The Sheriff’s taskforce was briefed on Lorna’s murder twice daily. The leads all moved down the same path and every time that path led back to Clifford Fortner. There were too many discrepancies in his story. Religious tracts from Clifford’s home were found at the fort as were Clifford’s fingerprints on a teacup. On Saturday morning November 14, Lorna was seen meeting a tall pimply faced boy with a receding chin at Kent School. Inspectors suspected the boy was Clifford.
Clifford had previously admitted that he visited Lorna at her fort on Saturday morning. Among the items he described seeing at that time were the contents of her purse: two lipsticks; an eyebrow pencil; a mirror; and bus tickets. However, a high school girl who the sheriff did not identify, had the cosmetics in the purse she brought to the Tamalpais-Drake High School football game at College of Marin on Saturday evening. She unknowingly dropped the purse under the grandstands at about 8:00 p.m. The items were retrieved by Lorna. The cosmetics could not have been at Lorna’s fort on Saturday morning. The only way Clifford could have seen them in Lorna’s possession is if he had been with her late Saturday night.
On December 2, Inspectors Sears and Sargento went to the Fortner home and got Mrs. Fortner’s permission to talk to Clifford once again at Kent School, where Clifford was in the 8th grade. Inspectors Melovich and Battaglia confronted Clifford with the fact that they had the knife and that his story had discrepancies. “We brought him to the principal’s office at the school and asked him a few questions,” Inspector Battaglia said. “Then he just started talking about it, and we didn’t have to do anymore except just listen. We just let him talk and talk until we had the whole story.”
Clifford met Lorna Saturday morning and had sex with her at the fort. She told him that she would be at the Tamalpais-Drake football game that night. He saw Lorna at the game and she told him that she would be staying at the fort for the night. Clifford’s mother picked him up from the game and drove him the few short blocks home. The family watched Death Valley Days on television, and then Clifford and Norman went to bed. Still wearing his street clothes, Clifford slipped under the covers of the upper bunk in the bedroom he shared with Norman.
About midnight he crept out of bed and left for Lorna’s fort, unbeknownst to Norman or his parents. He said he had sex with Lorna again at about 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., Sunday morning. Clifford said, “All of a sudden something just came over me.” He struck Lorna over the head with a flashlight until she was unconscious. Then he got a rope near the fig tree and strung her from an overhanging branch. “He checked her pulse,” Melovich said, “and found it was still beating, even though it was weak.” He grabbed a steak knife from Lorna’s set, which she had hidden at the fort, and plunged it into her abdomen twice. He threw the knife into the bushes as her pulse weakened. He went home and crawled back into bed.
That was key, because Inspector Melovich found the bloody serrated kitchen knife in thick blackberry bushes about 15-feet from Lorna’s body the morning after the grisly discovery. The murder weapon belonged to a set of knives that Lorna had bought as a Christmas present for her parents. The Sheriff’s Department did not share that information out of fear that full disclosure would hinder the investigation.
The next morning the Fortner’s got up around 8:00 a.m. Mr. Fortner went to work and Mrs. Fortner took the children to Church, leaving only Clifford behind because he was going to a friend’s birthday party. At 10:00 a.m. he went back to see Lorna. He looked at her and knew she was dead. In a halting voice he told the Inspectors that ‘rigor mortis’ had set in. He went home, wrapped his birthday present and went to the party.
Lorna’s Parents John and Amy Lax
On December 4, Lorna’s parents held a press conference in the living room of their modest home on Kent Avenue. Seated side by side on dining room chairs, John Lax defended his little girl in a dry, factual voice. When asked if he felt animosity toward Lorna’s admitted killer he responded quietly, “That wouldn’t help bring our girl back. We just feel empty. The only thing we want to do now is clear her name, and I think we can. We have information that Lorna did not start the club. We believe Clifford forced her into it.” Lax added bitterly, “We know that Clifford raped Lorna about four to six months ago.That was her introduction to sex.”
After a brief hesitation he continued, “He raped her, but she never told us a thing.” They learned of the rape after Lorna’s body was discovered on November 16. An 11-year-old playmate said Lorna told her about the assault, but said, “Don’t you tell anyone,” and she did not. After Lorna’s body was found the playmate told her mother, and the mother told Lorna’s parents. John and Amy, in turn, immediately reported the rape to Sheriff Mountanos.
John Lax continued, “She was only 65 pounds and physically retarded – only a child. That’s the important thing.” Lax said Lorna knew the Fortner boy. “She knew everybody in the neighborhood. She was friendly and trusting.”
“I’m trying to tell you about my little girl, the bad and the good, just as she was,” he continued. “After Clifford raped Lorna he had a power over her. He didn’t get into any trouble over it, and he was able to use the threat of exposure over Lorna.”
Then Amy Lax spoke for the first time. “We hold no grudge against him, because Lorna never held a grudge against anybody in her life.” She added, “There are other little girls Lorna’s age around here. We don’t want other families to go through what we have gone through. They can’t hurt us any more than we have been hurt, but other families could be hurt.”
Sheriff Mountanos responded that, “The report of Lorna’s rape is all hearsay. We were unable to confirm it. It was just something an 11-year-old girl told her mother, and the mother told the Laxes.” He continued, “When the Laxes told us about it, they reported it as an attempted rape, and Clifford has denied raping Lorna.”
Marin County’s first teenaged killer had found an unlikely ally in Sheriff Mountanos.