april 18 1984

On the early hours of April 27th, 1984, 18 year old Billy Gilley woke up his sister Jody (16 at the time) by pushing their younger sibling Becky (11) into her room and instructing her to stay there. Confused and sleepy, Jody didn’t stop Becky when she curiously went downstairs to see what was going on. Next thing Jody new, the house filled with screams.

Billy had taken a baseball bat and killed his parents, Bill and Linda, by savagely beating them. Because Becky had interrupted him, he hit and killed her too. Jody thought she was next when she heard her brother coming up the stairs. He appeared in her doorway, agitated and covered in blood, but instead of attacking her, he said “We are free. I’m not crazy.”

The two siblings escaped the house and, as soon as she found herself alone for a moment, Jody called 911 to alert authorities of the crime. Billy was arrested and was convicted and sentenced to three life terms of a minimum of 30 years each. He appealed said sentence in 2008, but it was upheld. Another appeal, in 2011, was denied, so he stays in prison.

Although the jury never got to hear this during his trial, Billy and Jody lived in an abusive household. Their parents were religious fundamentalists. In fact, although he was considered a sociopath by some of the forensic experts that analyzed him, Billy insists that it was the head trauma caused by his father’s punches that led him to the murders.

This case was covered in the book While they Slept, by Kathryn Harrison, in which Jody and Billy share their views on the case. You can also read an emotional testimony written by Jody for the Washington Post in 2005 here.