WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On April 29, 2004, Sean Vincent Gillis, a serial killer from the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area, was arrested for stalking, kidnapping, raping, murdering and mutilating 8 women between 1994 and 2004.
After his arrest, he confessed to the 3 murders he was charged for with little coercion. He then informed investigators about the 5 other women he had murdered. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
A SERIAL KILLER'S UPBRINGING
Gillis was born in Baton Rouge on June 24, 1962. His mother, Yvonne, and his grandparents raised him from birth after his father, Norman, abandoned the family. (1)
A bit quiet, Gillis was reported to be an average kid with average grades. But his quiet personality began to dwindle as his violent side began to come out. Once, his neighbor reported, that she heard him at 3 AM furiously hanging on garbage cans. (1)
His mother, when testifying in her son's murder trial, claimed that as a child, he was well-behaved, well-adjusted and got good grades, as well as a healthy social life. She said: "I used to call him my little blue-eyed angel. This is the person I loved most in this world." (1)
Before he began murdering women, he only brushed with the law for minor infractions. He was arrested for traffic citations, a DUI, possession of weed, and contempt of court. Hardly the early sex-offending, animal killing behaviors of many other men who turned out to be serial killers. (1)
After high school, he continued on with his average life. He lived with his mother while attending community college and working low-paying jobs, continuing to get in trouble with the law, but nothing notable. But when he was 30, his mom moved away to take a job in Atlanta, and the blue-eyed angry angel was on his own for the first time. (2)
At this point, his behavior starts to align a bit more closely with the serial killers who's backgrounds we know. He was extremely lonely, and became obsessed with pornography, skipping work because of it. Despite the fact that his mother would send him money to make up for losing jobs, he remained angry at her for leaving him and would scream so loudly he would disturb neighbors. (2)
In 1992, he was caught peeping into windows during the height of his porn obsession. But, despite being a 32-year-old peeping tom who was pissed that his mom/landlord left, he was able to start a fairly normal relationship with a woman named Terri Lemoine in 1994 - the same year he started killing. (2)
Terri and Gillis met through a mutual friend. She described him as "cute in a little teddy-bear sort of way, the type of person you'd want to bring home to mom". But, even when they loved in together, things stated platonic. Gillis "didn't believe in sex" and had been taught it was a "nasty thing". Maybe being taught that sex was dirty is what lead to him becoming a porn-crazed murder maniac? (2)
I find Gillis' background really interesting, perhaps more interesting than that of many other serial killers. It seems that most serial killers had terrible childhoods: alcoholic parents who beat and neglected them, abuse from everyone in the family, etc. They also showed signs early, like weird sexual habits and animal abuse. It seems like most serial killers didn't feel love as a child.
But, was the love Gillis felt as a child what eventually lead to him snapping? His childhood was fairly normal and he didn't exhibit any classic serial killer signs until he was in his 30s. Was he always just a pissed off, average man until his mom left him? Was that the "stresser" that broke him? I don't know, but certainly an interesting background for someone who would go on to brutally kill so many people.
GILLIS BEGINS TO MURDER
On March 21st, 1994, Gillis attempted to rape 81-year-old Ann Bryan. Though his intention was only to rape her, he panicked when she screamed and slit her throat. He then stabbed her 50 times. He left her body there at her residence in a retirement home. He stabbed her in the chest, head and genitals and nearly decapitated her. (2)
Gillis did not kill again for another 5 years, but during this time, his porn obsession was taking him down some dark roads. He would watch porn depicting rape, death and dismemberment of women. In perhaps a weird attempt to spice up their sex life (?) he showed his girlfriend, Terri, a photo of a dead woman. She brushed it off, however, and stayed with him. Oh girl, you should have ran. (2)
Gillis picked his murder habit back up in January of 1999 through January 2000, kind of a new years resolution of sorts. During this time, he killed 4 women. His 6th victim was killed in October of 2000, and his final 2 victims were killed in October 2003 and February 2004. (2)
He killed sex workers, drug addicts, or "anyone who looked helpless or willing" to get into his car. The prosecutor described them as, what Gillis would have considered, "disposable people". He recalled women would ask "why are you doing this", to which he didn't have an answer. (3)
All of the women were strangled, raped, stabbed to death, and then mutilated (though much of the mutilation took place before death). He would dump the bodies in remote areas far away from Baton Rouge so they wouldn't be connected. (2)
His murders were absolutely brutal. One woman was mutilated so badly that East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Major Bryan White said, "you could barely tell it was a human being". But, the cops had no leads. He left no witnesses, no fingerprints. (2)
The details of his murders are gruesome. First, he would strangle his victims with zip ties and chop off their hands, feet, or both. He would also sometimes carve off their tattoos or nipples. He often saved the body parts he chopped off as trophies, which is actually (maybe) the least gross of the other things he did with their dead bodies, which also included eating them and having sex with their dead bodies. Other terrifying actions included showering with one corpse, and painting the nails of another. He took dozens of photos with the mutilated corpse of his last victim. (2)
He would do most of his killing, weird post-mortem activities and mutilation in his home after Terri had left for the night shift. She had noticed some bizarre things, like one time when Gillis picked her up from the night shift in the morning, the car had a terrible odor in it. He said he had hit an animal, and he washed the car when they returned. (3)
She also noticed the miles racking up on the car, and wondered who he was driving around with, or if he was cheating. Cheating would have been better than the truth, which was that he was hunting for someone to murder and then driving their corpses off to dump. (3)
CATCHING A KILLER
Though he was a careful killer, he left one thing behind at his last victim's dumping site. Perhaps distracted from the photoshoot he had just conducted, he left a muddy tire track behind. With nearly nothing to go off of, investigators jumped at the lucky break. They had DNA from the scenes, but it didn't match anyone in the system. (2)
Fortunately, the type of tires he was using were rare. Authorities worked with Goodyear to track down anyone who had purchased that tire from the Baton Rouge area. The 200 people who came up were DNA tested, and Sean Vincent Gillis was found to be the match. After his initial interview, detectives felt pretty good they had the right guy, but were certain when they searched his home and found a stash of photos of his murdered victims. Bingo. (They searched the home that he shared with Terri, who had no idea what her boyfriend was up to.) (2)
He confessed quickly. In his confession, he apologized for the people he hurt, but said he would do it again, saying if he was let out, he'd find somebody before sundown. He also said, "help the little girls today not be the premature corpses of tomorrow" which is absolutely terrifying. (2)
Once he started confessing, he confessed everything. They only had him on 3 murders. They hadn't connected the murders of 3 sex workers, the woman jogging in the park, or the 81-year-old woman, and they all remained unsolved. (3)
He continued to express remorse after his conviction. He corresponded with a friend of his final victim, but though he expresses regret, he also sounds like a straight up psychopath without the actual ability to feel remorse. (2)
"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. I still puzzle over the post-mortem dismemberment and cutting. There must be something deep in my subconscious that really needs that kind of macabre action." (2)
Though no one has ever landed on an exact psychological cause for his murder spree, he did admit during questioning that he wanted to have sex with his mother. She doted on him as a child, housed him for 30 years and gave him money constantly, and he became the porn-obsessed murder monster after she left, so his weird mommy issues seem to be at least partially at fault. When asked if he wanted to have sex with her, he sad, "I've thought if she passed away, y'all would find me in bed with her." (2,3)
During his trial, Terri testified that she had loved him and still loved him, and couldn't believe that her live-in boyfriend of 10 years could have done what he had done. (4) When the SWAT team came to their home, they were in bed together. She kept asking Gillis "what's going on" and he just shrugged his shoulders, saying "sorry honey bunny". The officers asked if she knew she was living with a serial killer. (3)
She even laughed at police, saying, "Boy, do you have the wrong house". She was convinced they had made a huge mistake. Once she asked him herself, he said he was sorry, and that's when she knew he did it. (3)
Terri still lives in the house where he would bring his victims home, even knowing that he showered with corpses in the bathroom and dismembered bodies in the kitchen. She said she sees it as just a building, not a house of horrors. (3)
But a house of horrors is exactly what it was for the 7 women who went inside and never came back out. I had never heard of Sean Vincent Gillis, and find him extremely fascinating. Was he born to be a serial killer? Or did poor sex education and a doting mother somehow rewire his brain? From an average kid and student to a brutal, gruesome serial killer who kind of regrets what he did but would do it again?
Regardless of how he ended up on the path he did, it is extremely unfortunate that any of the 8 women's paths crossed with it.
Ann Bryan, 81
Katherine Ann Hall, 29
Hardee Schmitt, 52
Joyce Williams, 36
Lillian Robinson, 52
Marilyn Nevils, 38
Johnnie Mae Williams, 45
Donna Bennett Johnston, 43