Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gary Gilmore

The Killing Continues

Ben Bushnell, 25, was the manager of the City Center Motel in Provo, not far from Brigham Young University. He and his wife lived on the premises with their infant son, and things looked promising for Ben's future.

On Tuesday July 20, Gilmore had trouble with his new truck, so he took it to gas station three blocks from his Uncle Vern's house. Upon learning that a fix could take twenty minutes, according to Norman Fulmer, the man who ran the gas station, Gilmore decided to run a little errand. He walked down the street and saw the City Center Motel next to Uncle Vern's. Emboldened by his previous murder, he got an idea. He went into the lobby.

Ben had just come in from the store so he asked Gilmore what he wanted. Gary told Ben to give him the cash box and get down on the floor. Then he shot Bushnell in the head. But the man wasn't dead yet. He lay there twitching and trying to move. Gilmore wasn't sure what to do, but just then Bushnell's wife, Debbie, came out so Gilmore grabbed the cash box and left. He pocketed the cash and placed the box under a bush. A block later, he took the gun he'd used by the muzzle and shoved it into another bush, but something caught the trigger and he took a bullet in the fleshy part of his hand, between the thumb and palm.

He went into the garage to get his truck and the owner, Norman Fulmer, spotted the trail of blood. Then on the police scanner Fulmer heard about an assault and robbery at a nearby hotel. He wrote down the truck's license plate number and after Gilmore drove away, Fulmer called it in.

Patrol cars sped through town and SWAT teams turned out to track and capture Gilmore. They figured he'd just killed a man for around $125. Pretty much like the murder in Orem the night before.

Uncle Vern came out to see what all the excitement was about, and it wasn't long before he realized that his nephew was involved. Over the past month, he'd watched Gilmore go from bad to worse, especially when he drank, and this brutal act seemed to cap his latest escalation of acting out. Vern's wife called Brenda, and she in turn called a police dispatcher she knew.

Then Gilmore called her. He admitted he'd been shot and needed help. He told her where he was. Brenda sent the police to go get him.

About the same time that they were evacuating neighbors and closing in, Debbie Bushnell was learning that the paramedics couldn't save her husband. He was dead.

Afraid that Brenda wasn't coming, Gilmore left the house where he'd gotten some first aid and drove right through a police roadblock. Then it dawned on the cops that he was the guy. They set out after him and eventually ordered him to stop just outside Nicole's mother's house. Gilmore gave up without a fight. He asked only that they be careful of his wounded hand.

Nicole was there. She went out and saw him lying on the ground. Then she overheard the cops suggest that he'd just committed two murders. She couldn't help but wonder if her leaving him had something to do with it, but she also though he was one stupid, crazy son-of-a-bitch.

Brenda soon learned that no one else had been hurt and Gilmore was now in custody. She knew he'd hate her for it, and when he asked her the next day why she had turned him in, she said, "You commit a murder Monday, and commit a murder Tuesday. I wasn't waiting for Wednesday to roll around." (This is her recollection as she recounted it to both Mailer and the A&E crew.)

While Gilmore eventually accepted the fact that what he'd done was wrong and he deserved to be punished, he never totally forgave her for this betrayal. When she turned him in, she had effectively separated him forever from Nicole. To his mind, she could have driven him to the border and let him go up to Oregon. He didn't seem to get it.

Upon his arrest, Gary said that he'd talk with one cop, Gerald Nielsen, and he freely spoke about his various interactions with Gilmore in film and to Mailer.

At the hospital, a test on Gilmore's hand indicated that he'd recently held metal in it. Then it was set in a cast.

Nielsen then tried to get him to admit to the murders. He said that he had not killed anyone and that he could account for his whereabouts. He even said there were witnesses who would vouch for him. The facts were, as he recounted them, that he'd come across a guy holding up the man at the motel. He tried to stop it and got shot in the hand for his trouble. On the night before, he'd been with April the whole night and she'd be able to tell them that he hadn't killed anyone.

The story didn't check out; it was full of holes. In fact, there was a witness who had seen Gilmore with the gun and the cash box at the motel. April knew that Gilmore had left her to "make a phone call."

Then Val Conlin found Gilmore's stash of stolen guns. He called the police and turned them in.

Nielsen went back to try again. This time Gary simply said he didn't know why he had killed the two Mormons. He didn't have a reason. He admitted that if he hadn't been caught, he'd likely have gone on killing. Not much later, he said that he ought to die for what he'd done.

On August 3, at the preliminary hearing, prosecutor Noall Wootton met Gilmore for the first time. Mailer indicates from interviews that Wootton was impressed with the prisoner's intelligence, and it struck him that this man embodied the system's utter failure to rehabilitate. Gilmore would never be anything but dangerous—-yet he might have been so much better than that.

For the next few months, Gilmore and Nicole wrote love letters to each other with great intensity, sometimes three a day. She knew that he faced life in prison, and possibly worse, yet she couldn't unhook herself from this enigmatic man who'd walked into her life and changed it forever. They swore an eternal bond.

By October, everything was ready for trial. Since the case for the Bushnell murder was the strongest, the prosecution concentrated on it. If need be, they could go back and try Gilmore for Jensen's murder, but Wootton expected to prove his case. He had plenty of witnesses, even without the questionable confession.

If Harry Houdini was really Gary Gilmore's grandfather, as his mother had often intimated, perhaps he'd passed down a few tricks on getting out of hopeless situations. Gilmore would need them.



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