‘The Donut Shop Murders’ podcast unveils ‘depraved minds’ behind slayings: ‘They tried to outdo each other’

Joe Fanciulli will never forget his initial impression of killers Sherman Ramon McCrary and Carl Taylor.

“They were east Texas guys with very little education,” the detective recalled to Fox News Digital. “They lived by their wits. I always thought that, by themselves, they were dangerous guys. They committed robberies, they committed various kinds of criminal acts.”

“But when they got together, there was a chemistry and bond that formed between these two guys where they tried to outdo each other with their criminal acts,” Fanciulli added. “They moved from simple robberies to murder because, as they always said, ‘Dead girls don’t talk.’ And it escalated from there.”

The case involving McCrary and his son-in-law is the subject of a true-crime podcast distributed by Wondery, “Families Who Kill: The Donut Shop Murders.” The series details how two petty thieves from Texas gathered their family and sought criminal opportunities in the American West before they were finally caught by law enforcement. It also features the taped confessions of one of the two convicted killers.

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The true-crime podcast "Families Who Kill: The Donut Shop Murders" was produced by Trooper Entertainment in collaboration with Wondery.   

The true-crime podcast “Families Who Kill: The Donut Shop Murders” was produced by Trooper Entertainment in collaboration with Wondery.   
(Trooper Entertainment)

The case was previously explored in a 2015 episode of Investigation Discovery’s true-crime docuseries, titled “Evil Kin.”

“It was just staggering to me that this story of murder and depravity had never been told in a comprehensive way,” executive producer Alan Wieder told Fox News Digital. “As a storyteller that excited me — the idea of bringing to light this disturbing and complicated story of a deeply antisocial American family. I also found all the psychological elements — a pathologically codependent family working together as a kind of murder machine — super interesting.”

Fanciulli spent 20 years with the Lakewood Police Department in Colorado, where he specialized in economic crime. In 1970, a check fraud case led him to the McCrary family, whom he would pursue for two years before bringing them to justice for the murder of Leeora Looney.

“They lived in motels and lived off of writing bad checks,” Fanciulli explained. “I was a brand new police officer. Our concept at the time was that we didn’t have detectives. So as a patrol officer, you worked everything. I got involved in this check case and I tried to track the family down. 

“Unfortunately, they got out of town. They were good at doing that. But I got warrants and went after them. The Leeora case happened eight months after this. And I got involved because I believed the family may have possibly been involved in other murders across the country.”

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The murderous McCrary family is being explored in a new true-crime podcast.

The murderous McCrary family is being explored in a new true-crime podcast.
(Denver Post via Getty Images)

On the evening of Aug. 20, 1971, the 20-year-old Looney was reported missing from a donut shop in Lakewood where she was employed. According to court documents, the waitress’ purse was left open, and her car remained parked near the shop. Several witnesses reported seeing two men in the shop just before Looney’s disappearance. They were later identified as McCrary and Taylor. Three days later, Looney’s nude body was found in a remote field. She had been strangled, raped and shot in the head.

“These were depraved minds,” Fanciulli explained. “It’s that simple. They had very little value for life. I’ve said this before, but these guys would kill a human being like you would a bug. A human life wouldn’t mean a lot to them. They just wanted to satisfy their gratifications of stealing money and demeaning women.”

It’s been previously reported that McCrary’s wife Carolyn and Taylor’s spouse Ginger watched quietly as Looney was killed. However, Fanciulli said he didn’t believe that was true.

“I think the women were still in a motel in Lakewood,” he said. “They certainly knew what was going on. And I think they lived in fear. They lived in fear of these two guys, and they wouldn’t dare cross them. It’s that simple.”

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Leeora Looney, a 20-year-old waitress at a Lakewood donut shop, was brutally killed in 1971.

Leeora Looney, a 20-year-old waitress at a Lakewood donut shop, was brutally killed in 1971.
(Trooper Entertainment)

The investigator said Looney’s death matched a string of rape-murders in which most of the victims were taken from donut shops. Taylor’s fingerprints were lifted from a coffee cup at the donut shop where Sheri Lee Martin, an employee, disappeared. The 17-year-old vanished shortly before Looney was kidnapped. Martin was later found in the Nevada desert where she had been shot, the Deseret Times reported.

“DNA technology was maybe 20 years into the future,” said Fanciulli. “The sketches based on the descriptions of eyewitnesses were absolutely uncanny. But it was the fingerprint identification that really sealed the deal.”

McCrary and Taylor were serving time in California’s Folsom Prison in 1972 when Colorado authorities implicated them in Looney’s death. McCrary confessed to Lakewood police to murdering three women in Texas, but the statements were not admissible under Texas law. While he never confessed to Martin’s murder, Utah officers remained confident that the men were behind her slaying.

McCrary and his family were suspected in at least 24 other murders, Oxygen.com reported. The cases consisted of young women who were last seen alive at donut shops in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Kansas City and Utah from 1970 to 1971.

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Carl Taylor And Sherman McCrary, right, in custody. Escorting the prisoners is Lakewood Agent Joe Fancuilli. 

Carl Taylor And Sherman McCrary, right, in custody. Escorting the prisoners is Lakewood Agent Joe Fancuilli. 
(Denver Post via Getty Images)

Fanciulli said he had no doubt there are other victims out there.

“If Carl knew you had evidence that could put him there, he would tell you what happened,” he said. “It was like a game, but you had to prove it to him. He wasn’t just going to say, ‘I did it.’”

In 1972, a Colorado grand jury indicted McCrary and Taylor in Looney’s murder. Ginger cooperated with law enforcement, and she and Carolyn were each sentenced to a few years in prison, The New Yorker reported. According to the outlet, McCrary was convicted by a jury while Taylor pled guilty. Both received life sentences.

In 1988, McCrary took his life while serving time behind bars. The 62-year-old would have been eligible for parole in 1997.

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In this group shot is Detective Joe Fanciulli (top row, third from left) at the Lakewood Police Academy graduation, circa July 1970. 

In this group shot is Detective Joe Fanciulli (top row, third from left) at the Lakewood Police Academy graduation, circa July 1970. 
(Trooper Entertainment)

“One always blamed the other,” said Fanciulli. “If you talked to Sherman, he would say it was Carl who was the main guy while he was just along for the ride. But if you talked to Carl, it was the opposite. But I never really heard any kind of remorse. There was a lot of bragging, sidestepping and excuses. But there was never a moment of ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me, I feel bad for the families and the victims.’ There was never anything like that.”

While the murders have been considered among the nation’s first serial killings, Fanciulli noted that they’ve been overshadowed by other separate cases that sparked more headlines. Details about the murders remain scarce online. His book on the case, “Death Roads,” has been out of print for some time.

The New Yorker pointed out that relatives of victims, as well as those related to the killers, have connected in the comment section of a defunct podcast’s website.

“A lot of children, grandchildren and extended relatives have come forward,” said Fanciulli. “Some of the families have even found each other.”

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In this car shot is Joe Fanciulli, circa Dec. 1970, right before he started investigating the McCrary family.

In this car shot is Joe Fanciulli, circa Dec. 1970, right before he started investigating the McCrary family.
(Trooper Entertainment)

Fanciulli hopes the podcast will reveal to listeners how the killings continue to impact the families decades later.

“There are terrible people like this out in the world,” Fanciulli said. “And unfortunately, there probably will always be out there. That’s why we have to continue to do what we do to bring these kinds of people to justice.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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