“I saw what he did to Katie and was scared he’d do it to me”
On one of the last nights of 1999, Krystal is tucking herself into bed after a fun sleepover with her best friend Katie, but they are suddenly woken up by a window creaking open. As Krystal opens her eyes, a man holds a knife to Katie’s neck near the edge of the bunk bed. From that moment on, two things are on Krystal’s mind: surviving through the night, and making sure serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells is brought to justice.
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Uncover what true crime documentaries don’t show you: real cases and real people, but with a new twist. This is Unseen.
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- Will, you show us how you had your hands? - I had 'em up like this.
You tell us why you had your hands up close to your neck? - Because I saw what he did to Katie and I was scared.
He was gonna, do it to me.
- This is 10 year old, Krystal Surles, one of the only living survivors of serial killer, Tommy, Lynn, Sells.
The footage you see, here, the killer himself explains in detail what happened inside the Harris family, house., - I, walked over here.
I came over here and there's a little girl sleeping, here.
Then I looked in here, two girls sleeping in here.
I woke this girl up.
The little girl on top was like, just petrified.
When Sells left the house that night, there was one thing he never thought would happen.
- It was like.
"Dead men tell no tales" and..
I thought- I thought I killed, her.
- Krystal, Surles.
She was just 10 years old.
When she came face-to face with death.
She survived, outsmarting, her killer.
It was her courage that got Tommy, Lynn Sells arrested and brought to trial.
Finally, putting an end to his 20-year long rampage.
- The year is 1999.
The coming of the new millennium is exciting for everyone, especially for Krystal Surles.
She's, moving to the quiet town of Del, Rio, Texas with her mother Pam and her two younger sisters, Marque and Amber.
This means she'll get to live right next door to her best friend, Kate., It's, December, 30th.
While, the rest of the family is away, finalizing.
The move, Krystal is spending New Year's Eve at her best friend's house for a sleepover.
- We talked about Britney Spears and NSYNC.
We kinda stayed up a little later and we got in a little fight about where we were all gonna.
What started as a night of fun and laughter later turns into a living nightmare.
At around 3:30 AM, a man is awoken abruptly by an intense knocking at his door.
He opens to the sight of 10 year old Krystal covered in blood, begging him for help.
The man calls 911.
- But Krystal, can't speak.
She's holding a hand to her neck.
With shaking hands.
She writes the following messages, stating that the Harris family needs help, asking them to hurry.
More than 700 miles away at 6:00.
Am, Krystal's mother is woken up by a disturbing phone call.
- It was a Val Verde emergency room.
Asking me for my permission to LifeFlight Krystal.
She had been attacked.
And I said, "Absolutely.
LifeFlight, her where?" And.
They said San, Antonio., I, didn't know anything other than Krystal had had her throat cut.
- As Krystal's mother, Pam rushes to her daughter's side.
She has no idea in what state she's going to find her.
At the hospital.
She learns that Krystal's windpipes were severed.
Her vocal chords were cut.
- When I got in her room, I saw this little girl with all of these tubes.
Looked like this baby in this humongous bed.
And I looked her in her eyes and I said, "Are you okay, angel? Mommy's here." - Unable to speak, Krystal uses a pen and paper to communicate.
First thing she asks is if her best friend, Kate, is okay.
- She kept asking me and I couldn't tell her.
I couldn't tell her anything.
- Krystal's mother can't bear to break the news to Krystal that her best friend, Kate, is dead.
That Krystal is the only living witness.
That knows what happened.
- When I walked into the crime.
Scene, on the floor was a deceased young girl.
The crime scene was extremely bloody.
- Shocked by the gruesome nature of the crime, Texas Ranger John Allen still has no idea.
What he's about to face.
He's told that there's a surviving 10 year old and that she's ready to talk.
- We, told Krystal, who we were and at that point in time, I assured Krystal that we are going to arrest the person or persons who did this to her.
And at that point, in time, I was hoping I could back that up.
- From her hospital bed, Krystal does her best to write a description of Katie's killer.
A police artist makes a sketch from this description.
Right away, the sketch, as well as Krystal's details, ring a bell to a friend of the family, who saw a man named Tommy working as a used car salesman, fitting that description, perfectly.
Police get their hands on the individual's picture and present a photo lineup to Krystal.
- And I explained to Krystal- I told Krystal, "We have a photo lineup and if you see the man that was in that residence, that that did this to y'all, please put your finger on.
Him." You could see her eyes moving from one individual photograph to the next and focused in on one photograph.
And Krystal took her right index finger and put it on the photograph of Tommy Lynn Sells.
- Texas Ranger, John Allen makes Tommy Lynn Sells his primary suspect.
Nothing can prepare him for who Tommy Lynn, Sells, really is.
It's January 2nd.
Police, move in on Tommy Lynn Sell's, trailer.
The door is unlocked, Texas, Ranger, John, Allen walks in, and is met halfway by the suspect.
He makes his arrest without any resistance.
In fact, Sells even tells John Allen: - "I'm glad I finally got caught." And.
Then we told him he was under arrest for murder.
- Confessions are immediately obtained from him, as well as his agreement to do a walkthrough of the crime.
- You're doing this walkthrough of your own free will? - Oh, yes. - Okay.
- I thought this to be very odd.
This guy is under arrest for murder and attempted murder and he's willing to cooperate with us.
- I walked over here, and..
This girl, up.
She jumped up and told this girl to go, get her mom.
So I stabbed her here and then she like jumped back and then-.
- The way.
Sells describes matter-of-factly what he did to Kate and Krystal brings shivers down everybody's spine.
The odd behavior of Sells doesn't end there.
Back at the police station.
He continues to give unprompted details of other crimes he's committed over the years.
- I sat in that interrogation room for hours, listening to Tommy, Lynn Sells, talking about the people he killed, the men, he killed, the women, he killed, the children he killed.
- This is two females and it happened in '91 close to Cabin Creek.
- We have confirmed that he has committed 22, total murders., - That's.
When I realized, we were dealing with a serial killer, a cold-blooded serial, killer.
How did a serial killer, who for the last 20 years, managed to escape police, get put behind bars because of a 10 year old, girl?, As Krystal slowly recovers from her neck injury.
She regains the ability to talk and can finally share her side of the story.
It's December 31st, 3:00 AM.
Krystal is fast asleep.
After a night of laughter with Kate.
- We went to bed kinda late, but I.
Remember I, woke up to like a scream.
- She notices that the light is on.
Lying silent at the top of a bunk bed.
She looks around, confused., - I could see at the end of the bed.
This scary guy.
He had scruffy hair., Long dark, curly hair, and a big, scary, long, bushy beard that just took over his whole face.
Then his eyes were just dark and mean.
- The man doesn't notice that Krystal is awake, but she can see the man is holding Kate and that he has a knife.
- He had a hand on her mouth and the knife on her neck.
Looking at me.
- Kate, then screams out to Krystal to go get her mom.
At that moment, the man drives his knife across Kate's neck, dropping her to the floor.
Then moves in and stabs her again and again.
- I heard Katie at the bottom of the bed or on the floor.
She was like gasping for air and choking.
She couldn't breathe.
- Krystal is horrified, but she's quiet, careful not to make a sound.
She wants to help her friend, but if she moves, the man will kill her.
After a moment.
The man walks out of the room.
- About to shut off the light.
He looked one last time and he noticed that I was there.
- Tommy, Lynn Sells has already made a victim.
He doesn't hesitate when he sees that frightened girl on the top bunk.
He closes the door and walks back to her side.
- I was trying to scoot to the right side of the bed because he was on the left.
He just reached over and cut my throat like this.
- Without hesitation, Krystal drops to the floor and plays dead.
She's, praying that the man won't come back and check if she's alive, like he did with Kate.
She has to stay absolutely still., - I just remember laying there and the light.
Turning off and I heard the door shut.
So I got on my hands and knees and I was crawling across the floor.
In the bedroom.
And I came across Katie.
She was kind of making a gasping noise, or maybe she was choking, but then I was trying to comfort her.
I laid next to her, rubbing her back.
That's when I realized, I couldn't talk.
'cause, all I wanted to say: was, "Everything's gonna be okay.” But I, couldn't. - Then Kate goes quiet.
With, her friend dying in her arms, Krystal realizes she could be next.
- I had this feeling, you know.
“Get outta here., Get up, come on.
Go!” I was laying there thinking, "Has.
He been to the other rooms? Does.
He know that the whole family's here? Is everybody hurt? Are.
They all dead?", - Krystal, decides to head outside to find help at the closest house.
She opens the door, she hears a car drive, off.
There's, no way to be sure.
It's the man who killed Kate.
But she has to take the risk.
- It was dark.
I was in my pajamas, No shoes, nothing.
I saw a light in the distance.
I was like, "That's, my goal.
That's, where I need to be." I just got on the road and walked really slow to that light.
All I could think about was, "Just get to this house, just get to this house, just get to this house." And I, just banged on their door.
I hear a gentleman.
He's like, "Who's there? Who's there?" And I can't talk.
So I'm just banging as hard as I can on the door.
- Krystal is begging the man to tell the operator that the Harris family needs help.
All she can do is write while holding a hand to her throat.
She writes for them to hurry, that her neck needs help.
And to the man, she writes, "Will I, live?" January 2nd.
Krystal is at the hospital, relieved that Tommy Lynn Sells is behind bars.
But her nightmare isn't over yet.
In less than nine months.
She will have to face him in court because her testimony is crucial to the case.
To make sure Tommy Lynn Sells never hurts anyone else ever again.
And she's terrified of what might happen.
Will she be able to go through with her testimony? If.
She fails, he might be released.
Who knows what Sells will do when he sees her in the courtroom.
Like in the case of Mary Stauffer, who was kidnapped by her stalker.
He, attacked her with a knife in court and left a mark on her face.
The weeks before the trial, the television show "America's Most Wanted" covers Kate and Krystal's story.
They arranged for Krystal to meet with another teen who went through something very similar.
- And he like, strangled me.
Both my wrists.
You can barely see them.
Thank God, they're going away.
Then he slit my throat.
- Kristie Reed had survived a brutal attack in 1999 when she got home from school.
The brave, young 14 year old then stood in court to face the man who also killed her 16 year old sister.
- I asked for him not to be in the courtroom, but they couldn't do it unless he said something bad or you.
Know, looked at me: weird.
- Yeah., I'm, like, scared, 'cause.
He is gonna, be sitting right.
- During, the encounter, Krystal notices, the little gold ring that Kristie is wearing.
It was this ring that gave Kristie strength when she testified in court as a reminder of her sister.
- Do, you have any tips or anything like? - Your friend's name was Katie? - Yeah.
- Concentrate on her.
Because you're, helping her and yourself.
It's scary, but once you get it out, you're like..
You feel a lot better.
- It's September 12th, nine months after the attack.
The trial begins for Tommy Lynn Sells.
- Let me have the defendant rise and face the jury and all that.
- The day I had to testify, I said, "Mom.
Please, don't cry.
If I, see you in the crowd, bawling, you're gonna, distract me.
You're gonna make me upset." - 11 year old, Krystal Surles was going to be the key witness.
The star witness for the prosecution.
She had never seen Tommy Lynn Sells since the night that he came to that house and slashed her throat.
She didn't know how she was gonna.
- The jury is presented with extremely emotional testimony, while Tommy Lynn Sells remains indifferent.
- What I was told, was an intruder had entered the premises and...
My daughter, was..
- They discovered that it was my own daughter who was in the house.
I- I just cried and cried.
It will be Krystal's turn to tell the jury what she went through with Sells just a few feet away from her.
Moments before she has to go to the courtroom.
A surprise is delivered directly to Krystal to help her through her last struggle.
- And I am to tell you that this is to help guide.
You, okay? - Come, on!, Mom! - They, didn't!, They, did!, Mommy!, - Inside.
She finds the cross ring that Kristie was wearing.
The same ring.
She wore in court., - "As.
You face this journey, from the moment you begin..." Oh, my God.
You and you'll have the strength to win." And.
Then, when they called me, down, I was like, "I'm ready., I'm, ready.", They, said, "Do, you wanna, walk by him? You could either walk by him or just walk through the door and get on the stand." And I said, "I wanna walk by him.
I'm, not scared of him.
- Were you ever awakened during the night? - Yes.
- What was it that awakened you? - Katie’s voice, saying, "Help." His hand was over her mouth.
- Whose hand was over her mouth? - His hand.
- The man with the blue jacket and the glasses? - Yes.
The record reflect that the witness has identified the defendant, Tommy Lynn Sells.
- He was standing behind her with his- with his hand over her mouth and the knife right: here.
He, was- Okay., He, was..., - Take, your time.
- As Krystal struggles to finish her accounts of that night.
The judge gives her a short recess to let her recover.
If she's not able to go through with it.
She knows what might happen to Sells.
Put my thoughts towards Katie.
Just had such a mindset that this is what I wanted to do, and this is what I had to do.
This is for Katie.
She deserves this.
- What happened, next? - He moved the knife and slit her throat.
He started walking towards me.
- Did, you say anything to him? - Yes.
Did you tell him? - I told him “I'd be quiet., I promise, I, won't- I, won't, say: nothing.
I'm- I'm, not making the noises, it’s Katie.” He said, "Move your hands." - And.
Why did he say, "Move your hands"? Will? You show us how you had your hands? - I had 'em up like this.
You tell us why you had your hands up close to your neck? - Because I saw what he did to Katie and I was scared.
He was gonna.
Do it to me.
She struggles to go through with her testimony.
She finds comfort in the gift.
Kristie gave her.
- He reached over the ledge and slit my throat.
I just laid there, pretending I was dead.
- Tell us why you did that.
If he knew I was alive, he would've came back and killed me for sure.
- Well, Krystal.
You can stand down then.
This completes your examination.
Thank you, and you are excused.
- As soon, as I stepped off, the stand, I felt so good.
I felt like he couldn't conquer me.
He had his chance.
Now look at him.
He was in that trial room because of me and I liked, feeling that power.
- After only a few hours of deliberation.
The jury quickly comes back with a unanimous verdict.
- You, Tommy Lynn Sells have been found guilty of the offense of capital.
- They decided to give Tommy Lynn Sells the death penalty.
- The serial killer, Tommy Lynn Sells, who escaped police for 20 years, is finally brought down.
It's because of one little girl's: courage that he will never hurt anyone ever again., - There's, not a doubt in my mind that Krystal has lost a lot.
If not most of her childhood.
She really has been a survivor.
- Krystal came face to face with a serial killer and survived.
Her road to recovery wasn't an easy one and she may never fill that gap of losing her best friend.
As the years pass, Krystal is able to find solace in her family and newfound friends.
She's closer than ever with her two sisters.
- It's, such a beautiful thing, to see her with her sisters.
She still is like a mother to them.
- She graduated and every day continues to make her friend, Kate, proud.
- Krystal, Floyd, Surles. - Of, course, I, think about Katie.
Think about, you know.
If she was here, what would she be doing? Maybe? What would we be doing? I, don't ever think about Tommy Lynn, Sells.
Don't ever ever give him the time of day.
It makes me really thankful.
That's what he did.
He didn't ever bring me down at all.
These are happy tears., Just..., I'm, just glad to be here.
- Krystal Surles is living proof that even after tragedy, there is a life worth living., - I think just that Katie.
She helped me through everything., Her soul came up and like, stayed with me.