Written By: Jenae
Trigger Warning: Child Abuse, Child Neglect, Sexual Abuse, and Death of Children.
In 1993, a young woman by the name of Terry Knorr frantically called the Utah police. She claimed she had information on a strange murder that had gone unsolved for the past 10 years. Little did the police know, this case was about to get so much larger and more disturbing than they could’ve ever imagined.
Theresa Knorr was born in March 1946 in Sacramento, CA to Jim and Swannie Cross. According to those who knew the family, Knorr’s father began to suffer from Parkinson’s as he got older and couldn’t work anymore after an unsuccessful brain surgery. This caused him to spiral into a depression and he began to take out those frustrations on his wife and child. Theresa was reportedly very close to her mother and was incredibly upset when she died in 1961.
Throughout Theresa’s life, she would have four marriages, none of which were successful.
Her first husband was 21-year-old Clifford Sanders and they met when Theresa was just 16-years-old. They married in 1962. Upon marrying Sanders, Theresa dropped out of school and became pregnant with her first child, a son named Howard Sanders was born in 1963. Those close to the family said that Theresa was a jealous and possessive person, often accusing Sanders of cheating even though this was not the case. (Theresa was also physically abused by Sanders on at least once instance but didn’t press charges.) Things began escalating to the next level in 1964, when Sanders came home from spending his birthday with his friends instead of at home. The couple argued and Sanders told Knorr that he was leaving her. She responded by shooting Sanders in the back with a rifle, killing him. Knorr was arrested and charged but claimed she was not guilty because she was acting in self-defense as Sanders was physically abusive to her. Sanders relatives didn’t believe this and at the trial his sister even said, “I believe with all my heart that Theresa Sanders planned to kill my brother.” During the trial, Theresa was pregnant with her second child, Shelia. Theresa was acquitted of the murder on September 22nd, 1964.
After the birth of Sheila, Theresa began to drink more heavily. This drinking took place at local bars where she’d meet men. One night, she met Estelle Thornsberry and moved in with him quickly. Thornsberry soon learned what a nightmare Theresa was, she’d leave her children with him while she went out partying and drinking, even staying out for multiple days without returning to check on her children. Soon, Thornsberry had enough and the final straw was Theresa sleeping with his best friend. Once this relationship ended, Theresa met husband number two in 1966.
Robert Knorr was a US Marine. Soon after the relationship began, Theresa and Bob married and Theresa became pregnant again. The pair would go on to have four children in total: Suesan in 66, William in 67, Robert in 68, and Theresa or Terry in 1970. Just like every other relationship Theresa had been in, Robert and Theresa’s marriage was riddled with arguments, hostility, and alcoholism. Once again, Theresa began making accusations of infidelity against Bob. Because of all of this, Robert and Theresa divorce in 1969. When Robert attempts to see his kids, Theresa blocks him.
Theresa would have two more unsuccessful marriages. One in 1971 to Ron Pulliam. This marriage fell apart in less than a year after Theresa began leaving her kids with Ron to party. Ron got tired of it pretty quickly and filed for divorce. The next marriage lasted two months before it fell apart. Theresa married Chet Harris in August of 1976. Harris was close to Suesan and because Theresa was jealous of the normal attention her daughter was receiving and the fact that Harris liked to take photos of naked women (consensually), Theresa divorced Harris shortly after they married.
Theresa’s children lived in fear of their mother. She used a variety of abusive and downright torturous tactics to keep her children “in line”. These included force feeding the girls to make them “unattractive and fat”, beating her children, throwing knives, and burning the kids with cigarettes. She even made her other children participate, forcing them to hold down their siblings while she beat and burned them. Most of this abuse was directed at her oldest girls, Suesan and Sheila. Her youngest daughter, Terry, believed this was because Suesan and Sheila were becoming beautiful, adult women and Theresa was getting old and gross from the alcohol.
After the divorce between Harris and Knorr, Theresa began to spiral. She was drinking more, she had gained a lot of weight, hardly ever left the house and escalated the abuse against her children. She uprooted her family from their home in a smaller town in CA to a two bedroom in big city Sacramento, CA. (By this point, Theresa’s oldest son had moved out) This is when the behavior got worse, Theresa didn’t let her kids leave the home, not even for school, and neighbors noticed the home smelled like pee and that the children always seemed afraid. None of the children had more than a middle school education.
Theresa was convinced that Suesan had been turned into a witch by Harris. She believed that Suesan was casting spells to make her fat, because of this she received most of the abuse Theresa handed out until her death in 1984.. One time, Theresa had beaten Suesan and Suesan decided to run. She ended up in the psych ward after being picked up by police. She told the workers the horrible stories of abuse she was enduring at the hands of her mother. Police didn’t investigate these claims any further, as Theresa told them that Suesan had mental health problems and like to make things up. Theresa began handcuffing Suesan to the bed and forcing the other children to stand over her and watch her to ensure she wouldn’t leave.
Sometime in 1982, Theresa and Suesan got in an argument in which Theresa made claims that Suesan was a witch and she was making her mother fat. When Suesan tried to deny this, Theresa shot her in the chest and left her to bleed out in the bathtub. Suesan survived, the bullet had gotten lodged in her back. Theresa refused her medical treatment and she, Sheila, and Terry nursed her back to health.
In 1984, Suesan decided enough was enough and she told her mother she was running away to Alaska. Theresa agreed to let her leave under one condition: she wanted to dig the bullet out of Suesan’s back so she couldn’t report the shooting to authorities. Suesan agreed because she desperately wanted to leave. Theresa gave Suesan a mixture of alcohol and pills used to treat psychosis as anesthetic. Once Suesan passed out, Theresa ordered Robert to extract the bullet. He was 15 at the time. The bullet was removed but because of the dirty conditions, Suesan ended up sick of sepsis over the course of days. Instead of leaving Suesan at a hospital, Theresa attempted to treat the sepsis with antibiotics and ibuprofen. On July 16th, 1984, Theresa decided she was sick of nursing Suesan’s health. She bound her arms and legs and had her sons stuff Suesan and all her belongings in the car. They drove to a less populated area, put Suesan and her belongings on the side of the road before Theresa covered Suesan and her things in gas. She then lit the pile ablaze. Upon discovery the next day, Suesan’s body was still on fire. When authorities conducted an autopsy, they found that Suesan was still alive when she was lit on fire. At the time, this case would go down as unsolved and, unable to identify the body of Suesan Knorr, her body was labeled as Jane Doe #4873. Suesan was 17-years-old at the time of her death.
After Suesan’s death, Theresa turned her aggression toward her other daughter, Sheila. This included all the abuse I mentioned earlier, but wait, there’s more. Theresa forced Shelia into sex work because she didn’t want to work and the money Theresa was earning from the state wasn’t enough. At the beginning of this, Sheila was making good amounts of money and was afforded more privileges than the other children. Soon, Theresa would begin making more things up. She argued with Sheila, claimed Sheila was pregnant and had an STI. Theresa also claimed that she contracted this STI from Sheila from a toilet seat (which is pretty much impossible). Sheila denied this. Again, the denial of the bullshit Theresa made up in her head led to murder. As a result of this argument, Theresa beat her, bound her arms and legs before locking her in a closet. This closet was hot and had no ventilation. Theresa didn’t give Sheila food or water and didn’t allow her children to either, she didn’t even allow the door to the closet to be opened. Terry tried to open the door and gave Sheila the only thing available to drink in the house, beer. Sheila attempted to give in to her mother, claim that her mother was right and that she had gotten an STI and pregnant. Theresa no longer believed her and left her in the closet to die. Less than a year after Suesan’s death, Sheila died in June of 1985. She was locked in the closet alive for three days. On June 21st, Sheila passed away from starvation and dehydration, but Theresa and her family wouldn’t discover Sheila’s body for another three days. Because of how hot the closet was, the decomposition was sped up. The smell was the first give away. Again, Theresa had her two sons dispose of Sheila’s body, this time they left the body in a cardboard box at a nearby airport. Sheila’s body was found hours after being dropped off, but she was so badly decomposed that authorities were unable to identify her. She was labeled as Jane Doe #6607.
The smell continued to permeate the apartment that the remaining family members shared. This made Theresa paranoid that she’d be caught and she decided they needed to get out of town. She ordered Terry to burn down the apartment. Terry tried to, but the fire didn’t do much because it was quickly caught by neighbors. The fire did nothing to the closet where Sheila spent her last days. By the time of the move, all remaining children except Terry and Robert left their mother’s “care”. Terry left the first chance she got, using Sheila’s ID to move through the world as an adult. Robert stayed with his mother as they went to Vegas. In 1991, Robert attempted to rob a bar and shot the bartender, killing him. He was given 16 years in prison. Theresa relocated to Utah, this time alone.
After escaping her terrible mother, Terry told her therapist, a lawyer, and the police about what had happened to her sisters. Every single one of these people dismissed her, believing the stories to be fake. Terry had been trying to report the murders to various people since 1989. It wasn’t until 1993 that someone took her seriously.
In 1993, Terry called the America’s Most Wanted tip line. She said, “What kind of mother does that? What kind of person am I going to be for the rest of my life because of this?” They directed her to the CA county police department, who finally took the claims seriously and began an investigation. Terry shares the details of her sister’s deaths and investigators link the two Jane Does to the case. William Knorr was arrested in November 1993 for his involvement. Robert Jr. was already serving time for the bartender murder in Vegas and was charged for his involvement in his sister’s deaths. Finally, on November 10th, 1993, authorities track down Theresa Knorr in Utah. She was working as a caregiver for an 86-year-old woman. Just five days later, Theresa was convicted and charged with two counts each of conspiracy to commit murder, murder, and murder by torture. This was so quick because she agreed to a plea deal after discovering that Robert Jr. planned on testifying against her. She accepted the deal as long as prosecution didn’t seek the death penalty. In 1995, Theresa Knorr was sentenced to a double sentence of life in prison, she’s eligible for parole in 2027.
All charges against Robert Jr. were dropped since he testified, except for an accessory after the fact charge that got him three years. William had to complete court ordered therapy and probation.
Because of Theresa’s brutal ways, police reopened her sister’s case. Rosemary Norris was murdered in 1983 by strangulation. Police found that Theresa had no involvement in the death.
Terry is the only child we have updates about, she lived out the rest of her life in Sandy, UT. She had two marriages and unfortunately died on heart failure in 2011. Terry was the only surviving daughter of Theresa Knorr and without a doubt would’ve been next on Theresa’s list.
Let’s hope this steaming hot garbage won’t get parole. EVER.