Store clerk dies of shooting in Middle River Billy Winebrenner shot on Labor Day

September 10, 1990|By Rafael Alvarez Reporter David Michael Ettlin of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Billy Winebrenner, the young gas station and convenience store clerk who was shot in the back of the head along with his girlfriend during a Labor Day robbery in Middle River, died late yesterday afternoon at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

The 16-year-old Kenwood High School student, who suffered a massive head wound, died at 5:11 p.m. yesterday while attached to life support machines, according to shock trauma officials.

"He was very unstable when he came in and then deteriorated," said a hospital spokesman. "We couldn't keep him going."

Melody Pistorio, Billy's 14-year-old girlfriend and classmate who was visiting him at work when the robbery took place, died instantly from a gunshot to the back of the head.

John Frederick Thanos, a convicted rapist and robber who had been released from prison in April, was charged last week with first-degree in the death of Melody and assault with intent to murder Billy Winebrenner. Baltimore County police said the latter charge would be upgraded to first-degree murder today.

Thanos, released from the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County after serving little more than half of a seven-year sentence for the robbery of a 7-Eleven Store in Harford County, also was charged last week with killing 18-year-old Gregory Allen Taylor of Hebron.

B. Randall Coates, the Worcester County state's attorney, has said he will seek the death penalty.

Thanos was arrested Tuesday night in Smyrna, Del., after two gunbattles with police. The next day, he led police to the body of Mr. Taylor in a remote wooded area three miles from Berlin, in Worcester County.

He also was charged with the Sept. 1 robbery of Ernie's Market in Salisbury, and shooting an employee in the head. The worker was only grazed by the bullet.

Similarities between that holdup and the robbery-shooting in Middle River prompted Baltimore County police to question Thanos, and then charge him with murder.

Authorities said Thanos bought a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle Aug. 29 at Dick's Sporting Goods in Salisbury, and believed he used it two days later to kill Mr. Taylor, a motorist who picked up the hitchhiking Thanos. Thanos was driving Mr. Taylor's car when he was spotted by police in Salisbury Tuesday night and chased across the state line.

Baltimore County police are awaiting ballistics tests to determine whether the rifle also was used to kill Melody and Billy.

The rifle's 18-inch barrel and ebony stock had both been sawed off so that the weapon could be held in one hand, authorities said.

A $159 Philippine import that holds a 15-shot magazine and is made to look like a military-issue M16, the rifle can be sold without the police background check and seven-day waiting period that applies to handguns and assault rifles.

Since the arrest of the Dundalk native, 41, who has spent more than half his life in prison, detectives on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay have been reviewing unsolved crimes.

Among the cases of particular interest to police is the murder of Leonard W. Steele, 42, of Rodgers Forge, who was found strangled in April near a Cecil County quarry.

Sgt. Robert A. Ventura, a criminal investigator at the North East state police barracks, said last week that Mr. Steele's murder came to mind after the arrest of Thanos, "but there's nothing to indicate a connection right at this point."

"We're going to look at him for everything that's gone on, armed robberies and so on," Sergeant Ventura said. "He's one of the kind of people you would look at if you had open cases."

Police also were awaiting an identification and autopsy on skeletal remains found Tuesday in a wooded area 20 miles south of Berlin.

State police spokesman Chuck Jackson said, "We've made no other connection" to Thanos. "We're looking at any open cases we have from the Shore, missing persons, homicides."

Thanos is being held without bail at the Worcester County Jail.

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