Tommy Lynn Sells

Most Notorious Serial Killers

The Brutal Texan

Early Life

Sells and his twin sister, Tammy Jean, contracted meningitis when they were 18 months old; Tammy died from the illness. Shortly thereafter, Sells was sent to live with his aunt, Bonnie Woodall, in Holcomb, Missouri, where he lived until he was five years old. When Sells was eight, he began spending time with a man named Willis Clark, who began to molest him with the consent of his mother. Sells stated that this abuse affected him greatly, and he would relive his experiences while committing his crimes.

The homeless Sells hitchhiked and trainhopped across the United States from 1978 to 1999, committing various crimes along the way. He held several very short-term manual labor and barber jobs. He drank heavily, abused drugs and was imprisoned several times. In an interview with forensic psychologist Dr. Michael Stone on the television series Most Evil, Sells mocked Stone for believing in God.


Sells is believed by police to have murdered at least 22 people. Retired Texas Ranger John Allen said, "We did confirm 22... I know there's more. I know there's a lot more. Obviously, we won't ever know." Sells said he committed his first murder at age 16, while breaking into a house. While in the house, Sells discovered a man performing fellatio on a young boy. Sells killed the man in a fit of rage.

In July 1985, 21-year-old Sells worked at a Forsyth, Missouri carnival, where he met 28-year-old Ena Cordt and her 4-year-old son Rory. Cordt invited Sells to her home that evening. According to Sells, he had sex with her, fell asleep, and awoke to find her stealing from his backpack. He proceeded to beat Cordt to death with her son's baseball bat. He then murdered her son because the child was a potential witness. The bludgeoned bodies were found three days later, by which time Sells had left town.

Sells is suspected of the following crimes:

  • the May 1987 murder of Suzanne Korcz (February 2, 1960 - disappeared & presumed dead May 1987) in New York
  • the November 1987 murders of four members of the Dardeen family in Illinois
  • the September 1988 murder of Melissa Tremblay (March 1, 1977 - September 11, 1988) in Lawrence, Massachusetts
  • the 1997 murder of Stephanie Mahaney (June 20, 1984 - November 18, 1997) near Springfield, Missouri
  • the 1989 murder of a co-worker in Texas
  • the 1999 sexual assault and murder of Haley McHone (August 14, 1985 - May 23, 1999) in Lexington, Kentucky
  • The 1999 murder of Kaylene Jo "Katy" Harris (September 27, 1986 - December 31, 1999).
  • the October 13, 1997 murder of 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick in Illinois.
  • the April 1999 murder of nine-year-old Mary Perez (April 7, 1990 - April 18, 1999) in San Antonio, Texas, a crime that Sells was ultimately convicted of.

After watching an episode of Crime Watch Daily in November 2015, the daughter of JoAnne Tate contacted authorities stating that she now believed Sells murdered her mother in 1982, recanting her testimony identifying Rodney Lincoln as the killer.


On December 31, 1999, in the Guajia Bay subdivision, west of Del Rio, Texas, Sells slit the throats of 13-year-old Kaylene 'Katy' Harris and 10-year-old Krystal Surles. Surles survived and received help from the neighbors. Sells was apprehended after being identified from a sketch made from the victim's description. In an interview on Discovery Channel's Most Evil with Columbia University forensic psychiatrist and personality expert Dr. Michael H. Stone, Sells claimed to have killed more than 70 people. Police over time came to suspect him of "working the system", by confessing to murders he had not committed.

The state's attorney in Jefferson County, Illinois, declined to charge Sells with the Dardeen family homicides in 1987 because his confession to the quadruple killing, while generally consistent with the facts of the case as reported in the media, was inaccurate regarding some details that had not been made public. He also changed his account three times regarding how he had met the family. Investigators wanted to bring Sells to Southern Illinois in order to resolve their doubts, but Texas refused, due to its law forbidding death row prisoners from leaving the state.

Sells was housed on death row in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice received him on November 8, 2000.

In 2004, Sells confessed that he had broken into a home, taken a knife from a butcher block in the kitchen, stabbed a little boy to death, and scuffled with a woman. Those details agreed with the account of Julie Rea Harper, who was initially convicted for the murder of her son, and then acquitted in 2006.


On January 3, 2014, a Del Rio judge set Sells' execution date for April 3, 2014. Sells' death sentence was carried out at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. When asked if he would like to make a final statement, Sells replied "No." As a lethal dose of pentobarbital was administered, he took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes and began to snore. Less than a minute later, he stopped moving. Thirteen minutes later, at 6:27 p.m. (CDT), he was pronounced dead.

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