Tommy Lynn Sells

Classification: Serial killer
Arrested: January 2, 2000
No. Victims: 9-13
Victim Profile: Young girls, families
Location: Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Tennessee & Kentucky

Tommy Lee Sells was arrested January 2, 2000, after he slashed to death 13-year-old Kaylene Harris on New Year's Day. During the same assault Sells, 35, slashed thethroat of 10-year-old Kristal Surles, but the girl survived. Kristal, who is from Kansas, was visiting her friend Kaylene in Guajia Bay, about 14 miles north of Del Rio on US Highway 90 in Texas, when Sells came upon them.

In custody Sells, a drug-addict and drifter, admitted to the Texas Rangers that he had killed between 20 and 50 people in several states over the last two decades. To date Sells has been charged with one homicide in Texas and one in Kentucky. He is considered a strong suspect in eleven more deaths in half-dozen states.

Not unlike serial confessor Henry Lee Lucas, Sells has traveled to Idaho, Nevada and Arkansas to try to confirm slayings that he has confessed he committed. One of the alleged victims in Central Arkansas was found alive and well. "We went to Little Rock, Arkansas, and he was able to take us to a house where a burglary and shooting had occurred," said Texas Ranger John Allen said. "For 18 years he was sure he had hit the guy, but it turns out the guy just fell to the ground and lay there like he was hit."

Sells was born in Oakland, California, and later moved to Utah and St. Louis. At age 13 or 14, he left home and spent the next two decades riding trains, hitchhiking and driving stolen cars across the country. He was in prison on assault and car theft convictions for nine of the past 20 years. Sells arrived in Del Rio with a carnival about two years ago, married a local woman and worked odd jobs.

He left town last year for about five months, during which authorities believe he killed a girl in Lexington, Kentucky, but returned last fall to sell used cars in Del Rio. Allen said there appeared to be little pattern to the killings that Sells has described committing. "I can't think of a word that would fit him other than opportunist. If an opportunity presented itself, things could go bad," he said. "And unlike other people who have been suspected of multiple murders, there's not set pattern of the victims being a particular gender, age or hair color. "And there's no pattern to his method of murder. It goes from strangulation to slashing to shooting to beatings. Some were confrontations, some were robberies, some were pure anger, but the larger percentage were sexual assault." I an interview Sells said he killed so many people because, "my daddy told me a long time ago that dead men tell no tales."

In March Tommy Lee Sells guided detectives around Pulaski County in Central Arkansas looking for evidence of two murders he said he commited there in early 1982. Sells eventually guided the detectives to a "blue hole" in southern Pulaski County and told a story of the rape and murder of a woman whose body was thrown into the deep water of a bauxite pit. Sheriff's deputies have not yet sent divers into the pit to find the body, saying they won't until they can confirm other parts of Sells' tale. "It's hard to justify spending money on divers until we can get some sort of corroborating evidence that there is a missing person," Pulaski County sheriff's office spokesman John Rehrauer said. "We have not been able to establish a connection to what Sells thought happened and anything in our records. Until we do, we're not going to go to the expense of diving."

Several weeks after the Little Rock trip, Texas authorities took Sells to southern Idaho on a similar mission, because he had confessed to three area murders. Authorities believe that two of those murders occurred in the fall of 1988 at a bridge overlook just outside of Twin Falls. The third murder occurred the following year in neighboring Gooding County. "He said he was driving a stolen black Dodge van in Salt Lake City and brought the woman -- who he had been seeing for a couple of weeks -- and her son to spend the night on the Snake River," a Twin Falls County sheriff's spokesman said. "He said he killed them and dumped them in the river." As of now police have no missing persons report to match the alleged killing. In the third murder, Sells confessed to abducting a woman who was hitchhiking from Canada to Salt Lake City.