The Donut Shop Murders and Their Eerie Afterlife

Regina Alexander doesn’t recall ever knowing exactly how her mother died. She knew scattered details like when and where it happened, and who did it. But other valuable facts about the incident remained obscured. However, her longing to uncover them never subsided.

Carl Taylor, Sherman McCrary / Carolyn Elizabeth McCrary / Regina Alexander / Elizabeth Steffens.
Source: Getty Images

“I don’t even know what the truth is,” she told an interviewer from The New York Times, “That’s part of why it’s so hard to let go.” The harrowing tragedy happened in the ’70s. Sadly, Regina’s mom wasn’t the only one who fell victim to a man named “The Donut Shop Killer.” (Sounds innocent enough, but trust us… it isn’t).

A Little Elizabeth Taylor

Regina’s mom, Elizabeth Steffens, was born in Texas in 1945 to a carpenter father and a stay-at-home mother who worked hard to raise her and her four siblings. As she grew older, she was tagged as “the fun one” in the family.

A dated portrait of Elizabeth Steffens.
Elizabeth Steffens. Source: The New Yorker

She was told that she looked just like Elizabeth Taylor, and so she would actually peer at Taylor on the screen and imagine it was her mother. Slowly, she became a fancy little girl. A relative once quoted her saying, “When I die, be sure I have on eyeshadow.”

The Night She Disappeared

Elizabeth got married for the first time at the young age of 17. They had a daughter named Tonette but divorced shortly after her birth. A co-worker then introduced her to a man named Van Perryman, with whom she had a son named Bobby and Regina, who was born in July 1971.

A dated picture of Elizabeth.
Source: The New Yorker

Less than two months later, in September, Elizabeth disappeared. Her remains were found several months later. The police instantly notified the family, and Elizabeth’s brother, Bobby, drove up to the station with her dental records to identify her body.

It Aired on the Radio Before It Got to the Family

News of the confirmation aired on the radio before Elizabeth’s family was notified. Afterward, it was shown on TV, with footage of the crime scene flashing in every house that owned a screen. Elizabeth’s siblings recall seeing a cop lift her skull with a stick and place it on his car.

A portrait of Regina Alexander during an interview.
Regina Alexander. Source: The New Yorker

Unbeknownst to the family, around the same time a number of women had been murdered under similar circumstances in Texas. Apparently, a suspicious man was robbing convenience stores and cafés during the night, when it was late enough so that just one waitress was working. Then, he would rape and kill the only witness.

The Malicious McCrary Family

In their investigation, law enforcement managed to connect the dots between four separate murders. After some digging, they arrested a man named Carl Taylor, who also went by the name Raymond. He had wounded an officer during a botched robbery attempt in Santa Barbara.

A picture of Carolyn Elizabeth McCrary, the family matriarch.
Carolyn Elizabeth McCrary. Source: Pinterest

Police not only tracked down Raymond, but also his wife, Ginger McCrary, and their kids. Ginger’s parents, Sherman and Carolyn, and her sibling Danny were also arrested. After several days of questioning, law enforcement discovered that the McCrary-Taylor family was responsible for at least ten murders.

The Nation Was Fascinated

The press quickly picked up on the family’s story. People were fascinated by a group of people who appeared to be robbing and killing together. “For most of their lives, they aimlessly wandered the American southwest, scratching for jobs as ranch hands, carnies, and fry cooks,” read The Los Angeles Times.

A newspaper clipping of the McCrary family.
McCrary family. Source: Pinterest

“Sherman McCrary drank a quart of liquor a day. Raymond Taylor was mean and dangerous. Danny McCrary was raised to believe that crime was a business. Carolyn McCrary is almost illiterate. Ginger McCrary is sickly and compliant.”

The Full Moon Murders

Some newspapers referred to the murders as the Full Moon Murders because they allegedly occurred by the light of the moon. But in the fall of 1972, after a grand jury in Colorado found Sherman McCrary and Carl Taylor guilty of the murder of Leeora Looney, a donut shop worker, the public started calling the murders the Donut Shop Murders.

Carl Taylor and Sherman McCrary are taken into custody.
Carl Taylor, Sherman McCrary. Photo by Denver Post/Getty Images

The matriarch of the murderous family, Ginger and Carolyn McCrary were both sentenced to just a few short years in prison. Sherman McCrary was convicted by a jury, and Carl Taylor pled guilty – and both of them received life sentences. Ginger’s brother, Danny, also received life behind bars.

Elizabeth’s Family Was Wrecked

By that point, a grieving Van Perryman bounced around with his kids from town to town in north Texas, not staying in any one place for too long. Eventually, both Sherman and Taylor confessed to killing Elizabeth, but Van didn’t hear of it straight away.

A dated portrait of Elizabeth Steffens.
Elizabeth Steffens. Source: The New Yorker

In fact, he didn’t like to talk about the murder of his wife. Regina had to learn about her death from her chatty aunts. When the series “Police Story” aired an episode on TV based on the McCrarys, Van refused to watch it.

He Learned of It From a Book

Finally, in 1981, Van picked up a copy of the book “Death Roads: The Story of the Donut Shop Murders,” which told of the killings that had occurred in the early ’70s. He learned that the malicious family had likely killed his wife.

A photo of the book cover.
Source: Pinterest

Elizabeth’s case had never been officially solved, and knowing that, Van decided to write to the special crimes unit of the local police department, urging them to open her case again. “I do not mean to be a bore or a bother… I only ask that you just take into consideration that if this were your wife how you would feel,” he wrote.

Sherman McCrary Committed Suicide

The police agreed to Van’s plea, and they began investigating Sherman for the murder. However, they didn’t get very far in the investigation because he committed suicide in his prison cell in 1988. The case was closed with no final disposition.

A photo of Sherman McCrary and Raymond Carl Taylor in handcuffs.
Photo by Duane Howell/The Denver Post/Getty Images

As if that weren’t bad enough, law enforcement never even notified the family that he had killed himself, or that they weren’t looking into it anymore. The memory of Elizabeth was just swept under the rug as if she had never existed.

Regina Grew Curious

By that point, Elizabeth’s daughter, Regina, had dropped out of high school to marry her sweetheart. The couple had three kids before their marriage crumbled. She then began taking up odd jobs until she decided to join the Army in her late thirties.

A picture of Elizabeth, among other personal items.
Source: YouTube

After injuring her back, she returned home to North Texas, where she had plenty of free time to sit alone with her thoughts and contemplate what happened to her mother. She began paying daily visits to Elizabeth’s grave.

She Was Determined to Find Out More

“I just sit there and talk to her like a weirdo,” Regina told reporters of her time spent in the graveyard. “It’s the only thing I have connecting me with my mom.” She didn’t want her mom’s life to be defined by her tragic death, but she couldn’t resist dwelling on those final moments.

Police escort Carolyn McCrary as he heads to court.
Photo by Duane Howell/The Denver Post/Getty Images

She had often been told how similar she was to her mom and getting to know Elizabeth better felt necessary to understanding herself better. Regina knew that if there were anyone in the world who could answer her questions, it would be one of the McCrarys.

She Turned to the Web

If only she could get ahold of one of them, she thought. It bothered Regina that the McCrary women were no longer in prison. But at least that meant she might be able to find them. However, it wasn’t easy to collect information about the crimes on the web.

An image of a computer in a dark room.
Photo by Bich Tran/Pexels

Her mother’s murder happened in the ’70s and really wasn’t on anyone’s mind anymore. Even the book her dad bought, “Death Roads,” was no longer available. Many of the original papers that were released at the time had not been digitized.

The Serial Killers Podcast Shined a New Light

Regina’s renewed interest in her mom’s death led to a deep dive into a rabbit hole of true-crime stories. One day, as she searched online for her mother, she came across a site titled the “Serial Killers Podcast.”

A photo of a cake topper from Elizabeth’s wedding.
Source: The New Yorker

One of their blog posts had a list of all the victims the McCrarys had murdered, along with the date the person had disappeared. In the comments section, Regina decided to ask a question: “Does anyone know what happened to these two women and the son who got off scot-free?”

Five Months Later, a Reply

Five months later, Regina got her response. The reply came from a man who later identified himself as the brother of one of the victims. He told Regina that Danny McCrary, the son she’d inquired about, was in prison. Shortly after, another commenter named Alice said she was working on a book about the case and was seeking information.

A screengrab of a phone shows email notifications.
Photo by Torsten/Pexels

Several weeks later, one of Regina’s cousins logged onto the site and reported that as of 2009, Danny and Taylor were still in prison, but that Carolyn and Ginger had both passed away due to cancer. As it turns out, none of this information was correct.

More Random Information

Another person, who claimed that Leeora Looney was her aunt, wrote: “She was taken from us before I was born but my mom told me all the time when I was growing up how much she would have loved me and how much I was like her.”

An exterior shot of a donuts shop.
Source: Pinterest

Gradually, the comment section began to overflow with responses. Many commenters, like Regina, were looking for answers regarding their loved ones. All in all, Regina’s message generated 157 replies, many from people who knew the McCrarys or their victims.

“I Am the Daughter of Sherman McCrary”

One woman wrote that one of the victims was her half-sister whom she had never met. Another said she was a friend of the half-sister and described what necklace she was wearing the day she disappeared.

A photo of police officers escorting Sherman McCrary.
Sherman McCrary. Photo by Denver Post/Getty Images

More friends and family members of victims exchanged memories in the section, trying to piece together information about their departed loved ones. In August 2014, one comment took everyone by surprise. A woman named “Jenny” wrote, “I know that some of these people may not like me because of who I am. I am the daughter of Sherman McCrary, the serial killer. I was with them through the whole ordeal, and I, like some of them, want answers.”

Their Youngest Child

“Jenny” was in fact Tammy, the youngest child of Sherman and Carolyn McCrary. She was just ten years old when several of her family members were arrested, and she was reunited with Carolyn and Ginger after their release from prison.

A mugshot of Sherman McCrary.
Sherman McCrary. Source: Pinterest

Tammy believed that her mom, Carolyn, had known what was going on but had feared for her own life, so she didn’t do much to stop it. What mattered to her today, Tammy wrote, was to ensure her remaining family members would raise the next generation well: “Live life happy and with pride.”

Regina’s Response Was Harsh

Seeing Tammy’s comment, Regina fired back. She replied that she wished the McCrary women suffered from nightmares every night. However, she added that she knew that Tammy was just a child at the time and wrote that her parents’ deeds didn’t define her as a person. Tammy didn’t reply.

An image of a computer sitting on a desk.
Photo by Vochtek/Pexels

A few weeks later, a producer from the show “Evil Kin” (an investigative discovery series) wrote to ask whether any of the people in the comments section would like to take part in an episode devoted to the McCrary-Taylors.

The Episode Drew More Interest to the Crimes

The special aired in August 2015 and featured an interview with Tammy. It drew even more attention to the case. Viewers who had watched it logged on to the message board to join the back-and-forth message exchanges.

An image of a person sitting in front of a television.
Photo by Nothing Ahead/Pexels

Regina’s son Nathan joined the conversation and noted that he was now the same age as his grandmother was when she was murdered. “It’s still haunting people today, people who weren’t even alive when it happened,” he wrote. Regina’s sister, Nathan’s aunt, replied, “But you will survive kiddo!”

“I Need Someone to Blame”

In the spring of 2017, a commenter logged on to say that she had only just learned, from the podcast site, who had murdered her aunt and uncle. Following the discovery, she said she began writing “about the ripple effect of traumatic events in families.”

A photo of a computer keyboard.
Photo by Digital Buggu/Pexels

The tragedy had wrecked her grieving dad’s life and hers as well. She said it had had devastating effects on her children’s lives, too. “Regardless of what could have been in a world where the McCrarys just stayed home that year and grew weed or started a band or something, we live in the reality where their actions echo in the lives of so many of us, everysingle day. I want to know why. I need to understand. If I’m being completely honest, I need someone to blame.”

Ginger Was Still Alive

A man named Jerry Nations saw the post that stated that Ginger had died. He quickly corrected the record. “Ginger is still alive,” he wrote. The reason Jerry knew that was because Ginger was his mom.

A mugshot of Ginger.
Ginger McCrary. Source: Pinterest

Jerry added his e-mail address and wrote that if anyone wanted more information, they could send him a message. Understandably, his inbox was flooded with emails. Families were dying for some closure, and Jerry was the man who could provide it.

Jerry Ran Into Trouble With the Law

Jerry was around five years old when members of the McCrary Taylor family were arrested. Following their detainment, he started bouncing from one foster family to the next until finally, in 1976, he was adopted by the Nations family.

A portrait of Jerry, Ginger’s son.
Jerry Nations. Source: The New Yorker

Jerry graduated from high school and started taking oil and gas jobs. At the age of 20, though, he ran into a sticky situation with the law. He was charged for the first time, for “making alcohol available to a minor.” At 22, he assaulted a cop and got his first felony conviction.

He Was Born Into a Family of Murderers

Curious about his past, Jerry eventually requested his adoption records. After receiving them, he learned that his biological family was, in fact, a group of cold-blooded murderers.

A photo of Jerry’s adoption papers.
Source: The New Yorker

As he went through the file, he began getting bizarre flashbacks of gory images, like discovering severed human hands in the backyard of his home. He also recalled a moment when he was in the front seat of a car while a woman in the back seat was screaming.

Ginger Refused to Speak

Jerry called Ginger, his biological mom, for the first time, and arranged to meet her and Tammy. He spotted them in the airport and said he knew it was them from the second he laid eyes on them.

A mugshot of Ginger at the time of her arrest.
Ginger McCrary. Source: Pinterest

The reunited family members then headed to a motel, where they hung out and swam in the pool. He didn’t initially bring up the reason he wanted to see them. In the evening, after a few drinks, Jerry tried to nudge his mom into talking about the murders. But she cried and refused to speak. That was the last time they saw each other.

He Spiraled Into Bad Habits

Over the next few years, Jerry tried to escape his reality by taking methamphetamines. To avoid recurring nightmares, he slept less and less. Finally, in 2010, Jerry was arrested for making and selling meth. He spent the following five years in jail.

A picture of pills on a bedroom table.
Photo by Rudolphs/Pexels

After his release, he moved into a trailer and tried to get his act together. However, thoughts about his childhood persisted. Ultimately, he searched his family name, and that’s how he came across the “Serial Killers” podcast site.

“Your Family Killed My Mother”

After Jerry left a comment on the Serial Killers site, he began receiving a host of unpleasant emails. One of them was from Regina, who wrote to him in the summer of 2017: “My name is Regina. I am interested in you because your family killed my mother, Elizabeth Perryman.”

An image of hands typing on a laptop’s keyboard.
Photo by Cottonbro/Pexels

Eventually, Jerry got his hands on Regina’s phone number and decided to give her a call. Their conversation was a bit awkward at first, but they eventually found that they had a lot more in common than they thought.

They Found Common Ground

Both Jerry and Regina had been married several times. Like Jerry, Regina’s brother had gone to prison for drug-related felonies. They managed to bond over similar hardships. “Meth will steal your soul,” he told her.

A dated image of Sherman McCrary’s arrest.
Sherman McCrary. Source: Pinterest

Regina reassured Jerry that he was also a victim. “All the children and all the children of their victims, we’re all in the same boat,” she noted, “We all grew up with this over our heads.”

A Domino Effect

Regina ended up asking Jerry whether he had met her mother before she was killed. He answered that he couldn’t recall any of the victims’ faces; nothing but small flashbacks of that time remain. She then asked to talk to Ginger, but Jerry was a bit reluctant to give her Ginger’s number.

A photo of a domino effect.
Photo by Cottonbro/Pexels

During the conversation, they discussed their suffering. “It’s just crazy how many people your parents have affected down the generations,” Regina told him. “Yeah,” he replied, “it’s like a domino effect.”

They Became Facebook Friends

Jerry told Regina that nowadays, he counts on no one but his son and brother. Regina in response said that she holds her remaining family as close as she can. Her sister and father, who best understand what she’s been through, are her grounding figures in life.

A screengrab of Facebook icon.
Source: Pixabay

Jerry was struck by their similarities, and for a while after the phone call, he stopped obsessing about his biological parents. He could finally catch some shut-eye. He even added Regina as a friend on Facebook.

Regina Still Felt Restless

Regina, on the other hand, still felt haunted by her past. Her father, Van, who began suffering from pulmonary fibrosis a few years earlier, wasn’t doing very well, and in July 2018, he handed Regina the purse that her mom took with her on the night that she died.

A newspaper clipping on the McCrary’s arrest.
Source: YouTube

It was a red bag with clips at the top. Inside it were a few stamps, a fifty-year-old toothpaste, and some eye makeup. There was also a handwritten recipe for banana pudding. Regina examined those items like an archeologist, all in an attempt to know her mother better.

Carl Taylor Refused to Talk

So, what about the rest of the McCrary family members? One reporter mentioned writing to Carl Taylor while he was in a Colorado prison but only received a polite letter in return saying that Carl didn’t want to discuss the murder.

A photo of Carl Taylor in prison.
Carl Taylor. Source: YouTube

That same reporter then called Ginger McCrary. However, she didn’t respond at all. But he didn’t back down and requested publicly available information on Elizabeth Perryman’s murder case. This didn’t get him that far either…

Finally, Some Answers

Regina managed to finally get her hands on the official record of what happened to her mother. The police file she was shown contained crime-scene reports, as well as interviews with suspects, court transcripts, and even poetry that Carl Taylor wrote in prison.

A picture of Elizabeth Steffens.
Elizabeth Steffens. Source: The New Yorker

The documents Regina went through provided an accurate account of what really happened the night her mother vanished. This is how it went down:

At about 9:20 p.m., Elizabeth phoned the taxi company where Van used to work as a driver. She then asked the dispatcher to pass a message onto her husband, telling him to pick her up at a coffee shop nearby where she had been waitressing.

Van Filed a Missing Person’s Report

When Van arrived, about half an hour later, the café was locked. He searched for Elizabeth all night. The following morning, staff from the café discovered that $86 was missing from the cash register. Even weirder, though, was that Elizabeth’s purse was still on the counter.

A dated mugshot of Carl Taylor.
Carl Taylor. Source: Pinterest

Shortly after, Van filed a missing person’s report. Regina also got her hands on a copy of Carl Taylor’s videotaped confession. In it, Taylor shamelessly said that Elizabeth went along with the kidnapping.

A New Podcast

In June 2020, a podcast about the McCrary murders launched. The producer was Alan Wieder who had worked on the development side of reality TV shows for years. His professional credits include “The Apprentice” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé.”

An image of a radio podcast station.
Photo by Harry Cunningham/Pexels

This podcast addresses classic, true-crime questions, like what drives murderers, and in particular serial killers, to do what they do. The podcast is called “Families Who Kill: The Donut Shop Murders.”

East Texas Guys with Little Education

Detective Joe Fanciulli, the investigator of the case, told Fox News that the murderers, Carl Taylor and Sherman Ramon McCrary, were “east Texas guys with very little education… They lived by their wits.” According to the detective, before the murders, they were busy committing burglaries.

A picture of east Texas landscape.
Photo by Yigithan/Pexels

“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,” Joe added. “They moved from simple robberies to murder because, as they always said, ‘Dead girls don’t talk.’ And it escalated from there.”