Shocking But True: Theresa Knorr, The Nightmare That Was

(Theresa Knorr, mother, torturer, murderer)

One of the cases which can accurately describe the evil and degeneration that a mother can carry within her soul is the case of Theresa Knorr, who literally tortured her children, forced them to be prostitutes, and then brutally killed two of them.

Theresa had three daughters, Sheila, Suesan, and Terry. There were also two sons in the family but the sons were treated much better because Theresa was jealous of her daughters. Suesan received much of the abuse and was forced to eat massive amounts of lard. If she threw up, she was then made to eat her own vomit. The children were forced to beat each other and to hold one another down for beatings.

Sheila Knorr, age 15

(Sheila Cross age 15)

At the age of twenty, Theresa forced Sheila into prostitution in order to pay the bills. Although Sheila was horrified at the idea, she did what she was told. She also found that prostituting herself allowed her to come and go as she pleased. Her beatings also ceased as long as she was providing the income by selling her body.

This shows how much control a parent has over their child. Sheila could have told authorities at any time what was happening in the home -or at the very least- she could have run from the family. She instead obeyed her mother and suffered the life of a prostitute. Sheila was twenty years-old. If Sheila could not bring herself to tell anyone about the abuse, then how can society be surprised when a small child does not tell anyone they are being molested or raped by their parent?

In time, Sheila contracted a venereal disease and her mother proclaimed that Sheila might give it to her through the family toilet. Terry, the youngest child, was subsequently told to handcuff Sheila to the leg of the kitchen table at night so she could not use the bathroom.

Suesan Knorr

(Suesan Knorr)

Sheila was beaten, hog tied, and was made to live in a small closet where she lived out her final days without water or food. She eventually died inside the closet and her mother had the oldest son put the body in a box and dispose of it. This shows the lengths that siblings will go to in order to keep the family secrets and to obey the parent.

Suesan, the second oldest daughter, was also made to prostitute  for family income but Suesan continued to receive beatings and other abuses at the hands of her mother.  One day, in the house of horrors, Suesan was shot by her mother in the chest and Suesan fell into the bathtub. She lay there with the bullet lodged in her back, and without any mercy, her mother then handcuffed her to the soap dish. Theresa Cross “nursed” her daughter back to “health” by keeping her chained to the tub and administering treatment while Suesan lay in agony day after day.

Somehow Theresa found the decency to prop her daughter up with pillows during her ‘recovery’ in the bathtub. Amazingly, Suesan managed to survive and her mother put her right back to work on the streets as soon as she was well. Suesan finally decided that she had enough and promised not to tell anyone about the abuse if she could just move out. Her mother said Suesan would allow her to leave, but only if the bullet could be removed from her back (to remove the evidence).

Robert Knorr, mugshot

(Robert Knorr mugshot)

In order to gain her freedom from her living nightmare, Suesan agreed. Her mother gave her Whiskey and drugs to anesthetize her and forced one of her sons to perform the procedure. With a small knife, the bullet was removed. Suesan was then handcuffed to the leg of the kitchen table where she was given diapers to wear and left to either live or die.

A week later, Suesan became demented and developed jaundice. This caused her mother to think that the yellowing of her skin was the sign of a demon and that her soul needed to be “purged by fire.” Suesan was then bound, gagged, and thrown into the trunk of the family car. Theresa and her two sons took Suesan into a deserted area and set her on fire; she was burned alive by her own brothers.

William Knorr, mugshot

(William Knorr mugshot)

The youngest daughter, Terry, figured she would be the next to die so she gathered all of her strength and confronted her mother. She said she wanted her freedom and surprisingly her mother offered it to her, but only if she would burn down the family home (once again, in order to get rid of the evidence). Terry did what she was told, and despite her mother holding a knife to her throat and trying to back out of the deal, Terry stayed strong and she was free to leave her mother.

Teresa was charged with torture and for the murder of her two daughters. She plead guilty and was given two consecutive life sentences.  One of the brothers was given three years in a state prison. The other was placed on probation for his role in the murders.

This case sounds like fiction but it is true. It is an extremely disturbing case of child abuse, torture, and murder. Of course it is not commonly found in families, but this  kind of family exists. No one knows what horror goes on behind closed doors and what kind of evil sits at the dinner table.


Sources: Notorious Murders/Death in the Family, Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross, Unforeseen Discovery, by David Lohr, Court TV’s Crime Library

Crime Library

Cold Case Files, Arts and Entertainment Channel, July 11, 2004

This entry was posted in child sexual abuse and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Shocking But True: Theresa Knorr, The Nightmare That Was

  1. Eldest Son says:

    Will you people stop it!!! This story is tragic enough without people making up little “Tim Burton Tragic Endings”, get it? Fairy tale! She is alive, she did not die, she is doing the same work as my mother was doing, when my mother was arrested (home care giver) in the same city as my sister was living in @ the same time, Salt Lake City, Ut. She is going through upteenth divorce just like my mother & is going back to jail for DUI just like my mother. I agree like my brother Robert says “Some of bent in the wind bro & some of us broke in it” but she was far from the saint you people try to make her out to be, even as tragic & lost of a soul she really is! GET IT THROUGH YOUR HEADS, IT IS TRAGIC ENOUGH WITHOUT YOU PEOPLE MAKING SHIT UP!!!! And until anyone of you condensending pieces of shit walk in mine or my brothers shoes you would not know what the fuck you are even spouting out your shit for brains mouths, asswipes! Fuck yourself! And as for anwsering to anyone, that is between us & whatever is after this life! So you get a fucking life & try walking a mile some elses shoes, jackoff! Howard Sanders

    • Eldest Son says:

      I wrote in anger just now & that does not help either. Theresa is alive & is going through what I said.

      There are no fairy tale endings, I wish there was but life is some much more tragic of a comedy then that. No we don’t get off so easy as to not be around, no we live on when others did not, walk a mile in anyone of our shoes & you would see the real, true & only monster here is my mother & she was made, not born. Still does not give her any right, or in anyway explain her cruel & inhumane actions!

      Howard Sanders

    • Alethea says:

      Out of respect for the family and all who suffered in it, and for the brothers, I am closing comments on this thread.

  2. Sharon says:

    Hello. When I heard (at the end of the ‘Wicked Attraction’ show) that the youngest daughter, beautiful, strong-willed Terry Knorr, had died of a heart attack at the age of 32 (shortly after her appearance on the ‘Cold Case Files’ show, “Mommy’s Rules”), I nearly cried out in sadness.

    This is a even sadder footnote to this horrifying story of a mother’s hate for her daughters. She hated all of her children, but the girls got the brunt of the hate, fueled by mental illness and jealousy. Also, Theresa had murdered her 1st husband, but she was found “NOT GUILTY”, because she claimed self-defense. Perhaps if she had not received this free pass for murder, her daughters would not have been born only to live to be brutally murdered by their own mother. G-d Bless the sweet souls of the Knorr daughters. Aleva Hashalom.

  3. Sharon E says:

    When I heard that the youngest daughter, beautiful, strong-willed Terry Knorr, had died of a heart attack (at 32) only months after her appearance on the Cold Case Files show (A&E, “Mommy’s Rules”, Ep #48), I nearly cried out in sadness. It sickens me that the so-called mother will be granted parole in 2027. I ask (retorically) how can someone have 2 “life sentences” and receive a parole date? I guess the lives she took weren’t worth much to the courts)

  4. Karisa says:

    I personally all you people who are criticizing this family just need to shut up. You all talk about how the brothers could have done more and they participated but the girls could have left too. It is apparent that their mother in her sickness had that much control over her children’s minds. What happened is no ones fault except who ever abused Theresa. Nobody is born like this. events that take place in your life pave the way to the end. Thank you eldest son for sharing your side.

  5. jill says:

    To Eldest Son.
    My heart goes out to you. My father died when I was 7 who was a cop and wonderful man unlike the man in your life then. I totally understand you being in constant fear of your mother and doing as she says and my mother was molested at age 7 by her own uncle who babysat her and no one believed her. My mothers father bet her mother everyday of her life while he carried on so many affairs, although he was so jealous over her good looks so bad the he poured bleach all over her head to ruin her highlights. He tried to kill her several times in front of my mother who was scared to death of this man. He tried drowning her and even tied her to his car dragging her down the road as my mother screamed he just kept slapping her and finally stopped when he saw a car coming. This was when there were a lot of dirt roads. His final day came after that and my mothers grandfather had enough so he came and ran her father down and shot him twice in front of the house as my mother watched. He was dead. My mother is in her fifties and has never received any help and after my daddy died I lived in hell under her mental and physical abuse until I ran away got married young she was killing me. I cannot begin to tell the hell I went through but your mother and my mother needed some true help for their prior problems. Not excusing what they have done by no means. I wish you a much better life.

  6. Rhonda Newman says:

    I cannot really comment on what I don’t know. I was never in this life burned alive or made to endear such a horrible person as my mother. I just can’t get the image of the young daughter with duck tape over her mouth and not allowed even a scream as she was burned alive. No words can match that picture. I do Know that God exists, not just believe. I know from my own experiences, that our universe has an answer to this and we are not suppose to know it now. The main thing is to let go of the anger and try to love to the best of your own ability and pray for a time when all the pain is gone from this world, finally. God Bless you all. Rhonda


  8. Julie says:

    Dear Eldest Son ~H~
    I am currently reading the book “Mothers Day” about Theresa Cross and you and your siblings. It comes through quite clearly most of the information given to the writer about your mother comes from youngest sister Terry and brother Robert.
    There are absolutely no excuses for what she did to – and how Theresa treated her children.

    Clearly you all lived a living hell and I feel deep remorse (for the children and adults you are now)in that because as a mother myself? nothing, not even a husband was as dear to my heart as the 3 daughters I gave birth to.

    The saddest thing is people had known something wasn’t right in your family but they all just gave up, like the school officials, which allowed Theresa to have great power over innocent children.

    SO sad that Theresa (as many women today still are) could only validate herself by having a man in her life, yet she lacked the skills or the desire to feed and nurture any such a relationships, therefore it was taken out on her babies.

    Robert Knorr Sr. was but a baby himself when Theresa sucked him in with sex. It is no excuse again and I am so sure many details are missing from the story I am reading. But real love of a woman for her man would not have rejected him for the damage done to his body in the Viet Nam War, as I read in the book.
    Theresa only knows self love is my final thought about her.

    I know nothing I say here can truly offer you any comfort in the pain that has and will continue to reside deep within your mind and heart.

    I as a fellow human being, would like to tell you that my empathy and compassion lies with you and your siblings and I pray that God gives you a taste of peace and contentment at this point in your lives.

    You all are worthy and deserving of being loved, not abused.

  9. Peggy says:

    The boys were spared by their incestuous mother,and helped her with these inhumane duties to their sisters,they will burn in hell as should she.At one time people could count on their mother…what happened??

    • Lisa says:

      Those boy’s were tortured too, just in a different way. I don’t think it is up to judge whether they should burn in hell, as Christ will do that for us.

  10. tjk says:

    Eldest Son are you married or have you been able to maintain a relationship ? Do you work ?

  11. Ricke says:

    Shocking story.. I really feel sorry for you.

    But you americans have to stop with the “God bless this and that” crap.

    This person will not go to hell because hell does not exist.

    God does not exist. It has been proven in Stephen Hawkings new book “The Grand Design”, sorry.

    Why the hell would God create such an insane human being?
    A simple logical arguement like that makes no difference. How about I tell you in quantom physics why God does not exist?

    As I said I feel sorry for you and your family.

    • Alethea says:

      Greetings Ricke.

      Not sure who you mean when you say, “I feel sorry for you.”

      I agree ONE HUNDRED percent that Americans need to stop saying “God Bless America!” Americans ought to instead be saying, “Thank you God for all the Blessings that you have bestowed on us. Please now Bless those who are not as fortunate and those whom our Government have murdered, abused, and maimed in our unjust and illegal wars of aggression.”

      It’s your God-given right to believe that there is no hell, heaven, or God.

      You ask, “Why the hell would God create such an insane human being?”

      Because God loved us so much that He/She gave us FREE-WILL. It was Theresa Knorr’s own will to do what she did. I would rather live in a world with free-will, and thus, in a world with abuse, murder, and suffering –than to live in a world where man was NOT given free will and thus, in a world where I am FORCED to behave, think, feel, and act in a certain way.

      Free will means there will be suffering and pain on this earth. Until mankind CHOOSES to change his consciousness, collectively and individually, there will always be suffering, child abuse, and murder.

      Actually, quantum science has PROVEN the existence of God.


    • Ty says:

      First and foremost I want to say,I dont hate you or even blame you for what u said.I dont really know what to say about the situation myself,but I know God is real.Its true that if you asked me or anybody else to prove it for a fact that we could not.

  12. zoma777 says:

    Hello Eldest Son,

    I wept when I found out about what happened to you and your sisters. From what I understand your mother has the same mental illness as my mother. My mother was a lesser version of your situation, but she did fracture my back, herniate my disc and starve me almost to death among many other horrible things. My brother was put in a similar situation as you were. He too was urged to be abusive to me, however I never blamed him because I knew he had no choice. In fact I would defend him on the rare occasion when my mother would turn on him. I thought my brother and I were the only people to undergo the bizarre mind games we did until I heard about your case. (Even after years of therapy.) In my mother’s case my father died of a heart attack when I was 10 and this is when my mother really turned her rage toward me rather than toward her preferred victim – my father. She had had a terrible childhood and never gotten help for it. I hope you are seeking therapy. I have found it to be lifesaving. My heart breaks for you, your brother and of course your sisters. Being raised by someone like your mother is impossible for a normal person to understand. I used to tell (and still do tell) my friends about things my mother did and often felt they thought I was exaggerating or lying. The worst of my mother’s offenses didn’t even come to my conscious mind until I was in my 30s. I had blocked them out. As children we love and want and need desperately to be loved by our parent(s). When you have but one, all your security is invested in that person. And when that one person is erratic, volatile and violent one moment and loving the next, it makes one feel as if everything is your fault (as the child). You feel you deserve the horrors you are enduring and you have no choice or recourse. You are trained to obey at all costs, to disconnect and rationalize about everything – to objectify other human beings as if they are objects or you can not survive. It’s a very complicated thing and I urge you to be strong in yourself and allow yourself to let go of the pain with help. I have many physical problems due to the abuse and at the same time I have many gifts as a result. You can become the phoenix and rise out of the ashes – all it takes is patience, compassion and facing your demons. Of course this is big and will probably be a life long process, but you will evolve into a more enlightened person if you allow yourself to feel the pain of all you lost – all that was stolen from you, allow yourself to grieve for it and realize you can create what you need now for yourself. I hope your mind and soul find peace and you work through the pain and get another chance for security and love in this and the next life.

  13. tjk says:

    Eldest son is there a movie about your situation or your mother ? Where are you living now and have you been able to enjoy your life now ?

    • Eldest Son says:

      No movie; there has been 3 books, 1 Cold Case Files, Couple Inside Editions, Couple Montel Williams. ~H~

      • aletheamarinanova says:

        I think that if they made a film about this family, it would have to be put in the horror film category and audiences would not accept it as a factual story. I think mainstream America would think it was all invented or that most of it was made-up. This story (because the story is true) might be too gruesome –even for blood-thirsty, violence-addicted Americans.

  14. tjk says:

    Eldest Son is your mother still alive and if so is she still in prison ? Also did your youngest sister Terry pass away ?

  15. Eldest Son says:

    Sorry for all the typos & spelling errors; I was just so rattled getting these things out of my memory~H~

  16. Eldest Son says:

    The story is so much longer & tragic then anyone can even imagine. I feel better now! Good bye & go luck to you as well! ~H~

    • aletheamarinanova says:

      Eldest son,

      I’m sorry for what you have endured but it seems as though you are a survivor. I’m sorry for your pain but happy that expressing yourself helps you. Feel free to do so.

      I agree that your mother was not born a monster, but I have to think that something horrible happened to her in childhood as well for her to have escalated to the point that she did.

      Peace to you.

      • Eldest Son says:

        Yes there was, but there was all the things that happened to her before she actually went completely nuts but after her childhood. She made terrible choices in life & in men after my father, including boyfriends. As I said I know what the story is & I know the most important things are that made her the way she is- BUT LETS BE PERFECTLY CLEAR HERE ” I DO NOT & WILL NOT BELIEVE IT WAS EVER AN EXCUSE TO DO WHAT SHE DID”, because I should nuts too but yes there are some mitagating factors. ~H~

    • aletheamarinanova says:

      Eldest Son,

      Childhood abuse and trauma does not usually affect the person until they are in their late teens and twenties, sometimes not until their thirties. I wouldn’t discount her childhood as the least important influence in her mental health. Nevertheless, my comments were not made to excuse her, I just always like to point out that people are not born monsters, there is always a root cause.

  17. Dorothy says:

    Terry Knorr unfortunately died of a fatal heart attack at age 32. I guess she suffered so much that her heart could not take it. God bless her soul!

    • aletheamarinanova says:

      Thanks Dorothy. Poor thing, she must have had so much pain and repressed rage built up in her heart. I’m sure that passing on was a blessing for her.

    • Eldest Son says:

      No she did not, find me her death record but you can’t because it does not exist. She lives in the St.Jo, Mo area!~H~

  18. South Africa says:

    Eldest son – I can identify with your history, as i have been involved with an “unfortunate” situation myself. Dont let these people criticise you or give you a hard time. Ive also been there myself and know its best to have supportive people who know what they are talking about around you, not people who live in glass houses and make judgments from protected little worlds.

    Good luck to you friend!

    • Eldest Son says:

      Thank you South Africa for the kind words. I read these things & I get angry because people have only heard what my youngest sibling barely remembers about the way things were. She would have been next there is no doubt in my mind & my mother is one insane bitch, but she was not born that way! I read something like Kimberlee Pierce writes & think you have no fucking clue how abusive this prick of a stepfather was- 1.He beat my mother some many times I cannot even begin to count 2. He raped her on the floor in front of me & my now deceased grandfather(who by the way was in a wheel chair with parkinson’s)3. He beat me so often & badly that I can clearly remember playing,as children do,pretending I was one of the animals @ the Zoo, Quess what animal,thats right a leopard,becuase I had so many bruises on me I though I looked like the cat! 4. That mother never pay a dime of child support in his worthless life! No body knows the Pre story,the making of the monster, the hell that was our lives for years! The journey of insanity that was Theresa Jimmie Francine Cross/Pulliam/Harris! Not even me but I do know 75%+ of it, because I was there 8 years before Terry was even born!

      • Eldest Son says:

        So I agree there is a special place in Hell for my mother but it is right next to the spot that Robert Wallace Knorr Sr resides at! I rmember in kindergarden she left him & we moved back to North Highlands, Sacramanto County, California from San Fransico with the help Aunt Clara(Tapp) becuase she new what was going on! Although he found us eventually but until then we literally lived on pinto beans & potatoes for 3 months solid. There is so much it makes my head hurt. ~H~

      • Eldest Son says:

        I have rad the books & watched the shows and they have none of the people including Robert Wallace Knorr Sr that should have & could have done more but let things slip through the cracks. For Bob it was his new family with Geargia DeSouza(which I have read that he was being accused of cheating, well the women he was accused of cheating with by my mother happens to be the women he married after my mother divorsed his sorry ass)!~H~

      • Anonymous says:

        thank you for opening up about this – i sometimes struggle to talk about the things i have seen, but thats my cross to bear and i work at it everyday!!
        I hope you and i both find peace, there’s days and even years where i dont think it possible but every now and then there are a few glimmers of moving on and just “forgetting”. im tired of carrying this with me to be honest!! anyway whatever

        if you dont mind me asking! have you ever gone to see your mother in chow chilla?

        south africa

      • Eldest Son says:

        No, I have not been to see her. Have read on this website letters from her in prison they are trying to sell. I have rad some exerts from them & she seems the same man starved, crazy bitch she was. ~H~

      • aletheamarinanova says:

        Thanks for posting that link. It’s not okay that people are trying to make money off those letters, but it’s amazing how normal she sounds in her letters, and how she can say that her niece is “not a nice person.” How strange that comment is –coming from a person who has committed such horrific crimes.

      • south africa says:

        -H- I saw the letters your mom wrote, is the penpal a real friend or is it just someone who writes to her to be able to sell the letters

        do you ever keep in contact with your half brothers, the Knorr boys William and Robert?

        what murder was robert junior involved in, in Nevada?

        where are the now

  19. angel says:

    If have read before that she had 6 childeren. The oldest being Howard. what happened to this child ?

    • aletheamarinanova says:


      From Wikipedia:

      “Theresa Knorr was born Theresa Jimmie Cross in Sacramento, California. She was the youngest child in the family and very devoted to her mother. When her mother died in 1961, she went into a depression. At the age of 16, she married Clifford Clyde Sanders. They had a son, Howard Clyde Sanders in 1964. Their marriage ended when Knorr shot Sanders, 22, to death in the summer of 1964 while they were living in Galt, California. She was tried but acquitted of the crime, having claimed self defense. She was pregnant at the time and would shortly deliver her second child, Sheila Gay Sanders, in 1965.

      In 1966, when seven months pregnant with her third child, she married the child’s father, Robert Knorr. The child, Suesan Marlene Knorr, was born in September 1966, followed a year later by a son named William Robert Knorr, and in 1968, another son, Robert Wallace Knorr, Jr. In 1970, Theresa gave birth to daughter Theresa (Terry) Marie Knorr, named after herself.

      None of Knorr’s children were spared her physical, verbal, and psychological abuse. However, Knorr had a special hatred for her daughters…”

      • Eldest Son says:

        None of the Sanders children were spared either! Remember Sheila is a Sanders & as for me? I’m alive

  20. gee says:

    im sorry but those 2 boys would know right from wrong if they went to school and just as human beings you love your siblings its really sad. and for those 2 poor girls the suffering they indured its just like that case about sylvia likens who was brutally tortured by gertie wright that terrible woman and had every child from the nieghborhood abuse her carving “im a prostitute and proud of it” on her stomach.. evenutally her frail body gave out and she died from blunt trama to her head. i pray for any child who is going through this now and hopefully they get the strength to get out. and any witnesses to this type of abuse on children come foward.

    • aletheamarinanova says:

      Hi Gee. I agree that the two sons were far from innocent, but people need to understand the dynamics of these families. The mother has a deep psychological hold on the children and keeps them in control through fear and favoritism. You have to study other cases of victims, who were able to go freely to work or to school while they were also being raped and abused, to understand the hold that the perpetrator has on his or her victims.

      *However* those two boys will have to answer to God for having participated in the torture and murders. They have some immunity because of their ages at the time and because of their mother being the demon in that household, but they do have some moral responsibility.

      • Allison says:

        Look up Stockholm Syndrome. It is similar to post traumatic stress disorder, and little was know about it in the 60’s. Many victims of extended kidnap, torture and abuse develop this afflicition. It’s the only way they know how to survive. You can’t fault the boys if she abused all of them from the time they were little. They will have to live with the memories for the rest of their lives.

      • aletheamarinanova says:

        Hi Allison,

        I am well aware of Stockholm Syndrome, I lived a form of it during my entire childhood.

        When a child or adult is a VICTIM of this psychological dysfunction, then indeed they cannot be faulted. But when a teenager or adult takes part in the torture, abuse and murder of another human being, they are no longer innocent.

      • Eldest Son says:

        The hold she had on them was total. I know! If you haven’t been there you will never know! And yes will & do live with our nightmares forever! Do not speak on things you have no idea what you speak about!

  21. kimberlee pierce says:

    i can only say this about this “woman”,because she was no mother,my best friend in this whole world was robert wallace knorr,until the day he died he wished nothing more than to see this woman die for the mental abuse she put all of his children through,he had hoped that suesan would see justice served for crimes commited against her by the one person she was supposed to trust…but she shouldnt worry hell will still be there when this old bat gets there.

    • aletheamarinanova says:

      Hi Kimberlee. I’m so sorry for your loss. I feel deep sympathy for what those two boys had to endure. I understand the psychological dynamics that can cause a person to fear a parent so much that they will do anything for them. Yes, Theresa will suffer the consequences of what she did (as do we all). Hopefully her soul will experience remorse for the torture she inflicted on her children.

    • Eldest Son says:

      He was no Saint in this! He could have & should have done way more then he did. I know the whole story & he ain’t no saint

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