Family, records give glimpse of Joni Gunter’s life

Russell Tillis found guilty of kidnapping, killing, dismembering woman

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before Joni Gunter was killed, she was living a difficult life of prostitution and addiction, trying to survive, but she was loved by her family.

Her family, tributes and court records offer a glimpse of her life.

Gunter’s life ended in Jacksonville, but it began in Gainesville, where she was born on July 27, 1984.

She then lived in Palatka. Her younger sister, Ashley Gunter, explained Joni Gunter and their brother, Robert Gunter, lived there with their mother and grandmother. Then there was a horrible loss.

“We got put in foster care and then my mother died,” Ashley Gunter said.

The children were moved to Jacksonville to live with an aunt and uncle. At some point, they were separated into different foster homes.

According to court records, Joni Gunter attended Andrew Jackson High School.

The sisters kept in touch.

Joni Gunter’s first arrested was at age 19. She would soon struggle with drug addiction.

“She ended up on the streets,” Ashley Gunter said.

As Joni Gunter was trying to survive near Philips Highway, Ashley Gunter saw her in 2014 at the Scottish Inn.

Ashley Gunter became worried about her older sister, so she posted on Facebook if anyone had seen Joni Gunter.

“I had a feeling something was going on with her, and that’s when I put it out,” Ashley Gunter said.

In 2016, Joni Gunter’s body was found in Russell Tillis’ yard.

It’s estimated Joni Gunter’s life was taken away at 30 years old.

On a memorial page for Joni Gunter, her brother posted: “We miss you big time I hope you are up there with mom and Kristi We know you are watching over us and you will never be forgotten but always missed.”

Ashley Gunter posted: “Joni I miss you very much I can’t believe it’s almost going to be over grandma says she loves you and we miss you very much I wish you were here to see my unborn child and to watch it go up I’m not sure if it’s a girl or boy you are in my heart and soul always I love you may you rest in peace.”

On Friday, a jury found Tillis guilty of kidnapping, killing and dismembering Joni Gunter.

The family has said it won’t make a comment about the case until after Tillis is sentenced. That should be determined later this week. Tillis is facing life in prison with no parole or the death penalty.


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