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'Unbelievable' Tale Reveals Grisly Crimes

November 14, 1993|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The next year, Knorr got into a violent argument with her eldest daughter, 20-year-old Sheila, and tied her up and locked her in a broom closet that was about two feet square, the sheriff said. She ordered no one in the family to feed her, although Terry Knorr, then about 13, brought her beer.

Sheila died in the closet within several days and the stench of her decomposing body filled the apartment.

Theresa Knorr again enlisted the brothers to help, Nunes said. The mother and sons put the body in a cardboard box, taped it shut and took it to the mountains, where they dumped it near the Truckee airport, he said.

On their return, they found that the smell did not go away and Theresa Knorr allegedly ordered Terry to set the apartment on fire. In the middle of the night, the teen-ager sprinkled barbecue lighter fluid around the apartment and lit it, the sheriff said.

The Fire Department, however, responded so quickly that the closet was not damaged. This month, detectives armed with a search warrant came to the apartment, now occupied by other residents, and removed the stained subfloor of the closet. Tests are being conducted to determine if the stains are from a human body.

After the fire, the family left Sacramento. Theresa Knorr and her daughter, Terry, ended up in the Salt Lake City area. In recent months, Terry had been employed as a clerk in a grocery store in the same neighborhood where her mother lived and worked. But it is unclear whether they knew of each other's whereabouts.

Terry, now 23, lives with her husband in the suburb of Sandy, near Salt Lake City. Sandy Detective David Lundberg said police have been called to their house at least a dozen times in the past three years to resolve complaints of domestic violence. Both have been arrested more than once for their mutual combat, said Lundberg, who was among the officers called to her house.

Terry apparently tried in 1989 to report the alleged murders of her sisters to police in Utah, but they did not believe her, Lundberg said. Even a therapist she consulted did not take her seriously, he said.

But while watching an episode of "America's Most Wanted" on television last month, she realized that charges could still be brought. Authorities said she called the Placer County sheriff instead of Utah authorities.

"She didn't want her mother to get away with any of this and she wanted to tell her story," Lundberg said.

Before her mother was arrested, Terry went to a Utah television station, KUTV, and told the story of abuse and murder. "What kind of mother would do that?" she said. "What kind of person am I going to be for the rest of my life because of this?"

It is uncertain whether Knorr saw the broadcast, but shortly before her arrest she withdrew $4,000 from her bank account and notified her employer she was leaving town, Lundberg said.

Placer County detectives tracked her down by checking various aliases with driver's license records across the country.

Bud Sullivan, who had hired Knorr to care for his ailing mother, was stunned by the arrest. "I can't say anything bad about her," he said. "She was there 24 hours a day for the last 15 months. We consider her a part of the family."

Sheriff Nunes said the case would have been solved much sooner if anyone had believed Terry when she tried to report the murders in the late 1980s. Her descriptions were so detailed, he said, that a computer check should have turned up a report of the unidentified bodies.

Utah authorities said they are trying to find any officers who might have received information about the alleged murders from Terry Knorr.

Times special correspondent James G. Wright in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.

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