Unmasking the Dark Mind of Pee Wee Gaskins

The realm of true crime has produced its fair share of chilling stories, but few are as disturbing as the tale of Donald Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins Jr., a notorious American serial killer. With a gruesome criminal record that spans decades, Gaskins stands out as one of the most prolific and unsettling murderers in history.

This article delves into the life, crimes, and psychological intricacies of Pee Wee Gaskins, shedding light on the darkness that drove him to commit heinous acts.

A troubled childhood

Born on March 13, 1933, in Florence County, South Carolina, Pee Wee Gaskins experienced a tumultuous upbringing marked by abuse and neglect. He was a small child, earning him the nickname “Pee Wee.” Gaskins’ family life was rife with instability, with his mother having multiple relationships and marriages. Subjected to physical and emotional abuse, young Gaskins faced a chaotic environment that undoubtedly played a role in shaping his disturbed psyche.

Early signs of deviance

Gaskins’ criminal behavior began to emerge in his early adolescence. At just 11 years old, he was arrested for theft and sent to a reform school, where he claimed he suffered from brutal sexual abuse. It was during this period that Gaskins’ hatred for authority figures and a deep-seated sense of rage began to intensify, setting the stage for his future acts of violence.

A reign of terror

Gaskins’ criminal career took a horrifying turn in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he committed a series of gruesome murders that shocked the nation. His victims ranged from hitchhikers and acquaintances to family members and even children. Gaskins’ methods of killing were brutal and varied, ranging from shooting to stabbing and even using homemade explosive devices.

Gaskins said his first non-prison-related murder victim was a blonde female hitchhiker whom he tortured and murdered in September 1969, before sinking her body in a swamp. In his memoirs, he said: “All I could think about is how I could do anything I wanted to her.”


In November 1970, Gaskins committed the first of a series of confirmed murders, primarily people whom he knew and killed for personal reasons. His first confirmed victims were his own niece, Janice Kirby (aged 15), and her friend, Patricia Ann Alsbrook (aged 17), both of whom he beat to death. He said he was enraged at their drug abuse, while others say he was attempting to sexually assault them in Sumter.

1971 or 1972

Gaskins claims to have poisoned Martha Ann Dicks JR (also known as “Clyde”), 20, in March 1971 or 1972 either because of a rumor Pee Wee was the father of her unborn child (she generally dated only women but known to “mess around” with men from time to time), or out of revenge because she was an alleged drug dealer who supplied Kirby and Allsbrook, or because she got married and left for Texas to be with her wife. Her bones were found in a ditch, but lost when given to a university to study.


Gaskins was an overt racist and he raped and drowned both Doreen Hope Dempsey, 22, and her two-year-old daughter, Robin Michelle Dempsey in June 1973. Gaskins had befriended Doreen Dempsey several years prior and was angry upon hearing she had become pregnant a second time with an African American man. She had been living with Gaskins’s friend Johnny Sellers and his brother Carl Sellers in North Charleston, South Carolina. They brought her to Gaskins’s home in Prospect, and left her there to speak with Gaskins about staying with him for a short time while she was pregnant. Upset that Doreen was having a second biracial child, Gaskins responded by walking her to his backyard pond where he drowned both the mother and her toddler.


In June 1974, Gaskins shot his friend and criminal associate Johnny Sellers, aged 36, in the back of the head, and stabbed to death Johnny’s ex-girlfriend Jessie Ruth Judy, aged 22, after Sellers asked for money he was owed from the sale of a stolen boat. Gaskins feared Sellers would reveal Gaskins was also involved in an auto theft ring. Jessie Judy was murdered at the same time because she could have told police about Gaskins’s criminal activities, including murdering her boyfriend, Johnny Sellers.


Silas Barnwell Yates, age 45, was murdered in February 1975 by having his throat slit in a murder-for-hire scheme. The forensics showed it was by knife, but Gaskins disputed this, saying it was done by karate chop. Yates was in a dispute with his ex-girlfriend Suzanne Kipper Owens, and she and her husband John Owens paid Gaskins $1,500 to murder Yates.

Diane Bellamy Neeley, age 25, was separated from her husband Walter Neeley, who was one of Gaskins closest friends and criminal co-conspirator. On April 10, 1975, Gaskins stabbed to death Dianne Bellamy and shot dead her boyfriend Avery Leroy Howard, aged 34. Among other reasons, Gaskins murdered Dianne Bellamy because she had threatened to report to police that Gaskins was allowing underage teenagers to have sex in his home. Avery Howard was murdered because he asked for money to pay attorneys and cover legal expenses following his arrest for fraud and auto theft. Gaskins worried Avery Howard would tell police about Gaskins’s criminal activities.

Kim Ghelkins, age 13, was stabbed to death to keep her from telling police Gaskins had moved her from North Charleston without permission, and to keep her from telling police she was being sexually abused by several adult men, including Gaskins.

Dennis Bellamy, aged 27, and John Henry Knight, age 15, were half-brothers, and Dianne Bellamy was their sister. Within minutes of each other, Gaskins shot the two brothers in the back of the head on October 10, 1975. Gaskins had promised to pay Dennis Bellamy for some stolen guns. When confronted by Bellamy at Gaskins’s trailer home in Prospect, South Carolina, he responded by offering to return the guns from the woods behind his home. He took Bellamy into the woods to retrieve the guns, but murdered him instead. John Henry Knight was directed to the same area, allegedly to meet his brother, but was also murdered to ensure he could never speak of the crimes.


Rudolph Tyner, aged 23, was on death row in CCI prison for a March 1978 double-murder when he was murdered by Gaskins on September 12, 1982. Tyner was appealing his own death sentence after being convicted for robbing a convenience store and killing store owners Bill and Myrtle Moon on March 18, 1978. The Moons’ son, Tony Cimo, hired Gaskins for $2,000 to kill Rudolph Tyner because in Cimo’s view, the appeals process was taking too long. Tony Cimo asked Gaskins what he needed to kill Tyner, then Gaskins told him to insert some C4 inside the heel of a shoe and mail it to him. This way Gaskins obtained plastic explosives with a blasting cap, a long wire, and a radio speaker to create an imitation intercom speaker that Tyner put to his ear to test. Gaskins then detonated the makeshift bomb by plugging the wire into a prison cell power outlet.

His ability to blend into society made it difficult for law enforcement to apprehend him, earning him the moniker “The Meanest Man in America.”

The disturbing motivations

Psychologists and criminologists have attempted to understand the motivations that drove Pee Wee Gaskins to commit such heinous acts. His troubled childhood, coupled with a deep-seated desire for power and control, likely contributed to his violent tendencies. Gaskins exhibited traits of antisocial personality disorder, characterized by a lack of empathy, manipulative behavior, and a disregard for the rights of others. The intense pleasure he derived from exerting dominance over his victims further fueled his murderous impulses.

Capture and confession

In 1975, Gaskins’ reign of terror finally came to an end when he was arrested for a murder unrelated to his previous crimes. While in custody, he confessed to a series of murders, providing chilling details about his methods and motives. His shocking confessions led to a trial that resulted in his conviction for multiple counts of murder, earning him a sentence of death by electric chair.


Pee Wee Gaskins’ life and crimes paint a harrowing portrait of a disturbed individual whose actions left a trail of pain and suffering in his wake. His story serves as a grim reminder of the darkness that can reside within the human psyche, and the complex interplay of nature and nurture that can shape a serial killer.

While Gaskins’ execution on September 6, 1991 marked the end of his physical existence, his legacy endures as a cautionary tale and a chilling glimpse into the abyss of a serial killer’s mind.

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