Pee Wee Gaskins
This Carolina Stories delves into the mysteries behind the most notorious criminal in South Carolina history, mass murderer Pee Wee Gaskins. The story reveals South Carolina's loss of innocence during this time and explores how this case changed the way law enforcement approaches all crimes in the state.
How is it possible that this man could have truly committed so many heinous acts? On the program, ETV producer Sanford Adams explores Gaskins’ old haunts on the outskirts of Florence, Myrtle Beach, Sumter and Prospect, South Carolina. Through interviews with law enforcement officials, including William C. Barnes, the former Sheriff of Florence County during Gaskins’ reign of terror, another story begins to emerge; a story of a man who knew his best chance at immortality was to create a myth about himself that would never be forgotten.
Although no one questions the depravity of his crimes, viewers can weigh the evidence on how much of the “Final Truth” is fact, and how much is the invention of a man who thrived on instilling fear in the hearts of others? Pee Wee peels back the layers of this well-known, but still enigmatic figure, in search of the truth.
Behind the Scenes
Interview with Sanford Adams, producer, director and editor
What was the inspiration behind making this program and its topic?
A recurring theme with all of my work is the interplay of fact and folklore and how they shape our perception of history. “Pee Wee” is certainly no exception, as it has become one of the most confusing stories riddled with the conflict of truth and lore. (Image of cameraman Xavier Blake and producer Sanford Adams)
If you could describe the production in one sentence what would it be?
This documentary is an excavation of our states past, where innocence is lost, and the horrors of a modern world come home to the old south.
What is the message that you want viewers to take away from the program?
In this story we find ourselves knee-deep in the psyche of a man who claims having killed over 181 people. However, at the core of his story, is what law enforcement have actually discovered as fact about Pee Wee Gaskins. We learn from police and SLED agents the evidence and confessions they were able to use to get over 10 murder convictions, and eventually the death penalty. However, vexing this saga is Gaskins own autobiography that taunts us into believing that his crimes were far more heinous and more numerous than we will ever now.
One critical lesson is the need to question our acceptance of historical fact and the acknowledgement of perspective. Why is his book Final Truth still the top seller at Books-A-Million in Florence County? Why do we as a culture have an obsession with evil and readily accept anything as true despite its source? How can someone like Pee Wee manipulate the system so easily? Why did law enforcement fail to take heed of the reports of Pee Wee and his grave yard, or acknowledge his behavior; ie. a convicted serial rapist and child molester driving around in a hearse and boasting himself as a hit man? Could lives have been saved? Does this story cause folks to take notice now of such behavior locally or nationally? Today society in general has become much more focused on why people become killers. As a culture, although it’s debated, the need exists to keep people who exhibit these tendencies and have begun a pattern of victimization, as a civil commitment.
What was the most difficult part of making the production?
Walking the line between admonishment and stark journalism. It is difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate a story that is already so riddled with notoriety and sensationalism without contributing to those elements.
Because of a budget, were there any special tricks used to make the most out of a dollar without decreasing the quality of production?
Throughout the production, I have relied on the generosity of law enforcement and professional journalists in helping me track down materials, individuals, and ultimately the truth. Without them this project would not be possible.
Were there any unforeseen obstacles (weather, actors, etc) that hindered production?
Not unforeseen, but the obstacles of individuals, acquaintances and relatives alike, not willing to participate has been an ongoing hindrance.
Has making the program given you a new appreciation for anything?
Was there extensive research done to ensure historical accuracy or was there more room for artistry?
As with all my work, the very theme of it is our understanding of how exactly inaccurate history is. Because the proximity of the story affords me to interview actual witnesses and participants, I feel it is more accurate than most of my work. However, I have seen first hand the effects of time on memory and how history becomes transformed.
What type of feedback has this program received?
Program is not yet complete, however already we are beginning to receive interest in it from viewers. In the field the feelings are mixed. Some see it as an obvious tale that needs to be chronicled; however many believe the documentary will “stir it up” and Pee Wee should be “left to rot in hell.”