In 1978, 15-year-old Mary Vincent hitchhiked from Las Vegas to California. She got into a van, and 50-year-old Lawrence Singleton attacked, raped, and dismembered the teen before leaving her for dead. Vincent managed to survive the attempted murder and get help from a nearby couple. After she received new prosthetic arms for the appendages Singleton had cut off, Vincent addressed him as her attacker to the courts.
Although convicted, the penal system released Singleton less than a decade later, but not before he tried to sue Vincent for robbery. The courts promptly dismissed his unsubstantiated case. Despite Vincent’s extensive physical and mental trauma, she testified against Singleton a second time years later. After his release from prison, Singleton killed a woman in Florida. In 2001, with the help of Vincent’s testimony, Singleton got the death penalty for the murder. More than a caveat of hitchhiking, Vincent’s story illustrates the resilience of a teen who survived torture and stood up against her attacker.
Vincent grew up in Las Vegas, and her parents worked for the casinos - her mother as a dealer and her father as a machine repairman. Not atypical for teenagers, 15-year-old Vincent often skipped school and later took off with her boyfriend. She lived with her beau for a summer in Sausalito, CA, until authorities apprehended him on rape charges.
Vincent returned to Las Vegas but ran away in September 1978 and headed toward California to visit her grandfather in Corona, CA. Vincent had spent the summer sleeping in her boyfriend’s car and was not hesitant to hitchhike her way across state.
Lawrence Singleton slowed down his van to pick up Mary Vincent in Berkeley, CA, on the morning of September 29, 1978. Singleton was a merchant seaman by trade, and upon finding Vincent, told her with a kind smile that he had a daughter just about her age. He also told her he'd been heading to Reno but would happily change course to take her to Los Angeles. Her destination, Corona, CA, was on the outskirts of the city, and she initially accepted his family man demeanor.
Despite his façade, middle-aged Singleton reportedly had a temper and was a misogynist. His second wife recently divorced him, and his relationship with his teen daughter was strained, as they had fought earlier that year and never reconciled. In the past, he'd been convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and had a history of alcohol abuse. Vincent was unaware of Singleton’s instability and got into his van.
When Vincent lit up her cigarette shortly after accepting the ride, she sneezed, and Singleton reached over to feel her neck, asking if she was sick. Vincent didn't like the physical contact and pulled out of his reach, but soon drifted off to sleep when he didn't try anything further. She even offered to help him carry some laundry at a stop along the way before nodding off, not thinking that anything was amiss.
When she woke up, she realized they were way off course and driving back toward Nevada. Scared and angry, she found a sharp stick in the car and pointed it at Singleton. She demanded he turn the van around and take her to where she was headed. Singleton acquiesced and calmly apologized, reassuring the teen he was “just an honest man who made a mistake.” Vincent believed he was remorseful, and the ride continued.
Singleton stopped the van to go to the bathroom, so Vincent got out to stretch her legs. As she leaned down to tie her shoe, Singleton struck her by surprise. He beat her across the back of her head, punching her until she fell. Singleton forced his penis into her mouth and told her to perform oral sex or else she would die. Then he dragged her to the back of the van and raped her. He told her not to scream or he'd kill her and to obey him if she wanted to live.
He then bound her hands behind her and drove for a while. Eventually, he came to a stop, cut her hands free, and ordered her to drink some unknown alcohol from a plastic jug. Woozy and confused, Vincent was repeatedly raped until she passed out.