Gilmore Gun Story

After Gary Gilmore’s trial and execution January 17, 1977

The court returned the murder weapon (the Gilmore Gun) to the store owner Gilmore had burglarized. This was one of the eleven guns stolen by Gilmore from Swan’s market in Spanish Fork, Ut. The store owner, Gordon Swan, hid the pistol away.

Twenty five years after the stolen firearms were returned to Gordon he took the murder weapon to his long time friend Dennis Stilson who owned and operated a shop selling guns. Stilson was an active vendor with internet firearm auctions and gun shows around the West. Dennis was also a bail bondsman and Utah state bail enforcement agent / bounty hunter. Gordon asked Dennis to help him sell the gun.

The pistol still had the Provo, Utah police department’s evidence tag attached along with FBI lab reports and other court documents verifying the authenticity beyond any doubt. After extensive research the gun was placed on an internet auction and received a bid of $500,000.00 but was not suffient to reach the asking price.

The Gun was first shown at a Las Vegas gun show drawing national attention and resulting in an enormous media response. About a year later Stilson purchased the firearm. The gun has only been viewed a few times since.

Stilson’s first book titled “The Gilmore Gun and I ” included his true stories of bail bonding, bounty hunting, and pawn shop experiences. As the book drew more attention continued stories of other peoples encounters with Gilmore were revealed to Dennis. He rewrote the book titled “The Gilmore Gun – Echo of Murder” removing some personal and local material. He added interviews and mainstream information focusing more on the effects of the case and current events surrounding the gun.

The Gilmore Gun has repeatedly drawn international attention.

News | World | Americas

“Gilmore’s gun goes on sale for $1m” “Scholars and supporters of capital punishment in the United States are being given the chance to purchase at auction what may be the rarest of all death-penalty souvenirs – the handgun purportedly used by Gary Gilmore to murder a motel clerk in Utah almost 30 years ago.” BY DAVID USBORNE IN NEW YORK SAT. 15 JULY 2006

“Gilmore gun shows up on Web auction” A Web site specializing in so-called “murderabilia” is putting another piece of Utah’s criminal history on the auction block: the gun that Gary Gilmore used to kill his victims. Thursday, July 13, 2006 9:23 a.m. MDT By Ben Winslow, Deseret News

Gary Gilmore’s Gun up for Sale SPANISH FORK, Utah, July 13 (UPI) — A Utah bail bondsman and bounty hunter hopes to get at least $1 million from the sale of the gun Gary Gilmore used in two deadly robberies. Read more:

Dennis Stilson organized Guns for Good Inc. hoping to use sales of the book and gun to build a facility for a youth center and firearm safety education. “Let’s turn a past tragedy into a future triumph, as with other past tragedies such as wars, murders, etc. we can’t change history so let’s learn and move forward.”

The Gilmore Gun, according to the rules of the BATFE, Bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives, qualifies for the curio / relic classifications meeting two of the three requirements even though they say only one of the three is required. But still they refuse to award the classification in spite of meeting their rules.

Gilmore’s gun is the prize for best essay BY CHRISTOPHER SMART THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE PUBLISHED OCTOBER 23, 2004 12:23 AM This is an archived article that was published on in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

SPANISH FORK – It’s sleek and deadly, and it carries a bit of history.

If you can write the best 500-word essay – either in favor of or against the death penalty – the gun Gary Mark Gilmore used in the mid-1970s to commit two execution-style murders in Utah County can be yours.

Gilmore made history – of sorts – on Jan 17, 1977, when he became the first person in over a decade to be executed in this country. His death by firing squad tipped the balance across the United States toward capital punishment – which had been in a legal stalemate since 1966.

Gilmore’s life story became immortalized in Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and a movie of the same name.

The murder weapon – a Browning .22-caliber Challenger automatic – now belongs to Dennis Stilson, a Spanish Fork gun dealer and bail bondsman. He purchased the gun several years ago and has been unsuccessful in his attempts to sell if for what he thinks it’s worth – somewhere around $500,000.

“I thought this would spark some interest,” Stilson said of the essay contest. “The judges will pick the best four entries – two pro and two con – and then all the contestants will vote online to select the winner.”

Entry forms are online at The fee to participate is $108. Stilson is hoping to get more than 5,000 entries.

Gilmore stole the gun from Swan’s, a general store on Spanish Fork’s Main Street, shortly before the July 1976 killings of Max Jensen, a gas station attendant, and Provo motel clerk Bennie Bushnell.

The execution-style murders shocked then-bucolic Utah County. The robberies could have easily been pulled off without killing. Gilmore soon was tracked down and convicted in the Bushnell murder. Unrepentant, he was sentenced to death.

But what made headlines across the country was his refusal to appeal the death sentence and his demand to be shot by a firing squad – he uttered the infamous words, “Let’s do it,” seconds before the shots rang out.

Gilmore, who was 36 when he died, spent half of his life behind bars, beginning as a teenager in reform school and stints in and out of jail until the period just prior to the murders. On death row, he entered into a suicide pact with his 20-year-old girlfriend, Nicole Barrett. Both attempted suicide twice in the weeks leading up to his execution.

Former Salt Lake newsman Jack Ford, who is now a spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections, covered the Gilmore saga. He recalls the legal tug of war that resulted in the execution and the media frenzy that put Utah in the spotlight.

“Gary Gilmore was perhaps the only death-row inmate to ever appear in person before the Utah Supreme Court,” Ford said. “He stood there and told them, ‘Don’t you have the guts to carry out the sentence? I’m willing to accept it.’ ”
When U.S. District Judge Willis Ritter stayed the execution on Jan. 16, 1976, then-Utah Attorney General Robert Hansen and his chief deputy, Earl Dorius, chartered a plane and flew to Denver for a special hearing before a 10th U.S. Circuit Court panel very early in the morning.

“There was a big push to get Gilmore executed,” Ford said. “The attorney general wanted it to happen.”

National news organizations descended on Salt Lake City for the first execution in more than a decade. “It was a real media circus. Even Geraldo [Rivera] was there. They took over the [prison] parking lot. It was a madhouse.”

Almost 28 years later, Stilson says he hopes something positive can come from the brutal slayings and the carnival atmosphere that surrounded Gilmore’s execution.

He promises to use the proceeds from the essay contest to build a youth center in Spanish Fork.

“We can’t change the past,” he said. “But I’d like to think I can make something good happen. There is a need here.”

Dennis R. Stilson

Because of the many personal ties Dennis had ranging from Gilmore’s family, law enforcement, his own family and friends involved with this story he felt inspired, or was it fate? After numerous interviews and requests to tell his story, he wrote his books.

Stilson has spoke on numerous talk shows, book signings, and appeared on television interviews. Multiple movie directors and producers have discussed possible projects with Stilson but says “he still hasn’t found the right fit for a major production.” Dennis is currently a volunteer Utah state hunter education instructor and shooting range safety officer.

Dennis was born in Spanish Fork, Utah. He was a Junior Olympic and Golden Glove boxer including a professional musician. Worked various jobs including a advertising rep, financial adviser and a fishing guide in Alaska over 15 years. Former FFL- holder / firearm dealer, bail bondsman, bail enforcement agent. His rare ties spanning over thirty years with a prominent murder case inspired the current book. Founder of the Guns for Good Inc. non-profit for better firearm education.

The story continues.

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