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Bristol Herald Courier
By Matthew Lakin
Mar 17, 12:00 AM EST
ABINGDON – A former North Carolina doctor admits to killing his father and mutilating the corpse, but insists it happened in Tennessee rather than Virginia, where he’s charged with first-degree murder.
“I should have told everybody from the beginning,” Vince Donald Gilmer said Wednesday in a telephone conversation from the Washington County Jail. “There’s no reason I should be here at all. This didn’t happen here. But it doesn’t matter where I go with this, the Lord’s going to take care of me.”
Gilmer claims in a series of letters written to the Bristol Herald Courier that the killing happened in Carter County, Tenn.
Carter County authorities said they’re taking the story seriously. In the meantime, prosecutors in Washington County plan to move ahead with their case, with a preliminary hearing set for today.
“I’m not going to discuss any of this,” Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Godfrey said. “I can’t control what he sends to anyone.”
Washington County sheriff’s detectives called the story “dubious,” saying Gilmer has given various versions.
Even Gilmer admits his story sounds strange.
“Each time I tell the story it is a little different,” he wrote. “You can’t include every detail every time you tell a story. … A lot of it does not make sense, but that also shows it was not planned.”
Gilmer, 41, the former owner of Cane Creek Family Health Care Center in Fletcher, N.C., was charged last summer with strangling his 60-year-old father, cutting off the dead man?s fingers and thumbs, and dumping the body along Good Hope Road near South Holston Lake in Washington County, Va.
On June 29, a resident driving home from the movies just after midnight spotted the body of Dalton Donald Gilmer lying beside the road.
Nearly a week later, Washington County authorities charged his son, Vince Gilmer, with murder. He returned to Virginia in August, more than a month after police in Asheville, N.C., arrested him following a chase through some woods behind a shopping mall.
Prosecutors said at the time they weren’t sure where the father died, but state law allowed them to handle the case since the body was found here.
In the letters to the newspaper, Gilmer wrote, “I, Vince Gilmer, committed manslaughter on June 29, 2004. It did not happen in Virginia. The only thing that happened in Virginia was the body ended up there. … I am confessing it happened in Elizabethton, Tenn.”
Gilmer wrote in the letters ? and confirmed in a telephone conversation that he killed his father in a fit of anger brought on by mental problems and years of resentment over childhood sexual abuse.
“I did not commit murder,” he wrote. “The things that happened that night were beyond my control. … I am writing this with a mind that is working well.”
The letters, which skip over the details of how the father died, tell a sometimes rambling story of mental illness, rage and confusion. It’s the latest twist in a case that investigators have called one of the most bizarre and gruesome in recent memory.
“In my 34 years in law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Carter County Sheriff John Henson said. “In a way, I want to believe the guy. There’s a very good possibility he will be charged with murder here in Carter County. But we’ve got to have something besides his word.”
Carter County sheriff’s detectives interviewed Gilmer in jail last week, where he told the same story, Henson said.
“He gave us a full confession,” the sheriff said. “When I first heard it, it was hard to digest. It was an amazing interview.”
So far, investigators haven’t found any evidence to back up the claim, Henson said.
“But we don?t have anything to prove that it didn’t happen here,” he said. “It’s been so long, we may never come up with any evidence that it did happen here. But I don’t see why he would lie about it.”
Gilmer checked his father, who used a walker and suffered from dementia, out of Broughton Hospital, a mental institution in Morganton, N.C., on the afternoon of June 28. He planned to take him home for the night and transfer him to a nursing home the next day, he said.
“My memories for that evening are far from perfect,” the former doctor wrote.
Gilmer claims in the letters that he drove his father to Little Wilbur Lake in Carter County, where he had promised to take him kayaking. His father had once lived there, and Gilmer said he thought the trip would help comfort him.
“I was going to paddle while he sat on shore,” the son said. “We were going to drive over and come back that night.”
That was one day after Gilmer, who wrote that he had been taking the antidepressant Lexapro, said he stopped taking his medicine.
“I thought I could do without it,” he said. “That’s what caused this.”
His father kept taunting him along the way, Gilmer said.
“He was always saying filthy, disgusting things to remind me of what happened,” the former doctor wrote. “My father started sexually molesting me when I was 6 and my sister when she was 3. Mom tried to shelter us, but it kept on. … He continued to try to molest us as adults.”
Then the voices started, he said.
“I started hearing voices telling me to kill people,” Gilmer wrote. “The voices in my head were telling me to kill my father.”
Gilmer said he stopped at an Arby?s in Weaverville, N.C., then at a gas station in Elizabethton. The voices – and the taunting from his father – got worse throughout the 90-minute drive, he wrote.
They arrived at the lake around sunset, according to the letters. Gilmer said that’s when his father requested oral sex.
“He reached over and tried to pull my head to his crotch,” Gilmer said. “The voices took over from there.”
An autopsy found that Dalton Gilmer was strangled with a rope. What happened next, Gilmer said, was a blur of panic and bewilderment.
“Nothing made sense from then on,” he said.
Gilmer said he loaded the body into the back of his truck and waited until dark, then stopped at the Food City in Elizabethton to buy gloves and a tarpaulin to cover the body.
“If I had planned this, I would have had something to cover the body with,” Gilmer wrote. “I covered the body. I didn?t know where to go or what to do. I drove aimlessly. … My brain was not working right.”
He stopped on a back road and decided to cut off the body?s fingers and thumbs to try to hide the identity, he wrote.
“I had a saw in my truck for sawing limbs in my yard,” he wrote. “It took five minutes.”
Gilmer told investigators he put the fingers in plastic bags and dropped them in the Nolichucky River, said Henson, the Carter County sheriff.
Gilmer said he ended up in Washington County, where he lived in the 1990s while studying as a resident at Bristol Regional Medical Center in Tennessee.
“I decided to drop the body on the side of the road,” he wrote. “My cover-up of the crime was pitiful.”
Gilmer returned to Fletcher the next day, he said. Asheville police arrested him a week later.
Authorities questioned the doctor’s account, wondering why he would confess now and how no one would notice a body in the back of a pickup truck in a grocery store parking lot.
Henson said his detectives were checking store surveillance videos to try to verify the story.
“We?re looking now for some facts,” he said.
Gilmer said he’s ready to face charges in Tennessee or Virginia, where doctors have found him competent to stand trial.
“Either way, I’ve got the truth behind me,” he said.
Henson asked anyone with information to call (423) 542-1845 or 542-1846.
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