Penny Bjorkland was a normal
teenager. Just like anyone you'd find in any small town in the United
States. Blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles, and a pony-tail. She even
considered herself a "normal, average girl." Her friends in school
noticed she was really nervous, a nail biter, and a bit of a loner.
Once in school she was caught with a
container of Vodka and orange juice in her locker. Although on
February 2, 1959 police discovered the turnout of her minds workings.
On that day the body of August Norry
was found in the Daly City hills, south of San Francisco. Norry was a
twenty-eight year old landscaper, married, and about to become a
father for his first time. He was known as a lady's man, but that
wasn't much of a lead to figure out why someone had fired eighteen
bullets into him.
Their best lead was a testimony of a
boy who had seen a freckle-faced blonde driving Norrys car like mad
away from the hills, and the .38 caliber bullets. After two months of
investigating the police found the "freckle-faced blonde" by tracing
the bullets. They were made by a real distinctive mold, the man that
made them remembered selling them to Bjorkland.
The police picked her up at her
parents' Daly City home. Her confession the next morning answered a
lot of questions. She had stolen the .38 from a friends bedroom
sometime in January.
On Sunday, February 1 she left home
with the army-issue handgun tucked into the waistband of her pedal
pushers, but didn't know what she was going to do. But soon she
realized what she wanted to do when August Norry picked her up and
offered her a ride.
When she got out of the car, she
faced Norry and fired five shots into him. Going around the car, she
took out fresh ammo and reloaded. When she got to the drivers side,
she fired five more shots into Norry. Still unfinished she went back
to the passengers side of the car and shot him more. Then took the
body out of the car, and drove off.
When the police asked her about
motive she replied "For about a year or a year and a half I've had the
urge to kill someone," she said, a bit embarrased. "I'll admit that
the motive sounds crazy, but I wanted to know if a person could commit
a crime like this and not worry about the police looking for her or
have it on her conscience." And in the end she stated "I've felt
better since I killed him."
At her trial the reporters described
her as having a "giggling disinterest." Up until the judge read her
verdict: life imprisonment. She was stunned, and stated that "I am
(1941-?) is a United States murderer who killed a gardener, August
Bjorkland awoke on February 1, 1959
and told herself, "today is the day I will kill someone." She took a
.38 and wandered the hills of San Francisco. She came across Norry,
who gave her a lift. She thanked him, took out her pistol, and shot
him several times at point-blank range.
The police traced the bullets to a
local gun shop because they were unusual, "wadcutters", used primarily
for target practice. Bjorkland was found because the owner of the gun
shop had said that he had sold the bullets to her.
She confessed and was given a life
Thirty-year old gardener August Norry had no idea
what was in store for him when he was dumping yard waste in the San
Bruno Mountains, just south of San Francisco, on a breezy and warm
Sunday. Norry, a Korean War veteran who was wounded in action, had
taken his G.I. Bill money and gone to school for landscape
architecture. He worked full time as a landscaper at the Lake Merced
Country Club and took care of the grounds at a chemical plant in San
Leandro on Sundays.
Married only eighteen months and with a baby on the
way, the handsome Norry was trying to make as much money as possible
to support his family. Unfortunately for Norry, there isn’t enough
money in the world that will stop determined killers from carrying out
Norry’s bullet-ridden and bloody car was found at
the end of a lover’s lane on Christmas Tree Hill about 10:00 p.m. that
night. A young boy told police that he had seen a young blonde woman
driving the car recklessly around 4:30 p.m. The police found Norry’s
bullet-ridden body in the San Bruno Hills the next day.
Forensic evidence showed that Norry was shot while
sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. Blood on the inside of the
door proved that the car’s door was open when he was shot. He was then
shot some more through the passenger side window. The car was then
driven fifty yards off the road, through a barbed wire fence where
Norry was unceremoniously dumped, face up on the ground, where he was
again shot multiple times. In all there were eighteen bullet holes in
Norry, fourteen of them went completely through his body. He was shot
three times in the head, three times in the neck, three times in the
chest, twice in the stomach, and the rest were in his limbs.
Police were stunned by the overkill. They
immediately believed that it was a crime of passion with the sighting
of the blonde-haired woman driving Norry’s car. They had made up their
minds before the body was hauled away.
Norry’s twenty year old wife Darlene was
mercilessly questioned by Daly City and San Mateo County Police, and
the home that she shared with August was crudely searched. Norry's
co-workers at the Lake Merced Country Club told the police that they
were pretty sure that he had another relationship with a person other
than his wife. Norry was a charming and handsome man. Before he was in
the Army, he had been a minor-league baseball player and a Arthur
Murray dance instructor. Norry’s family and his in-laws were at a loss
as to why anyone would want to murder August. No matter how much the
detectives probed, they could not find any proof of the Norry’s having
any marital problems.
Besides the boy who saw the car drive wildly by,
the only other clues that the police had were a cheap blood-spattered
rhinestone necklace and the unusual bullets used for the murder. They
were .38 caliber blunt-nosed wad cutters mostly used for target
practice, and popular with firearm enthusiasts who reload their own
The police were stumbling into dead ends with the
investigation. A man reported that he had seen a young blonde woman
with a bulldog walking toward Norry about 11:00 a.m. on the day of the
murder. This and every other lead went nowhere. The police detectives
hassled Norry’s relatives, friends, and co-workers hoping to find a
clue, but the only thing that they found out was that August Norry was
an average, friendly, hard-working family man with few close friends.
Norry’s brother was even a San Francisco police officer.
Two and a half months went by as San Mateo Sheriffs
Department detectives Milt Minehan and Willam Ridenour tracked down
the manufacture of the bullet mold to a New Jersey company, of which
10,000 were sold, and narrowed it down to Bay Area purchasers. Then
one by one, Minehan and Ridenour checked out each owner, often taking
samples of the gun enthusiast’s bullet lead to analyze and compare
with the bullets taken from the crime scene.
Eventually Inspectors Minehan and Ridenour
questioned twenty-three year old Daly City mechanic Lawrence Schultze
about his reloading practices. After taking samples of Schultze’s
bullet lead and comparing it against the Norry bullets, they came up
with a match.
On April 14, 1959, Minehan and Ridenour confronted
Schultze with the evidence; he confessed that he had indeed made the
bullets and loaded them into a live cartridge. Then Schultze went
further. He told the detectives that he had sold a box of fifty
wad-cutter bullets to his eighteen year old blonde-haired friend,
Rosemarie “Penny” Bjorkland of Daly City.
Schultze also told the detectives that he
personally went with Penny, along with his girlfriend, who was Penny’s
best friend, to San Bruno Mountain, near where Norry was murdered to
test fire the rounds.
The next day the police were waiting at the
Bjorkland home, just three south blocks from the San Francisco city
limits, for Penny to come home from work. The police were surprised at
the normal working-class family that the murderer lived with. Penny’s
parents and her three brothers had no idea what the police wanted with
Detectives Minehan and Ridenour were stunned when
they greeted Penny as she arrived home from work. Penny was an
attractive, full-figured, freckled-faced woman of eighteen. She wore
her strawberry-blonde hair in the pony tail and wore ruby red lipstick
that offset her blue eyes. She wasn’t surprised that the police were
at her home and she gave them permission to search her room, where the
detectives found newspaper clippings of the Norry murder.
Bjorkland was taken to the San Mateo Sheriff’s
Department where for hours she remained tight-lipped while being
questioned. Nobody knows, in those pre-Miranda Rights days, what the
police did to coerce her, but Penny confessed at 5:40 in the morning.
A few hours later Penny was driven to the scene of the crime.
The newspapers reported that Bjorkland had giggled
while acting out her crime for the assembled police and journalists.
It is more likely that the fashionably dressed, gum-chewing teenager
was just being a nervous teenager, but the story was a newspaper
goldmine and the media ran with it.
The story had everything. A sexually charged,
gum-chewing, knife-carrying, pony-tailed, freckle-faced, blonde-haired
teenager, who could have been your daughter, sister, or niece, and she
shoots almost twenty bullets into a random person without remorse, as
if she were an Albert Camus character. Parents suddenly took notice of
their teenagers and a few probably slept with one eye opened.
Penny made a emotionless and detailed confession.
In it she stated that she had had the overwhelming, almost sexual urge
to kill someone for several years.
“I felt better mentally,” said Bjorkland. “Like it
was a great burden lifted off of me. I have no bad memories about it.
I always wanted to see if I could do something like this and not have
it bother me.”
The police were so dumbfounded by Bjorkland. She
was a polite, honest, and completely normal girl. Her existentialist
attitude was something that they had never experienced in a person so
young. Penny confessed so quickly that she wanted to plead guilty
before she even had an attorney, but District Attorney Keith C.
Sorenson wouldn‘t allow it.
Bjorkland, impassively and rationally told the
police, courts, and the press that she had stolen the revolver from a
boyfriend’s parents home in December with plans on using it to murder
someone. She explained to the police that she had met Norry once
before on when she was on a walk on the Crocker Estate. Norry was
emptying yard waste along the road and they had struck up a
conversation. They went to a drive-in burger restaurant in nearby San
Francisco for lunch. She didn’t know that Norry was married until she
read it in the newspapers, but that didn’t matter because Bjorkland
had no romantic interest in Norry and her only repentance about the
crime was that she felt bad for Mrs. Norry.
Bjorkland had bumped into Norry by chance on the
day that she killed him. According to her testimony, Bjorkland was
walking on the mountain when Norry drove by and offered her a ride.
While riding in Norry’s car, she fired a wild shot out the window into
Once they stopped, they talked casually for a few
minutes until Penny pulled out the gun and shot Norry several times.
She got out of the car, opened the driver’s door and shot Norry until
the gun clicked on empty rounds. Bjorkland reloaded the gun, shoved
Norry onto the passenger side and drove the car off the road, through
a wire fence. Pulling Norry’s lifeless body out of the car and onto
the sun-baked scrub brush that dots the hills, she emptied the
revolver into the unmoving father to be. Reloading the six-shot
revolver, Bjorkland again fired six more bullets into the very dead
body of August Norry.
“Suddenly,” explained Bjorkland, “I had the
overpowering urge to shoot him. I kept shooting, emptying my gun and
reloading. That was the only reason. There was no other.”
She drove away in Norry’s car, ditched it, and went
home to have dinner with her family. The next day, Bjorkland dumped
the pistol and unused bullets down a storm drain at the corner of
Camellia and Castle Manor in San Francisco.
Penny Bjorkland told her story and stuck to it.
Bjorkland described herself as a normal, average
girl, but her co-workers described her as a knife-carrying lone wolf
who ate her lunch by herself at her job at Periodical Publishers
Service Bureau in San Francisco.
Bjorkland wouldn’t talk to mental health
specialists or a priest. She never cried or shown any emotion while
incarcerated or in front of the judge. She told police matron Maxine
Stooksbury that she hated her parents because they made her go to
Bjorkland’s parents scrambled to find an attorney
to represent their daughter. They were willing to mortgage their home
to pay for legal fees. When Penny found out about her parent’s
anguish, she replied coldly. “They had nothing to do with it. I guess
this does affect them, but that’s not my concern.”
Joseph Murray, the attorney that the heartbroken
Bjorkland’s hired was dumbfounded by Penny’s detached demeanor and
unwillingness to change her story to help herself. Murray tried the
usual juristic tricks to save his client, but Penny would have nothing
to do with them, or with him. A dozen psychologists, including experts
in experimental fields of psychology from Bay Area universities, were
called in by both sides and had generally agreed that there nothing
psychologically wrong with Penny Bjorkland.
On July 20, 1959, Rosemarie “Penny” Bjorkland pled
guilty to Second Degree Murder and threw herself on the mercy of the
court. South San Francisco Municipal Judge Charles Becker sentenced
Penny to life in prison, but made her eligible for parole in seven
Darlene Norry gave birth to daughter Cynthia on
September 17, 1958. The widow was so upset with the intrusive visits
from the police that she had gone to stay with an aunt in Santa Rosa
to finish out her pregnancy. She didn’t know about Bjorkman’s arrest
until she was informed by a relative and was stunned that she and her
family were still being relentlessly and rudely interrogated by
various law enforcement agencies when they were already onto
“They were around to insult me just before the
caught her,” exclaimed a rightfully angry Darlene Norry. “That is the
reason I had to get away for a while.”
There is no record of when Penny Bjorkland was
released from the California State Prison for Women at Corona, but it
is believed that she was paroled in the mid 1960’s. Cynthia Norry
would have been in grade school by then and never knew her father
Rosemarie "Penny" Bjorkland
Rosemarie "Penny" Bjorkland
On February 2, 1959 the body of August
Norry was found in the Daly City hills, south of San Francisco. Norry
was a twenty-eight year old landscaper, married, and about to become
a father for his first time.