The Crime Scene
This horrific saga began on March 12, 2011, in the Washington D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. Walking down Bethesda Row, a nice, clean shopping avenue lined with festive lights and retail outlets, the manager of the Lululemon Athletica store arrived a little before 8 a.m. to open up for the day.
Little did she know, she was about to enter one of the most gruesome and inexplicable crime narratives in recent history.
As she pulled out the keys to unlock the front door, Manager Rachel Oertli noticed the door was already unlocked. This was odd, but Rachel assumed another store associate had come in earlier. Or perhaps someone had forgotten to lock up the night before.
Rachel pushed the door open and stepped inside—only to stop in her tracks. The store lights were already on and, from what she could see, it looked as though the store had been ransacked. Garments and accessories were strewn across the floor and the cabinets were open.
Rachel stared at the scene in front of her, confused. Had they been vandalized? She dug for her phone and cautiously called out for anyone who might be there. Maybe it was a misunderstanding and another employee was already there.
That's when she heard the moaning coming from somewhere in the back.
Rachel dashed back out of the store and onto the street, where she called 911. While outside, she noticed another person waiting beside the neighboring Apple store. She explained to the man, Ryan, about the moaning sound and asked if he would go back inside with her to make sure nobody was hurt.
Ryan agreed and, while Rachel waited, he pushed his way through the distressed storefront. A minute later, Ryan yelled from the back of the store and told her to call the police.
Montgomery County Police Respond
Rachel called 911 and said, "I think someone is dead."
Ryan had found a body lying face-down. He told Rachel that in the bathroom there was another person, a woman, who was tied up, barely breathing, and may have been assaulted. Rachel again called 911 to report what they had found in the store.
Montgomery County Police responded to the 911 calls and arrived to discover the store in disarray. On the floor, which was covered in blood, they found two sets of crimson shoe prints, one big and one small.
Jayna Murray and Brittany Norwood
The non-responsive body in the back belonged to a 30-year-old woman named Jayna Murray. Jayna was an employee of the Lululemon store and had worked the closing shift the night before. Police also discovered a badly shaken 28-year-old Brittany Norwood, whose hands and feet were zip-tied in the bathroom. She had cuts all over her chest, legs, arms, and face.
Montgomery responders rushed Brittany to the hospital. Once she was stable, she recounted what happened that night.
Brittany explained to police that the previous night, March 11th, she and Jayna were closing the store together. Once they left, Brittany realized she forgot her wallet. She got a hold of Jayna and asked her to come back and unlock the store so she could grab it. Brittany was a newer employee and Jayna was the higher-up employee, which is why she was the one with the keys.
The Police Interview Brittany
While they were inside the unlocked store, Brittany said, two masked men barged in, attacked her and Jayna, and proceeded to tie them up and sexually assault them. When Jayna resisted, the men began beating her and eventually stabbed her to death.
Brittany said that at this point she realized she would have to do as they asked. She was beaten and cut with a knife but, mercifully, survived with only superficial wounds. The attackers left her tied up in the bathroom.
Police asked the hospital to perform a medical examination on Brittany to preserve any DNA or other forensic evidence, and then left to begin their investigation.
After classifying the incident as a robbery turned homicide and attempted murder, police set out to find the perpetrators. First, they had to probe the backgrounds of all the people involved, which at this stage meant the victims.
Brittany Norwood in Focus
Brittany Norwood was one of nine children. Her father owned an upholstery business. Although they didn't have much, the Norwood family stressed the value of hard work and education.
By high school, Brittany was demonstrating good athletic skills and was recruited to play at Stony Brook University on scholarship as a defender on the women's soccer team. She started college in 2000 and played until 2003, when she was accused of stealing by not just her teammates, but also classmates and roommates.
Brittany Has a Problem
She definitely had a little problem with this, though most people considered it more of a joke. Everyone would say, "Oh, that's just something she does." A soccer teammate said Norwood was her best friend in college, but they had a falling out because Brittany was acting like a kleptomaniac.
Norwood stole money and a designer shirt from her. She also said that Norwood was very sweet, funny, and an amazing soccer player. Stealing was her only vice.
But this vice escalated, and eventually all the people she stole from came forward to report her. Brittany was expelled from school and lost her scholarship.
Brittany's New Life
After her expulsion from college, Brittany Norwood moved to Washington, D.C. to live with her sister. She found success working at the front desk at the William Intercontinental Hotel, where she was quickly promoted to managing VIP guests.
It was a good job, but Brittany still had athletic ambitions and decided that she wanted to become a personal trainer. She began applying for jobs at fitness studios in the area.
That's how she eventually ended up working at Lululemon.
Police and Community Struggle to Understand Crime
One day after the murder, Montgomery County police detectives continued to track leads and tips, but couldn't find any other eyewitness accounts. And because the perpetrators had entered the unlocked doors left open by the girls, there were no security cameras and no evidence of a break-in.
Meanwhile, all the public knew was that there was an attack on two women—one was murdered and the other survived. Based on Brittany's report, police released a statement saying they were looking for two men, one around six feet tall and the other around five foot three inches tall.
The murder itself unsettled the previously quiet and low-crime suburb of Bethesda. The store owners offered a $125,000 reward to anyone who could help police find, apprehend, and convict the two male suspects.
Murmurs at the Vigil
The community held a vigil and, as the night progressed, whispers began to fill the quiet space with stunning news: Brittany Norwood, the survivor, had just been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Jayna's death.
Police Make an Arrest
Once the police arrested Brittany Norwood, people reimagined the crime without masked intruders. Perhaps it had only been Brittany and Jayna closing up the yoga store when things took a deadly turn.
But Jayna's family—nor the community at large—still did not know what was going on, as the police kept quiet on the details of the case. Those shocking details wouldn't be disclosed until Brittany Norwood's trial seven months later.
The Lululemon store where the crime occurred had remained boarded up and closed as the town eagerly awaited the trial. When it finally reopened in 2011, Jayna's family attended the ceremony. Above the entrance, the store dedicated a tribute to Jayna—a stained glass mosaic engraved with the word "Love."
In April her parents told the media that they were just as confused as everyone. They claimed their daughter never discussed Brittany and didn't even know the girl. They weren't even close enough for Jayna to mention.
Brittany Norwood was finally charged with first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree specific intent to kill murder. Her trial started on October 26, 2011.
Brittany Norwood Trial Begins
It wasn't until the trial that the public learned the most shocking details of the investigation. Jayna Murray and Brittany Norwood had been co-workers for only three weeks at the Bethesda Row Lululemon location. On March 11, 2011, they worked a shift together and then closed the store up and left the building.
Brittany Got Caught Again
According to witness statements, before she left, Jayna performed a bag check—common for retail store employees—on Brittany.
Jayna found stolen yoga pants in Brittany's bag, which was consistent with her history of stealing. It's unclear whether Jayna confronted Brittany about the find or if there was just an awkward silence. Either way, Jayna knew that Brittany, a new employee, had stolen from the store.
Brittany called another Lululemon sales associate and claimed that she left her wallet back at the store. Because they barely knew each other, Brittany didn't even have Jayna's number and needed to get it from the other employee.
She then called Jayna and asked her to come back to the store to let her in so she could get her wallet. This, according to prosecutors, was a premeditated ruse to lure her back to the store.
Brittany's Original Police Interrogations
On March 12th, the day of the incident, Detective Deanna Mackey met with Brittany at the hospital to get her statement. At this point, she was still considered a victim. Police investigators just needed to get her story, which they hoped would provide some clues about the perpetrator.
First Interview at Hospital
During this interview, Det. Mackey was astounded at the level of detail Brittany provided in her story about the masked intruder. Among these details was her claim that he assaulted her with a clothing hanger from the store, which was why the crotch of her pants had been torn.
But the hospital reported back to police that Brittany's medical examination revealed no evidence of a sexual assault. While this doesn't necessarily disprove a rape allegation, it added to the investigators' growing doubts about Brittany's account of the incident.
Two More Interviews
On March 14th, two days after the incident, Detective Dimitri Reuven and James Drury spoke to Brittany again, this time at her home. At this point, they still believed she was a victim. Brittany supposedly cried to detectives while revealing even more details about her supposed attack.
On March 16th, two days later, police asked to meet Brittany at the station to collect her fingerprints and hair samples for elimination purposes.
What she didn't know was that in the past few days, police had discovered her DNA inside Jayna's car and now considered her a suspect.
Brittany's Story Collapses
The next day, Brittany's family called the police and said she had new details about the attack that she'd withheld out of fear that the attackers would return.
One of the new details she provided was that in the middle of the attack, the suspects untied Brittany and forced her to go outside by herself, get in Jayna's car, move it, and come back in. Brittany likely concocted this story because she suspected the police had evidence of her in Jayna's car.
The next day, police brought her back in for more questioning. She started the conversation by doubling down on the apocryphal car story.
She said the reason she didn't just get in the car and go find help was that the attackers had seen her home address on her ID, and she was scared they would find her. Brittany went on to say she'd even passed a cop while moving Jayna's car, but didn't attempt to alert the officer. She said she just parked the car and went back into the Lululemon store.
When police explained to Brittany that her story didn't make sense, she grew frustrated and said she wanted to go home. At this point, police finally confronted her with all of the evidence they had collected.
Brittany's Murder Weapons
For the last six days, investigators had been discovering and identifying the murder weapons. These weapons provided the forensic evidence that led to her arrest one week after the murder.
Shockingly, police found eight different murder weapons that Brittany used to kill Jayna, including a hammer, a wrench, box cutters, and a merchandise peg. Brittany procured these weapons inside the store.
It was a rampage, a brutal bloodbath in which Jayna sustained 332 separate injuries, including 105 defense wounds. She was also hit in the head with a metal bar from a shelving rack, shattering her skull and breaking her spine.
Brittany's injuries, on the other hand, were superficial, and did not correlate with her fictitious perpetrator's style of attack.
Half of the bloody shoe prints belonged to Britany. The shoe she was wearing, and the other half size, came from a size 14 display shoe found inside the yoga store. This meant Brittany had grabbed the other shoe, dipped it in blood, and moved around the store manufacturing footprints.
Then she bound her own feet and hands and spent all night laying in the store next to Jayna's corpse.
The Jury Speaks
During the trial, prosecutors showed the jury all of the evidence, including phone calls and video footage of Brittany claiming not to know the type of car Jayna drove.
The evidence was so overwhelming that Brittany had to alter her plea to self-defense.
The Montgomery County jury deliberated for 21 minutes before deciding she was guilty.
At the sentencing, Jayna's family was emotional when making statements about their loss (including presenting a YouTube video of Jayna bungee jumping on her 30th birthday). They were also adamant in their insistence that Brittany not be eligible for parole and serve out an entire life sentence.
The judge agreed. Brittany was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The crime continues to haunt the family and the community. While it is believed Brittany's actions were fueled by a desire to stop Jayna from reporting her theft, investigators never did figure out an underlying psychological motive. Perhaps there is simply no satisfactory explanation for such a sudden and barbaric crime.
Brittany Norwood's Appeal
In 2015, Brittany Norwood contested her conviction using a Maryland state law that guarantees circuit court defendants the right to appeal. Her lawyers claimed that Brittany didn't receive a Miranda warning early enough in the investigation and was thus improperly questioned by detectives.
A Maryland appeals court rejected this claim and affirmed the first-degree murder conviction.
The court also rejected the defense assertion that Brittany's trial contained improper testimony from a patrol officer who was questioned about knife wounds.
“The evidence of Norwood’s guilt was overwhelming,” the court bluntly stated.
The lead prosecutor, Montgomery State’s Attorney John McCarthy, said the ruling effectively ended all of Brittany's appeals options.
Brittany Norwood appears to have kept a low profile since she lost her 2015 appeal, as there is no current information about her online.
© 2022 Lawrence Lease