Shirley Landruth had been working for Shasta County’s Secret Witness program for 12 years when a strange man began calling the hotline in 1985. The line allowed people to call in tips for unsolved crimes, sometimes for reward money. The system was strictly anonymous, so Landruth never recorded their conversations.

But something wasn’t right about this caller. For one, Landruth swore she recognized the man’s voice. 

“The speed of the speech, the pushiness of it. The way certain words are grouped together,” she would later testify. “The abruptness in the way he terminates conversations.”

The caller gave Landruth directions to the location of a body, offering her the distance from the road in both meters and feet. He was insistent she relay his information to the police. Unbeknownst to the man, Landruth began recording the call. For the next few years, he called her over 20 times, giving information that would lead to the discovery of three bodies and collecting the reward money each time.

“Not too many people come upon one body in their lifetime,” Shasta County Deputy District Attorney Jim Ruggiero said in the closing arguments of the man’s 1989 triple murder trial. 

“Three times is a habit, and I think Robert Maury was in the habit of killing women.”

Robert Edward Maury, sometimes called the “Tipster Killer,” is one of the strangest murderers in California true crime lore, marked by brutal, calculating crimes and an obsession with reporting them to police. 

A mugshot for Robert Edward Maury after his arrest in 1987.

Shasta County Sheriff’s Office/Handout

Maury was born in Crescent City, Calif., in 1958. His family moved around a bit before settling down in Anderson, a town about 10 miles south of Redding. There, he attended high school and enlisted in the Army. In 1985, he was dishonorably discharged for marijuana use, and he took up work as a part-time landscaper and sometimes dried-flower arranger. 

He also moved into a Redding home rented out by 48-year-old Averill Weeden. Suddenly, on May 25, 1985, Weeden vanished. As days turned to weeks, her missing persons case was highlighted by Secret Witness. Ads that ran in the local papers promised a reward of “up to $250” for tips leading to her whereabouts. “The anonymity of the informant is guaranteed,” stories said.

In early August, a man called into the Secret Witness hotline, saying the body of a woman was on Bechelli Lane and South Bonnyview Road near the Sacramento River. When law enforcement arrived at the scene, they couldn’t find anything, packed up and went home. Frustrated, the man called the hotline again, giving even more specific instructions on how to find Weeden’s body. He claimed he was a “middleman” who knew who killed Weeden; he wanted to stay anonymous because he was involved in “the cover-up.”

Using his instructions from the second call, police discovered Weeden’s decomposing body buried under a pile of debris. She had been strangled to death, likely shortly after she was reported missing.

Bechelli Lane and South Bonnyview Road in Redding is a busy intersection today.

Bechelli Lane and South Bonnyview Road in Redding is a busy intersection today.

Google Street View

Weeden’s 27-year-old renter was questioned by sheriff’s deputies, some of whom wondered if perhaps Maury had more to do with his landlord’s disappearance than he was letting on. Maury was their best suspect but, without any evidence, they had to let him go. Right under their noses, Maury then anonymously collected the $250 reward for finding Weeden’s body.

On June 22, 1987, 20-year-old Dawn Marie Berryhill disappeared after dropping off her six-month-old son with a friend to go apartment hunting. Berryhill’s mother recalled last seeing her daughter with a bearded man; her mother didn’t know his name. Four days later, 30-year-old Belinda Jo Stark went missing. When the familiar voice called the Secret Witness hotline with information about both women, Landruth surreptitiously recorded him. 

But being an anonymous tipster was no longer enough for Maury: He started going into the police and sheriff’s offices in person. “He initiated contact with my detectives and even me personally,” Shasta County Sheriff Phil Eoff recalled. Maury told police he knew where Stark’s purse could be found, and when an investigator asked Maury to show him, Maury rode along in the car to direct him to the site. There, as he promised, was the missing woman’s purse. 

Detectives went on high alert: Their prime suspect in Weeden’s murder was now inserting himself into the investigation for another missing woman. On Aug. 17, they learned from Secret Witness that someone had called in a tip for the location of Stark’s body; the tip led them to her skeletal remains in a thicket near the intersection of Palm Avenue and Monte Vista Road. On Sept. 22, the same tipster told police to return to the spot and, 250 yards from where they found Stark, the remains of Berryhill were discovered. Both women had been strangled. 

A look at the corner of Palm Avenue and Monte Vista Road in rural Happy Valley, Calif. 

A look at the corner of Palm Avenue and Monte Vista Road in rural Happy Valley, Calif. 

Google Street View

Although Secret Witness prided itself on anonymity, Landruth had become deeply concerned about the mysterious caller. By now, Shasta County detectives had begun independently connecting Maury to at least two of the missing women. Detectives had him tailed, and they watched as he went to pick up his $1,250 reward for the last tip. He then immediately went to a motorcycle shop in Redding, where he paid cash for the Honda Shadow he saw in the store window. 

When detectives reached out to Secret Witness, Landruth told them she didn’t know who the caller was and, even if she did, the hotline’s ethics prevented her from revealing his identity. So instead, investigators asked Landruth if she could listen to Maury and match his voice to the one she had recorded. She listened, and she was convinced. Her mystery caller was Robert Maury.

On Nov. 6, 1987, Maury was finally taken into custody. He was charged with three counts of murder and two counts of rape, one committed against a deceased victim and one against a survivor who reported being raped by a stranger. 

“We’ve got something really unusual here,” Redding police Chief Robert Whitmer said at a press conference later that day, “because we believe the man we arrested today called us and told us where to find the bodies.”

The chaos continued at trial. When the judge read off the criminal complaint against Maury, he shouted, “I’ll walk out these doors in 80 days, not guilty!” He also demanded to serve as his own co-counsel. 

“He’s invoking the power of the almighty, but he’ll have to get past us first,” Redding police Sgt. Chuck Byard told the Redding Record-Searchlight. 

The Union Pacific train trestle crosses the Sacramento River in Redding.

The Union Pacific train trestle crosses the Sacramento River in Redding.

RangerRon/Getty Images/iStockphoto

By today’s forensic standards, the physical evidence was fairly scant — primarily a few of Maury’s fingerprints found on items inside Stark’s purse. The circumstantial case against Maury, however, was overwhelming. In opening arguments, a Shasta County assistant district attorney told the jury the evidence would show Maury was “a diabolical killer, a man who killed for profit, a man who thought he couldn’t be caught.”

The prosecution argued Maury knew all three murder victims, and multiple people testified they saw Maury with the women before each of their disappearances. When Berryhill’s mother was asked how she could be sure the strange man she saw with her daughter on the day of her disappearance was Maury, she responded, “I won’t forget the expression across his eyes.” Then, of course, there was the over $2,000 he’d collected over the years as a Secret Witness tipster. (And, embarrassingly for the police, an additional $250 he earned as an informant in a robbery case in 1987; Redding police had to admit that they hired him as an informant after he was a known suspect in Weeden’s murder.)

Despite Maury’s blustering that no jury would convict him, this jury did. Maury was found guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to death. His home ever since has been San Quentin’s Death Row, where he still awaits an execution that will likely never come. He is 64. 

Maury remains a suspect in two other unsolved Redding slayings. In August 1983, waitress Lora Stewart’s body was found floating in Battle Creek; she had been strangled. Two months later, real estate agent Helen Faye Generes was found strangled to death in her downtown Redding office. The Record-Searchlight called her “one of Shasta County’s most colorful people,” famed around town for her battles with the local government. Police believed she may have been killed by a “mystery figure” seen arguing with her the day she was killed. It’s possible Maury is connected to even more unsolved murders in the Redding area, but he’s steadfastly maintained his innocence from the day he was captured.

“He’s very bright,” supervising Deputy Attorney General Stan Cross told the Record-Searchlight in 2003. “He enjoyed the game of killing and then playing with the police.”

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