Born on March 13th 1933 in Florence County, South Carolina, Donald Henry Gaskins Jr has been given a number of nicknames including the “Meanest Man in America”, “The Redneck Charles Manson”, “Junior Parrott” and the more known “Pee Wee.”
Born last in a string of illegitimate children, his mother’s name was Parrott and she neglected her children, giving them little to no supervision. When Gaskins was just a year old he drank a whole bottle of kerosene, also known as Paraffin, which caused him the have convulsions until he was three years old. Small for his age, Gaskins received regular beatings from his various step-fathers and was given the nickname “Pee Wee.”
Pee Wee Gaskins used the violence he saw at home to hurt the children who crossed him at school. Whether it was a boy or a girl, Gaskins made no distinction. He may have been little in stature but he had a ferocious and mean temper. At just eleven, Gaskin’s quit school and met to two boys, Danny and Marsh, while working at a local garage. All around the same age and school dropouts, they teamed up and called themselves “The Trouble Trio.” The trio burglarized homes, picked up prostitutes and even raped little boys, threatening the little boys so they wouldn’t go to the police. When the trio was caught gang-raping Marsh’s young sister, Marsh’s father bound the boys and beat them until they bled through their clothing.
The trio soon went their separate ways with Danny and Marsh leaving the area, while Gaskins continued to burglarize homes alone. In 1946, aged 13, he was interrupted by a young girl during a break-in who tried to hit him with an axe but Gaskins managed to grab the axe from the girl and struck her in the head and arm before fleeing. Luckily the girl survived the attack and could identify Gaskins and he was arrested and convicted for assault with a deadly weapon and intent to kill. It has been said Gaskins only learned of his given name- Donald- at this court hearing. He was sent to the South Carolina Industrial School for Boys until he turned 18.
At reform school, the nickname of “Pee Wee” stuck, and the reform school boys took delight in attacking Gaskins due to his small frame and he was victim to a twenty man gang-rape in the showers. He had to accept protection from the dormitories “Boss Boy” in return for sexual services.
After escaping from the school, he joined a traveling carnival and married a young girl of 13 before voluntarily returning to complete his sentence and he was released on his 18th birthday in 1951. Once released he began working on a tobacco farm in which he got involved in insurance fraud. He worked with a partner and collaborated with local tobacco farmers to burn their barns for a fee. People around the area soon began to wonder about Gaskins involvement in the barn fires and when questioned by his daughter’s employer, he panicked and split the girl’s skull with a hammer that was to hand. He received a five year sentence in prison for assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder.
While in prison he was quickly raped again but Gaskins decided killing a fellow inmate would be enough to keep the other inmates from bothering him. In an attempt to become one of the “Power Men” of the prison, he fought back and cut the throat of the most feared man there. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six months of solitary confinement, but Gaskin had accomplished his goal as he was instantly elevated within the prison and for the rest of his time there was dubbed a “Power Man” and someone not to mess with.
In 1955, his wife filed for divorce. Gaskins flipped and escaped from prison in the back of a garbage truck and fled to Florida where he took employment with another traveling carnival. Shortly thereafter, he remarried but divorced his wife just two weeks later. After meeting another attractive woman he felt he could trust named Bettie Gates, they drove off together to Tennessee to bail out Gates’ brother. When they arrived in the city, Gates suddenly disappeared without a trace. The man in jail was not her brother, but her husband, who had recently escaped from prison. The police arrived at the hotel Gaskins was staying and they quickly realized that Gaskins was an escaped convict and he was returned to prison.
Paroled 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. Gaskins married for the third and fourth time, finding that monogamy was not something he was interested in. With his last wife only 17, she turned him into the authorities for statutory rape and he ended up at Columbia penitentiary and was paroled from prison in 1968. One year later, he picked up a female hitchhiker on the highway. When he tried to have sex with the girl, she laughed at him, something Pee Wee Gaskins was not going to stand for. He beat her unconscious, raped, sodomized, and weighted her body down into a swamp where she ultimately drowned.
Continuing a spree of crime throughout the 1970’s, Gaskins preferred method of finding victims was to pick them up willingly as hitchhikers on the highways of South Carolina. 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. He regarded his highway killings as “weekend recreation”, while personal acquaintances were considered “serious murders.” Among his “serious murders” were his 15-year-old niece, Janice Kirby and her friend Patricia Alsobrook. The girls believed they were being driven home, while Gaskins instead drove them to an abandoned house and beat, raped and drowned them both before burying them in separate locations.
In 1973, Gaskin was living in Prospect, South Carolina and bought an old hearse, jokingly telling friends that he needed it to haul all the dead bodies he killed. No one knew he was not kidding but many stayed away from Gaskins because he was frightening while some people liked and considered him a close friend. Doreen Dempsey, mother of a two-year-old infant girl and pregnant at the time, was on her way out of town when she accepted a ride to the bus station from Gaskins. Gaskins did not take Doreen to the bus station but drove her to a deserted and wooded area and raped and killed her before sodomizing and killing her baby. He buried them both next to each other in a shallow grave.
Gaskins did not only kill for his own fulfillment, he was also a hired hit man. In 1975, he was paid $1,500 by Suzanne Kipper to murder her ex-boyfriend. John Powell and John Owens handled the communication between Kipper and Gaskins concerning the arrangement. Diane Neely, also involved in the crime, lured Yates out of his 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 for hush money and asked for $5000 to keep quiet. Gaskins agreed to meet the two outside of town to exchange the money, but instead of finding a man holding a wad palm of cash, Neely and Howard were met with a pistol and two freshly dug graves. Gaskins killed the two and considered the matter over.
Two local boys Johnny Knight and Dennis Bellamy robbed Gaskins’ repair shop without knowing about his terrible temper and soon disappeared after Gaskins caught up with them. He killed and buried the two with the help of Walter Neely, Diane’s ex-husband, in his own private cemetery. 13-year-old Kim Ghelkins was the next Gaskins victim. After being sexually rejected by Ghelkins, Gaskins drove Ghelkins out to the woods where she was raped and strangled.
After the disappearance of Kim Ghelkins, the authorities began to become suspicious of Gaskins after family had told of seeing him with Kim on numerous occasions. Upon searching Gaskins home, the Police found Kim’s clothing but the evidence was not damning. They decided to detain him for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. At the insistence of a neighborhood minister, Walter Neely came forward claiming that he had specific information on Gaskins. Brought in for questioning, he admitted that he had helped dispose of several of Gaskins victims, even taking them to the graveyard in the woods. Eight graves were uncovered in total, but Ghelkin’s body was not among them. Gaskins and Walter Neely were charged with eight counts of murder and on May 24th, 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 the other seven murders. For Walter Neely, the jury found him mentally retarded and convicted him of all eight murders, but gave him a life sentence instead of death.
In November 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, so Gaskins 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.
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.
Over the last months of his life, Gaskins worked with author Wilton Earl on his book, Final Truth. In the book, Gaskins said of his ability to kill, “I am one of the few that truly understands what death and pain are all about. I have a special kind of mind that allows me to give myself permission to kill.” 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 1.05am, September 6th, 1991. Gaskins was the fourth person to be executed after the ban on the death penalty was lifted.
Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins was considered the most prolific killer of South Carolina history.
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Updated June 25, 2019*