The patriarch of a backwoods Texas family that roamed the western United States raping and killing women in the early 1970s hanged himself with an extension cord in his prison cell, authorities said.

Sherman Ramon McCrary, 62, died Sunday at the Fremont Correctional Facility, just an hour after he spoke with guards making their rounds at the medium-security prison.McCrary was one of two men believed responsible for the Aug. 12, 1971, kidnapping of 17-year-old Sheri Lee Martin, a Kearns girl working a summer job at the Winchell's Donut Shop, 2699 S. State.

McCrary and his companion, Carl Taylor, were both charged with kidnapping the Martin girl, but were never charged with the murder. They were never tried in Utah.

McCrary and his family were suspected in 23 other murders, mostly of young women in a series of "doughnut shop" killings in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Kansas City and Utah. The slayings were considered among the nation's first serial killings.

Some 17 years ago, police from Florida to Oregon were battling to get McCrary and other members of his nomadic family into their courtrooms on murder charges.

McCrary and his son-in-law, Carl Taylor, were serving time in California's Folsom Prison in 1972 when Colorado authorities implicated them in the death of a waitress at a Lakewood doughnut shop, who was found strangled, raped and shot in the head.

McCrary confessed to Lakewood police that they had murdered three women in Texas, but the confessions were not admissible because of a technicality in Texas law.

In a suicide note, McCrary wrote, "I'm just old and tired and tired of doing time." He would have been eligible for parole in 1997.

Though he never confessed to the Sherri Martin killing, Utah officers are confident both men kidnapped and killed the girl. Taylor's fingerprints were lifted from a coffee cup at the doughnut shop where Martin disappeared.

Two weeks after she disappeared, Martin was found in the desert near Wendover. Her hands and feet were tied with her own nylon stockings and she had been shot 10 times with a .38 caliber pistol.

McCrary's accomplice pleaded insanity in connection with the Colorado killing. McCrary's wife was convicted of being an accessory to murder.