Erika Elaine Sifrit (née Grace, born on February 3, 1978), is a college graduate and former businesswoman serving a life sentence for murdering and dismembering a Virginia couple that she and her husband met during a night of bar-hopping in Ocean City, Maryland.
Erika, the only child of well-to-do parents, grew up in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania. A star basketball player at nearby Hollidaysburg Area High School, she also excelled in her grades and school activities. According to her parents, the rest of high school was a happy time for Erika. She was a strong student and an athletic celebrity. She had plenty of friends, and she bought things for sick teachers, gave hugs to parents of friends, and made time for outings with her grandparents. She wasn't known to have a dominating personality, but rather someone happy to concede attention to others. Some observers speculated that Erika was also eager to please, probably to a fault.
After graduating from high school, and with top college programs out of her reach, Erika chose Mary Washington College (now University of Mary Washington) in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to play basketball. In her freshman year, she succeeded an All-American point guard, but contributed right away. During her first two years, she was among the nation's leading three-point shooters. However, in the fall of her junior year in 1998, Erika reportedly quit playing the sport she so loved. Erika was also an honors student, and she would ultimately graduate cum laude from Mary Washington in 2000, with a degree in history. Later, she talked about applying to law school and signed on for an internship in the district office of a local congressman.
Erika met Benjamin Sifrit, or "B.J.," in the summer of 1999. Sifrit was unlike anyone Erika had ever met - reckless and cocksure. A native of Texas, he had lived an itinerant life; his father was a business executive who frequently changed jobs and locales. After graduating from high school, Benjamin enlisted in the United States Navy and within months was accepted into the rigorous Navy SEAL training program.
No one seemed to know much about their courtship, other than that it was fast and intense. Months later, though, Erika's parents learned that she was capable of bigger surprises than quitting basketball. She brought B.J. home with her that Christmas, and this time introduced him as her husband. In fact, only two weeks after the visit to Ocean City, Erika and B.J. had flown to Las Vegas to get married. Erika had kept it a secret all that time, even during her parents' several visits to see her at Mary Washington.
Trouble ensued, and not only marital. B.J. was drummed out of the SEALS for reasons that remain unclear, and by the summer of 2000 he was on his way out of the Navy altogether. He was convicted at a court martial on a variety of charges, including reckless driving, failure to appear for duty and swearing at his officers. He received a three-month sentence and a bad conduct discharge.
After Sifrit's discharge, he and Erika took a six-week vacation to South America. After their return, they thought of the idea of opening a business together, a scrapbook store because that had always been a hobby of Erika's. Her parents put up the money, and in the spring of 2001, Memory Laine opened in a strip mall off one of Altoona's main thoroughfares.
Later, Erika's parents became troubled at her behavior. They didn't like it when she began getting tattoos, and they weren't too happy about the swastika tattooed on B.J.'s chest either. B.J. and Erika began keeping snakes, including pythons named Bonnie and Clyde, and a cobra called Hitler. B.J. also carried a gun. They were beside themselves when he presented Erika with a .357 Smith & Wesson revolver on her birthday. It was the gun that Ocean City police officers would find her carrying.
The Graces' concerns about their daughter grew into alarm. She was working seven days a week and had lost more than 20 pounds; B.J. had told her she was heavy. She confided in her mother that she found it impossible to relax and asked her to call the family doctor on her behalf. She began taking Paxil, an antidepressant medication that can also be beneficial for anxiety. Later her parents learned she was already taking another anxiety medication, Xanax, which is prescribed generally only for severe symptoms and for a short period.
On Memorial Day weekend 2002 (May 25 and May 26), Erika and B.J. packed up their Jeep Cherokee and headed off for Ocean City to the Rainbow condominium at 112th Street and Coastal Highway. After a night of partying, they met a couple from Virginia, Joshua Ford and Martha Crutchley. Later, Ford and Crutchley went back to their room (1101 aka Penthouse 1) at The Rainbow condominium with the Sifrits. Sometime the next morning, B.J. accused the couple of stealing Erika's purse, and he pulled a gun on them. They locked themselves in a bathroom, but, according to Erika, B.J. kicked open the door and shot them.
On May 31, Ocean City police caught the Sifrits as they were allegedly breaking into a Hooters restaurant. Erika Sifrit reportedly told police about the slayings, saying her husband fatally shot the couple and dismembered the bodies before the Sifrits dropped them in a Rehoboth Beach, Delaware trash bin. Parts of the bodies of the couple were found in a Delaware landfill nine days after their slayings.
The Sifrits were indicted on a number of charges, including burglary, theft and destruction of property at the Hooters, and they also faced various gun counts.
Jurors deliberated four hours before finding Erika guilty of first-degree murder for the death of Joshua Ford, and second-degree murder for the death of his girlfriend, Martha Crutchley.
B.J. was sentenced in Montgomery County, Maryland to 35 years in prison for second-degree murder, first-degree assault and being an accessory after the fact in Crutchley's murder. Erika was convicted in Frederick County, Maryland of first-degree murder in Ford's death and second-degree murder for helping kill Crutchley.
She was sentenced to life plus 25 years in prison. The Supreme Court rejected a 2005 appeal of her conviction and sentence. Erika Sifrit is serving her life sentence at Maryland Correctional Institute for Women.
On January 27, 2008, Erika Sifrit's story was profiled on the Oxygen channel’s true-crime series Snapped, which showcases women who commit or mastermind murder. News of the television show came as a surprise to Erika's attorney, who represented her at trial, her appellate lawyer and her lawyer who is handling her post-conviction proceeding.
This case also appeared in a TruTV (former Court TV) episode of The Investigators. The case was featured on a 2004 episode of American Justice.