WARNING: The video above is very graphic and shows Gary Gilmore die.
From a young age, Gary Mark Gilmore just went and stole whatever he wanted—beer, cigarettes, cars, money. He was usually successful, but when he wasn’t, he landed in jail repeatedly.
No one thought he’d become a cold blooded murderer who’d get two consecutive life sentences and would become a celebrity for fighting to be executed, however. Gilmore’s fascinating story is documented in a book written by his younger brother, Mikal Gilmore, called Shot in the Heart, and The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, who wrote a nonfiction account of his story, The Executioner’s Song. In his book, Mailer utilized letters that Gilmore wrote, interviews with many of his intimates, trial transcripts, and interviews or statements that Gilmore gave to the press.
This is what we learn: Gilmore had been beaten severely and repeatedly as a child. His father was a con man and his mother wouldn’t let the children touch her, let alone hug her. Born on December 4, 1940, Gary initially aspired as a boy to join the church as a man of God. By the time he was 35, however, he’d spent more than half of his life locked up.
One explanation for why Gilmore changed so suddenly is because his grandmother was a medium, who had had a séance, when he was just a little boy. Gilmore’s mother stayed away during the ceremony but she says she was visited by an evil spirit, who she also found in her son’s bedroom staring at him. Not only did the grandmother die soon after, but Gilmore had shuddering nightmares and then became a troublemaker.
At age 14, Gilmore dropped out of school. By fifteen, he was running an illegal car theft ring. That’s when he was first arrested, although he’d been drinking for three years, harassing teachers, playing hooky, and stealing.
When his father died, Gilmore was in prison. He tore up his cell and attempted suicide. After his brother died, he was placed in solitary confinement. Gilmore had an IQ of 130, so he taught himself how to read and he wrote poetry.
For the next few years, Gilmore was in and out of prison for armed robbery.
His cousin Brenda orchestrated Gilmore’s release. She hadn’t seen Gary since he was a boy, but she believed that if she and her family could help him out with a loving community and a job, he’d get along okay. She didn’t know that he’d been diagnosed (according the reports that Mailer documents) with a psychopathic personality disorder.
Soon, Gilmore found himself a beautiful girlfriend, Nicole Baker Barrett, thrice divorced by age 19
On Monday, July 19, 1976, Max Jensen went to work as usual at the self-service gas station in Orem, Utah. That night, Gilmore had an argument with his girlfriend and went driving with her younger sister, April.
At around 10:30 pm he told April he wanted to make a phone call. He left her in the truck and walked away. Gilmore went around the corner, out of her sight, and into the Sinclair service station.
He walked up to Max Jensen, the attendant, instructed him to empty his pockets, and then told him to go into the bathroom and lie down on the floor with his arms under his body. Gilmore put the gun close to Jensen’s head. “This one is for me,” he said, and fired. Then he placed the muzzle right against Jensen’s skull and shot him once again, this time “for Nicole,” his girlfriend.
Gilmore spent the night with April at a motel and the following night, he walked into the City Center Motel in Provo, not far from Brigham Young University. He confronted the attendant, Ben Bushnell, who lived on the premises with his wife and baby. Gilmore told Ben to give him the cash box and get down on the floor. Then he shot Bushnell in the head. Later, when trying to get rid of the gun in a nearby bush, Gilmore shot himself in the hand.
By Wednesday, Gilmore’s cousin, Brenda, turned him into the police. Gilmore gave up near a roadblock without a fight. At first, he denied the murders, but later admitted both. He didn’t have a reason. He admitted that if he hadn’t been caught, he’d likely have gone on killing. Not much later, he said that he ought to die for what he’d done.
In October, Gilmore was tried and convicted. While in prison he planned a suicide pact with Nicole, his girlfriend. She almost died, but Gilmore never even made an attempt to kill himself.
Soon, Gilmore gained international notoriety for demanding the implementation of his death sentence for the two murders he committed in Utah. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a new series of death penalty statutes in the 1976 decision Gregg v. Georgia, he became the first person in almost ten years to be executed in the United States.
He chose death by firing squad and waived all appeals. Despite the efforts of other groups to stop it, 6 months after the murders, the execution was carried out.
Gary Gilmore was the first person executed in the U.S. in almost 10 years. In prison most of his life and paroled only four months before the murders, Gilmore becomes a celebrity with his efforts to hasten his execution.
Gilmore’s last words were, “Let’s do it.”