Written by David Baker
This episode comes as a request from multiple people. Hold on to your hats. Requests happen for a reason. If you would like to make a request for a subject, please reach out to us in the comments, on Twitter, or in a podcast review. Chances are I’ll see it.
It is also worth pointing out that lately I’ve interviewed a fair few witnesses and perpetrators for various upcoming scripts. These people have given me firsthand accounts in order to elevate the material with unique detail you won’t find anywhere else. If you feel that you have firsthand knowledge of a case that would make for a good episode of the Casual Criminalist, feel free to reach out. This goes for both witnesses and perpetrators, though with the latter group, I reserve the right to run away screaming all the way to the police station.
And now, without further ado, once more into the darkness.
The Stench of a Target
It is April 22nd 1974. The town is Ogden, Utah, just 40 miles or 64 kilometres north of Salt Lake City. Ogden sits at the foot of the beautiful Wasatch [wah-satch] Mountains and just astride the breathtaking Great Salt Lake. Combined with a temperate climate, all told Ogden is a very picturesque part of the world to live in. In 1974, Ogden was still a railway hub for much of the country’s public transport and movement of manufactured goods, hence the motto adopted by the chamber of commerce: “You can’t get anywhere without coming to Ogden.”
The town was also, to use an adjective Simon coined in an earlier episode, quite “mormony.” In 1972, just two years prior to our story, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints completed work on the Ogden Temple, a four-storey building with golden windows and a spire that could be seen from all over town. Unlike most Mormon temples, it was quite the monstrosity of 1960s/70s modern architecture, which in my opinion was an architectural dark age. It looked like a giant McDonalds. The temple was redone in 2014 with a much more aesthetically pleasing classical exterior. The temple serviced tens of thousands of parishioners, which in 1974 amounted to pretty much the entire town. Ogden also had a significant military presence. A Defense Depot sat in the middle of town. To the south of Ogden was the Hill Airforce Base, and stationed there were the perpetrators of today’s brutal and senseless slaughter.
On the evening of April 22nd, the Hi-Fi shop in downtown Ogden was staffed by two people, Sherry Ansley and Stanley Walker. In the 1970s, one could not just play music on one’s phone and get high fidelity sound from one’s stunningly well-crafted and cost-effective Raycon earbuds (this is my way of apology to Lord Ray of House J for a previous episode). Instead, in order to play musical records with high fidelity sound, one needed to purchase a bunch of highly expensive and bulky equipment which would take up one quarter of your living room. As such, a shop full of this equipment would make for quite the lucrative target for a heist. And that is precisely what the culprits in today’s episode had in mind. They’d knock off the shop, load out all the equipment, ship it to a different state, and sell it on the black market. All told, this job stood to make the Hi-Fi bandits a great deal of money.
The perpetrators also had one other stipulation for the heist from which they would not swerve. They were not going to leave any witnesses alive.
You Came Seeking Slaughter…
As evening fell upon the town of Ogden, only two employees were left working at the Hi-Fi shop. As things wound down, they weren’t expecting many customers. The lone salesman on duty, Stanley Walker, was 20 years old. He was tall, muscular, athletic and handsome. So much so, he could be forgiven for the stereotypically bad 1970s haircut. All told, Stanley Walker was a model Utah citizen. He was a volunteer basketball coach. He was also an activity coordinator for a local young men’s club, the Mutual Improvement Association. Stanley attended the local Weber State College. He was even an “elder” of the local Mormon chapter, which, despite the old-fogeyness implied by the term, is a title frequently bestowed on young men if they have progressed through a certain degree of religious instruction and have become community leaders. Whatever your personal opinion of Mormonism, it is quite clear that Stanley Walker was a good egg and a decent human being.
Working as a bookkeeper and a cashier at the Hi-Fi shop was Sherry Ansley, aged just 18. She attended Bonneville High School. This was Sherry’s first week working at the store, a part-time job she had gotten for a bit of pocket money. And with it being Utah in the 1970s, the young Sherry Ansley was already engaged to be married. The wedding was being held after graduation, four months later, in August 1974. There is really no other way to put it, Sherry Ansley was a fairly beautiful young woman, possessing a classical charm that not even the bad fashion trends of the mid-1970s could diminish. All reports of her suggest she was an immensely cheerful and outgoing young woman, supportive of her friends.
Sherry Ansley looked up and smiled as 16 year old Cortney Naisbitt entered the Hi-Fi shop. Cortney wasn’t a customer. He explained that he needed to head next door to the photo shop to pick up some pictures that he’d had developed, and he wondered if it was OK if he left his car in the parking lot behind the Hi-Fi store while he ran the errand. It would only take a few minutes. Sherry said it was probably okay but he’d better ask Stanley Walker. He did and Stanley told him warmly that it would be perfectly fine. Cortney thanked them both and left.
Cortney Naisbitt was a student at Odgen High School, where he excelled at science. He had what some people might call a “baby-face”, which heightened his already obvious youth. But despite the outward look of innocence, Cortney also had a sharp look of intelligence in his eyes. After school, Cortney was training to be a pilot. Today he had just done his first solo flight, where he took off and landed the plane without any assistance from his instructor. As per a tradition at flight school, after Cortney’s successful landing, his instructor had cut off his shirt tails with a pair of scissors (essentially the back few inches of whatever shirt you might be wearing that day). The shirt tails were then tacked up on a bulletin board with a diagram of the runway on it, and also the make and model of the plane Cortney had flown. All told, Cortney had enjoyed a very good day. He was just picking up those photos before returning home for dinner with his family.
Shortly after Cortney Naisbitt exited the shop, two vans containing six men slowly drove past the Hi-Fi store at 2323 Washington Boulevard in downtown Ogden. Traffic was fairly light on the road, with a smattering of commuters making their way home. The two vans pulled around the corner and entered the parking lot behind the store. The vans parked right in front of the shop’s back door, which the employees used for loading and unloading new sound equipment.
Four men exited the vehicles. Two getaway drivers remained at the wheel of each van, leaving the engines running, ready to pull away at a moment’s notice. One man hung around the parking lot, waiting to load the stolen goods into the vans, and also acting as a lookout. The three remaining men, William Andrews, Pierre Dale Selby, and a third man who has never been identified, headed around the corner to the front door of the shop.
Andrews was 19 years old, tall, with a square-jawline, and extremely well-built and muscular. He had sharp, cold eyes, and the frequent resting position for his face was a scowl. Selby, on the other hand, was not quite as well-built as his comrade but was still lithe, fit, and sinewy. He had a receding hairline despite being 21 years old. His eyes and expression have often been described as empty, soulless, and devoid of any sign of humanity. If you have previously listened to descriptions of psychopaths on the Casual Criminalist, this particular trait will already be dreadfully and hauntingly familiar to you.
The young men had been contemplating the robbery of the Hi-Fi shop for weeks. And now it was showtime. The only issue was not getting caught. The men were stationed at the local airbase, outside of town, which gave them a bit of anonymity. Being 1974, any sort of security camera footage was unheard of. That left the witnesses in the store whose testimony might help police track the men down. The solution was simple. They all had to die.
The men burst into the store, aiming .25 calibre handguns at Sherry Ansley and Stanley Walker. The two employees were marched into the storage basement of the Hi-Fi shop and had their arms and legs bound with rope. The two hostages were left lying on their stomachs on the floor of the basement, while the three men headed upstairs. First, they emptied the cash register. Then they started heaving the expensive equipment toward the back door of the shop. Propping the loading door open, two men began loading the equipment onto the vans, while the two getaway drivers sat there at the ready. The two remaining gunmen, Andrews and Selby, remained in the store to continue moving the equipment.
At this point, Cortney Naisbitt exited the front of the next-door photo shop onto Washington Boulevard. He headed in through the front door of the Hi-Fi store as a means of a shortcut to the parking lot where his car was waiting. Cortney also intended on thanking Stanley Walker for letting him park there. Instead, Cortney encountered Andrews and Selby who were in the midst of the robbery. They quickly subdued the young man, marched him at gunpoint downstairs and similarly bound him, just as they had done Stanley and Sherry.
Andrews and Selby continued to move the Hi-Fi equipment to the loading door so their collaborators could load it onto the vans. All told, the robbers managed to seize over $5,300 in sound equipment, which translates to roughly $30,000 in today’s money. While not the biggest score in history, such was the expensiveness of the Hi-Fi equipment that robbing the store was about as good as knocking off a smalltown bank. And, unlike a bank, the Hi-Fi store had zero security.
Meanwhile, Orren Walker, Stanley Walker’s 43 year old father, had grown worried that his son had not yet returned home. Orren Walker headed over to the Hi-Fi shop. After entering through the front door, Orren was ambushed by Andrews and Selby, who, like with the others, held Orren at gunpoint and took him into the basement. For the moment, and only for the moment, Orren Walker’s arms and legs were not yet bound.
It was at this point that Sherry Ansley began crying and begging for her life.
…And You Shall Witness Slaughter
After the capture of Orren Walker, Selby told Andrews to go out to the vans and get something. A few moments later, Andrews re-entered the basement clutching a brown paper bag, which contained a bottle of drain cleaner, the label of which was hidden from the view of the hostages. Standard household drain cleaner is a highly powerful and corrosive alkaline agent composed primarily of liquid sodium hydroxide, which in otherwise solid, powdered form is called “lye” and is often used to quickly break down organic material. Murderers often throw lye on corpses to speed up their decomposition. Liquid drain cleaner also frequently contains sodium hydrochloride, chlorine, and alkaline salts. Within a few minutes, drain cleaner is able to cut through hair, grease, chunks of meat, and other forms of organic detritus that may have built up in the drains of one’s kitchen or bathroom. After the highly corrosive liquid is applied and allowed to sit for a few minutes, the blockage is melted into a sticky gooey pulp, and the drain in question is then flushed out with water.
When using drain cleaner, one must be very careful to avoid letting the liquid come into contact with one’s hands, clothes, mouth, or eyes, because, if it is not immediately washed away, it can do severe and even permanent damage. Pierre Dale Selby had recently seen 1973’s Magnum Force starring Clint Eastwood in which a female victim was forced to drink from a bottle of drain cleaner and she had died almost immediately. To Selby’s mind, this method of execution possessed a number of advantages. First, drain cleaner was easily procured. Second, it was supposedly quick. Third, quietly poisoning the hostages in the basement of the Hi-Fi shop was preferable to shooting them, since the latter method ran the risk of people on the street or in the next-door photo shop hearing the gunshots and alerting the police.
Of course, the death depicted in the film which Selby had seen was utter nonsense. You do not drink drain cleaner and immediately keel over. It is more likely that the director of the film merely didn’t wish to show the true effects of drain cleaner on the human body. Upon consuming drain cleaner, the liquid immediately burns your lips, mouth, and esophagus. It then continues down your digestive tract, scorching everything all the way down, until it reaches your stomach, where it starts to melt holes. At a certain point, you won’t be able to swallow any more drain cleaner, because the liquid will have already burned through your entire esophagus. Once the esophagus and stomach are breached, the drain cleaner is free to enter the rest of the body, where it slowly consumes your intestines and vital organs. Usually at this point, if the victim has not already died from shock due to the immense pain, the drain cleaner will destroy the person’s lungs and they will suffocate to death. Fairly sizeable amounts of drain cleaner are required to cause death, and the amount of time it takes to die can linger on for 5, 10, or 20 minutes once the drain cleaner is consumed.
With the bottle still hidden inside the paper bag, Selby poured out a cup of drain cleaner and handed it to
Orren Walker, demanding that he administer the unidentified liquid to the other three hostages. Orren Walker refused. He was swiftly beaten as a consequence, then tied up with rope around the arms and legs, and left face-down on the ground.
At this moment, 52 year old Carol Naisbitt, the wife of a local doctor and Cortney Naisbitt’s mother, entered the front door of the Hi-Fi shop upstairs. She was aware that Cortney was going to pick up some photographs before heading home after his flight lessons. With the hour drawing late, much like Orren Walker, Carol had gone out looking for her son. Not finding Cortney at the photo shop, she had noticed his car parked behind the Hi-Fi store. So, naturally, Carol went inside looking for him.
The store was empty and abandoned when she entered. Not a soul was to be seen. Not only was the store devoid of people, it had been stripped bare of merchandise, and what scraps remained on the floor and the shelves, were in total disarray. The cash register hung open. A ledger had been hurled to the floor. Carol stood there for a moment, processing what she was seeing, and taking in the still, unnerving silence. Then with a sudden crash and series of loud thumps, two men, Andrews and Selby, burst upstairs from the basement, aiming their handguns at Carol Naisbitt. She was forced downstairs into the basement and bound with rope.
It was only at this point that Andrews and Selby had the good sense to lock the front door, lest the entire town turn up next. And at this point, in order for the six robbers to collect $5000 apiece in today’s money, the number of hostages had ballooned from two to five people.
Andrews and Selby returned to the basement. They pulled the 5 hostages off of the floor and placed them in sitting positions against the wall. They told the 5 people that the liquid in the brown paper bag they had brought with them was vodka laced with sleeping pills. This would knock the hostages out and prevent them from calling for help or attempting to escape while the robbers left the scene. One by one, Stanley Walker, Cortney Naisbitt, Carol Naisbitt, Sherry Ansley, and Orren Walker were forced to drink drain cleaner. The victims immediately received second degree burns to their lips, mouths, and throats. The victims began coughing and screaming in pain. They screamed so loudly that Selby and Andrews tried to cover their mouths with duct tape. However, the adhesive would not stick to the victims’ peeling and corroding skin, and just slid off their faces. Eventually, the injuries they sustained made it difficult for most of the victims to emit sound any longer.
Stanley, Cortney, and Carol went into shock and began convulsing. Sherry Ansley, in her emotional distress, appears to have coughed up much of the liquid without swallowing it, sparing her a great deal of internal damage, beyond second degree burns to her lips and mouth. After Ansley’s turn had finished, she was still able to swallow with difficulty and was still able to speak. Meanwhile, when it came for Orren Walker’s turn to drink the liquid, having observed that the liquid was not vodka and sleeping pills but obviously some kind of corrosive material, Orren let the liquid dribble out of his mouth and down his chin as he drank it, without swallowing, and he mimicked the screams and convulsions of his fellow hostages. It was by this clever move that Orren Walker avoided some fairly grim internal injuries.
As five people lay there in agony, it slowly dawned on Selby that he had been led astray by the Clint Eastwood film he had seen. The victims were not dying. The Hi-Fi equipment had long since been loaded onto the two vans. The victims’ screams may have caught the attention of someone on the street or in the next-door photo shop. Selby became angry. Andrews went upstairs. Meanwhile, Selby took his .25 calibre handgun and shot Carol and Cortney Naisbitt in the backs of their heads. Selby then attempted to shoot Orren Walker as he lay there, pretending to convulse on the ground, but the bullet missed and lodged into the floor. Selby then shot Orren’s son, Stanley, in the head. Selby then returned to Orren and fired again, also hitting him in the back of the head. That dealt with four out of the five hostages.
Selby then called out to Andrews and, in an appalling display of recklessness and callous psychopathy, told him to wait upstairs for 30 minutes. The perpetrators were now lingering needlessly at the scene. Selby turned to 18 year old Sherry Ansley, who had retained consciousness. Selby untied her, marched her at gunpoint to a far corner of the basement, and told her to remove her clothes. Selby then raped the victim. Afterwards, he ordered Sherry to use the downstairs toilet while he watched. Then Selby dragged her, still naked, to where the other victims lay, and threw her to the ground. Sherry Ansley pleaded with him, saying, “I am too young to die,” before Selby shot her in the back of the head.
Selby then called Andrews back downstairs, and noticed that Orren Walker was still alive. The bullet had just grazed the back of his skull instead of killing him. The perpetrators were suddenly anxious not to let off yet another gunshot. It appeared nobody had been alerted by the previous screaming and gunfire and the men did not wish to tempt fate. Instead, Selby took a length of wire, climbed on top of Orren Walker’s back and attempted to garrot the victim. However, Orren struggled and Selby was not able to exert the required amount of pressure to strangle Orren to death. Instead, Selby grabbed a ballpoint pen and shoved it into Orren Walker’s ear. Selby then stomped the pen into Orren’s head in an effort to drive it into the victim’s brain. Instead, the pen broke Orren’s eardrum, then angled downwards, puncturing a hole in Orren Walker’s throat just below the corner of his jaw. Orren was left to bleed out on the basement floor.
Thereafter, Selby and Andrews headed upstairs, climbed into the waiting vehicles, and the six perpetrators finally, at long last, left the scene.
Vengeance of the Survivors
Three hours later, Joyce Walker, the mother of Stanley and wife of Orren, along with her other son, Lynn Walker, arrived at the Hi-Fi shop. They had naturally grown worried about where their loved ones were. Looking in the shop window, they saw the place had been stripped bare. It was clear that a robbery had occurred. It was then that Lynn Walker heard sounds of groaning and yelling coming from within the shop. Lynn broke down the back door while Joyce Walker went to a payphone to call the police.
Stumbling down the stairs, Lynn Walker discovered the bodies of five people. His father, Orren, was gravely wounded but alive, having sustained burns to his mouth and chin, damage to his ear and throat, and a cut to the back of his head where the bullet had grazed him. He was making the noises that had been detected by his son. Stanley Walker, unfortunately, was dead from a single gunshot wound to the head. The town of Ogden had been robbed of a kind young man and community leader. Sherry Ansley had similarly died from her gunshot wound. She was only 18 and was to be married a few months later. Carol Naisbitt, who had arrived at the Hi-Fi shop out of concern for her son, was taken by ambulance to St. Benedict’s Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. 16-year-old Cortney Naisbitt had survived drinking the drain cleaner and the gunshot to the head, but was taken to hospital in critical condition. Doctors did not expect him to live for very long.
For several days, Cortney Naisbitt lay in the Intensive Care Unit, clinging onto life. His father, Dr. Byron Naisbitt, sat by his bedside 24 hours a day, holding his hand, scarcely leaving his side. Numerous relatives and church members also stayed at the hospital, keeping vigil for the young man. In the end, Cortney Naisbitt pulled through and survived. He spent 266 days in hospital. He had suffered irreparable brain damage. But he was alive.
Police arrived at the Hi-Fi shop a few minutes after the call by Joyce Walker. As the surviving victims were rushed off to hospital, police inspected the scene. The brutality of the crimes dawned on the officers and it sickened them. A press release went out and the details of the robbery and murders hit the early morning news. A few hours later, an anonymous tip came into police from an airman who worked at the Hill Airforce Base a few miles south of Ogden. The informant told police that in the days prior to the Hi-Fi Murders that he had heard William Andrews and Pierre Dale Selby discussing the robbery of the store, the massive payout, and rehearsing the drain cleaner poisoning scene from Magnum Force. The informant also claimed that Andrews had said to him that, quote, “One of these days I’m going to rob that Hi-Fi shop, and if anybody gets in the way, I’m going to kill them.”
The intimate knowledge the anonymous informant had of their plans, and the fact the informant did not report such alarming talk to his superior officers, makes it quite likely that the informant was actually one of the members of the six-man team who assaulted the Hi-Fi shop that night, but had thought that Andrews and Selby had gone too far. Alternatively, the informant had been told of these plans for no reason and did not lift a finger to prevent tragedy from occurring.
A few hours after the news of the Hi-Fi Murders broke, two teenage boys dumpster-diving at Hill Airforce Base discovered the wallets and purses of the five victims, stripped of cash, but still containing their drivers’ licenses. The two teenage boys had seen the news and recognised the victims from their photographs. They dropped the evidence where they’d found it and called the police. With April 23rd having barely begun, police now had two lines of inquiry pointing directly at the Hill Airforce Base.
Police arrived at the base early that morning, to retrieve the evidence from the dumpster. A crowd of concerned airmen and mechanics gathered to watch the scene. Suspecting that the perpetrators were in the crowd, a detective decided to put on a little show for them. As each wallet or purse was retrieved from the dumpster, and placed in a plastic bag, the detective held each one with a pair of tongs and waved it at the crowd. He spoke dramatically about how this evidence would lead police to very quickly arrest the people responsible for such a heinous crime. Observing the men watching his display, the detective saw most of them stood there and stared in a grim silence. That is, with the exception of two men, who paced back and forth at the back of the crowd, speaking to each other, constantly and making panicked gestures with their hands.
These two men were approached and identified as William Andrews and Pierre Dale Selby. Combined with the anonymous tip, the two men were arrested and detained on suspicion of murder. A third man, Keith Roberts, was arrested under suspicion of being one of the getaway drivers. Selby, an air force mechanic, had priors. He was the prime suspect for the October 5th 1973 murder of Air Force Sergeant Edward Jefferson, but police had lacked evidence and Selby was never formally charged. A few months later, Selby was arrested for car theft in Salt Lake City, and was out on bail, pending trial, at the time of the Hi-Fi Murders. Police obtained a search warrant for the men’s barracks. There police discovered advertising fliers for the Hi-Fi shop and a rental contract for a storage unit. Police drove to the storage facility in question, and discovered sound equipment stolen from the Hi-Fi shop, and a half-empty bottle of drain cleaner. Given that half a bottle was split between 5 people, it is no wonder that drinking it did not kill the victims outright, but merely tortured and disfigured them. It is in this way that incompetent criminals can sometimes be the most dangerous ones. Selby and Andrews’ sheer utter stupidity concerning robbery and murder had achieved nothing but creating an extreme degree of suffering in their victims, while not getting rid of all the witnesses as they had planned.
The public mood was vengeful. The act of robbery was bad enough. The decision to murder any witnesses was a callous and senseless bit of overkill. Literally. Their method of execution was barbaric and ineffectual. Their efforts in the end were futile. By doing what they did, they had made sure that their robbery of the Hi-Fi store would guarantee a far worse penalty than mere thieves usually would get. They weren’t just bandits. They were sadistic murderers. And Utah had the death penalty.
All that planning, and all that carnage, for just a few thousand bucks…
William Andrews, Pierre Selby, and Keith Roberts were tried for first degree murder and robbery. At trial, Orren Walker gave harrowing evidence where he recounted the torture and murder of his son in front of his eyes. Much of the events were reconstructed from Orren’s testimony in addition to what Andrews and Selby admitted to under questioning. Cortney Naisbitt had sustained severe brain damage, and had no memory of the robbery or anything that followed it. During the trial, it became established that William Andrews had devised the plan to rob the Hi-Fi store, along with the idea of leaving no witnesses, and it was Pierre Selby who acted as his enforcer. The two men had both forced the 5 victims to drink drain cleaner, but it was Selby himself who carried out the 3 murders and the 2 attempted murders, along with the rape of Sherry Ansley before Selby executed her. It also soon became established at trial that the third defendant, Keith Roberts, had no connection to the murders in the basement, having only remained at the wheel of the getaway car while the store was robbed. And despite Andrews being the alleged mastermind of the crime, it was apparent that both Andrews and Roberts were frightened of Selby, whom the jury thought was clearly a violent psychopath.
In November 1974, the getaway driver, Keith Roberts, was cleared of all murder charges and convicted of robbery. He was given 5 years to life, and spent 13 years in prison before being released in 1987. He relocated to Oklahoma. Five years later, on August 8th 1992, Roberts shot himself, unable to live with his guilt. Pierre Dale Selby was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of robbery. He was handed three death sentences. He was not charged or convicted of the 2 attempted murders or causing grievous bodily harm. The death sentences were considered enough to see justice done. William Andrews was also convicted on three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of robbery. Although he had not shot the victims himself, the prosecution argued he did devise the plan to kill all the witnesses, and had forced the victims to drink drain cleaner in an attempt to kill them. Just as a mob boss does not have to be the triggerman to go down for murder, Andrew Williams was considered to be just as complicit in the three deaths. Additionally, Andrews had voluntarily left the basement and waited upstairs while Selby executed (or attempted to execute) four of the five hostages, and then raped and murdered Sherry Ansley. Then Andrews came back downstairs for the second attempted murder of Orren Walker, showing complicity with, and demonstrating no resistance to, Selby’s brutal slayings. As a result, William Andrews was also handed three death sentences.
It is vital at this juncture to reflect whether you think that three death sentences for Selby and Andrews reflect the severity of their crimes. Consider also that the death penalty is part of Utah law.
Orren Walker grieved the loss of his son, and lived the rest of his life making few comments to the press. He died on June 4th 2000, aged 69. Cortney Naisbitt was released from hospital in late 1974. After a great deal of struggle and perseverance, Cortney managed to graduate from high school and pass his pilot’s exam. Unfortunately, due to his brain damage and chronic pain, Cortney dropped out of college and could not keep a regular job, and spent the rest of his life on disability support. In 1985, Cortney married Catherine Hunter. Cortney died June 4th 2002, aged only 44.
I have not mentioned this so far in the script, Simon, but the perpetrators of the Hi-Fi murders were black. Soon after their convictions for murder, both Selby and Andrews started making allegations that they had received an unfair trial due to systemic racism in the Utah judicial system, and even alleged that, if they had been white men convicted of the same crimes, that they would have been given life imprisonment rather than 3 death sentences. Further, Andrews maintained that, since he had not carried out any of the actual murders himself, that it was racism which had gotten him sentenced to death. I wonder, Simon, if these revelations change your opinion at all of the sentencing of Andrews and Selby, from just a few paragraphs ago. Were you already OK with the death sentences or were you already leaning toward life imprisonment? And I could also pose the same question to the podcast listening audience. The Youtube audience may already have been aware of Andrews and Selby’s ethnicity, depending on whether Jen posted their photos earlier in the episode.
But it allows an opportunity for an honest question: Would you have gladly have seen these men, regardless of their ethnicity, sentenced to death in Utah, given the nature of the Hi-Fi Murders? Or, despite Utah’s legal code, would you have preferred life sentences, regardless of their ethnicity? Like with many of such questions, there is no clear, correct answer. And we shall see if your opinion changes as we dig into the context and what Andrews and Selby alleged about the trial.
First, to get a minor detail out of the way, purely for sake of accuracy, while appealing his sentencing, Selby changed his name 27 times while in prison, allegedly to protect his family from the press. He finally decided on “Pierre Dale Selby”, a re-arrangement of his existing names, which is why some sources and other true crime shows on the Hi-Fi murders give them in a different order.
After Selby and Andrews were sentenced to death in November 1974, there was intense protest from the NAACP [Note to Simon: always pronounced in America as en-double-ay-see-pee] or, for people not from America or familiar with its politics, the “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People”, founded in 1909 in case anyone was curious about the phrasing used in the name. The NAACP was joined by Amnesty International, a prominent international human rights non-governmental organisation, which also began campaigning on Selby and Andrew’s behalf.
The major bone of contention for both organisations was that Selby and Andrews were both black, and the victims were all white, and, most crucially, that the jury which found them guilty were all white. Amnesty International claimed that the only black member of the jury pool was dismissed by the prosecution during jury selection, and they initially cited racial bias. It was later revealed that the black jury candidate was a police officer who personally knew, quote, “just about everyone tied to the case.” Also, for context, the local population at the time was 2% black, otherwise being overwhelmingly white and hispanic (80% and 15% respectively) as a source for jury selection. And at the time the American judicial system had no policies for ensuring a balance of ethnicities on the jury in, quote, “racially sensitive cases” as some courts in the US have adopted and continue to practice today.
There is even wider context that made the death sentences of Selby and Andrews even more controversial. Across the Western world for the past few decades, numerous countries had abolished the death penalty, as did a large number of US States on an individual basis. Then in a landmark case, Furman v. Georgia, in 1972, just two years prior to the Hi-Fi murders, the United States Supreme Court struck down the death penalty citing it violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Eight Amendment vaguely proscribed “cruel and unusual punishment” and the Fourteenth
Amendment demanded equal treatment of all citizens under the law. The Furman v. Georgia Supreme Court decision had the result of putting an informal halt on all executions in the United States in 1972. Many of the death sentences active at the time were downgraded to life imprisonment. Some legal scholars at the time speculated it would be impossible for the United States to bring back the death penalty ever again.
Nevertheless, in January 1973, the Utah legislature passed its own statute that independently brought back the death penalty to the state, regardless of the federal decision. As did a number of pro-execution US states following the Supreme Court decision. In 1974, with the informal moratorium on the death penalty still active, but not formally enshrined in federal law, the Utah court sentenced both Selby and Andrews to death. Hence the outrage of the NAACP and Amnesty International.
Later, the informal moratorium on the death penalty was overthrown in 1976 after the Supreme Court found in the case of Gregg v. Georgia that in aggravated circumstances the death penalty could be applied. The use of the death penalty became incredibly common in many US states following this decision. Nevertheless, the death penalty remained highly controversial and repugnant in the overwhelmingly liberal circles that animated most of the NAACP and Amnesty International.
But I did some additional research. According to the Utah statute itself, the death penalty may be applied in cases of aggravated murder. And aggravated murder is defined by 20 possible criteria, of which the HiFi Murders qualify for 8 or 9. These criteria include, but are not restricted to, murdering more than two people in a single incident and/or attempting to murder even more people in the same incident, murdering in connection with a rape or robbery, murdering for monetary gain, murdering with the employment of poison, murdering a hostage, murdering in a particularly cruel and heinous manner involving torture, and mutilating or disfiguring a victim’s body before or after death. Any single one of these, under Utah law, would have qualified a convicted person for the death sentence.
Nevertheless, the spectre of racism haunted the trial. Most crucially, during a schedule lunch break, someone slipped the jury members a napkin on which was a doodle of a man hanging from a scaffold, with the written instruction to, quote, “Hang the N-words.” Naturally, the napkin’s author did not selfcensor with the term “N-word.” A jury member approached the bailiff and handed him the napkin. Several other jury members also asked the bailiff if this would affect the trial. The bailiff replied not to let the behaviour of outsiders affect their decision. The person who initially passed on the napkin was never identified. The NAACP and Amnesty International argued that this napkin evoked a lynch mob mentality, that it influenced the jury, and should be grounds for a mistrial.
During the trial, initial reports tied the murders to a black supremacist movement and a newspaper falsely alleged William Andrews made the “Black Power” fist at Orren Walker while in the courtroom.
Beyond the fact that the jury members were white, the NAACP also pointed out the majority of them were practicing Mormons. At the time, the Mormon church enacted a racist policy that did not allow black people to become priests. As a result, the NAACP argued that practitioners of the Mormon faith had an inherent distrust of black people. This allegation never made it into appeal deliberations, since, one, it accused the Mormon jurors of being biased with no evidence beyond their being Mormon, and two, the NAACP’s claim was prejudicial against a religion, which was seen as bigotry of a different kind.
The NAACP also argued it was racism that caused William Andrews to be sentenced to death, despite not being present in the room for Selby’s brutal slayings and rape of Sherry Ansley, when other white murderers in the state who committed crimes by their own hand, were given life sentences. At appeal, the judges argued that this was because not all murderers, such as someone who murders one person in a crime of passion, qualified for any of the criteria for aggravated murder.
Additionally, the judges argued that Andrews had administered the drain cleaner with the intent of killing the five victims. A medical examiner further reported that Stanley Walker and Carol Naisbitt, being the most compliant in consuming the drain cleaner, would have died within 12 hours of drinking it, if they had not been shot by Selby.
William Andrews always maintained that while he did indeed pour the drain cleaner into a cup and administered it, but that he did not believe the victims would die from it. Quote, “It was not with the intent of using it to kill the people. In hindsight, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was only 19.” The police pointed to the anonymous tip which claimed that Andrews stated prior to the robbery an intent to kill any witnesses, and also to Andrews’ admission under interrogation that he had purchased the drain cleaner with the clear intent of using it on the victims. The appeals judges stated that if Andrews intended to poison the victims with drain cleaner, but not kill them, then there was no satisfactory explanation as to why Andrews intended merely to torture the victims, when up to that point they had only been witnesses to a robbery.
Nevertheless, the fact remained that Andrews did not take part in any of the actual murders firsthand. When it came to the shootings, Orren Walker himself testified that Andrews had said to Selby, quote, “I can’t do it, I’m scared,” before temporarily heading upstairs. But case law in the US is pretty clear that you do not need to have your finger on the trigger to also go down for a murder, when you appear to be in favour of having one of your accomplices carry out the killings, much less devise the plan to kill all witnesses in the first place or attempt to murder the victims with drain cleaner beforehand. According to that case law, Andrews was by definition complicit. But there is such a thing as extenuating circumstances affecting sentencing. At the time Andrews was sentenced in 1974, Utah law did not give jurors the option of sentencing people to life imprisonment when they met any of the 20 criteria for aggravated murder. In 1974, the death penalty was automatic. The law was changed subsequently to allow the option of life imprisonment even in cases of aggravated murder. However, the Utah Supreme Court rejected the idea of a new sentencing that would include the option of life imprisonment, since the court judge argued that the new law could not be applied retroactively.
Meanwhile, the appeal of Pierre Dale Selby against his death sentence claimed that the Utah statute shifted the burden of proof onto the defendant to prove that, while committing the murders, he did not qualify for any of the 20 criteria. The US Court of Appeals rejected this argument since the prosecution itself proved that Selby qualified for numerous criteria, and the defendant did not have to prove otherwise. Selby also argued that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination had been violated when he had not been formally advised he had the right to remain silent when he was examined by psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Moench [munch], when determining whether Selby was sane and fit to stand trial. Selby had instead responded to Moench’s questions. However, Moench gave no testimony that incriminated Selby. All Moench said was that he was fit to stand trial.
After more than 13 years and dozens of appeals, the death sentences held for both Selby and Andrews.
No Closure, Only Death
While on death row in Utah State prison, Pierre Dale Selby and William Andrews were hated by the other inmates, including the prison’s black population, for the brutality of the Hi-Fi Murders. In 1977, another death row inmate, Gary Gilmore, who was convicted of 2 murders and was the first person to be executed following the end of the moratorium on the death penalty, reportedly yelled at Selby and Andrews on the way to his execution either “I’ll see you in Hell” or “Adios, I’ll be seeing you directly.”
In the initial years following their convictions, both Selby and Andrews had to fight against getting executed by firing squad, which was (and still is) a legal form of punishment in Utah.
In the event, Pierre Dale Selby was executed by lethal injection on August 28th 1987. In Selby’s will, he bequeathed all of his money to William Andrews, which amounted to a whopping $29. Selby’s last words prior to his execution were, quote, “I’ll be glad when this is over.” The murderer of three people, the rapist of a woman, and the torturer and attempted murderer of two more people died soon after uttering these words. He was 34 years old.
Today, fewer people dispute the validity of Selby’s execution than they do the death of William Andrews, who after numerous appeals was killed by lethal injection on July 30th 1992, at the age of 37. His final words were, “Thank those who tried so hard to keep me alive. I hope they continue to fight for equal justice after I’m gone. Tell my family goodbye and I love them.”
Four years later, on December 19th 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a nongovernmental organisation based out of Costa Rica with no legal jurisdiction, found that the United States had violated its international obligations by denying William Andrews a fair trial, free from racial discrimination. A claim that is strongly disputed by relevant officials in the Utah legal system. Did Andrews deserve death? Did he suffer racial discrimination during the trial and during sentencing? I shall let you ponder these questions for yourself in the comment section.
Meanwhile, the final moments of today’s episode should be given over to remembering the victims: Stanley Walker, Sherry Ansley, Carol Naisbitt, all murdered, and the traumatised survivors, Orren Walker and Cortney Naisbitt. Cortney spent his entire life struggling from brain damage due to being shot in the head by Selby, and was in chronic pain from the drain cleaner administered by Andrews. After the execution of Andrews in 1992, Cortney told The Salt Lake Tribune that he had already forgiven Selby and Andrews, and added, quote, “Where does the anger a victim feels for a perpetrator go, when the perpetrator is gone?” Cortney died 10 years after Andrews in 2002, at the age of 44, his life cut short by decades-long illnesses caused by his attempted murder one horrible night on April 22nd 1974.
- The Hi-Fi murders were explored in a 1982 book by Gary Kinder, and was depicted in a TV movie, Aftermath: A Test of Love, in 1991. Beyond that, the story has rarely been touched by Hollywood, possibly due to the racial controversy, and is also surprisingly under-examined by many true crime channels, despite the incident’s public notoriety. As I mentioned at the outset, I got a lot of requests for this one.
- Only a few months before the Hi-Fi Murders, Pierre Dale Selby was the prime suspect in another murder investigation. Shortly after joining the United States Airforce and being posted at Hill Airforce Base as a helicopter mechanic, Selby befriended Sergeant Edward Jefferson. On October 1st 1973, Selby was at Jefferson’s apartment taping music, when Jefferson found that his car keys were missing. Jefferson and Selby searched the apartment but could not find them. A few hours later, someone had taken the car keys to the base for duplication, signing their name as “Curtis Alexander.” Selby returned to Jefferson’s apartment the next day and miraculously found the keys there. Jefferson became suspicious of Selby, and accused him of theft, while changing the locks to his apartment and to his car ignition. Then sometime between the hours of 10pm and 4am on the night of October 4th and the 5th, Jefferson was murdered by having a bayonet lodged in his face so deep that only the handle could be seen. While Selby was strongly suspected, police did not have enough evidence to lay charges for Jefferson’s murder.
- William Andrews and Pierre Dale Selby became close friends while serving at Hill Airforce Base in 1973 and 1974, and these men became part of a larger circle of associates who would frequently be in each other’s company. In March 1974, after Selby was out on bail for a Salt Lake City car theft, Andrews and Selby filed the papers to begin the process of leaving the Airforce. Police have alleged that Selby probably had the intention of skipping his trial and that Selby and Andrews, along with their other associates, had decided on transitioning to criminal careers, of which the Hi-Fi Murders were only to be the first step.
- Although William Andrews, Pierre Dale Selby, and Keith Roberts (one of the getaway drivers) were caught and convicted for the Hi-Fi Murders, none of the other three men in the six-man team which knocked off the Hi-Fi shop that night were ever identified or brought to justice.