Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins
On March 13, 1933, Donald Gaskins was born in Florence County, South Carolina. At a young age, Gaskins was teased and given the nickname “Pee Wee” as a result of his small body frame. Violence and ridicule followed him from his home where his stepfather beat him to his school where he fought with the other kids daily. This would ultimately lead to him becoming the most prolific serial killer in South Carolina.
At age 11, Gaskins quit school and began working on cars at a local garage. While working there, he met two boys, Danny and Marsh. They were all around the same age and out of school, so they teamed up and called themselves “The Trouble Trio.” The trio burglarized homes, picked up prostitutes, and even sometimes raped little boys. They would threaten the little boys so they wouldn’t go to the police.
Eventually the trio broke up after they were caught for gang-raping Marsh’s little sister. For punishment, the parents beat the boys until they bled. Danny and Marsh left the area shortly after that. Gaskins continued to burglarize homes alone. In 1946, a girl who knew Gaskins interrupted him while he was burglarizing her home. She struck him with an ax. He managed to get it away from her, struck her in the head and arm with it before fleeing the scene. Luckily, the girl survived the attack. Gaskins was arrested and convicted for assault with a deadly weapon and intent to kill. During the court proceedings, it was the first time he had heard his real name spoken in his whole life. He was sent to the South Carolina Industrial School for Boys until he turned 18.
At the reform school, Gaskins was almost immediately attacked and raped due to his small stature. He spent his time either accepting protection from the “Boss-Boy” in exchange for sex or attempting to escape. Eventually he escaped from the reform school and got on with a traveling carnival. He married a 13-year-old girl while there, but decided to return to the reform school to finish out his sentence.
After he was released from reform school, he began working on a tobacco farm. There, he got involved in insurance fraud; he worked with a partner by collaborating with local tobacco farmers to burn their barns for a fee. Around the area, people began to wonder about Gaskins’ involvement with the barn fires. When his employer’s daughter questioned him about the barn fires, he panicked and split the girl’s skull with the hammer in hand. He received a five year sentence in prison for assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder.
While in prison, Gaskins committed his first murder in an attempt to become a “Power Man.” Power men are the most brutal and feared inmates. Gaskins decided killing a fellow inmate would be enough to keep the other inmates from bothering him. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six months of solitary confinement but he accomplished his goal of becoming a “Power Man.” The newly found status made his life in prison more enjoyable.
In 1955, his wife filed for divorce. Gaskins flipped and escaped from prison. Shortly thereafter, he remarried but the second marriage only lasted two weeks. Then he became involved with Betty Gates. The two went to Tennessee to bail out Gates’ brother, but when Gaskins arrived back at the hotel he was in for a surprise. He found out Gates’ brother was actually her husband and he had recently escaped. The police arrived at the hotel and it didn’t take them long to realize that he was an escaped convict. He was sent back to prison with an extra nine months for aiding the escape of a prisoner.
In August 1961, he was released from prison and returned to South Carolina. He was unable to stay out of trouble and began burglarizing homes again. He avoided arrest by working with a traveling minister as his driver and general assistant. This was an easy way Gaskins could travel from town to town while burglarizing homes and would make his crimes harder to trace.
In 1962, Gaskins was arrested for the statutory rape of a 12-year-old girl, but he escaped to North Carolina in a stolen car. Once in North Carolina, he met a 17-year-old girl whom he married. She eventually turned him into the police for statutory rape and he received six years in Columbia Penitentiary. In November 1968, he was paroled and made a vow to never return again.
Throughout Gaskins’ life, he described feelings that forced him into criminal activity which he referred to as “them aggravated and bothersome feelings.” In September 1969, he found relief from these feelings. Gaskins picked up a female hitchhiker in North Carolina and became angry when she laughed at his sexual propositions. He beat her until she was unconscious. Gaskins raped, sodomized, and tortured her. Then he went to a swamp to sink her weighted body so she would drown.
His “process” of rape, torture, and murder was described by Gaskins as a “vision” into the “bothersome feelings” he experienced throughout his life. Satisfying these feelings became his driving force in life. He mastered the skill of torture, often keeping his injured victims alive for days. Sometimes he would cannibalize their severed body parts and either make them watch him eat them in horror or join in the eating.
Gaskins preferred female victims, but that didn’t stop him from doing the same to the males he happened upon. By 1975, he had found 80 boys and girls along the highways in North Carolina and killed them. He considered these highway murders as “weekend recreation” and thought killing his personal acquaintances were “serious murders.” Some of the serious murders included his 15-year-old niece and her friend. He lured the two girls off to an abandoned house where he beat, raped, and drowned them.
Although Gaskins had a reputation for being explosive, some people in the town just thought he was mentally disturbed. Most tried to avoid even being around him, but some people actually liked him and considered him as their friend. One of the people who considered Gaskins to be a friend was Doreen Dempsey, a mother of a two-year-old baby girl and was pregnant with her second child at the time of her death. She was leaving town and decided to get a ride to the bus station from her old friend. Gaskins took her to a wooded area where he raped and killed her and then raped, sodomized, and killed her baby. He buried the two together.
Gaskins was 42 years old in 1975 and had been killing steadily for the past 6 years. Up until then, he had worked alone and that had helped him avoid being caught. However after he murdered three people after their van broke down on the highway, he needed some help. He called up an ex-con Walter Neely to drive the victims’ van to his garage so he could repaint it and sell it.
Gaskins was also a hired hit man. That same year, Suzanne Kipper, paid him $1500 to kill her ex-boyfriend, Silas Yates. John Powell and John Owens handled the communication between Gaskins and Kipper concerning the arrangement of the murder. On February 12, 1975, Diane Neely lured him out of the house by claiming to have car trouble. Gaskins then kidnapped and murdered Yates while Powell and Owens watched. All three helped bury him.
Diane Neely and her boyfriend decided to blackmail Gaskins. They asked for $5000 in hush money; Gaskins quickly got rid of them after he arranged a meeting for the payoff. Around the same time, Gaskins had tortured and killed other people he knew, such as Kim Ghelkins, a 13-year-old who rejected him. Two locals robbed Gaskins’ repair shop without knowing about his bad side. He eventually killed and buried these two with the other locals in his private cemetery. Once again, he called on Walter Neely to help him bury the two bodies. While there, Gaskins even showed Neely where he had buried other locals.
After the disappearance of Kim Ghelkins, the authorities began to become suspicious of Gaskins. After searching his apartment, they found clothing that had been worn by Ghelkins. Gaskins was indicted for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” Neely cracked under pressure while waiting for the trial and showed the police Gaskins’ private cemetery. In the cemetery, they found the bodies of the following: Sellars, Judy, Howard, Diane Neely, Johnny Knight, Dennis Bellamy, Doreen Dempsey and her child. On April 27, 1976, Gaskins and Walter Neely were charged with eight counts of murder. On May 24, 1976, a jury convicted Gaskins of the murder of Dennis Bellamy and he was sentenced to death. In an attempt to avoid additional death sentences, he later confessed to seven more murders.
In November 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, so his death sentence was converted to life with seven consecutive life sentences. In 1978, the death penalty was restored. This didn’t mean anything to Gaskins until he was caught and found guilty for being paid to murder fellow prisoner, Rudolph Tyner. This conviction caused him to receive a death sentence.
He began confessing for other murders to avoid the electric chair. If these confessions were true, then he would be the worst killer in South Carolina’s history. He admitted to the murder of Peggy Cuttino but prosecutors had already charged and sentenced William Pierce to life in prison for the murder. Gaskins’ confession was rejected.
Over the last months of his life, Gaskins worked with author Wilton Earl on his book, Final Truth. This book was published in 1993 and discussed the murders and the “bothersome” feelings Gaskins felt throughout his life. On the day of his execution, he cut his wrists in a last attempt to avoid the electric chair. However that didn’t work. Gaskins was placed in the electric chair, with stitched arms, and pronounced dead by electrocution on September 6, 1991.
It is unknown as to how many murders Gaskins actually committed since information was never provided for all of the bodies. Maybe he just wanted to be known as the most prolific serial killer in South Carolina. One thing we know for certain is that Donald Gaskins was a psychopath who had no regard for human life.