Theresa Knorr is one of America’s most famous murderers. She is in jail serving out two concurrent life sentences for the murder and torture of two of her children, then using her other kids to help make sure her crimes went undiscovered. She was so brutal and callous that when her evil acts were reported to law enforcement officials, they disregarded the stories as too fantastical to be anything but lies.
It wasn’t until the police found a connection between two unresolved cases that gave credence to the story that they mounted a full-fledged investigation that led to Theresa’s horrifying crimes getting exposed. She became instantly famous after the case went public as millions of people were shocked to the core and intrigued by the woman who could commit such grotesque and cold-hearted murders.
Who is Theresa Knorr?
She was a chronic alcoholic, which when combined with her anger issues, paranoia, and mental instability, proved to be a lethal mix that would claim the lives of two of her children and traumatize the rest indelibly. Theresa’s life story has been covered widely by the media and news outlets. Several books, movies, and television series have been written about her and her criminal exploits.
The famous criminal was born Theresa Jimmie Francine Cross in Sacramento on March 12, 1946. She was the second child born to her parents who were James Cross and Swannie Gay. Theresa’s mother was employed at a timber company while her father was an assistant cheesemaker at Golden State Dairy. She had a very comfortable childhood until her father fell victim to Parkinson’s disease and had no choice but to abandon his work. He soon grew uncomfortable with his situation and began taking out his displeasure on Theresa and her siblings. Things turned even uglier after her mother Swannie suffered a heart failure and gave up the ghost in Theresa’s arms.
Her family was forced to sell their house because they could no longer afford it, so young Theresa Knorr grew more despondent. When she was 16, she met and married a man who was five years her senior. The marriage soon turned sour because Theresa made sure to monitor and restrict her husband’s activities and when he announced that he was leaving her, she shot and killed him. During the trial, she argued that her action was done in self-defense because he was abusing her physically, so she was acquitted.
Spouse and Children
Theresa Knorr was married a total of four times. She said her first “I do” at 16 years old when she tied the knot with Clifford Clyde Sanders. Before long, she became pregnant with Howard Clyde, her first son. The marriage ended after she fired a gun at Clifford and killed him. She was carrying her second child, Sheila, at the time and gave birth shortly after the trial ended and she was acquitted.
A few months later, Theresa started dating an army veteran named Estelle Lee Thornsberry and moved in together with him. The relationship started having problems because she kept abandoning her children with him for long periods of time to go drinking. Lee broke up with her when he discovered she was cheating with his best friend.
Her next relationship was with Robert Knorr, whom she wedded in 1966. Theresa Knorr had her third child, Suesan, with him. They welcomed three other children together named William, Robert, and Theresa. Their marriage ended in 1972.
Moving on, Theresa married her third husband Ronald Pulliam in 1973, but her partying, drinking, and unfaithfulness sped up the decline of their marriage. They got divorced a year later, after which she married her last husband Chester Harris. Their marriage lasted from August 1976 to November 1976.
Theresa Knorr’s Life of Crime
Theresa was not just a bad mother, she was a cruel and abusive one. She physically assaulted her children, verbally abused them, and played all kinds of harmful emotional games with them. She grew more malicious, bitter, and hot-tempered with every passing day. She raised her children with fear and terror, making them participate in the beating and torturing each other. Most of Theresa’s cruelty was directed towards her daughters.
After Suesan ran away to escape from her abuse and was returned home by the police, Theresa upped her punishment by handcuffing her, beating her badly, and making the other children take turns in hitting her. She withdrew all her children from school to limit their contact with outsiders. Her anger towards Suesan grew worse by the day because she claimed that the girl was using witch powers to make her grow fatter.
During one of her moments of anger, she shot Suesan in the chest and the bullet settled in her back. She then left her to bleed out and die in the bathtub. Fortunately, she survived and her mother forced her into prostitution. Months later, she fell deathly ill from sepsis and infections after her mother performed a procedure on her to remove the bullet in her back in exchange for letting her move out.
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When her condition deteriorated, Theresa Knorr drove her far away from the house with the help of her sons and burnt her alive at the side of the road. With Suesan dead, Theresa went after Sheila with the full force of her anger. She repeated the patterns of abuse that Suesan suffered until the day she claimed Sheila had transmitted an STD to her through the toilet seat. Theresa beat her up badly, tied her up, and locked her in a small, airless closet. She then instructed the other children not to feed her or let her out. Weeks later, Sheila died of dehydration and starvation in the closet and Theresa left the body to decompose for a few days before placing her in a cardboard box which she dropped close to an airport.
Theresa fled the apartment and began hiding, while her remaining children abandoned her except Robert. Terry went to the police to report her mother’s crimes, but they did not believe her until she involved the media. This kick-started an investigation that helped uncover Thersa’s crimes, leading to her eventual arrest and convictions for the murders of her daughters. She is still serving her two life sentences and won’t be eligible for parole until 2027, meaning she will probably die in prison.