SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – It was December 1966 and a reign of terror struck Utah.
In five-days, five people were murdered. A sixth person died a few days later.
Three others survived this bloody rampage. Serial killers Myron Lance and Walter Kelbach were arrested shortly after the final shooting.
Mitch Pilkington, a Weber State University adjunct professor is familiar with Lance and Kelbach. Pilkington is a forensic and criminal justice expert and specializes in serial killers.
“A week or so before Christmas in Salt Lake, it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year,” said Pilkington.
It was late December and families were making plans for the holiday.
“But then, on December 17th, late at night, police are called to a robbery at a Texaco station in the Kearns area,” Pilkinson recalled.
The clerk was missing and the cash till was open. Authorities found the body of 18-year old Steven Shea in the Tooele area.
“(He was) nude, stabbed to death sexually assaulted and abandoned in the desert,” said Pilkington.
In the 1960s television was coming into its own and more and more families have tv sets. News of a murder began to transfix Utahns on the evening news.
“With the assistance of the news media that video image being projected into homes how could you not be afraid, how could you not feel some sort of panic,” said Pilkington.
But it was only the beginning of five terrifying nights in Salt Lake County.
The next night there was another robbery near 1700 south and 400 east. It was identical to the murder in Kearns. The gas station attendant was also missing.
The body of Michael Holtz was found the next day near Wanship in Summit County. Authorities had few clues to go on.
From the archives of ABC4, the following was an exchange between a reporter and police.
Reporter: “Do you feel it was somebody familiar with the Salt Lake area?”
Police: “I think it is probably their chief base of operation. I would feel he is working out of Salt Lake and going east and west both.”
Reporter: “Do you have any suspects in mind?”
Police: “Not at the present time. No.”
Reporter: “Do you feel something like this could happen again?”
Police: “It’s happened twice.”
Pilkingston said people started paying closer attention to what was happening in Salt Lake.
“To find out the same thing happened a day later, that same scenario, absolutely terrifying,” he said.
Police and government officials held emergency meetings. The acting governor told ABC4 in 1966, if you see something, say something.
“I say to the citizens of this state, they also have a responsibility,” he told reporters. “I ask them to be alert and to report anything that might tend to be suspicious.”
As police continued to hunt for the killer or killers, owners of businesses started to arm themselves.
From ABC4 archives:
Service station owner: “Well I’m having two men on, one with a revolver and one with tear gas.”
Another service station owner was also interviewed and he told the reporter: “We’re keeping two men on duty after it gets dark at night. Then we’re carrying some firearms with us in case we have a chance to use them or have to use them.”
On the evening of December 21st., there was trouble between a Ute cab driver and customers. Because of the ongoing concern for safety, cab drivers and the dispatch had worked out a code in case there was trouble. The dispatcher heard the code and called for other drivers to head towards North Temple.
From ABC4’s archives:
Reporter: “What was the other cab driver’s explanation of the scene?
Dispatcher: “Well he said, yes Mr. Strong is here. He is either dead or bleeding to death right now.
Cab driver Grant Strong was victim number three.
But the night was not over. Lally’s tavern was the next hit. Three people were shot to death but three others survived.
From ABC4’s archives:
Police: “He forced the bartender to take the cash drawer and empty it into one of the men’s pockets, turned around and fired one shot directly at a man. The witness thought he was pretending and saw the man fall, saw the blood and the shooting continued. A witness stated that he knew both of these men and played dead and that’s why he was not shot.”
Killed were James Sisemore and Fred Lillie. Beverly Mace was also shot and was reported in fair condition. But she died from her wounds a few days later.
Right after the Lally’s Tavern shooting police cordoned off Salt Lake County. Roadblocks were set up in various locations.
Lance and Kelbach were arrested in Parleys Canyon and booked into jail for the murders.
From ABC4 archives:
Police: “And I went to the driver’s side where Kelbach was sitting and ordered him to put his hands upon the steering wheel. He didn’t react the first time.”
Reporter: “Where was your weapon at the time?”
Police: “It was on the side of his head.”
Thursday in part two of Utah’s first serial killers, Lance and Kelback are convicted and sentenced to die. But in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court called it unconstitutional and their lives were spared.
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