Gillis confesses on tape to FBI agents
ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - 9NEWS has obtained a copy of convicted killer
Sean Vincent Gillis's video-taped interview with FBI agents just
four months after Donna Bennett Johnston's body was found. Gillis
explains how he plotted his murders and played games with police.
agents interviewed Gillis in May of 2004. Gillis told the agents he
was playing a game of chess with them as they investigated each and
every crime scene. He says he used television news to predict his
next move and to judge whether he was winning. "I was the chess
master, then. You're not going to beat me. My basic interest would
be, 'Okay, did they find it? Where did they fine it? What was the
condition of the body?'" Gillis said in the interview.
shared with agents how he used a combination of charm and money to
lure his victims into his vehicle. "The hookers loved me. I treated
them like women, like ladies." He says there wasn't a plan or a
timetable for when or where he would murder his next victim. Gillis
says it all depended on when the opportunity would arise. However,
Gillis says he did pay close attention to where and when he would
dump the bodies. "You're not gonna dump a body if it's gonna leave
tracks. It's preferable to dump before it rains. It washes evidence
off victim... and the evidence around the crime scene."
However, like most killers, Gillis left something behind - DNA. He
says he thought he was winning the game he had going with detectives
until one day when he got a phone call from the FBI. "I didn't know
the game had just begun. I thought it had just begun at that point.
I didn't know I was already check and it was going to be a little
while before mate."
he is is a narcissistic, self-centered, ego-maniac serial killer."
Frustrated prosecutor Prem Burns says she still stands firm on the
case she presented and that she would not change a thing, only that
the jury would have seen Gillis for the actor she says he was in the
tape. "I am like, 'Damn it. It's first degree. He stole from her...
serial killers take souvenirs.'"
state could not enter the tape into evidence because Gillis asked
for an attorney during his interview with agents, making it
inadmissible during the trial. Burns believes this element would
have been the final nail in Gillis's coffin. "I believe had we been
able to play the tape for the jury, I think they would have come to
the conclusion that death was the only sentence for this calculating,
cunning killer whom I analogize to a Ted Bundy." Burns says this
case was the strongest the state had against Gillis, and that it's
unlikely he will be tried on the others.
way, WAFB News has learned that Prem Burns wasn't even close in
getting a death penalty judgment in the case. We've talked with
jurors, including the jury foreman, who say when the first vote was
taken, four jurors voted no on the death penalty. That includes two
jurors who said they absolutely would not vote for death for any
reason and two who had admitted they were "wavering," finally voted
against death. Several of the jurors who favored death call the
final vote immensely disappointing.
Baton Rouge Serial Killer Sean Vincent Gillis Finally Goes to
July 22, 2008
It looks like Baton Rouge,
Louisiana serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis, now 45-years-old, is
finally going to trial. After six weeks of the process of jury
selection which, at times, did not seem hopeful that a jury would
even be seated in Baton Rouge, Gillis's trial is finally slated to
begin on Monday, July 21, 2008, although there have been indications
that a delay might occur. The prosecution has indicated that it
will seek the death penalty against Gillis.
Gillis's method of operation
seems as varied as his victims. While he nearly always mutilated
his victims' bodies and frequently tool body parts as trophies, he
sometimes chose to strangle his victims but more often chose to stab
them to death. He defied typical FBI serial killer profiles by
crossing defined boundaries regarding age and race, and his lengthy
"cooling off" periods between kills, particularly at first,
challenged what FBI profilers had become accustomed to seeing in
such killers and may have significantly contributed to his remaining
free for so long. His victims ranged in age from 29 to 82; some of
his victims were white, others were black; most were from the poor
side of town, but at least one lived in an affluent area. Linked to
several of his victims by DNA evidence, Gillis has confessed to a
total of eight murders. In addition to the damning DNA evidence,
Gillis was also tied to one of his victims by unique tire tracks
that were left at the site where one victim was found.
Gillis has a long criminal history dating back to
1980 when he was charged with criminal trespass, but his pre-murder
rap sheet contains mostly minor legal infractions that stemmed from
traffic citations, a DUI, a possession of marijuana charge, and
contempt of court charges. Police believe that he did not commit
his first murder until March 21, 1994, when he broke into the small
retirement home apartment of 82-year-old Ann Bryan during the early
morning hours. Although his intention had been simply to rape the
elderly white woman, she began screaming and would not stop until he
cut her throat with the foot-long hunting knife he carried with him.
As she lay bleeding to death, Gillis allegedly stabbed her
repeatedly and slashed her body with the knife. Ann Bryan's murder
remained unsolved for 10 years.
Nearly five years would pass before Gillis killed
again. He told a reporter after his arrest that he waited so long
before killing his next victim because he was "happy." During that
lengthy period, he worked at a convenience store located across the
street from Ann Bryan's home, and lived in a small, ranch-style house
on Burgin Avenue in a quiet, middle class neighborhood about a mile
from the scene of his first murder. The house belonged to Gillis's
mother, where the two of them lived from the time that Gillis was a
teenager. His mother, however, eventually moved to Atlanta and left
the house with her son who, by the time of Ann Bryan's murder, shared
it with his girlfriend.
His neighbors did not like him. In fact, many of
his neighbors were afraid of him, particularly girls and women. Some
considered him strange, and one neighbor said that Gillis gave him "the
willies." He was once caught peeping into the bedroom window of a
neighbor's house, and he has been seen on a number of occasions lying
out on his front lawn barking at the moon in between yelling curses at
his mother. Most people, naturally, avoided him whenever possible.
Gillis's next victim was 30-year-old Katherine
Hall, a black drug addict who resided in a housing project on North
Street, long known for its drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes. When
Katherine climbed into Gillis's car on a chilly night in early January
1999, he overpowered her, placed a plastic cable tie around her neck,
and choked her, after which he stabbed her in the throat and in her
left eye. After committing the violent carnage against the young
woman, Gillis raped her and then further mutilated her body. A
squirrel hunter (squirrel has long been a food source in those parts
of the country) found her nude body lying face down on a road in a
rural area of East Baton Rouge Parish, in front of a Dead End road
sign. Investigators later theorized that Gillis's choice of dumping
the woman's body in front of the sign might have been symbolic in
Some four months later, toward the early part of
May 1999, Gillis, while trolling for a new victim, saw Hardee Schmidt,
52-year-old mother of three, out for an early morning jog in a well-heeled
neighborhood of South Baton Rouge. Schmidt was an ardent runner who
had previously taken part in the Boston Marathon, and Gillis sized her
up that morning as an easy target. He returned to her neighborhood
frequently for the next three weeks, hoping to encounter her again.
It was not until Sunday, May 30, at approximately 6:30 a.m. that
Gillis was able to seize his opportunity.
He ran her down with his car and knocked the
stunned, if not seriously injured, woman into a ditch. While she was
dazed and confused, he got out of his car, placed a heavy-duty cable
around Schmidt's neck, and began choking her. With Schmidt completely
under his control, he shoved her into his car and took her to a nearby
park where he raped and murdered her. After mutilating her body with
a knife, he loaded her into the trunk of his car-where her nude body
remained overnight-and drove home. The following day he drove her to
St. James Parish, about 35 miles from Baton Rouge and on one of the
routes to New Orleans, where he dumped her body into a bayou next to
the highway. A bicyclist found the body the next day.
Additional Gillis victims:
• Joyce Williams, 36, killed on November 12, 1999.
Gillis severed one of her legs.
• Lillian Robinson, 52, killed in January 2000. An
angler found her naked body a month later.
• Marilyn Nevils, 38, killed in late October 2000.
Gillis dumped her body three miles from his house, next to the
Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. Someone discovered her decomposing
body on Halloween.
After Gillis had murdered his sixth victim, he took
a significant break from killing, for more than a year, but additional
raped, strangled, and stabbed female victims began turning up in Baton
Rouge. Trouble was, these were not Gillis's victims, and he soon
realized that he had a competitor in town. Someone other than Gillis
had murdered Gina Wilson Green in September 2001, and the following
May, Charlotte Murray Pace was stabbed to death inside her home
located near Louisiana State University. Two months later, Pam
Kinamore was kidnapped from her home, and her body was found four days
later floating in Whiskey Bay.
By August 2002, the Baton Rouge Police Department
acknowledged that they had a serious problem on their hands and that
they needed to do something about it. As a result, they formed a task
force, but the focus of their efforts appeared to be greater with
regard to solving the murders of the second serial killer at work, not
on solving Gillis's crimes. The police would later learn that Gillis
then began spending the greater part of his days on the Internet,
keeping track of the work of his competitor. Although he did not know
it yet, his challenger was a black man, 34-year-old ex-convict Derrick
Todd Lee. Before he was identified and apprehended, Lee would also
take the lives of Trineisha Dene Colomb and Carrie Lynn Yoder. DNA
left at the scene of Colomb's murder positively linked her slaying
with the murders of Green, Pace, and Kinamore. Like Gillis, Lee also
crossed the predefined profiling boundaries regarding race, defying
theories that serial killers rarely kill victims who are not of their
own race. Police began to wonder about the odds-how likely would it
be for something like this to occur twice in the same locale and in
the same period.
Following Lee's arrest in May 2003, the police and
the press began referring to him as the Baton Rouge serial killer,
and this, of course, immediately grabbed Gillis's attention. He
created a file on his computer's hard drive and named it DTL,
Lee's initials, and began collecting news articles and photos about
Lee's case so that he could more carefully follow that investigation.
It would later be pointed out that he was not about to be outdone by
It was not until October 2003, however, when Gillis
would begin killing again. His path crossed that of 45-year-old
Johnnie Mae Williams, a divorced mother of three children, drug addict,
and prostitute. With Williams' murder, Gillis again defied FBI
profiles of serial killer traits, one being that a serial killer
rarely kills anyone that he knows. In this case, Gillis and Williams
had been friends, and had known each other for at least 10 years.
Nonetheless, Gillis drove her to a secluded area where he beat, raped
and strangled her, and then mutilated her body with a knife. This
time around, however, he also posed his victim in various positions
and photographed her.
Gillis murdered his eighth and final victim in
February 2004 after he picked up 43-year-old Donna Bennett Johnston,
also a prostitute. She was drunk when he picked her up, so it was not
difficult to get her into his car. After driving her to a location
near his home, Gillis looped a cable around her neck and strangled her.
According to his later account of the murder, it was a quick death-it
took about one and a half minutes for her to fall into unconsciousness,
and a little longer for her to stop breathing.
He took off all of Johnston's clothes and placed
her body on the ground where he slashed both of her breasts and cut
off her left nipple. He also cut a tattoo from her right thigh, and
removed her left arm at the elbow. He reportedly took the arm with
him and later used the hand attached to it to masturbate. Johnston's
murder was without doubt the most gruesome and sordid of Gillis's
"Your friend died quickly," he wrote to Johnston's
friend, Tammie Purpera, after his arrest. "She was so far gone that
night that I really do not think she even knew what was happening to
her. She was so drunk it only took about a minute and a half to
succumb to unconsciousness and then death. Honestly, her last words
were, 'I can't breathe.'"
Purpera died of complications from AIDS in August
2005, but not before she turned over Gillis's letters to the
Less than two months later, in April 2004,
investigators matched a unique tire track, found at the location where
Gillis had dumped Johnston's body, to Gillis's white Chevrolet
Cavalier. After the police arrested him at his home with the aid of a
SWAT team, detectives promptly matched a DNA profile from a swab taken
from Gillis to evidence recovered from several of his victims. Upon
executing a search warrant at his house, detectives seized seven saws,
a hacksaw, several knives, a machete, plastic zip ties, external hard
drives, 4 computers, a computer scanner, photographs of Johnnie Mae
Williams' dead body, a 14-inch Bayonet, a wooden club, six Playboy
pocket playmate books, and newspaper clippings about Derrick Lee's
final victim, Carrie Lynn Yoder. One of his computers also contained
files named Best of Snuff, Beheadings and Hangings,
and Manson Murders. The subject of another file was about
Russian necrophilia. Several books, both fiction and nonfiction,
about serial killers were also seized from his home.
Gillis, in his earlier letters to Purpera, said
that he did not really understand why he sexually mutilated his
victims, and said that he really didn't "know what the hell is wrong
with me....I was in a real bad place. I was pure evil that night (the
night that he killed Johnston). No love, no compassion, no faith, no
mercy, no hope." He blamed his actions on his lack of faith and the
fact that he had "hated God for a long time."
Sean Vincent Gillis has confessed to killing and
mutilating eight women, seven of whom he has been officially charged
with murdering. The murder of Lillian Robinson is still being
investigated even though it appears that Gillis killed her. Gillis's
trial, after four years of delays, is finally set to begin despite
another impassioned plea from defense attorneys for another five-month
delay for additional psychological testing, some of which has been
Gillis’ WBR guilty plea
Prosecutors wanted condition
By Adrian Angelette - The
March 29, 2008
An appellate court this week ruled that the
guilty plea given in West Baton Rouge Parish by serial killer
suspect Sean Vincent Gillis should stand.
Prosecutors in West Baton Rouge wanted the
appellate court judges to either amend the plea to take away an
objectionable condition attached to the plea deal or return the case
to a Port Allen court for trial.
Gillis pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and
received a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutors could not be reached on Friday to
comment on whether they will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review
the Wednesday ruing by the 1st Circuit.
Gillis, 45, pleaded guilty to killing Joyce
Williams. Authorities claim Gillis confessed to picking up Williams in
Scotlandville, driving her across the Mississippi River and strangling
her in a sugarcane field near Port Allen.
Gillis then dismembered Williams’ body and
discarded it in Iberville Parish where it was found in January 2000,
authorities have said.
“I strangled Joyce Williams and she died,” Gillis
told state District Judge Robin Free during his August sentencing
Gillis pleaded guilty to killing Williams on
condition that he still be allowed to appeal a ruling by Free that
would have allowed his confession to be played to jurors at trial.
Gillis has maintained that during his questioning,
he twice asked to speak with a lawyer, but those requests were ignored
and the questioning continued.
Gillis’ appeal has not yet been ruled on.
If Gillis were to win that appeal, he would be
allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and the case would be sent back to
Free’s court for trial.
Prosecutors have argued that the questioning of
Gillis only continued because Gillis continued to provide information
In her appeal, West Baton Rouge Parish prosecutor
Elizabeth Engolio claimed Gillis should not have been allowed to plead
guilty with any condition.
Gillis’ defense attorney, Jelpi Picou, said Judge
Free was within his authority when he allowed Gillis to plead guilty
without giving up his right to appeal the ruling on the confession.
Picou said it was a matter of judicial efficiency
for Free to rule the way he did.
The 1st Circuit agreed that Free has the authority
to accept the plea with the condition.
Serving on the 1st Circuit panel that reviewed the
case were Chief Judge Burrell Carter and judges John Pettigrew and
Gillis is also scheduled to stand trial June 9 on a
count of first-degree murder in another of the killings he has
confessed to committing.
In that trial, Gillis is accused of killing 43-year-old
Donna Bennett Johnston.
Johnston’s mutilated body was found on Feb. 27,
2004, near a creek a short distance from Ben Hur Road in Baton Rouge.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
In all, Gillis has confessed to killing eight women.
He has been booked on murder counts in all but one, and that case
remains under investigation.
Guilty Plea from Accused
Serial Killer Sean Gillis