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Tommy Lynn Sells

Tommy Lynn Sells alias “Coast to Coast” was a notorious serial killer in the United States. Sells orchestrated the crimes for twenty years in which he’s reported to have killed over twenty individuals in the USA. Although Sells claimed responsibility for numerous crimes, he was only convicted of one murder; that of Kaylene Harris, a 13-year-old, for which he was executed by use of a lethal injection in 2014. The murder, which took place on 31st December 1999 was Lynn’s last. He also attempted to murder 10-year-old Krystal Surles at the crime scene by slitting her throat, but she survived the ordeal and lived to be the witness (Sherwood & Effron, 2014).

Criminal Behavior

Sells managed to escape being caught as he managed to rape and murder victims of all ages throughout the country. For this, he was also dabbed “the cross-country killer.” He’s believed to have committed numerous murders across the country thus the name “Coast to Coast." In his confessions, he admitted to having murdered a victim in California and committed a similar crime the following month while in Texas. According to his confessions throughout the time he was being tried, Sells is claimed to have conducted the following list of crimes;

January 1988 – Murdered the Dardeens

                          Stole a car and got arrested

                          Raped and murdered 11-year-old Melissa Trembly in Lawrence, Massachusetts

Mid 1988 – killed a lady and her three-year-old son in Salt Lake City, Utah

December 1988 – Murdered Ken Lauten in a drug deal gone sour in Tucson, Arizona.

January 1989 – Murdered a prostitute in Truckee, California.

April 1989 – Murdered an unnamed girl in her twenties in Roseburg, Oregon

May 1989 – Murdered a female hitchhiker in Roseburg, Oregon

May 1989 – Stole from his employer and got arrested.

August 1989 – Arrested for stealing in North Little Rock, Arkansas

October 1989 – Apprehended for public intoxication in Oakland, California

November 1989 – Arrested in Carson City, Nevada for public intoxication

January 1990 – Caught in Rawlings, Wyoming and charged with auto theft. Imprisoned and set free in January 1991

December 1991 – Clobbered to death a five-year-old girl and her mother Teresa Hall.

March 1992 – Held twice for public drunkenness in Charleston, South Carolina

May 1992 – Sent to prison for bludgeoning, raping, and trying to kill by stabbing a teenager who survived the ordeal. He was to serve two prison terms of 10 years each but was released in May 1997.

October 1997 – Stabbed to death Joel Kirkpatrick, a 10-year-old and attacked Julie Rea Harper.

                          Strangled to death a 13-year-old Stephanie Mahaney in Springfield, Missouri after kidnapping and raping her.

March 1999 – Raped then murdered eight-year-old Ambria Harris and 28-year-old Debbie Harris

April 1999 - Raped and strangled Mary Perez a nine-year-old in San Antonio, Texas

May 1999 – Raped then killed Haley McHone (13years)

June 1999 – Arrested for being drunk and disorderly in Madison, Wisconsin

July 1999 – Shot to death Bobbie Lynn Wofford (14 years)

December 1999 – Murdered Kaylene Harris (13 years) and attempted to murder Krystal Surles (10 years)



Life History

Tommy Lynn Sells was born in Oakland, California in 1964 together with his twin sister Tammy Jean. At the time the two were born, their mother, Nina Sells had three other children and was a single mother. They later moved to St. Louis, Missouri as a family. The twins contracted spinal meningitis when they were only 18 months, and the illness turned out to be deadly to Tammy Jean (Montaldo, 2017).

Sells lived with his aunt in Holcomb, Missouri soon after healing. It was not until he was five years old that his mother came back for him suspecting that the aunt wanted to live with his son permanently. His early childhood years were uneventful, and in most occasions, he was left alone to fend for himself. Sells was already drinking alcohol by the time he was seven since he seldom attended school. It was not so long before Sells would start hanging out with a stranger from a town nearby. The man would show him special attention including taking him on outings and giving him presents. Sells would go on to spend nights at this stranger’s home. Later on, it was revealed that the guy was a molester, but this did not shock Sells since he had been a victim since he was eight years old.

It was apparent that Sells had a peculiar knack for getting into extraordinary trouble from ages 10 to 13. At only age 10, he had seemingly quit school and began smoking marijuana. He even got into his grandmother’s bed while naked at one point which made matters worse. His mother and siblings moved after a few days’ time and left him behind, by himself. Sells was filled with rage after being abandoned by his mother and therefore used a pistol to attack his first victim and thrash her until she lost consciousness. He began roaming from one town to another stealing what he needed and doing odd jobs since he had no home or family. He revealed that he murdered his first victim in 1979 when he was only 16 years old (Montaldo, 2017).

Theories of Criminal Behavior

Theoretical models of behavior include; biological, psychological, and sociological. It’s quite challenging to separate them completely since all of them have been regarded as critical in the interpretation of behavior. Although psychological principles can be applied to all models, they each have distinctive features that can be utilized in various crime control policies. Multiple psychological models exist; these includes a broad range of theories such as cognitive and social psychological models and Freudian notions. Basic assumptions of the psychological model include that an individual can commit a crime due to abnormal mental processes among other scenarios. The sociological model refers to the sociological point of view and has theories suggesting that criminal behavior is motivated by a combination of the social surrounding, economic, and social factors. Biological theories, on the other hand, suggest that some ‘loopholes’ in a person’s biological makeup is responsible for their criminal behavior. Such flaws include brain abnormalities and heredity ("Three Theories of Criminal Behavior", 2016).

Theoretical Applications to the Subject’s Life History

The criminal behavior of Tommy Lynn Sells can be said to be psychological. Sells suffered meningitis when he was a baby. Meningitis is known to be a fatal disease, and those who recuperate from it may have permanent disabilities such as brain damage. Also, Sells started drug abuse at a young tender age. By age 7, he was already drinking alcohol, and by 10, he was smoking pot. Such behaviors could have worsened his brain functioning which led to his killing spree. Psychologists have also established over a long period that an individual’s previous behavior is the best predictor of their future behavior. Therefore, if Sells had been identified as psychotic and dangerous as early as when he was a teenager when he committed his first murder, many lives would have been saved. It doesn’t help that he was arrested in several occasions then set free only to go back to his old behaviors.

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