The following content contains disturbing accounts of violence, including sexual violence. Discretion is advised.
Serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis murdered eight women in Louisiana between 1994 and 2004. He killed most of his victims around the same time another serial killer, Derrick Todd Lee, was active in the Baton Rouge area.
Gillis took pleasure in dismembering and mutilating corpses, and even ate parts of his victims. He sometimes photographed his gruesome work.
Gillis, who was taken into police custody in April 2004, eventually received multiple life sentences with no chance of parole, but avoided the death penalty. He was sent to Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as “Angola,” where he remains in maximum custody housing today.
Gillis’ crimes were the subject of the A&E 2-part event Butchers of the Bayou.
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Who Were Sean Vincent Gillis’ Victims?
Gillis’ method of murder was similar with all his victims. He often strangled, stabbed, sexually assaulted and then cannibalized the women he murdered. Many of his victims were sex workers.
In March 1994, Gillis killed Ann Bryan, who was either 81 or 82, in her retirement home. After a cooling off period of almost five years, he murdered Katherine Ann Hall, 29, in January 1999.
Gillis struck Hardee Schmidt, 52, with his car while she was out jogging in May 1999 and then murdered her. Gillis’ other victims included Joyce Williams, 36, in November 1999; Lilian Gorham Robinson, 52, in January 2000; Marilyn Nevils, 38, in October 2000; personal friend Johnnie Mae Williams, 45, in October 2003 and Donna Bennett Johnson, 43, in February 2004.
Louisiana Convicts Gillis of Three Murders
Gillis left a tire track while dumping Johnston’s body, which police traced back to his car. According to WAFB’s 9 News, Gillis voluntarily gave a DNA sample. DNA testing linked Gillis to Johnston’s death, as well as the murders of Hall and Williams.
Gillis was arrested on April 29, 2004. In custody, he shared ghastly details as he confessed to eight murders.
Soon after his arrest, Gillis corresponded with a friend of Johnston. “I still puzzle over the postmortem dismemberment and cutting,” he wrote to her. “I really don’t know what the hell is wrong with me.”
In August 2007 in West Baton Rouge Parish, Gillis pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Williams. He received a life sentence.
Gillis was put on trial in East Baton Rouge Parish for killing Johnston. However, the judge did not allow Gillis’ taped confession to be presented in court during this trial. Gillis had requested an attorney during the interview, but was not provided with a lawyer because he’d continued to talk to investigators. On July 25, 2008, Gillis was found guilty of first-degree murder. The jury deadlocked on the death penalty a week later, so the judge handed Gillis another life sentence.
On February 17, 2009, Gillis was once again sentenced to life after pleading guilty to the first-degree murder of Nevils in Lafayette Parish.
Gillis wasn’t tried or sentenced for any other murders.
Gillis Lives in ‘Preventive Segregation’
Gillis has been incarcerated at Louisiana State Penitentiary since 2008.
“Sean Vincent Gillis is currently housed in preventative segregation at Louisiana State Penitentiary at his request, and due to him being a high-profile inmate and labeled a serial killer,” Ken Pastorick, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections, tells A&E True Crime via email.
“Preventative segregation is a maximum custody housing area, preferably a cell, which may be necessary because an offender’s continued presence in general population is a danger to the good order and discipline of the facility and/or whose presence poses a danger to himself, other offenders, staff or the general public,” Pastorick says.
Burk Foster, a former professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and an expert in Angola history, tells A&E True Crime preventive segregation has two locations. “Two tiers in the Camp F death-row complex houses 38 of the more egregious inmates and 78 more are housed at Camp D, for a total of 116.”
Pastorick says for security reasons he’s unable to reveal which camp Gillis lives in today.
Gillis’ Prison Routine
Though many Angola inmates have work duties, Pastorick says Gillis is unable to have a work detail due to his housing.
“He is able to take classes,” says Pastorick. “However, he has chosen not to.”
Preventive segregation requires Gillis to spend most of his time locked up.
“[Gillis] is allowed outside of his cell at least two hours a day, if he so chooses,” Pastorick says. “Individuals on this tier are able to interact with each other. Interaction also includes time spent outside of their cells.”
Forensic psychologist John Delatorre tells A&E True Crime that “being alone for 22 to 23 hours a day with no external stimulus can lead to sensory deprivation.”
Delatorre says that Gillis himself making the request to be in preventive segregation “wouldn’t change the potential severe consequences of being isolated for so long.”
But it’s possible Gillis isn’t being affected at all by his life in prison.
“[Gillis’] ego strength and narcissism could also be of such a degree that [prison is] not impacting him in any way that can be understood by him or others,” says Delatorre.
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