Mary Vincent: The Girl who Lived
Let's get started on the story of Mary Vincent and how she was almost murdered, had her arms chopped off, thrown over a cliff, and managed to survive to later face her attacker in court. Unfortunately, her victory in court was a major let down and had some serious repercussions.
On a sweltering September day in 1978, 15-year-old Mary Vincent was hitchhiking across California to her Grandfather's house in Corona, CA. She was an average teenager with average teenage problems. She had a promising dance career and did OK in school - when she decided to go. She wanted to run away from home because her parents were on the verge of divorce and she needed a break.
Mary was described as "dangerously naive" and was just "looking for ways to rebel". She was cutting class, wearing make-up (GASP - how scandalous!), and had run away from home in the past. One summer she lived with her boyfriend in a car but that arrangement ended when he was arrested for allegedly raping a young girl. I don't really know what happened there, but Mary got the fuck out. Good girl! When she wasn't at home or living in cars or hitchhiking she would often crash at her uncle's house in Soquel, CA. He was the last one to see her before the attack.
As Mary stood with other hitchhikers on the side of the road, a blue van pulled up. He offered a ride to only her. He said he didn’t have room for everyone.. He only had eyes for her. The people Mary had been standing with protested immensely about her going alone with him but she later told the TV show "I Survived" that she was "tired of being alone and was just tired." She must have had some alarm bells going off at this point. Maybe she was just past the point of giving any kind of fuck and flat-out ignored that gut feeling. I think most 15-year-old’s would just push that bad gut feeling down. The man who picked Mary up was Lawrence Singleton. An average, unsuspecting, grandfatherly type man. He had a beer belly and a kind face (kind of…). He was headed to Reno but offered her a ride to Los Angeles, even though it was a detour from his original route.
Let's back-up a touch and I'll give you some background about Lawrence Singleton. Born on July 28, 1927, in Tampa, Florida, Lawrence Singleton had an unsteady and dysfunctional family life. He married twice, divorced twice, and had a daughter. His relationship with his daughter was rough and they were constantly butting heads. He’s just an asshole of a man all around - everyone tended to agree.
Back to the road. As Mary lit a cigarette she sneezed and Singleton reached for her to pull her closer so he could "see if she was sick". She jerked away and sat against her door, just out of his reach. As they continued to drive, Singleton stopped by his house in San Francisco to pick up some laundry. Kind of an odd errand but okay. Mary even helped him haul it all out to his van. Once they were back on the road Mary fell asleep and Singleton began to drink liquor out of a milk carton.
Singleton had a serious drinking problem. When you start drinking booze out of a milk carton I would agree that it’s a serious fucking problem. When sober he was kind but would quickly turn into Mr. Hyde once he started drinking. He must have been building "courage" for the horrendous deed he was planning. Later when Mary woke-up from her nap she caught a glimpse of a sign that said they were heading in the opposite direction - they were heading east. She confronted him about the direction and he claimed that it was an honest mistake. He agreed to turn around. It was now after sunset. So it was that twilight time when the sun is below the horizon but there is still light flooding the sky. Just setting the scene for ya. Singleton pulled his van over to the side of the road so he could take a break to relieve himself. He couldn't hold it like a big boy until the next gas station. Mary got out as well to pee and get some fresh air but when she bent down to tie her shoe, she was struck over the head with a hammer. Singleton yelled at her "don't scream or I'll kill you!". He dragged her body to the back of his van and shoved her limp body inside.
This is when the barbarous attack started.
He tied her hands behind her back and proceeded to brutally rape and sodomize her. After the initial assault, Singleton moved the van down into the canyon (while totally stark-ass naked). He cut the ties that had been binding her hands together and forced her to drink the liquor that he had in the milk carton. He agreed to set her free if she continued to cooperate. After multiple assaults, and continued swigs of the booze, Mary passed out but she wasn't out for long. Once awake, Singleton instructed her to lie on the ground. He then cut off both of her arms with a hatchet, while she was conscious and completely aware of everything that was fucking happening to her. Then he pushed her limp body down into the canyon. He assumed she was dead, as would anyone, and thought no one would ever find her body.
Mary's will to live was greater than her want to die.
She knew that if she didn't survive to tell her story that more young girls and women would be hurt and/or killed by Singleton. Before beginning to crawl back up the side of the canyon, she rolled her severed arms in the dirt to coat the wounds and stem the bleeding. She made her way back up the hill, letting the sounds of the traffic guide her back to the freeway. Once back on the road, she walked with what remained of her arms up in the air so her muscles and blood wouldn’t fall out. As she walked along the road a red convertible with two men inside slowed. Once they got a good look at her they sped off, either not hearing or ignoring her screams for help. I can only imagine coming across this sight in the middle of nowhere. A naked bloody girl with no forearms just stumbling down the side of the freeway. It's like a scene from a horror movie. In all seriousness, if you saw that while just driving along, what would you do? Two women came by the next morning. Some reports say it was a couple on their honeymoon. It was by pure luck that they found Mary because they were lost. All Mary could tell them was "he raped me". They wrapped her in towels and placed her in their car where they drove to a nearby airport and called for an ambulance.
After receiving urgent medical attention (where they had to take pieces of her leg so they could save the remainder of her arms leaving her unable to ever dance again) she gave a thorough description of Lawrence Singleton and a composite sketch was whipped up. Singleton's neighbor, bless him, recognized him and immediately called the police.
After his arrest, Singleton really upped his scumbag charm. He told police that Mary had been a prostitute, that he hadn't done anything to her, that someone else had been in the car with him and they had done it, that she had threatened him by saying that if he didn't give her ride that she would call the cops and say he raped her, and to top it all off he called her a "$10-a-night-whore". He had a barrage of "explanations" and excuses.
Before facing him in the trial, Mary was fitted with prosthetics but had great difficulty adapting to her new disability. I can only imagine having a physical reminder of the worst moment of your life right there in front of you - not to mention the lasting psychological damage. The trial was an abysmal failure. Singleton was sentenced to the maximum, which was a measly 14 years. He had been charged with kidnapping, mayhem, attempted murder, forcible rape, sodomy and forced oral copulation. Before being sentenced he tried to convince anyone that it was the other hitchhikers who had committed this crime against Mary. Of course, no one believed him and he was ordered to pay $2.56 million to Mary in a civil judgment. Obviously, an unemployed man can't afford that so he ended up only paying $200 from his savings. That is barely a slap on the wrist for the atrocious act he committed against an innocent young girl. I mean SERIOUSLY - what the fuck!? The judge who sentenced him said, "If I had the power, I would send him to prison for the rest of his natural life." And I agree.
Despite being one of the biggest assholes, douchbags, and scum of the earth Singleton was considered a "model prisoner" while serving his sentence. He ended up only serving 8 YEARS AND 4 MONTHS! Isn't that just outrageous?? He was paroled for "good behavior" and continued to proclaim his innocence. Before being released he was given a psychological evaluation in which the doctor said, "Because he is so out of touch with his own hostility and anger, he remains an elevated threat to others' safety inside and outside of prison". So how did he get paroled so fucking easily?! This story really enrages me as I can imagine it does you too.
While Singleton was being a "model prisoner", Mary was busy attempting to live life. Not surprisingly, she battled depression, struggled with anorexia (in which she dropped down to 98 lbs), cried constantly, and was diagnosed with PTSD which caused relentless nightmares and made other aspects of her life unstable and unbearable. All of these after effects I can totally understand - I think anyone would suffer like that. Her life continued to spiral downward. She hated her new school that was for the handicapped, she hated seeing a psychiatrist (it forced her to bring up the painful memories and she wasn't ready to deal with it). She continued to be rebellious against her parents and her family eventually broke apart. Her father Herb moved to Alaska, her mother Lucy stayed in Las Vegas and Mary's seven siblings became scattered around the Nevada and Northwest area of the United States as they grew up and left home. Mary did eventually graduate from high school and immediately moved out of Las Vegas and withdrew from society. She became very secretive about her life and her location. She never wanted to be found so she could avoid being tracked down my Singleton. Living in constant fear made day-to-day life unbearable. Being a recluse made holding down a job difficult. Without steady employment, she couldn't afford to have her prosthetics fixed after they were broken and she ultimately filed for bankruptcy. She survived mostly off of donations and welfare.
Mary did get married despite these difficult circumstances but the marriage only lasted three years. Her life seemed to be going downhill again until she met her second husband, Tom. He was an investigator in the prosecutor's office and they crossed paths when she was in the district attorney's office. He quickly became her backbone and number one supporter, not to mention her bodyguard and manager. He encouraged her to share her story and advocate for victim's rights. One of her first speaking engagements was in a high school, where she wanted to share her story to prevent teenagers from hitchhiking. During the speech, she was heckled by (a dumbass) teenage boy who hollered, "you got what you deserved!". This heckle stuck with her for many years and she believed it. She refused to do school appearances for the rest of her speaking career. You know how you remember some things and they just make you cringe and feel this overwhelming shame and embarrassment? I can't even imagine what went through her head every time she thought about that young man. And I wonder if that kid regrets yelling that? I wonder if he even remembers?
Mary and Tom worked together to build a happy and healthy life. They married in 1999 in a small, intimate wedding and since Mary couldn't wear a wedding ring Tom bought her a diamond to wear on a necklace. They went on to have two sons, Alan and Luke. Marry attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and continued to work as a victim's advocate.
Kind of surprisingly, Mary became a good artist. Though she had never been particularly interested in art before her attack, she said that one day she just "woke up" and "artwork inspired me and [gave] me self-esteem." She has become a reasonably popular artist, with some of her pieces being valued at around $2,000.
Let's cut back to Singleton. After he was released, he was forcibly driven out of multiple homes and towns by hordes of people protesting his presence in their community. Rightfully so, I would think! For the year of his parole, he was set up in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin. He was under constant surveillance by guards, had a strict curfew, and was sent to mandatory AA counseling. He was basically in prison but outside the prison walls. Being under such strict living conditions he became a recluse until his release from parole, which is when he moved to Florida.
Of course, us here in the United States know that prison doesn't actually rehabilitate people and they often come out worse than when they went in. Aww, American justice. He was convicted twice more in 1990; one for stealing a $10 disposable camera, he served 60-days. And two for stealing a $3 hat, where he served 2-years. He was put in a psych ward a few times for attempted suicide - the prick obviously didn't try hard enough.
You know - I was thinking about this. There is NO WAY that Mary Vincent was his first victim. You don't just jump right in on this level of horrific insanity. How many women came before Mary? How long had he been "on the prowl"? I am obviously not the first one to think this but I wanted to put my opinion out there - because it scares the shit out of me!
What happens next is the reason that Lawrence Singleton became the symbol for failures within the criminal justice system. A man in Florida called the police after witnessing a man viciously bludgeon a bloody, limp woman through the window of a house. He could hear her "bones crushing like chicken bones breaking." The police came quickly and discovered Singleton in the home, covered in blood, and a dead sex-worker on his couch. Roxanne Hayes was the 31-year-old woman, mother of three, who was working as a sex worker to support her family. Singleton had picked her up for a "date" and agreed on $20. Once they got back to his house he proceeded to stab her multiple times with a boning knife.
Word of the murder and Singleton's arrest reached Mary Vincent and she made the trip to Florida to speak at his trial. She needed to testify and tell her story. She was not in the least bit required to do so but she had some powerful words to share, "I was raped. I had my arms cut off. He used a hatchet. He left me to die." She left the court speechless and pointed directly at Singleton with her prosthetic hook. Can you feel the power coming off this event? Can you sense the terror that must have been coursing through Mary as she sat there, in front of the court, in front of her would-be-murderer? Her words left an impact on the court (not to mention the fact that he was literally caught red-handed) and he was sentenced to death in 1997.
I guess he got bored while waiting to be executed and he attempted to sue Mary because "he felt like the victim". He claimed that she "forcibly kidnapped him for the purposes of robbery". Do you want to know what he said that ticked me off EVEN MORE? He said he had searched his conscience and determined that he was not capable of such an evil deed. When he thought about the "vile accusations" that had been made against him, it made him physically sick. He said he was constantly vomiting. This case never stuck - because he's a fucking idiot WITHOUT A CONSCIENCE!
If the law had not been so lenient after Singleton had chopped off Mary's arms and attempted to murder her then he would not have had the opportunity to kill Roxanne. Mary Vincent, Roxanne Hayes, and who knows how many other women did not get to witness the ultimate justice of having this man executed - Lawrence Singleton died of cancer in 2001.
In light of the massive failures in the criminal justice arena, Mary helped enact legislation that would prevent the early release of offenders who have committed a crime in which torture is used. It is called "Singleton's Bill" and carries a 25-to-life sentence.
Mary really is a saint. She suffered and fought and struggled and still came out an amazing inspiration who only wants to help other victims. As of 2017, Mary no longer recognizes Singleton by his name and only refers to him as "my attacker". Good for you girl! Take that power back!
Introducing Team Mary.
Team Mary is an online marketplace where 100% of profits are donated to organizations that help the victims of sexual, emotional, and/or physical abuse - especially women and children. All of our donations are inspired by Mary Vincent and her remarkable story of survival. Each donation is made in her honor.
Available now for purchase we have shirts, hoodies, bags, mugs, and prints. There are only a couple of designs at the moment but artists from all over have been offering to donate artwork to be printed on these goodies - all inspired by the Queen, Mary Vincent.
For any questions about this venture you can visit the FAQ page or email Jess at Panicamongus@gmail.com
San Francisco Chronicle, 1 August, 1988 – “Quiet Wedding for Hatchet-Rape Victim”
Slate, 15 November, 2011 – “Not Guilty by Reason of Neuroscience”
The Orange County Register, 21 October, 1999 – “The Power of Love”
Ventura County Star, 1 May, 2009 – “Crime Survivor Speaks”
Contra Costa Times, 1 January, 2002 – “Lawrence Singleton Dies of Cancer in Florida”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11 Janaury, 2002 – “Singleton Deserved to Die Lonely and Despised”
The Tampa Tribune, 25 February, 1998 – “Mutilated Victim Faces Singleton”
The Miami Herald, 17 January, 2002 – “Victim Feels Cheated By Attacker’s Death”