Mary Vincent Refused to Die

The content below is from Episode 128 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast


  • This episode features mature material. It is about a woman’s incredible story of survival, but what she had to survive might be shocking for some listeners.


  • This week I recommend you don’t give your money to old friends LOL JK.
    • If you don’t know what I’m talking about refer back to last week’s episode.
  • No, but this week I recommend you watch The Patient on Hulu. Starring Steve Carrell and Domhnall Gleeson.
    • Steve Carrell’s character is this well-known successful therapist who wakes up one day in a basement he doesn’t recognized and chained to a bed. He finds himself held prisoner by a patient of his who reveals he is a serial killer with an unusual request to curb his homicidal urges.
    • So far there are only 2 episodes out, but I found myself wanting to see more which is a good sign.


  • In September of 1978, a 15-year-old Mary Vincent has just run away from her home in Nevada.
    • Mary reaches Modesto California before she, like most runaways, decides to return home. She begins to hitchhike her way back to Nevada.
    • Now we think of hitchhiking as so dangerous that it is almost taboo.
      • In the 1930s and 1940s, hitchhiking was at its peak thanks to poverty from the Great Depression. People hitchhiked out of necessity. In the 1950s America saw prosperity and hitchhiking became less popular, but in the 60s and 70s, there was a cultural resurgence.
        • During this time period, it was common to see people along the road with “headed South” written on it or simply “need a ride,” just walking along the interstate.
      • It became less popular after the 70s, but it still remained a relatively viable means of travel throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
      • Nowadays, hitchhiking is perceived as dangerous, and few drivers are willing to pick someone up. Police departments discourage it, and many states explicitly ban it. Most hitchhikers have no other options and do so as a last resort.
  • Mary held a sign that read “going south,” as she trekked along the road. Then a man driving a blue van pulled up next to her.
    • This man’s blue van was virtually empty with lots of room in the back. But when he pulled off the road to 3 hitchhikers, all with signs indicating they were going in the same direction, he said he only had room for 1. Mary took the opportunity.
      • The other hitchhikers behind Mary were men and they cautioned Mary from getting into a van that would only allow 1 person… a girl to climb aboard. But Mary was 15 and simply did not calculate the risks.
    • The driver was an older guy. He looked like a grandfather. So finally thinking she could reach home instead of spending another night out alone on the road, she fell asleep in the back of his van.
    • When she woke up in the back of the blue van she immediately realized from the roadsigns that the man had started heading the wrong way down a deserted road.
      • She confronted him about it: “Look man, you are going the wrong way and you know you are going the wrong way. What’s the deal?”
    • Still waking up, but grasping her situation more clearly she sets her mind on escape. She notices her tennis shoes are untied. Thinking if she can just tie her shoes she will be able to outrun the elderly and out-of-shape driver, she opens the passenger door and starts tying her shoe.
    • As she leans down to her shoe… darkness. A sledgehammer had hit her on the back of her head.
    • She was able to regain consciousness after the blow, but quickly realized she was tied up and being raped by the driver.
    • Six times. Mary remembers 6 times she was raped by this man. At some point, she did ask why he was doing it, but he didn’t respond.
      • Throughout repeated rapes, Mary pleaded to be set free. “Just set me free,” she told him. “I won’t tell anyone.” But the driver never responded.
      • Mary must have felt like dying at that moment.
  • Eventually, the driver fell asleep, but being completely tied up, Mary was unable to escape. She stayed awake the entire night and watched the sunrise through the windows of the van.
    • The driver woke up and pulled Mary’s naked and bleeding body out of the van into the empty desert landscape.
    • The driver finally gave Mary a response: “You want to be set free? I’ll set you free.” Then goes to his toolbox and pulls out a hatchet.
    • The driver grabs Mary’s left arm and swings at it twice at the forearm. Mary begins to fall to the ground from shock but reaches for the driver’s own arm. She remembers gripping his arm tightly, but it didn’t brace her fall at all. She looked down at her arm and sees that it is gone… just a bloody stump with blood gushing from it.
    • That’s when she started to feel the burning sharp pain hit her arm. As blood poured from her body she felt hot. She didn’t lose consciousness but instead felt the excruciating pain. Her left arm had been severed just below the elbow.
  • That is when the driver took Mary’s right arm. This time Mary had no doubt in her mind what he planned to do with it and she freaked out.
    • She started kicking and screaming for the driver to stop or someone would hear her, but it didn’t stop him. In fact, because she was kicking and screaming it took the driver much longer to sever her right arm.
    • It took many swings for him to sever her right arm. When it was completely severed Mary was still conscious and bleeding. She looked over to the driver and saw he was flicking his arm for some reason.
    • She squinted and focused to see why. Her severed arm was still gripping onto his arm and would not let go.
    • Mary stayed still when the driver walked back over to her and started to drag her away from the van.
    • He must have thought Mary was dead or unconscious when he threw her body off a 30-foot cliff and drove off.
  • At the bottom of the cliff, 4 ribs broken, and going into shock from blood loss, most would die in this situation, but something in Mary told her she had to survive. She knew that if she died the driver wouldn’t be caught and he would just do it to someone else. She couldn’t let that happen.
    • When she was exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, in tremendous amount of pain, lightheaded from blood loss, raped, mutilated, and thrown off a cliff left for dead, Mary Vincent got to work surviving.
    • First, she took what was left of her arms and shoved them in the dirt to try and stop the bleeding. Infection may set in, but blood loss was more of a time-sensitive issue. The dirt, mixed with her own blood, turned to mud and helped stop the bleeding.
    • Then she started to crawl up the cliff without any hands. This took quite some time and by the time she reached the road night had set in. It was pitch black. But she did hear heavy traffic somewhere off in the distance. She followed the noise. She walked and walked for over 3 miles until she started to see daylight.
      • She kept her arms in the air so that less blood would leave her body.
    • She saw her first car and remembers it was a red convertible … funny the details you remember. The passengers of this car were two younger guys. They took one look at Mary, covered in dirt and blood, naked, and waving two amputated arms in the air screaming for help… The two men in the car sped off without so much as a word to Mary.
      • At this point her mind fell into despare. “I’m going to die because I look like some sort of monster and everyone is too afraid to stop.”
    • So out of desperation, Mary starts walking in the middle of the road. And that is when the 2nd car stops. A couple on their honeymoon who had lost their way to their resort stopped and agreed to help her.
    • They gently put Mary into their truck and told her to lay still. Mary remembers how fast they sped down the road to the nearest phone. They called paramedics and a rescue helicopter was deployed.
    • Once secured in the Hospital they discovered that Mary had lost about 50% of her blood. The remaining blood had become toxic. Most people do not survive such a state, but Mary did. She refused to die.
  • It was 10 days later when authorities identified and arrested Mary’s attacker. His name was Lawrence Singleton who had been dubbed the “Mad Chopper” by media outlets. The next time Mary saw her attacker was in court.
    • Six months after the assault, Mary Vincent faced Singleton at his trial, where her testimony helped to convict him. 
      • Mary agreed to sit 10 to 15 feet from her attacker.
    • Singleton was convicted of rape and attempted murder. He was sentenced to fourteen years in prison, the maximum allowed by law in California at that time. The presiding judge remarked: “If I had the power, I would send him to prison for the rest of his natural life.”
      • As Mary left the court room that day she had to pass within inches of Singleton. According to Mary he whispered “if it is the last thing I do, I will finish the job.”
    • While Vincent won a $2.56 million civil judgment against Singleton, she was unable to collect it when Singleton revealed that he was unemployed, in poor health, and had only $200 in savings.
    • Mary Vincent moved on. She moved forward. She got married and became a loving mother of two.
  • Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
    • Along with the particularly gruesome and callous aspects of the crime, the case became even more notorious after Singleton was paroled after serving only eight years in prison. He was able to reduce his time through good behavior and working as a teaching assistant in a prison classroom. Singleton was paroled to Contra Costa County, California, but no town would accept his presence, so he had to live in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin prison until his parole ended a year later.
      • Mary heard that Singleton had been set free and was haunted by his promise to hunt her down and “finish the job.”
    • According to Time magazine, “as authorities attempted to settle him in one Bay Area town after another, angry crowds and Tampa’s chapter of Guardian Angels led protests, screamed, picketed and eventually prevailed.” 
    • The outrage at this sentence resulted in legislation, supported by Mary Vincent, which prevents the early release of offenders who have done a crime that involves torture: in 1987 Singleton’s parole made a bill get passed: California’s “Singleton bill”, which carries a 25-years-to-life sentence.
    • The leniency of the legal system shocked and outraged many. One journalist who interviewed him remarked, “What was most surprising to me, however, was not his sentence. It was that Larry Singleton had worked his crimes around in his mind so completely that they did not warrant punishment at all.” Right before Singleton’s parole ended, Donald Stahl, the Stanislaus County prosecutor at Singleton’s trial, said, “I think, if anything, he’s worse now. He has not taken responsibility. He lives in a bizarre fantasy land and acquits himself each day. He doesn’t accept his guilt and won’t promise to not do it again.”
    • Singleton returned to his native Florida after his release. In 1990, he was twice convicted of theft. He stole a $10 disposable camera and a $3 hat. Before his sentencing for the latter crime, he described himself to the judge as “a confused, muddleheaded old man”.
    • In the spring of 1997, a neighbor called police to report Singleton assaulting a woman in his home in Sulphur Springs, Florida. When police responded, they found the dead body of Roxanne Hayes; she had been stabbed multiple times in the upper body. Hayes was a mother of three.
      • The justice system failed her, and Mary was not having it.
    • Mary Vincent traveled from California to Tampa to appear at Singleton’s sentencing. During her testimony, she described Singleton’s attack and the toll the ordeal had taken on her. The judge sentenced Singleton to death. 
    • Singleton died in 2001 of cancer in a prison hospital at the North Florida Reception Center in Starke, Florida. He was 74 years old.
    • Mary said “I didn’t feel relief when he died. I needed to know what was in that dark soul of his. I felt that I was robbed of that opportunity. But because of my sons… I saw the relief on their faces and that made me realize ‘Ok, that’s good enough closure for me.’ I don’t have to worry about my sons’ lives anymore.”

“It is god and my sons that keep me going. I didn’t die. I’m a survivor.” -Mary Vincent


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