Was it a killing based on a chance encounter and drugs, as some claim? Was it a murder for hire as others allude to? Were there ties to other killings in the area? Were there sinister forces at work in the local government at the time?
Conspiracy theories often tend to cloud issues with partial facts or statements that cannot be confirmed. During our investigation of this double homicide we checked fact after fact on the case that is, by all accounts, colder than ice. However, while some new claims came to light in our investigation, some of the theories were discounted, while some others still remain viable solutions to this crime.
Perhaps one of the more interesting theories (or if you believe the suspect, a confession) comes from a man on death row in Texas. His claim is that the murders were not a random act, but rather a plot to silence someone who posed a threat. [protected]
PART I – He has been called the Coast-to-Coast killer and while he has confessed to more than 60 murders, authorities say they aren’t buying all of the confessions, but they do confirm his suspected involvement in at least 15. Following his arrest in 2000 for a killing in Texas, Rangers began looking into the killer’s claims and have identified a double homicide in Missouri in 1985 as likely one of his first.
For their part, some authorities in Missouri have no interest in his confession and a crime that should have been solved decades ago remains in limbo.
For 25 years the murder of Ena Cordt and her son Rory in their Forsyth home, has remained an open case in Missouri. The Missouri Highway Patrol say they do not consider the confession of a convicted serial killer as true. In fact, the patrol told The Ozarks Sentinel earlier this year that, “He is not a suspect. He has been dismissed.”
Tommy Lynn Sells
In Texas, where Tommy Lynn Sells sits in a cell, a Texas Ranger who was been interviewing Sells since 2000 disagrees and says the double homicide in Taney County is one he strongly believes Sells committed.
New evidence uncovered could point to another suspect, or two, according to the serial killer.
So, why the difference of opinion between these two law enforcement agencies? To understand that, one needs to go back 25 years and closely examine what Sells said happened and just who he claims was involved. One also needs to examine the early life of Sells and what motivated him to become of the nation’s most prolific serial killers.
Sells was born along with his twin sister, on June 28, 1964. His twin sister died a short time later from a high fever. Sells exhibited the same high fever at age 18 months, but survived. Early in his life Sells was sent to live with his mother’s Aunt Bonnie, and during that time his mother never visited. Aunt Bonnie wanted to adopt Sells, but his mother took him back and refused to allow him to visit her again.
Aunt Bonnie said in an interview years later that Sells’ favorite activity was to ride his tricycle up and down a sidewalk. Sells claims that this was one of the only bright spots in his entire life.
At age seven, Sells said he began to drink alcohol that was kept at his grandfather’s house. In talks with psychiatrists following his capture, he said the alcohol was hidden…but when he found it he would drink as much as he could. In 1972, at the age of eight, Sells befriended a known pedophile in the Missouri town of Frisbee. At age 10 he began smoking marijuana and told
psychologists that he continued to drink heavily and use drugs up to the time of his arrest.
Other aspects of Sell’s early life are mired in controversy. Sells claims he had sex with other aunts and even his mother. His mother discounted the story and claims such acts never happened.
One key incident Sells claims affected him was when his mother would entertain men in a motel room that they lived in. Sells said he watched through the window as his mother engaged in improper acts with the men. That incident, he claimed, would play a role in what happened in 1985.
July 26, 1985 was a typical summer day in the Ozarks. In the small town of Forsyth, MO., the Taney County Fair was underway and people from around the area were enjoying all the fair had to offer. According to some, the fair is where Sells encountered Cordt and her son and made the decision to go home with the attractive woman and have sex with her.
At least that’s the popular story told on web sites across the Internet. It’s not what Sells claims happened, although the fair does play a pivotal role in the murders.
At the time Cordt, who was known as a young woman who like to party, worked at a dress shop and sometimes at a local car wash. Her mother worked for the Taney County Clerk. The single mother didn’t have a lot of money, but she managed to get by and did the best she could raising her son. By most accounts, she got along well with her mother and visited her at the courthouse where the clerk’s office was located.
During the time of the county fair, Cordt would have been very aware of the murder of a young woman 38 days earlier just a few miles up the road in Nixa. It was front pages news for most papers in several neighboring counties and was the top story on local television news for several weeks.
Police had discovered the body of 20 year-old Jackie Johns floating in Lake Springfield in June of 1985. Despite some leads, police were unable to identify a suspect and that case would also remain unsolved for decades. A break in the cold case finally came in 2007 when a Sgt. with the Highway Patrol asked to investigate the the cold case.
The work of Sgt. Dan Nash led to the arrest of businessman Gerald Carnahan, who was always the chief suspect in the case, and who is now scheduled to go to trial for Johns’ murder in September. Carnahan is represented by attorney’s Dee Wampler and Joe Passanise.
Carnahan’s life in 1985 and years after held almost as much drama as Sells’. In 1986 a grand jury indicted the businessman for allegedly tampering with evidence connected to Johns’ murder. A judge dismissed the case, saying “lying does not constitute physical evidence.” In 1987 Carnahan’s step-daughter, Sara Collins, was indicted by a grand jury for perjury for allegedly lying about her stepfather’s whereabouts the night Johns went missing. A judge found her not guilty (The Ozarks Sentinel will have the complete Carnahan timeline and trial coverage when his trial gets underway.)
So, on that fateful summer day in 1985, Cordt was aware that someone, unknown to police at the time, was killing women in the Ozarks. Being approached by Sells at the fair, and as some insist, being asked to take him home with her (Cordt), seems remote at best.
The story that Sells is telling now, and has been for at least a decade, is much more sinister.
“Now I am certain that this is the same Deputy who faced me down for making some remark to that woman at the Taney County Fair,” Sells writes in a letter obtained by The Ozarks Sentinel. “He asked me if I wanted her and acted tough. Then he told me that if he said the word, she would accuse me of rape and I’d be in prison for the rest of my life.”
Sells indicates that a Taney County deputy approached him at the fair, (where witnesses saw Cordt and her son) and that the deputy admonished him for making a pass at the woman. If true, that deputy was one of the first to know Sells was in the Forsyth area, unless of course, he was in the area at the request of someone else.
Interestingly, five days earlier, Sells had been questioned by local police about the theft of a car. He was, at the time, a patient at New Horizons Drug Rehabilitation Center in Blue Eye after being released from prison for felony theft. According to records, he left the center shortly after being questioned.
Sells was on parole at the time and the deputy should have arrested him rather than letting him go. So why did he choose to let Sells go? Was it that decision that eventually led to the murder of more than nine and as many as 20 people by Sells, who became known as the Coast-to-Coast Killer?
In her book, “Through the Window,” published in 2003, Diane Fanning helped perpetuate the story that Sells picked Cordt up at the Taney County Fair, but it is an inaccurate account of what happened, at least according to Sells.
Sells paints a much different picture of the crime in letters written to an area man who has worked on the case for several years, and who is considered to be an expert on Sells by at least one state agency. He has appeared on national television shows as an expert on Sells.
In another letter Sells states that the murder of Ena and Rory wasn’t a random act, but rather a murder for which he was to be paid $2,500. Sells states in his written correspondence that the deputy not only threatened him with the accusation of a rape, but convinced him to agree to take on a murder in exchange for the money.
“I knew I was in trouble so I asked a friend I was drinking with what to do,” Sells writes.
According to Sells, the deputy was also the same one who was sent to Texas to interview him following his arrest by law enforcement in that state. That officer was also running for political office at the time of the 2000 interview, something that lends credibility to Sells’ claim of conspiracy within local government at the time of Ena and Rory Cordt’s murder.
While Sells’ letter does name some names, it also names positions of those elected to public office that he claims hired him to kill Cordt.
In part two of our series looking into the murders of Ena and Rory Cordt, we take a look at the similarities between the Cordt’s murders and the victims of Coast-To-Coast Killer Tommy Lynn Sells.
The murder of Ena Cordt and her four-year-old son, Rory, is one of Missouri’s most disturbing cold cases. In July of 1985, the two were killed in their Forsyth home where their bodies lay for three days before they were discovered.
Initially, the investigation moved forward but came to an abrupt halt just a few weeks after the killings. It remains unsolved, despite the confession of Tommy Lynn Sells, a man incarcerated in Texas for the 2000 murder of a little girl in Texas.
The similarities between the Cordt homicides and the known killings committed by Sells is uncanny.
Sells is sitting on death row for the murder of Kaylene Harris in Del Rio, Texas. The killer entered the Harris family home on December 31, 1999, and sexually assaulted 13-year-old Kaylene, before he sliced her throat. He attempted to silence the only witness to Harris’s murder, Krystal Surles, who was 10 at the time and sleeping on the top bunk at her friends house.
Tommy Lynn Sells weapon of choice appears to be a knife, which he used to cut the throat of his victims, and baseball bats he used to bludgeon them to death. Ena Cordt was killed with a knife, her son, beaten to death with a bat.
He attacked children who were in the home when he committed crimes. In 1987, Elaine Dardeen, who was seven months pregnant at the time, and her 3-year-old son, Peter, were found beaten to death in their Illinois home. The baby girl that Dardeen gave birth to during the attack was beaten to death with the same bat used to kill her mother and brother. Elaine’s husband, Keith, was found dead in a nearby field, shot in the head.
According to Sells, Rory Cordt was at home and witnessed his mother’s murder.
One popular story is that Cordt met Sells at the Taney County Fair and took him back to her home where the couple engaged in consensual sex. He says he discovered Ena Cordt rifling through his backpack where he had a stash of cocaine. Angered, he killed Ena and then beat Rory to death with the child’s baseball bat to eliminate any witness to his crime. Even the online encyclopedia Wikipedia states, “While working as a carny in Missouri during the summer of 1985 Sells met 29 year old, Ena Cordt. According to Sells, Cordt invited him to her home where they had consensual sex. The bodies of Cordt and her four-year-old son were found three days later.”
It’s an urban legend that people have taken as fact in the case – except for one thing; Sells says it didn’t happen that way.
In a letter to Bob Schanz, a man who has spent years investigating Sells and who is recognized as an expert on the serial killer, the convicted killer says the murder, one of his first, was not what many people think. It was, he states, a murder-for-hire.
Sells, who had just been released from prison, says he was at the fair and did make some remark to Ena Cordt, but, he claims, she did not pick him up and take him home.
Sells claims he was approached by a law enforcement officer who told him that the woman Sells had made the flippant remark to was one who he (the deputy) could tell to cry rape and Sells would be charged. Faced with the prospect of returning to prison, Sells claims it was then that he was asked to kill Cordt.
Sells allegedly writes that the deputy next appeared at a “place where me and Ben (a friend of Sells. Ben is not his real name but one designated by Sells because I don’t want to get him in trouble) were drinking.” Sells says the deputy showed up with a Taney County elected official and says that both the deputy and the official allegedly admitted they were both “having their way with her (Cordt).” He alleges that the official stated that the woman was demanding money from him and was threatening to go public with their relationship and ruin him. –
Of note, Sells also claims in one of his letters “Ben” was a friend of the county official and that the two “get along real good with the white powder.”
Cocaine use has been linked to the investigation into the Cordt homicide from the beginning, yet Sells’ account of how it played a part is much different than that of law enforcement (who did not discover any backpack or cocaine in the Cordt home).
“He (the Taney County elected official) promised me the $2,500,” Sells writes.
“When I said I would hang for murder the official told me he owned the Prosecutor,” Sells stated. He (Taney County elected official) also noted the official stated that he had a relative in law enforcement. Sells claims, “To prove it they came back with the Sheriff.”
So what was Sells’ motive for writing the letter to Schanz in 2000? According to the killer, he was attempting to set the record straight.
“When I learned that Paul Smart had been blamed for 15 years for a crime he did not do and when I remembered that the sheriff and the deputy knew that Paul was innocent but accused him anyway, I wanted to set things straight for Paul Smart and for the family and friends of the woman and the boy,” he wrote. “I hope this helps the common people of the county. They need some help.”
Sells claims the murder for hire plot involves two other men who were with him at Cordt’s home that evening. He claims they all had sex with the woman before he killed her and that when he saw Rory watching, he killed him with the baseball bat “to put him in a better place.”
In his correspondence, Sells complains that he was never fully compensated for killing Cordt by the deputy or the elected official. “They told me that I had a $1,000 piece of ass before she died and that is all the money ($1,500) I was getting.”
Sells says that one of the other men who were with him that fateful night (whom he has refused to name) left Missouri after the killings until things “cooled off”.
Authorities in Missouri don’t buy Sells confession. The Missouri Highway Patrol has repeatedly stated that Sells is not a person of interest in the case.
Sells believes they don’t have any interest in solving the case because of the alleged ties to Taney County officials from the past and because the same deputy who approached him at the Taney County fair was the same one who was sent to interview him in a Texas prison following his capture.
Even one high ranking county official said that coincidence has bothered him for a long time. “Why would you send the same deputy implicated to do the interview? What questions did he ask? Did he lead Sells with his questions?,” he commented.
The Sentinel was told that the Highway Patrol had not actively investigated the case in almost a decade since their dismissal of Sells as as a suspect. However, since our investigation into the double homicide it was revealed by a source inside the patrol, “there is now some movement on the case.”
While DNA was in it’s infancy in 1985, there was some recovered and preserved from the crime scene in Forsyth. It’s that evidence that law enforcement is now looking at. Whether it leads to Sells or one of the other two he claims were with him and had sex with the victim before her death, will remain to be seen.
Contrary to the claims of authorities in Missouri, the Texas Ranger Johnny Allen says Sells admission is plausible. In fact, Rangers have never wavered in connecting Sells to the murders of Ena and Rory Cordt. They place the double homicide in Forsyth as one of the earliest that Sells committed. Sells himself no longer talks with Rangers, because he says, he feels pressured by the bright lights and constant requests for information.
For some, the confession of Sells is disturbing and one they wish would go away. Sells himself said he is confessing to all of the crimes he can remember to clear his own mind. As a psychopath, he doesn’t have a conscience.
“Uh, I’ve hurt a lot of people, and sorry isn’t going to cover that. But killing me ain’t going to cover that either. But you know what, killing me is a whole lot easier to do than making me face it every day,” he said in a recent interview with 20/20.
For the past 25 years there have been many in Taney County who doubted the guilt of a man accused of a crime he says he didn’t commit. Others have been certain there was a cover-up at the county level. Some saw Indians behind every tree, claiming conspiracy in the unsolved double homicide of Ena and Rory Cordt.
Did Tommy Lynn Sells really commit the crime
Why have investigators from Missouri discounted Sells confession while Texas authorities believe it is likely true? How many coincidences does it take before they’re a just too many? Are there ties between a Nixa murder and the double homicides in Forsyth?
Over the past two weeks we have examined the written words of Tommy Lynn Sells, one of America’s most prolific serial killers, in regard to the 1985 slayings of Ena and Rory Cordt of Forsyth. Sells, whom law enforcement considers one of the worse serial killers in recent memory, is on death row in Texas for the brutal murder of Kaylene Harris in 1999 in Del Rio.
What we do know about the murder of the Cordts is that Sells was in the Forsyth area enrolled at a drug treatment center in Blue Eye at the time of the murders. He claims he was approached by a Taney County deputy at the county fair. At the time he was away from a the rehabilitation center where he had been placed following his release from the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Sells modus operandi, (m.o.) in most of the homicides he committed was the use of a knife and weapons of opportunity like baseball bats. Ena and Rory were killed with his favorite weapons.
Following the death of Ena and Rory Cordt, Sells, who has been dubbed The Coast-To-Coast Killer, went on to become one of the nation’s worst serial killers.
Coincidence after coincidence
Sells wasn’t even looked at by local law enforcement in 1985 as a suspect, despite his being recently released from prison and his “talk” with a deputy at the Taney County Fair. While he was not known as a prolific killer at the time, his confession was looked at with skepticism in 2000? But why, by then police were well aware of his actions and his ability to ruthlessly kill people.
Why did authorities in Taney County choose to send the very deputy Sells allegedly spoke with in 1985, and whom he claims was involved in the plot to kill the Cordts, to interview him on death row to determine if he was involved in the Cordt killings?
Who had the most to lose if Sells’ confession was true? Certainly the deputy would have been implicated had law enforcement taken his confession into account.
Amazingly, Sells did recall the first name of the county clerk and the full name of the deputy whom he claimed first spoke with him about money in exchange for killing Cordt.
It’s been 25 years since the Cordt murders. Given the many years that have passed and years of drug and alcohol abuse by Sells coupled with the numerous murders he has committed, investigators are being unreasonable when they ask him to recall each portion of the 1985 double homicide in Forsyth.
Texas Ranger John Allen said that following Sells’ arrest in Texas, “He was calm, almost complacent when we began to question him. Then he said: I guess you want to know about the others.”
In the subsequent days that followed, Sells spelled out how he’d drifted across America, killing as he made his way across the country, often in a drunken or drug-induced haze.
In most of those confessions he was inconsistent on some points and failed to have a clear recollection of crime scene details, but homicides across the United States have been solved with what he does remember.
The FBI profiling guide indicates that many serial killers are unable to recall exact details of each crime for a variety of reasons.
- Perceptions during violence: The acts the killer carries out on victims is done very much like he is put on autopilot. This is believed to be the case because they have acted these scenarios many times in their fantasies and so it is just like revisiting them. Identify lies based on the amount of detail provided. Fantasy worlds or delusions are typically very detailed, so if the story appears inconsistent and lacking in detail, the subject may be trying to feign psychosis or delusion. Law enforcement agencies that dismiss confessions because of inconsistencies have repeatedly failed to identify individuals who were later found guilty of the crime.
For some who have interviewed Sells on death row he has a few surprises
Dr. Michael Stone, the host of Discovery’s “Most Evil” is a professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. The author of ten books, he has recently published “The Anatomy of Evil” with Prometheus.
Stone believes Sells account of the Taney County double homicide and told Dr. Katherine Ramsland in an interview that Sells troubled childhood is probably what sparked his murderous rages. “I was surprised by Tommy Lynn Sells, on Death Row in Texas. I assumed I’d hate him and want to pull the switch on him myself. But when I interviewed him, I was struck by his candor and openness about his dreadful childhood and about the terrible crimes he committed, since he was willing to explain to me how his crimes gave him a (temporary) surcease from the rageful and vengeful feelings he had stored up over the years because of his maltreatment. So I ended up with some respect and sympathy for him,” he said. “Tommy Lynn Sells and I continue to exchange letters.”
What is surprising in Sells’ alleged written confession is that he knows the positions and names of those he maintains hired him to carry out the murders in 1985. Those facts, according to psychiatrists, would be likely to stand out in the killer’s mind. For example, he notes in the letters that the sheriff of the county was the uncle of the county clerk – a detail that is significant.
Unfortunately, we do not know how much information was fed to Sells, either unintentionally or intentionally, by law enforcers. It would be possible to frame questions that had enough information in them so that Sells could later retell a story in a way that would implicate others. But, there’s a problem with that theory, too.
First and foremost, Sells has never claimed the involvement of others in any of the other homicides he has confessed to. Only the Cordt killings has others named as co-conspirators and only those killings have other participants in the crime indicated by Sells.
Amazingly, Sells alleged killing of the Cordt’s is not the only crime he has confessed to in southwest Missouri. He has been indicted for the Oct. 15, 1997 abduction, rape, and murder of 13-year-old Stephanie Mahaney in Springfield. In that case, he is considered the only one present during the commission of the crime.
In the Cordt case, authorities in Missouri have discounted Sells confession despite some strong, albeit circumstantial evidence, that he may well be involved.
Included in that evidence is the statement by former suspect Paul Smart that he was allegedly told by a member of law enforcement that they knew Sells was “guilty as hell” and that he (Sells) had told investigators exactly what the Cordts had eaten before they were killed and that it was confirmed through their autopsies.
Smart was considered a suspect early on after investigators found his fingerprints in the shower at the Cordt home. Smart says he was going to do some drywall work in Cordt’s bathroom, and that he was friends with her father, Bob.
Even more disturbing is Smart’s allegation that a member of the Taney County government was initially investigated but that the sheriff told investigators to go after Smart instead. Smart was never charged with the murders but has lived under the shadow of suspicion for the past 25 years.
Sells maintains that he and two other men drove to Ena’s home that fateful evening and that all three raped her before Sells ended her life. If true, is it only Sells DNA that the Missouri Highway Patrol claims to have?
Those who have spoken or had written communication with Sells, point out that he was young and in need of money after his release from prison. His account of being threatened by a deputy who then hired him, to kill Cordt seems plausible given his fear of being of going back to prison.
One expert on Sells says the whole story Sells weaves about the Cordt killings is more than plausible, despite some inconsistencies that he feels are expected 25 years after the commission of the crime. The passage of time has had an impact on the case, witnesses have died, or in the case of one of those named suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Facts have become muddled.
Urban legends have sprung about the double homicide and they are now starting to be taken as fact in the Cordt case. The inability of the state’s elite Highway Patrol to solve the Cordt murders, the case being put on the back burner for so long and the dimissal of Sells as a suspect have done little to “lay the story to rest.”
One thing is for certain
For most experts on Sells, authorities in other states and for Sells himself, the murder of Ena Cordt and her young son Rory has been solved. No one has been brought to justice and, in fact, if others were involved, some people have been able to escape justice.
In 1985, while still alive herself, Ena’s mother laid her daughter and grandson to rest just across the bridge in Forsyth. We cannot allow them to lie in the cold ground without justice being served, while some hope that time will erase the memory of two young lives cut short and that they will soon be forgotten.
Their deaths have been forgotten by many, but not all.
|Fanning’s book on serial kill Tommy Lynn Sells is available here|
However, over the years, Fanning has gone on to establish a solid reputation with ABC and Texas Rangers involved in the Sells case.
THE MISSOURI HIGHWAY PATROL IS ACTIVELY SEEKING INFORMATION ON THIS CASE AND IS REQUESTING THAT ANYONE WITH INFORMATION CONCERNING THE DEATH OF ENA CORDT AND HER SON RORY, CONTACT THEM AT 866-362-6422.
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