Dana Sue Gray was born Dana Sue Armbrust in December 1957 to Beverly and Russel Armbrust. Her mother was a former beauty queen and her father a hairdresser who’d been married three times before marrying Dana’s mother.
Dana was two years old when her parents divorced, mainly due to Beverly maxing out his credit cards. After the divorce, Dana began acting out. She often stole money to buy candy and would fly into fits of rage and violence, especially in school, where she did not get on well with other kids in her classes. She was suspended many times, several of them for forging notes as permission to miss class.
When her mother became ill with breast cancer, Dana, then 14, decided she wanted to become a nurse. After her mother’s death, she went on to live with her father. Her stepmother kicked her out of the house after finding drugs in her room.
Dana soon fell in love with a skydiving instructor who got her pregnant twice and told her to abort both pregnancies. She lived with him for several years after graduating from high school in 1976. He helped her pay for nursing school, and she became a labor and delivery nurse.
She ended up marrying another man, however, in 1987. William Gray worked at a winery, and Dana got them both deeply into debt. Their marriage soon fell apart. She left Gray in 1993, well before their divorce was finalized, and moved in with her lover, Jim Wilkins and his young son. That same year she was fired from the hospital for stealing Demerol and other opiate painkillers.
On February 14, 1994 Dana asked to see Gray, her ex-husband. He reluctantly agreed but never showed up. Later that same day, she murdered her first victim, Norma Davis, an 86-year-old woman with whom Dana had once lived with and who was a distant relative of her family.
Dana’s ex-husband would later find out that Dana had taken out an insurance policy on him. He was most likely her first target but had escaped being murdered by not showing up that day.
When found two days after the murder, Davis had a utility knife sticking out of her neck, and a fillet knife sticking out of her chest. A bloodied afghan lay at her feet. Detectives learned that there was no forced entry into the house. Detectives found a Nike shoe print pointed toward the kitchen. They also found Davis’ $148 Social Security check. On the first floor of Davis’ condo, a smear of blood was found on an armchair.
June Roberts, 66, was killed on February 28, 1994. Gray visited Roberts, claiming she wanted to borrow a book to help with her alcoholism. While Roberts searched for the book, Gray unplugged Roberts’ phone. She then used the phone cord to strangle Roberts before bludgeoning her with a decanter. She then stole two credit cards and went on a huge shopping spree at an upscale shopping center
On March 16, 1994, Gray killed Dora Beebe, 87. A few minutes after Beebe came home from a doctor’s appointment, Gray pulled up in front of Beebe’s house. Gray knocked on Beebe’s door and asked Beebe for directions. Once inside Gray attacked and killed Beebe. An hour later, she used Beebe’s credit cards to go on a shopping spree.
The Victim Who Got Away
On March 10, Dorinda Hawkins, 58, was working in an antiques shop when Gray stepped in. After some small talk, Gray asked Hawkins to show her a couple of paintings. As the shopkeeper bent down to get them, she felt a rope around her neck. She put up a fierce struggle but could not get away. The last thing Hawkins remembered hearing before she blacked out was her assailant saying, “Relax. Just relax.” Hawkins lived to tell the tale and give vital information to detectives.
How Dana Sue Gray Was Caught
Police didn’t immediately suspect Gray of the murders. However, because Gray spent such an exorbitant amount of money on June Roberts’ credit cards, they placed a call to the family. Detectives soon began visiting the stores where Gray had used the credit card and got a description of her.
It was on the day Gray was out killing her last victim, Dora Beebe, that she was arrested on her front porch and taken her into custody for the murder of June Roberts.
At first Gray denied her part in any murders, even when detectives told her they had evidence she’d used Davis’s credit cards. For hours she stuck to her story that she’d found the cards but hadn’t committed the murders. “I got desperate to buy things,” she told detectives. “Shopping puts me at rest.” However, the police had been following her that day and they’d seen her go to the bank with Beebe’s (her third victim) card and then go shopping.
At her hearing, the District Attorney requested the death penalty for Gray. She pleaded insanity on all counts. It was only after a witness said she’d seen Gray at Roberts’ house the day of her death that Gray changed her plea to guilty for robbing and murdering two women and attempting to murder another. As part of her plea bargain, Gray asked that she not be prosecuted for the murder of Norma Davis, her first victim, because she was a distant relative.
On October 16, 1998, Dana Sue Gray was sentenced to life without parole and was incarcerated in the California Women’s Prison in Chowchilla. The only reason she escaped execution was because she pleaded guilty.
What Dana Bought
In the long list of purchases were swimsuits, cowboy boots, a ski mask, vodka, and a massage at an upscale spa. Opium perfume, fancy shoes and sneakers — in both men’s and women’s sizes.