Sean Gillis' Childhood YearsSean Vincent Gillis was born on June 24, 1962, in Baton Rouge, LA to Norman and Yvonne Gillis. Struggling with alcoholism and mental illness, Norman Gillis left the family soon after Sean was born.
Yvonne Gillis struggled to raise Sean alone while maintaining a full-time job at a local television station. His grandparents also took an active role in his life, often caring for him when Yvonne had to work.
Gillis had all the characteristics of a normal child. It wasn't until his younger teen years that some of his peers and neighbors caught a glimpse of his darker side.
Education and Catholic ValuesEducation and religion were important to Yvonne and she managed to scrape together enough money to enroll Sean into parochial schools. But Sean did not have much interest in school and maintained only average grades. This did not bother Yvonne. She thought her son was brilliant.
High School YearsGillis was an odd teenager which did not make him very popular at school, but he did have two best friends that he hung out with a lot. The group would usually hang around Gillis' house. With Yvonne at work they could talk freely about girls, Star Trek, listen to music and sometimes even smoke a little pot.
Computers and PornographyAfter graduating from high school Gillis got a job at a convenience store. When not at work he spent much of his time on his computer looking at pornographic websites.
Over time Gillis' obsession to look at pornography online seemed to fester and affect his personality. He would skip work and other responsibilities in order to stay at home alone with his computer.
Yvonne Moves AwayIn 1992 Yvonne decided to take a new job in Atlanta. She asked Gillis to come with her, but he did not want to go, so she agreed to continue to pay the mortgage on the house so that Gillis had a place to live.
Gillis, now 30, was living alone for the first time in his life and he could do as he pleased because no one was watching.
HowlingBut people were watching. His neighbors saw him late at night sometimes in his yard howling at the sky and cursing his mother for leaving. They caught him peeping into the window of a young woman who lived next door. They saw his friends coming and going and could sometimes smell the scent of marijuana from his house on hot summer nights.
Many of Gillis' neighbors quietly wished that he would move away. Simply put, he gave them the creeps.
LoveIn 1994 Sean and Terri Lemoine met each other through a mutual friend. They had similar hobbies and bonded quickly. Terri found Sean to be an underachiever, but kind and considerate. She helped him get a job at the same convenience store where she worked.
Terri loved Gillis, but did not like that he was a heavy drinker. She also was confused by his lack of interest in sex, a problem she eventually accepted and blamed on his addiction to pornography.
What she didn't realize was that Gillis' interest in porn was centered around sites that focused on rape, death and dismemberment of women. She also did not know that in March of 1994, he acted out on his fantasies with his first of many victims, an 81-year-old woman named Ann Bryan.
Ann BryanOn March 20, 1994, Ann Bryan, 81, was living at St. James Place which was an assisted-living facility located across the street from the convenience store where Gillis worked. As she often would do, Ann left the door to her apartment unlocked before retiring to bed so that she did not have to get up to let the nurse in the next morning.
Gillis entered Ann's apartment around 3 a.m. and stabbed her to death after his attempt to rape her failed. He slashed at her 47 times, almost decapitating and disemboweling the small elderly woman. He seemed fixated on stabbing at her face, genitals and breasts.
Ann Bryan's murder shocked the Baton Rouge community. It would be another 10 years before before her murderer was caught and five years before Gillis would attack again. But once he started back his list of victims grew quickly.
VictimsTerri and Gillis began living together in 1995 soon after he murdered Ann Bryan and for the next five years the need to murder and butcher women seemed to go away. But then Gillis got bored and in January 1999 he once again started to stalk the streets of Baton Rouge looking for a victim.
Over the next five years he killed seven more women, mostly prostitutes, with the exception of Hardee Schmidt who came from an affluent area of the city and became his victim after he spotted her jogging in her neighborhood.
Gillis' victims included:
- Ann Bryan, aged 81, murdered March 21, 1994.
- Katherine Ann Hall, aged 29, murdered January 4, 1999.
- Hardee Schmidt, aged 52, murdered May 30, 1999.
- Joyce Williams, aged 36, murdered November 12, 1999.
- Lillian Robinson, aged 52, murdered in January 2000.
- Marilyn Nevils, aged 38, murdered in October 2000.
- Johnnie Mae Williams, aged 45, murdered in October 2003.
- Donna Bennett Johnston, aged 43, murdered February 26, 2004.
The Baton Rouge Serial KillerDuring much of the time that Gillis was busy murdering, dismembering and cannibalizing Baton Rouge women, there was another serial killer that prowled the college community. The amount of unsolved murders were beginning to pile up and as a result a task force of investigators was organized.
Derrick Todd Lee was apprehended on May 27, 2003 and dubbed the Baton Rouge Serial Killer, and the community breathed a sigh of relief. What many did not realize however, was that Lee was just one of two or maybe three serial killers on the loose in south Louisiana.
Arrest and ConvictionThe murder of Donna Bennett Johnston was what finally led police to the Sean Gillis' door. Pictures of her murder scene revealed tire tracks near where her body was found.
With the help of engineers at the Goodyear Tire Company, the police were able to identify the tire and had a list of everyone who bought it in Baton Rouge. They then set out to contact all of the people on the list in order to get a DNA sample.
Sean Vincent Gillis was number 26 on the list.
On April 29, 2004, Gillis was arrested for murder after his DNA sample matched the DNA found on hairs on two of his victims. It did not take long for Gillis to start confessing after he was in police custody.
The detectives sat listening to Gillis proudly describe the grotesque details of each of the murders. At times he laughed and joked as he described how he had cut off the arm of one victim, consumed the flesh of another, raped the corpses of others and masturbated with the severed parts of his victims.
After Gillis was arrested a search of his home turned up 45 digital images on his computer of the mutilated body of Donna Johnston.
Prison LettersDuring the time that Gillis remained in jail awaiting his trial, he exchanged letters with Tammie Purpera, a friend of victim Donna Johnston. In the letters he describes the murder of her friend and for the first time even showed a glimpse of remorse:
- "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."
SentencingGillis was arrested and charged with the murders of Katherine Hall, Johnnie Mae Williams, and Donna Bennett Johnston. He stood trial for these crimes on July 21, 2008 and was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
A year prior to that he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was convicted in the killing of 36 year-old Joyce Williams.
To date he has been charged and convicted of seven of the eight murders. Police are still trying to gather more evidence to charge him with the murder of Lillian Robinson.