Tommy Lynn Sells was a serial killer who claimed responsibility for over 70 murders across the United States, earning him the nickname “Coast to Coast Killer.” Sells was convicted of only one murder, but this single conviction was enough to land him on Texas’s death row. In 2014, he was executed in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas.
Tommy Lynn Sells and his twin sister Tammy Jean were born in Oakland, California on June 28, 1964. His mother, Nina Sells, was a single mother with three other children at the time that the twins were born. The family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and at 18 months old, both Sells and Tammy Jean contracted spinal meningitis, which killed Tammy Jean. Tommy survived.
Soon after his recuperation, Sells was sent to live with his aunt Bonnie Walpole, in Holcomb, Missouri. He stayed there until age 5, when he returned to live with his mother after she discovered that Walpole was interested in adopting him.
Throughout his early childhood years, Sells was left mostly to fend for himself. He rarely attended school and by the age of 7, he was drinking alcohol.
Around this same time, Sells began hanging around with a man from a nearby town. The man showed him a lot of attention in the form of gifts and frequent outings. On several occasions, Sells spent the night at the man’s home. Later, this same man was found guilty of child molestation, which came as no surprise to Sells, who had been one of his victims starting when he was just 8 years old.
Filled with rage after his abandonment, the teenage Sells attacked his first female victim by pistol whipping her until she was unconscious.
With no home and no family, Sells began drifting from town to town, picking up odd jobs and stealing what he needed.
Sells later claimed he committed his first murder at age 16, after breaking into a home and killing a man inside who was performing oral sex on a young boy. There was never any proof to back up his claim about the incident.
Sells also claimed to have shot and killed John Cade Sr. in July 1979, after Cade caught him burglarizing his home.
In May 1981, Sells moved to Little Rock, Arkansas and moved back in with his family. The reunion was short-lived. Nina Sells told him to leave after he attempted to have sex with her while she was taking a shower. He went back to what he knew best stealing and killing to get by. He later confessed to killing two people in Arkansas before heading to St. Louis in 1983. Only one of the murders, that of Hal Akins, was ever confirmed.
Transient Serial Killing
In May 1984 Sills was convicted of car theft and he was given a two-year prison sentence. He was released from prison the following February but failed to follow the terms of his probation.
While in Missouri, Sells started working a county fair in Forsyth where he met Ena Cordt, 35, and her 4-year-old son. Sells later admitted to killing Cordt and her son.
According to Sells, Cordt invited him back to her house, but when he caught her going through his knapsack, he beat her to death with a baseball bat. He then did the same to the only witness of the crime, the 4-year-old Rory Cordt. Their bodies were found three days later.
In October 1987, Sells was living in Winnemucca, Nevada, with 20-year-old Stefanie Stroh. Sells confessed to drugging Stroh with LSD, then strangling her and disposing of her body by weighing down her feet with concrete and putting her body into a hot spring in the desert. This crime was never confirmed.
According to Sells he left Winnemucca on November 3rd and headed east. In October 1987, he confessed to murdering Suzanne Korcz, 27, in Amherst, New York.
Staying with a Friend
On Dec. 31, 1999, 10-year-old Krystal Surles was staying at the house of a friend, 13-year-old Kaylene ‘Katy’ Harris, when she was attacked by a man in the bedroom where the two girls were sleeping. She watched as the man grabbed Kaylene and slashed her throat. Pretending to be dead, she stayed still until she had the opportunity to escape and get help from the next door neighbor.
With the help of a forensic artist, Krystal was able to provide enough detail to create a sketch that eventually led to the arrest of Tommy Lynn Sells. It turned out Sells knew Terry Harris, Kaylene’s adopted father. Kaylene was his intended victim that night.
Sells was arrested days later on January 2, 2000, at the trailer where he lived with his wife and her four children. It was a peaceful arrest; he did not resist or even ask why he was being arrested.
Sells later confessed to killing Kaylene Harris and attempting to kill Krystal, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. During the following months, Sells admitted to killing multiple men, women, and children in several states across the country.
For 20 years Sells was a transient serial killer that managed to stay under the radar as he roamed around the country killing and raping unsuspecting victims of all ages. Investigators believe that Sells is likely responsible for 70 murders across the country.
During his confessions, he took on the nickname “Coast to Coast” when telling about the different murders he had committed one month while in California and the next month while in Texas.
Based on Sells confessions throughout the years, the following timetable can be pieced together, however, not all of his claims have been proven.
Sells was executed in Texas on April 3, 2014, at 6:27 p.m. CST by lethal injection. He declined to make a final statement.