Theresa Knorr

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Theresa Knorr
Theresa Knorr mugshot.jpg
1993 mugshot of Theresa Knorr
Theresa Jimmie Francine Cross

(1946-03-14) March 14, 1946 (age 73)
Criminal statusIncarcerated
Clifford Clyde Sanders
(m. 1962; died 1964)

Robert Knorr
(m. 1966; div. 1970)

Ronald Pulliam
(m. 1971; div. 1972)

Chet Harris
(m. 1976; div. 1976)
  • Howard Knorr (né Sanders; born 1963)
  • Sheila Knorr (née Sanders; 1965–1985)
  • Suesan Knorr (1966–1984)
  • William Knorr (born 1967)
  • Robert Knorr, Jr. (born 1968)
  • Theresa "Terry" Knorr-Walker (1970–2011)
Criminal charge
PenaltyTwo life sentences
Span of crimes
CountryUnited States
KilledSuesan Knorr
Sheila Knorr
Date apprehended
November 11, 1993; 25 years ago (1993-11-11)
Imprisoned atCalifornia Institution for Women

Theresa Jimmie Francine Knorr (née Cross; born March 14, 1946) is an American woman convicted of torturing and murdering two of her six children while using the others to facilitate and cover up her crimes. She is currently serving two consecutive life sentences at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.

Early life[edit]

Theresa Knorr was born in Sacramento, California. She was the younger of two daughters born to Swannie Gay (née Myers) and James "Jim" Cross. Swannie Cross had a son and a daughter from a previous marriage; Jim Cross worked as an assistant cheese maker at a local dairy. He eventually saved up enough money to buy a house in Rio Linda. In the late 1950s, Jim was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which forced him to quit his job. He developed depression and reportedly took his frustrations and anger out on his family. Swannie kept the family afloat financially. Theresa was reportedly very close to her mother and was devastated when she died of congestive heart failure in March 1961. Thereafter, unable to keep the family home, Jim sold it.[1]


On September 29, 1962, 16-year-old Theresa married Clifford Clyde Sanders, a man five years her senior whom she had met a few months prior. Immediately she dropped out of high school and became pregnant, and on July 16, 1963, she gave birth to her first child, Howard Clyde Sanders.[1] The Sanders' marriage was rocky, as Theresa was possessive and repeatedly accused Sanders of infidelity.[2] The couple argued frequently and on June 22, 1964, Theresa claimed that Sanders had punched her in the face during one such argument. Theresa reported the incident to police but refused to press charges against Sanders. The assault charges were subsequently dropped.

On July 6, 1964, the day after Sanders' birthday, the couple were arguing because he had spent his birthday out with friends instead of at home. During the argument, Sanders informed Theresa that he was leaving her. Theresa became enraged and shot Sanders in the back with a rifle as he was walking out the door.[2][3]

Theresa was arrested and charged with Sanders' murder, to which she pleaded not guilty by claiming she was acting in self-defense.[3] During her trial, Theresa, who was pregnant with her second child, claimed that she had shot Sanders because he was a violent alcoholic who physically abused her. Several of Sanders' relatives testified that he was not violent or abusive, while the prosecution claimed that Theresa killed Sanders "maliciously" and "without provocation".[4] Theresa's older sister also testified stating that she was possessive and jealous and "would kill [Sanders] before any other woman could have him."[5] Theresa was acquitted of Sanders' murder on September 22, 1964.[4] Theresa gave birth to her second child, Sheila Gay Sanders, on March 16, 1965.[6]

After Sheila's birth, Theresa began drinking heavily. She regularly drank at the local American Legion hall where she met Estelle Lee Thornsberry, a disabled U.S. Army veteran. The two began a relationship and eventually moved in together. During the relationship, Theresa would routinely leave her children with Thornsberry while she went out drinking. Thornsberry began to question Theresa when she stayed out for days at a time and ended the relationship a few months later after he discovered that she was having an affair with his best friend. Shortly after the relationship with Thornsberry ended, Theresa met and began a relationship with a Marine Corps private named Robert Knorr. She soon became pregnant and the couple married on July 9, 1966.[6]

Knorr's third child, Suesan Marline Knorr, was born on September 27, 1966. The couple had three more children soon after: William Robert "Billy Bob" Knorr, born on September 15, 1967; Robert Wallace "Robert Jr." Knorr Jr., born on December 31, 1968; and Theresa "Terry" Marie Knorr, born on August 5, 1970.[6][7] Theresa and Robert Knorr Sr.'s marriage began to deteriorate after Theresa began accusing her husband of having affairs. Fed up with Theresa's constant accusations, Knorr left her in June 1971 and was granted a divorce in 1972. After the divorce, Robert Knorr attempted to see his children but Theresa prevented him from doing so.

Theresa would marry twice more; in 1973, she married railroad worker Ronald Pulliam. That marriage began to fall apart when Theresa began leaving her children with Pulliam while she stayed out all night drinking and partying. He divorced her in 1974 after he became convinced that she was having an affair. Her final marriage was to Sacramento Union copy editor Chester "Chet" Harris, whom she married in August 1976. Her daughter Suesan grew close to Harris, which made Knorr jealous. She filed for divorce from Harris in November 1976 after she reportedly found out that Harris enjoyed taking consensual nude photographs of women.[7]

Child abuse[edit]

Theresa was physically and emotionally abusive towards her children. After her fourth divorce, her alcoholism and abusive behavior escalated, and she also gained a tremendous amount of weight and became quick-tempered and reclusive. She disconnected the home phone and would not allow the children to have visitors.[8] Theresa and her children lived in Orangevale, California for many years before moving into a two-bedroom apartment in Sacramento; her eldest son Howard reportedly left home before the move to Sacramento. According to neighbors, the apartment was filthy and smelled of urine. Neighbors also noticed that the children, whom Theresa never let go outside, seemed fearful, nervous and high-strung.[9]

For years, Theresa abused and tortured her children in various ways, including beating them, starving them, force-feeding them, burning them with cigarettes, and throwing knives at them. She made her children hold each other down while she beat and tortured them. In one instance, she held a pistol to her youngest daughter Terry's head and threatened to kill her.[10] Theresa primarily focused her anger and abuse on Terry's older sisters, Suesan and Sheila. In an interview, Terry said her mother resented that Suesan and Sheila were maturing and blossoming into attractive young women while she faced the prospect of losing her looks as she aged.

Theresa also believed that her fourth husband, Chet Harris, had turned Suesan into a witch, so Suesan received the worst of the abuse. After one severe beating, Suesan ran away from home. She was picked up by police and placed in a psychiatric hospital where she told staff that her mother abused her. Theresa denied the abuse claims and told the hospital staff that Suesan had mental issues. Authorities did not investigate the matter further and released Suesan back into her mother's custody. Theresa punished Suesan for running away by beating her while wearing a pair of leather gloves. She also forced her other children to take turns beating their sister. In the subsequent weeks, Theresa handcuffed Suesan to her bed and ordered her other children to stand watch over her. She refused to let Suesan leave the house and forced her to drop out of school.[8] Theresa also pulled her other children out of school, and most of them never advanced past the eighth grade.[9]

Suesan's death[edit]

In 1982, Theresa became convinced that Suesan was casting spells on her to cause her to gain weight. As a result, she would handcuff Suesan to her bed, beat her, and refuse to give her food for days at a time. Suesan had denied doing anything to make her mother "gain weight", but Theresa had become even angrier. In an argument between mother and daughter, Theresa shot Suesan in the lower stomach with a 22-caliber pistol. The bullet became lodged in her back, but Theresa refused to allow Suesan to seek medical attention. With the bullet lodged her back, Suesan was left in the family bathtub with Terry, the youngest daughter, to look after her. She survived and Theresa began to nurse her back to health, allowing her other daughters to aid her as well. Suesan eventually recovered without receiving professional medical treatment. Theresa then forced Suesan to briefly work as a prostitute during late 1983-early 1984. [11][12]

In July 1984, Theresa and Suesan got into another argument during which Theresa stabbed her daughter in the back with a pair of scissors. Theresa again refused to allow Suesan medical treatment. A few weeks after the stabbing, Suesan, fed up with the constant abuse and starvation, decided to move out of the house permanently. Theresa agreed to let her go under the condition that Suesan allow her to remove the bullet from her back so it could not be used as evidence in the event that Suesan reported the abuse. Suesan reluctantly agreed.[13] Theresa gave Suesan Mellaril capsules and liquor as an anesthetic, which caused Suesan to pass out. While Suesan was unconscious, Theresa ordered her then-15-year-old son Robert to remove the bullet with an X-Acto knife. Suesan awoke the following day in immense pain. Over the following days, she developed sepsis and became delirious. Theresa attempted to treat her with ibuprofen and antibiotics, which proved ineffective. As Suesan's condition continued to decline, Theresa had left her handcuffed under the kitchen table with no food or water; one day while Theresa was out doing errands, Terry gave Suesan a cup of water with some sugar in it.[11][14]

On July 16, 1984, Theresa packed all of Suesan's belongings in trash bags and, after binding Suesan's arms and legs and placing duct tape over her mouth, ordered her sons Robert and William to put her in their car.[11] They drove her to Squaw Valley, where Robert and William placed her on the side of the road on top of the bags containing her belongings. Knorr then doused Suesan and the bags in gasoline and lit the girl on fire.[11] Suesan's still smoldering body was found the following day. An autopsy determined that she was still alive when she was lit on fire. Due to the state of the remains, a positive identification was never made and Suesan was classified as Jane Doe #4873/84.[13][15]

Sheila's death[edit]

Following Suesan's death, Theresa began directing the majority of her abuse towards Sheila. In May 1985, Theresa forced Sheila, like Suesan before her, into prostitution to support the family. Theresa, who did not work and received money from the state, was initially pleased with the large amounts of money Sheila was earning and allowed her to leave the house whenever she pleased. Theresa had also started handcuffing Sheila to her bed and under the kitchen table, repeating the same abuse Suesan endured the year before. [16]

After a few weeks, Theresa angrily accused Sheila of being pregnant and contracting a sexually transmitted disease which Theresa claimed she caught from Sheila via a toilet seat. When Sheila denied the accusations, Theresa beat her, hog tied her and locked her in a hot 16x24 inch linen closet with no ventilation or a place to sit or kneel. Theresa forbade her other children from giving Sheila food or water or from opening the closet, but Terry disobeyed her mother and gave Sheila a beer on one occasion. [17] To end the punishment, Sheila confessed to Theresa's accusations, but her mother claimed she was lying and refused to release her.

Sheila died on June 21, 1985, of starvation and dehydration.[17] Theresa left the body in the closet for an additional three days before discovering that she was dead. Once again, Theresa ordered Robert and William to dispose of Sheila's body, which had begun to decompose and fill the apartment with a foul odor. The boys placed Sheila's body in a cardboard box, which they disposed of near an airport in Truckee.[18] Sheila's body was discovered a few hours later, but she was never positively identified and was classified as Jane Doe #6607-85.[16][17]

Even though Sheila's body had been removed from the closet, the smell of decomposition still lingered in the apartment.[18] Theresa became concerned that the smell and the physical evidence in the closet could implicate her in Sheila's death. On September 30, 1986, Theresa moved the family's belongings out of the apartment and ordered Terry to burn it down in an effort to destroy any evidence.[17] During the night, Terry dumped three containers of lighter fluid on the floor and set it aflame. The fire did little damage, as neighbors quickly reported it before it spread. The closet in which Sheila died was not damaged. After Theresa's arrest, investigators were able to remove the subfloor from the closet to test it for physical evidence.[18]

After leaving the Sacramento apartment, Theresa went into hiding. Her surviving children, who were by then of legal age, severed their ties with their mother. Her youngest child, 16-year-old Terry, also left her mother's care and used Sheila's identification card to pass herself off as a legal adult. The only child to remain with Theresa was Robert, who was then 19 years old. Theresa and Robert moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and attempted to keep a low profile. In November 1991, Robert was arrested after he fatally shot a Las Vegas bartender during an attempted robbery. He was sentenced to sixteen years in prison. Shortly after Robert's arrest, Theresa left Las Vegas and relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah.[19]

Arrests and convictions[edit]

After escaping from her mother, Terry attempted to report her sisters' murders to the Utah police. They dismissed her stories as fiction, as did a therapist she visited.[20][18]

On October 28, 1993, Terry contacted the television program America's Most Wanted, who asked her to contact detectives in Placer County, California, where Suesan's body was found. The Placer County authorities took her claims seriously and followed up with an investigation, linking the two Jane Does found in the area in 1984 and 1985 to Terry's detailed stories of her sisters' deaths.[13][21] Theresa's son William was arrested on November 4, 1993, in Woodland, California.[18] Robert was charged with his sisters' murders while he was serving his sentence in an Ely, Nevada.[21] On November 10, Theresa was arrested at her home in Salt Lake City. At the time of her arrest, she was using her maiden name and was working as a caretaker for her landlord's 86-year-old mother.[22]

On November 15, 1993, Theresa Knorr was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and two special circumstances charges: multiple murder and murder by torture. She initially pled not guilty, but then made a plea bargain with the prosecution after learning that her son Robert agreed to testify against her in exchange for a reduced sentence. She pleaded guilty on the condition that she be spared the death penalty. On October 17, 1995, Theresa was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. She is incarcerated at California Institution for Women in Chino. She will be eligible for parole in 2027.[23]

William Knorr was sentenced to probation and ordered to undergo therapy for participating in his sister Sheila's murder. In exchange for his testimony, the prosecution dropped all charges against Robert Knorr, Jr. save for one count of being an accessory-after-the-fact in relation to Sheila's murder. Robert pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to three years in prison which was served concurrently with his sixteen-year sentence.[23][24]


Following Theresa's arrest, police decided to reopen the murder case of her sister, Rosemary Norris, who was found strangled at the end of a dead end road in Placer County in 1983 after she went grocery shopping in Sacramento.[5] Police later determined that Knorr was not involved in Norris' death.[25]

After moving out of her mother's home, Terry married twice and eventually moved to Sandy, Utah, where she lived with her second husband. She worked as a grocery store cashier in the same neighborhood where her mother also lived and worked before her arrest. Theresa and Terry apparently did not know they lived in close proximity and had no contact.[18] Terry died in Saint Joseph, Missouri on December 8, 2011.[26][27]

In 2016, Robert Knorr, Jr. was sentenced to eight years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of distribution and possession of child pornography.[28] His prior convictions for murder and accessory to murder after the fact were cited in his sentencing.

In popular culture[edit]

The 2010 horror film The Afflicted (also titled Another American Crime) is loosely based on the Theresa Knorr case. The film follows the real-life events through a substantially-compressed timeline. Unlike the real case, the movie ends with the youngest daughter killing her mother and one of her brothers before committing suicide.[29]

The murders were profiled on the A&E series Cold Case Files, featuring an exclusive interview with Terry Knorr Walker.[30][31][32] The case was also profiled on the series Most Evil,[33][34] Wicked Attraction[24][35] and Deadly Women, as well as Evil Lives Here, Season 6, Episode 2, The Face Of My Torturer.".[36][37]


  1. ^ a b Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Theresa". p. 2. Archived from the original on December 16, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Stone, Michael H. The Anatomy of Evil. Prometheus Books. p. 248. ISBN 1-615-92205-9.
  3. ^ a b Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Defending Dignity". p. 3.
  4. ^ a b Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Unexpected Outcome". p. 4.
  5. ^ a b "Murder Suspect Killed Husband". Lodi News-Sentinel. November 8, 1993. p. 8.
  6. ^ a b c Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Moving On". p. 5.
  7. ^ a b Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Desperate". p. 6.
  8. ^ a b Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: The Edge of Sanity". p. 7.
  9. ^ a b Foster, David (November 15, 1993). "Girl begged police to believe her". Lakeland Ledger. p. 4A.
  10. ^ Matthew Blackburn (August 12, 2015). "Behind Closed Doors: The Secret Life of the Knorr Family". The Line Up. Open Road Media. Retrieved November 10, 2017. I grew up in an insane asylum basically, but what's worse is we didn't know it was an insane asylum.
  11. ^ a b c d Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Bartering Freedoms". p. 8.
  12. ^ Sam Warrington (August 16, 2016). "8 Female Serial Killers That Have Committed Despicable Crimes". Movie Pilot. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c Paddock, Richard C. (November 14, 1993). "'Unbelievable' Tale Reveals Grisly Crimes". p. 1.
  14. ^ Millon, Theodore; Simonsen, Erik; Birket-Smith, Morten; Davis, Roger D., eds. (2002). Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior. Guilford Press. p. 352. ISBN 1-572-30864-8.
  15. ^ Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Unforeseen Discovery". p. 1.
  16. ^ a b Stone, Michael H. (2007). Personality-Disordered Patients: Treatable and Untreatable. American Psychiatric Pub. p. 246. ISBN 1-585-62705-4.
  17. ^ a b c d Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Jane Doe #6607-85". p. 9.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Paddock, Richard C. (November 15, 1993). "Police finally believe tale of depravity and murder". The Spokesman-Review. p. A12.
  19. ^ Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Last Stop". p. 10.
  20. ^ Paddock, Richard C. (November 15, 1993). "Police finally believe tale of depravity and murder". The Los Angeles Times. AUBURN, Calif.: The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  21. ^ a b "Mom Who's Sought In Slayings of Daughters Is Arrested In S.L." November 11, 1993.
  22. ^ Carter, Mike (November 12, 1993). "Woman accused of killing children arrest in Utah". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. p. 7A.
  23. ^ a b Lohr, David. "Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross: Epilogue". p. 11.
  24. ^ a b Gee, Jennifer (December 19, 2008). "'Wicked' local crime documented | Discovery Channel interviews defense attorney about 1994 case". Gold Country Media. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  25. ^ Clarkson, Wensley (1995). Whatever Mother Says...: A True Story of a Mother, Madness and Murder. Macmillan. p. 142. ISBN 0-312-95542-1.
  26. ^ Theresa Marie “Terry” Knorr Walker at Find a Grave
  27. ^ Theresa Knorr Obituary
  28. ^ "St. Joseph Man Sentenced for Child Porn" (Press release). Kansas City, Missouri: United States Attorneys' Office, Western District of Missouri. August 30, 2016. Archived from the original on May 25, 2017. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  29. ^ Corey Danna (May 10, 2012). "Film Review: The Afflicted (2010) | HNN". Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  30. ^ "Watch Mommy's Rules Full Episode - Cold Case Files Classic | A&E". A&E. October 28, 2003. Retrieved November 10, 2017. S2, E24 Mommy's Rules TV-14
    A mother is suspected in the murders of two of her daughters, when her third daughter finally convinces police to reopen two cold cases.
    Aired on: Oct 28, 2003, Duration: 42m 25s
  31. ^ "Cold Case Files". Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  32. ^ "Cold Case Files: Mommy Rules". Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  33. ^ "Murderous Women | Most Evil | Investigation Discovery GO". Investigation Discovery GO. March 7, 2007. Retrieved November 10, 2017. Season 1 Episode 3 Over 90% of murders are committed by men. But what motivates the women who are driven to kill? Most women who do kill, murder those closest to them, Find the striking difference between men and women killers. 44 min. | TV-14 | Premiered 03/07/2007
  34. ^ "Most Evil S01E03 - Murderous Women". Dailymotion. March 30, 2015. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  35. ^ Jenifer Gee (July 29, 2009). "Auburn attorney to appear on national TV". Auburn Journal. Gold Country Media. Retrieved November 10, 2017. The show airs on channel 285 on DirecTV on the Investigation Discovery Channel. The episode is titled, "A mother's love."
  36. ^ "The Sacred Bond | Deadly Women". Retrieved November 10, 2017. Season 4 • Episode 7 Women who kill husbands, lovers, rivals and parents will shock society. But a very special horror is reserved for the women who will kill their own, breaking the sacred bond between mother and child. 43 min | TV-14 | Premiered 09/23/2010
  37. ^ "Deadly Women - The Sacred Bond". Dailymotion. December 4, 2015. Retrieved November 10, 2017.

37.^ "Wicked Attraction: A Mother's Love". 2009. Retrieved May 29, 2018.

Further reading[edit]