69ºF

Evidence photos give glimpse inside home where woman found buried

Russell Tillis accused of kidnapping, killing, dismembering woman


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hundreds of photos taken by police in and around the home of a Jacksonville man accused of kidnapping, killing, dismembering and burying a woman on his property were released Monday after a News4Jax open records request.

Russell Tillis, 54, has been charged with murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, abuse of a body and evidence tampering in the death of Joni Lynn Gunter.

Her dismembered remains were found buried in February 2016 after tips led police to search Tillis' Bowden Circle East property. He was in jail on unrelated charges when investigators searched the home and property. The remains were later identified using DNA analysis.

PHOTOS: Evidence found at Russell Tillis' home

Police said Gunter, a transient, died of blunt-force trauma sometime between February 2014 and when Tillis was arrested on the unrelated charges in May 2015.

According to the supplemental reports obtained by News4Jax, Gunter's skull had five 1-inch round depressions, possibly from a hammer. A hammer was recovered from the house.

Police took more than 800 evidence photos at the home, which has since been torn down. Those photos include the grave in which police said Gunter was buried, her wrapped-up remains, power tools, blades, chains, chemicals and equipment laid out in an organized way.

The appearance of the home varied from room to room, with some rooms neatly organized and others cluttered.

There are also photos of booby-traps police said they encountered in May 2015 when two officers were attacked with knives while serving Tillis with arrest warrants on charges of threatening a neighbor and violating an injunction. He has since stood trial on those charges, but a mistrial was declared. He is being tried separately in the Gunter case.

Also released in the records request was Tillis’ interview with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and a couple of audio interviews, including one with Tillis’ brother.

Throughout most of the redacted interrogation video, Tillis appears to stare at the table and offer no response to detectives' questions. According to a jail wire audio recording, Tillis told an inmate that he killed Gunter because his brother told him to do so.

"And should we listen to your brother when he says you're the monster and not him?" a detective can be heard asking Tillis in the interrogation video. Tillis doesn't respond. 

The 200 pages of supplemental reports also reveal JSO interviewed several woman who had come in contact with Tillis. Some had consensual sex with him. Some claim they were sexually assaulted, but never reported it. Some claim they were chained to a bed for hours at a time. One said there was a soundproof room in the house, but another said she was unaware of such a room. The Sheriff's Office also talked to one neighbor, who said on two occasions, women came to her house asking for help, saying Tillis was going to kill them.

Police believe that Tillis could have abused or killed other young women, particularly drug abusers, prostitutes or women who weren't in regular contact with family, who wouldn't be missed.

"Suspect Russell Tillis targeted vulnerable members of our society," Asst. Chief Scott Dingee said. "Based on statements Tillis made, we believe it’s highly likely that other females were victimized by Tillis, including other murders. Based on his history, Tillis sought out vulnerable young females -- white females, in particular, with a history of drug abuse and prostitution. So we ask that anyone who knew the victim or anyone who may have been victimized by Tillis, anyone who has family members that may have associated with Tillis and now their family members are missing, anyone with additional information, we ask that they contact the police."

Police searched Tillis' Bowden Circle East property for days after Gunter's body was found, but said they found no other human remains. 

They returned to search the property again earlier this year but have not said if the second search turned up any remains.

Jury selection for Tillis' kidnapping and murder trial will begin Nov. 5, 2018. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penlaty. 


About the Author: