The Chilling Story Of Mary Vincent, The Hitchhiking Teen Who Lost Both Her Arms In A Violent Attack

Published December 4, 2022
Updated January 4, 2024

In September 1978, 15-year-old Mary Vincent accepted a ride from a man named Lawrence Singleton — who then kidnapped, raped, and maimed her.

Mary Vincent

Bettmann/Getty ImagesMary Vincent leaving the Los Angeles Press Club after a news conference where she warned other children her age not to hitchhike.

Mary Vincent was a 15-year-old runaway heading to visit her grandfather in California when she accepted a ride from a man named Lawrence Singleton in September 1978 — and it changed her life forever.

Singleton seemed friendly enough at first, but the façade didn’t last long. Soon after picking up young Vincent, Singleton assaulted her, raped her multiple times, and then cut her arms off before dumping her into the Del Puerto Canyon.

That should have been the end for Vincent, but the teenager managed to stumble three miles to the nearest road, where she was discovered and taken to the hospital.

She had survived a harrowing ordeal, but her story was only beginning.

Lawrence Singleton’s Violent Attack On Mary Vincent

Mary Vincent grew up in Las Vegas, but she ran away from home at the age of 15. She moved to California with her boyfriend, where the two lived out of a car. However, he was soon arrested for raping another teenage girl — and Vincent was on her own.

On Sept. 29, 1978, she decided to hitchhike nearly 400 miles to Corona, California, where her grandfather lived. When 50-year-old Lawrence Singleton pulled over and offered Vincent a ride, she naively accepted, as he seemed like a friendly older man.

Not long after climbing into Singleton’s van, Mary Vincent realized she may have made a mistake. He asked her if she was sick after she sneezed and then put his hand on her neck to check her temperature. However, Vincent thought that he was simply being kind, and she soon fell asleep.

Lawrence Singleton

Stanislaus County Sheriff’s OfficeLawrence Singleton’s mugshot.

When she awoke, however, she noticed they were traveling the wrong way on the road. She grew uneasy and found a sharp stick in the vehicle. Vincent pointed it at Singleton and ordered him to turn around. Singleton claimed he was “just an honest man who made a mistake” and started driving back in the right direction, but he soon pulled over to take a bathroom break.

Vincent stepped out of the vehicle to stretch her legs and bent over to tie her shoe — and then Singleton hit her in the head and dragged her into the back of the van. He raped her while telling her that he would kill her if she screamed.

As Vincent begged Singleton to let her go, he suddenly said, “You want to be free? I’ll set you free.” He then grabbed a hatchet and cut off both of the girl’s arms below the elbow and stated, “Okay, now you’re free.”

Singleton pushed Mary Vincent down an embankment and left her to die in a concrete pipe — but against all odds, she somehow managed to survive.

Mary Vincent’s Miraculous Story Of Survival

Naked and falling in and out of consciousness, Mary Vincent managed to crawl out of the canyon and walk three miles back to Interstate 5. She held what remained of her arms straight up so that she wouldn’t lose as much blood.

Per the Los Angeles Times, the first car that Vincent saw turned around and sped away, frightened by the sight of her. Fortunately, a second car stopped and drove her to a nearby hospital.

After intense surgery to save her life, she was fitted with prosthetic arms — a change that would take years of physical therapy for her to adjust to. She also underwent intensive psychotherapy to help her cope with the trauma she’d experienced.

“I’d have been lead dancer at the Lido de Paris in Las Vegas,” Vincent said in 1997. “Then Hawaii and Australia. I’m serious. I was really good on my feet… but when this happened, they had to take some parts out of my leg just to save my right arm.”

Mary Vincent And Lawrence Singleton

Bettmann/Getty ImagesMary Vincent and Lawrence Singleton in a San Diego courtroom.

Thankfully, Vincent was able to provide such a detailed description of Lawrence Singleton to authorities that he was quickly identified by the police sketch and arrested.

Mary Vincent testified against her attacker in court, and as she left the stand, Singleton reportedly whispered to her, “I’ll finish this job if it takes me the rest of my life.”

Ultimately, Singleton was found guilty of rape, kidnapping, and attempted murder. However, he served just over eight years in prison and was released on parole for good behavior. From that point on, Vincent lived her life in fear, worried that Singleton would follow through on his promise one day. Tragically, he did — but Vincent wasn’t the one on the receiving end.

The Murder Of Roxanne Hayes

By the late 1990s, Singleton had moved to Florida, as he couldn’t find a community in California willing to accept him. On Feb. 19, 1997, he lured a sex worker named Roxanne Hayes into his home and violently murdered her.

Neighbors heard Hayes’ screams and called the police, but it was too late. Officers arrived to find her body on the floor, covered in blood and stab wounds.

Roxanne Hayes

Roxanne Hayes, the 31-year-old mother of three who Lawrence Singleton murdered in 1997.

Per Criminally Intrigued, Mary Vincent flew from California to Florida when she learned of Singleton’s arrest to testify on Roxanne Hayes’ behalf. In court, she detailed her own story to highlight just how depraved a man Lawrence Singleton was — and why he should be sentenced to death.

“I was raped,” she told the jury. “I had my arms cut off. He used a hatchet. He left me to die.”

Singleton was sentenced to death on April 14, 1998. He spent three years in prison awaiting his execution, but he died from cancer at the age of 74 while still on death row. Mary Vincent could live in peace for the first time in decades.

Mary Vincent’s Life After The Attack

In the years following the attack, Vincent wasn’t sure she would ever live a normal life. She’d struggled, gotten married and then divorced, had two children, and eventually founded the Mary Vincent Foundation to help other survivors of violent crimes.

“He destroyed everything about me,” she once said of Singleton. “My way of thinking. My way of life. Holding onto innocence… and I’m still doing everything I can to hold on.”

In 2003, she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “I’ve broken bones thanks to my nightmares. I’ve jumped up and dislocated my shoulder, just trying to get out of bed. I’ve cracked ribs and smashed my nose.”

Mary Vincent's Art

Karen T. Borchers/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty ImagesMary Vincent circa 1997, displaying a charcoal sketch she drew.

Eventually, however, Vincent discovered art, and it helped her cope with the trauma of what she’d been through. She couldn’t afford to buy high-end prosthetic arms, so she created her own using parts from refrigerators and stereo systems, and she taught herself to draw and paint using her inventions.

Before the attack, Mary Vincent told the Ventura County Star, “I couldn’t draw a straight line. Even with a ruler, I would mess it up. This is something that woke up after the attack, and my artwork has inspired me and given me self-esteem.”

After reading about Mary Vincent’s amazing story of survival, learn how Kevin Hines survived after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Or, read the story of Beck Weathers and how he lived after being left on Mount Everest.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Harvey, Austin. "The Chilling Story Of Mary Vincent, The Hitchhiking Teen Who Lost Both Her Arms In A Violent Attack.", December 4, 2022, Accessed June 19, 2024.