Family Murderer Claimed Death Row Changed Him
January 1980: Patrick and Teresa Gilligan, their five-year-old daughter Lisa and four-year-old son Greg, have just returned home. As Patrick, 30, steered their car into the driveway, he pressed the garage door opener. They entered, surprised to find Don Wallace, high on meth, rooting through their garage.
Patrick put up a good fight, but he had no chance as Wallace drew his gun. He shot Patrick, then tied him up — along with the rest of the family after moving everyone to the living room. Teresa followed every order and kept her focus on comforting her children. She did not cry, scream, or complain.
Don Wallace shot her anyway, then killed each of the children. Patrick was still alive, so Wallace grabbed a barbell and beat him to death. The killer had emptied his gun, firing all six rounds.
Wallace later claimed that Patrick gave him trouble, and he didn’t like the sound of Teresa screaming. He said he shot Teresa to “shut her up” and figured the kids shouldn’t grow up without parents.
Don had a way of twisting the facts to make himself look just a little better.
It wasn’t supposed to go down this way. Don was making a quick side trip from the neighbor’s place. He’d gotten away with a good haul and, feeling confident, decided to break into the Gilligan home. Don was out of his mind on dope, his usual state.
Just a few weeks before the State of Indiana executed him on March 10, 2005, he finally admitted his guilt and apologized. After two decades on death row, Don Wallace claimed to be a changed man who had accepted God and wished he could take it all back.
Did he find God, or was he just trying to save himself?
Patrick, Teresa, Lisa, and Greg
Patrick Gilligan was a young man when he died. He did everything he could to save his family. In college, he’d set a record in track and field as a discus thrower when he attended Wake Forest University. He still worked out and kept fit.
“[We] are so lucky. There’s really so few people who ever find the kind of love we had.”
Teresa worked as a legal secretary and did most of the child-rearing. She was a leader at work, organizing talks with titles like “Age of Aquarius.” A few days before she was murdered she told her mother, “[We] are so lucky. There’s really so few people who ever find the kind of love we had.”
Lisa and Greg were remembered by teachers as terrific kids.
There is no question that Don Wallace had a difficult childhood.
His parents married as teenagers, and he grew up neglected and constantly shuffled between caregivers. At age four his parents (still both in their teens) divorced. His mother abandoned him, leaving him with a father who, by all accounts, didn’t love or care for him.
One anecdote from Don’s childhood shines a light into his sad reality. As a youngster, the boy was playing with his grandfather’s gun when his grandmother intervened. She told grandpa, “Take it from him!” Wallace’s grandfather got the gun out the boy’s hands, then drove away. He committed suicide immediately following this incident.
Of course, that story came from Don himself and he had a bad reputation for making things up on the spot to make himself look like a victim.
At the age of 11, Don Wallace was living at the Evansville Psychiatric Children’s Center. This mental hospital was just the first among many: he would reside for the next ten years in one type of institution or another.
At 14, authorities sent him to medium-maximum juvenile security prison. Don reported that he began to exhibit violence for the first time here, to gain respect and for his survival.
The argument against his rehabilitation
Wallace was confined to a mental hospital for almost two years after his arrest for killing the Gilligan family. He was declared incompetent by the judge as various officials decided on his fate.
He repeatedly testified that he was “crazy” during four hearings that lasted over two years. Eventually, the court decided he was competent to stand trial. Thereafter, he was permitted to make major decisions about his defense.
Later, Wallace admitted that his “crazy” act was just that — a contrived performance.
When it comes the mass murders, evidence suggests Wallace made reasoned decisions, even if he was high on drugs.
He decided to take a chance and burglarize another house. He decided to tie up the family when he could have simply held them at gunpoint. He decided to shoot them all dead because, he later admitted, he didn’t want any witnesses.
Another story illustrates his capacity for bold lies. This one was told to the Indiana newspaper Courier & Press by a police detective who happened to live just a half-mile from Wallace and got to know him over the years.
It was back in the 70s and they were trying to serve Don Wallace with a warrant, so troopers checked out a few of his haunts. A state policeman found a young guy who lived in one place and showed him a picture of Wallace.
“I think I know that guy,” the resident said, nodding his head. “But he’s not here and I don’t know where he’s at.”
The trooper thanked him and moved on to the next house. Only later did he realize the resident was Wallace with hair dye and a new beard.
His neighbor the policeman commented, “He’s that gutsy. He can stand there and lie to a guy holding his own photograph.”
Don Wallace claimed prison rehabilitated him, saying he wasn’t that “deranged dope-fiend” who killed the Gilligan family anymore.
The Indianapolis Star news-gathering partner, Channel 13, interviewed Wallace shortly before he was executed. He said he panicked during the burglary and didn’t intend to kill anyone. He asserted that the murders were a “moment of utter madness.”
What does it mean to say, “I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. I can’t change the past”? Did he regret what it has cost him, or the price paid by the victims?
“I had no true center,” Wallace said of his former self. “No moral center. No spiritual center. Not even a rational center. I was hollow… I didn’t have a clue where I was.” He described death row as a unique place that allowed him “redemption in ways ordinary prison cannot.”
His words don’t display much empathy, however, for the Gilligans.
On Wallace’s last days before his execution, he briefly met with two spiritual advisers. They offered to stay, but he asked them to leave around 4:30 p.m. He showered, then donned a new set of prison clothing. It was Monday and the execution was scheduled for the following night at midnight.
That night, he ate no dinner. Up until 10 p.m. he could have made phone calls or met with a clergyman, but he chose to watch TV.
While he relaxed in his holding cell, the three execution teams began setting up for their grim duties on the following night.
One team would practice shackling him to a gurney and wheeling him into the execution chamber, another prepped to hook Wallace up to the IV drip, and the final team reviewed procedures to start the lethal drip.
Wallace spent his last day on earth, a Tuesday, visiting with two friends till 4:30 p.m. He had a shower and was then taken to a room next to the execution chamber. He ordered his last meal from a restaurant: filet mignon, a baked potato, soup, and chocolate truffle cake.
At this point, Wallace had another opportunity to meet with a spiritual adviser. He declined, saying he wanted to be alone.
He’d selected nine people to witness his execution and all had shown up except his mother, who no one could locate.
His last words, strapped to a gurney and face turned toward his final audience: “I hope everyone can find peace with this.”
In one of his last interviews, he said he regretted what he did and (again) blamed the murder on heavy drug use. He recalled it was “like a dream … I can’t tell you why (it happened). I’ve asked myself a million times why. I don’t know why.”