OAKLAND -- When prosecutors present their case against accused murderer John Frederick Thanos, one of their best weapons against him will be a 28-minute videotaped confession, in which Thanos coldly details how he robbed and killed two Middle River teen-agers who he said treated him "perfectly good."
In a 19-page transcript of the tape contained in the court file, an unremorseful Thanos said he had been to the Big Red gasoline station in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway the day before the killings -- Sept. 2, 1990. He said he pawned his father's gold watch to Billy Winebrenner, 16, the clerk at the station, and his girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, for $20 and $10 worth of gas. Thanos said that he drove back to the Big Red station on Sept. 3 with the intention of retrieving the watch and robbing and killing the young couple. He told police that he was perfectly sober at the
time. He never bothered to retrieve the watch. About 4:30 p.m. that day, Thanos said he walked into the station carrying a brown leather doctor's bag, which concealed his weapon, a sawed-off .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle he had bought in Salisbury for $170. He said he pulled the gun from the bag and ordered Billy, who he described as a "fuzzy-headed kid," to fill the bag with cash.
A frightened Melody, who Thanos described as "pudgy," stood behind the counter with Billy as he silently and obediently complied.
"Soon as I got the bag" back, Thanos said, "I, ah, raised my weapon. Shot him in the head as he tried to duck. Shot her in the head as she tried to duck. Shot him twice again in the head, just to be sure. I think I shot him twice again. And I shot her one more time, I think."
Blood from Miss Pistorio splattered on his gun and Thanos said, "I spit on it" to clean the weapon.
"What if anything did the kids do behind the counter to provoke you into shooting them?" Baltimore County Homicide Detective Michael Peregoy asked Thanos.
"Oh, nothing at all," Thanos replied. "Nothing at all."
"How did they treat you?" Detective Peregoy asked.
An incredulous Detective Peregoy responded, "Perfectly good?" and Thanos launched into a long-winded explanation for his rampage across the state of Maryland that week.
Thanos, a man who has spent most of his 42 years in prison, had been released from prison on April 5, 1990 -- by mistake . He was living in Salisbury and things were going well until on Aug. 25, 1990, a woman who had given the hitch-hiking Thanos a ride filed charges against him, claiming he had exposed himself to her.
In his confession, Thanos said the woman accused him falsely, but he knew that he had violated his parole and would likely be sent back to prison. Outraged, he said he decided to become an "outlaw" and commit a string of "outrageous things, because I wanted the police to be able to come down on me heavy, in a shootout so they could put me out of my pain."
He complained on the videotape that police failed to kill him during two shootouts just before his arrest in Smyrna, Del., on Sept. 5.
"I decided, you know, that whatever I came across, that I would just kill it and bring as much heat on myself as I could," Thanos said. "Because I'm a coward. I can't put a gun up to my own head, so I said, 'Well, I just do s - - - and put heat on myself. . . They'll run down on me . . .and they'll blast me from every side, and it'll be over with, but it didn't happen that way."
Jury selection in the trial, which began Monday, continued slowly yesterday, so Judge Fred A. Thayer ordered that potential jurors would be interviewed late into the night in order to speed the process.
The videotape, made Sept. 5, 1990, at the Berlin state police barracks shortly after Thanos' arrest, has never been publicly shown. The 19-page transcript of that tape has been made a part of the case file.