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David Parker Ray Committed Heinous Acts as the ‘Toy Box’ Killer

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

There are many notorious serial killers who have captured the public’s attention for their twisted and depraved actions. Many of them are known for one particularly gruesome, defining ‘calling card’ or method. For David Parker Ray, that was his ‘toy box,’ a trailer that he had equipped with soundproofing and elaborate torture devices. Read on to learn more about his heinous acts and the brave women whose testimony helped to put him away for good.

The early life of David Parker Ray

David Parker Ray was born on November 6, 1939 in Belen, New Mexico. He and his sister were raised by their grandfather, who was a strict disciplinarian. Both siblings attended Mountainair High School where Ray was relentlessly bullied by his classmates for how shy he was with girls. It was during this time that his twisted fantasies developed. These were likely made worse by visits from his alcoholic father, who provided his son with extremely graphic sexual magazines. Ray’s sister came across drawings he had made that depicted acts that he saw in these magazines.

Jeff Rein and David Parker Ray talking to each other.
Defense Attorney Jeff Rein (left) speaks to David Parker Ray (right) during a preliminary trial, April 17, 1999. (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

David Parker Ray went on to enlist in the United States Army, serving for a short time as a mechanic before being honorably discharged. He was married and divorced four times, with two children. In fact, his daughter, Jesse Ray, would act as an accomplice to many of his later acts.

The ‘toy box’

Despite his troubled childhood, there is no explicit indication of what caused Ray to begin his torturous acts in the 1950s. In fact, everything known about his crime spree was discovered in the years after his arrest and conviction. We know now that he spent $100,000 to create a soundproof trailer called the ‘toy box’ which was equipped with numerous implements for torture, including straps, sex toys, chains, clamps, and surgical tools. He kept the trailer in the Elephant Butte area of New Mexico.

FBI investigator walks in front of David Parker Ray's trailer.
FBI Investigator searching the lot that belongs to David Parker Ray, presumably with his trailer in the background, April 29, 1999. (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

He would take women to his trailer after abducting them, usually drugging them first. This meant that it was more difficult for his victims to recall exactly what had happened and who had done it. Ray worked alone and with others including his daughter Jesse, his friend Dennis Roy Yancy, and some of his girlfriends – most notably Cindy Hendy. Ray predominantly targeted sex workers.

Chilling recordings

Victims of David Parker Ray would later recount the horrific things that were done to them while they were held captive in the ‘toy box.’ Many recalled an audio recording that was played for them as they came to consciousness while strapped to a gynecological chair. Ray recorded monologues of instructions like, “Be smart and be a survivor. Don’t ever scream. Don’t talk without permission. Be very quiet. Be docile and obedient and, by all means, show proper respect. Have a nice day.”

Jim Yontz stands in court holding a photograph.
Deputy District attorney Jim Yontz holds photographs that have been presented as evidence showing the torture devices used by David Parker Ray, April 17, 1999. (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

Accounts of his atrocious crimes also came from Ray himself. Not only did he keep detailed journals about the people he brought to the trailer, but he also kept a collection of recordings that he made telling his victims what he was going to do to them. While the acts he committed varied from victim to victim, they always included multiple days of horrifying torture and rape by himself and/or his friends. Mirrors hung throughout his trailer ensured that the women would have to watch as they were brutalized.

Ray kidnapped several victims a year, keeping them captive for three to four months.

Cynthia Vigil

It wasn’t until sex worker Cynthia Vigil was taken captive that Ray’s actions came to light. She was working the night of March 19, 1999 when she was approached by a man wanting to hire her. After accepting his money, he revealed that he was an undercover police officer and was putting her under arrest. As it turned out, it was actually David Parker Ray. He drove her to the ‘toy box.’ When they arrived, he chained her to a table and put her in a dog collar.

Below is a video of Vigil recounting her experience. Warning: graphic language.

For the next three days, she was raped and tortured by Ray and Hendy. Vigil later recalled, “The way he talked, I didn’t feel like this was his first time. It was like he knew what he was doing. He told me I was never going to see my family again. He told me he would kill me like the others.” On the final day, Ray had to go to work, leaving Vigil alone with Hendy, who mindlessly left the keys to her restraints within arm’s reach.

A bold escape

Vigil was able to quickly unchain herself while Hendy was out of the room, but she soon realized what had happened when she returned. Hendy stabbed Vigil, who retaliated in kind, escaping from the torture chamber. She ran to one of the nearby trailers where she and the occupants called the police. Authorities arrived soon after, taking both Ray and Hendy into custody. Thanks to Vigil’s quick thinking, the sadistic torturer was finally going to stand trial.

Two sheriffs stand at a door, keeping a line of people in order.
Sierra County Sheriff officers keep order as people line up to view the preliminary hearing of David Parker Ray, April 17, 1999. (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

The FBI launched an investigation into Ray and his accomplices, beginning at his trailer. Shockingly, no bodies were ever found when the FBI investigated the property. This was surprising, as his accomplices accused him of killing as many as 60 women after he tortured them. What they did find, however, were numerous belongings – mainly clothes and jewelry – which had belonged to his victims.

David Parker Ray was convicted

From the many recordings and items found at the scene, persecutors were able to charge David Parker Ray for his crimes against Cynthia Vigil as well as two other women: Kelli Garrett and Angelica Montano. Shockingly, during the trial for crimes against Garrett, two of the jurors said that her story was “unbelievable.” After a retrial, however, Ray was convicted on each of the 12 counts laid before him.

During Vigil’s 2001 trial, Ray agreed to a plea bargain and was sentenced to 224 years.

Excavator digging up the ground in front of David Parker Ray's trailer.
A backhoe digs up the front yard of David Parker Ray’s property, April 29, 1999. (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

He’d changed his plea after previously claiming that anything that happened in the ‘toy box’ was consensual. This tactic was so his daughter Jesse wouldn’t be tried so harshly. She was given nine years, and Cindy Hendy was given 36.

More from us: How Laurie Bembenek Went From Police Officer to Playboy Bunny to Convicted Murderer

Perhaps the most startling part of the trial was that Ray was only tried for crimes against three women when there had potentially been over 50 victims. David Parker Ray died on May 28, 2002, from a heart attack.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.