Killing machine Tommy Lynn Sells confessed to 22 murders but he may never have been caught if it wasn't for one brave little girl.

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When Tommy Lynn Sells confessed to his crimes, it was truly shocking.

More than 20 murders stretching back over 20 years.

A woman and her 3-year-old son in Salt Lake City, Utah, 1988. A woman hitchhiker in Oregon, 1989. A 10-year old boy in Lawrenceville, Illinois, 1977… and the Dardeen family in 1987.

He’d shot Keith Dardeen in the head and sliced off his penis. He’d bludgeoned Keith’s 3-year-old son, Peter, to death with a hammer. And then he’d turned his attention to Keith wife, Elaine, then 7-months pregnant.  Tommy raped her and hit her repeatedly over the head with a baseball bat, the shock had forced Elaine into premature labour. The sick killer then beat Elaine and the newborn to death.

Four members of one family – wiped out.

Tommy Lynn Sells admitted to 22 unsolved murders in total. But the police reckoned there could be more, up to 70.

And then there was the crime he was arrested for in 1999. He’d broken into a family home in Del Rio, Texas, found two little girls in one bedroom.

He’d slit both of their throats and made his getaway before waking the rest of the house.

But by some miracle, one of the girls, Krystal Surles, 10, had survived. She’d helped the police create a profile of Tommy Lynn Sells. And that had led to his arrest.

But what baffled investigators was the variety of Tommy Lynn Sells’ crimes.

He’d kill men, women and children with equal brutality. Sometimes, he’d kill out of anger, sometimes he’d kill as part of a vicious sexual assault. And sometimes, he’d kill when robbing.

He’d travelled coast to coast, spreading mayhem. Tommy Lynn Sells was a killing machine.

Despite the fact he’d admitted to 22 murders and may have been responsible for 50 more, Tommy Lynn Sells was ultimately convicted of just one at his trial in Texas: Kaylene Harris, 13, the child whose throat he’d slit in 1999.

Young Krystal was the star witness against him, giving testimony about watching her friend’s murder that brought tears to the eyes of the jurors.

Tommy Lynn Sells was sentenced to death.

In prison, Tommy Lynn Sells was diagnosed with multiple personality disorders, bipolar disorder and psychosis.

The state of Texas executed him all the same, on 3 January 2014.

When asked if he had any final words, Tommy Lynn replied simply, ‘No’.

But his death brought peace of mind to those he’d hurt so badly.

‘I wanted to see him die,’ said Shawn Harris, Kaylene’s brother, who’d witnessed Tommy’s execution with other members of their family. ‘I wanted to know that he could no longer hurt anybody.’

And Krystal, too gave a statement. ‘I wanted to be here to see him get what he deserved,’ she said. ‘Now, maybe I can sleep at night without nightmares.’