Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tommy Lynn Sells

The Suspect

Krystal Surles awoke groggy on New Year's Day, her throat heavily bandaged. Texas rangers and county sheriff's investigators were anxious to debrief the girl about her attacker, but they were careful to allow her time to recover.

But soon after regaining consciousness, Krystal was ready to get to work. She used gestures to demand a pen and paper and began writing descriptions of her assailant.

Authorities called in Shirley Timmons, a forensic artist, from her home in Midland to work with Krystal from her San Antonio hospital bed.

Sketch of killer from description
Sketch of killer from description

The first sketch showed a dark-eyed, round-faced man with long brown hair and a full beard. The image resembled a swarthy Chuck Norris.

Cops quickly distributed the description and image, and they pressed the Harris family to mull over friends and acquaintances for a match.

Nothing was missing from the home. Law enforcers assumed the murder was motivated by sexual deviance, not robbery. And they suspected the killer was acquainted with the Harrises before climbing in the window—and that Katy Harris had been his intended target.

The two Surles girls were staying with the Harrises while her mother, Pam, was moving from Kansas to Del Rio over the holiday. The families had been friends in Kansas before the Harrises moved to Texas in 1995, and Pam Surles and her daughters were now joining them there.

A group left Del Rio at 6 p.m. December 30 for the 13-hour drive north to collect Surles' belongings. Those on the trip included Terry Harris, adoptive father of the murder victim, Pam Surles and her boyfriend, Doug Luker.

They turned around and rushed back to Texas when they were informed of the murder and assault.

When Luker heard the description and saw the sketch, it reminded him of a man the moving group had seen at a Del Rio gas station just before they left for Kansas.

He remembered the man's name as Tom or Tommy. He seemed to be a friend of Terry Harris, Luker said, and he worked as a salesman at Amigo Auto Sales.

Luker shared his recollections with Texas Ranger John Allen, who tracked down the owner of the car lot by phone. The man was uncooperative with Allen, but he quickly reconsidered.

Texas Ranger John Allen
Texas Ranger John Allen

He phoned the Val Verde County Sheriff's Office and gave a friend there the name of the employee. Rangers searched state crime files and came up with a picture of the man—beardless, but it was the best they could do.

They went to Krystal Surles' hospital room and showed her a photo array of six men. She studied the pictures purposefully, and then pointed at one as the intruder.

It was the used-car salesman from Del Rio. His name was Tommy Lynn Sells.

Investigators prepared an arrest warrant and paid a visit early on January 2 to the trailer Sells shared with his wife, Jessica Levrie, and her four children.

He went along without rancor. He didn't ask why he was being taken in, and investigators didn't offer to tell him.

But during the ride to the sheriff's office, Sells turned to Val Verde County Sheriff's Lt. Larry Pope and said, "Well, I guess we've got a lot to talk about."

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