By Dave Warren and Kathee Baird:

Serial killer Tommy Lynn Sell on Texas' Death Row

 This is the fourth part of a series into the investigation of the 1985 murders of Ena and Rory Cordt in Forsyth, Missouri and the alleged confession letter written by Tommy Lynn Sells admitting to killing the mother and son. 

The Ozarks Sentinel recently published the alleged confession of serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells and his role in the murders of Ena and Rory Cordt. While some believe Sells is the signer of the confession, many are not certain that the document reflects the truth of what really happened in the small town of Forsyth, MO in July of 1985.

In fact, Sells himself has told at least one person he would sign the confession if it were prepared by someone else, indicating it may not necessarily be the whole truth. Some have questioned the timing of the stories, noting that one of those named is seeking public office in November. (We can state that the timing of the story was based solely on this being the 25th anniversary of a murder that law enforcement had all but forgotten about.  However, we understand the concern and questions that have arisen.)
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To understand why a serial killer would be willing to sign a confession such as this one, you need to look into who prepared it and had it signed, and what their motivation might have been.
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Muddying the case further, law enforcement has not moved forward on the murder case in more than a decade and yet requests for records and documentation in the case from law enforcement agencies in Missouri are met with, “We regret we cannot release those at this time as this is an ongoing investigation.”
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While a source within the Missouri Highway Patrol has told The Sentinel that the agency is now taking another look at the case, no suspect has been named and officials will not confirm nor deny whether or not DNA has been preserved from the 25-year-old crime scene.
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In the past few weeks The Sentinel has traced the origin of alleged confession back to 2000, when Sells allegedly signed it.
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However, The Sentinel's investigation goes much deeper than just the naming of names. The alleged confession letter may be, in fact, a document that came into being to help discredit some, while vindicating others. Who created it? Did Sells sign it? What was the motivation behind the confession? All those questions demand answers.
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A key component of the investigation into the alleged confession may lie with a Taney County man who author Diane Fanning said told her he had a confession from Sells.
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Fanning, who wrote the book “Through The Window,” about the Cross Country serial killer spent time interviewing Sells on death row conducting research for the book and worked closely with Texas Rangers who listened to many of Sells' confessions about his involvement in a number of crimes – including those of Ena and Rory Cordt.
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Fanning's book on serial kill Tommy Lynn Sells is available here

Asked about Sells' involvement in the Cordt murders, Fanning said, “Yes. He confessed to that. He went into great detail and even told me about how he killed them and why he killed the little boy.”
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According to Fanning, the Texas Rangers believed Sells was the killer of Cordt and still do. “Yes. The Rangers definitely believe he killed them,” she said.
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However, according to Fanning, the confession letter as written, is another story.
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“Two men, Bob Schanz and Peter Rea, contacted me in 2001 or 2002, I don't remember exactly when, and that was the first time I had heard about a murder-for-hire plot,” Fanning said. “They said something about a judge and that Sells had been hired to kill them (the Cordts).”
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Fanning said she made a point of asking Sells about the confession during her next interview with him on Texas' Death Row.
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“I did ask Sells about it. He said that Schanz had asked him to sign a confession about that. He told me, 'Bob Schanz wants me to say this really was a murder for hire.”  Fanning noted that Sells told her he would “probably sign it,” but added, “If Bob Schanz typed it up, he would sign it.”
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Bob Schanz and former President George W. Bush
“I can tell you with certainty that the wording isn't that of Sells in the confession. The basic language is not that of Sells,” Fanning stated.” Sells has no real care for people in jail like he said in his confession. Sells himself has told me that there are a lot of people sitting in jail for crimes he did and, “I don't care.”
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The relationship between Schanz and Fanning has been a rocky one at best over the years.
Fanning told The Ozarks Sentinel, “he (Schanz) has gone out of his way to discredit me.” Fanning noted Schanz initially attempted to discredited her with the ABC News show 20/20 and the Montell Williams Show.
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 However, over the years, Fanning has gone on to establish a solid reputation with ABC and Texas Rangers involved in the Sells case.
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She has also spent countless hours speaking with and corresponding with Sells who has been dubbed The Coast To Coast Killer.
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According to Fanning, the confession in which Sells tells of a murder-for-hire in Taney County, isn't the only such confession that Schanz apparently had him sign.
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“Ranger Johnny Allen told me about another confession, in a different case, that Schanz wanted Sells to confess to in a murder-for-hire,” she said. “So there's more than one confession by Sells about murder for hire plots that Schanz had Sells do.”
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At the time Schanz was in constant contact with Sells, according to Fanning. Fanning said Schanz provided Sells with items he wanted, or needed. “He would give him things like NASCAR stuff,” she said.
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If true, why would Schanz want to implicate Taney County officials in such a plot through a confession that he had Sells allegedly sign?
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To understand that, one needs to go back more than a decade and examine what was happening in Taney County at the time the alleged confession came into being.
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In a complaint filed by Schanz with the Circuit Court of Taney County, Associate Division, a 17-page document outlines what Schanz believed was corruption within county government.
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In the filing he notes some items related to the Cordt murders that seem to be part of the confession he Sells allegedly signed.
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He notes on page 14 of the document: “11. Ena Mary Cordt and Rory Cordt were found murdered on July 30, 1985.  Affiant has not been able to prove that the Sheriff had a task force such as was working on the Mease murder two years later.
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Affiaint does state that witnesses have stated the following about the law enforcement:

  • a. Sheriff Keithley is reported to have instructed Theron Jenkins that Ronald Houseman was not a suspect in the Cordt murders and would not be treated as such, (Source of this are the statements of JC Crouch and Joe Chowning before witnesses). (Theron Jenkins told Crouch and Chowning of this conversation).

  • b. Jenkins told Judge Rae that Keithley had recused from the Cordt case, did nothing on it at all, and that he, Jenkins, was in charge.

  • c. Keithley told Rae that he had never worked longer or harder on a case than the Crodt murder cases.”
The legal motion, at this point, brings up the names of two individuals who are named in Sells alleged confession in the Cordt murders. It should be noted that Sheriff Keithley would have automatically recused himself from speaking with his nephew, Ron Houseman, regarding the investigation, as that would be seen as a direct conflict of interest.
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It is not evidence of any conspiracy but rather the standard way of conducting any investigation.
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The third named person in the alleged confession appears on page 15 of the filing, section 14 where Schanz alleges that “Don Swan refused to help the affiant.”
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Prior to the alleged confession coming to light, Schanz had filed papers with the court indicating what he believed was a conspiracy to cover up the Cordt's murder investigation.
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While the original filing is against Judge James Eiffert, it seems suspect that those named in the alleged confession that Schanz claimed to have received from Sells would have been named in a court document prior to the securing of the confession.
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If, in fact, Schanz had the confession in hand at the time of the filing, it should have been mentioned as a key piece of evidence.
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The filing of the charge against Judge Eiffert only serves to bolster Fanning's claim that she was contacted in 2001 or 2002 and told that the confession was about a judge and a murder.
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The Ozarks Sentinel spoke with Bob Schanz, twice, about the alleged confession by Sells, attempting to verify that the one in our possession was, in fact, the same version as the one he had allegedly received from Sells. Schanz did confirm, via a telephone interview, that the confession was a true copy of the one he had received from the convicted serial killer.
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During one of the phone interviews, Schanz spent a great deal of time explaining just how the alleged murder-for-hire plot was set up, where Sells was two days before the killings (facts later confirmed by The Ozarks Sentinel) and that he was planning on writing a book on Sells himself. He later told another person who was investigating the alleged confession that he had, in fact, never spoken with us (despite phone records to the contrary). He did not produce his “original” confession for that person.
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In the late 1990's and between 2000-2002, Schanz worked hard on behalf of a former friend of his, Judge Peter Rea, hoping to show a conspiracy took place in removing Rea from office. He even submitted signatures of other Taney County residents who were pushing for vindication for Rea. (It should be noted that Schanz has told reporter Kathee Baird, and others, that he is no longer a friend of Peter Rea's).
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Does that explain the confession from Sells? Were those named in the confession innocent of any involvement other than being a target of Schanz's in his attempt to “clear the name of a friend?”
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Some in Taney County believe that's exactly what happened.
For Kathy Keithley-Johnston and her sister Jana Keithley Kueck, the search for the truth behind the confession is a very personal one. Their father, former Taney County Sheriff, Chuck Keithley, was one of the persons named in the articles that were printed in The Sentinel.
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“Because our father was the former Sheriff of Taney County and because his name was brought into the story, we wanted to find out who was behind these lies! That is why my Sister and myself became so active in ascertaining who was behind these awful lies and what was truly behind their intent” stated Keithley-Johnston.
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“We are Chuck Keithley’s daughters and proud of not only him but the name we carry. We knew this so- called confession wasn't the truth and didn't reflect the man that we know, love and respect. Our father defended this county for 20 years. He is and was a man of honor and certainly of courage."
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Keithley-Johnston is convinced that specific people were responsible for the confession and she, along with her sister, set out to discover what they could and who might be behind it.
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"We discovered several things about the confession as we spoke to people. No dates appeared on the confession, and above all else, we believe that the confession was certainly not accurate or factual. We were told by many in the community just to let it go – that is not our style when liars are involved,” said Keithley- Johnston.
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“Dad always told us to make a stand when we knew someone had been harmed and wronged. We can’t think of a better person to make that stand for now – our father” said Keithley-Johnston, who is the Executive Director of Toxic Discovery a Non-Profit Consumer Protection Organization.
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The two sisters began their quest for the truth with the man allegedly at the middle of the confession, Bob Schanz.
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“I would like the readers to know Chuck Keithley's daughters formally met with Bob Schanz at his residence.” One of the questions they asked was whether Mr. Schanz was involved in this. Bob Schanz said "no and that the paper was the one lying. We didn’t believe that for one second," said Keithley-Johnston, who is the eldest daughter of the former sheriff.
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“We asked if Mr. Peter Rea was involved. His statement was that Peter Rea was involved and how Mr. Rea had said awful things about our father”. Mr. Schanz said that he had “nothing personal against our father.”
The Keithley sisters say Schanz told them "he would “swear on a stack of Bibles that it was Peter who was the one who had shared things with him. He said that Peter was really getting him upset and didn’t know what his game was."
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During the sisters meeting with Schanz, "he persisted on was showing us very disturbing paintings by Tommy Sells and presenting letters that were allegedly written by Tommy Sells. We had no desire to look at any of these documents in his possession. All we wanted was the truth to come out. Mr. Schanz said the confession that was printed was not the one he had, but he never showed us the copy. When we asked for it, he said he would have to dust off so many items before he could find it. That he had not looked at this stuff for years.”
Keithley-Johnston says, “We asked him, why do you and Peter Rae hate our father so much? Mr. Schanz said he had nothing against my dad but that Peter Rae had it in for him and Ron Houseman. Mr. Schanz admitted to loaning Mr. Rea $5,000 one time and $2,000 another time. He says that Mr. Rea still owes him for the last $2,000 loan. Bob Schanz said he could solve the Cordt murders in two days if given the chance. Schanz told us that he did not believe that Sells killed Ena or Rory – he went on to say that Sells would admit even to killing President Kennedy if asked. He said that Peter Rea is the one that called him first saying that someone was wanting to do a story on the 1985 murder."
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The Keithley sisters say they then asked Mr. Schanz where the statement came from about the “$1,000 piece of ass?” Keithley-Johnston says this statement bothered the sisters as women – “who says that kind of thing about a female and a single mother? The woman and her child are dead. We, as women, are repulsed by such a vulgar comment. Mr. Schanz told my sister and I that specific statement came directly from Peter Rea. Mr. Schanz told us that this whole thing is made up.”
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During their search for the truth, the sister have met with, and called several people including:
Bob Schanz ,Peter Rea, Presiding Commissioner Chuck Pennel, Don Swan, and Attorney Barney Naioti.
Keithley-Johnston says she has also spoken to Taney County Sheriff Jimmie Russell, former Texas Ranger John Allen and Sgt. Dan Nash with the Missouri Highway Patrol.
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As of press time, Keithley-Johnston said she had called to schedule an appointment with David Tate, Mayor of Hollister – "We want to know if the upcoming election between our cousin Ron Houseman and David Tate has anything to do with this document surfacing at this time. We just find the timing very interesting to say the least."
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During their phone conversation with Peter Rea, Keithley-Johnston said a number of facts came to light. “He told me on the phone that he had hired a lawyer from Texas to go down and get the statement from Sells. That lawyer, Mr. Rea said, was paid for by none other Bob Schanz.  We asked who the lawyer was or where he was and we were told that he was in either heaven or hell.”
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“I asked where the attorney was from and Mr. Rea said he was either from Austin, Dallas or Houston. I was shocked that Mr. Rea could remember he was on a road trip to California when the Cordt murders were committed but could not remember what lawyer he had hired to obtain the confession. When a confession is obtained does that not have to be provided to the prison or jail? Can anyone just walk in off the street and have a person sign a statement and walk out with it and then proceed to distribute it to people all over the country? None of this makes sense," says Keithley-Johnston.
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Keithley-Johnston said she now believes that the witness signature which appears on the alleged confession is that of the very lawyer hired by Rae and allegedly paid for by Bob Schanz.
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During their conversation, Keithley-Johnston said Rea made mention of corruption within Taney County. “He told me we were all embedded." He went on to say “We suffer from corruption and conspiracy in this county.”
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One thing that struck the two sisters as odd was a statement made by Rea during the phone call about a former suspect in the Cordt murders, Paul Smart. “He (Rea) said he had met with Paul Smart at his cabin. Smart asked him if he could assist him in getting his driver's license back. Pete said he told him he no longer had his license to practice law.”
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We don’t believe anything that Paul Smart has to say either. Why would he (Smart) bring up Peter Rea in his statement to The Ozarks Sentinel – has Mr. Smart been paid by someone to say these things?"
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One thing the Keithley family is adamant about is that their father, who served the county for more than two decades, is a man of integrity and honor and would never be involved in anything illegal.
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The Keithley sisters both agree on one thing “Our family's wish is that through the courts, justice for Ena and Rory finally happens. Our prayers are with their family. May the guilty individual finally be brought to justice. May the people behind these evil lies be exposed! The people of Taney County who know my father, can bear witness to his character and integrity in his two decades of loyal service to this county. Shame on those who have been behind these malicious lies. My heart goes out to the relatives of the Cordt family. I pray those truly behind the death of their loved ones be brought to justice,” stated Jana Keithley Kueck.
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It's a theme that most involved in this case can relate to.
“The family and community needs closure in this case,” Fanning said. “Springfield, Missouri indicted Sells for a murder so I don't understand why they (Missouri law enforcement) aren't looking at Sells.”
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Fanning noted that one person named in the confession received by Schanz and the very person who interviewed him after his capture, told her he believes Sells is the killer. “Don Swan himself told me he thought Sells was the killer, but that because he was on death row, there was no need to move forward,” she said. “Texas would execute him.”
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“Sells caused a lot of people pain before he was caught and now, sitting on death row, he still causes pain,” Fanning said.

Note:  Bob Schanz refused comment for this story stating, "I am meeting with a lawyer next week."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It has been interesting to read about this case. There is definitely something strange taking place with all of the confessions. Thank you for the updates and the 4th installment.

One question, related more to grammar than the story, is it Peter Rae or Peter Rea?? It is written both ways throughout the text, sometimes in the same paragraph.

Connie said...

Regarding the mucked-up confession of serial murderer Sells.
I was employed as a dispatcher/Deputy Sheriff of Taney County, Missouri from 1978 through 1981, when I left due to the birth of my daughter.
I worked for Sheriff Keithley and closely with (at that time) Chief Deputy Theron Jenkins. In my position there, I was aware of a lot of the politics and goings-on around the courthouse. I did not always agree with Keithley and Jenkins (being a younger person from a big city), but I certainly respected them both.
I never saw or even suspected anything underhanded, and many, many subjects were openly discussed within the office. I also knew and worked with Judges Clifford Crouch and Joe Chowning, and respected them both as professionals.
Mr. Peter Rea, on the other hand, was like a loose cannon, always blowing his mouth off. He openly bragged that he accepted sexual favors as payment for women needing a divorce. I honestly believe the man was/is deeranged, and reading this blog brought back so many memories. I just couldn't sleep tonight and was randomly googling people from my past.
I am not surprised one bit that this entire hornet's nest of insinuations and confusion appears to circle around Peter Rea, who has a very convenient memory lapse when it serves him.
This story has made me wildly curious to dig further, and find out why Mr. Rea lost his law license.
Thank you for your thoroughness on this matter.
Connie Brostek, FL

Anonymous said...

Regarding Tommy Lynn Sells saying he killed Ena Cordt and Willie. Research shows me that he served time in Missouri Corrections from April of 1985 to Dec 1985. 8 months and was released on parole. Don Swan went and fed Tommy the info so it would look for Don. Meanwhile there are pages and pages of incorrect information circulating.

Anonymous said...

Don Swan may have fed detail to Tommy Lynn Sells, but that doesn't mean Sells didn't kill Ena & Rory Cordt. How would Sells have known what they ate before they were murdered & other facts, not released to the media? Surely that kind of info wouldn't have been given out to just anyone.

I don't know the police officials in Forsythe, but if Texas officials have investigated & believe Sells confession, why wouldn't Missouri want to investigate to make sure they have the right killer? Even if Sells is on death row & soon to be executed, it would at least bring some closure for the Cordt family if they knew, one way or the other, if Sells was the killer or not. To not even investigate further, is negligence. I hope that DNA, fingerprints or other evidence was preserved in their case & if so, it would be easy to determine because Sells DNA would already be in CODIS & his fingerprints on file & it would be a simple way of testing it. Was DNA from the Cordt case ever placed in CODIS? If so, then Texas officials could test it, without needing the cooperation of MO officials.

Knowing, firsthand, how cold-hearted & ruthless Tommy Lynn Sells is, nothing would surprise me. I know what he did to my friends daughter & her friend. Sells is a ruthless, cold blooded murderer, who cares about nothing - not even himself. Like Ms. Fanning said, Sells doesn't care if someone else is doing time for crimes he committed & I think Schanz took advantage of that. As much as I despise Sell, I'm thankful that some families have closure because Sells did come forward & admit to unsolved homicides he committed & DNA proved that he was the killer. So, why would he admit to killing Ena & Rory Cordt, if he wasn't guilty? I don't buy the conspiracy crap that Schanz typed up for him to sign, because Sells profited by signing that affidavit by receiving gifts from Schanz. But, I do believe that Sells was honest on 1 part only & that is he killed Ena & Rory Cordt. I think Schanz just wanted Sells to take a few others down with him.

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