In the annals of grisly South Florida crime, the murders of Phyllis Harris and Janet Cox Thermidor more than 26 years ago rank high on the list of the most chilling ever committed.
The Deerfield Beach fabric store clerks were bludgeoned with a hammer, doused with a flammable liquid and then set on fire by a co-worker, police said. The motive: robbery.
"You talk about atrocious, heinous, cruel, vile or wicked," said State Attorney Michael J. Satz during the trial of Robert Lavern Henry in 1988. "This is a case that nightmares are made of."
Now, after two and a half decades on Death Row and several failed appeals, Henry, 55, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection March 20.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant for the Boynton Beach native and ex-Marine last week, less than 24 hours after the execution of Juan Carlos Chavez for the 1995 murder, rape and dismemberment of 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce in Miami-Dade County.
If the penalty is carried out, Henry would be the 84th person to be executed in Florida since the state reinstituted the death penalty in 1976.
For those who knew the victims, Henry's date with death has been a long time coming.
"We were just shocked," said Colleen Goode, a friend of Harris's for many years when both lived in tiny Schleswig, Iowa. "We couldn't believe it happened, it sounded so awful."
The slaying of Harris, 53, and Thermidor, 35, was awful, said police and prosecutors.
Bill Murray, a Deerfield Beach detective who worked the case, said at the time, "This is the most gruesome I've ever seen.
"It's almost beyond belief that this could happen in Deerfield Beach, let alone any town."
During the trial, Satz told the jury a tale of a stunningly brutal crime that took place on the evening of Nov. 2, 1987, at Cloth World on South Federal Highway, where Henry worked with the victims.
About 9 p.m., after the store closed, police said Thermidor went to a back office to count the day's receipts while Harris and Henry stayed on the sales floor.
Police said Henry attacked Harris first, then entered the office, hit Thermidor with a hammer and took the store's receipts. Moments later, Henry returned, police said, doused Thermidor with liquid and set her on fire.
Henry then went back to Harris, struck her with the hammer and set her on fire as well.
Firefighters responding to a smoke alarm at the store broke a plate-glass window near the locked door to get in. Inside they reported finding Harris dead in the men's restroom, her body still burning.
Thermidor was still alive in the women's restroom, but also was on fire,
Although Thermidor would die within 12 hours, she survived long enough to tell police that a man she knew as Robert was her assailant.
Her tape-recorded statement was played for the jury.
"I don't know why he had to do that to me. He didn't have to do that to me," she said on the tape.