The Justice Files: Utah’s first serial killers show no remorse

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) –  It was a terrifying December in 1966.

That December Myron Lance and Walter Kelbach went on a killing spree that left six dead in about a week.

But their reign of terror ended December 21st. after a bloodbath at Lally’s Tavern near 900 West and 400 South in Salt Lake City.

According to ABC4 archives from 1966, authorities said the following:

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.”

Two people, James Sisemore, and Frank Lillie were shot to death at the tavern.  A third person, Beverly Mace was taken to the hospital where she died days later.  Another person was wounded but survived and two others survived.

It was the final string of murders by Kelbach and Lance. On December 17th, Stephen Shea was kidnapped, raped and stabbed to death.   The 18-year old was an employee at a Kearn service station.

The following day, another 18-year-old Michael Holtz was kidnapped, raped and stabbed to death too. Hours before the shootings at the tavern, taxi cab driver Grant Strong was murdered after picking up the pair.

In 1966, the bartender at the tavern, Lloyd Graven, was interviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune.

“It was like sitting in a fox hole at the battlefront,” Graven told the reporter. “He turned on me and shot point-blank.  The concussion of the shot knocked me down.  He leaned over the bar and shot at me lying on the floor.  How he missed, I’ll never know.”

Graven called the police.  Roadblocks were set up throughout the county after police were notified about the tavern shooting.  At one roadblock in Parleys Canyon, police spotted Kelbach and Lance.

From ABC4 archives: 
Police: “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.”

Forensic and crime specialist Mitch Pilkington teaches criminal justice at Weber State but focuses on serial killers.

“One of the pieces of this case that sets it apart from so many other cases is simply the rapid succession of the way the crimes were committed,” said Pilkington an adjunct professor.  “Six people in five days, that’s a lot of murder. It is stunning. it is a lot.”

The two were charged with the murders and sentenced to die.  Lance chose the firing squad and Kelbach wanted to be hanged.  

Then the unbelievable happens.

Kelbach and Lance and other inmates escaped from the Utah state prison in 1968.

“Now it was limited to not just Utah, it was a nationwide panic,” Pilkington said. “You had this group of individuals, violent individuals that were roaming the streets somewhere.”

But within 24-hours the pair was caught in Burley, Idaho.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court called the death penalty unconstitutional and they were sentenced to life in prison and eligible for parole. Families of the victims were horrified.

“They were extremely upset and offended about that decision,”  Pilkington said.

That same year in an interview with NBC, Lance showed no remorse: “I haven’t any feelings toward the victims.”
Neither did Kelbach: “I don’t mind people getting hurt because I just like to watch it.”

“Those comments would be what we would associate with a psychopath,” said Pilkington.

In 1992, the two men were up for parole and appeared before a hearing officer with the Utah Board of Pardons. At the time, Kelbach was 53 years old and Lance 51 years old.  They had been in prison for 26 years. 

Families of the victims were worried they could be paroled.
 
“We lost a son,” said a father of one of the victims.  “Our other children lost a brother.  That loss has always been felt by all of us. The nightmare is always with us.” 

But Lance knew better and was realistic.

“I don’t see how you could ever let me out,” said Lance in 1992.  “I think the hearing has been a waste of your time as well as mine.  I see there is no possible way I’ll ever be granted a release and if I was in their shoes, I would feel the same way as they do.” 

On the same day, Kelbach also went before the same hearing officer.  He was asked if there was anything he wanted to talk about.

“No,”  Kelbach responded.

For the families of the victims, it turned out to be the last time they would ever see Lance and Kelbach.
  
“We don’t understand why they’re not sorry,” said the mother of one of the victims.  “And they’re not.  So, it’s too bad they didn’t carry out the death penalty.  From that point, it would have saved these families a lot of grief because every time it comes up they live the nightmare again.”

But their parole was denied and the Board of Pardons ruled the pair should remain in prison for the rest of their lives.

Kelbach and Lance never did apologize to the families of the victims.  Lance died of natural causes in 2010.  In August 2018, Kelbach also died of natural causes.  He was 80 years old at the time of his death and had served about 51 years in prison.  It was one of the longest-running terms ever by a Utah prisoner.

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