OCEAN CITY – A little more than seven years after convicted killers Benjamin and Erika Sifrit brutally murdered and dismembered a Virginia couple vacationing in the resort on Memorial Day weekend in 2002, a new book detailing perhaps the most heinous crime in Ocean City history was released this week.
On Saturday of Memorial Day weekend in 2002, the Sifrits lured their eventual victims, Joshua Ford and Martha Crutchley, back to their resort condominium after spending the evening with them in a nightclub before brutally murdering them in a bathroom and dismembering their bodies, parts of which were found in a Delaware landfill nine days later. The Sifrits were caught during a botched attempt at a burglary nearly a week later and the trail of evidence led investigators to the scene of the murders.
In April 2003, Benjamin Sifrit was convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree assault and accessory after the fact for his part in the killing of Crutchley and was sentenced to 38 years in jail. Erika Sifrit was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Ford and second-degree murder in the death of Crutchley in a separate trial that same year and was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. Each has filed numerous appeals at different levels and for different reasons, none of which has come to fruition.
Seven years later, well-known crime expert, lecturer, investigative journalist and best-selling author M. William Phelps this week released his latest work, “Cruel Death,” which meticulously documents the days leading up to the horrific murders in Ocean City and the days that followed. The non-fiction work provides vivid details not before made public as well as an insight into the psychology of the crimes following years of research by the author.
“Cruel Death” was released on Tuesday and has already made its way up the charts. On the day the book was officially released, The Dispatch interviewed Phelps about the book, how he became interested in the story and what he found out along the way.
Q. How did you come across the story?
A. A friend of mine at Jupiter Productions, Donna Dudek, a producer on the Snap series on Oxygen, brought it to my attention. They were doing some interviews for the story. She alerts me to stories she thinks I’ll be interested in some times and while they were filming, she told me about it. I started to look into it and started to make some calls. First of all, I need to find out who’s going to talk to me, you know. Without enough people, I usually just pass on the story.
I generally don’t get mixed up in stories as gruesome as this. It’s not usually my thing. My thing is usually female serial killers, or female murderers. It’s kind of bizarre to put an index, a 1-10 on violence, but I tend to be at the lower end of the scale. It fascinated me because you have two people from such strong backgrounds. How do you go from the All-American basketball player and business owner and daughter of a wealthy construction guy, and an honor man and Navy SEAL? How do you go from there to dismembering two people? And later, what I found out they do to these people after death? How do you go from one to the other? There has to be something in between, so that started to pique my interest.
Q. I read somewhere you tend to stay away from the more gruesome stories. What drove you to write about this case?
A. My goal is to try to- I’m not interested in the trial. The trial is obviously part of the story, but if you watch a Lifetime movie about a crime, the trial is always the five minutes at the end. I try not to focus on the trial. I try to focus on what happened leading up to that point.
I like to write about fascinating police detectives and investigators who I think are above and beyond. In this case, you had two detectives who went above and beyond and one in particular who really ruined his entire career over it, I mean, who was just devastated by it, and that’s Scott Bernal.
He had never spoken to anybody and when I approached him, when I approached people around him, I got the same thing. He’s not going to talk to you. Then one day, I got a call from him, saying, ‘Hey, come down to Ocean City and I’ll be glad to talk to you. We ended up talking for about eight hours and it changed my entire career as a writer. The stuff that’s not in the book is stuff that’s not ever going to be known. This is a horror show that no one ever – I do outline some of it in the book – but it’s just beyond belief. It really is.
For the complete interview, see The Dispatch tomorrow morning.