harold said to Roger. "They are going to get what they deserve," Roger snapped, "don't be a chicken shit and a coward!" Harold turned around and raised his gun into the freezer. Roger pulled the trigger and the 56-year-old janitor Isaac Freeman fell to the floor. Roger pulled the trigger again and killed the 43-year-old assistant manager, Louis Zacharias. Harold fired several bursts into the freezer. Roger and Harold stepped into the freezer shooting round after round. 16-year-old David Salsman, 17-year-old Anthony Tew, 17-year-old David Lindsey, and 16-year-old Terri Horst. All cut down in horror and terror by the rage and malice of Roger Dale Stafford and Harold Stafford. The deadly robbery netted the Staffords $1,290. The first police officer on the scene was Sgt. Lannie Mitchell. “I opened the freezer door and all I could see was blood and brains. It was totally incomprehensible,” Mitchell later recounted. One of the victims in the restaurant still had his hands crossed, while others were in the throes of death. Carlos Joy, who found the bodies, including that of his girlfriend, Terri M. Horst, 15, testified in 1979 that when he saw her body on the floor of a walk-in freezer he thought he heard her make a mumbling noise. "I thought she was trying to say my name, but I don't know if she said anything," he said. 5 victims were dead. The sixth victim, Terri M. Horst, 16, of Oklahoma City, was taken to Oklahoma Children's Memorial Hospital with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Sergeant Mundy said that she died before doctors could get her to an operating room. ********************************************************* “This is the most horrendous crime in the Oklahoma City area since I've been a police officer,” Chief Tom Heggy said of the slayings. “I've talked to officers who have been on the force 20 to 25 years, and it's the worst they've seen. It was a shock to walk into that cooler. We can venture to say there was probably some planning that went into this crime,” Chief Heggy said, “and obviously, although robbery was the initial intent, there seemed to be nothing that stopped the suspects from killing.” - NYTIMES.COM Members of the slain employees' families and their friends comforted one another early today as they stood apart from about 200 curiosity seekers who gathered in the parking lot. Steve Gattenby, a 16‐year‐old high school student, recalled visiting one of his friends who worked at the restaurant shortly before the murders. “There were about three other people who worked there cleaning up the front, and there were several customers sitting around finishing their eating,” he said. “It just looked like a regular night. Everybody was tired and getting ready to go home. I guess if I had stayed in there a couple of minutes longer, the police would be carrying me out with the rest of them.” A police spokesman, Sgt. Tom Mundy, said that the restaurant and shopping center parking lot surrounding It would probably be sealed off for several days. “We have sent in fresh teams of investigators, and they are going over everything again to make sure no evidence was missed,” he said. An initial search turned up a handful of coins that investigators believe the robbers may have dropped as they fled through a rear door.


Sergeant Mundy said that laboratory tests determined that two pistols were used in the slayings and that at least nine shots were fired in the cooler. Because two guns were used and so many shots were fired, the authorities said that they believed at least two persons took part in the killings. *********************************************************************************** More than 100 city police officers participated in the initial investigation, assisted by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Oklahoma County sheriff's office, Sergeant Mundy said. For months, authorities were hindered in their search for the killers. Then on Jan. 3, 1979, police took a call from a man who identified Verna and Harold as the killers. The caller? Roger Dale Stafford. Investigators had released the composite drawings to the public from the family murder case in the meantime and were flooded with leads. After the sketches were released, Roger Dale Stafford anonymously contacted officials on Jan. 3, 1979, saying he was a truck driver who partied with Verna and Harold Stafford at a Tulsa motel and identified them as the suspects in the drawings. Roger claims he was drunk at the time that he placed the call. It would be a lead which helped investigators crack the case, Linville said, adding that they had no names until Stafford provided them. A week after the Sirloin Stockade massacre, investigators found out that Harold had been killed in a motorcycle accident. When Harold Stafford was killed in a motorcycle accident near Tulsa six days after the Sirloin Stockade murders, a woman showed up at a Tulsa funeral home and identified herself as his wife. She couldn't provide identification, then later returned and said she was a friend. Investigators tracked her to an Arkansas mental institution, where the woman was able to provide more information indicating that the Staffords were involved in the steakhouse murders. Investigators got the names of all of the children of Stafford's mother. Officials identified Harold Stafford's wife and traced her to Chicago, where she was working in an office with Verna Stafford. Verna was arrested in Chicago and promptly implicated Roger. Verna Stafford was taken to Oklahoma, where she mapped out the murders, attempting to minimize her role, Linville said. Roger Dale Stafford was apprehended in a Chicago YMCA, Linville said, adding that on the trip back to Oklahoma, he appeared nonchalant. During questioning, he asked if his wife would be allowed to testify against him. When told that Verna was cooperating, Stafford told officials all he could think about was the gas chamber, Linville said. Following his arrest on March 13, 1979, Roger Dale told a cell mate that the age of his victims didn’t matter. “It didn’t make any difference whether the person was 2 or 82,” Roger Dale told him. Andy Coats, an Oklahoma City attorney, former Oklahoma County District Attorney and past mayor. prosecuted the Sirloin Stockade case. Arthur Linville headed the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation task force that was charged with solving the crimes in the summer of 1978. Although it has been 17 years, the details remain fresh for Linville, who runs a polygraph and handwriting analysis service in Oklahoma City. "It was the most notorious crime in the state until the April 19 bombing of the federal building," said Coats. Linville said that the Staffords could have gotten more from selling drugs or stealing cars. He called it a "joy killing." He said the victims were doing exactly what they were told, and he doesn't believe Verna Stafford's story about the manager's comments. A key element in Stafford's conviction was a then-recent change in the law that allowed Verna to testify against him, Linville said. Another decisive turn for prosecutors came when Gregory Martin, 11, found the murder weapons, linking the Staffords to both the Lorenz family murders and the Sirloin Stockade massacre. Stafford received death sentences for the Sirloin Stockade murders, and was also sentenced to death for the Lorenz family murders. Stafford continues to maintain his innocence, saying Verna Stafford lied on the stand. During the 1980 trial in Purcell for the Lorenz family murders, Stafford was asked why he believed Verna was trying to pin the murders on him. "I caught her with another gentleman" and left her, he said. "She said, `I'll get you for it. I'll get you no matter how long it takes,'" Stafford testified. It was later learned that Stafford actually began his killing spree on January 12, 1974, 4 years prior, by killing 21-year-old Jimmy Earl Berry, a student at the University of North Alabama, working as an assistant manager at a McDonald's. Berry was shot four times and the perpetrator robbed the restaurant of $1,390.00. This crime remained unsolved until four years after the incident, when Stafford and his brother Harold were implicated by Dale's wife, Verna during her confession of the Sirloin Stockade Murders. Roger Stafford was never prosecuted for Berry's murder because of the Oklahoma murder convictions. *********************************************************************************** On March 13, 1980, she was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life plus 999 years. She was incarcerated at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud. Verna divorced Roger Dale in 1982 and later remarried. She appealed her sentence in 1989. At a hearing, then Oklahoma County District Judge Richard W. Freeman, told her, “I would wager that there’s one of the hottest corners of hell vacant, with your name right above it and there waiting for you.” As you can probably tell, appeals were denied. On October 17, 1979, Roger Dale Stafford, was convicted for First Degree Murder in six separate counts in Oklahoma County District Court for The Stockade Murders. Roger was 27 at the time. Judgment and sentence was imposed on October 23, 1979. It was death. On March 14, 1980, Roger pled guilty to two counts of Second Degree Murder (21 O.S.Supp. 1976 § 701.8 [21-701.8]) in the District Court of Oklahoma County in the Lorenz Family Case. He is then sentenced to life without parole. (NY TIMES and Oklahoman both have an article that states that he received the death penalty for the lorenz crimes, but OK documents state it was just Life without parole.) All appeals were denied. Roger was executed by lethal injection on July 2, 1995, not long after the OKC Bombing. The building that once housed the Sirloin Stockade Restaurant was eventually turned into a Joe's Crab Shack, N 35° 23.447 W 097° 32.800, off us highway 62 and west i-240 service road & SW 74th Street. Joe's is now closed down and it's unknown what the building is used for now (I believe it's still just a closed Joe's), but I worked across the street from this site at a petstore and ate at Joe's many many times. Weird. (across the highway is Denny's, Golden Corral, and Raising Canes. Sirloin Stockade murders timeline Compiled by Tony Thornton - NewsOK.com

1978 June 22 — The bodies of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melvin Lorenz, 38, and his wife, Staff Sgt. Linda Lorenz, 31, are found near Purcell. Their pickup and son are missing. June 24 — Authorities find Richard Lorenz, 12, about a mile from where his parents were found. July 16 — Six employees of the Sirloin Stockade restaurant at SW 74 and Pennsylvania are herded into a walk-in freezer and shot about 10:45 p.m. July 23 — Harold Stafford dies in a motorcycle accident in Tulsa. Verna Stafford later testifies that he was involved in both the Lorenz and steakhouse murders. July 24 — Police begin checking for links between the two cases.

1979 Jan. 2 — The OSBI releases three composite sketches. Jan. 3 — A drunken Roger Dale Stafford makes an anonymous call to the OSBI, saying he met two of the people in the composites. He gives names: Verna and Harold Stafford. March 13 — Roger Dale Stafford is arrested in a YMCA lobby in Chicago. He is returned to Oklahoma City the next day. Aug. 2 — Roger Dale Stafford is ordered to stand trial for the steakhouse murders. Oct. 17 — An Oklahoma County jury convicts him and sentences him to death. Dec. 20 — The Court of Criminal Appeals grants the first of numerous stays of execution.

1980 March 7 — A jury convicts Roger Dale Stafford of the Lorenz killings and sentences him to death.

1984 April 2 — Fifteen hours before he is to be executed for the Lorenz killings, Roger Dale Stafford wins a delay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

1989 Aug. 7 — A judge tells Verna Stafford: "There's one of the hottest corners of hell vacant, with your name right above it," and sentences her to two consecutive life terms. Previously serving an indeterminate sentence of 10 years to life, she had sought a resentencing.

1995 May 30 — Prison officials notify Roger Dale Stafford that his execution date is 30 days away and urge him to make arrangements. July 1 — Stafford is executed after 15 1/2 years on death row. ___________________________________________________________ Looking for more on the murders? Check out this book: Sirloin Stockade Slaughter: Murder on the Run by Jean Stover SOURCES:

  • Stafford v. State of OK, http://okcca.net/cases/1990/OK-CR-74/,

  • https://oklahoman.com/article/3270704/1978-sirloin-stockade-murders-remembered

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Dale_Stafford

  • https://www.koco.com/article/family-of-sirloin-stockade-mass-murder-victim-recounts-horror-40-years-later/16025103

  • https://kfor.com/2018/07/16/the-crime-that-changed-oklahoma-40-year-anniversary-of-sirloin-stockade-murders/

  • http://digital.newsok.com/Olive/ODN/Oklahoman/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=DOK%2F2017%2F07%2F16&entity=Ar00103&sk=F6B27650&mode=text

  • https://www.theodysseyonline.com/stafford-killings-1978-part-3-nightmare-sirloin-stockade, john shelden, OU

  • http://www.purcellregister.com/news/deadly-summer-of-78/article_c78b32ac-d9b0-11e2-a0bb-001a4bcf887a.html

  • https://tulsaworld.com/archive/murder-spree-shocked-state/article_f27d385e-e608-5b4b-b6e8-9572722cd392.html

  • https://www.nytimes.com/1978/07/18/archives/2-sought-in-slaying-of-6-in-oklahoma-workers-are-shot-in-steakhouse.html

  • https://murderpedia.org/male.S/s1/stafford-roger-dale.htm

  • https://www.waymarking.com/default.aspx?f=1&gid=3 Find Infamous Murder sites on Waymarking.com


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