One of the most notorious and deadly crime sprees in Oklahoma began 35 years ago this week in McClain County.
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.
The date was June 22, 1978 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 Melvin went down.
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.”
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, killing the Lorenz’s son.
They dumped Melvin and Linda’s bodies in a field and tossed Richard’s body in a separate field.
The Staffords next stopped at a restaurant for something to eat. They later abandoned the Lorenz’s pickup at Will Rogers Airport and returned to Tulsa.
They stole about $600 from their victims.
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.
On July 16, they again left Tulsa, this time to rob the Sirloin Stockade restaurant at Southwest 74th and Pennsylvania Avenue in Oklahoma City.
They waited in their car until the restaurant closed. It was around 10 p.m. when Roger Dale and Harold, both armed with guns, knocked on a side door of the restaurant.
When the manager opened the door, the Stafford brothers forced their way inside.
Instead of handing over money from the cash register and an office safe, the manager chastised the brothers for robbing others instead of working.
Irate, Roger Dale ordered the manager to call the employees to the cash register.
Harold and Verna held them at gunpoint while Roger Dale and the manager emptied the safe.
Roger Dale next ordered everyone into the walk-in freezer and he, Harold and Verna began shooting.
Killed were Melvin I. Freeman, Louis Zacarias, Terri Horst, David Salsman, Anthony Tew and David Lindsey.
Five of the victims were teenagers.
The deadly robbery netted the Staffords $1,290.
The first police officer on the scene after the murders 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.
A week after the Sirloin Stockade massacre, Harold was killed in a motorcycle accident.
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.
For months, authorities were stymied in their search for the killers. Then on Jan. 3, 1979, police took a call from a drunken man who identified Verna and Harold as the killers.
The caller? Roger Dale Stafford.
Verna was arrested in Chicago and promptly implicated Roger Dale. He was later arrested at a YMCA in Chicago.
Stafford received death sentences for all of his murders, but he predicted the sentence would never be carried out.
Roger Dale was sentenced to death for the Lorenz family murders and the Sirloin Stockade killings.
He was executed by lethal injection on July 2, 1995.
Verna divorced Roger Dale and later remarried.
On March 13, 1980, she was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life plus 999 years. She is incarcerated at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud.
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.”