Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins was the most prolific serial killer in South Carolina history. Once his brutality was unleashed, he knew no boundaries, torturing, killing, cannibalizing victims, both male and female. In his taped memoirs for the book, Final Truth by author Wilton Earl, Gaskins said, ‘I have walked the same path as God, by taking lives and making others afraid, I became God’s equal. Through killing others, I became my own master. Through my own power I come to my own redemption..’
Donald Gaskins Childhood Years:
Donald Gaskins was born on March 13, 1933 in Florence County, South Carolina. His mother, who was not married when she became pregnant with Donald, lived on and off with several men during his childhood. Many of the men treated the young boy with disdain, sometimes beating him for just being around. His mother did little to protect him from her lovers and the boy was left alone to raise himself. When his mother did marry, his stepfather beat him and his four half-siblings regularly.
Gaskins was given the nicknames ‘Junior Parrott’ and ‘Pee Wee’ at a young age because of his small body frame. When he began attending school the violence he experienced at home followed him into the classrooms. He fought daily with the other boys and girls and was constantly punished by the teachers. At age eleven, he quit school, worked on cars at a local garage, and helped around the family farm. Emotionally Gaskins was battling an intense hatred toward people, women topping the list.
The Trouble Trio:
At the garage where Gaskins worked part-time, he met two boys, Danny and Marsh, both close to his age and out of school. The three teamed up and named themselves the “The Trouble Trio.” The trio began burglarizing homes and picking up prostitutes in nearby cities. Locally they sometimes raped young boys, then threatened them so they would not tell the police.
Early Criminal Behavior:
The trio stopped their sexual rampage after being caught for gang-raping Marsh’s younger sister. As punishment, their parents bound and beat the boys until they bled. After the beatings, Marsh and Danny left the area and Gaskins continued breaking into homes alone. In 1946, at the age of 13, a girl he knew interrupted him burglarizing a home. She attacked him with an ax, which he managed to get away from her, striking her in the head and arm with it before running away from the scene.
Reform School Bound:
The girl survived the attack and Gaskins was arrested, tried and found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and intent to kill. He was sent to the South Carolina Industrial School for Boys until he turned 18 years old. It was during the court proceedings that Gaskins heard his real name spoken for the first time in his life.
Reform School Education:
Reform school was particularly rough on the small and young Gaskins. Almost immediately he was attacked and gang-raped by 20 of his new peers. He spent the rest of his time either accepting protection from the dorm “Boss-Boy” in exchange for sex or trying unsuccessfully to escape from the reformatory. He was repeatedly beaten for his escape attempts and sexually exploited among the gang favored by the “Boss-Boy.”
Escape and Marriage:
Gaskins’ desperate attempts to escape resulted in physical fights with guards, and he was sent off for observation at a state mental hospital. Doctors found him sane enough to return to the reform school and after a few nights, he escaped again and managed to get on with a traveling carnival. While there, he married a 13-year-old girl, and made the decision to turn himself in to the police and finish his sentence at the reform school. He was released in March 1951 on his 18th birthday.
After reform school, Gaskin got a job on a tobacco plantation but could not resist the temptation for more. He and a partner got involved with insurance fraud by collaborating with tobacco farmers to burn their barns for a fee. People around the area began talking about the barn fires and suspected Gaskins’ involvement.
Assault With a Deadly Weapon & Attempted Murder:
Gaskins’ employer’s daughter and friend confronted Gaskin about his reputation as the barnburner and he flipped. With a hammer in hand, he split the girl’s skull. He was sent to prison after receiving a five-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder.
New Lessons – A Real Prison: Prison life was not much different from his time spent in reform school. Gaskins was immediately assigned to sexually service one of the prison gang leaders in exchange for protection. He realized the only way he would survive prison was to become known as a “Power Man.” Power Men were those who had a reputation as being so brutal and dangerous that others stayed away.
Graduating To Power Man: Gaskins’ small size would prevent him from intimidating the others into respecting him. Only his actions could accomplish this task. He set his sights on one of the meanest inmates in the prison, Hazel Brazell. Gaskins managed to manipulate himself into relationship of trust with Brazell then ultimately cut his throat. He was found guilty of manslaughter, spent six months in solitary confinement, and was titled a Power Man among prisoners. He could now look forward to an easier time in prison.
Escape and Marriage Part 2: In 1955, his wife filed for divorce. Gaskins flipped out and escaped from prison, stole a car and drove to Florida. He joined another carnival and in the interim married for a second time. The marriage ended after two weeks. Gaskins then became involved with a carnival woman, Bettie Gates, and the two drove to Cookeville, Tennessee to bail Gates’ brother out of jail.
Gaskins went to the jail with bail money and cigarettes in hand. When he returned to the hotel, Gates and his car were gone. Gates never returned but the police did and Gaskins discovered that he had been duped. Gates “brother” was actually her husband who had escaped from prison with the aid of a razor blade tucked inside a carton of cigarettes.
The Little Hatchet Man:
It did not take long for police to find out Gaskins was also an escaped convict and he was returned to prison. This time he received an additional nine months in jail for aiding an escape and for knifing a fellow prisoner. Later he was convicted of driving a stolen car across state lines and received three years in a federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. While there, he got to know mafia boss, Frank Costello, who named him “the little hatchet man” and offered him future employment.
Gaskins Is Released From Prison:
Gaskins was released from prison in August 1961. He returned to Florence, SC and got a job working in the tobacco sheds but was unable to stay out of trouble. Soon he was back to burglarizing homes. This time he made more of an effort to avoid arrest by taking a job with a traveling minister. He worked as his driver and general assistant. This allowed him the opportunity to break into homes in different towns where the group preached, making his crimes harder to trace.
Arrested for Statutory Rape :
In 1962, Gaskin married a third time but this did not stop his criminal behavior. He was arrested for statutory rape of a twelve-year-old girl but managed to escape, this time traveling to North Carolina in a stolen Florence County car. There he met another 17-year-old and married for a fourth time. She ended up turning him into the police and Gaskin was convicted of statutory rape. He received six years at the Columbia penitentiary and was paroled in November 1968, vowing never to return.
‘Them Aggravated and Bothersome Feelings,’:
All through Gaskins life he had what he described as, ‘them aggravated and bothersome feelings,’ that seemed to push him into criminal activity. He found little relief from the feelings until September 1969, when he picked up a female hitchhiker in North Carolina. Gaskins became angry with the young girl for laughing at him when he propositioned her for sex. He beat her until she was unconscious then raped, sodomized, and tortured her then sunk her weighted body into a swamp where she drowned.
Rape, Torture, Murder:
This act of brutality was what Gaskins later described as ‘a vision’ into the ‘bothersome feelings’ that haunted him throughout life. He finally discovered how to satisfy them and from that point on, it was the driving force in his life. He worked on mastering his skill of torture, often keeping his mutilated victims alive for days. He sometimes cannibalized their severed parts while they watched in horror or forced them to participate in the eating.
Although Gaskins preferred female victims it did not stop him from doing the same to males he happened upon. By 1975, he had killed over 80 young boys and girls he found along the North Carolina highways and he now looked forward to his old “bothersome feelings” because it felt so good to him to relieve them through torture and murder. He considered his highway murders as weekend recreation and referred to killing personal acquaintances as “serious murders.”
Gaskins ‘Serious Murders’ Begin:
Victims of his serious murders included his 15-year-old niece, Janice Kirby, and her friend, Patricia Alsobrook. In November 1970, he offered the two girls a ride home from a bar and instead drove them to an abandoned house. There he raped, beat, and drowned the girls in separate locations. His next serious murder was of Martha Dicks, a 20-year-old who was attracted to Gaskins and hung around him at his part-time job at a car repair shop. She was also the first African American that he killed.
In 1973, Gaskins purchased an old hearse, telling people at his favorite bar that he needed the vehicle to haul all the people he killed to his private cemetery. At this time he was living in Prospect, South Carolina with his wife and child. Around town he had a reputation for being explosive, but not truly dangerous. People just thought he was mentally disturbed and most tried to avoid being around him. Some actually liked him and considered him a friend.
A Double Murder – Mother and Child:
One of those people was 23-year-old Doreen Dempsey. Doreen, an unwed mother of a two-year-old baby girl, and pregnant with a second child, decided to leave the area and accepted a ride to the bus station from her old friend Gaskins. Instead, Gaskins took her to a wooded area, raped and killed her, then raped and sodomized her baby. After killing the child he buried the two together. The rape of the child would later be described by Gaskins as the best sex of his life.
In 1975, Gaskins who was now 42 years old and a grandfather had been steadily killing for six years. His ability to get away with it was mainly because he never involved anyone else in his highway murders. This changed in 1975 after Gaskins murdered three people whose van had broken down on the highway. Gaskins needed help getting rid of the trio’s van and enlisted the help of ex-con Walter Neely. Neely drove the van to Gaskins’ garage and Gaskins repainted it so he could sell it.
Hired to Kill: That same year Gaskins was paid $1,500 to kill Silas Yates, a wealthy farmer from Florence County. Suzanne Kipper, an angry ex-girlfriend, hired Gaskins to do the job. John Powell and John Owens handled all correspondence between Kipper and Gaskins in arranging the murder. Diane Neely who claimed to have car problems lured Yates out of his home on Feb. 12, 1975 Gaskins then kidnapped and murdered Yates as Powel and Owens watched, then the three buried his body.
Blackmailing the Wrong Person: Not long afterwards, Diane Neely and her boyfriend, ex-con Avery Howard, attempted to blackmail Gaskins for $5,000 in hush money. They too were quickly disposed of by Gaskins after they agreed to meet him for the payoff. In the meantime, Gaskins was busy killing and torturing other people he knew, including a 13-year-old, Kim Ghelkins, who sexually rejected him.
A Tour of Graves: Not knowing Gaskins’ wrath, two locals, Johnny Knight and Dennis Bellamy robbed Gaskins repair shop and were eventually killed and buried along side the other locals Gaskin’s killed. This time he once again called on Walter Neely’s help to bury the pair. Gaskins obviously took Neely in as a trusted friend, a fact proven when he pointed out to Neely the graves of the other locals who he had murdered and buried there.
Walter Neely Breaks:
The investigation into the disappearance of Kim Ghelkins was turning up enough leads that pointed the finger at Gaskins. After a search of Gaskins apartment uncovered clothing worn by Ghelkins, Gaskins was indited for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. While awaiting trial in prison, Walter Neely broke down under police pressure and showed authorties Gaskins personal cemetary.
Sentenced to Die:
The bodies of Sellars, Judy, Howard, Diane Neely, Johnny Knight, Dennis Bellamy, Doreen Dempsey and her child were found in the graves. On April 27, 1976, Gaskins and Walter Neely were charged with eight counts of murder. Gaskins’ attempts to appear as an innocent victim failed and on May 24, 1976, a jury found him guilty of murdering Dennis Bellamy, his sentence – death. He later confessed to the additional seven murders to avoid additional death sentences.
A Bad Reputation:
In November 1976, his sentence was commuted to life with seven consecutive life terms, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstituional. In prison, he enjoyed the grandiose treatment he received from other inmates because of his infamous reputation. The death penalty was made legal again in South Carolina in 1978. This meant little to Gaskins until he was caught, tried and found guilty for the murder of prisoner, Rudolph Tyner, for money. Again, he received a death sentence.
In an attempt to stay out of the electric chair, Gaskins began confessing to other murders, which if true, would make him the worst killer in the history of South Carolina. One crime he admitted to was that of 13-year-old Peggy Cuttino, daughter of a prominent family. Prosecutors had already prosecuted William Pierce for the crime and sentenced him to life in prison. Prosecutors claimed Gaskins’ confession to the girl’s murder was simply for publicity and his confession was rejected.
The Final Months:
During the last months of his life, Gaskins spent time working with author Wilton Earl on his book, Final Truth which was published in 1993. In the book, Gaskins spent a lot of his time talking about his murders and his feeling of something “bothersome” inside of him throughout his life. The closer his execution became the more philosophical he got while dictating his memoirs into a tape recorder.
On the day of his execution, Gaskins slashed his wrists in an effort to postpone his execution. This time he would fail to trick death from his door and with stitched arms, he was placed into the electric chair and was pronounced dead by electrocution, at 1:05 a.m. on Sept. 6, 1991.
Truth or Lies?:
It will never be known for sure if Gaskins’ memoirs in the book, Final Truth, were based on truth or if it was just his desire to be known as one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history. He claimed to have killed over 100 people although he never showed authorities where the bodies were located.
Some say Gaskins was never beaten as a child, but was given tremendous love and attention when growing up. How many people he was actually responsible for killing is also an area of debate since proof of several of his confessed murders was never found. The one fact that cannot be disputed is that Gaskins was a psychopath from a very early age and had no regard for any human life but his own.