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The shopaholic serial killer

What’s a girl to do when she’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but still needs some new shoes?

How about murder little old ladies and steal their credit cards?

That’s what Dana Sue Gray did in 1994. The pretty suburban woman was a former nurse and an extreme-sport enthusiast.

No one suspected her dark secret.

Dana always liked the shopping a little too much. She was divorced, newly unemployed, and drowning in debt when she murdered what police suspect was her first victim.

Eighty-six-year-old Norma Davis lived in an exclusive gated community in Canyon Lake, California, and was known to keep her doors locked and never open them unless she was expecting someone.

One of poor Norma’s friends discovered her body, and probably had nightmares for the rest of her life. Norma had been strangled before being stabbed 11 times. Two knives were sticking out of her body, and Norma’s neck wounds were so vicious that she had nearly been decapitated.

Norma was the mother-in-law of the woman who married Dana’s father.

Interestingly enough, many objects of obvious value had been left in Norma’s home, including jewelry, but the only thing that seemed to be missing were the elderly woman’s credit cards.

Unaware of a little thing called “a paper trail,” Dana went on a massive shopping spree with each of her four victims’ credit cards, often right after she killed them. She wouldn’t even stop to change her clothes! Chillingly, she often took her boyfriend’s five-year-old son along for the ride. The boy waited patiently for her in the car, unaware that she was in the midst of murdering someone.

Dana favoured strangling her victims until they were unconscious, and then bludgeoning them to death with a handy object, such as a steam iron.

On March 10th, her luck ran out. Fifty-eight-year-old Dorinda Hawkins was strangled for $25, but managed to survive the attack. She later told police she’d offered Dana everything she had of value, but that the murderer had repeatedly said,

“I’m not doing this for the money.”

That didn’t surprise Candice DeLong, a former FBI profiler. On a Deadly Women episode that featured Dana, Candice surmised that the shopaholic serial killer had selected elderly women for a reason–they reminded her of her own mother, with whom she’d had a volatile relationship.

Unfortunately, before the police caught up with her, Dana managed to murder 87-year-old Dora Beebe. When Dana was apprehended, the cops found items belonging to three of her victims, including the stolen credit cards. At first, Dana admitted taking the cards but denied killing the women. She changed her plea to guilty to avoid the death penalty.

DSG

Dana Sue Gray today.

Dana will spend the rest of her life in the California Women’s Prison in Chowchilla, where she sells her used panties on the Internet.

Do you think Dana’s crimes were just about the money, or was she expressing the rage she felt towards her mother? Had you heard of the Shopaholic Serial Killer? Have you ever seen the show “Deadly Women?”

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37 Comments

    • JH

      I know, Denise! Isn’t it?

      Talk about desperation! I wonder what she manages to spend her money on in prison. Cigarettes? Shanks?

      Reply
  1. Yuck! I’ve never heard of this killer. Whether she killed for money or because of her mother, either is a pitiful excuse. I do remember when the Susan Smith case broke because I was living in SC at the time. She was the one who pushed her car into a lake with her sons still in it.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, I remember Susan Smith well, Tamara. I’ll never forget her. What she did was horrible.

      What really struck me was when the prosecutor and cops showed exactly how long it took before her car sank–how long she had to change her mind and save her sons. I can’t remember how many minutes it was, but it was quite a while. I’ve never understood why she didn’t just give the boys to their father, who obviously would have been glad to take them. So selfish and cruel.

      The Diane Downs case was pretty horrible too. She shot her three kids for similar reasons, but two lived, and one was able to testify against her.

      Reply
  2. She was really messed up. I think her rage overtook her and justified the killing and the shopping.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Alex. Apparently she was even a violent child. Whenever her mother punished her, she would steal or act out quite violently. It’s too bad no psychiatric help was ever sought. It might have made a difference when she was still a child.

      Reply
  3. I think there was something else going on there besides the money and the shopping. She could have stolen the credit cards or other valuables or cash and left the women alone. She often also didn’t just kill them, but bludgeoned them, stabbed them etc after they were dead – very extreme and “personal.” And the thought of the child in the car? That gives me horrified chills.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, I wondered about that as well. Why didn’t she just rob them? That would have been terrible too, but there’s lots of ways to con money from elderly people. She didn’t need to resort to murder.

      She had to be getting something else out of it.

      “Deadly Women” has a pretty disturbing scene where she gets into her car, smiles at the boy, and then notices in the rearview mirror that she has drops of blood on her forehead. She casually wipes them off with a Kleenex, gives the kid another bright smile, and then heads to the mall. It’s a dramatization, of course, but very creepy.

      Reply
  4. I’d never be that desperate or cruel to kill old ladies to go on a shopping spree. I’m not a shoe person and I’ve lived without a penny to my name. Some people are so selfish and…evil. No one needs “stuff” that badly.

    Reply
    • JH

      One thing I’ve noticed through years of reading about true crime and serial killers is that women tend to kill for three main reasons: money, jealousy, or revenge (which is often tied to jealousy).

      So many women have killed for money, even women who already had plenty of it. It’s very disturbing.

      I can sympathize with Dana’s shopping addiction, but not with what she did to feed it.

      Reply
  5. Her…used…

    I’m thinking she did it because she’s batshit crazy.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good theory, Misha! I could go with that. She certainly didn’t hide her crimes very well.

      Reply
  6. Creepy, cruel and chilling!

    I’ve been watching “The Following” and the characters kill for the sake of killing… I guess if you aren’t a serial killer you just wouldn’t understand. ;0)

    Reply
    • JH

      I can understand that she had unresolved mother issues, much like Ted Bundy wanted to destroy his ex-girlfriend…I just wish they’d both found more constructive ways to deal with this rage.

      Haven’t heard of “The Following.” I’ll have to check it out.

      Reply
      • Really? As a psychological thriller writer you would love it. It gets deep into the minds of cults, serial killers and psychopaths. Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy star… I would think it’s on Netflix by now?

        Reply
        • JH

          I watch hardly any TV. Anything I do watch is on YouTube. Sadly, no Netflix.

          Reply
  7. I don’t think she killed just for the money. Getting that close to someone to have to strangle them and then stab them says it was very personal to her. She probably was using the women as surrogates in place of her mother.

    Reply
    • JH

      I think you’re probably right, Patricia. Some of them definitely constituted overkill as well. There are plenty of less personal ways to kill someone.

      Reply
  8. What a disturbing story, obviously she was a disturbed person to have carried out such personal attacks.

    Reply
    • JH

      No argument here!

      Welcome to my blog. Hope to see you back here again!

      Reply
  9. What a surprising serial killer. I guess it’s true that money is the root of all evil. I’m surprised that if she was using the credit cards of her victims so freely that she wasn’t caught sooner. Great post!

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome back, Lexa! The police had no way to tell who was using the cards. They just went to the various stores and got a description of Gray, which they used for the police sketch. Gray’s stepmother identified her from the sketch and told the police.

      Reply
  10. Obviously a disassociated thoroughly split personality … could it be that she wanted something for her OWN and was prepared to get and take it using extreme measures. Very disturbing …

    Reply
    • JH

      Most definitely disturbing, Susan. It’s frightening how many female killers are motivated by financial gain.

      Reply
  11. Eww. That is disgusting!!! And people buy them? Eww!!! I can’t believe they let her sell anything from prison. That seems wrong somehow. But yes, she obviously had more going on than just needing money for her shopping habit. She could have just broken into those women’s homes and taken their stuff while they were away rather than murdering them. How sad.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yep, apparently the panties were snapped up for $250. What a bargain!

      I agree. There were so many other ways she could have gotten money without murder. Like getting a new job, for instance. Funny how that never occurs to these people.

      Reply
  12. This really makes me wonder what the mother was like! To understand Dana, you would probably have to have seen the mother-daughter interactions that nobody else witnessed. Even that wouldn’t make it make sense, though.

    Reply
    • JH

      I know that she was quite violent from a very young age. Whenever her mother tried to punish her, there were definitely repercussions. That alone isn’t normal. She probably should have had some kind of psychiatric help when she was still a child.

      Reply
  13. The panty detail at the end made me actually laugh out loud. Gah!

    And I should say she was an extreme sport enthusiast, with being a granny hunter! What a creep! But your writing made this a really fun read 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Kyla. Welcome home!

      Yeah, the panty thing was an ironic touch. Some people will do anything for money!

      Reply
  14. Yes, I’m BIG into Deadly Women, and I watched that episode. I love true crime tales. She’ll rot in prison just like she should. (And who would want to buy her big ugly underwear???? Sick people who lust after criminals, I guess.)

    Precious Monsters

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, another lover of Deadly Women! Isn’t it awesome? LOVE that show.

      As for the underwear, I don’t know, but it didn’t stay on the market long.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  15. Those who prey on the elderly and children should be put to death. I have never been a fan of the death penalty until this and the Casey Anthony case. Who in their right minds kill vulnerable people. Ugh makes me sick.

    Reply
  16. Also gross to think there are buyers for her sales from prison. And obviously the prison staff is aware of her mail order business.
    Ewwww

    Reply
    • JH

      Yeah, it’s pretty vile.

      Reply
  17. Am years late jumping onto your blog but just came across it. Was wondering why Dana was fired from her job as a nurse. Maybe an elderly woman was part of the reason. Since Dana’s mother died when Dana was 14, I don’t think she would compare or relate her mother to an elderly women. Seems as though shopping was a way to sooth unhappiness and fill deep void … void of messy childhood and unfulfilled life. Mental illness may have been at the root of it all. Who knows, maybe her mother had mental illness as well. Unfortunately, heredity can play a big role.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s never too late, Marie. You raise some good points. Sadly, unless Dana is incredibly self-aware and feels like explaining herself, we’ll never know for sure.

      Reply

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