This is the third installment in our investigation into confessed serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells and his account of what happened in 1985 when Ena Cordt and her son, Rory, were brutally slain in her Forsyth home. We had initially planned on this being the final part of the story. However, over the past few weeks’ new information as come to light that will be explored in a fourth part of this series.
Press here for a link to the first story. Press here for a link to the second story.
Tommy Lynn Sells on death row in Texas
For the past 25 years there have been many in Taney County who doubted the guilt of a man accused of a crime he says he didn’t commit. Others have been certain there was a cover-up at the county level. Some saw Indians behind every tree, claiming conspiracy in the unsolved double homicide of Ena and Rory Cordt.
Did Tommy Lynn Sells really commit the crime
Why have investigators from Missouri discounted Sells confession while Texas authorities believe it is likely true? How many coincidences does it take before they're a just too many? Are there ties between a Nixa murder and the double homicides in Forsyth?
Over the past two weeks we have examined the written words of Tommy Lynn Sells, one of America’s most prolific serial killers, in regard to the 1985 slayings of Ena and Rory Cordt of Forsyth. Sells, whom law enforcement considers one of the worse serial killers in recent memory, is on death row in Texas for the brutal murder of Kaylene Harris in 1999 in Del Rio.
What we do know about the murder of the Cordts is that Sells was in the Forsyth area enrolled at a drug treatment center in Blue Eye at the time of the murders. He claims he was approached by a Taney County deputy at the county fair. At the time he was away from a the rehabilitation center where he had been placed following his release from the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Sells modus operandi, (m.o.) in most of the homicides he committed was the use of a knife and weapons of opportunity like baseball bats. Ena and Rory were killed with his favorite weapons.
Following the death of Ena and Rory Cordt, Sells, who has been dubbed The Coast-To-Coast Killer, went on to become one of the nation’s worst serial killers.
Coincidence after coincidence
Sells wasn’t even looked at by local law enforcement in 1985 as a suspect, despite his being recently released from prison and his “talk” with a deputy at the Taney County Fair. While he was not known as a prolific killer at the time, his confession was looked at with skepticism in 2000? But why, by then police were well aware of his actions and his ability to ruthlessly kill people.
Why did authorities in Taney County choose to send the very deputy Sells allegedly spoke with in 1985, and whom he claims was involved in the plot to kill the Cordts, to interview him on death row to determine if he was involved in the Cordt killings?
Who had the most to lose if Sells’ confession was true? Certainly the deputy would have been implicated had law enforcement taken his confession into account.
Sells maintains in letters to Bob Schanz, an expert on the serial killer, that the murder in Forsyth was one for which he was paid. He claims the deputy, the sheriff and the then county clerk as the three people who approached him and a friend at the Taney County Fair in July of 1985(who he will only refer to as Bob) and paid him to kill Ena Cordt.
He claims the first contact was through the deputy (Sells worked for much of his adult life as a carny, traveling from state to state). He claims the deputy, who he names as Don Swan, was the one who first mentioned the “job.”
Sells then goes on to implicate the former County Clerk, who he calls “Ron” in his letter to Schanz. Finally he names the former Taney County Sheriff as being another one involved in having Cordt silenced.
He claims he was offered $2,500 for the murder, but was only paid $1,000. When he asked for the remaining money, he was allegedly told "you had a $1,000 piece of ass."
All of this appears in a written confession (which we will publish,) yet authorities claim that Sells account of the murder and his knowledge of details of the crime scene are inconsistent.
Amazingly, Sells did recall the first name of the county clerk and the full name of the deputy whom he claimed first spoke with him about money in exchange for killing Cordt.
It's been 25 years since the Cordt murders. Given the many years that have passed and years of drug and alcohol abuse by Sells coupled with the numerous murders he has committed, investigators are being unreasonable when they ask him to recall each portion of the 1985 double homicide in Forsyth.
Texas Ranger John Allen said that following Sells’ arrest in Texas, "He was calm, almost complacent when we began to question him. Then he said: I guess you want to know about the others."
In the subsequent days that followed, Sells spelled out how he'd drifted across America, killing as he made his way across the country, often in a drunken or drug-induced haze.
In most of those confessions he was inconsistent on some points and failed to have a clear recollection of crime scene details, but homicides across the United States have been solved with what he does remember.
The FBI profiling guide indicates that many serial killers are unable to recall exact details of each crime for a variety of reasons.
- Perceptions during violence: The acts the killer carries out on victims is done very much like he is put on autopilot. This is believed to be the case because they have acted these scenarios many times in their fantasies and so it is just like revisiting them. Identify lies based on the amount of detail provided. Fantasy worlds or delusions are typically very detailed, so if the story appears inconsistent and lacking in detail, the subject may be trying to feign psychosis or delusion. Law enforcement agencies that dismiss confessions because of inconsistencies have repeatedly failed to identify individuals who were later found guilty of the crime.
Dr. Michael Stone, the host of Discovery’s “Most Evil” is a professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. The author of ten books, he has recently published “The Anatomy of Evil” with Prometheus.
Stone believes Sells account of the Taney County double homicide and told Dr. Katherine Ramsland in an interview that Sells troubled childhood is probably what sparked his murderous rages. “I was surprised by Tommy Lynn Sells, on Death Row in Texas. I assumed I’d hate him and want to pull the switch on him myself. But when I interviewed him, I was struck by his candor and openness about his dreadful childhood and about the terrible crimes he committed, since he was willing to explain to me how his crimes gave him a (temporary) surcease from the rageful and vengeful feelings he had stored up over the years because of his maltreatment. So I ended up with some respect and sympathy for him,” he said. “Tommy Lynn Sells and I continue to exchange letters.”
What is surprising in Sells’ alleged written confession is that he knows the positions and names of those he maintains hired him to carry out the murders in 1985. Those facts, according to psychiatrists, would be likely to stand out in the killer’s mind. For example, he notes in the letters that the sheriff of the county was the uncle of the county clerk – a detail that is significant.Unfortunately, we do not know how much information was fed to Sells, either unintentionally or intentionally, by law enforcers. It would be possible to frame questions that had enough information in them so that Sells could later retell a story in a way that would implicate others. But, there’s a problem with that theory, too.
First and foremost, Sells has never claimed the involvement of others in any of the other homicides he has confessed to. Only the Cordt killings has others named as co-conspirators and only those killings have other participants in the crime indicated by Sells.Amazingly, Sells alleged killing of the Cordt’s is not the only crime he has confessed to in southwest Missouri. He has been indicted for the Oct. 15, 1997 abduction, rape, and murder of 13-year-old Stephanie Mahaney in Springfield. In that case, he is considered the only one present during the commission of the crime.
In the Cordt case, authorities in Missouri have discounted Sells confession despite some strong, albeit circumstantial evidence, that he may well be involved.Included in that evidence is the statement by former suspect Paul Smart that he was allegedly told by a member of law enforcement that they knew Sells was “guilty as hell” and that he (Sells) had told investigators exactly what the Cordts had eaten before they were killed and that it was confirmed through their autopsies.
Smart was considered a suspect early on after investigators found his fingerprints in the shower at the Cordt home. Smart says he was going to do some drywall work in Cordt's bathroom, and that he was friends with her father, Bob.Even more disturbing is Smart’s allegation that a member of the Taney County government was initially investigated but that the sheriff told investigators to go after Smart instead. Smart was never charged with the murders but has lived under the shadow of suspicion for the past 25 years.
Sells maintains that he and two other men drove to Ena’s home that fateful evening and that all three raped her before Sells ended her life. If true, is it only Sells DNA that the Missouri Highway Patrol claims to have?Those who have spoken or had written communication with Sells, point out that he was young and in need of money after his release from prison. His account of being threatened by a deputy who then hired him, to kill Cordt seems plausible given his fear of being of going back to prison.
One expert on Sells says the whole story Sells weaves about the Cordt killings is more than plausible, despite some inconsistencies that he feels are expected 25 years after the commission of the crime. The passage of time has had an impact on the case, witnesses have died, or in the case of one of those named suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Facts have become muddled.Urban legends have sprung about the double homicide and they are now starting to be taken as fact in the Cordt case. The inability of the state’s elite Highway Patrol to solve the Cordt murders, the case being put on the back burner for so long and the dimissal of Sells as a suspect have done little to “lay the story to rest.”
One thing is for certainFor most experts on Sells, authorities in other states and for Sells himself, the murder of Ena Cordt and her young son Rory has been solved. No one has been brought to justice and, in fact, if others were involved, some people have been able to escape justice.
In 1985, while still alive herself, Ena’s mother laid her daughter and grandson to rest just across the bridge in Forsyth. We cannot allow them to lie in the cold ground without justice being served, while some hope that time will erase the memory of two young lives cut short and that they will soon be forgotten.Their deaths have been forgotten by many, but not all.
In next week’s article we will take a look at other possible suspects and where law enforcement currently is on this cold case. In addition, we will publish the complete written confession that Bob Schanz said came from Tommy Lynn Sells.