Story: Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris engaged in some of the most sadistic, brutal violence ever seen, even by the standards of serial killers. The two would kidnap, rape, torture, and murder at least five women during their reign of terror. The police had little luck in tracking down the killers, but a tip from one of Bittaker and Norris’ fellow criminals helped direct law enforcement and by turn, put an end to the horrific crimes. While the case would become infamous and make international news, Bittaker would refuse to speak with most outlets and as such, a lot of details of the murders remained hidden within his twisted mind. But Laura Brand would get him to break that silence, after she sent Bittaker a survey and began a years long correspondence with the killer.
Entertainment Value: The driving force behind this feature length documentary is Laura Brand’s interaction with Lawrence Bittaker, who had of course been sitting on Death Row for decades for his sick crimes. She sent surveys to a multitude of serial killers, hoping to develop questions they weren’t able to twist around, but she suspected she wouldn’t get much of a response. But the reclusive Bittaker would answer her and while it was a slow start, she would eventually begin to write with the killer and even have daily phone conversations with Bittaker. Those phones conversations are a central element in The Toolbox Killer, as we can hear her questions and Bittaker’s answers, in his own words from his own mouth, rather than speculation or second hand sources. You can tell the years of contact made both Bittaker and Brand invested in the friendship, but Brand keeps her research at the front of her conversations and tries to help locate the undiscovered victims.
This documentary devotes a good deal of time to Brand and Bittaker’s conversations, but also delves into the case in general. This gives us an informative overview of the case with comments from the people who lived through it. The prosecutor who tried the case is present and shares his memories, as are others who were part of the investigation. I think those kind of first hand accounts help The Toolbox Killer stand out from its true crime peers, as hearing the stories from the folks who lived it adds a layer to the depth that not all true crime shows can match. Each case is examined in detail and thanks to Brand’s recorded phone calls, we can hear Bittaker describe the crimes in detail. This can be hard to listen to, especially since he shows no remorse whatsoever, but his accounts of the murders do shed light on exactly what happened, at least from his perspective. I appreciated this documentary and for fans of serial killers or true crime, The Toolbox Killer is recommended.