From reform school to prison, Thanos' past full of violence


September 28, 1990|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff Glenn Small and Bruce Reid contributed to his story.

The card from John Frederick Thanos arrived four years after the rape, an unwelcome and frightening intrusion into the life of a Baltimore woman.

The woman, whom Thanos raped in 1969, said the card contained a photo of Thanos standing next to some prison buddies. "He said there was a prison break. He said he didn't make it out this time but next time he would," said the victim, who is now 67.

"I was frightened," the mother of three recalled in an interview this week. "My husband -- he was alive then -- said to tear it up and put it behind me."

She eventually did, although she would never forget Thanos, who now faces charges in the deaths of three Maryland teen-agers.

It would not be the last time Thanos would try to reappear in his victims' lives, either through letters or personal visits, during the next two decades, according to court documents and interviews. Thanos allegedly used the mails to threaten a prison guard who charged him with harassment this year. And one evening last summer, he returned to the scene of a Harford County robbery to look for a woman who identified him as the robber.

Thanos, who has spent the bulk of his 41 years in reform schools and prisons, stands accused in a recent weeklong spree of robbery, kidnapping and gunfire. The spree ended with Thanos' capture Sept. 4 after gunfights with Salisbury and Delaware police.

Thanos is charged with murdering Gregory A. Taylor, 18, a Salisbury area man who gave him a ride. He also is accused in the fatal shootings of Melody Pistorio, 14, and her 16-year-old boyfriend, gas station clerk William "Billy" Winebrenner, during the Labor Day robbery of a Middle River gas station.

News reports this week that state correction officials mistakenly released Thanos from prison 18 months too early last April angered state legislators and the families of the dead teen-agers.

But others say Thanos, who has lived in institutions almost constantly since he was 14, illustrates the problems of a correctional system that often seems unable to rehabilitate people.

Despite the furor around him, Thanos appeared unusually calm during his brief forays outside jail walls this month. Although he faces the death penalty if convicted, he nonchalantly incriminated himself in front of television cameras and in a courtroom. He said he "just killed" and wanted to "outrage people."

Thanos grew up in Dundalk, a working-class neighborhood bordered by brick rowhouses and filled with the families of factory and steel workers. Several former schoolmates remember him as a skinny little kid who went by his middle name, Freddy.

None could recall Freddy ever having a close pal. He got himself into occasional scrapes, they said, but he was too small to get into serious trouble with the neighborhood boys.

He attended Bear Creek Elementary School from September 1955 until March 1962, when he transferred to an unnamed institution, according to Baltimore County public school records.

A string of offenses landed him in reform school in Cub Hill, a mental treatment facility in Catonsville, and possibly another institution on and off during the next five years, according to three sources familiar with his juvenile records.

By age 18, he graduated to adult prison. He served one year at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown for assault and unauthorized use of a car. He was paroled in May 1968.

Police and appellate court records give this account of his first major crime: Thanos checked into Room 6 at Rawls Cabins on Philadelphia Road in eastern Baltimore County on Sept. 17, 1969. On Oct. 1, a 46-year-old Baltimore woman and her boyfriend checked into Room 8. After the couple had sex, the man left to get a drink. Minutes later, the woman heard a knock from a man who identified himself as the manager. She opened the door to find a nude stranger, whom she would later identify as Thanos in court.

Thanos forced his way into the room and said, "Be quiet or I will kill you," the woman said. He raped her and punched her in the face. At one point, her boyfriend returned, but the rapist scared him away. Thanos then dragged the woman into his cabin and assaulted her again.

He told her of his hatred of women and anger at his mother, the woman recalled this week. "He said his father deserted him and his mother sent him into a corner while she entertained people," the woman said. "I told him his mother was still his mother and she probably loved him. That calmed him for a few minutes. Then he said, 'Don't con a con artist.' "

The woman paused and said, "I thought there was something very wrong with this one."

The man eventually let her go, and she returned home. She first told her husband and police she had been attacked on the way back from an Orioles game, but she later said the rape took

place at Rawls Cabins.

Convicted of rape, Thanos received a 21-year sentence, of which he served 17 years.

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