Jacksonville man charged with murder in 'House of Horrors' case

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville police are looking at the possibility of other victims after a body was identified at the Southside home dubbed the "house of horrors."

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced Thursday the murder arrest of Russell Tillis.

The body of the young woman was found in February 2016 at his Southside home. Police at the time said they didn't know the identity of the woman, but believe she was between teen-aged and 30 years old.

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The medical examiner said the victim died of blunt force trauma. The victim was later identified as Joni Gunter through DNA testing by the University of North Texas. She would have been about 30 years old at the time of her death.

Police said she is believed to have died between February 2014 and May 2015. Gunter was a transient who was known to frequent the Southside area. She was never reported missing, however the family was looking for her, JSO said.

Tillis has been arrested in connection with the woman's death. He is charged with murder, kidnapping, human trafficking and other charges.

"We believe it’s highly likely that other females were victimized by Tillis, including potentially other murders. Based on his history, Tillis sought out vulnerable young female, white females in particular, with a history of drug abuse and prostitution," said JSO Assistant Chief Scott Dingee.

Tillis targeted vulnerable young women with a history of prostitution or drugs based off his history, JSO said.

"Tillis targets vulnerable, the forgotten members of our society, the people that don’t get reported missing typically, the ones that don’t have contact with family members," said Dingee. "We have went through our missing persons report, and we can’t find anybody at this time that we can link to Tillis or to that area."

Jacksonville police are asking for information from anyone who knew Gunter, who may have been victimized, or additional information about Tillis to come forward. People can call JSO at 904-630-0500 or Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS. You can remain anonymous and receive a possible reward of up to $3,000.

Action News Jax reporter Amber Krycka and Russell Colburn is following the story. Watch Action News Jax and follow us on Twitter @ActionNewsJax for the latest. 

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Chain of Events

Tillis was arrested on March 18, 2015 at his home for two outstanding misdemeanor warrants. He violently resisted arrest, JSO said. He has been in jail since awaiting trial on those charges.

An inmate on Feb. 5, 2016 contacted detectives and said Tillis confessed to killing a woman in his house, dismembering her body and burying her in the yard.

Authorities got a warrant and served it on Feb. 10, 2016. Officials found human remains on Feb. 11 in the back yard. Police spent days searching his property, even digging in his backyard looking for more bodies.

Two sources independently confirmed to Action News Jax in March 2016 that investigators are looking into whether the woman in a photo circulated by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is connected to the investigation into happened inside what neighbors call a "house of horrors" on the Southside.

City code enforcement officially condemned the home of Russell Tillis on the 3500 block of Bowden Circle East known as the "house of horrors" in July.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office charged Tillis in early December with murder in connection with the body found at his home. The body was identified as Joni Gunter.