Flagler County has an unusual distinction among Florida’s 67 counties. Though several people who committed murders in Flagler have been condemned to death row since the state resumed the death penalty 50 years ago, none has been put to death by the state.
That record is set to fall at 6 p.m. April 12 when, absent last-minute stays, Florida will kill Louis Gaskin, a murderer known as the “Ninja Killer.” He was wearing a ninja disguise the night of Dec. 20, 1989, when he murdered 56-year-old Robert Sturmfels and 55-year-old Georgette Sturmfels at 10 Ripley Place in Palm Coast, then went to 1 Ricker Place and shot another couple, critically wounding the husband. The couple escaped and survived. The crimes were random.
Gaskin was 22 at the time. He marked his 56th birthday Saturday, two days before Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his death warrant on Monday. In his statements to police, Gaskin spoke of his desire to kill, and confessed to murdering another man three years before, in 1986–Charles Martin, also to rob him of what he thought was several hundred dollars.
The Gaskin death warrant is only the second signed by DeSantis. Florida has executed an inmate only once since 2019–Donald Dillbeck, of Leon County, on Feb. 23, after he spent 32 years on death row. Gaskin has been on death row for 33 year. He exhausted all his appeals, in state and federal court, by 2020.
Three other men have been sentenced to die in Flagler County–Cornelius Baker, William Gregory and David Snelgrove. All three sentences were commuted to life in prison after the state Supreme Court ruled that convictions based on non-unanimous verdicts had been invalid. The Legislature is currently considering a bill that would restore courts’ power to impose death sentences without unanimous verdicts.
Louis Bernard Gaskin lived at 803 Hymon Circle in Bunnell at the time of the Sturmfels murders. Jon Tanner was the state attorney. He tried the case with Assistant State Attorney Stephen Nelson before Circuit Judge Kim Hammond, in 1990.
“The best evidence in this case surely is Mr. Gaskin’s own statement that was tape-recorded,” Tanner told the jury. “That statement contains within it ail of the elements of every crime with which Mr. Gaskins is charged.” Tanner then paraphrased the statement: “He went to his car that night and obtained the gun, the camouflaged jacket, the goggles, hood and scarf, and then went to his car and began his hunt. He parked in the woods, concealed his vehicle, and he found the Sturmfels sitting in their little den, TV room. […] He walked around the house five times deciding whether or not and building up the courage to pull the trigger. Then he walked back to where they were, he aimed at the gentleman and pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t fire.” There was an unfired cartridge in the vicinity of where he’d stood.
“He went back around the house again, he cocked it, put another shell in, and made sure it was right this time. He hesitated for about five minutes. He walked around the house again and did this about two times. Seven times around that house. Five minute delay in reloading the gun. Then he went back and said, ‘I guess I had it in me. I aimed at him, pulled the trigger, and he was shot.'” Robert Strumfels’s wife thought he was having a heart attack. She leaped up from the couch. He shot her. “She turned and tried to run — tried to run, and he jumped up and was shot again.”
She tried to crawl away. He shot her again. She kept crawling. “She made it around the corner,” Tanner told the jury. “So, he went around to the other doorway and looked down that hallway, kind of around and through that Christmas tree, and he saw her sitting there holding her head and looking at the blood. So, he shot her again.” He then went back to Robert and shot him in the head at point-blank range. “Cold blooded, premeditated, inexcusable, unjustified murder in the first degree,” Tanner said.
He then carried out his robbery, lit a cigar, and went to 1 Ricker Place, home of Mary and Joseph Rector. He was a ceramic tile setter. She worked at Publix. “That special night, one of those few special nights young parents get, the kids aren’t in the house,” Tanner told the jury. Their children were 7 and 8, they’d been sent to their grandparents’ house. Gaskin laid his cigar on the electric box outside their home and cut the wires to their phone line. He tried to lure Joseph outside so he could shoot him, throwing logs on the roof and making other noises. It didn’t work.
Gaskin in his confession said: “He stood up quiet in the vicinity I thought he was, which I had seen him about two seconds earlier. And I was pretty accurate because I did hit him. He hollered, ‘I’ve been shot. I’ve been hit. The mother fuckers are trying to kill me. I have been shot in the heart, son of a bitch.’ So, then I was running around the house trying to get a better shot at him again, but I couldn’t, so I waited.” There was a hail of bullets. Joseph Rector had been shot in the chest, the bullet lodging near the spine.
In a deposition three months later, Rector, who never saw Gaskin, recalls how he went to the front door on his hands and knees after he was shot, “and I opened the front door slightly and hollered out through the open door… I just hollered that whoever was playing with guns, that they had hit me and they had probably killed me. At that point I thought I was dead.” He was able to make it to his wife’s Pontiac Firebird with his wife–even as Gaskin kept shooting and hitting the car. “It’s a very fast car. It got us the hell out of there, that’s for sure.” They went to Memorial Hospital in Bunnell.
Gaskin proceeded to ransack their house. He then went to a friend’s house and bragged: “Hey, man, I shot somebody.” His friend didn’t believe him. “I jacked them. They’re good and stiff. If you don’t believe me, just watch the news,” he told him.
“He said it all. There really isn’t much more that I can say,” Tanner told the jury. “Perhaps what he told his girlfriend, Miss Gilyard, is most appropriate: I did the crime, now I’ve got to do the time.” The jury voted 8-4 to recommend death.
Roy Longo says
Those around hear then probably still remember these shootings. If memory serves correctly he stole things to give as Christmas presents. The family of those shot should not have to wait all these years for sentence to be carried out.
He should have been long gone by now
This story makes my skin crawl. Also makes me wonder if there is any hope for humanity.
Michael Cocchiola says
So, Floriduh will join Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, and Arizona in murdering its murderers.
Convicted murderers must face justice. No one would disagree. But, purposefully putting people to death, even for the most egregious crimes, is a barbaric holdover from less civilized cultures. And for a nation that claims to hold dear its “Christian values”, how unChristian of us.
Note, also, that all of the states above are or were under uber-conservative control at the time of their state-sponsored murders. Why the conservative bloodlust? Do they think that murder is the answer to murder? Do they go to church on Sundays and pray to their god to forgive only their sins… their murders?
Sorry to inform you but we were Not founded on Christian beliefs or values!!
Timothy Patrick Welch says
What beliefs and values are we founded upon?
The strongest rule?
Greed is good?
Do all hail the Royal?
May the better man win?
The smartest rule?
Thurston Howel III says
A eye for a eye
Another one lost says
I’ll pose a similar question to you that another Michael was asked back in 1988. If you wife (or daughter) was brutally raped and murdered, would you favor the death penalty for the killer? If not, what would you suggest as punishment?
I would recommend that the killer be locked away as long as s/he is a danger to the society. After all, a society has a right to protect itself; it does NOT have the right or–Heaven help us!–to get even vindictively.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
So is it ok to kill the unborn?
C’mon man says
Eye for an eye Michael it’s very Christian like.
Wrong cult, C’mon man! Xtian is “turn the other cheek”; you’re thinking Judaism, where eye-for-an-eye was a call for moderation because the old Hebrews actually believed that it was umpteen eyes for one eye or death for a theft.
C’mon man says
Thanks for the Bible lesson R.S. But who cares. Put this bad dog down
Oh, if only ignorance were a disease with much pain! What a great howling and gnashing of teeth there would be! ;-)
Just look at the statistics. Societies that kill killers do not have any fewer violent crimes than societies that merely protect themselves from killers. Anders Breivik got 25 years for killing some 75 young people. And yet, the violent crime rate in the US–where some states kill people still–is seven times higher than the crime rate in Norway, where 25 years is the max plus secure confinement if found still dangerous. The point is to protect society; the point is NOT to let one’s revenge feelings run amok.
These reports are a bus man’s holiday (in a car trunk) for an ex correctional officer.
Life in prison is literally living death. People who make light of it just want to wash their own hands, or are burning alive in a pyre made of vengeance. They certainly don’t give a shit about the people they hire to do the work.
You said it all, and more. Thank you.
Not A Rookie says
I understand some of the angst towards the death penalty. I also understand the strong desire, in certain cases, to exterminate killers who demonstrate conduct worthy of a rabid animal. I would be in favor of eliminating the death penalty so long as the courts are able to sentence the convicted murderers to absolute solitary confinement. No human contact, no books, no TV, no yard time, just 24/7/365 locked in a cell with food and toiletries handed thru a double door system. No medical treatment, nothing that would even hint at a normal life. That would serve as the severest of punishments, satisfying, perhaps, the need for revenge, while insulating society from ever being injured by the type of predator this man was when committing these heinous and unconscionable crimes.
How many lives were destroyed that night? The survivors and their children. Their neighbors and relatives. The deceased victims and their children, neighbors and family. This man has lived 30 plus years, albeit not in the best of circumstances, to be sure. But, most likely, he has had the benefit of family visits, other human contact, medical treatment etc. The deceased victims received a violent, brutal and callous premature end to their lives. Their survivors only get to visit a gravesite.
Just as he shrugged off all the lives he affected and TERMINATED some 30 years ago, I shed no tears for his elimination.
It’s about time!
When the kkk has killed many black people did they get the electoral chair and we’re they put to death or did they face the death penalty? Hell no
C’mon man says
@redpassion. Way to go and turn this into a race thing bud.
I suppose if one were to mention all the free killings of labor leaders, beginning with Joe Hill etc., he’d argue “Way to go and turn this into a class-warfare thing!” huh? ;-)
Me Too says
The Geode says
the story continues…
He deserved the death penalty to be carried out decades ago. Such a cold and evil act like this doenst get rehabilitated ever… my thoughts and prayers are with these families that have had their own life sentences given by this evil act. The state granted this creature 34 years of room and Board before finally giving him a justifiable punishment .
Another perspective to consider : death is an easy way out compared to him sitting behind bars for another 30-40 years until a natural death can occur so he is still granted more respect and rights as a human then his victims and their families .
Florida Girl says
So, for decades any loved ones left behind OR additional victims who survived the crime have had to live knowing this pos draws breath every night? Whom since his incarceration has lived above 75% of the entire planet with a bed off the ground, walls and roof to surround that, clothes on his back, food in his stomach, water to drink and bathe in AND limited entertainment to be had, and contact with the outside world, and possibly maintains family relationships that ALL of his victims were cruelly denied due to his acts of violence. AND not one thought about the men and women who had to work this tragedy, or the case and social workers and advocates who help patch together some sort of life for the victims left living. Or some sort of understanding of the court proceedings OR why this is happening to them. This taxpayer RIGHT here would rather see those monies going towards all the afterwards that I listed above, instead of providing ANY kind of life for Louis Gaskin whom I did know from growing up here. The last day he draws breath will be a good day. Hopefully he gets his very own special place in hell.
Good riddance Mr. Gaskin.
Dear Florida Girl, now you’re the way I picture the good ole US-American Christian: flag waving and cross burning vindictiveness. Ever heard of: “There but by the grace of god go I!”?
Me Too says
Just saying says
Here is a guy that didn’t accidently kill someone, wasn’t a crime of passion without thought. This was a person or animal that thoughts this out well in advance, hesitated, still went through with it and then bragged about it.
He did not care about anything but his lust to kill and openly admitted to the fact that he wanted to kill another individual. So I am sorry to all of those that oppose the death penalty, but he did not deserve to live this long as he has.
For those who disagree and say this isn’t the Christian way, please don’t forget all the things that the Christian religion has done over the centuries, just like most religions. Oh I don’t know like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the many puritan( although most were Calvinists which is an off shoot of Christianity) trials held in early American history. Just to name a few of the many.
So past mindless cruelty justifies continued mindless cruelty? I don’t know enough about the person who did the crime, but I wonder whether he was screwed up through military service, brain injury if he played football, or whatever might have caused him to go off the straight and narrow. By killing him without studying him, his motives, and his background, we’re depriving ourselves for perhaps eradicating these conditions from our society This approach simply asserts that the biggest bully [the state] wins the battle. So pointless! So mindless! So completely unpragmatic!
They had 30 years to study and figure it out… times up! Im tired of all the people complaining how cruel it is. Was it not cruel that he thought out and planned to kill not one, not two but tried to kill four people and probably would of killed more.
It is so convenient for you to say, but I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if it was your family. But your right they should let him go and he can live with you and you can study him… good luck, don’t call for help when needed.
Someone is sentenced to death so why are the allowed to remain in prison on appeals after appeals after more appeals. You should be allowed one appeal and that is it.
What a waste of taxpayers money as usual.
It is much more expensive to kill someone than to let him live forever confined. And if the judicial system makes a mistake, it might be possible to revise the judgment; death is final.
I’m really beginning to wonder why 4 of the jurors voted not to execute him. I wonder what circumstances there may have been that we don’t know about. This exchange here is dripping with the venom of hate and vengeance that it may obscure any rational reflection that the four jurors may have had.
Concerned Citizen says
Would you say don’t KILL my child if he or she did the same thing Louis Gaskins did. Or would you say KILL my child because he or she KILL someone? Think about it. I understand we need to pay for our actions. Would you want your child to die?
Nobody should die involuntarily, certainly not by the hand of the state. We should remember that only 8 jurors supported the death penalty for Mr. Gaskin and one of the 8 meanwhile can be added to the 4 who did not support the death penalty. We should all remember: “There but for the grace of fate, go I.” What a strange mentality that insists on people’s not dying even if they want to [euthanasia], on pregnant people’s giving birth even if they don’t want to [abortion], and on people’s dying at the hand of the state if they committed unthinkable acts under compulsion of their screwed-up upbringing [capital punishment].