Tommy Lynn Sells was an American serial killer. He claimed to have killed over 70 people, and is believed by the police to have murdered at least 22 people. He was eventually apprehended after he murdered 13-year-old Kaylene 'Katy' Harris and attempted to murder 10-year-old Krystal Surles. For the crime, he was awarded death penalty in 2000 and was eventually executed in April 2014. He was also convicted for the murder of Stephanie Mahaney in 1997, for which he had received a life sentence in 2003. He had previously served years in jail for raping and stabbing a 19-year-old woman in 1992. Despite his claims, the state's attorney in Jefferson County, Illinois did not charge him with the Dardeen family homicides in 1987 due to inconsistencies in his account.
Childhood & Early Life
Tommy Lynn Sells and his twin sister, Tammy Jean, were born on June 28, 1964, in Oakland, California, United States, to single mother Nina Sells. Apart from his twin sister, he had three more siblings. After the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, the 18-month-old twins contracted meningitis and Tammy succumbed to the disease.
Tommy Lynn Sells was sent to live with his aunt, Bonnie Walpole, in Holcomb, Missouri, but was returned to his mother at the age of five after she found out that his aunt wanted to adopt him. At eight, a man named Willis Clark began spending time with him and molesting him with his mother's consent, which he stated had affected him badly.
Tommy Lynn Sells began drinking alcohol when he was only seven, stopped attending school altogether at ten, and smoked pot instead. After he climbed naked into his grandmother's bed at the age of 13, his mother took his siblings and left without him.
Becoming homeless as a teenager, he travelled across the United States from 1978 to 1999, during which time he drank heavily and abused drugs. While he occasionally took very short-term manual-labor and barber jobs, he was in jail several times for committing various crimes.
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Tommy Lynn Sells committed his first murder at age of 16, when he broke into a house and found a man performing fellatio on a boy, and killed the man in a fit of rage. He claimed that he shot and killed John Cade Sr. in July 1979, after Cade caught him burglarizing his home.
In May 1981, he briefly reunited with his family in Little Rock, Arkansas, but was told to leave after he attempted to have sex with his mother. He took the job of a carnival roustabout and headed to St. Louis in 1983, but he confessed to killing two people, including Hal Akins, before leaving Arkansas.
On July 27, 1985, while working at a Forsyth, Missouri, carnival, he met 28-year-old Ena Cordt and her 4-year-old son Rory, and was invited to spend the evening at their house. According to his account, he found her stealing from his backpack following a sexual encounter, and beat her to death with her son's baseball bat, before killing the child as well to eliminate potential witness.
On May 13, 1992, he raped, beat and stabbed a 19-year-old woman in Charleston, West Virginia, who had offered him food after seeing him with a placard reading "I will work for food". He was indicted on five counts of rape and felony assault in September 1992, but following a plea deal, was imprisoned for malicious wounding until 1997.
On December 31, 1999, Tommy Lynn Sells entered a Del Rio, Texas residence and sexually assaulted, stabbed, and slit the throat of 13-year-old Kaylene Harris. He also slit the throat of 10-year-old Krystal Surles, but she survived with the help of her neighbors after traveling a quarter-mile with a severed trachea.
Conviction & Execution
Tommy Lynn Sells was identified through a sketch made from Krystal Surles' descriptions and was convicted of the capital murder of Kaylene Harris and attempted murder of Surles. While he confessed to several other murders, the police suspected him of "working the system" by confessing to crimes he did not commit.
He was put on death row in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas and was received by Texas Department of Criminal Justice on November 8, 2000. On April 3, 2014, he was administered a lethal dose of pentobarbital at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, and was pronounced dead 13 minutes later.
Family & Personal Life
While serving a sentence in the early 1990s, Tommy Lynn Sells met and married Nora Price. He moved to Tennessee with his wife after being released in 1997, but the relationship was short-lived as he resumed his cross-country travels.
Following Tommy Lynn Sells' confession of breaking into a home and stabbing a little boy to death in 1997, Julie Rea Harper, who was convicted for the murder of her son, was acquitted in 2006.