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Erika Elaine SIFRIT





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Thrill killer - "It was about the thrill and the success of not getting caught"
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: May 25, 2002
Date of arrest: 6 days after
Date of birth: 1977
Victims profile: Joshua Ford, 32, and Martha "Geney" Crutchley, 51
Method of murder: Shooting - Stabbing with knife
Location: Ocean City, Worcester County, Maryland, USA
Status: Sentenced to life plus 25 years in prison on August 14, 2003

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The Court of Appeals of Maryland


Erika Sifrit v. State of Maryland


Erika and Benjamin Sifrit gained notoriety in 2002 for the murders of Joshua Ford, 32, and Martha "Geney" Crutchley, 51, over Memorial Day weekend in Ocean City, Maryland.

In 2003, both Sifrits were convicted of the murders. Benjamin Sifrit is currently serving 38 years at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, while Erika Sifrit is serving a life sentence plus 20 years at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland.

Early lives

Erika Grace and BJ Sifrit married in 1998, when they were both 20 years old. She was an honors student and basketball star at Mary Washington College, and he was a former Navy SEAL. Shortly after marrying, the couple moved near Erika's hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. There, the couple opened and operated a scrapbook store.


On May 25, 2002, the Sifrits, both 24 at the time, met another couple, Joshua Ford and Martha Crutchley, a mortgage banker and insurance broker from Alexandria, Virginia. After a night of partying together at the Seacrets nightclub, the couple went back to the Sifrit condo in Ocean City, Maryland.

According to records, the Sifrits claimed that Joshua and Martha stole Erika's purse, and BJ pulled a gun on the couple. After retreating to the bathroom, Joshua Ford was shot four times to death with BJ's gun, and Martha Crutchley was later stabbed to death. The couple's remains were disposed of in a dumpster in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Arrests and Trials

Erika and BJ Sifrit were arrested on May 31, 2002, but not for murder: the couple were caught robbing a Hooters store. When police searched Erika Sifrit's purse, they uncovered the licenses of Joshua and Martha, who at that point had been reported missing for days. Erika confessed to murdering the couple shortly after her apprehension, but claimed the idea was her husband's.

Because of the heavy publicity of the case, the Sifrits' trials were moved out of Worcester County, Maryland. Benjamin's trial was held in Rockville, Maryland and Erika's was held in Frederick.

BJ Sifrit was the first to go to trial in March 2003. At the trial, a 22 year-old woman named Melissa Seling testified, claiming how she had almost become the Sifrits' next victim. On the stand, she told jurors of the exact same ritual that Joshua and Martha endured, but was ultimately spared. On April 9, 2003, he was only convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the death of Martha Crutchley, and was acquitted of all charges in the death of Joshua Ford. He was later sentenced to 38 years in prison on July 7, 2003.

Erika Sifrit's trial started on June 3, 2003. On June 11, she was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Joshua Ford and second-degree murder in the death of Martha Crutchley, and was later sentenced to life plus 25 years on August 14, 2003.


In March 2010, BJ filed for divorce, which was later granted in August 2010.

Both Sifrits have filed numerous appeals, all which have failed. BJ exhausted his last appeal in 2010. In July 2009, a book entitled "Cruel Death," written by M. William Phelps, was released about the case.

Erika Sifrit is now asking a federal court for a new trial claiming ineffectiveness of counsel.

Erika Sifrit will be eligible for parole in 2024. BJ Sifrit will be eligible for parole in 2021.

This case has been profiled on Snapped, Deadly Women and Forensic Files.


Erika Sifrit Describes O.C. Tourist Murders

Couple Collected Items As Mementos Of Murders, According To Court Documents

September 2, 2004

Erika Sifrit made some shocking statements to the Secret Service after the murders of a couple visiting Ocean City in 2002, WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter David Collins reported.

Last week, the state's highest court upheld the convictions of Erika and Benjamin Sifrit, both found guilty last year in the murders of Joshua Ford and Martha Crutchley.

Erika Sifrit is a self-described material girl who came from a wealthy family. She considered herself to be exotic because she raised snakes and crocodiles. She also said she used cocaine and Ecstasy five days a week.

The 11 News I-Team uncovered the court documents that reveal some shocking statements Erika Sifrit made to the Secret Service about the killings. The interview reveals that the Sifrits had a bizarre relationship, Collins report.

Erika Sifrit portrayed her husband as a racist, a bigot and a control freak who was mentally and physically abusive.

According to the court documents, the only compliment she ever received was that "she was a cool wife for going to strip clubs with him." The only gift Benjamin Sifrit ever bought her was a .357 handgun that she claims she never fired.

There's even a disturbing account of a test Benjamin Sifrit gave his wife to see how far she would go for him. She recalled, after being married for a year, that he wanted her to become pregnant. Court documents indicate that she carried his baby for nearly four months.

Then, out of the blue, Erika Sifrit claimed her husband changed his mind and ordered her to "get an abortion or I'm going to dig it out of you," Collins reported.

After she terminated the pregnancy, Benjamin Sifrit then told her: "I never wanted a kid, I just wanted to see how far you would go for me," according to court documents.

Erika Sifrit told investigators that they thought of themselves as Bonnie and Clyde. She detailed numerous burglaries and how she sold the stolen merchandise on the Internet bidding Web site, eBay.

Erika Sifrit claims in court documents that she and Benjamin Sifrit planned a two-week burglary crime spree in Ocean City during Memorial Day weekend in 2002.

In chilling detail, she recounted the murders of Crutchley and Ford. She said Benjamin Sifrit, at gunpoint, ordered the couple to get naked, asking, "Do you want to die?"

Erika Sifrit not only admitted how she cut Crutchley in two places, but he recreated the actions, not knowing if Crutchley was dead or alive at the time.

"Get an abortion or I'm going to dig it out of you."

 Benjamin Sifrit told his wife Erika Sifrit, according to court documents.

Three days later, Erika Sifrit said that Benjamin Sifrit told her to get a tattoo of a snake on the same location where she cut Crutchley, prompting only the second compliment Benjamin Sifrit ever gave her.

Erika Sifrit told investigators she ordered her husband to shoot the couple who, at that time, had locked themselves in a bathroom.

She said: "I knew he wanted to kill someone because he asked me two weeks ago if he could kill my family."

Erika Sifrit said her husband wanted to kill her parents, both sets of grandparents and a wealthy aunt. She would be the sole air to their money, and they would meet in Argentina, according to the court documents.

These court documents, just recently unsealed, reveal that Benjamin Sifrit liked the tattoo very much because its location reminds him of the killings, Collins reported.

The court papers indicate that the Sifrits went back to the bar where they socialized with their victims to buy a tank top as another reminder of the murders.

Benjamin Sifrit is now serving a 38-year sentence on a second-degree murder conviction. Erika Sifrit is serving a life sentence plus 20 years after a first-degree murder conviction.


Erika Sifrit is found guilty in Ocean City double-killing

Former honor student could get life sentence in murder of Va. couple

By Jeff Barker - The Baltimore Sun

June 11, 2003

FREDERICK - Erika Elaine Sifrit, a one-time honor student and college basketball player, was found guilty yesterday of murdering two fellow Ocean City tourists last year - a crime that prosecutors say she committed with her husband "for fun."

The jury deliberated for just over four hours before pronouncing Sifrit, 25, guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of mortgage banker Joshua Ford, 32, and second-degree murder in the killing of his girlfriend, insurance executive Martha Crutchley, 51, both of Fairfax, Va.

Barring a successful appeal, the verdict ends the prosecution of one of the most notorious cases in Ocean City history. Sifrit's trial this month - and that in April of her husband, Benjamin Sifrit, 25, a former Navy SEAL - attracted national attention because of the grisly nature of the murders, the resort setting, the lack of an obvious motive and because both Sifrits come from well-to-do families. Both trials were moved because of extensive publicity on the Eastern Shore.

Erika Sifrit, gaunt and curly haired, wept frequently during the weeklong trial but displayed little emotion yesterday as the verdict was read by jury foreman John Dempsey, an electrical engineer.

Tears rolled down the cheeks of Sifrit's mother, Cookie Grace.

"I didn't see the evidence that way, but I guess they did," said Sifrit's father, Mitch Grace, owner of a construction company in western Pennsylvania. He said his daughter's attorneys would consider an appeal.

Sentencing was set for Aug. 14. Sifrit faces a possible life sentence for Ford's murder and up to 30 years on the second-degree murder count. Prosecutors had ruled out the death penalty or a sentence of life without possibility of parole as part of an agreement within days of her arrest in Ocean City last year. In exchange for their pledge not to seek those sentences, Sifrit agreed to help authorities locate the bodies, which had been dismembered and disposed of in plastic bags.

For prosecutors and investigators, the convictions yesterday took some of the sting out of a mixed verdict in the trial of Benjamin Sifrit. On April 9, a Montgomery County jury convicted him of second-degree murder in Crutchley's death and acquitted him in Ford's. Benjamin Sifrit is to be sentenced July 7.

The verdict in his case left detectives and the victims' families muttering and cursing. Mark Ford, 47, a Boston painting contractor who bears a dragon tattoo matching one his brother had on his arm, burst out of the Rockville courtroom April 19 and shouted an expletive in the corridor.

After yesterday's verdict, Ford "was euphoric, ecstatic. How many ways can you say happy?" said Vyoletus Candelario, the Worcester County victim witness coordinator, after talking to Ford from his Boston home. Ford and other family members, including Crutchley's mother and sister in Phoenix, opted to hear yesterday's verdict over the phone - largely because of the emotional toll of being in the courtroom, the prosecution team said.

Part of the problem for prosecutors at both trials was that they couldn't say for sure who fired the shots - Benjamin Sifrit, his wife, or both - that killed Ford in an Ocean City condominium over Memorial Day weekend last year. Police never recovered enough of Crutchley's body to determine how she died.

The two couples met on an Ocean City transit bus and discovered they were heading to the same bar. Investigators say the four ended up at the penthouse condominium where the Sifrits were staying. There, prosecutors said, Ford and Crutchley were terrorized and killed as they cowered in a hot tub room.

"One's a match and one is a stick of dynamite, and when you put them together it was a bomb waiting to happen," Ocean City Detective Scott Bernal said of the Sifrits after the verdict.

At Erika Sifrit's trial, Worcester County State's Attorney Joel Todd emphasized - more so than during her husband's case - that a first-degree murder conviction could be returned even if the jury could not say for certain which of them committed the killing.

"It seems clear they found she aided and abetted, and that's what made her guilty of murder," Todd said. "I'm gratified we were effectively able to speak for the victims in this case."

In addition to the murder convictions, Sifrit was also found guilty yesterday on lesser charges related to stealing the victims' property, carrying a dangerous weapon and burglarizing a Hooters restaurant with her husband five days after the murders. She was acquitted of using a handgun to kill Ford.

Defense attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli said he would consider an appeal in the murder convictions. He said prosecutors had violated an agreement last year that Sifrit, a former top student and basketball player at Virginia's Mary Washington College, would not face homicide charges if she cooperated with authorities. Prosecutors say the deal was never finalized because she contradicted herself and would have had little value as a witness for the state.

Tuminelli also accused prosecutors of using one theory of the case to try Erika Sifrit and a second, inconsistent theory to prosecute her husband - a violation, he said, of his client's rights.

After the verdict, prosecutor Todd accused Erika Sifrit's attorneys of spitefully refusing to allow a ring belonging to Joshua Ford to be returned to his family. Todd said Sifrit stole the ring after Ford's death and wore it on a chain around her neck as a trophy.

The defense argued that it wasn't clear that the ring seen around Sifrit's neck in photographs was, in fact, Ford's.

Todd asked Circuit Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. yesterday to allow the Fords to have the ring, which had been held as evidence. But the defense said the court should hold it in case it is needed during an appeal.

"That was a sham," Todd said. "They didn't want me to have that back. That was the last possession [Ford] had before he died."

Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.


Thrill Killers?

By Bill Hewitt -

June 9, 2003

Cops Say Erika and Benjamin Sifrit Befriended Another Couple—and Murdered Them Just for Kicks

It looked almost like a college prank. Police officers responding to a silent alarm late at night at a Hooters restaurant in Ocean City, Md., last year came upon a man and a woman packing their Jeep Cherokee with armloads of merchandise—baseball hats, golf shirts and a stack of "Follow Me to Hooters" license-plate holders. Except it turned out that the man, Benjamin Sifrit, now 25, and his wife, Erika, also 25, had three handguns. And when Erika started having a panic attack and police searched her purse for her antianxiety medication, they found something even more unsettling: the IDs of two vacationers who had recently been reported missing in the area—plus some spent shell casings.

There's no telling what might have happened if the Sifrits hadn't been nabbed that night. As police began to question the couple, they soon saw links between the Sifrits and the murders of Joshua Ford, 32, and his girlfriend, Martha "Geney" Crutchley, 51, who had last been seen six days before, on May 25 of last year. What's more, Benjamin, a former Navy SEAL, and Erika, who comes from a wealthy Pennsylvania family, allegedly committed the crime not for financial gain or passion but for the sheer excitement of doing it. "It was about the thrill and the success of not getting caught," says lead detective Scott Bernal, referring to Benjamin, whose trial began on March 31. "Everything about it was a game."

The night the Sifrits were apprehended, on May 31, 2002, police went back to the couple's penthouse condo in the resort of Ocean City. Investigators were hoping they would find Ford and Crutchley, who had themselves been staying at a nearby condo. Eventually they uncovered traces of blood in the bathroom and some plastic garbage bags. Ford, a mortgage broker, and Crutchley, an insurance executive, had been living together for a year in Fairfax, Va. They were using the weekend in Ocean City to kick back for a few days. Says Ford's sister Melisa: "She was crazy about Josh, and he was crazy about her."

As police later reconstructed it, Ford and Crutchley were on a local bus heading to the Seacrets nightclub on the evening of May 25, when they encountered the Sifrits, who didn't have exact change for the fare. Ford graciously offered to pay for their tickets, and the two couples soon ended up at the club together, drinking until late that night. In initial statements to police, Erika described what allegedly happened next. She said that an incident had taken place in the condo and that Ford and Crutchley had taken refuge in the bathroom, but that Benjamin had kicked in the door and shot both of them. He had then dismembered the bodies, which the couple threw in a Dumpster in nearby Rehobeth Beach, Del. As for the supposed motive, Erika spoke cryptically about Ford and Crutchley's having tried to steal her purse containing her grandmother's $10,000 ring.

That reference—and the enormity of what had happened—became clearer two weeks later when, through a tip, police located a Delaware clothing-store owner named Melissa Seling. At Benjamin's trial, Seling, 22, testified that she and a male friend had met up with the Sifrits in Ocean City three days after the murders and had also been invited up to the couple's penthouse. There Erika had suddenly announced that her purse and the ring were missing. The deadly game had begun. Seling said she had felt a rising sense of alarm, especially after Benjamin pulled out a gun, put his face right up to hers and said how "very, very important [it was] that I find this purse."

Apprehensive, Seling intensified her search, but when Benjamin soon found the purse tucked behind a cushion where she had already looked, she realized that the whole exercise had been nothing but a bizarre mind game. Detective Bernal is convinced that Ford, who was a strapping 6'2" and a black belt in karate, and Crutchley were subjected to the same ritual but weren't sufficiently submissive. "Melissa didn't ask any questions—she just knew that if she did she was going to get hurt," says Bernal. "It didn't go that way with Josh and Geney."

The families of both Benjamin and Erika have tried to portray them as unlikely candidates to commit such a crime. Raised in Minnesota, Benjamin was a poor student in high school. But after enlisting in the Navy, he seemed to find his calling in life. He finished first in his elite SEALs training course in 1997. Two years later he married Erika Grace, then a student at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. According to Benjamin's mother, Elizabeth, 47, her son changed after getting involved with Erika. Once close with the rest of his family, he stopped calling and visiting. "I just wanted to make [Erika] happy," he explained at his trial. "It was extreme." The relationship also seemed to affect his Navy career. Sifrit became unruly and was court-martialed for a variety of offenses including absence without leave and insubordination. One Navy prosecutor said Sifrit seemed to have developed "utter disregard for authority." Ultimately he was drummed out of the service on a bad-conduct discharge.

Erika's parents, Mitch, 57, a successful contractor, and Cookie, 55, a former nurse, of Hollidaysburg, Pa., say there were not overjoyed when she wed Sifrit. Throughout high school and college Erika had been an outstanding student and athlete, graduating cum laude from Mary Washington and playing for two years on the women's basketball team there. What's more, she had always been known as a normal, levelheaded person. "She was all about life—active and outgoing," says her high school adviser Jeanne Puskar. "She didn't seem to have a dark side." Mitch Grace says he and his wife were dismayed about their daughter's marriage because she had wanted to go on to law school. "But you have to accept things, and this is what she wanted to do," he says. "You accept it and go on. Benjamin was part of our family."

Even so, both Erika and Benjamin, who had been running a scrapbook store in Altoona, Pa., since 2000, had other sides to their personalities. For one thing, Erika was obsessed with Hooters and had a collection of the skimpy tank tops worn by the chain's waitresses. For another, she was prone to anxiety attacks, for which she took drugs such as Xanax and Paxil. The couple also kept numerous exotic snakes; Benjamin has a large swastika tattooed on his chest. "He is a thrill seeker," says Bernal. "He was looking for different ways to continue to get that rush, that living on the edge."

At his trial Benjamin tried to put almost all the blame on Erika. He maintained that he was sleeping in the car when the murders took place and that upon seeing the "horrific" scene, he only agreed to help cover up the crime. "I dismembered them," he admitted in his testimony. "That was my idea." In the end his strategy worked, up to a point. In a verdict that police and the victims' families found astonishing, Benjamin was convicted of second-degree murder in Geney Crutchley's death—but acquitted of all charges involving Ford. "I really don't know how the jury went home and slept that night," says Ford's sister Melisa. Jury foreman Robert Cantor explains that the panel could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Benjamin Sifrit had actually been the one who killed Ford.

Erika is scheduled to go on trial on the same charges in early June. It seems likely that she will attempt to return the favor and show that her husband was the killer. (Some of her earlier statements to police will not be admissible.) Prosecutors are hopeful that they will be able to nail her for both murders, which would make her eligible for life without parole. In any case, Detective Bernal has vowed to make sure that Benjamin serves every last day of what could be a 35-year term. "I'll be at every parole hearing, even if I'm retired," he says. "And I'll make sure to bring the autopsy pictures to remind them of what he's done."



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