A serial killer who confessed to killing a woman and her son from Forsyth, Mo., 29 years ago is scheduled to be executed on April 3 for a murder in Del Rio, Texas. Tommy Sells was also indicted for a murder near Springfield, Mo., in 1997, and is suspected of killing many others around the country.
In 2000, Sells admitted to detectives in a jailhouse interview that he killed Ena Cordt and her 4-four-year-old son, Rory, of Forsyth in 1985. He was never charged for their murders, however.
Sells is convicted and sentenced to die for the stabbing death of Kaylene Harris, 9, in Del Rio, Texas, in 1999. An 11-year-old girl, a friend of Kaylene, survived his attack at the same time. Sells broke into Kaylene's family's mobile home to attack the girls.
A Greene County grand jury also indicted Sells in 2003 for the murder of 13-year-old Stephanie Mahaney in Greene County, Mo. Mahaney disappeared from her apartment in October 1997.
Her body was found a month later in a pond by some deer hunters. An autopsy showed Stephanie likely was strangled to death; there was trauma to her throat. That case never went to trial.
Greene County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jim Arnott, who is now sheriff, worked nearly six years on Stephanie’s murder. He said it is one of the longest investigations of his career. In the fall of 2000, Arnott got a break in the case for which he was looking.
In a Texas prison, Sells confessed or was connected to other murders in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and the two murders in Forsyth, Mo.
After learning that Sells had been in Springfield just before Stephanie's body was found, and had told two Texas rangers in October 2000 that he had killed a girl who lived between Rolla and Joplin, and had identified a photo of Stephanie, Arnott went to Texas to talk to Sells in late 2002. Arnott said Sells told him information that no one other than Stephanie’s killer could know, including the logo on the T-shirt that she wore and details about the pond where her body was.
"Specifically, he knew facts that point that he could basically be the only one that did it,” Arnott said in November 2002.
The grand jury’s indictment for first-degree murder against Sells came nearly a year after Arnott interviewed Sells in prison. After the indictment, Arnott could no longer talk about the case against Sells.
Bob Shantz of Branson said in 2003 that he exchanged hundreds of letters with Sells. He showed KY3 News those letters. In one letter, Sells wrote about Stephanie.
"He told Arnott that ‘I was roaming around in my black van heading toward Oklahoma. I pull off to do a shot of dope, see this nice looking (girl). I waited ‘til late, went upstairs, something like the Del Rio murder, took the girl, threw the body in the pond and drove through a gate in a field,’” the letter said.
The letter went on to describe the Bugs Bunny t-shirt that Stephanie was wearing when she was taken from her home.
Arnott said in September 2003 that he’d talked to Stephanie’s mother, who moved out of Missouri after Stephanie’s murder and didn’t want to talk to reporters.
"I think she feels the same way, that this is the beginning of some closure and she can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Arnott said after the indictment.
In 2003, just before the indictment in Greene County, Sells also pleaded guilty in Texas to capital murder for the death of another girl, Mary Bea Perez, 9, of San Antonio, in 1999. Mary Bea was strangled during an outdoor festival. Prosecutors waived the death penalty in exchange for the plea and Sells got a life prison sentence.
After the indictment, Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Darrell Moore said he would wait to request custody of Sells until all his Texas appeals were resolved. Moore said there would be no hurry to bring Sells back to Missouri to stand trial. Now Sells could soon be executed in Texas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.