Clarence Ray Allen was born in January 1930 in Oklahoma, the youngest of five children in a family of white and American Indian ancestry. When he was 11, Ray started picking cotton. The family moved in the 1940s to Texas. Then they moved to California.
At 16, Allen met Helen Sevier. They married a year later. She later recalled that although he was usually hardworking and considerate, he occasionally stole from fellow workers’ cars.
The couple had two sons, Kenneth and Roger. Allen worked for the Sunland Olive Company in the 1950s where he was promoted to warehouse manager. In 1962, he was charged and convicted of conspiring with others to steal olive cases to sell to vegetable stands. He was incarcerated for a year in a county honor farm.
He and Helen divorced after his release. He received custody of the children. In the late 1960s, he worked as a security guard. Using his guard’s key, Allen and son Roger sometimes snuck into a country club kitchen to eat.
Allen founded a security firm in 1968. The business prospered and employed 60 workers. He owned a ranch and show horses.
Chris Sund recalled meeting Allen through horse shows. For the Sunds’ 40th wedding anniversary, Allen gifted them with a poem he wrote and framed. At one point, Chris’s husband needed blood donations. Chris said Allen “was the first one there.”
Larry Turner worked as a security guard for Allen’s company. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Turner’s wife Connie Seidel recalled that Ray “hosted barbecues for the families of his employees, loaned her husband money and paid for their child’s day care so Seidel could work for the security firm as a receptionist.”
Something baffling happened to Allen when he entered his 40s in the 1970s. As psychologist Dr. Craig Haney remarked, the “typical pattern is for somebody to be involved in violent activity in their youth, and then, as they get older, for this pattern to abate. In Mr. Allen’s case, it’s turned on its head.” While he had previously committed crimes, they were relatively petty and he had made most of his money honestly.
Allen suddenly dove into serious criminal activity, recruiting employees to join in armed robberies of homes and businesses. He posed for a “tough guy” photo holding a rifle.
In June 1974, Allen told his gang they would rob Fran’s Market. He knew owners Ray and Frances Schletewitz. Allen’s son Roger and Roger’s girlfriend, blonde and delicately built Mary Sue Kitts, 17, agreed to help. Roger invited Schletewitz son Bryon, 19, for a swim. While Bryon swam, store keys were taken from his trousers.
Allen and two security firm employees, Carl Mayfield and Charles Jones, broke into the store after hours. They took a safe with $500 cash and $10,000 money orders. For several weeks, those three, Allen’s girlfriend and sometime secretary Shirley Doeckel, Kitts and other criminal associates cashed the money orders using false IDs.
During this period, Kitts tearfully confessed the crime to Bryon who confronted Roger. Roger told his father about Mary’s loose lips.
Allen brought together Mayfield, Jones and Allen security guard/crime partner Eugene “Lee” Furrow. Allen demanded they vote on whether Mary should be murdered. They unanimously voted for death. Allen suggested they hold a party at Doeckel’s apartment. Kitts would be tricked into taking cyanide.
On “party” day, Furrow objected to murder. Allen said he would as soon kill two people as one and the terrified Furrow agreed to make it one. Told a pill was a drug to get high, Kitts refused it. Allen took Furrow aside and told him to kill Kitts or Furrow would be killed. Then Allen left the apartment.
Furrow began strangling Kitts. A phone call interrupted him. It was Allen asking if Kitts was dead. Informed she still breathed, he said, “Do it.” Furrow did.
Allen warned Furrow, Jones and Doeckel that they were all guilty of murder. The group weighed Kitts’ body with stones and dropped it into a canal. Her remains have never been recovered.
In March 1977, Allen was arrested for a store robbery in which a worker was shot. Police connected him to Kitts, and on October 1977 he went on trial for murder. James A. Ardaiz prosecuted. Robert Mardikian presided as judge.
Carl Mayfield testified he had worked for Allen Security and helped burglarize Fran’s Market. He described how Allen had summoned Mayfield, Jones and Furrow to discuss Kitts and how they voted to murder her.
Shirley Doeckel took the stand. Appearing brassy and shopworn, Doeckel mumbled as she testified, “Ray told me that Lee was going to do away with Mary. . . . because she talked too much.” Doeckel also said he later told her Kitts was dead.
Charles Jones testified to the fatal vote and testified that Allen had threatened Jones’s small son. Jones told of helping toss Kitts’s body into water.
Bryon Schletewitz testified that he had accepted Roger’s invitation to a swimming party, that Kitts had told him about the burglary and that he confronted Roger about it.
Lee Furrow, who had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for testifying against Allen, may have been one of the most powerful witnesses. He sobbed as he described how scared he had been of Allen and how he had murdered out of that fear. He also described the disposal of Kitts’ body to a watery grave.
Allen was convicted of murder and sentenced to life.
Allen was 50 in 1980 when he recruited fellow inmate Billy Ray “Country” Hamilton to retaliate against those who had “snitched” against Allen to prevent them from testifying at a new trial if his appeals succeeded. Allen promised a big payoff for eliminating witnesses.
Kenneth Allen and Kenneth’s wife and baby visited Allen in August 1980. Kenneth agreed to find guns and smuggled Hamilton’s mugshot out in the baby’s diaper. Allen wrote Kenneth letters about the “country music show” he should see on September 3 –Hamilton’s parole date.
Kenneth and Hamilton met up. Kenneth handed the inmate a sawed-off shotgun, a revolver and ammunition.
Just before closing on September 5, 1980, a man and a woman, both sporting bandanas around their heads, strolled into Fran’s Market. Bryon was there with employees Joe Rios, 20, Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 18.
Rios thought the heavily muscled and roughly tattooed man looked like he had been imprisoned.
The man was Hamilton and the woman his girlfriend Connie Barbo. They were not in the store long before Hamilton brandished a shotgun and Barbo a revolver. Hamilton ordered Bryon, Rios, Rocha and White to lie on the floor. Then he ordered White to walk to the freezer and told him to open the safe. White said there was no safe there. Hamilton demanded to know which of them was Bryon. Bryon identified himself and said he would hand over the store’s money.
Barbo guarded White, Rios and Rocha while Hamilton and Bryon went into the stockroom. Hamilton killed Bryon with a shot to the head.
Upon leaving the stockroom, Hamilton asked White, “Where’s the safe?”
White said there was no safe.
Hamilton shot and killed White. Rocha wept and Hamilton shot and killed her.
Hamilton burst into the restroom where Rios hid. Hamilton shot and left, mistakenly believing he had killed Rios.
Hamilton and Barbo fled. Neighbor Jack Abbott spotted them. Hamilton and Abbot exchanged fire. Both were wounded, Hamilton in a foot.
Barbo retreated to the store. She burst into tears and was still weeping when captured by police.
Days later, Hamilton was arrested trying to rob another store. A list of names was found on him — of people who had testified against Ray in the Kitts murder trial.
Bryon Schletewitz was on that list. White and Rocha had been killed, and Rios wounded, because they had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, Hamilton intended a twofer at Fran’s, murdering a witness for Allen and stealing for himself.
Hamilton was convicted of three murders and sentenced to death. Barbo was similarly convicted and sentenced to life.
Authorities charged the already imprisoned Allen with three counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Kenneth testified for the prosecution, saying his father had recruited him, Hamilton and others to kill witnesses. Gary Brady, who had served time with Allen and Hamilton, testified that Allen had tried to recruit him to kill witnesses. Folsom prisoner Joe Rainier testified that Allen had said Hamilton would kill “rats.” Rainier said Allen and Hamilton talked in the prison yard every day for weeks prior to Hamilton’s parole.
Allen took the stand, denying involvement in murder or conspiracy to murder. Although he denied ordering Kitts murdered, he admitted helping dispose of her corpse. He admitted involvement in some armed robberies. Perhaps most damningly, he said, “When a guy puts a rat jacket on himself, killing them would do them a favor.”
The jury convicted Allen on all counts.
During the penalty phase, the prosecution displayed evidence that Allen had been the prime mover behind eight armed robberies from August 1974 through March 1977.
Prosecutors put on witnesses who said Allen led an attack on accused child molester Glenn Bell in jail on June 27, 1981. Allen incited prisoners to throw scalding water on Bell, beat him and throw razor blades and excrement at him.
Allen’s attorney called former girlfriend Diane Harris. She said he had given her financial help even after she married another man, that he rushed her to a hospital once and that he was good to children. However, she also admitted he had once threatened to kill her husband.
The jury sentenced him to death.
Allen’s attorneys appealed. In one denial, the Ninth Circuit court stated that he “has shown himself more than capable of arranging murders from behind bars. If the death penalty is to serve any purpose at all, it is to prevent the very sort of murderous conduct for which Allen was convicted.”
He lived on Death Row for 23 years, surviving three execution dates. Advanced diabetes left him legally blind. He became hard of hearing and often needed a wheelchair.
In September 2005, he suffered a heart attack.
On January 13, 2006 California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency, noting, “While serving a life sentence for murder, Allen executed a plan to silence witnesses. Allen’s crimes are the most dangerous sort because they attack the justice system itself.”
In the hours before his execution, two American Indian spiritual counselors visited Allen. Wearing a beaded headband and having an eagle feather on his chest, he lay on the gurney where he was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m. on January 17, 2006.
Hamilton died of bladder cancer in 2007.
Sources on following page.