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  • Writer's pictureChester B Simpson

Bagging groceries with a killer

He stabbed her 21 times in the neck and chest

In 1969, as a 16-year-old boy growing up in Roanoke, I was working at a local grocery store when I met Paul Edward Patterson. We worked part-time together bagging groceries with other high school boys. We all thought Paul was a little off, not normal, just weird.

He drove to high school in his white Chevy II/Nova and kept a buck knife in his glove compartment box, along with a BB gun pistol. He would wear his Boy Scout jacket to work, and we would always be making fun of him for telling all these lies. If you challenged him or called him a liar, he’d stare straight through you, get mad while his face turned red, and would try to attack you. Like all young boys back then, we knew how to fight so we would smack him around a bit in the back room of the grocery store. We all thought he was crazy.

One busy night at the grocery store Paul didn't show up for work.

Later in the evening, some Roanoke police showed up to talk to our store manager and then left. After we closed the store at 10 pm and started to mop the floors, the manager gathered us all around and told us what the police told him.

Paul had skipped high school that day with a friend and they were driving in Paul's car on Williamson Road. Paul decided to pull his car around the back of a pet store, called “Wet Pets” and grabbed his buck knife out of the glove compartment of his car, and told his friend to stay there.

He went inside the pet store, bought some aquarium supplies, tied up the lady and stabbed her 21 times, then returned to his car with blood all over him. His friend freaked out and ran out of the car.

With blood all over himself, Paul drove next door to a McDonald's walked inside and ordered a Big Mac, fries, and a coke. The people working at McDonald’s served him his order and called the police. They arrived and asked him about all the blood on his shirt and pants, to which he responded that he had stabbed a lady next door.

Later, we found out in the news that in 1966, Paul Edward Patterson age 13 years old, was a local paperboy living in Norfolk, VA with his parents.

A taxi driver witnessed this:

Paul was riding his bike up to Janet Bunting aged 17 who was walking through a park, carrying books in her hands. Some words were exchanged between them, and she continued walking away from him. He threw his bike down, pulled out a knife, and stabbed her 21 times in the neck and chest murdering her. He was not charged as an adult, and spent three years in juvenile detention, getting released in 1969. He couldn’t live in Norfolk, so he came to Roanoke, to live with his grandparents and got a job at the grocery store where I worked.

While going to high school and working at the grocery store that day in 1969, he attacked and killed 33yr old Roanoke mother of two, Thelma Lipscomb Lam in the back room of a Roanoke pet store “Wet Pets”, where she was the manager on Williamson Road. He stabbed her 21 times. He didn’t know her, he didn’t rob her, he just stabbed her to death. It quickly became a shock around Roanoke and Patterson was shuffled between different psychologists and psychiatrists for mental evaluations.

At 17, a smiling Paul Patterson was convicted on June 13th of the murder of Mrs. Thelma Lipscomb Lam and sentenced to die in the electric chair. He was taken to the State Penitentiary in Richmond, VA. Upon arrival at the penitentiary, Patterson was taken to death row, where he joined nine other men awaiting the electric chair. That sentence was appealed and later a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, upheld the murder conviction but changed the sentence to life in prison.

A life sentence with no additional stipulations generally qualifies an offender the right to petition for parole. It’s something Patterson did for many years, officials with the Virginia Parole Board and Bland Correction Center stated. He was denied parole in 2010 because officials felt the possibility was strong that he would offend again if released. In June 2016. he was granted parole, online records show, and two days after Christmas of 2016 Paul was released. A source at Roanoke Police said he was released back to a relative's house in the city of Roanoke, VA.

I had always hoped he’d die in the electric chair and was worried when he was released from prison to live in his childhood home, Roanoke, the same place my family lives.

Check out photographs by the artist: Rock-n-roll Photography

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