COLUMBIA, SC — In the hours leading up to September 6, 1991, Donald Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins, 58, slit his wrists with a razor he had smuggled into his death row cell by swallowing it days earlier.
Execution loomed just after midnight that evening, so Gaskins regurgitated the blade from his guts, drew it repeatedly across his veins, and attempted to cheat the state out of killing him on any terms other than his own.
Alas, Gaskins’ suicide bid failed and, at 1 A.M., guards strapped the five-foot-four murderer, rapist, and cannibal into the electric chair at the Broad River Correctional Institution. The condemned man made a simple parting statement: “I’ll let my lawyers talk for me. I’m ready to go.”
Ten minutes later, Gaskins was gone. In his wake lay the eight known murders for which he had been convicted — almost all of which involved wickedly prolonged violence and sexual sadism — along with as many as 100 other slayings to which he confessed. Multiple children and at least one baby numbered among the victims.
The only friend or family member present for Gaskins’ final moments was his 20-year-old son, Donald Jr. It’s easy to understand how Pee Wee wouldn’t have drawn a crowd of sympathizers.
Born in 1933 to a young mother who occasionally prostituted, Donald Gaskins said he never knew his actual name wasn’t “Pee Wee” until he got arrested as a teenager and had to appear in court.
Gaskins’ childhood is about as nightmarish as they come. Physically petite from birth — hence the nickname “Pee Wee” — Gaskins’ mother regularly beat and sexually humiliated him. She also sometimes even sold her son to “boyfriends” and clients for further sexual abuse.
Relief came for Gaskins only when he dropped out school at age 11 and hooked up with two other wayward boys. Calling themselves the “Trouble Trio,” Gaskins’ gang spent the next few years burglarizing homes and businesses, sexually attacking other boys, and stealing cars to go patronize prostitutes.
The “Trouble Trio” only got broken up after gang-raping one member’s little sister, who told her parents. At this point, Gaskins was still only 13.
Shortly thereafter, Gaskins broke into a woman’s home and, while fleeing, hit her in the head with an ax. He thought he had killed her, but she survived and identified Gaskins to the cop. A court sent him to reform school.
Immediately upon entering the reformatory, an older boy beat up Gaskins and declared the tiny adolescent his “sweetheart” — a status that involved regular rapes and being forced to do hard labor.
The older kid also traded Gaskins for cigarettes and other favors. Gaskins claimed that, in one session, more than 20 other inmates raped him. That sort of horrific treatment went on for five years.
Eighteen years old and free, Gaskins married a local girl and found work burning down farms for insurance scammers. After a teenager attempted to turn Gaskins in, he pummeled her with a hammer. She lived, and Gaskins got six years for attempted murder.
Now in prison proper, Gaskins established a fearsome reputation fast by slashing the throat of another inmate while the man was on the toilet. He claimed self-defense and only got three years tacked on to his sentence.
At one point, Gaskins escaped from jail by riding inside a trash barrel. Police picked him up in the Trouble Trio’s old clubhouse. He finished his sentence and got out in 1961. Two years later, Gaskins raped a 12-year-old girl. He went back to jail.
In November 1968, Gaskins received parole and commenced his serial-murder career in earnest. While working as a roofer, Gaskins picked up a hitchhiker in South Carolina and raped and tortured her for as long as possible before finally doing her in and sinking her remains in a swamp.
Of the thrill, Gaskins later wrote, “All I could think about is how I could do anything I wanted to her.”
Traveling the highways of the south, Gaskins took to repeating this pattern with multiple hitchhikers, both male and female. He said he stabbed, strangled, suffocated, and shot his victims, then mutilated and even cannibalized some. He regularly castrated the males, too.
Gaskins called these slayings his “coastal kills” and, in time, he said he murdered “80 or 90” people in this manner.
The so-called “coastal kills” gave way to what Gaskins deemed “serious murders” in November 1970. In these cases, Gaskins knew his victims and killed out of rage and/or for profit, not for mere pleasure.
Gaskins’ first “serious murder” victim proved to be own niece Janice Kirby, 15, and her friend, Patrcia Ann Alsbrook, 17. Upon trying and failing to rape the girls, Gaskins beat them to death.
Around this time, Gaskin also hired himself out as a hitman. In one case, he murdered the target along with the two individuals who had set up the deal, plus another pair of associates. That made five dead for the $1,500 price of one.
As such, the bodies piled up. Gaskins then befriended ex-con Walter Neely, who readily assisted him in burying corpses, destroying evidence, and fencing stolen goods. At one point, Gaskins came to trust Neely enough to murder Dennis Bellamy, 28, and Johnny Knight, 15, right while his pal watched. That would later backfire on the killer.
Gaskins attracted the authorities after 13-year-old Kim Ghelkins disappeared. She had spurned Gaskins’ sexual advances, and he killed her. Cops then found some of the girl’s clothing in Gaskins’ home and busted him for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
Officers also picked up Neely for questioning. He panicked under pressure and blurted out everything he knew — including where a heap of bodies were buried. This revelation led to the discovery of Gaskins’ most gruesome (known) crime.
Doreen Dempsy, 23, lived near Gaskins and actually considered him a friend. Thus, when the eight-months-pregnant mom needed a lift to the bus station, Gaskins offered a ride to Doreen and Robin, her two-year-old daughter.
Instead of the depot, though, Gaskins drove his passengers to a remote area. He raped, sodomized, and murdered Dempsy in front of the toddler. He then raped and killed little Robin, as well. Afterward, Gaskins cut off and ate part of Doreen’s leg.
The Dempsys’ bodies were among the eight Walter Neely had talked about and to which Gaskins, trying to cut a deal to avoid the death penalty, later led the police.
On May 28, 1976, a court found Pee Wee Gaskins guilty on eight counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to die in the electric chair. Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment, and Gaskins’ sentence got commuted to life in prison. Along the way, he claimed to have committed dozens of more murders.
In 1982, Gaskins took a paid hit job and killed another prisoner using an explosive device. He got caught, found guilty, and, by this time, capital punishment had been reestablished in South Carolina, thus leading to Gaskins’ prime seat on the electric chair nine years later.