Pee Wee Gaskins is getting his 15 minutes of national fame.
The TV series “Twisted,” which airs on the Investigation Discovery Channel (Ch. 251 on TimeWarner Cable in the Pee Dee) will air an hour-long report on Gaskins, the notorious serial killer from Prospect in southern Florence County at 10 p.m. Friday.
“Twisted” profiles serial killers and, according to the show’s publicity, “attempts to uncover the psychology of each killer … to understand whether nature or nurture drove them down the path of murder.” Friday’s episode, titled “The Meanest Man in America,” includes interviews with Gaskins’ daughter, Shirley Gaskins, who still lives in the area; MaryAnn Dunham, former grade-school teacher of victim Kim Ghelkins; former Florence County Sheriff Billy Barnes; Ira Parnell Jr. of the State Law Enforcement Division; Dick Harpootlian, the prosecuting attorney for some of Gaskins’ cases; Upstate medical examiner Joel Sexton; and former WBTW News13 reporter Cecil Chandler.
This won’t be Gaskins’ first film appearance. He’s was the subject of an S.C. ETV special in 2006, and at least one gory cinematic venture may have been based on his story. He’s also the subject of at least four books.
Gaskins, born Donald Henry Gaskins, is almost surely the most prolific murderer in South Carolina history, although the exact number of people he killed is unknown. He was tried for 15 different murders, but in his autobiography, which was published after his 1991 execution, Gaskins claimed he committed as many as 110 murders.
The diminutive Gaskins — he wasn’t nicknamed “Pee Wee” by accident — was something of a sensation as his crimes came to light in the early to mid-1970s. Neighbors in the southeast Florence County area where he lived, and where he buried some of his victims, sometimes described him in warm terms as a hard-working man who would help others, though a bit peculiar for his choice of vehicle: a hearse. But his actions and his cunning chilled law enforcement personnel. He clearly was a troubled man who did gain some hard-to-explain satisfaction from killing and the terror it inspired.
He told Wilton Earl, the man who recorded interviews with Gaskins and actually wrote the grisly autobiography “Final Truth,” that for most of his life he’d been plagued by a “bothersomeness” that could only be sated through violence.
Judge Dan F. Laney, while presiding over a Gaskins murder trial in 1975, told Gaskins, “I don’t see how any human being can take so many lives and sleep at night. … You will be punished after death.”
J. McMahon Young, a Columbia attorney who represented Gaskins in his final murder trial in 1983, said in an interview published after Gaskins’ death that Gaskins was “the most evil human being — if you can call him a human being — that I’ve ever known.”
Gaskins was born in 1933 into an unstable home. He never knew his father and said in his autobiography he didn’t even know his real name until his mother gave it to the judge who sentenced him to reform school at age 13.
While not in prison, Gaskins lived and worked in the area between Charleston and the Pee Dee for most of his life. He said he killed a number of women in what he called “coastal killings” in the 1960s, then began what he referred to as his “serious murders” in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Gaskins killed two men in prison, including death row inmate Rudolph Tyner late in his life. It was Tyner’s death that earned Gaskins the death penalty, again. He was executed by electric chair Sept. 6, 1991.