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
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.
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
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
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.
Sifrit Describes O.C. Tourist Murders
Collected Items As Mementos Of Murders, According To Court
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
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.
abortion or I'm going to dig it out of you."
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
Erika Sifrit is found guilty in Ocean City
Former honor student could get life sentence in
murder of Va. couple
By Jeff Barker - The Baltimore Sun
June 11, 2003
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."
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
argued that it wasn't clear that the ring seen around Sifrit's
neck in photographs was, in fact, Ford's.
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
"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."
writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.
By Bill Hewitt - People.com
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
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
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."