Police: Russell Tillis confesses 3 murders to informant

Tillis charged with kidnapping, killing, dismembering, burying woman

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man accused of kidnapping, killing and burying a woman in the yard of his Southside home told an inmate that he murdered “at least three” victims and that the victims were buried in two locations, according to recordings and documents News4Jax obtained Monday.

Russell Tillis, who was in jail on unrelated charges of aggravated assault on officers at the time, did not know the inmate was wearing a wire when he said that.

Police said that in the jail recording, Tillis also admitted to other crimes. According to police documents, “Tillis gave history about shooting a man in California after four to five men” attempted to beat him up, and Tillis said “he shot a man off of San Juan Avenue, up close with a .22 caliber gun” and "was not aware if the person lived or died.” 

The tip about the buried bodies led police to dig at Tillis' Southside property, where investigators discovered the remains of Joni Lynn Gunter.

Tillis was charged with murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, abuse of a body and evidence tampering in Gunter's death.

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The Bowden Circle East home where Gunter was found initially belonged to Tillis' mother, but she signed it over to him less than a month before she died in 2012.

According to police documents, Tillis also told the informant that he blamed his brother for telling him to kill a woman.

The report said that according to Tillis, his “brother became upset and told Russell that the female had to be killed.”

After hearing this, investigators asked Tillis' brother, Claude Tillis, to come in for a voluntary interview with police. During that interview, Claude Tillis was cooperative and denied knowing anything about what happened at his mother's house.

Police: Listen, we know more than you think we know already. Why else do you think we would have you here?
Claude Tillis: I don’t know. I’ll give you DNA. I don’t have no problem with that, because like you said, I ain’t done nothing and I know I haven’t either.

Claude Tillis voluntarily gave DNA samples to police. He has not been arrested or charged.

At one point during the interview, police left the interrogation room and Claude Tillis called someone about what he just learned.

“They say they got a body over there,” he said over the phone. “I'm having problems getting out of here now. They seem to think for some reason I had something to do with it. I don’t know.”

Before Claude Tillis left, police brought the brothers face to face.

“One way or another, I don’t care how I feel about you, about the things you have done to me over the years -- somethings I've done to you -- this is not something I would do to you,” Claude Tillis said. “I just wouldn’t do it.”

Claude Tillis declined to comment Tuesday when reached by phone.

Russell Tillis will be back in court Sept. 18. He has denied all the charges.

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