Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.
Born in 1978, Erika Sifrit (née Grace) grew up in a wealthy family near Altoona, Pennsylvania. Erika was an only child, and she experienced a very privileged upbringing. Her father owned a construction business and was able to give her everything she wanted. An avid scrapbooker and basketball player, Erika was a starter on the varsity team when she was a freshman. Her dad was the junior coach of the team, and Erika even had her own half court indoor basketball court growing up so she could practice more.
According to The Washington Post, Erika's former coach said she was an honor student and standout basketball player with a fierce outside jump shot. Erika, however, lacked confidence and was susceptible to peer pressure, reported Oxygen’s “Snapped.”
Erika graduated from high school in 1995 and got a partial athletic scholarship to attend Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. When Erika got to college, she was very attractive and athletically accomplished. According to the Associated Press, Erika graduated cum laude in 2001 with a degree in history.
One night during her senior year, Erika met Benjamin Sifrit at a bar with some mutual friends.
According to The Baltimore Sun, Benjamin Sifrit, aka BJ, was raised in the Midwest and in Houston. In high school, he was a competitive swimmer and lifeguard. And when he graduated in 1996, he joined the Navy and entered SEAL training. Like Erika, Ben was incredibly athletic and fit.
In the SEAL training, he was in the top of his class, and one of the fastest and strongest in the program. Ben, however, was also known as a hot head who provoked people. He even had a large swastika tattoo on his chest.
In a brazen and impulsive move, Ben asked Erika to marry him after just a few weeks of dating.
Erika’s friend Kristin Heinbaugh told “Snapped,” “It was almost on a dare that he said, ‘Why don’t you marry me?”
According to Heinbaugh, the elopement was “very out of character for her” and it was something that “nobody would have expected.”
Things quickly became difficult for the couple. According to “Snapped,” not long after the wedding, BJ got into some trouble with the Navy and was dishonorably discharged.
Now 23, the couple moved to Erika’s hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. Erika’s parents set her up with a scrapbooking store to run and own. She still loved saving and collecting things, and her parents figured that would be a good business.
The couple also setup an eBay store full of stolen knickknacks and promotional items, which they acquired by breaking into restaurants after they closed, according to “Snapped.” The items were mostly related to one brand, Hooters.
“They seemed to sort of have a thing for Hooter’s merchandise,” reporter Jeff Barker told “Snapped.”
Erika worked to please Ben, ignoring his swastika tattoo and even getting some tattoos of her own. She also got him pet snakes, which were named Bonnie and Clyde, Hitler and HIV.
Her friends barely recognized her or her behavior. Besides her medications, she began regularly mixing and indulging in narcotics and alcohol, Detective Brett Case told “Snapped.”
For Memorial Day weekend, 2002, Erika and Ben took their first trip together since moving to Pennsylvania. They went to Ocean City, Maryland, and rented a vacation apartment.
On May 31, 2002, around 2 AM, a silent alarm was triggered at a Hooters restaurant in Ocean City. As the cops quietly pulled up, they saw the thieves in the act with arms full of stolen property. It was Erika and Ben. Erika was found in possession of a knife and .357 Magnum, while Ben had a 9 millimeter handgun and a knife.
Upon being arrested, Erika panicked. She said her anxiety was out of control and that she needed medication from her purse. So, officers dug through the handbag, and instead of medication, officers found the ID cards of a missing couple: Joshua Ford and Martha “Geney” Crutchley.
They also found five bullets, four spent and one live round. Ben and Erika refused to tell police where they got the IDs, so while the couple was taken down to the station for further questioning, police raced to Erika and Ben’s apartment in hopes of finding the couple alive.
Though police didn’t find Joshua and Geney, they did find many photographs Erika and Ben had taken over the course of their vacation. Several of the pictures captured Joshua and Geney enjoying their vacation. On a table, they found a key from the condo unit where Joshua and Geney had been staying.
Upon further investigation of the unit, detectives found that the bathroom door was brand new. The couple had also bought spackle and paint, which was most likely used to cover what looked to investigators like a bullet hole in the wall of the bathroom. Blood stains were also found in the grout and underneath the vanity mirror. According to court documents, police also found two bullets on a table inside the condo. They had both been fired from the .357 magnum police recovered from Erika, and one of the bullets had Joshua’s blood and tissue on it.
During interrogation, Ben asked for a lawyer and refused to talk, but Erika opened up. She told detectives Ben had murdered the couple after they came back to their apartment with them following a night of partying. According to Erika, they suspected Joshua and Geney had stolen from them, and Ben had shot them.
Erika claimed she had helped dispose of the bodies and nothing more. She told police they had chopped up the couple’s bodies and dumped their remains in separate bags.
The detectives dug through a nearby landfill to find the body parts. They found Geney’s leg and Joshua’s torso and arms. Unfortunately, there was not enough of Geney’s body found to determine cause of death. Joshua’s body, however, had two bullets, and they were both from Erika’s .357 Magnum. Both Ben and Erika were charged with first-degree murder.
On March 31, 2003, Ben’s trial began. Ben’s defense team claimed the entire ordeal was Erika’s doing and that she was responsible for the slayings.
Ultimately, the prosecution failed to prove that Ben, and not his wife, had fired the fatal shot that killed Joshua. The jury cleared Ben of all charges in Joshua’s death.
But in Geney’s case, it was harder to deny Ben’s involvement since her death hadn’t been linked to Erika’s gun. According to The Baltimore Sun, Ben was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the death of Geney. The judge said it was "one of the few instances in 20 years that I disagreed with the jury's verdict." He was sentenced to 38 years.
Then it was time for Erika’s trial. The prosecution presented several of the photos they had found in the couple’s apartment. According to “Snapped,” in the photographs taken after the murders occurred, Erika was seen wearing Joshua’s ring on a chain around her neck. Like the collector she’d always been, Erika had kept it as a souvenir, just like their IDs and the shell casings.
According to “Snapped,” the prosecution also argued that Erika had most likely done the cutting, since she told police she helped dispose of the bodies. Her defense team claimed everything she did was only to please Ben, who had committed the murders.
The defense also called to the stand Melissa Seling, another young woman they had identified from the Sifrits’ vacation photos. According to “Snapped,” Melissa testified that she had met the Sifrits a few days after the murder. She said that she and her boyfriend — like Joshua and Geney — had gone back to the Sifrits’ condo after an evening of drinking and partying. Once there, Erika allegedly accused them of stealing her purse, and Ben pulled a gun on the couple. In the end, the Sifrits let Seling and her boyfriend go unharmed.
Though this witness testimony seemed to parallel and back up Erika’s story of what happened with Joshua and Geney, she was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Joshua Ford and second-degree murder in the death of Martha Crutchley, according to the Maryland Coast Dispatch. The judge sentenced Erika to life in prison plus 20 years.
Ben will be eligible for parole in 2021. The couple began divorce proceedings in 2010.