Walter B. Kelbach


Walter B. Kelbach

Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Robberies - Rape
Number of victims: 6
Date of murder: December 17-21, 1966
Date of arrest: December 21, 1966
Date of birth: June 25, 1938
Victim profile: Stephen Shea, 18 / Michael Holtz / Grant Strong / James Sizemore, 47; Beverly Mace, 34, and Fred William Lillie, 20
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife - Shooting
Location: Salt Lake County, Utah, USA
Status: Sentenced to death. Commuted to life imprisonment after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional on February 25, 1977

Walter Kelbach, 28, and 25-year-old Myron Lance had many things in common. Both were veterans of prison and aggressive homosexuals, each given to abuse of drugs and alcohol. Above all else, they shared a fondness for inflicting pain -- and, ultimately, death -- on fellow human beings.

In December 1966, their twisted passion claimed five lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, touching off a local reign of terror. On December 17, hopped up on pills and wine, the duo stopped for gas at a service station where 18-year-old Stephen Shea was working the night shift alone. Impulsively, the "customers" drew weapons, robbing Shea of $147, forcing him into the back of their station wagon and driving him into the desert. There, Shea was ordered to strip, and was raped by both Kelbach and Lance. Afterward, a coin was tossed to see who would receive the "honor" of eliminating Shea.

The winner -- Kelbach -- plunged a knife into his victim's chest five times and left the body Iying on a lonely desert road. Repeating their performance on the eighteenth of December, Lance and Kelbach kidnapped Michael Holtz, the night attendant at another Salt Lake City filling station.

Raped by both of his abductors, Holtz was forced to watch while coins were tossed to choose his executioner. Lance won, this time, and stabbed his victim once in the heart with the same stiletto used on Stephen Shea. December 21. The killers changed their modus operandi flagging down a taxi driver named Grant Strong, directing him to Salt Lake City's airport.

On the way, Strong stopped off at the taxi barn to tell his supervisor that he didn't trust his latest fares. It was decided Strong should click his microphone transmitter switch in case of any trouble, and he flashed the signal moments later, after Kelbach drew a gun and pressed it to his skull, demanding money. Strong surrendered all his cash on hand -- nine dollars -- but his captors were not seriously interested in robbery.

Police and fellow cabbies were converging on the scene when Kelbach put a bullet through his victim's brain. "I just pulled the trigger and blood flew everywhere," he later told an NBC reporter. "Oh boy! I never seen so much blood!" Police found Strong a short time later, Iying dead inside his cab. By that time, Lance and Kelbach had arrived at Lolly's Tavern, near the airport, acting casual as they perused the bar for further victims.

Kelbach tinkered with a pinball game while Lance walked up behind a patron, 47-year-old James Sizemore, and coolly shot him in the head, immediately ordering the manager to empty out his till. Pocketing $300 from the cash register, Lance and Kelbach turned their pistols on the bartender and his four surviving customers; Fred Lillie and Beverly Mace were killed where they stood, three other human targets feigning death until the manic marksmen took their leave.

As Lance and Kelbach left, the manager retrieved a pistol from behind the bar and opened fire; he scored no hits, but panicked his assailants, and they fled on foot.

Retrieving their car, both gunmen were captured at a roadblock several hours later. Convicted on five counts of murder, Kelbach and Lance were sentenced to death, their penalties commuted to life imprisonment after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional .

As lifers, Lance and Kelbach are theoretically eligible for parole. It is a prospect that concerns the residents of Utah, and the common fear was spread from coast to coast in 1972, after Kelbach was tapped for an interview by NBC News, on a televised program entitled Thou Shalt Not Kill. "I haven't any feelings toward the victims," Walter told his audience of millions, grinning for the camera. "I don't mind people getting hurt because I just like to watch it."

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans

Kelbach & Lance

Ex-convicts Walter Kelbach (aged twenty-eight) and Myron Lance (aged twenty-five) were cousins and gay lovers. On the night of December 17th, 1966, the two homosexuals got high on drugs and drove to a gas station in Salt Lake City. They robbed its attendant of $147.00 at gunpoint; forced him into the back seat of their station wagon and drove into the desert. Their victim was forced to perform sex acts and sodomised; after the perverts were sated, they flipped a coin to decide which of them would kill him. Kelbach won; he stabbed him repeatedly and threw the body into a roadside ditch.

Victim number two was Michael Holtz - another lone filling station worker. He was abducted, violated and murdered in the same way - this time both Kelbach and Lance did the killing. The Police realised that the two crimes were connected and issued a city-wide order that all gas stations should be closed at nightfall.

The anti-social duo changed their methods. On December 21st, Kelbach and Lance got into the back seat of a taxi belonging to Grant Creed Strong. The driver became wary because his passengers exchanged sly glances and grinned wolfishly at each other. Strong radioed the dispatcher and discreetly said that if he encountered problems, he would press his microphone talk-button twice. As the taxi arrived at the requested destination, Lance pulled a gun and demanded all the driver’s money - but that amounted to just $9.00. Lance was angry and he shot Strong through the head.

The killers moved on to Lolly's Tavern, near the city’s airport. They intended to make up for the low profit gained from robbing Grant Strong.

In the bar, they produced their weapons and shouted to the amazed patrons that it was a stickup. To show that they were serious, Lance shot James Sizemore (aged forty-seven) through the head - apparently choosing him at random. The gunmen snatched $300.00 from the cash register and fired a stream of bullets into the bar as they left. Beverly Mace (aged thirty-four) and Fred William Lillie (aged twenty) were both killed. Kelbach and Lance fled and managed to acquire transport - but the police acted swiftly and they were arrested at a roadblock

Charged with first-degree murder, a judge and jury needed little time to arrive at a guilty verdict and sentence them to death. However, the Supreme Court set aside capital punishment and the pair were spared the supreme penalty of the Law. Neither Kelbach or Lance have ever expressed any remorse. Lance coldly stated: "I haven't any feelings towards the victims,"; Kelbach added: "I don't mind people getting hurt because I just like to watch it."

Spree killer, 69, dies of natural causes

August 31, 2010

Myron Lance — who was serving a life prison sentence for his part in a 1966 crime spree that claimed the lives of six people — died Monday morning of natural causes at University Hospital.

Lance, of Salt Lake City, was 69.

He was 25 years old on Dec. 17, 1966, when he teamed up with fellow parolee Walter Kelbach, 28, of Racine, Wis., to begin a five-day spate of killing that began with the abduction of a Kearns service station attendant.

The nude body of Steven Shea, 18, was found the next day on a dirt road in Tooele County. He had been stabbed five times.

On Dec. 18, Michael Holtz, 18, was abducted from a Salt Lake City service station. He was stabbed five times and his nude body was dumped near a highway in Summit County.

The killers took less than $300 from the two service stations.

On Dec. 21, cab driver Grant Creed Strong was found shot in the back of the head at the Salt Lake City Municipal Airport.

About 30 minutes later, Lance and Kelbach entered Lally’s Tavern in Salt Lake and began shooting.

Bar patrons Fred W. Lillie, 20, James Sizemore, 47, and Beverly Mace, 34, were shot dead. A third patron, Verl Leon Medas, was wounded but recovered.

Lance and Kelbach were apprehended about three hours later at a police roadblock in Parleys Canyon.

Convicted by a jury of first-degree murder for the deaths of Sizemore and Lillie, the two were sentenced to die.

But their death sentences were commuted to life terms in 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.

In 1992, Lance and Kelbach appeared before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

When parole board member Michael Sibbett asked what Lance would do in his shoes, he responded, “I don’t see how you could ever let me out.”

The parole board did decide that the pair should “spend their natural life in prison.”

The board said the “extremely aggravating factors of intentional, premeditated criminal activity that caused the death of multiple vulnerable victims during a five-day period cannot be mitigated on the scale of justice to support parole for either Mr. Lance or Mr. Kelbach."

Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke said Lance was taken from the prison to the hospital on Aug. 15.

Meanwhile, Kelbach, 72, remains incarcerated at the state prison in Gunnison, Gehrke said.

Supreme Court of Utah

April 12, 1994


Third District, Salt Lake County. The Honorable Kenneth Rigtrup

Walter B. Kelbach, Draper, pro se.

Jan Graham, Att'y Gen., J. Frederic Voros, Jr., Asst. Att'y Gen., Salt Lake City, for defendant.

Zimmerman, Stewart, Howe, Durham, Russon

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Zimmerman

ZIMMERMAN, Chief Justice :

Walter B. Kelbach appeals from the district court's dismissal of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Kelbach claims that he is entitled to the writ on three grounds: (i) he was denied the right to be tried before a representative jury; (ii) the trial court "lost jurisdiction" over him because it did not immediately resentence him to life imprisonment after the United States Supreme Court vacated his death sentence; and (iii) he was improperly sentenced to life imprisonment under a penalty provision not in effect at the time he committed the murders. We affirm.

On December 21, 1966, Kelbach and his companion, Myron Lance, entered a Salt Lake City tavern. A few minutes later, a patron heard a shot and observed Kelbach holding a gun. At about the same time, Lance shot James Sizemore in the head, turned to the bartender, and said, "This is a stick-up." The bartender placed the cash drawer on the bar, and Lance removed the money. Immediately thereafter, a fusillade of shots resounded through the tavern. Patrons Fred Lillie and Beverly Mace died of gunshot wounds; another patron was wounded. Kelbach and Lance fled but were arrested at a roadblock a few hours later. After his arrest, Kelbach was charged with the murders of Sizemore and Lillie. He was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death.

Kelbach appealed his conviction and death sentence, and this court affirmed. State v. Kelbach, 23 Utah 2d 231, 240, 461 P.2d 297, 303 (1969), vacated in part, 408 U.S. 935 (1972). While Kelbach's appeal was pending before the United States Supreme Court, that Court declared unconstitutional a death penalty provision similar to Utah's. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 33 L. Ed. 2d 346, 92 S. Ct. 2726 (1972). Thereafter, the United States Supreme Court vacated Kelbach's death sentence and remanded his case to this court. Kelbach v. Utah, 408 U.S. 935, 33 L. Ed. 2d 751, 92 S. Ct. 2858 (1972). This court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. State v. Lance, 559 P.2d 543, 543 (Utah 1977). On February 25, 1977, the district court sentenced Kelbach to two consecutive sentences of life imprisonment. Kelbach did not appeal the reduction of his sentence from death to life imprisonment.

Kelbach took no further action with regard to his sentence until November 16, 1992, at which time he moved to modify his sentence. After the district court denied his motion, Kelbach filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus. *fn1 On May 10, 1993, the district court granted the State's motion to dismiss, concluding that each of Kelbach's claims was procedurally barred or, in the alternative, without merit.

"'In considering an appeal from a dismissal of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, no deference is accorded the lower court's Conclusions of law that underlie the dismissal of the petition. We review those for correctness.'" Gerrish v. Barnes, 844 P.2d 315, 318-19 (Utah 1992) (quoting Fernandez v. Cook, 783 P.2d 547, 549 (Utah 1989)).

Kelbach challenges his incarceration, claiming that the jury which convicted him was chosen through a discriminatory and constitutionally improper procedure. We conclude that Kelbach waived the right to challenge his conviction on this basis when he failed to object to the composition of the jury at trial.

At the time Kelbach was tried for murder, Salt Lake County utilized a jury selection procedure that limited jury service to real property holders. See Leggroan v. Smith, 498 F.2d 168, 170 (10th Cir. 1974). In 1974, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit struck down this selection procedure as unconstitutional. Id. at 171. Kelbach now asserts that based on Leggroan, he was denied a fair and impartial jury.

Kelbach's reliance on Leggroan is misplaced. The Leggroan court made the scope of its decision clear:

Our decision is so limited in scope . . . that its effects will be minimal. It applies only to those persons convicted in Salt Lake County during the period of time the improper jury selection system was used, and is further limited to persons who timely objected to their jury panel, because a defendant, by accepting a jury, waives his right to object to the panel.

Id. (citations omitted). Kelbach failed to object to the composition of his jury. Thus, as the district court properly concluded, Kelbach is not entitled to any relief under Leggroan. Even if there were merit to his Leggroan claim, Kelbach failed to assert that claim on direct appeal, Kelbach, 461 P.2d at 297, and is barred from raising it here.

Kelbach also asserts that the district court lacked jurisdiction to resentence him to life imprisonment after the Supreme Court vacated his death penalty. In so asserting, he relies on section 77-35-1 of the Code, which provides:

After a plea or verdict of guilty, or after a verdict against the defendant on a plea of a former conviction or acquittal or once in jeopardy, if the judgment is not arrested or a new trial granted, the court must appoint a time for pronouncing judgment, which must be at least two days and not more than ten days after the verdict.

Utah Code Ann. § 77-35-1 (1953). Kelbach alleges that his sentence is void because the district court lost jurisdiction to resentence him when it failed to act within the time limits set out in section 77-35-1.

Kelbach's jurisdictional claim is without merit. As our opinion in State v. Fedder makes clear, the time fixed by section 77-35-1 is not jurisdictional. 262 P.2d 753, 754-55 (Utah 1953). Instead, those time limits are "merely directory." Fedder, 262 P.2d at 755; see also Rose v. District Court, 67 Utah 526, 248 P. 486, 488 (Utah 1926) (failure to object to delay in pronouncing judgment is a waiver of any objection to delay). Accordingly, his jurisdictional claim is without merit.

Finally, Kelbach asserts that he was improperly sentenced to life imprisonment under a penalty provision not in effect at the time he committed the murders. Because he failed to raise this issue on direct appeal when he had the opportunity to do so, he is barred from raising it through an extraordinary writ.

It is "well settled in this state that allegations of error that could have been but were not raised on appeal from a criminal conviction cannot be raised by habeas corpus or postconviction review, except in unusual circumstances." Codianna v. Morris, 660 P.2d 1101, 1104 (Utah 1983). Furthermore, "an unjustified failure to raise an issue on appeal presents a steep obstacle for the petitioner. In such a situation, the petitioner must present some special reason why the rule should not apply: he or she must demonstrate that it would be 'wholly unconscionable not to reexamine the conviction.'" Gerrish, 844 P.2d at 319 (quoting Martinez v. Smith, 602 P.2d 700, 702 (Utah 1979)).

Kelbach did not challenge his life sentence through direct appeal in 1977 as he was entitled to do. Instead, he waited fifteen years to bring a habeas petition. Furthermore, he has neither alleged nor demonstrated any "unusual circumstance" or "special reason" that justifies his failure to raise this issue on appeal. Codianna, 660 P.2d at 1104; Gerrish, 844 P.2d at 319. Nor has he presented this court with any other argument relating to why this claim is not subject to the waiver rule set out in Codianna and Gerrish. Therefore, we hold that this claim is procedurally barred. See Bundy v. DeLand, 763 P.2d 803, 804 (Utah 1988).

The judgment of the district court dismissing Kelbach's petition for an extraordinary writ seeking habeas corpus relief is affirmed.


I. Daniel Stewart, Associate Chief Justice

Richard C. Howe, Justice

Christine M. Durham, Justice

Leonard H. Russon, Justic

Opinion Footnotes

*fn1 Although Kelbach filed a "Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus," the trial court considered the petition a request for extraordinary relief and treated it under rule 65B of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure.

Walter Kelbach in 1967

Walter Kelbach in 2009.

Walter Kelbach, 28, and 25-year-old Myron Lance, in 1966.

Myron Lance in 1997.

Myron Lance in 2009.