Tommy Lynn Sells

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Tommy Lynn Sells
Tommy Lynn Sells.jpg
Born(1964-06-28)June 28, 1964
DiedApril 3, 2014(2014-04-03) (aged 49)
Cause of death Lethal injection
Other names"Coast to Coast," The Cross-country Killer
Conviction(s) Felony theft, grand theft auto, malicious wounding, murder, public intoxication, theft (September 18, 2000)
Criminal penalty Death (September 20, 2000)
Victims1 conviction; 22+ suspected
Span of crimes
1980–December 31, 1999
CountryUnited States
State(s) Missouri, New York, Illinois, Texas, Kentucky, [1] (possibly others)
Date apprehended
January 2, 2000

Tommy Lynn Sells (June 28, 1964 – April 3, 2014) was an American serial killer. He was convicted of one murder, for which he received the death penalty and was eventually executed. Authorities believe he committed a total of 22 murders.


Early life

Sells and his twin sister, Tammy Jean, contracted meningitis when they were 18 months old; Tammy died from the illness. [2] [3] Shortly thereafter, Sells was sent to live with his aunt, Bonnie Walpole, in Holcomb, Missouri. When he was five years old, he was returned to his mother after she found out his aunt wanted to adopt him. [4]

Sells claimed that when he was eight, he began spending time with a man named Willis Clark, who began to molest him with the consent of his mother. Sells stated that this abuse affected him greatly, and he would relive his experiences while committing his crimes. [5]

The homeless Sells hitchhiked and train-hopped across the United States from 1978 to 1999, committing various crimes along the way. He held several very short-term manual-labor and barber jobs. He drank heavily, abused drugs, and was imprisoned several times. [6] [7]

Previous crimes, sentences, and mental disorders

In 1990, Sells stole a truck in Wyoming and was sentenced to 16 months' imprisonment. He was diagnosed with a personality disorder consisting of antisocial, borderline, and schizoid features, substance use disorder (severe opioid, cannabis, amphetamines, and alcohol dependence), bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and psychosis. [8] [9]

On May 13, 1992, a 19-year-old woman in Charleston, West Virginia, was driving when she saw Sells panhandling under an overpass with a sign that said, "I will work for food." [1] She felt sorry for him and took him to her home, asking him to wait outside. She went into her home to get some food for him, and by the time she got back to her front door, he was inside. When she walked away to get something else, he got a knife from her kitchen and trapped her in a bedroom, and raped her repeatedly. [1]

The woman fought back by hitting him in the head with a ceramic duck; in retaliation, Sells beat her with a piano stool. He also stabbed her 18 times. [8] [1] He was indicted on five counts of rape and felony assault in September 1992, but took a plea deal and pleaded guilty to malicious wounding. On June 25, 1993, he was sentenced to 2–⁠10 years' imprisonment; the rape charges were dropped. [1]

While serving this sentence, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and married Nora Price. He was released in 1997 and moved to Tennessee with his wife. He left her and resumed his cross-country travels. [8]


Police investigators believe Sells murdered at least 22 people. Retired Texas Ranger John Allen said, "We did confirm 22... I know there's more. I know there's a lot more. Obviously, we won't ever know [a definite number of crimes by Sells]." [10] Sells said he committed his first murder at age 15, after breaking into a house. While in the house, Sells claimed to have discovered a man performing fellatio on a boy and killed the man in a fit of rage. [9]

In July 1985, 21-year-old Sells worked at a Forsyth, Missouri, carnival, where he met 28-year-old Ena Cordt (November 15, 1956 – July 27, 1985) and her 4-year-old son Rory (August 3, 1980 – July 27, 1985). [11] Cordt invited Sells to her home that evening. According to Sells, he had sex with her, fell asleep, and awoke to find her stealing from his backpack. He proceeded to beat Cordt to death with her son's baseball bat. He then murdered her son because the child was a potential witness. The bludgeoned bodies were found three days later, by which time Sells had left town. [11]

Sells is also linked to these crimes:

In November 2015, Melissa DeBoer née Tate contacted police after watching an episode of Crime Watch Daily which featured Sells. In 1982, DeBoer's mother, JoAnne Tate, was murdered in her St. Louis home; her testimony as a 7 year old assaulted in the sexual attack helped identify Rodney Lincoln as the killer. However, DeBoer came to believe Sells, not Lincoln, murdered her mother in 1982. [19] In 2018, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens commuted Lincoln's sentence. [20]

Arrests and confessions

Allan B. Polunsky Unit, where Sells was located PolunskyUnitWestLivingstonTX.jpg
Allan B. Polunsky Unit, where Sells was located

On December 31, 1999, in the Guajia Bay subdivision, west of Del Rio, Texas, Sells sexually assaulted, stabbed and killed 13-year-old Kaylene "Katy" Harris before slitting the throat of 10-year-old Krystal Surles. [1] Krystal survived and received help from the neighbors after traveling a quarter-mile to their home with a severed trachea. [1] Sells was apprehended after being identified from a sketch made from the victim's description. Police over time came to suspect him of "working the system" by confessing to murders he had not committed. [3]

The state's attorney in Jefferson County, Illinois, declined to charge Sells with the Dardeen family homicides in 1987 because his confession to the quadruple killing, while generally consistent with the facts of the case as reported in the media, was inaccurate with concern to some details that had not been made public. He also changed his account three times regarding how he had met the family. [21] Investigators wanted to bring Sells to southern Illinois to resolve their doubts, but Texas refused, due to its law forbidding death-row prisoners from leaving the state. [22]

Sells was housed on death row in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice received him on November 8, 2000. [23]

In 2004, Sells confessed that on October 13, 1997, he broke into a home, took a knife from a butcher block in the kitchen, stabbed a little boy to death, and scuffled with a woman. Those details corroborated the account of Julie Rea Harper, who was initially convicted for the murder of her son, and then acquitted in 2006. [13] [24] [25]


On January 3, 2014, a Del Rio judge set Sells' execution date for April 3, 2014. [26] [27] Sells' death sentence was carried out at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. When asked if he would like to make a final statement, Sells replied, "No." As a lethal dose of pentobarbital was administered, he took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes, and began to snore. Less than a minute later, he stopped moving. Thirteen minutes later, at 6:27 pm (CDT), he was pronounced dead. [28] Krystal Surles and members of both the Harris and Perez families attended the execution. [1]

In media

Eight years before his execution, Sells was one of the featured interviewees on episode two ("Cold-Blooded Killers") of season one on the Investigation Discovery documentary series, Most Evil . The interview was done by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone. In the interview, Sells claimed to have killed more than 70 people. [29] ABC News created a 10-minute mini-documentary 'Tommy Lynn Sells - The Mind of a Psychopath'. [30]

See also

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Further reading