Back when Sue Israel and I began writing professionally, we had no idea that we would one day write books about serial killers. To be honest, Sue and I are probably the last people who should be tackling this subject matter mostly because we enjoy writing about happy things. But then Derrick Todd Lee began terrorizing South Louisiana and taking the lives of beautiful women, and Sue and I were given the opportunity to chronicle his rampage. For us, it was a chance to try our skills at investigative journalism.
Although researching I’ve Been Watching You, later renamed Blood Bath, was fascinating work, it was also very emotional for us. It was hard getting to know the victims vicariously through some of their families and then learning all of the horrible details about what had happened to these women. When we finished the book, which we wrote with Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton, it was a relief not to have to think about such terrible things anymore.
Or so we thought.
Then Sean Vincent Gillis confessed to killing eight women in and around the Baton Rouge area. Sue and I knew the minute we heard he had been arrested that we would be writing another book, although we weren’t quite sure why we wanted to put ourselves through that again. I like to think we are fascinated by the psychology behind why serial killers do what they do. I always want to know the “why” and “how” of everything, and to me, this is the biggest “why” and “how” of all.
Why would someone do such horrible things?
How could someone even want to hurt another human being?
I have to say that when we researched Derrick Todd Lee, Sue and I thought we had seen the very worst humanity had to offer.
That was before we came to know Sean Vincent Gillis.
I tell people that these two killers are completely different. Derrick Todd Lee was full of rage and vented his anger on women he perceived as too good for him, the women he could never have. Conversely, Sean Vincent Gillis was simply cold and sick. In a letter written to another inmate in prison, Gillis, trying to explain how and why he had killed Donna Bennett Johnston, wrote, “She did not anger me.”
That simple sentence scared me to death. He was not angry while he was killing her. Sean Vincent Gillis killed for the pure pleasure of killing.
When we began our research on Gillis, we really didn’t know what we were getting into. Many of his gruesome deeds have not been reported in the media. We had not previously heard anything about much of what we learned along the way. And the learning was not easy.
Gillis was a vicious killer who enjoyed not only killing his victims, but he enjoyed mutilating their bodies after he killed them. His curiosity about the dead bodies of women led him to commit unspeakable acts, reminiscent of Jeffrey Dahmer.
Dismembered chronicles Sean Vincent Gillis’s life growing up in Baton Rouge, his relationship with his girlfriend, the murders of the eight women he confessed to killing, his arrest and trial, and his life in prison after being sentenced to three life sentences in three Louisiana parishes.
The book also tells the story of the lives of his victims:
Hardee Mosely Schmidt
Lillian Gorham Robinson
Johnnie Mae Williams
Donna Bennett Johnston
Some of these women had normal lives, spent surrounded by families and friends, and some experienced the darker side of life. None deserved what happened to them in their final moments and after they died.
Trying to figure out what made a seemingly normal, if a little nerdy guy like Sean Gillis commit such evil acts was fascinating. Most of the time, he stayed at home with his girlfriend, Terri Lemoine, who he genuinely loved (as much as evil can love). But every now and then, his inner demons would get the best of him, and he would take a ride in his car to look for his next victim. There were times he went years without killing, but other times, his murders were only a few months apart. Some of his victims, he mutilated. Others, he didn’t.
No one who knew him would have ever guessed that he was capable of the things he did. That is frightening to me. Gillis lived in a nice neighborhood in the heart of Baton Rouge, worked at many jobs where he interacted with many people, had a mother who loved him, a girlfriend who loved him, friends who cared about him, and not one person who knew him suspected anything was wrong.
Dismembered features parts of Gillis’s confession, as well as letters he wrote to his girlfriend from prison. I must warn you—this book contains some very disturbing details of the murders.