Stafford Killings of 1978 Part 3: Nightmare at the Sirloin Stockade
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Politics and Activism

Stafford Killings of 1978 Part 3: Nightmare at the Sirloin Stockade

On the Sunday evening of July 16, 1978, Roger Dale Stafford, his wife, and his brother traveled to Oklahoma City to rob a restaurant. The outcome would be one of the bloodiest crimes in state history.

Stafford Killings of 1978 Part 3: Nightmare at the Sirloin Stockade
Oklahoma State Court Network

On the evening of July 16, 1978, Carlos Joy, a 16-year-old from Oklahoma City, drove to his girlfriend's work to give her a ride home after she finished her shift as a waitress at the Sirloin Stockade steakhouse. Carlos arrived at the restaurant on Southwest 74th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue at about 10:15 p.m. He parked his car and went into the restaurant to chat with his girlfriend, Terri Horst. She was busy helping the staff close up for the night, it would not take much longer, so Carlos told her that he would get a Coke and wait for her in his car in the parking lot. Carlos and Terri had known each other since they were children growing up across the street from one another. Carlos got a Coke and sat in his car under a light pole in the parking lot while he listened to the radio and watched the restaurant workers go about their business on a regular Sunday night.

Carlos looked on as two workers, David Salsman and David Lindsey, horsed around with one another in the restaurant's back doorway as they were leaving. But what happened next caught Joy's attention. As the two teenagers were leaving they acted as though they had been summoned back into the restaurant. And like any good employees, they rushed back inside. Carlos did not think anything much of it, and so he went back to listening to the radio and looking at the cars drive by on Interstate 240.

At 10:30 p.m., the lights in the parking lot started turning off, leaving the only light source in the area coming from inside the Sirloin Stockade. It had been nearly twenty minutes, and yet Terri still had not come out. Carlos, now bored, decided to drive around the restaurant. You know, check things out and maybe kill a little time while he was at it. He gets around to the opposite side of the restaurant from where he was originally sitting when he sees a green Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon idling beside the dumpsters. It was a unique color of green, something that Carlos Joy would describe as "grunchy" during the trial. The car was not there when he first showed up at the restaurant that evening. Carlos shined his mounted spotlight at the vehicle for closer inspection. He did not see anybody inside of the dirty station wagon, but he did notice what appeared to be boxes stacked in the rear and the back door was down. Carlos drove around to the front of the restaurant, he figured that he might as well go into the building. He went into the restaurant to find it empty and silent.

"Hey Terri!" Carlos hollered, "are you ready to go home?" but there was no response. All of the lights were on and the door he used had been left unlocked. This was puzzling, but he figured that they might be having a meeting and that he ought to leave them alone. But it might have been more sinister, Carlos thought, "maybe they are being robbed." Carlos got back into his car and drove out into the parking lot. He turned his car to face the restaurant and turned on his new CB radio. He called in to see what the time it was, it was 10:55 p.m. He turned on the speakers aimed at the restaurant and said, "this is the police, we have you surrounded." The imitation echoed in the dark and empty parking lot. He thought that if there were robbers then maybe they would get scared and run away, and if they were not then he would be playing a good joke on the restaurant staff. But there were not any responses coming from the Sirloin Stockade. He waited and waited, but there was still nothing.

Carlos pulled his car in for a third time. This time when he passed, the station wagon was not there. He went in through the unlocked door and walked up to the counter where he hollered for Terri again. And still, the building was silent except for the dull buzz of the florescent light bulbs. Now Carlos panicked. There had to be somebody in the building, he had been watching the place almost the entire night. Then the phone started ringing from the back office. "If somebody is here," Carlos thought, "then surely they will answer the phone." But no one picked the phone up off of the receiver, it rang nearly ten times before it stopped. Carlos was scared now, something bad had happened in the Sirloin Stockade, and he did not want any part of it.

Carlos Joy ran to main doors of the restaurant in an attempt to call for help, but on his way out of the door, he ran into somebody trying to get in. The 16-year-old ran away from the doors and hid underneath one of the tables. His heart was pounding with terror. Were the robbers still there? Would this be the last moment alive? The sound of somebody trying to open the door filled him with blood-curdling fear. He heard the door lock disengage and the door open.

"Hello," a man's called into the restaurant, "anybody here?" It was a familiar voice to Carlos, it was the manager of the Sirloin Stockade, Michael Click.

"Hey!" Carlos shouted crawling out from underneath the table, surrendering his refuge.

"Are you the only one here?" Michael Click asked the frightened teenager. "No one has called in for the receipts yet," Michael said, "It was getting late, so I figured I should come down to see what was going on."

"I think they might be in the back," Carlos responded, pointing to the closed door behind the cash registers on the counter. Michael left the teenager in the banquet room while he walked to the back of the restaurant. A few moments later Michael returned to the banquet room and picked up the phone on the counter to call the police.

"They are all in the freezer," he told Carlos, "someone must have come in here and beat them up." Michael got through to the emergency operator and started talking to them. Carlos, confirming that the area was safe to enter, made his way to the back of the restaurant to where the freezer was located. He stepped into the cooler and stood in the doorway of the walk-in freezer. He was struck with absolute horror at the sight that was in front of him. Laying on the floor or slumped in between stacks of cardboard boxes were six bodies, and under them were pools of dark red blood. They had not been beaten, they had been shot.

* * *

On the highway going southwest from Tulsa, Oklahoma a cream green colored station wagon carried three passengers. They were lined up shoulder to shoulder in the front seat. A man named Roger drove, his brother Harold sat on the other end in the passenger's seat, while Roger's wife Verna sat in the middle. The traffic wasn't too bad on that sunny summer Sunday afternoon in between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Roger was enjoying a nice cup of rum, Verna sipped on a rum and coke, and Harold drank beers to pass the time on the two hour drive.

The three white adults, who were in their early twenties, were driving halfway across the state of Oklahoma in search of a way to get out of their desperate financial troubles. The solution to escaping a life of poverty and a way to get back on the road and out of Oklahoma was a simple one: hold up a restaurant, take all their money, and scram. Each of the three people had a pistol to use in order to intimidate their victims, and if need be, to take care of any loose ends that might come about in the process.

Roger Dale Stafford

Verna Rae Stafford

Harold Stafford

The trio arrived in Oklahoma City between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on July 16, 1978. They stopped at a convenience store to get more Coke, beer, and cigarettes before driving to a secluded park to prepare for their mission. After parking the car and refreshing their drinks the pistols were passed out. Roger took the Colt .357 Magnum, Harold grabbed a Taurus .38 caliber revolver stolen from a pawn shop in Purcell, and Verna equipped herself with the automatic .22 caliber Lugar pistol that was also stolen from a family outside of Purcell on Interstate 35 a few weeks back. Ammunition was distributed and the three loaded back into the station wagon and resumed their journey south.

Later in her courtroom testimony, Verna would recall pulling into a restaurant parking lot that had a fake brown cow put up in front next to the sign. Verna was describing the Sirloin Stockade on Southwest 74th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. They parked the station wagon away from the restaurant and watched the last of the patrons walk out of the building, get in their cars and drive home. The sun had set and the lights in the parking lot flicked on, and they waited until the manager walked over and locked the doors.

"Let us go," Roger said as he drove the station wagon behind the dumpsters. Verna loads a couple of boxes that were sitting by the dumpsters into the back of the station wagon. "Come on, let us go, Verna!" Roger shouted in a whisper to his wife. Roger and Harold had their guns drawn, Verna carried her weapon in her waistband. They advanced to the door where Roger knocked. After a minute a timid and middle-aged Hispanic man came up to the door.

"We are closed," Louis Zacharias said to the dingy trio standing outside, "go home." Roger then tapped on the glass window of the door with the muzzle of the .357 magnum. Zacharias out of fear for his life unlocked the door and let the thieves into the restaurant. They told him to take them to the cash registers and to bring in all of the employees. Zacharias complied. He led them to the registers and brought in the employees. The registers were opened but they had already been emptied out.

"Where is the money?" Roger snapped at the manager. Zacharias stuttered, he was now staring down the barrel of a pistol.

"Sometimes restaurants will take the cash into a safe after closing," Verna interjected, "they keep it there until they deposit it in the bank."

"Okay," Roger said, "take us to the back office." Louis Zacharias led Roger into the back office. "Stay with the employees, bring them to the back." Verna and Harold kept watch over the five staff members, assuring them that they would not be hurt as long as they followed along.

Verna heard a loud crash and some shouting from the office, then saw Roger and Louis come out. Roger was carrying the money bag and handed it to Verna.

"How could you people take money from hard working people like us?" Zacharias taunted Roger. "I cannot believe people like you, taking money that is not yours and spending it without a thought," Louis continued as Roger started pushing the six workers into the freezer. "You will not get away with this, they will catch you," Louis said, "I am so sick of people like you." Roger became furious.

"Everybody get in the freezer and sit on the ground!" Roger commanded the group of people. "No talking! No one is going to get hurt!" Roger's frustration mounted into a rage. His face became red and he brandished the pistol in the manager's face.

"No one was supposed to get hurt," Harold said to Roger.

"They are going to get what they deserve," Roger snapped, "don't be a chicken shit and a coward!" Harold turned around and raised his gun into the freezer. Roger pulled the trigger and the 56-year-old janitor Isaac Freeman fell to the floor. Roger pulled the trigger again and killed the 43-year-old assistant manager, Louis Zacharias. Harold fired several bursts into the freezer. Roger and Harold stepped into the freezer shooting round after round. 16-year-old David Salsman, 17-year-old Anthony Tew, 17-year-old David Lindsey, and 16-year-old Terri Horst. All cut down in horror and terror by the rage and malice of Roger Dale Stafford and Harold Stafford.

Picture of the jury trial transcript of Verna's testimony in 1979.

Verna went into shock. The loud blasts of the pistols and the screams of the six victims were too much for her. She tried to walk away from the cooler when Roger came up to her and grabbed her arm.

"Now it is time for you to be a part of us," Roger said as he put the .357 magnum in her right hand. She resisted, but he pulled her into the doorway of the freezer and stood her in front of the crowded room. She could not do it, she did not want to kill anybody. Roger put his hand over her hand, placed his finger on her trigger finger and squeezed. The sound of the gun firing made her ears start ringing. Roger bent over the body of Zacharias and searched the pockets. Verna rushed out of the restaurant through the back door. She nearly ran into an electrical utility box that was outside. She frantically searched for the station wagon, once she found it she got in the back seat. Roger and Harold were in the front seat. Roger put the car into gear and sped off into the night.

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