Tommy Lynn Sells was one of America’s worst serial killers. He killed men, women, little boys and girls alike; he often gained entrance to a victim’s home through a window. He seemed to enjoy murdering mothers and their children, but he had no scruples against ended complete families. Some of these victims were sex workers, others were killed during drug deals gone wrong; a few were trying to help him, one was a mom who pissed him off in passing so he followed her home to exact his revenge. Tommy has 22 confirmed kills, though it’s believed his true body count is higher than seventy. He was a drifter who usually left town before his victim was ever discovered, so he got away with killing for decades. I can’t detail every known murder here but I’ll tell you about some of his worst and a bit of this serial killer’s childhood.
Tommy had a terrible upbringing. His mother’s top priority was not her several children; no, Nina was much more concerned with her own happiness. At 18 months of age Tommy and his twin sister, Tammy Jean, came down with meningitis; little Tammy did not survive. At around 2 years of age, Nina gave her son up, she sent him to be raised by his Aunt Bonnie. After raising the boy for 3 years, Bonnie decided to adopt her nephew. For some reason Nina was dead set against this, and Tommy was forced to forsake the only stable home he would ever know to live with his mother. He didn’t have a steady father figure, so when a man named Willis Clark took interest in her child, Nina was pleased. Tommy spent many nights at this man’s house, a man who was later convicted of pedophilia. Tommy was abusing alcohol by the tender age of 7, his mother again abandoned him at 13, and at 16 he had already committed murder. He was arrested multiple times in between killings for petty crimes such as car theft, drugs, public drunkenness, etc. but was always released to kill again.
Our killer traveled via stolen cars, hitchhiking, or hopping trains, and he made a living by taking any sort of work he could get. In July of 1985, Tommy was working with a carnival; this is how he met 35 year old Ena Cordt, a mother who had been spending the day with her little boy, Rory. Ena asked the carnie to come back to her place for the night, and of course Tommy obliged. Before the sun came up, Ena had been beaten to death with a baseball bat, and 4 year old Rory suffered that same horrific fate.
In January of 1988 Keith Dardeen tried to help Tommy; the kind man offered his future killer a ride and graciously brought him home for supper. As we all know, few good deeds go unpunished; Tommy murdered the man, then turned his attention on Keith’s family. He beat 3 year old Pete to death with a hammer, then sexually assaulted Keith’s wife, Elaine. This mother was pregnant, and the trauma of these unfolding events threw her into labor. When the baby was born, Tommy beat both mother and her brand new baby to death with a baseball bat; before leaving, Tommy made sure to assault Elaine one last time with his bat. I mean, words escape me; can you imagine Elaine’s horror?
In May of 1992, Tommy was arrested for the attack of a 20 year old woman named Fabienne Witherspoon; Tommy had been carrying a sign begging for food and Fabienne was a good hearted woman willing help a hungry homeless man. For her kindness she was stabbed 18 times, beaten, and repeatedly raped. Somehow this victim survived, and bravely testified against her attacker in court; Tommy claimed that the sex was consensual and the attack had been in self defense! Fabienne would later say how awful this experience was, that she was treated like scum in court; she was victim blamed and shamed after fighting for her life! Little did the court know that Fabinne had survived a serial killer; Tommy served just 5 years for what he did to this young woman, and within months of his release Tommy was actively killing again.
Julie Harper is the woman I mentioned in the first paragraph, she made the mistake of arguing with Tommy at a gas station on on October 13th of 1997. The savage killer followed this lady back to her home, entered her residence in the middle of the night, and murdered Julie’s 10 year old son! Joel Kirkpatrick was stabbed to death as he lay sleeping in his bed; police fingered the child’s mother for this vicious slaying and Julie was convicted of her son’s murder! Julie was convicted and sentenced to 65 years incarceration, and she was not released until Tommy confessed a couple years later. It’s any and every mother’s worst nightmare come true!
This serial’s final attack was on New Years Eve of 1999, in Del Rio, Texas. Krystal Surles was just 10 years old when she and her 7 year old sister attended a sleepover birthday party at 13 year old Katie Harris’ house. Katie’s dad, Terry Harris, knew Tommy, but father was not at home on this particular night; Mrs. Harris was alone with a house full of 5 kids. In the early morning hours, Tommy entered the mobile home armed with a knife. The killer made a beeline for the girl’s bedroom where they were sleeping on bunk beds. Tommy sexually assaulted young Katie, stabbed her 16 times, and slit her throat; then he noticed Krystal, and he slashed her throat as well. The intelligent young girl played dead, and her attacker finally left the home. Believing herself to be the only person alive in the house, she summoned up all of her strength and ran to a neighbor’s house for help.
Thankfully our heroine was mistaken, there were survivors; it’s really a stroke of luck that her baby sister had survived. Sister had begged and pleaded to sleep in the bedroom with the older girls that night, she’d even cried herself to sleep; had the 7 year old been allowed, there surely would’ve been a massacre that night.
Krystal was taken to the hospital and her life was saved. Since her throat had been deeply slashed, the girl couldn’t speak; Krystal communicated with investigators by writing notes. She told them everything they needed to catch this killer; the 10 year old was able to give them a composite sketch and even picked Tommy’s picture out of a photo lineup! Within days of the attack, thanks to this brave, heroic, amazing little girl, one of the most diabolical serial killers in American history was finally stopped for good.
Krystal testified against Tommy at trial, and the killer was sentenced to death. Tommy Lynn Sells was executed by lethal injection in 2014.
There are so many more victims who I didn’t mention, I could write about this all day. There’s an abundance of info on this one, as well as the trial transcripts if you’re interested. If you do decide to check them out, consider yourself warned as the details are nothing short of nightmarish.
*That blood stained note which reads “will I live”? It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, the tears well up. That poor kid, bless her!