September 6, 1991
Columbia, South Carolina
Serial rapist and killer Donald Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins is executed
Gaskins had a troubled life starting at birth, punctuated by neglect from his mother. As young as 8, Gaskins began a string of crimes including robbery and rape. He was sent to a reform school where he was repeated raped by other inmates until his release at the age of 18. In 1953, when he was 20, he was arrested after attacking a girl with a hammer for allegedly insulting him and sentenced to another 6 years in prison where he was raped more. During one rape, he attacked his rapist, cutting his throat and killing him. Gaskins escaped from prison in 1955, was re-arrested, paroled in 1961, reoffended, sent to prison again, escaped again, and was paroled in 1968.
A year after his parole, Gaskins began his serial killing career. He would torture his victims, keeping them alive as long as possible to prolong their torment, before killing them. He also claimed to have cannibalized some of his victims.
At first, Gaskins targeted strangers, though in 1970 he raped and murdered his 15-year-old niece Janice Kirby and her 17-year-old friend Patricia Ann Alsbrook. He beat the girls to death after raping them instead of drawing out their deaths with torture. Gaskins classified the types of murders he committed as “costal kills” (whose victims were tortured and murdered for pleasure) and “serious murders” (whose victims were executed quickly).
In 1973, Gaskins raped and murdered a pregnant woman named Doreen Dempsey and her 2-year-old daughter. In 1973, he was hired by Suzanne Kipper Owens to kill her boyfriend. To throw investigators off his trail, Gaskins killed another four people.
Gaskins was arrested in 1974 after a witness came forward, telling police he had seen Gaskins kill 28-year-old Dennis Bellamy and 15-year-old Johnny Knight. Gaskins confessed to the murders and led police to the bodies of eight of his victims, whose murders he was charged with. He was sentenced to death, though the death sentence was later commuted to life.
In 1982, Gaskins murdered death row inmate Rudolph Tyner; Gaskins had been hired by the son of Tyner’s victims, an elderly couple killed during a robbery. After several failed attempts to assassinate Tyner by poisoning him, Gaskins rigged a radio with plastic explosives and detonated it as Tyner held the speaker to his ear. This murder earned Gaskins another death penalty which was not overturned. While on death row, Gaskins confessed to over 100 other murders, though investigators were unable to verify his claims, leaving his official death count at 8 plus those killed in prison.
Gaskins was executed on September 6, 1991, hours after he attempted suicide by slicing his wrists with a razor blade he had swallowed.
Among Gaskins’ nicknames were Pee Wee (he had a small build), The Redneck Charles Manson, and The Meanest Man in America.
Gaskins pointing to the grave sites of his victims