Donald Henry Gaskins
Most Notorious Serial Killers
The Hitchhikers Killer
Gaskins was born in Florence County, South Carolina. His mother's name was Eulea Parrott, and he was the last in a string of illegitimate children. Gaskins' early life was characterized by a great deal of neglect. His mother provided no supervision. When Gaskins was just one year old, he drank a bottle of kerosene, which caused him to have convulsions until he was three years old. He also suffered from night terrors. Gaskins also received regular beatings from his various "step-fathers." He was small for his age and immediately gained the nickname "Pee Wee". His mother apparently took so little, if any, interest in him that the first time he learned his given name-Donald-was when it was read out in his first court appearance. The court appearance followed a brief crime spree he and a few of his fellow school dropouts had taken. They gang-raped the sister of one of the dropouts and committed a string of robberies. They were arrested after a witness, who survived a hatchet assault, was able to identify them to the police. As a result, Gaskins was sent to reform school.
While in reform school, Gaskins was regularly raped by his fellow inmates. After escaping from the school, getting married and voluntarily returning to complete his sentence, he was released at the age of 18 in 1951. He briefly worked on a tobacco plantation. He was arrested in 1953, and charged with attempted murder after using a hammer to attack a teenage girl who he claimed had been insulting him. Gaskins was sentenced to six years imprisonment at the Central Correctional Institution. After being raped and "owned" in prison he earned his bones by killing the most feared man in CCI, Hazel Brazell. As a result, he received an extra three years in prison, 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.
Second Arrest And Subsequent Murders
Following his release from prison, Gaskins reverted to committing burglaries and fencing stolen property. Two years after his parole, Gaskins was arrested for the rape of a twelve-year-old girl, but he absconded while awaiting sentence. He was rearrested in Georgia and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment. Gaskins was paroled in November 1968. Upon his release, Gaskins moved to the town of Sumter and began work with Fort Roofing company. His first non-prison-related murder victim was a hitchhiker whom he tortured and murdered in September 1969, before sinking her body in a swamp. In his memoirs, he wrote: "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 picked up and killed while driving around the coastal highways of the American South. He 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 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. He later confessed to killing "eighty to ninety" such victims, although his claims to have committed any "coastal kills" have never been corroborated. In his autobiography, Final Truth, 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 10th date of each calendar month.
In November 1970, Gaskins committed the first of his so-called "serious murders", people whom he knew and killed for personal reasons. Gaskins' first "serious murder" victims were his own niece, Janice Kirby, aged 15, and her friend Patricia Ann Alsbrook, aged 17, both of whom he beat to death after attempting to sexually assault them in Sumter, South Carolina. Other "serious murder" victims were killed for a variety of reasons: because they had mocked Gaskins, attempted to blackmail him, owed him money, because they had stolen from him, or because Gaskins had been paid to kill his victim. Unlike his "coastal kills", Gaskins simply executed these victims, usually by shooting them, before burying them around the coastal areas of South Carolina. In 1973, he committed one of his more gruesome murders when he raped and murdered two of his neighbors: Doreen Dempsey, aged 23 and 8 months pregnant, and her two-year-old daughter. Nobody suspected that Gaskins was a sadistic serial killer, but there were some who knew that he was prepared to commit murder for a reasonable reward. In February 1975, a woman named Suzanne Kipper Owens hired Gaskins to kill her boyfriend, Silas Barnwell Yates. In order to cover up the murder, Gaskins ended up killing four more times.
Gaskins was arrested on November 14, 1975, when a criminal associate named Walter Neeley confessed to police that he had witnessed 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, Gaskins led police to land he owned in Prospect, where police discovered the bodies of eight of his victims.
Gaskins was tried on eight charges 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 death sentence ruling was changed to conform to the United States 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 named Bill and Myrtle Moon during a bungled armed robbery of the store they owned in the Burgess community. Gaskins was hired to commit this murder by Tony Cimo, son of Myrtle Moon. 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 death row 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, unbeknown to him) to his ear at an agreed time, Gaskins detonated the explosives from his cell and killed Tyner. Gaskins later said, "The last thing he [Tyner] heard was me laughing." Gaskins was tried for the murder of Rudolph Tyner and sentenced to death.
Gaskins was executed on September 6, 1991, at 1:10 a.m. He was the fourth person to die in the electric chair after the death penalty was reinstated in South Carolina in 1977. Only hours before he was escorted to the electric chair at Broad River Correctional Institution, Gaskins tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists with a razor blade he had swallowed the previous week, then coughed up. His last words were, "I'll let my lawyers talk for me. I'm ready to go."