“She had beautiful legs. I wanted to keep those legs.”
One by one, investigators found the women’s bodies. Each one carefully posed. Each one brutally mutilated. An arm here. A leg there. A breast, nipples, a tattoo. The killer was cutting his victims to pieces…
“At that point, I pretty much went for the head.”
For ten years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the killings went on. Women of slight stature were hunted down, bludgeoned and strangled. And what the killer did with the women’s bodies in the privacy of his car, his home, his kitchen, and his shower—was beyond anything police could imagine.
“I was pure evil.”
When investigators finally caught mild-mannered, Star Trek fan Sean Vincent Gillis, he couldn’t wait to tell his story. In the presence of shocked veteran detectives, Sean told them every detail of his killings, everything he did with the bodies… And he smiled the whole time…
I was in a real bad place. I was pure evil. No love, no compassion, no faith, no mercy, no hope. I’ve been there many times in the past ten years. She was so far gone that night I really do not think she knew what was happening to her. I don’t know why, but how—strangulation with a nylon tie lock. I still puzzle over the post mortem dismemberment and cutting. There must be something deep in my subconscious that needs that kind of macabre action. I really don’t know what my damage is. In time the wounds will be easier to live with. There is a reason for everything, even such senseless acts of violence. Until ten years ago, I never so much imagined harm to anyone. Please tell me more about Donna. I think I would have liked her.—Sean Vincent Gillis
Downtown Baton Rouge hosts a plethora of governmental buildings, among them the State Capitol, built by Governor Huey P. Long in 1931 and rising 450 feet above the Mississippi River (and where Long was later assassinated in 1935); the historic Pentagon Barracks, a two-story brick military fort built in 1825, which also served as the site of Louisiana State University from 1884 until 1926; and the elegant governor’s mansion, inspired by the architecture of Oak Alley Plantation and built in 1963 by Governor Jimmie Davis, better known for starring in several B-movies and for his recording of the country-western song, “You are my Sunshine.” Most of Louisiana’s politics today are conducted in these buildings and in the coffee shops and restaurants that line streets that have been revitalized recently in an effort to bring life to a dying downtown. Decaying buildings have been bought and remodeled into gleaming structures meant to invite tourists and
conventions to the area.
The Hollywood Casino and the Belle of Baton Rouge, gaming riverboats that cater to rich and poor alike, float on the Mississippi just blocks from the capitol. The Shaw Center for the Arts, the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, and the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, complete with a planetarium designed to bring locals downtown, provide the beginnings of the cultural district that is the goal of the Downtown Development District. And on some Fridays during the fall and again in the spring, Live after Five, an outdoor concert series, features Louisiana blues and funk with acts like John Lisi, Sundanze, or the Chris LeBlanc Band, who entertain area professionals leaving work at the end of a long week as they dance in the streets with beers in hand. Life here seems good—well-lit streets, luxury apartments with courtyards housed above new businesses, restaurants and bars to provide entertainment.
But on the other side of Interstate 110, another world exists. On streets like Winnebago, Hollywood, North, Plank, and Geronimo, prostitutes hooked on cocaine hustle those driving by in hopes of earning enough money for another rock of crack. During the night, no self-respecting Baton Rougean would be caught traveling those streets. It simply isn’t safe.
Here, life is about survival, staying alive long enough to make one more score. Old shacks with peeling paint and torn curtains in windows are a sharp contrast to the more modern buildings located just blocks away.
Many of the hookers who work these streets once lived a normal life. They had families and jobs. Some once had husbands who held them close each night. Some had children whose hair they combed and whose small bodies they bathed, fed, and clothed. Each could remember what family and love felt like. But drugs had changed all of that. All had once thought this could never happen to them.
Now they lived in a world filled with danger and heartache. They learned early on to trust no one and to never let anyone get too close. The buying and selling of sex was a competitive business, and hookers had to work long hours to get as many johns as they could to make enough money for drugs and food, in that order. Sex comes cheap on these streets—sometimes as little as ten dollars for oral sex, which isn’t enough to feed habits that have grown through the years.
The men who frequent and live in this area either pay for their pleasure or make their livings on the backs on these women whose faces reflect their painful existence. Many of these women hold their heads high but rarely smile, afraid to show teeth rotted by the chemicals they take to get through each night. Their too-thin bodies and fragile bones barely fill the short skirts and low-cut blouses they wear to attract customers. None of that really matters, though. Despite an unstable economy, business is always good on darkened corners and in trash-filled alleys in the heart of north Baton Rouge.
Sean was not at all anxious when Terri slid into the car next to him. He was excited, having the woman he loved in the same car with Joyce’s body parts. It made him feel powerful.
“Hi, honey bunny,” he said, before leaning over to kiss her, the taste of his victim still fresh in his mouth.
Terri smiled. Sean was always so sweet.
He brought her home and told her he would be back in a little while. Sleepy from a long night of waiting on customers, Terri just nodded and went to bed.
Sean left to search for a place to dump Joyce’s body. He drove to River Road, which runs parallel to the Mississippi, but there were too many cars around. He then headed to the Plaquemine Ferry, but cars were lining up to cross the river. He turned around and drove south down River Road, farther away from the more traveled areas.
He rode for a while until he was on the east side of Iberville Parish near the small town of St. Gabriel. The little town, which was founded by the Acadians in the mid-1700s, is located on the east side of the Mississippi only twelve miles south of Baton Rouge. Sean passed near Bayou Manchac, which separates Iberville from East Baton Rouge Parish, and drove on past Levee’s Edge Horse Farm to milepost 1340, before stopping to survey his surroundings and to make sure no one was around. Only a few old shacks interrupted the landscape across the street. Cows in nearby fields chewed contentedly on their cud. Just down the road, the Iberville Christian Center Youth Ministry offered hope for a better life after death to the young people in the area. Satisfied that he had chosen the right spot, Sean drove up the gravel pathway that leads to the top of the levee. A steep concrete wall located on either side of the levee makes it almost impossible to walk to the
“I got the box out of the trunk and slung her leg down first,” Sean would later tell police. “Then I slung her head. It went ‘bloomp, bloomp, bloomp’ all the way down. The torso was last because that was harder.”
Pleased with himself, Sean got back in his car and went home to cuddle with Terri.
“On April 28, 2004, Sean Gillis’ DNA was obtained. It matched. There was a one in 3.2 trillion chance that DNA belonged to anyone other than Sean Gillis.”
Prem [Burns] paused for a moment to let that information sink in.
“On October 11, 2003, four years and nine months after Katherine Hall’s body was discovered, a fourteen-year-old boy was out searching for his dog in the woods off Pride-Port Hudson Road. He found the body of a female and went home to tell his father. Robert Reames found her lying face down, her body so small, in an advanced state of decomposition. She was totally nude, beaten and stabbed, both her hands amputated. There were multiple blunt force trauma wounds to her head, thorax, chest, buttocks, legs. There were numerous sharp force injuries to her body. She was five feet tall and weighed no more than a hundred and ten pounds. Her daughter reported her missing, but she remained a Jane Doe.
“Finally, she was identified. Her name was Johnnie Mae Williams. She was forty-five, a street prostitute. A deep cut found in her left arm produced a body hair. It was sent to the Acadiana Crime Lab and then to Quantico. The DNA on that hair matched Sean Vincent Gillis. At the time of his arrest, three photographs of Johnnie Mae were found on his computer. In his 2002 Cavalier’s glove box, another picture was found. In the course of five years and two months, he took three lives from this earth. He did it with premeditation.
“You’ll hear Mr. Gillis has a brain abnormality, that he’s psychotic, that ants move in and out of his brain through an implant in his brain put there by aliens. You’ll hear he has migraines, that he sleepwalks, that he’s chased by vampires and ghosts. You’ll hear the man who spoke in that video underwent extensive testing—MRI’s, CAT scans. Four impartial doctors found them to be perfectly normal.
“Pure evil is what he is, a sociopath preying on women, hoping they would not be missed. Sean gave an interview to police and admitted to the murders of Katherine, Johnnie, and Donna. He’d known Johnnie for ten years. He expressed contempt for each of the women. ‘It was like they were already dead to me,’ he told a reporter.
“In spite of her addictions, Donna’s family loved her. None of her grandchildren will ever meet their grandmother. During the nine months she carried each of those children, she managed to stay drug and alcohol free out of love and respect for them. She aspired to be a good mother.
“For five years and two months, this man managed to outsmart the smartest police and went on with his life. He went back to 545 Burgin Avenue to be with Terri Lemoine. She was never alerted as to what he was doing.
“Sean Vincent Gillis is pure evil. Sean Vincent Gillis deserves the maximum penalty recognized by Louisiana law,” Prem concluded.
What she couldn’t say was that Sean had confessed to the murders and mutilations of five more women and that his killing spree had lasted more than ten years. By suppressing his confession, Judge Jackson had robbed the jury of the truth to protect the rights of a serial killer, rights that a higher court in West Baton Rouge Parish would eventually rule that Sean did not have.