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Don and Gail Gash’s marriage seemed built to last. They had been together for 30 years and weathered many storms, after all. Behind the scenes, however, the love had left them years before Gail beat Don to death and cut up his body in pieces.
Donald Larry Gash was born in 1955 and grew up in Henderson County, North Carolina. Located south of Asheville, the area sits in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the state’s western edge.
“He was actually born out of wedlock and was adopted by his biological aunt and her husband,” daughter Leslie Gash Williamson told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. “It was really tough in that house. There was some pretty rough physical abuse between his parents that he witnessed.”
Despite turmoil at home, Don was a happy and well-adjusted teenager. “He was outgoing. He had a lot of really close friends. He played football,” Williamson said.
In high school, Don started dating cheerleader Gail Christine Hutchinson. Gail grew up in a strict, religious household. Then, while they were both still students, Gail became pregnant with Don’s child. “It was not an option for them to not get married,” Williamson explained.
Their son, Donald Edward Gash, was born in 1972 while daughter Jennifer Leslie Gash was born in 1977. They lived on the same 21-acre cattle farm where Don grew up. Leslie’s mom later moved in, living in a trailer on the property. While Gail stayed home with the kids, Don worked at the local paper mill. As a union member in good standing for 15 years, he brought home a nice paycheck.
But tragedy struck in 1984. Gail’s mother had developed a drinking problem and passed out while smoking a cigarette, starting a blaze that engulfed her trailer. Don pulled her out but it was too late: She succumbed to her injuries.
Gail took the incident hard and was later hospitalized following a suicide attempt, according to a report from Hendersonville’s Times-News newspaper. Not long after, a tumor was found on Don’s spinal cord. The operation to remove it left him unable to work and he began claiming disability benefits.
The Gash family struggled financially, putting a strain on Don and Gail’s marriage. Eventually, they both pivoted: Gail got a degree in psychology from UNCA in 1991 and worked in social services and at a law firm. Don began working as an assistant high school football coach and was also a member of Etowah-Horse Shoe Volunteer Fire Department, eventually becoming fire chief.
“The fire prevention program was near and dear to his heart mostly because I think what had happened to his mother-in-law,” retired Emergency Services Director Rocky Hyder told producers.
Tragedy would soon strike again, though. On Friday, March 26, 2004, Judith Gash, the wife of Don’s cousin, called the Henderson County Sheriff's Office to file a missing persons report for Don. They normally spoke frequently and she hadn’t heard from him in two days.
Sheriff’s investigators drove out to the Gash residence that Saturday. They spoke with Don Jr., who still lived with his parents at 31. There, they learned Don wasn’t the only missing Gash.
“When we arrived and spoke to Don Jr. he said he didn’t know where his mom was,” former Henderson County Sheriff's Lieutenant Ben McKay told producers.
Don Jr. said he had last seen his father on Thursday evening and his mother the next morning while she was asleep. He explained it wasn’t uncommon for him not to see his parents for a few days at a time. He did add his car was missing and he had assumed his mother had taken it.
Investigators searched the 21-acre property, and near a barn, investigators noticed a burn pile. Inside the barn they found a large blue rubber storage tub. Deputies were horrified when they opened it and saw what was inside.
“It was a large human torso with the head, arms, legs all cut off,” prosecutor Beth Dierauf told “Snapped.”
The remains had been burned, too.
“It was partially scorched. Looked like somebody had tried to burn the torso and was unsuccessful,” McKay said.
A large scar on the back identified the victim as Donald Larry Gash.
The search for Gail Gash became urgent. Was she the perpetrator or another victim?
Don Jr’s car was soon located in a cemetery a half mile from the house. Blood was on the steering wheel and seat.
The Gash children were brought in for questioning. Investigators learned the Gashs' marriage wasn’t as happy as it seemed. Don and Gail slept in separate bedrooms and there were rumors Don was having an affair. Plus, in the years before her husband’s murder, Gail had repeated run-ins with the law. While working for the Henderson County Department of Social Services she was investigated for food stamp fraud and in 2001 she was convicted on six counts of obtaining property by false pretenses at another job and sentenced to five years probation, according to the Times-News.
Don had even told friends that Gail tried to kill him on two prior occasions — by choking him with a cord and smothering him with a pillow, the Times News reported. He would later tell Judith Gash “if anything happened to him to suspect his wife and son,” according to court documents cited by the Times-News.
On March 29, detectives found Don Gash’s head and limbs along the Blue Ridge Parkway in neighboring Buncombe County. An autopsy would reveal Don died from blunt force trauma to the head, sustaining multiple blows to the head and face.
Gail Gash was then finally located on Wednesday, March 31, 2004. She was wrapped in a sheet and hiding in the crawl space beneath a storage shed on her neighbor’s property. She said she had been there since the previous Saturday.
“She was, I think, suffering from hypothermia. She was conscious but she would not speak. She wouldn’t talk to them [investigators]. She was not in good shape,” Dierauf told “Snapped.”
At the Gash home, detectives found blood, hair, and flesh on the mattress of Don’s bed. Luminol revealed blood spatter on the walls and a ceiling while a bloody mop and a bag of Don’s were found in a burn pit, according to the Times-News. Investigators learned Don had a $150,000 life insurance policy, providing motive.
Gail Gash was charged with first-degree murder on April 1, 2004, according to to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal newspaper.
In a bid to avoid life in prison, Gail Gash pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Donald Gash, on Nov. 7, 2006, the Wilmington Star-News newspaper reported at the time. She was sentenced to between 15 years and 18 years in prison.
Gail would tell a forensic psychiatrist that she beat her husband to death with a small log after a night of fighting and forced sex, according to the Times-News. Unable to remove his body from the home, she cut it up and tried burning it before boxing the torso and dumping the remaining body parts.
Four years into her prison sentence, Gail Gash died of natural causes on Feb. 4, 2010. She was 56 years old.
For more on this case and others like it, watch “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
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