Donald Henry Gaskins
|Donald Henry Gaskins|
Mugshot of Donald Gaskins
Donald Henry Parrott Jr.|
March 13, 1933
Florence County, South Carolina, U.S.
September 6, 1991 (aged 58)|
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
|Cause of death||Execution by electric chair|
|Other names||Meanest Man in America, The Redneck Charles Manson, Junior Parrott, Pee Wee, The Hitchhiker's Killer|
|Criminal penalty||Death (May 28, 1976 & March 24, 1983)|
|Victims||9 (convicted), 100+ (own claim)|
Span of crimes
Gaskins' early life was characterized by a great deal of neglect. When he was just one year old, Gaskins drank a bottle of kerosene, which caused him to have convulsions until he was three years old. 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, for a crime spree Gaskins committed along with a group of fellow delinquents which included robberies, assaults and a gang rape.
Following his conviction for his role in the crime spree, Gaskins was sent to reform school. There, he was regularly raped by his fellow inmates. After escaping from the school, getting married and voluntarily returning to complete his sentence, he was released in 1951, at the age of 18. Gaskins briefly worked on a tobacco plantation until his 1953 arrest, after he attacked a teenage girl with a hammer for an alleged insult. 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 the prison, Hazel Brazell. As a result, Gaskins 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, he was arrested for the rape of a twelve-year-old girl, but he absconded while awaiting sentence. Gaskins was rearrested in Georgia and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment. Gaskins was paroled again in November 1968. Upon his release, Gaskins moved to the town of Sumter and began work with a roofing company.
Gaskins' 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. 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 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 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.
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. Other "serious murder" victims were killed for a variety of reasons: because they had mocked Gaskins, attempted to blackmail him, owed him money, allegedly 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 eight 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 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 Burgess. 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 the Tyner's murder and sentenced to death.
While on death row, Gaskins told his life story to a journalist named Wilton Earle. He 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. However, law enforcement sources found his claims impossible to verify.
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."
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- Shuler, Rita. 2006. Carolina Crimes: Case Files of a Forensic Photographer. The History Press: Charleston, SC.
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- Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins - Part 3
- Donald H. Gaskins; Wilton Earle (1992). Final Truth : The Autobiography of a Serial Killer. ISBN 978-0-9632422-0-4.