Donald Henry "Pee Wee" Gaskins Jr. (born Donald Henry Parrott Jr.; March 13, 1933 – September 6, 1991) was an American serial killer and rapist from South Carolina who stabbed, shot, drowned and poisoned more than a dozen people. Before his convictions for murder, Gaskins had a long history of criminal activities resulting in prison sentences for assault, burglary, and statutory rape. His last arrest was for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, 13-year old Kim Ghelkins, who had gone missing in September 1975. During their search for the missing girl, police discovered eight bodies buried in shallow graves near Gaskins' home in Prospect, South Carolina.
Donald Henry Gaskins
Donald Henry Parrott Jr.
March 13, 1933
|Died||September 6, 1991 (aged 58)|
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
|Cause of death||Execution by electric chair|
|Other names||The Meanest Man In America|
The Redneck Charles Manson
The Hitchhiker's Killer
|Criminal penalty||Death (1976 and 1983)|
|Victims||15 Confirmed (110 claimed)|
Span of crimes
|November 14, 1975|
In May 1976, a Florence County jury took only 47 minutes before finding Gaskins guilty for the murder of one of the eight victims, Dennis Bellamy, and sentenced him to death by the electric chair. That death sentence was overturned by the South Carolina Supreme Court in February 1978, and rather than face a new trial, Gaskins pled guilty to the murders of Bellamy and eight other friends and associates. He was given nine concurrent life sentences, to be served at Central Correctional Institution (CCI) prison in Columbia, South Carolina.
While at CCI, Gaskins brutally murdered Rudolph Tyner, a fellow inmate on death row, using C4 explosive. After his conviction for killing Tyner, he received his second death sentence, which was administered on September 1991. Just before his execution Gaskins would claim to have killed 110 people but, with few exceptions, these claims have been discredited by law enforcement and journalists who allege this was his attempt to gain notoriety. In his sworn testimony as part of a plea agreement to avoid trial for the murder of John Henry Knight, Gaskins was confirmed to have killed thirteen people between 1970 and 1975. Of the fifteen people total that he murdered during his lifetime, ten were under age 25 and six were teenagers.
Donald Henry Gaskins was born in Florence County, South Carolina, to Eulea Parrott, the last in a string of illegitimate children. Gaskins was small for his age and immediately gained the nickname "Pee Wee." As an adult, he was between 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) and 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) and weighed approximately 130 lb (59 kg).
Gaskins' early life was characterized by a great deal of neglect from his mother and abuse by a male relative. His mother apparently took so little interest in him that the first time he learned his given name—Donald—was when it was read out in his first court appearance. Gaskins was often described as a great manipulator and con artist who was "street smart", and with "a keen sense of humor and a friendly, entertaining personality."
When he was one year old, Gaskins reportedly drank a bottle of kerosene which caused him to have convulsions until he was aged 3. In adolescence, Gaskins engaged in a violent crime spree with a group of fellow delinquents which included burglaries, assaults, and a gang rape. At age 13, Gaskins was convicted for assaulting a young woman by hitting her in the head with an ax when she caught him breaking into her family home. He was sentenced to five years in a reform school, the South Carolina Industrial School for White Boys in Florence, where he was regularly raped by his fellow inmates.
After escaping from the reform school, getting married and voluntarily returning to complete his sentence, Gaskins was released in 1951 at the age of 18. He briefly worked on a tobacco plantation until he was arrested in 1953 for attacking a teenage girl with a hammer over an alleged insult. He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment at the South Carolina Penitentiary. There, Gaskins earned his fellow inmates' respect by killing the most feared man in the prison, Hazel Brazell, in what Gaskins claimed was self-defense. As a result, Gaskins received an extra three years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, but from that point on he became the aggressor instead of the victim. He escaped from prison in 1955 by hiding in the back of a garbage truck and fled to Florida, where he took employment with a traveling carnival. He was re-arrested, remanded to custody, and paroled in August 1961.
Following his release from prison, Gaskins reverted to committing burglaries and fencing stolen property. Two years after his parole, he was arrested for the rape of a twelve-year-old girl, but absconded while awaiting sentence. Gaskins was rearrested in Georgia and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment. He was paroled again in November 1968. Upon his release, Gaskins moved to the town of Sumter, South Carolina, and began work with a roofing company.
Gaskins would claim his first non-prison-related murder victim was a blonde female hitchhiker whom he tortured and murdered in September 1969, before sinking her body in a swamp. In his memoirs, he claimed: "All I could think about is how I could do anything I wanted to her." This hitchhiker was to be the first of many he claimed to have picked up and killed while driving around the coastal highways of the American South. Gaskins classified these victims as "coastal kills": people, both male and female, whom he killed purely for pleasure, on average approximately once every six weeks, when he went hunting to quell his feelings of "bothersome-ness". He would claim to have tortured and mutilated his victims while attempting to keep them alive for as long as possible. He confessed to killing these victims using a variety of methods including stabbing, suffocation, mutilation, and even claimed to have cannibalized some of them.
Gaskins later confessed to killing "eighty to ninety" such victims, although his claims to have committed any "coastal kills" have never been corroborated. In his memoirs, Gaskins claims to have committed coastal kills every six weeks, yet contradicts this claim later in the book by stating he felt the overpowering need to seek out and commit a coastal kill by the tenth date of each calendar month. He also specifically named three further individuals whom he classified among his "serious murders": an African-American couple he named as "Eddie and Bertie Brown" (aged 24 and 20 respectively) whom he claimed to have murdered in 1972 and buried "behind the Tenant House" (a location Gaskins failed to precisely pinpoint in his autobiography beyond once claiming was a "shortcut to go around Columbia"), and a man named Horace Jones (40), whom he claimed to have murdered in 1974.
There is no evidence to support any of the claims made by Gaskins that he had committed any murders other than that of Hazel Brazell and the fourteen victims listed below, whose bodies have been found and identified, and whose law enforcement records and Gaskins' sworn testimony substantiate.
In November 1970, Gaskins committed the first of a series of confirmed murders, primarily people whom he knew and killed for personal reasons. His first confirmed victims were his own niece, Janice Kirby (aged 15), and her friend, Patricia Ann Alsbrook (aged 17), both of whom he beat to death. He claimed he was enraged at their drug abuse, while others say he was attempting to sexually assault them in Sumter.
He poisoned Martha Ann Dicks ("Clyde"), aged 20, in March 1971 either because she claimed Pee Wee was the father of her unborn child, or because she was an alleged drug dealer who supplied Kirby and Allsbrook with drugs.
Pee Wee Gaskins was an overt racist and he drowned Doreen Hope Dempsey, aged 22, and her two-year old daughter, Robin Michelle Dempsey in June 1973. Gaskins had befriended Doreen Dempsey several years prior and was angry upon hearing she had become pregnant a second time with an African American man. She had been living with Gaskins' friend Johnny Sellers and his brother Carl Sellers in North Charleston, SC. They brought her to Gaskins' home in Prospect, and left her there to speak with Gaskins about staying with him for a short time while she was pregnant. Upset that Doreen was having a second biracial child, Gaskins responded by walking her to his backyard pond where he drowned both the mother and her toddler.
In June 1974, Gaskins shot his friend and criminal associate Johnny Sellers, aged 36 in the back of the head, and stabbed to death Gaskins' ex-girlfriend Jessie Ruth Judy, aged 22, after Sellers asked for money he was owed from the sale of a stolen boat. Gaskins feared Sellers would reveal Pee Wee Gaskins was also involved in an auto theft ring. Jessie Judy was murdered at the same time because she could have told police about Gaskins' criminal activities, including murdering her boyfriend, Johnny Sellers.
Silas Barnwell Yates, age 45, was murdered in February 1975, by either a karate chop to his neck or a slit throat in a murder-for-hire scheme. The forensics alleged it was by knife, but Gaskins disputed the claim. Yates was in a dispute with his ex-girlfriend, Suzanne Kipper Owens, and she and her husband John Owens paid Gaskins $1,500 to murder Yates.
Diane Bellamy Neeley, age 25, was separated from her husband Walter Neeley, who was one of Pee Wee Gaskins closest friends and criminal co-conspirator. On April 10, 1975, Gaskins stabbed to death Dianne Bellamy and shot dead her boyfriend Avery Leroy Howard, aged 34. Among other reasons, Gaskins murdered Dianne Bellamy because she had threatened to report to police that Gaskins was allowing underage teenagers to have sex in his home. Avery Howard was murdered because he asked for money to pay attorneys and cover legal expenses following his arrest for fraud and auto theft. Gaskins worried Avery Howard would tell police about Gaskins' criminal activities.
Kim Ghelkins, age 13, was stabbed to death to keep her from telling police Gaskins had moved her from North Charleston without permission, and to keep her from telling police she was being sexually abused by several adult men, including Gaskins.
Dennis Bellamy, aged 27 and John Henry Knight, age 15, were half-brothers, and Dianne Bellamy was their sister. Within minutes of each other, Gaskins shot the two brothers in the back of the head on October 10, 1975. Pee Wee Gaskins had promised to pay Dennis Bellamy for some stolen guns. When confronted by Bellamy at Gaskin's trailer home in Prospect, SC, he responded by offering to return the guns from the woods behind his home. He took Bellamy into the woods to retrieve the guns, but murdered him instead. John Henry Knight was directed to the same area, allegedly to meet his brother, but was also murdered to ensure he could never speak of the crimes.
Rudolph Tyner, aged 23, was on death row in CCI prison for a March 1978 double-murder when he was murdered by Gaskins on September 12, 1982. Tyner was appealing his own death penalty sentence after being convicted for robbing a Murrels Inlet convenience store and killing store owners, Bill and Myrtle Moon on March 18, 1978. The Moons' son, Tony Cimo, hired Pee Wee Gaskins for $2,000 to kill Rudolph Tyner because in Cimo's view, the appeals process was taking too long. Gaskins obtained plastic explosives with a blasting cap, a long wire, and a radio speaker to create an imitation intercom speaker that Tyner put to his ear to test. Gaskins then detonated the makeshift bomb by plugging the wire into a prison cell power outlet.
Gaskins was arrested on November 14, 1975, when a criminal associate named Walter Neeley confessed to police that he had knowledge of Gaskins killing Dennis Bellamy, aged 28, and Johnny Knight, aged 15. Neeley confessed to police that Gaskins had confided in him to having killed several people who had been listed as missing persons during the previous five years, and had indicated to him where they were buried. On December 4, 1975, Neeley led police to land near Gaskins home in Prospect, where police discovered the bodies of eight of his victims.
Imprisonment and executionEdit
Gaskins was tried on one charge of murder on May 24, 1976, found guilty on May 28 and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life in prison when the South Carolina General Assembly's 1974 ruling on capital punishment was changed to conform to the U.S. Supreme Court guidelines for the death penalty in other states.
On September 2, 1982, Gaskins committed another murder, for which he earned the title of the "Meanest Man in America". While incarcerated in the high security block at the South Carolina Correctional Institution, Gaskins killed a death row inmate named Rudolph Tyner, who had received his sentence for killing an elderly couple during a bungled armed robbery of their store in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Gaskins was hired to commit this murder by Tony Cimo, the son of Tyner's victims.
Gaskins initially made several unsuccessful attempts to kill Tyner by lacing his food and drink with poison before he opted to use explosives to kill him. To accomplish this, Gaskins rigged a device similar to a portable radio in Tyner's cell and told Tyner this would allow them to "communicate between cells". When Tyner followed Gaskins' instructions to hold a speaker (laden with C-4 plastic explosive, unbeknownst to him) to his ear at an agreed time, Gaskins detonated the explosives from his cell and killed Tyner. He later said, "The last thing he [Tyner] heard was me laughing." Gaskins was tried for Tyner's murder and sentenced to death. It was the first time in the history of South Carolina that a white man was sentenced to death for the murder of a black man.
While on death row, Gaskins claimed to having committed between 100 and 110 murders, including that of Margaret "Peg" Cuttino, the 13-year-old daughter of then South Carolina State Senator James Cuttino Jr. of Sumter. These murders have been widely disputed and there has been no evidence to support Gaskins' claims.
Of the 14 confirmed murders, he received nine life sentences for murdering nine people: Doreen Hope Dempsey, Robin Michelle Dempsey, Johnny Sellers, Jessie Ruth Judy, Barnwell Yates, Diane Bellamy Neeley, Avery Leroy Howard, Jr., Dennis Bellamy and John Henry Knight.
He received two death sentences: one for killing Dennis Bellamy that was overturned by the state Supreme Court and the other for killing Rudolph Tyner.
Gaskins led police to the bodies of four victims he admitted to killing. He was never tried for their murders after police recovered the bodies of Janice Kirby, Patricia Ann Allsbrook, Martha Ann Dicks (Clyde), and Kim Ghelkins.
Gaskins was executed on September 6, 1991, at 1:10 a.m. in the electric chair, hours after he tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists. His last words were: "I'll let my lawyers talk for me. I'm ready to go."
- O'Shea, Margaret N. (September 1, 1991). "Wherever he lived, 'Pee Wee' Gaskins left death behind". The State newspaper. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- "Man Held for Contributing to Delinquency of Minor". The Item newspaper (Sumter, South Carolina). November 21, 1975. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- "Mass Slaying Suspect Convicted". UPI - The Miami Herald. May 29, 1976. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- "BARGINS FOR HIS LIFE: Gaskins To Admit To Killing Nine, Solicitor Says". AP - The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, South Carolina). November 21, 1975. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Tomlin, David (March 28, 1983). "Attorneys For Gaskins To Appeal". AP - The Item (Sumter, South Carolina). Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- "Carolina Stories: Pee Wee". SC ETV (SCETV.org). October 5, 2006. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Brunswick, Mark (June 10, 1992). "Horrible truth or horrible tale? Executed S.C. killer said he killed Minnesota girl in '73". Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota). Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Adams, Jerry (April 27, 1977). "Cuttino's Killer? Authorities Say He's In Jail, Gaskins is Publicity Hound". The Sumter Daily Item. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Query 2014, p. 3.
- Paul Rubin (September 25, 1991). "My Brother the Killer: What's it Like to Have a Mass Murderer in Your Family?". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
- Clif LeBlanc (December 16, 2015). "South Carolina's infamous serial killer, "Pee Wee" Gaskins". The State.
- "Donald Henry Gaskins: The "Pee Wee" Killer". The Line Up. April 17, 2019. Retrieved August 12, 2020.
- Greig 2005, p. 130.
- Beaty, James (July 8, 1991). "Gaskins, 'Boss Hog' of death row, a complex man". The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, South Carolina). Retrieved March 28, 2020.
- Allen, Ken (April 20, 1978). "Mass Killer A 'Polite' Fellow Who Drove Hearse". The Charlotte Observer Piedmont Edition Section D. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
- Gaskins 1993, p. 45. sfn error: no target: CITEREFGaskins1993 (help)
- Lane 1995, pp. 168–169. sfn error: no target: CITEREFLane1995 (help)
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- Gaskins 1993, pp. 149–151. sfn error: no target: CITEREFGaskins1993 (help)
- Fowler, Peggy C. (2014). Pee Wee: Serial Killer or Homicidal Maniac Volume II. Reprinted Transcripts of sworn testimony confirming a complete and truthful disclosure of all SC murders, by Ms. Peggy C. Fowler, Official Court Reporter and reprinted in the book authored by Grady Query. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse. pp. 240–342. ISBN 978-1-4969-1922-9.
- Adams, Jerry (November 11, 1976). "Patty Alsbrook Buried Today, But Reason She Died Remains Mystery". The Item (Sumter, South Carolina). Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Adams, Jerry (May 2, 1977). "Girl Missing Since 1971 Linked to Gaskins' Victim". The Sumter Daily Item (Sumter, South Carolina). Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Harris, Art (June 24, 1983). "The Seeds of Vengeance". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2021.
- Bovsun, Mara (April 18, 2015). "South Carolina Serial Killer, Who Bragged he Killed More Than 100 People, Offs Fellow Sicko in Prison with Homemade Bomb". Daily News. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
- "Teens Charged In Slayings". AP - The Sumter Daily (Sumter, South Carolina). March 20, 1978. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- "Man, 18, gets death in S.C." The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina). August 16, 1978. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Bearak, Barry (June 14, 1983). "Executing Revenge: When state tried and failed, son of victims took over". Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Tomlin, David (March 18, 1983). "Inmate Says Gaskins Gave Him Bomb To Deliver". The Sumer Daily Item. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
- Gaskins 1993, p. 181. sfn error: no target: CITEREFGaskins1993 (help)
- O'Shea, Margaret (Sep 7, 1991). "Letter denies most killings". The State. Archived from the original on Oct 7, 2008. Retrieved Sep 27, 2008.
- Shuler, Rita. 2006. Carolina Crimes: Case Files of a Forensic Photographer. The History Press: Charleston, SC.
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- "Columbia Journal; Prison Lures Them In (as Tourists)". The New York Times. Feb 22, 1994. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved Dec 15, 2019.
- "Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins - Part 3". About.com. Archived from the original on Feb 22, 2017.
- "Profile of an American Serial Killer: Pee Wee Gaskins". Jun 20, 2010.
- Gaskins, Donald H.; Earle, Wilton (1992). Final Truth: The Autobiography of a Serial Killer. Adept. ISBN 978-0-96324-220-4.
- Greig, Charlotte (2005). Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds of Monsters. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-0-76077-566-0.
- Lane, Brian; Gregg, Wilfred (1995). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Berkley Books. ISBN 978-0-42515-213-3.
- Query, O. Grady (2014). PEE WEE | Serial Killer or Homicidal Maniac. 1. AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-49186-549-1.
- Pee Wee documentary film from SCETV's Carolina Stories television series
- Timeline of Donald Henry Gaskins including a list of some of his victims
- Donald Henry Gaskins, United States Court of Appeals, October 15, 1990
- Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins, One of the Most Prolific Killers in U.S. History, October 23, 2019
- The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, The Death Penalty, U.S. Executions Since 1976