Gillis Confesses To Another Murder

Published: Apr. 30, 2004 at 11:23 PM CDT|Updated: Dec. 16, 2009 at 11:52 PM CST
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Hall, Williams, Johnston (top row); Bryan, Schmidt (bottom row)
Hall, Williams, Johnston (top row); Bryan, Schmidt (bottom row)
Lillian Gorham Robinson
Lillian Gorham Robinson
Sean Vincent Gillis
Sean Vincent Gillis

After continued questioning, sources tell 9 News that Sean Vincent Gillis has confessed to yet another killing. Sources say Gillis has confessed to killing prostitute Lillian Gorham Robinson. Robinson's family members say they've now been told Gillis confessed to killing 51-year-old Lillian after police showed them her picture. This comes just hours after the Joint Homicide Task Force says Gillis confessed to the murders of 81-year-old Ann Bryan and 52-year-old Hardee Schmidt.

Gillis was arrested Thursday and charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of ritualistic acts in the murders of 29-year-old Katherine Hall, 45-year-old Johnnie May Williams and 43-year-old Donna Bennett Johnston. Detectives have conclusively connected Gillis to these three murders through a voluntary DNA sample.

Lillian Robinson turned up missing in January of 2000. Months later, someone found her body in the Atchafaylaya Basin near Whiskey Bay, just two miles from where Pam Kinamore's body was recovered. Lillian had been strangled and thrown off from bridge. The coroner's office says she also showed signs of drowning.

Authorities are now testing evidence in the murders to which Gillis has confessed. Those confessions include graphic details described in arrest warrants released Friday.

According to the arrest warrant, Gillis told detectives he went to St. James Place in the early morning of March 21st, 1994. The warrant says Gillis told detectives he entered Ann Bryan's home to rape the 81 year old, but she started screaming when he touched her. Gillis then told detectives he cut her throat to stop her screaming and began stabbing her. The warrant says Gillis gave them details about this elderly woman's death only the killer could know.

The description of what the killer did to Hardee Schmidt is far more graphic. Detectives say Hardee was abducted while jogging in the Perkins Road/Quail Run area on May 30, 1999. Her body was dumped into a St. James Parish bayou back in May of 1999. Gillis now has additional charges of first degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and stalking in the Hardee Schmidt case and first degree murder in the Ann Bryan case.

The arrest affidavit sheds new light on both crimes. It says that in May of 1999, Gillis saw Hardee jogging in the south Baton Rouge area and then spent the following three weeks driving around the area looking for her. It was about 5:30 in Sunday morning, May 30, 1999 when Gillis was driving on Quail Run Drive and first saw Hardee jogging. The affidavit says he hit her with his vehicle and knocked her into a ditch. It says Gillis got out of his vehicle armed with heavy duty wire plastic wrap, placed the wrap around her neck and pulled it tight. Gillis then forced her into his vehicle, drove to a park in the Highland Road area, removed her clothes and sexually assaulted her.

The affidavit says Gillis then placed her dead, naked body into the trunk of his vehicle and drove to his house. According to that affidavit, Gillis waited until the next day to drive to Highway 61 in St. James Parish and dump Hardee's body into a bayou. Her body was found June 1st--two days after her murder.

Gillis is now officially charged with the murders of five women. Sources tell 9-News he has confessed to eight. While authorities won't talk about any specific cases, Lieuntenant Colonel Greg Phares says investigators will continue to look into the possibility of Gillis's involvement in other unsolved murders in the Baton Rouge Metro and surrounding areas. Both Phares and Baton Rouge Police Chief Pat Englade say the investigation will not be limited and they will go back as far as they can to determine exactly how many murders are linked to Gillis.

"We're going to be very careful not to say anything that would muddy the waters for a successful prosecution of Sean Gillis," said Phares.

Family Members Form Mixed Emotions From Confessions

The news of the Gillis' confessions has drawn mixed emotions from the family members of his alleged victims. Some are pleased with Friday's developments, while others still feel uneasy.

Hardee Schimdt's husband, Bob Schmidt, says when authorities came to his house at about midnight Thursday night, he wasn't really surprised when they told him Sean Vincent Gillis had been charged in the murder of his wife Hardee. He says by that time, he'd heard that Gillis was a suspect. But it's the details that police shared with him of exactly what happened that affected him the most.

"My feeling was relief. I was happy that finally, we're getting an idea of what happened," said Schmidt.

It's been nearly five years since 52-year-old Schmidt got up for an early morning jog and never returned home. Since then, her family has been living with countless unanswered questions. -- Questions like how Hardee, who was a wonderful runner, could have been chased down on foot.

Schmidt says his late night conversation with police answered that question and many more -- leaving him first upset, but now, relieved. Schmidt admits that at first, he wasn't really sure that police had the right man. But now, he says, he's confident. Schmidt says, "You know you always have to be careful, but I think the police appear to be taking great pains to be sure that they have the right fact and the right person."

Schmidt says he's glad police have captured the man they believe is guilty. But when asked if he would ever like to confront his wife's accused killer, he says "No, there's nothing the person could say to make him understand."

"There can't be a very good reason. He certainly didn't know her," says Schmidt. "I don't know any explanation that would be satisfactory."

Schmidt says police were very open with him and two of his three children. He says as difficult as it was to hear the gruesome details of what Gillis allegedly did to his wife, not knowing may have been even harder.

Meanwhile, the family of Ann Bryan remains cautiously optimistic. Racheal and Jon Ericht say they are almost a 100 percent sure but they still have some doubts. They hope police will now test the evidence they have had for 10 years and get more proof.

In the years following Bryan's 1994 murder, her family says at times they've had to pretty much beg police for answers. However, Bryan's family got some of the answers they were looking for at Friday's news conference. Although detectives say Gillis confessed to killing Bryan and offered exclusive details only Ann's killer could possibly know, her family wants conclusive evidence.

While authorities say they are certain, details that Gillis described were never released to the public, a former detective contradicts that information and says a lot of those details were disclosed.

Ann's family remains hopeful Gillis is telling the truth so they can close a few chapters of their life. "I'm holding back on my enthusiasm. I'm a little concerned it's a confession. I hope there's evidence from my mother's crime scene. I hope they test it to see if there is any DNA," said Rachel Ehricht, Bryan's daughter.

What Led Authorities To Their Man

It was early Thursday morning, when Gillis was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. He is now charged with three counts of first degree murder and three counts of ritualistic acts in the murders of 29-year-old Katherine Hall, 45-year-old Johnnie Mae Williams and 43-year-old Donna Bennett Johnston.

Gillis was arrested at his home on Burgin Road around 1:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Authorities say he did not resist arrest and agreed to a DNA swabbing. At around 7:00 a.m., authorities say Gillis confessed to the murders.

The arrest affidavit says a unique kind of tire led officers to Gillis. They say they found the tracks of those tires in the area near Ben Hur where the body of Donna Bennett Johnston was found. The State Police Crime Lab was able to take that tire track and determine the brand, model and type of tire. Then, investigators learned that this type of tire was only manufactured for a three-year period ending in 2003. They say that particular type of tire had only been purchased 90 times in the Baton Rouge area.

"When you split a piece of firewood, the first few blows might make a tiny little crack and it begins to break wide open. That tire track was the first little crack. The work of the State Police Crime Lab laid it open. Investigators swabbed Sean Gillis and the State Police Crime Lab matched his DNA," said Lieutenant Colonel Greg Phares, with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office.

On that same date, detectives came into contact with Gillis and found that he normally operates a vehicle equipped with the matching tires. Detectives questioned Gillis and say he admitted that his vehicle was at the scene where Donna's body was found. He says he was there six days before authorities recovered her body. The affidavit also says Gillis had an eight year relationship with Johnnie Mae Williams and that she was inside his vehicle about 30 days before authorities found her body.

The affidavit says Gillis told authorities they would probably find a lot of evidence of blood in his car and blamed that on a health-related condition of his common-law wife, Terri. 9 News spoke with Terri, who said Gillis confessed to her at 7 a.m. She told WAFB's Avery Davidson that detectives kicked in their door around 1 a.m. and sent a concussion grenade inside. She says they were both taken into custody and questioned and calls Gillis "a teddy bear" and a "normal person."

"The door got kicked in and they threw the little bomb in here and got us up and took us downtown," says Terri, "And I saw a ton of sheriff's deputies assaulting the house across the street."

Late Thursday afternoon investigators began taking pictures and collecting evidence from Gillis' home, including a small white car and grey minivan from the scene. Investigators say Terri does not ever remember bleeding in Gillis' vehicle.