The story of Theresa Knorr and her family is a shocking and disturbing one indeed. I recommend anybody who hasn't read the book by Wensley Clarkson to get hold of a copy, there's plenty on Amazon. It tells the tale of a Theresa Sanders,a young wife and mother of 1, living in Sacramento, California and married to Howard Sanders. On July 6th 1964 Theresa appeared on the doorstep belonging to the town's Sheffiff's Deputy. She told him she had shot her first husband. When officers arrived on the scene they founf Howard Sanders dead Theresas was was arrested and went on trial for murder. She pleaded not guilty and told the court a tearful tale of domestic violence and self defence. The jury took under 2 hours to aqquit her. Theresa Knorr was free to go.
Over the next 20 years Theresa met and married man after man, and eventually bore in total 6 children. There was Clifford and Theresa Sanders, concieved by her now dead husband. Next came Suesan in 1966 after meeting next potential husband Robert Knorr. In 1967 William was born and the follwing year came Robert. The last child, Terry, came along in August 1970. Not long after this, Mr & Mrs Knorr divorced. There were further men in Theresa Knorr's life over the next few years, but ultimately the person in charge of protecting the children from harm and responsible for their upbringing was the very person who would damage these kids so viciously, mentally and physically... resulting in homicide.
From top left : Suesan Knorr, Theresa Knorr, Robert Knorr, William Knorr, Theresa sanders.
According to statements from the surving children, life at the Knorr home was less than happy. Theresa was a very controlling mother and would hand out vicious beatings upon her children when drunk, escalating in severity as the years went on. The children were so afraid of their mother that when she started involving the siblings to help her beat one of them they simply had to obey. One child would be held down by the others while Theresa doled out her extreme punishments, which included using the "Board Of Education" - a long inch thick piece of wood used to strike the victim. The 'chosen one' would be left covered in bruises after these attacks. Although initiated by their mother, it must have caused great conflict between the brothers and sisters. This bears a striking resemblance to the punishments inflicted by Foster Mother Eunice Spry in the UK many years later. She used a stick to beat the foster children placed in her care and would force sticks down their throats to stop them screaming while she beat them.
Theresa Knorr it seems was a very dillusional person suffering from extreme bouts of paranoia. She was convinced her daughter Suesan was a witch and cast spells on her mother to gain weight. Although nobody was safe, Suesan was subjected to the brunt of Knorr's violence.
Convinced of Suesan's 'powers' and consumed with jealousy over their teenage beauty and thin frames, Theresa Knorr started the horrendous act of breaking her daughters down. Suesan was force-fed boxes of macaroni & cheese mixed with lard, 4 boxes of the stuff at a time. If she vomited, she was forced to eat this too. Suesan ran away from home and was placed into Child Protective custody. Questioned by many officials including psychiatrists, Suesan told them of the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her mother. When questioned over these allegations, Theresa simply blamed it on her daughter having mental health problems. There doesn't appear to have been much of an investigation into the other children, but then again they would undoubtedly have been threatened to keep their mouths shut, as Terry later told police many years later. Many kids from violent homes will do whatever they can to please the abuser for fear of what may happen. St the request of Social Services custody was given back to Theresa Knorr Suesan was sent back home.
THE HOUSE ON BELLINGHAM WAY
After Suesan's return back to the house on Bellingham Way, Sacremento CA, the beatings became so bad that Suesan's featured started to change. She would be black and blue all over. Knorr had come close to being exposed as a brutal abuser and she couldn't let that happen again. After Suesan's escape and return, the 15 year old started to be tied up during the nights so she couldn't run away again. The beatings continued and took a drastic turn one day in 1983. Knorr had Suesan tied up, donned some black leather gloves and proceeded to puch her daughter in the stomach. The gloves were passed around the rest of the siblings and under their mother's command were made to participate in the brutal beating of their sister. As things escalted Knorr pulled a gun from the pocket of her dress and shot Suesan in the chest. As she lay crumpled on the floor, sisters Theresa dn Terry were told to pick up theior sister and place her in the bathtub. This was to be Suesan's home for the next few weeks while she recovered. No ambulance or doctors were called. Instead, Knorr fed her daughter huge ammounts of drugs to kill the pain and slowely 'nursed' her back to health. In the months after the shooting Suesan did make a slow recovery and the family moved from their house into a small cottage in Auburn Boulevard.
THE HOUSE ON AUBURN BOULEVARD, SACRAMENTO, CA.
The move however changed no dynamics in the Knorr household. Suesan was still considered a 'witch' by her mother. The shooting incident made Knorr even more fearful of her daughter and strted restraining her with handcuffs and blindfolds for much of the day and night. She was made an outcast, unfit to join in at meal times and drugged to keep her sedated. Knorr believed Suesan was possessed by the devil and was still casting spells on her to gain weight. Suesan's health was deterioating as the beatings still continued. One night Knorr threw a pair of scissors at her daughter. They landed in Suesan's back.
Suesan begged her mother to be allowed to leave home. Theresa, maybe becoming bored with Suesan by this stage, agreed...on one condition. The bullet that was still lodged in her back from the shooting the year before would have to be removed. Suesan agreed - this was her chance for freedom and her mother had agreed. After all the beatings and abuse she had suffered, this final act must have seemed a small thing to go through. Suesan was drugged and given whiskey, which resulted in her becoming unconcious. She was layed down onto the kitchen floor and with a scalpel, her back was cut and the bullet removed. In Wensley Clarkson's book, it states this act was carried by Robert Knorr at his mother's demand. But on the Cold Case Files episode, Terry claimed it was her mother who performed the operation. Nevertheless, the bullet was removed and Suesan's slow descent into death had begun.
TO BE CONTINUED...