Just before the hearing began, Krystal Surles, now 11, moved closer to where her grandmother sat. They had been in court for a couple of hours, waiting for the hearing and maybe the judgment of her perpetrator.
This was no place for a young girl, but it was far from the scariest moment of her life. Here we take a look at the incredible story of immeasurable loss, courage, and a girl who would eventually put an end to the torment of a Texas serial killer.
An Innocent Girl vs. a Maniacal Man
This 11-year-old girl could have been out playing with her mates at that moment. She could be dressed in her best dress or shorts, out on a family outing, or in a Sunday school class. Instead, she was bravely sitting in a courtroom.
After a moment, a pale, short-haired man with a blue tattoo around his ear entered. He was the most awaited person of the day; he was the reason so many people turned up to the courtroom. He was dressed in a blue suit and white shirt.
He Dressed Well for the Court
Looking at Tommy Lynn Sells, you would not think that he was a killer. You would expect killers to dress casually and look rough, but who knows, maybe he thought this was his time to shine. He looked like he could have been one of the lawyers.
As he made his grand entry, Sells kept looking at Krystal, the girl he thought was dead. She had managed to survive. He’d forever lament the day that he let this girl take a long look at his face.
He’d Become a Media Hit
As they always do, the media quickly shifted their attention and moved their cameras towards Sells. All of them didn’t want to miss a moment of the drama. The story had got plenty of attention already.
Sells had hit it big in television news and was slowly becoming a nationally known killer. Before his personality changed to taking people’s lives, he used to be one of those guys who stood by the road with signs like “Will work for food.”
The Most Heinous of Crimes
Sells was attending court for the New Year’s Eve murder of Kaylene Harris, aged 13, whose dream of living he cut short. The killer broke into the girls’ room and held Kaylene by the mouth so she couldn’t scream as he attempted to rape her.
Trying to defend herself, Kaylene did not cooperate, and Sells stabbed her 16 times to death. Before he left, he also sliced Krystal, the girl who was testifying against him that day, on her throat and left her for the dead.
Events on the Night of the Murder
Most kids love a sleepover, and on the night of 30th December 1999, that’s exactly what these girls wanted to do. Krystal, aged 10, together with her sister Marque Surles, 7, went to their close friend’s place. That friend was Katy Harris, who was 13.
Katy’s father was out of town, but her 14-year-old brother was to sleep in his room, and her 12-year-old sister would be sleeping with her mother. The new millennium was a little over a day away, and everyone was excited.
A Fortunate Argument for Marque
As they chatted, the two sisters got into an argument. Krystal was already mad at her sister Marque, so she insisted that she sleep alone in the guest room. Katy and Krystal, the best friends, would share the bunk bed.
Marque was unhappy about what her sister had done because the night would be quiet and lonely for her in the single room, which is not how she wanted to spend the night. If Marque had slept with the best friends in their room, she probably would be dead today.
An Ex-con Would Take Their Innocence
The night was quiet and peaceful; as they slept, the clock passed midnight and moved into New Year’s Eve. Tommy Lynn Sells would soon steal the peace. Sells was an ex-convict who’d not long got out of prison and was still a threat.
The prison was wrong to think that their convict was now a changed good man. They freed him in good faith, only for him to break into Krystal and Katy’s room. It was a mistake that had huge consequences.
A Very Sick Individual
It was at approximately 3:50 am when Sells broke into the Harris home. By that time, everyone in the home had long been asleep, but Sells had only just left a bar. He checked every room in the trailer home before sneaking into Katy’s bedroom.
He snuck into her bed, cut off her underwear, and started molesting her. Katy fought back to defend herself against the attacker, which woke Krystal up. The first thing she saw was a tall, shadow-like man attacking her friend.
A Heartbreaking Moment of Violence
Katy was screaming and fighting the killer, who ended up stabbing her 16 times. Krystal was still awake, watching the cold-blood murder of her best friend, unable to do anything.
She was fearful, and she remained still, hoping the perpetrator would not see her. When Sells entered the room, he’d not noticed that anyone was sleeping in the top bunk, but Katy had screamed at her to go and “Go get Mama!”
Krystal Would Not Go Unnoticed
Sells finished attacking Katy, who was left on the floor with her severe wounds. Just before he would leave, he turned his attention to Krystal. Seeing what had happened to her friend, it would have been an unimaginable moment of fear.
“I’ll be quiet, I promise. I won’t say anything,” she said, but Sells wasn’t interested in sparing her life. The man had no conscience. She’d later find out that Katy was far from his first murder.
He Soon Left Krystal for Dead
Sells went straight for Krystal’s neck to slice it. He was used to killing people, so chances are he knew all the easiest and fastest ways of killing. Since he always left no evidence of his actions behind, he would not leave his eyewitness alive.
Krystal was fast to protect herself. She held her hands around the neck protectively, so the knife did not go deep into the trachea. Otherwise, she would have suffocated and died. Sells, however, must have thought he’d done enough to kill her.
She Tried To Comfort Her Dying Friend
Krystal fell in a lot of pain and bleeding, she knew she had to play dead, or the killer would stab her until she died. She lay still on the floor. Krystal said she remembers laying on the ground and the lights turning off. She then heard the door shut, and she was convinced that the killer had left the property.
Krystal got on her hands and knees and crawled across the floor towards her wounded friend Katy. At that time, Katy was making a gasping sound, so she had not died yet. Krystal wanted to comfort her, but she could not talk because her throat was injured.
Krystal Watched Her Friend Die
She also remembers rubbing Katy’s back to reassure her that everything would be fine. A while after the comforting, Katy stopped making the gasping noises. The innocent 13-year-old Katy had sadly passed away from her severe injuries.
There and then, Krystal got this feeling that she was had to get out of there. She quickly stood and ran to Marque’s room to check on her. Krystal was traumatized and severely injured.
She Knew She Had To Get Help
Krystal tried shaking her sister to wake up because she could not talk or scream. Marque had gone to sleep angry, and the rage seemed to have made her sleep deeply. Perhaps she even wanted to ignore her sister.
Krystal struggled to wake her without being able to make a noise. When Marque didn’t wake up, Krystal was more terrified because she thought her sister and the rest of the family were also killed. She knew she had to get help.
Krystal Wrote Notes As She Couldn’t Speak
The 10-year-old girl was determined to save her family. Although she was in pain and weak, she managed to crawl to her nearest neighbors. She banged on the neighbor’s door to raise the alarm and wrote notes saying that the Harris family needed help.
Krystal was lucky to get to the hospital early and get treated. In one of the notes, she wrote and asked if she could survive the injuries. While at the hospital, Krystal worked with the police and the sketch artists to reveal the perpetrator’s image.
He Was Quickly Arrested
Together with their investigators, the police arrested and brought Sells in custody. On the case hearing day, Krystal sat next to her grandmother amid the tensed and nervous crowd for the hearing and judgment of Tommy Sells.
She described all the events as they happened that night and testified that Sells was present, although he was requesting to be excused.
Court Must Have Been Tough
Krystal said that the killer, Sells, had his hand over Katy’s mouth. Katy was struggling, and she signaled Krystal with her eyes to stay still and not move.
Krystal did not make any movement. Sells used his knife to cut Katy’s neck, and that’s when she fell. Having to recall these moments in court must have been truly painful for Krystal, but she showed immense courage.
He Was Sentenced To Death
The court found Tommy Lynn Sells guilty and sentenced him to death. While on death row, Sells would later confess that that was not the only murder he had committed. He admitted that he murdered Joel Harper, a ten-year-old boy whose mother was accused of his death and convicted.
The woman was later freed in 2006. Sells also confessed that he strangled a 9-year-old girl, Mary Beatrice Perez, in Bexar County in 1999. He was a deranged and vicious man.
The Florida Cyber Stalker
Krystal had healed and moved on from the ordeal, but 17 years later, in 2016, a stranger named Alvin Willie George worked hard to bring the wounds back. She would have to deal with another disturbed man.
George did not know Krystal, her sister, or her family, and he must have gained interest in her when he saw pictures on the internet years after the news spread. He decided that he needed a more personal connection.
Dealing With another Dangerous Man
George began sending the crime scene images to Krystal, the bedroom, and the bunk bed she and her late friend were sleeping on that night. It is horrible to think of why someone would do that.
He would send harassing photos and intimidating messages using various Facebook accounts to Krystal and her sister. He also threatened to rape and kill them. Krystal had been through more than enough already but eventually; he was apprehended.
He Was Recently Sentenced
George was sentenced to just over four years in prison in 2021, followed by three years of supervised release for cyberstalking. The attorney also ordered him to pay $525 in restitution to the victims.
According to Florida police records, in December 2017, George was previously arrested for shooting and throwing missiles at vehicles. Another crazy man was behind bars.
How Sells Met Krystal’s family
Tommy Sells moved into Del Rio, a small town of about 30,000 people, in 1998. He was a carnival worker, but the show ended after a while. Sells did not leave the town. While there, he met Jessica Levrie, 28, and moved into her home in San Felipe.
Later that year, heavy rainfall led to San Felipe Creed bursting its banks and swept away houses. Levrie’s family was among the many that lost their home, but luckily, survived the floods. They later moved into government land, and at this point, Sells and Levrie got married.
The Family Tried To Help Him
Sells later started attending Grace Community Church, the same church Katy’s parents attended. Katy’s parents remember the first time they met Sells at the church. He befriended them and immediately started confessing about his marital and job problems.
Little did they know that their new friend would later take their daughter’s life. Even when he was new in Del Rio, Sells suspected sexual assault, but he was acquitted because the victim did not press charges.
Sells Had a Traumatic Childhood
When Sells was arrested for the murder of Katy, the police started investigating his life. They also realized that although this serial killer was open enough to plead guilty for the damage he had done, he was shy to speak about his past. Sells never talked about his childhood.
At the time of the case, Sells was 35 years old. He had served different sentences because of petty crimes like theft and drugs and even significant crimes like rape and assault. But had gotten away with his most serious crimes.
He First Killed At Aged 15
When he was 15 years old, Sells broke into an older man’s home and murdered him. It is believed that he mostly killed women and children and also raped them. However, he got away with most of these crimes.
His childhood was troubled. When he was a teen and in his late 20s, he mostly took transitional jobs. Even the carnival job he had when he moved to Del Rio was not permanent. Sells is also believed to be responsible for the death of Ena and Willie Cordt, a mother and son.
Many Haven’t Received Justice
Sells was accused of the death of the two because he had earlier met them at the carnival. However, the family has not yet gotten justice. It’s one of many cases that Sells didn’t receive justice for.
During his imprisonment for theft, Sells was diagnosed with personality disorder and substance use disorder. This also included dependence on alcohol, opioids, and amphetamines. He also suffered from depression and bipolar disorder.
More Murders Were To Follow
In 1992, Sells was homeless, and he stood under a viaduct, with a sign written, “Will work for food.” A 19-year-old lady was kind to Sells, and she offered him food. The young woman told Sells to wait outside as she prepared him something to eat.
Sells entered the room, forcefully holding a knife. He trapped the good young woman in her bedroom, raped and stabbed her 18 times to death. The young woman fought back using anything she could, but Sells was too strong for her. As if the stabbing was not enough, the ruthless killer bludgeoned the young woman with a stool.
He Got Off With a Light Sentence
The case was reported, and Sells was charged, although he secured a plea deal that led him to serve only five years in jail. The killer met a woman in prison, and when he was released in 1997, they got married.
Sells was suspected of the disappearance and murder of many people, and he was not charged with most of these cases until 1999, when he met a courageous girl, Krystal. She was ultimately his downfall.
Krystal Surles Narrates to the Court
When Krystal was given a chance to speak in court, she spoke bravely and fearlessly. She started by saying that she thought the man in Katy’s bedroom was in her dreams, only to find out that it was real.
“The man under the bed was real. He was standing behind Kaylene (Katy) with one hand over her mouth and the other holding a knife.” It must be a horrible scene for the small girl. “Kaylene was struggling, and with her eyes, she told me not to move, and I obeyed.” She continued saying.
Krystal Brought Him Down
Although she stayed still, Krystal could still see what Sells was doing to her best friend. He slit the small girl’s throat with the knife, and she fell. “Kaylene started making alarming noises like she was gagging for air, but the blood was too much for her to breathe.”
Krystal could not hold herself together when she was narrating the story. She broke down once when she remembered the bad things that happened that night, how she witnessed her friend’s death. However, she recovered and continued. The young woman was determined to bring the killer down.
Sells Happily Told His Story
There was a videotape of Sells walking through the Harris home and even climbing the window to Katy’s bedroom. In the courtroom, Sells also narrated what happened that night. “I woke this girl up. I said wake up. She jumped, and I cut her throat.”
Sells had given two written confessions. The killer acknowledged that he had made forceful advances towards Katy. He also said he wanted to kill six people that night, and there was a confession he said he wanted to rape Crystal Harris, Kaylene’s mother.
Secrets of Your Mind
In 2010, ABC News made a special report and called it Nightline Prime: Secrets of Your Mind. The aim was to study the human brain and its effects on behavior, and the team used Sells as a subject.
They used the killer to do brain scans of murderers and psychopaths to discover why and how someone can find happiness in the killing. It was an interesting way to see if there was anything different in his internal wiring.
Sells Got Plenty of Attention
Sells had interviewed with ABC News in 2010, where he narrated how he was addicted to killing when he was 14. It was a fascinating insight into what he was thinking and gave him plenty of attention, which he seemed to enjoy.
He also said that the two words he never used were “sorry” and “love” because he was hateful. “When you look at me, you look at hate,” he said. The psychopathic man was able to tell his story while still on death row.
He Became Addicted To Killing
In his life, he drifted a lot; it was why he also preferred temporary jobs to permanent employment. This made him escape the police in the many crimes he committed. He also admitted that his substance abuse helped him execute the killings.
“The first time I did a shot of dope, it was the best feeling I ever had in my life,” Sells said. He says that the killing was such a rush for him, and he would feel this way every time he killed someone. And that is how he started chasing that high.
A Sick Reason to Kill
Sells also said that he had had a bad childhood and did not want anybody else to go through the same, a reason most of his victims were children—a confession of a twisted mind.
“I like to watch the eyes fade, the pupil fade. It’s like setting the children’s souls free.” Sell said in an interview with ABC News. It gave a glimpse into how this man thought in ways that none of us could think imaginable.
Tommy Lynn Sells’ Execution
On April 3, 2014, 15 years after Sells’ conviction and sent to prison, he was executed in Texas. At the time of the sentence, the serial killer was 49 years old. Katy’s murder was in 1999, but Sells claimed responsibility for dozens of other killings.
He refused to give final remarks before his death. As the lethal injection was being given, Sells closed his eyes and started to snore. The drug took effect immediately, and the man died 13 minutes later, at 6:27 pm CT.
His Attorney Fought Hard For Him
Sells should have been executed earlier, but the execution did not happen when a court asked the Texas prison to disclose information about their supplier of the lethal injection drugs. The district court also wanted to know how the drugs were tested.
Before the execution, Sells’ attorneys pleaded to the Supreme Court to cancel it. Their plea did not succeed when the court ruled an execution for Sells that happened on a Thursday.
A Long-Awaited Relief
Sells’ attorneys claimed that how the prisoners are executed reflects on everyone in society. They wanted transparency about the lethal injections, especially on the drugs’ source and purity, to ensure humane and constitutional execution.
According to Katy’s father, Sells’ execution was way gentler than what he had done. However, they were happy to get justice for their daughter. “It was a great day for the families of the victims,” he said nearly 15 years after the murder.
Krystal Now Leads a Full Life
Krystal recovered from the neck cut, and she has lived a full life ever since. She forgave her perpetrator and has found peace. She says she does not think about Sells and the things he did. “I don’t even give him the time of day.” She said.
She is a remarkable woman who was brave to survive such an ordeal. In her actions of saving herself and providing an accurate sketch, she also possibly saved the lives of many others. Thankfully the world doesn’t need to worry about Tommy Lynn Sells anymore.