BOISE, Idaho — When Krystal Surles was 10 years old, she survived having her throat slit by serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells.
In 2016, nearly 17 years after her brush with death, a stranger named Alvin Willie George began sending images of the bloody crime scene to Surles and her sisters, all of whom live in Idaho.
“George did not know the surviving victim or her sisters,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho. “Rather he researched the 1999 murder on the internet and used various Facebook accounts he created to send harassing and intimidating messages to these women, as well as threatening to rape and kill them.”
A federal judge on Thursday sentenced George, 25, of Cross City, Florida, to more than four years in prison for cyberstalking. George pleaded guilty in a January plea agreement.
Upon his release from prison, he will be on three years of supervised release, court documents show.
A brutal attack
Federal court records, which identify George’s victims only by their initials, indicate that the victim was one of two young girls attacked as they slept the early morning of Dec. 31, 1999, in a home near Del Rio, Texas. Court records and media accounts in Sells’ case identify the younger of the two girls as Surles.
The other girl, 13-year-old Kaylene “Katy” Harris, 13, was killed in the vicious attack.
Sells, a drifter who had befriended Harris’ parents through their church, had visited the family’s mobile home multiple times prior to the murder, according to the Clark County, Indiana, prosecuting attorney. On the night of the attack, authorities said, he went there with the intent to sexually assault Katy.
Krystal and her sisters, who had just moved to Texas, were staying with the family while their parents moved their belongings from Kansas.
Editor’s note: The following story contains graphic details.
“After closing time at a local bar, Sells made his way to the Harris home and entered through an open window,” Clark County authorities said.
Sells went into Katy’s bedroom, where she was asleep in the bottom bunk of a bunk bed. Krystal slept in the top bunk.
“Sells put his hand over Katy’s mouth and brandished a 12-inch boning knife he had brought with him. He sliced off Katy’s shorts and underwear and began fondling her,” authorities said. “She wiggled free, stood up and screamed.”
Katy realized that she was bleeding.
“You cut me!” she told Sells.
Sells moved behind the teen, put a hand over her mouth and slit her throat twice.
As she lay dying on her bedroom floor, Sells stabbed her 16 more times.
Surles told CBS’s 48 Hours in 2010 that she awoke to Katy’s scream. She popped her head up to see what was going on and saw a man with long, scruffy hair and an unruly beard standing in the room. As she watched, he killed her friend.
Sells didn’t notice Krystal until he was leaving the room, she said.
“He opened the door, almost had the light off, looked one last time — and he saw me looking at him,” she told the show’s producers. “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.”
Surles said after Sells left, she crawled over to where Katy lay gasping. As she tried to comfort the other girl, she realized she could not speak.
Sells had severed Surles’ trachea.
“As soon as she stopped making those noises, I had this feeling, you know, ‘Get outta here. Get up. Come on, go. Don’t lay here. Go,’” Surles said in 2010.
The young girl stumbled from the Harris home, leaving behind a trail of blood and bloody handprints on the walls. She made her way to a neighbor’s house, where she sought help for the Harrises, who she believed had all been attacked as she and Katy had been.
Unable to speak, she wrote on a notepad. Images of her notes were obtained by 48 Hours.
“The Harris’s are hurt,” she scrawled. “Tell them to hurry.”
In other notes: “My neck needs help. Will I live?”
Surles not only lived but also helped authorities with a sketch of Katy’s killer. She later picked Sells’ face out of a photo lineup and testified against him at his trial.
Sells was ultimately convicted of killing Katy and sentenced to death. Authorities believe he killed at least 22 people, including the July 1985 murder in Forsythe, Missouri, of Ena Cordt, 28, and her 4-year-old son, Rory.
He also confessed to the Nov. 18, 1987, murders of the Dardeen family in Ina, Illinois. Russell Dardeen, 29, was slain, along with his pregnant wife, Ruby Dardeen, 30, and their 3-year-old son, Peter.
Ruby Dardeen went into labor during the beating, authorities said. The killer then beat the couple’s newborn daughter to death.
Sells was executed April 3, 2014, at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville.
Victimized once again
Tommy Sells was two years in his grave when Krystal Surles’ revictimization began.
Federal court records show that George began his campaign of terror by sending her a crime scene photo on or around Nov. 30, 2016. The image showed the slashed throat of Katy Harris, referred to in the court documents as Jane Doe.”
He sent the same photo to Surles’ sisters over the next several months.
“How did it feel to watch your friend get murdered and your throat slit?” one message from George read.
Other messages tormented Surles by accusing her of not seeking help for Katy quickly enough. George’s insults soon became threatening.
“(Expletives), I’m going to take you so your son won’t ever be able to know his mommy,” a message read.
Read George’s plea agreement below. Editor’s note: The document contains disturbing details and explicit language.
Additional messages threatened to harm the victim in various ways — and made clear that George knew where she lived, as well as the names of her son and her sisters.
“Your life is in danger,” he wrote. “It’s only a matter of time before I murder you, so hug your family tight, (expletive).”
George threatened Surles’ sisters in his messages to her. As time went by, he began sending threats directly to them, as well.
FBI agents investigating the threats went on Dec. 20, 2017, to George’s home in Florida. At that time, he admitted to what he’d done.
“(The) defendant admitted to creating Facebook accounts to send threats to injure people that may have known or been associated with Jane Doe,” the plea agreement states.
His motivation for doing so was unclear.
The Washington Post described George’s case as a “textbook application” of a 2013 law that made cyberstalking a federal crime. The law is an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act.
The federal cyberstalking statute applies to a person who uses “an interactive computer service, electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce” to harass and intimidate someone, placing the victim in “reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to that person, an immediate family member or a spouse” and causing them substantial emotional distress.
The crime carries a sentence of up to five years in prison on each count, as well as up to $250,000 in fines.