Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tommy Lynn Sells

A Throwaway Kid

Sells was born with a twin sister, Tammy Jean, in Oakland on June 28, 1964.

His mother, Nina, had two sons before the twins were born, and three more boys would soon follow.

The children had a non-traditional upbringing, including fundamental questions about parentage. Officially, an insurance agent named William Sells was their father.

But author Fanning said the biological father was Joe Lovins, a used-car salesman. Fanning wrote that Lovins had bailed Williams Sells out of a financial hole, and Sells agreed to claim the children as his own in an insurance scam. Sells' job provided health insurance benefit to the children.

(Much later in life, Tommy Sells would credit Joe Lovins for the fatherly adage that helped him kill so many for so long: "Dead men tell no tales.")

When twins Tommy and Tammy were 18 months old, Nina Sells moved her troupe to St. Louis, where she had kin.

There Tammy contracted meningitis and died. Tommy exhibited the same high fever as his sister, but he survived.

Nina Sells sent her son away to live with her aunt, Bonnie Walpole, from ages 2 to 5. The woman told Fanning that the mother never visited, so she inquired about adopting Tommy. The mother was furious. She took possession of the boy and refused to allow him to visit Walpole.

Tommy Sells became a chronic truant at the extraordinarily early age of 7—an indication of his mother's indifference.

She defended herself to Fanning by saying, "He was the kind of child that, whatever you wanted him to do, he was going to make sure he did not do it. Going to school was one of those things."

At age 8, young Sells was allowed to spend time with a man from a nearby town who had befriended him. He would take the boy on day trips, and the man would lavish gifts and cash on the child. Sells began to sleep at his home with increasing frequency.

The man would later be identified as a pedophile who molested boys, including Sells, for years before he was caught, according to Fanning.

Every aspect of Sells' upbringing seemed tainted by his mother's neglect. Harbingers of behavioral pathologies appeared frequently.

He was allowed to sample alcohol with his grandpa at age 7. He began smoking ditch-weed marijuana at age 10. He crawled into bed naked with his grandma at age 13, and he would later undergo mental examination when he tried to rape his own mother. By age 14 he was off on his own, a boy posing as a man, hopping trains, stealing, and doing what he had to do to survive.


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