We’re continuing the theme of killer couples throughout the month of February.
They seemed like an all-American couple. Erika Grace, perhaps the more controlling of the two, was born into privilege, the only child of a successful contractor. Throughout high school and college she was an excellent student and athlete. She played basketball and graduated cum laude from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Her friends knew her as a normal, level-headed person, active and outgoing.
Not much is known about Benjamin (or BJ), other than he was raised in Minnesota and was a poor student in high school. But after enlisting in the Navy, he seemed to find his calling in life. In 1997, he finished first in his elite SEALs class.
Two years later, he met Erika, then a student at Mary Washington, at a bar with friends. Though he apparently tried to dissuade her from getting into a relationship with him due to his demanding training schedule, she was relentless. Three weeks later, he spontaneously asked her to marry him, and they eloped to Las Vegas.
According to BJ’s mother, Elizabeth, her son changed after getting involved with Erika. Once close with the rest of his family, he stopped calling and visiting. “I just wanted to make [Erika] happy,” he explained at his trial. “It was extreme.” This isolation from family is also a common red flag for abusive and controlling relationships.
The relationship also seemed to affect his Navy career. Erika didn’t like that BJ would be gone for long stretches during training, and would call and harass him frequently. She claimed to have anxiety attacks and bouts of depression while he was gone. Once, while he was in Alaska for training, she flew up to visit him in violation of the rules. They both were sent home.
BJ’s response to the stress of being torn between his wife and career was to “torpedo” his career. He became unruly and insubordinate, and even got a large swastika tattoo. Finally he was court-martialed for a variety of offenses, including going AWOL. One Navy prosecutor said BJ seemed to have developed an “utter disregard for authority.” Ultimately he was drummed out of the service on a bad-conduct discharge.
So they moved back to Erika’s hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania, and her dad set them up with a scrapbooking store — a hobby that Erika was obsessed with (though not very good at, if the examples on Crime Watch Daily are any indication).
Like Gasoline and a Match
The couple thrived on excitement; many of Erika’s high-school friends said they didn’t recognize her anymore. She got tattoos, including a cross on her hip inspired by the movie Natural Born Killers. BJ, who already owned two handguns, bought Erika a .357 Magnum as a present. The couple collected pet snakes they named “Bonnie,” “Clyde,” “Hitler” and “HIV.” They began doing drugs heavily. Before long, they started stealing from nearby stores and Hooters restaurants (another odd obsession of Erika’s) and selling the items on Ebay.
But that was not enough for the thrill-seekers. So in 2002, the couple headed for Ocean City, Maryland, for their first vacation. But they had more on the itinerary then just sunbathing and bar-hopping.
The couple met Martha “Geney” Crutchley and Joshua Ford on a shuttle bus to the club Seacrets. The Sifrits didn’t have exact change, so Joshua offered to pay for them in exchange for the Sifrits buying him a drink at the club. The two couples seemed to hit it off, chatting and drinking through the night.
Afterwards, the Sifrits invited them to their condo for nightcap. What happened next, no one but the Sifrits know for sure, but statements and evidence paint a scene that went something like this: At some point, Erika claimed her purse was missing and accused Geney and Josh of stealing it. BJ then threatened them with his gun. The terrified couple blockaded themselves in the bathroom. Someone — it’s still not known for sure which one — shot Joshua twice through the door. Then BJ kicked the door down and shot him twice more while Geney cowered under the sink. Erika then turned on Geney, stabbing her multiple times.
BJ dismembered their bodies. At one point, he held up their severed heads and told Erika to take a picture, but she refused. They also discussed eating some of their victims’ flesh, but Erika said they didn’t go through with it.
They cleaned up the bathroom, which had so much blood on the floor, it would splash when you stepped in it, according to Erika. They put Geney and Josh’s body parts in trash bags and tossed them into dumpsters across the state line in Delaware. They replaced the bullet-riddled bathroom door and went on with their vacation. They played mini-golf, ate crab, and swam in the ocean, all smiles and happy faces. Erika wore Josh’s bloody ring on a necklace and got a tattoo on her side in the exact spot where she first stabbed Geney.
Still not satisfied, the thrill-kill couple tried it again. For a second time, they befriended a couple, Melissa Seling and Justin Wright, and invited them to their condo for a nightcap. Again, Erika claimed her purse was missing. Again, BJ brandished a gun. But one thing went differently for this couple: BJ didn’t think he and Erika had time to clean up another double homicide. So Melissa and Justin lived.
Meanwhile, when Josh and Geney didn’t return to work, their worried friends and coworkers filed a missing persons report. Ocean City PD searched their condo, but found nothing out of place. Their car was still in the lot, where it had been sitting for a while. The police put out flyers, issued BOLOs and investigated, but found nothing.
Busted (Pun Intended)
So far, the Sifrits had committed the perfect crime. No one had connected them to the missing couple, and no bodies had been found.
But Erika’s weird addiction to Hooters merch did them in. Almost a week after the murders, the extremely drunk Sifrits broke into a Hooters, setting off a silent alarm. Police arrived on the scene and caught them red-handed. They were so drunk, BJ asked the cops if they could just put it all back and “we’ll be cool.”
Erika, however, began having a panic attack. She asked one of the cops to get her anti-anxiety pills from her purse. While going through her purse to get the medication, the cop found some very suspicious items: IDs belonging to the missing couple … and five spent rounds of ammunition.
Erika had her .357 Magnum in her waistband. They searched the Jeep and found two more handguns: BJ’s Sig Sauer 9mm and .45, along with flex cuffs, gloves and ski masks. It was obvious there was more going on here than a simple robbery.
So the police searched the Sifrits’ condo. There they found more souvenirs “Little Miss Scrapbook” had kept: two spent bullets, one of them with Josh’s blood still on it, and a stack of pictures - including pictures of Josh and Geney - and a key to their condo.
Then they searched the bathroom. Despite the Sifrits’ cleaning, there were traces of blood in the grout. In a sink stopper, they found hair and tissue. Under the sink, a bullet hole. On the window, Josh’s palm print.
Erika confessed soon after their arrest, claiming it was all BJ’s idea, and that she was a frightened, abused victim forced to play along. BJ, of course, blamed it all on Erika.
Erika tried to cop a plea deal by telling them where the bodies were, but one condition of the deal was that she had to pass a lie detector test. She didn’t. She was more involved in the murders then she had claimed.
After an extensive search of the Delaware landfill, only parts of Josh and Geney’s remains were found, so they couldn’t determine cause of death for Geney.
Regardless, BJ was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 38 years. Erika was convicted of both murders and sentenced to life plus 20 years. BJ will be eligible for parole in 2021, and Erika in 2024.
Shout-out to M. William Phelps, whose book Cruel Death covers this crime in even greater detail. (Contains affiliate links)