In the late summer of 1990, Marylanders prayed that John Thanos would be caught. His week-long murderous crime spree led from Maryland’s Eastern Shore area to Middle River.
While Thanos talked tough during his trials, he was of slight build. As a youthful offender, he was targeted by adult prisoners. He also spent so much time in prison that he had never learned to pump his own gas.
My co-workers and I talked about this case around the water cooler or in the break room. We gritted our teeth until Thanos was caught. We watched coverage of the trial. One of my co-workers lived near the sight of one of the murders and had read details about his past. Like many, she realized the judicial system may have turned a troubled teen into a monster.
A String of Robberies and Murders
One of Maryland’s most notorious crime sprees started in Salisbury, Wicomico County, in the Eastern Shore area on August 29, when Thanos kidnapped cab driver Milton Marsey. Thanos locked Marsey in the trunk and drove the cab for a short time, then abandoned the cab. Marsey was one of the few lucky ones because Thanos let him live.
On August 31, 18-year-old Gregory Allen Taylor Jr., a resident of Hebron, also in Wicomico County, made a mistake that cost him his life. He spotted the hitchhiking Thanos and gave him a ride. Thanos could have just accepted the favor. Instead, he forced Gregory to drive at gunpoint. When Gregory pled for his life, Thanos got annoyed and shot him in the head three times. With a sawed-off rifle.
On September 1, Thanos needed gas and money. At a gas station in Middle River, he encountered 16-year-old Billy Winebrenner, who was working at the station. Thanos exchanged his father’s gold watch with Billy for $20 and gas, with the understanding that he could buy the watch back for $60.
On September 2, Thanos was back in Salisbury. There, he shot a convenience store clerk, Daniel Willey, and stole the princely sum of $96. Somehow, the clerk survived.
On September 3, Thanos returned to the gas station in Middle River to get the watch back. Billy was at the gas station with his girlfriend, 14-year-old Melody Pistorio. Billy didn’t have the watch because he gave it to Melody. The…