In late 1959, York and Latham met at Fort Hood, Texas, where both were privates in the United States Army. Latham had come to Fort Hood from Fort Carson, Colorado, where he had undergone basic training between May and July 1959. In May 1961 York and Latham went AWOL and decided to travel to York's hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. On May 26, they encountered Edward J. Guidroz in Mix, Louisiana. York and Latham badly beat him and stole his truck. On May 29, they met Althea Ottavio and Patricia Hewitt, visitors from Georgia, in Jacksonville. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, York and Latham strangled both women, stealing their money and dumping their car in a ditch.
On June 6, York and Latham attempted to rob a man in a Cadillac near Aiken, South Carolina, but the shots they fired at him missed and their would-be victim escaped. On June 7, York and Latham murdered John Whittaker in Tullahoma, Tennessee. They took Whittaker's car and abandoned the first truck they had stolen. On June 8 they abandoned Whittaker's car near Troy, Illinois, and hitched a ride from a passerby named Albert Reed. They murdered Reed, dumped his body in a creek, and commandeered Reed's car. Several miles outside of Edwardsville, Illinois, York and Latham killed gas station owner Martin Drenovac and stole gas and money from the station. York and Latham continued their cross-country killing spree in Wallace, Kansas, on June 9, where they robbed and killed 62-year-old Otto Ziegler; and near Craig, Colorado, on June 10, they killed 18-year-old motel maid Rachel Moyer.
Later on June 10, 1961, York and Latham were arrested in Tooele County, Utah for violating the federal National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, which prohibited transportation of a stolen vehicle across state lines within the United States. On June 11, York and Latham bragged to investigators that they had killed eight or nine people since they left Fort Hood. Police later learned that nine people were attacked by York and Latham, but two had survived. York and Latham claimed that being placed in a mixed-race unit in the army led to their desire to desert.
Execution loomed over the pair in a number of different states; had they been tried by Florida, Illinois or Tennessee, they would have most likely been electrocuted. Had they been tried by Colorado or Missouri, they would have most likely been gassed. Ultimately, they were tried by Kansas, where hanging was the prescribed method of execution.
York and Latham were tried first in Kansas for the killing of Ziegler. They were convicted by a jury and sentenced to death on November 8, 1961. While on death row in Kansas, York and Latham associated with Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the subjects of Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood. York and Latham's crimes are described in Capote's book, and they are portrayed in the work as flippant, snide, and lacking any degree of remorse.
York and Latham were executed by hanging at Lansing Correctional Facility on June 22, 1965. Since their execution, no one has been put to death by the state of Kansas, though a number of prisoners have been sentenced to death. York and Latham were also the last persons executed by hanging in the United States until 1993, when the state of Washington hanged Westley Allan Dodd.