Woman Discovers Grim Truth About Her Husband After Living As His ‘Prisoner’ For Years

“He took away my sense of being; he took my mind,” Terry Patzer recalls of her husband, Russell Tillis.

Russell Tillis, pictured here, was ordered to serve over two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole after he was convicted of murdering, kidnapping and dismembering Joni Lynn Gunter.

A Florida woman lived for years with the fear and trauma her former husband, Russell Tillis, caused during their nine-year-marriage together.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Evil Lives Here")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Evil Lives Here")

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A Florida woman lived for years with the fear and trauma her former husband caused during their nine-year-marriage together. But she now calls herself a “victor” — despite the grim revelations she later learned and had to face.

“I was a prisoner,” Terry Patzer says of life with “monster” Russell Tillis. “He took away my sense of being; he took my mind.”

In 1987, Patzer was working in a doctor’s office when she first met Tillis. She says he was charming and made her feel pretty and seen. When he asked her out, she immediately said yes and gave him her telephone number. “I thought Russell would be my knight in shining armor,” she recalls.

And he was, at least at first. He opened doors for her, sent flowers and showered her with affection. With time, however, troubling signs, like his hair-trigger temper, were cause for concern. Still, Patzer says, she moved in with him anyway. “I wasn’t looking at that,” she says, explaining, “I was looking at him and his feelings for me. I let it go because I still wanted him in my life.”

The couple’s relationship quickly began to spiral, and Tillis grew more controlling as time passed. He began to cut Patzer off from her family and pressured her to marry him. She finally agreed, ignoring her reservations when she found out she was pregnant with a little girl. “My family didn’t even know I was getting married,” she says. “I wasn’t even allowed to talk to them. Russell thought that I was his property.”

That period in her life, she recalls, “was the starting point of things just going to hell.”

“Russell,” Patzer adds, “had a dark side, and I never knew about it.”

According to Patzer, Tillis began to sexually assault her and treat her like “just a piece of meat.” He also started using drugs, she says, which only caused the abusive behavior to grow worse. He spent all their money and stole jewelry from her to support his habit.

After getting into a fight about him going to rehab, Tillis physically assaulted her, Patzer says, and she fled the couple’s home with their daughter. The respite was brief, and she was forced to return home because she had nowhere else to turn. “I felt like my life was starting to unravel more and more each day that passes,” she says.

Tillis, who was in and out of prison during their tumultuous relationship, was then arrested after he attempted to rape and kidnap a woman having car trouble. “I felt disgusted at him” Patzer says.

The judge gave Tillis probation in the case, and he was released — but the couple’s life was still fraught with problems. Patzer gave birth to a second child, a son, and her husband’s possessiveness grew worse. “I felt like a hostage,” she says, noting Tillis threatened to hunt her down if she ever left him. “I felt like a prisoner in my own mind and body.”

In one particularly disturbing incident, Patzer says Tillis got a knife and taught her how to kill a person if she ever got into trouble. “I wondered if he had done this to somebody else,” she says.

She would later learn the awful truth after she gathered the courage to cut her husband out of her and their children’s life for good. In 2016, Patzer heard some disturbing news on the radio: Police arrested her husband for murder, kidnapping, and dismemberment of a body.

According to First Coast News, the remains of Joni Lynn Gunter, 30, were located in a grave in the backyard of Tillis’ Jacksonville home.

Pratzer learned her ex-husband killed Gunter and also held multiple women hostage and raped them in what authorities called his “house of horrors.”

“Me and those other girls, we were just sex toys of Russell,” Patzer says. “Was that not disgusting or what? That’s what I married.”

Tillis eventually was ordered to serve over two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole after he was convicted of murdering, kidnapping and dismembering Gunter.

“Why did he do this to me? I don’t understand it,” Patzer says of what she went through during her relationship with Tillis. “I did nothing wrong.”

“I don’t know why Russell spared my life,” she continues. “I just got lucky, I guess. I do not know how many victims Russell had and what he did to them.”

Patzer now credits her new husband and God as her biggest sources of strength. “I’m a victor; I’m no more a victim,” she says, “and that’s what I want people to know: You can be a victor.”

For more on this case, stream Evil Lives Here: “He Had A Torture Chamber” on Max.

More From 'Evil Lives Here'

Two Young California Boys Forced To Watch Their Father Kill Couple During Sailboat Trip

“Even now, we don’t know the full extent of what he’s done,” the son of Silas “Duane” Boston says.

Next Up

A Woman Realized Her Husband Was a Serial Rapist Who Escalated to Murder

A neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona, was rattled when a woman reported that she’d been raped, but the worst horror was yet to come.

DNA Ties Two Virginia College Students’ Homicides To ‘Back-To-School Killer’

One victim’s mother called Jesse Matthew Jr. "a serial rapist and murderer who had been hiding in plain sight."

A Utah Wife And Mother Slowly Realized Her New Husband Was Lying About His Identity

Margie Bult was terrified when she finally understood the man she married was on the lam from murder charges.

Authorities Raced To Identify A Mystery Woman Caught On Video Near A Strange Murder Scene

When 59-year-old Pamela Hutchinson was found murdered in a Florida condo, investigators zeroed in on a suspicious woman seen lurking around the neighborhood.

A Killer Was Brought To Justice Thirteen Years After Murdering A Minnesota Woman

Trina Langenbrunner was found on the side of the road in Cloquet, Minnesota on Sept. 3, 2000.

DNA Helps Identify Indigenous Canadian Woman Found Dead In California Almond Orchard

‘It’s no more uncertainties,’ Violet Soosay says about finally learning what happened to her aunt, Shirley Ann Soosay, over 40 years ago.

Former Playboy Bunny Hired Hit Man To Kill Her Gunslinging Wild West Performer Husband

Carole Gold and her son were thrown in jail for the murder of Charles “Black Bart” Gold.

Bizarre Stabbing Incident Helped Police Crack Case Of Slain High School Cheerleader, Woman

The killer of Amie Hoffman and Dierdre O’Brien was identified after he claimed to be the victim of an attack.

Memphis Woman Says Police Failed To Investigate Her 2021 Rape By Eliza Fletcher’s Killer

DNA from a 2021 rape kit was not determined to match Cleotha Henderson until Sept. 5, 2022, three days after he is accused of kidnapping and murdering Fletcher.

Pennsylvania Man Sentenced To Life In Prison After Confessing He Killed Aspiring 'Playboy' Model

Christina Carlin-Kraft “was an absolute light in this world and he snuffed it out,” the victim’s mother said of murderer Jonathan Harris.