A Woman Said She And Her Dead Co-Worker Had Been Attacked – But Police Grew Suspicious Of Her Story

Images: via Washington Post / Twitter/PeakeCMJ

It’s a Saturday morning in March 2011 in the suburban city of Bethesda, Maryland, and soon the streets will be filled with weekend shoppers. In one high-end yoga store, though, a terrible discovery awaits. Inside are two beaten and bloody employees – one dead and one miraculously alive. Then as police begin to investigate, they realize that not everything is as it seems.

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Founded in 1998 in Vancouver, Canada, the athletic clothing retailer Lululemon athletica inc. is known around the world for its products – particularly its yoga pants and accessories. And although some have criticized the company’s high prices, there are plenty of customers who are extremely devoted to the brand.

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In fact, Lululemon’s loyal customers have been likened to a cult. For many of its followers, after all, the next transaction is as much about buying into a lifestyle as it is about purchasing a pair of pants. And according to Business Insider, the retailer’s clever marketing tools make the experience of shopping there almost addictive. But in March 2011 the brand’s squeaky-clean reputation suffered a nightmarish blow.

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This gruesome story takes place in Bethesda, Maryland, which is located some 6 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Interestingly, the small city was rated one of the most expensive places to live in the United States in 2010. And in such an affluent place, of course, there are usually plenty of consumers willing to buy into the latest trends.

Image: Facebook/Bethesda Row

Hoping to tap into this pool of potential customers, Lululemon opened a store on Bethesda Row – a regenerated commercial zone in the heart of the downtown area. And there, the brand set about turning the city’s wealthy residents into “Luluheads” – the term that’s been adopted by the company to describe their loyal fans.

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Indeed, by March 2011 it seemed as though Lululemon’s cult following had spread to Bethesda. And on the other side of the store’s big windows, employees were working away, wrapping products in packaging printed with various inspiring manifestos – another marketing ploy. One of the brand’s motivational messages, for instance, reads, “Breathe deeply, and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.”

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Of course, healthiness has also always been at the front of Lululemon’s brand message. And according to reports, the employees of the Bethesda store would often stop off at a nearby salad shop to indulge in a spot of healthy lunch. Staff there described them as a friendly and enthusiastic bunch. Brittany Jacoby, for one, told The Washington Post in 2011, “They’re all great, peppy [and] happy.”

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Although it’s difficult to say for sure, it’s likely that among the Lululemon staff that Jacoby encountered were Brittany Norwood and Jayna Murray. But despite their ties to the wholesome lifestyle brand, these young, attractive and well-educated women soon became embroiled in a nightmare – one that continues to haunt the company to this day.

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According to reports, Norwood grew up on the other side of the country to Bethesda in the city of Federal Way, Washington State. A talented athlete, she followed her older sister’s path by taking up soccer. And in 1999 she became a midfielder for the F.C. Royals. Her former coach Brian VanBlommestein told The Seattle Times in 2011, “She was a very good player [and] ran like the wind.”

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After graduating from high school, Norwood relocated to the east coast, where she attended New York’s Stony Brook University. She continued to excel at sports, even making the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Northeast Regional Team in 2002. And that same year, Norwood earned praise from her coach for her competitive edge.

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“[Norwood] was a great, funny [and] nice girl and a good soccer player,” former teammate Rachel Rodrick told TBD in 2011. The talented sportswoman apparently didn’t make such a positive impression on everyone at Stony Brook, though. In fact, it’s said that she developed something of a reputation for dishonesty.

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“Other girls on the team [who] had known [Norwood] longer than me had told me things like, ‘Watch your locker, [and] keep it locked; she’s been known to steal things,’” another Stony Brook soccer player Megan Healey told ABC7 in 2011. But apparently, this wasn’t all. According to reports, Norwood also found herself in trouble with the law in 2007, when she received a court judgement over unpaid student loans.

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By then, Norwood had left New York and was living in Arlington, Virginia – close to Washington, D.C. She had taken a job at a high-end hotel, quickly working her way up the ladder until she was responsible for the establishment’s VIP visitors. And although Norwood eventually left the position, her former coworkers remember her with glowing praise.

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At some point, though, Norwood’s career took an entirely different direction, and she began working at Lululemon’s Bethesda store. It was there she met Jayna Murray – a young woman two years her senior. Born in Wichita, Kansas, Murray had spent her own childhood traveling with her family before studying in Spain for two years.

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Image: Facebook/In Memory of Jayna Murray

Later, Murray graduated from D.C.’s George Washington University. She subsequently went on to study for her Masters degree in business at the city’s John Hopkins University. And it’s there that she discovered Lululemon. Interested by the company’s unique marketing style, Murray learned more about the brand and managed to land a job at its Bethesda store.

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On the surface, Norwood and Murray were ideal ambassadors for Lululemon – a company that places great value on the individual personalities of its staff. And on March 11, 2011, things seemed to be business as usual for the two employees. In fact, one customer recalled chatting to them in the store while purchasing some new athletic gear.

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“There was absolutely nothing wrong inside Lululemon,” customer Janay Carlson told The Washington Post in 2011. In fact, she specifically recalled Norwood appearing cheerful while discussing the lines at the nearby Apple Store where people were queueing to purchase the new iPad. But things were about to take a terrible turn.

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At around 8:00 a.m. on March 12, a member of staff arrived at the Bethesda Lululemon store to open up for the day. Once inside, though, they apparently heard a strange noise coming from somewhere in the back of the building. Alarmed, the employee asked a male passerby to investigate. But he couldn’t have been prepared for the horrifying scene upon which he would stumble.

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There, at the back of the store, the man found Norwood tied up and sporting wounds on her face and hands. But horrifically, the worst was to come. Nearby, you see, he discovered Murray’s lifeless body – reportedly surrounded by a pool of blood. Then, when police arrived on the scene, Norwood told them that they had both been the victims of a vicious attack.

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According to Christin Knuth, a Montgomery County police officer who was one of the first at the scene, Norwood was traumatized from her ordeal. He later testified in court, “I squatted down beside her and touched her arm and she flinched.” Moreover, there were signs that the young woman may have been sexually assaulted.

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Apparently, Norwood told officers that she and Murray had shut up the store together at around 9:00 p.m. the night before. Norwood claimed that she had then discovered she’d forgotten something and had telephoned the older woman to gain access back into the shop. But when they had reentered, they had failed to lock the door behind them, Norwood said.

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And what Norwood said happened next would shock the sleepy community of Bethesda to the core. According to her story, two masked men sporting gloves and black clothing entered the store and assaulted the two women, leaving Norwood beaten and her co-worker, Murray, dead. At first, then, police believed that it was a case of a robbery gone terribly wrong.

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Meanwhile, as the Saturday morning shoppers descended on Bethesda Row, they found a neighborhood crawling with officers. And while officers were unable to issue a clear description of the suspects, locals struggled to come to terms with the brutality of the crime. For instance, government worker Ken Hartman told the The Washington Post in 2011, “We’re all stunned. No one can remember another murder in the last 20 years.”

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Following the attack, owners began equipping their stores with security cameras and hiring guards to protect local workers. A $150,000 reward, meanwhile, was offered in return for any information about the horrific crime. However, it didn’t take long for investigators to realize that something about Norwood’s story wasn’t adding up.

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After being admitted to hospital following the incident, Norwood continued to assist officers with their investigation. But the authorities began to find inconsistencies in her version of events. While Murray had been inflicted with over 300 vicious wounds, for instance, the surviving woman’s injuries were comparatively superficial. Plus, the police couldn’t find any evidence that she had been sexually assaulted.

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Moreover, investigators questioned why Norwood had remained in the store until the following morning – rather than seeking help immediately after the attack. And when the police discovered evidence that suggested the woman had moved Murray’s car away from the scene, they began to grow even more suspicious. But of course, they had to tread carefully.

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“You’ve got to get this right,” the State’s Attorney John McCarthy said, according to The Washington Post. He added, “This is a hell of an allegation to make against somebody the community has embraced as a victim.” But nevertheless, investigators became more and more convinced that there was more to the story than Norwood had been letting on.

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While the hunt for the alleged attackers continued, then, police uncovered more evidence that cast doubt on Norwood’s version of events. Apparently, for instance, they discovered only two sets of footprints in the store. One of matched Norwood’s shoes, and bizarrely, the other was traced to a pair of Lululemon sneakers that had been found at the scene.

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But the police were about to be handed some even more damning evidence. A pair of workers at the Apple store next to Lululemon reported that they had overheard an argument between two women on the night of the incident. Armed with this knowledge, the authorities arrested Norwood a week after Murray’s death. And for a community already reeling from the violent attack, this news presumably came as a shocking twist.

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“As humans, we want to believe it’s the masked men,” Marybeth Ayres, the Assistant State’s Attorney, later said at Norwood’s trial. She continued, “We want that; that makes us feel better. You don’t want to believe that it’s the articulate, educated, attractive girl next door. You don’t want to believe that, because that’s someone you might trust.”

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Slowly, then, a very different – and altogether darker – version of what happened at Lululemon on the night of March 11 began to emerge. According to investigators, the trouble had begun while Norwood and Murray were shutting up shop for the night. Apparently, a routine bag check had revealed that the former had been attempting to smuggle some products out of the store.

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In response, investigators claimed, Murray had left the store and had contacted her superior to inform them about the discovery. The theory goes that Norwood had then phoned her colleague and asked her to let her back inside to retrieve her purse. And although nobody can know for sure, detectives speculated that Norwood’s intention was to persuade Murray to keep quiet about the theft.

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Whatever went down next, it had nightmarish consequences for Murray. An unidentified police officer told The Washington Post, “That conversation didn’t go well. [Norwood] had no chance of convincing [Murray] to bury the truth.” Instead, the two women argued, causing a commotion so loud that it could be heard from the Apple store next door. And it eventually resulted in Murray’s death.

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Then in October 2011 Norwood’s trial for first-degree murder began. And slowly, more and more terrible details began to come to light. According to investigators, you see, the women’s disagreement had turned physical, with Norwood using various objects to attack Murray. Shockingly, among the murder weapons were a wrench, a hammer, a blade and part of a mannequin.

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Even more horrifyingly, experts believe that Norwood had started her attack with the blunt objects. McCarthy explained at the trial, “Think about how long this took; Jayna is alive through almost all of this. The last wounds are from the knives. This was not slow, [and] this was not painless. This woman struggled to survive.”

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After the brutal attack, according to investigators, Norwood had used a pair of men’s sneakers that she had found at the store to falsify footprints in the victim’s blood. And in order to give herself more time to stage the scene, she had allegedly moved Murray’s car from a restricted parking zone. With this in mind, McCarthy suggested that Norwood had exhibited an alarming degree of cunning while executing her plan.

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However, Norwood’s defense attorney argued that his client had not intended to kill Murray. Douglas Wood told The Washington Post, “[Norwood’s actions] show someone who got involved in a nightmarish situation and had this imagination and explanation of what happened. This is not first-degree, premeditated, willful murder.”

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In January 2012 Norwood appeared in court again for her sentencing – and addressed the victim’s family for the first time. She is reported to have said, “Before I go to prison, I needed you to hear how deeply sorry I am.” But despite the killer’s remorse, Judge Robert Greenberg dismissed her actions as brutal and cold-blooded, condemning her to life behind bars.

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Meanwhile, the victim’s loved ones spoke out about their heartbreak over losing a daughter and sister to such a terrible crime. David Murray explained at the trial, “Of the many stages of grief, I have not moved away from rage.” And as an ex-Army officer, he claimed to know that killing is easier the second time around – suggesting that Norwood will be dangerous if she is ever released.

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In April 2015 this heinous crime –  which has been dubbed the Lululemon murder – hit the headlines once more. Apparently, Norwood now claimed that officers had improperly questioned her after the incident. But she was denied the right to a new trial, which implies that she will remain behind bars indefinitely. Meanwhile, the store where Murray died reopened just three months after the murder. And it was complete with a decorative window commemorating their former member of staff.

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