13 are killed; guard surrenders
7 children, 6 adults shot in Pennsylvania
The Boston Globe
September 26, 1982
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - A prison guard went on a shooting rampage in two communities yesterday, killing seven children and six adults before surrendering to police who had surrounded him in a vacant house, officials said.
Five of the victims apparently were his own children, and all the others except for two men were either related or known to him, police said.
Survivor, 9, pleaded for pet's life
Philadelphia Daily News
September 27, 1982
WILKES-BARRE - As his family was shot to death one by one by a "mad and cursing" George Banks, Angelo Mazzillo, 9, pleaded hysterically for the life of his pet parakeet, a witness said.
Victim bought gun for killer, cops say
Philadelphia Daily News
September 27, 1982
The military-style weapon allegedly used by accused mass slayer George Banks was a gift to him from one of the victims, according to authorities investigating the murder Saturday of 13 people in Wilkes-Barre.
Gunman kills 13 in a Pennsylvania rampage
WILKES-BARRE, Pa., Sept. 25 - A state prison guard killed 13 people, including seven children, in a rampage through two houses early today, the police said. A 14th victim was critically wounded.
Five of the victims are believed to have been the gunman's children.
The guard, George Banks, 42 years old, surrendered to the police this morning after they surrounded a vacant house here where he had been hiding.
'Like a Horror Movie'
Mr. Banks, who had served seven and a half years in prison for attempted robbery before he became a prison guard, was charged in five of the deaths. The police said most of the victims were taken by surprise as they slept or sat watching television. Eight of the victims were killed in a house here, another man was killed and a companion was critically wounded outside the house, and the four others were found dead in a mobile home in Jenkins Township, about five miles away.
"It's like something out of a horror movie," Robert Gillespie, Luzerne County District Attorney, said after visiting one of the crime scenes.
For eight hours, a neighborhood in the old hard-coal town waited in fear as the police from two municipalities and sheriffs' deputies surrounded a house where the suspect holed up after the shootings. He was armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle believed to have been used in the shootings and several clips of 30-caliber ammunition, the police said.
The police cordoned off the area and evacuated neighboring houses. The gunman's mother, who was called to the scene, and several of his friends urged him to surrender. Shortly after 11 A.M., several hours after the siege began, Mr. Banks handed the rifle out through a window and gave himself up.
Trail of Slaughter
According to the police, the trail of slaughter led from a trailer camp in Jenkins Township, where two women and two children were slain, to a home in a quiet, well-kept neighborhood here in Wilkes-Barre, where nine more victims were found.
"All died as a result of gunshot wounds," said the county coroner, George Hudock, at a news conference this afternoon. "Apparently the adults were surprised as they sat watching television."
Mr. Hudock said the two young victims at the trailer court had apparently been sleeping and were shot from behind as they tried to flee.
Two other children in the mobile home were unharmed, the police said.
According to police sources, the suspect left the trailer camp, the Heather Highlands Mobile Home Village, in a pickup truck and drove to a home on Schoolhouse Lane here, where eight other persons were killed.
A 13th victim was slain and another man was critically wounded as they stood on a porch across the street from the home, the police said. Both were uninvolved passersby, the police said.
"Now I'm going to kill them all," Mr. Banks said as he left the first crime scene, according to a neighbor who declined to give her name.
After the shootings, according to police sources, the suspect drove to a nearby bar, where a car was stolen. It was later found abandoned.
He next appeared at his mother's home, the police said, and then drove to still another house here, believed to be the vacant home of a friend, where he holed up with his rifle and ammunition.
Motive for Killings Sought
No motive has been found for the slayings, the police said, although there were repots from neighbors of domestic disputes between Mr. Banks and at least three of the women, said to have been his girlfriends.
"We are still trying to determine the exact relationships between the suspect ad the victims," said Mr. Gillespie, the District Attorney.
Joseph Shaver, chief deputy coroner, said all the victims apparently "were interrelated" with the suspect.
"He knew all these people," Mr. Shaver said.
Neighbors described Mr. Banks variously as a "good father," a highly religious man who had a mail-order minister's degree, and a man who was fascinated with paramilitary topics such as weapons and making bombs.
Slain at the trailer camp were Alice Mazzillo, 47 years old; her daughter, Sharon Mazzillo, 24; Kissmayu Banks, 5, and Scott Mazzillo, 7.
Neighbors said Sharon Mazzillo was Mr. Banks's girlfriend, and Kissmayu Banks as his son.
Slain in Wilkes-Barre were Dorothy Lyons, 29; Regina Clemens, 29; Susan Yuhas, 23; Nancy Lyons, 11; Moutanzima Banks, 6; Bowendy Banks, 4; Foraroude Banks, 1, and Maritanya Banks, 1.
Raymond Hall, 24, was slain as he stood on a porch across the street from the house. His companion, James Olsen, 22, was reported to be in critical condition at a nearby hospital.
Guard at State Prison
Mr. Banks, who was wearing military-style fatigues when he surrendered, was a guard at a state prison at Camp Hill, near Harrisburg. Kenneth Robinson, a spokesman for the state correctional system, said supervisors described him as a good employee.
He had served seven and a half years at Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison for an attempted robbery conviction in 1961, Mr. Robinson said. He said the state was aware of Mr. Banks's prison record when it hired him as a guard in February 1980.
Mr. Banks was a tower guard at Camp Hill, but had not worked since Sept. 2, a spokesman at the prison said.
"We believe he was on sick leave when the incident occurred," said Chief Swim of the Wilkes-Barre police.
Wilkes-Barre killings: Racial pressures cited
WILKES-BARRE, Pa., Sept. 26 - An image began to emerge today of the prison guard being held here in the slayings of 13 people: that of a complex man, seething with resentment against members of the two races whose heritages he shared.
The picture of George Banks, a 40-year-old Army veteran, developed from talks with a schoolmate who served time with him in prison, from neighbors, from a guidance counselor who remembers him across 25 years and from others, as well as from revelations by his mother before she went into seclusion.
"George was like, well, it seemed like he was feeling persecution from both sides," said Leroy De Graffenreid, who knew him both on Wilkes-Barre's streets and in Luzerne County Prison, where Mr. Banks was held briefly before he was transferred to Graterford Prison to serve seven years for a robbery attempt.
The victims of what the police call a rifle rampage early Saturday morning included four women who were said to have borne Mr. Banks's children outside of marriage; seven children, including five who bear his name; the mother of one of the women, and a man who apparently was standing across the street from a house where eight of the slayings occurred. A companion of the dead man remained in critical condition today at a local hospital.
Mr. Banks, who was placed under 24-hour guard at the Luzerne County Prison after he vowed to commit suicide, has been charged thus far in five of the slayings, which took place on the outskirts of the old hard-coal city and in the nearby suburb of Jenkins Township.
Doted on His Children
Mr. De Graffenreid's comments were among the more revealing among those that pictured a quiet youth on the defensive, resentful of affronts, a veteran who tried to rob a tavern when he was unable to find work, who grew into a calmer adult, becoming a father who seemed to dote on his children but who, according to neighbors, sometimes battered the women who shared his home and his bed.
"He was a hard-nosed kid who didn't like to be pushed around," said Mr. De Graffenreid, who grew up in the same South Wilkes-Barre neighborhood as Mr. Banks before being sent to prison, he said, as a juvenile delinquent.
"I got the impression he felt he was being rejected by blacks and whites, and he took pressure from both sides," he said, recalling that Mr. Banks's mother was white, as were all the women slain in two homes Saturday, while his father, like Mr. De Graffenreid, was black.
"He was bolder than I was, but we hung out on the same streets," Mr. De Graffenreid said. "It didn't seem he wanted to hurt anybody, but he was ready to fight if he had to. It seemed like he built up a complex that he had to be ready to fight."
Boasted of Shooting Man
In prison both men served "on the same tier," Mr. De Graffenreid said, and it was there, he said, that he learned of a risk he had run in a clash with Mr. Banks over Mr. De Graffenreid's sister.
"I pulled her out of his car," he said. "She was too young to date. He told me he had laid for me outside with a pipe, but I never came out of the house that night."
"George told me about that robbery," he said, referring to an attempt in a tavern, for which Mr. Banks was convicted, in which the owner was wounded by a gunshot. "He said the man said 'you won't shoot.' He said he said 'get ready for it, you big slob, because here it comes.'"
But in prison Mr. Banks was a quiet man who had no trouble with guards, and in the years after his release "he had calmed down a lot as far as I could see," Mr. De Graffenreid said.
For that reason, he said, "I was as surprised as anybody when all this happened,"
Albert Sallitt, who was Mr. Banks's guidance counselor at G.A.R. High School here, said Mr. Banks was "a quiet, thin boy" who "never got into any serious trouble that I can remember."
After serving his prison time, Mr. Banks worked at several jobs, including one at a mining company, one for a Pittston contractor and one from 1971 to 1979 as a technician with the state's Department of Environmental Resources. He agreed to leave that job, one of his former superiors said Saturday because "he apparently was having domestic difficulties that interfered with his work."
In 1980 Mr. Banks began work as a prison guard at Camp Hill near Harrisburg.
"There is no law in Pennsylvania or with the Civil Service which states that ex-offenders may not be hired," said Kenneth Robinson, a spokesman for the state correctional system. "Each ex-offender that applies is considered case by case."
Urged to See Psychiatrist
Mr. Banks apparently also experienced problems on his prison job before going on leave early this month.
"They told him to come home and see a psychiatrist," his mother, Mary Yelland, told a reporter here Saturday before she went into seclusion, protected by another son who also refused to discuss his brother today. She called her son a good man but she said she did not know whether he had sought help.
During his leave from the prison job, he sought work at a local restaurant. The manager of the restaurant said Mr. Banks told him that he needed a job because of "domestic problems."
"He wanted to be a bouncer," the manager said.
Among his domestic problems, according to neighbors, were a dispute with an estranged girlfriend, Sharon Mazzillo, 24, over custody of their child, Kissmayu Banks, 5. Both were killed in a trailer park in Jenkins Township, along with Alice Mazzillo, 47, who was Sharon Mazzillo's mother, and Scott Mazzillo, 7, Alice Mazzillo's grandson by another daughter. Two other children escaped by hiding in a closet.
The neighbors also reported that Mr. Banks had had clashes with the three women with whom he shared a house here, Dorothy Lyons, 29, Regina Clemens, 29, and Susan Yuhas, 23. They were shot to death, along with Nancy Lyons, 11, Montanzima Banks, 6, Bowendy Banks, 4, Foraroude Banks, 1, and Maritanya Banks, 1.
The 13th victim, Raymond Hall, 24; was fatally wounded as he stood across the street from the house where eight victims died. His companion, James Olsen, 22, was critically wounded.
Violent But Doting Father
"I saw him knock one of the girls down and kick her," said Elaine Monahan, who lives in a well-kept yellow home across the street from the deteriorating two story house where eight of the victims were slain, where a string of Christmas wiring with empty sockets is a poignant reminder of a happier past.
"It was right over there in that side yard where the pear tree is growing back from that stump," she said. "The next morning she had her arm in a cast. She said she tripped and fell in the house."
"I saw him slapping and punching Suzie on the front porch," said her husband, William Monahan, referring to Susan Yuhas. "I came in and said, 'my God,' but there are three of them and they've got a phone if they want to call the police."
"What I can't understand is him killing his kids," said Mrs. Monahan. "He doted on those kids. He used to say 'they're all my kids,' and he meant the white kid, too. He took good care of them, and dressed them nice." One of the victims had a child by an earlier marriage.
Mrs. Monahan said Mr. Banks had shown her and her husband a semiautomatic rifle, and, referring to neighbors with whom he had been having a dispute, had said "he might clean them all out - he'd be the only survivor." She said she had not taken the threat seriously.
"He said he didn't want to have anything to do with white people," said Mrs. Monahan. "I guess he didn't have much of a start in life. He told me his mother was white. He said people used to spit on his mother because she was married to a black man."
Lester Scoble, another neighbor, told of similar comments. "He told me he didn't want white trash in his yard," he said. "We didn't bother with him after that. He said he didn't have much use for his own people either."
Once, Mr. Scoble said, he had seen Mr. Banks "give a pretty good lacing" to one of the women with a sawed-off stem of a Christmas tree.
One of the victims, Regina Clemens, had fled to a shelter for battered women both neighbors said, but had returned to the home the night of the slayings. No one knew why.
"This used to be a nice neighborhood," Mrs. Monahan said. "I'm just ashamed that all this ever happened here."
Man held in deaths sought mental help but was sent home
WILKES-BARRE, Pa., Sept. 27 - A suicidal guard accused in the slayings of 13 people had sought help at a mental health unit eight days before the killings but was not institutionalized because he did not qualify as homicidal, an official said today.
John Creek, executive director of the Luzerne County Mental Health-Mental Retardation unit, said that 40-year-old George Banks went through an initial interview Sept. 17 and had been scheduled for an appointment today.
Mr. Banks, who served seven years at Graterford State Prison in the 1960's for attempted armed robbery, was under constant guard at the Luzerne County Prison after threatening to kill himself said a source who asked not to be identified.
Mr. Creek said the mental health center could not commit Mr.Banks to an institution involuntarily because he did not meet the legal criteria of "overtly suicidal or homicidal."
The state prison at Camp Hill near Harrisburg referred Mr. Banks to the mental health center in Wilkes-Barre Sept. 6 after he threatened suicide while on duty as a watchtower guard, said Kenneth Robinson, a Bureau of Correction spokesman.
Mr. Robinson said other guards talked Mr. Banks out of his tower and Mr. Banks was "immediately put on leave."
Four of the victims - Sharon Mazzillo, 24; her son, Kissmayu Banks, 5; her mother, Alice, 47, and her nephew, Scott, 7 - were buried at the Denison Cemetery in Swoyersville today.
Suspect's mental state a key issue as trial starts today in 13 deaths
In a courtroom in northeastern Pennsylvania today, an imported jury is to begin hearing murder charges against George Banks. And Wilkes-Barre and surrounding Luzerne County will begin reliving the rampage of rifle slayings that stunned the hard-coal region last September.
Mr. Banks, 40 years old, a former prison guard who once served a prison term for a robbery attempt and who seemed to live in a limbo between two races, is accused of killing 13 people, including five of his own children. He has pleaded not guilty.
Under an order from Judge Patrick Toole of the county's Court of Common Pleas, who will try the case, defense and prosecuting attorney's have refused to comment on the approaching trial, but all signs point to a defense focusing on Mr. Banks's mental condition. At the time of the shootings he was on leave from his prison job after voicing suspicions that his food might be poisoned and threatening to commit suicide.
One prospective defense witness, Dr. Michael J. Spodak, chief of psychiatry at Baltimore County General Hospital in Randallstown, Md., spent about 10 hours examining Mr. Banks early this year.
Described as 'Sorry'
"He was very sorry for what he had done," said Dr. Spodak, in a telephone interview in which he limited his comments to subjects that he had discussed in testifying about the suspect's competence to stand trial.
"But the primary thing he talked about," Dr. Spodak said was a "conspiracy he believes has been plotted against him."
"He was completely preoccupied with that," Dr. Spodak continued. "It overwhelmed his thoughts."
Dr. Spodak also said he had found Mr. Banks "avoiding certain foods in jail," and he said the suspect had "lost a lot of weight."
"In my opinion he was completely irrational," the psychiatrist said. "He had lost touch with reality on a great many things. He said he thinks someone moved the bodies around and put extra bullets into them and changed some of the clothes. They were not rational expressions. That's part of his illness."
Dr. Spodak testified Feb. 28 that Mr. Banks was "terminally paranoid" and incompetent to stand trial. Judge Toole ruled him legally competent after conflicting testimony by another psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Sadoff, who had examined the suspect for the prosecution. Dr. Sadoff said that while Mr. Banks often acted "bizarre," he understood the nature of the charge against him.
Mr. Banks, the child of a white mother and a black father, lived with three white women in small, rundown house in a predominantly white neighborhood of Wilkes-Barre. All three women had borne him children, although he was legally married to a black woman now living in Ohio.
In that house on Sept. 25, according to the charges against him, Mr. Banks opened fire with an automatic rifle, killing the three women, four of his children, another child and a man on the street.
At a trailer park outside of town, prosecutors say, he then killed two other children, including one of his own, and his child's mother and grandmother. He was in a custody dispute with that child's mother, who was white.
Accused of Wife Abuse
Mr. Banks was described as a caring father by neighbors in Wilkes-Barre, but they said he abused the women who lived with him. His relations with the neighbors were said to be strained.
Later his mother and a former associate of the suspect said he had suffered a sense of alienation because of his mixed parentage. The associate, a former prison mate, and others said Mr. Banks seethed with resentment against the two races whose heritages he shared.
Because of the notoriety of the crimes, which preoccupied local newspapers and broadcasters for days after the shootings, a western Pennsylvania jury has been empanelled in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburg, and sent across the state where it will be sequested during the trial. Testimony from other psychiatrists is expected.
Children who survived massacre say they saw man kill relatives
WILKES-BARRE, Pa., June 7 -
Two 10-year-old stepbrothers testified today that George Banks, accused of killing 13 people including family members, broke into their trailer and shot their mother, sister and two nephews to death.
Angelo Vital and Keith Mazzillo both said Mr. Banks broke open the front door to their trailer home last Sept. 25. Angelo described how a man he said was Mr. Banks shot his mother, Alice Mazzillo, 47 years old; his sister, Sharon Mazzillo, 23, Sharon's 5-year-old son, Kissmayu Banks, and Scott Mazzillo, 7, Sharon's nephew.
Angelo said he hid under his mother's bed during the shooting. Keith said he hid in his bedroom closet. Both boys said they peeked out and saw Mr. Banks kill Scott Mazzillo.
Eight of the victims, including three of Mr. Banks's girlfriends and four of his children, were killed in a home in Wilkes-Barre, and a bystander was slain outside. The last four victims, including a former girlfriend and their child, died in a mobile home in suburban Jenkins Township.
Earlier today, a filling station attendant testified that Mr. Banks stole his car at gunpoint and told him he had killed his children.
"He said, 'Move over, or I'll blow your head off,' and I moved over," Joseph Yenchaw, 23, testified.
Mr. Yenchaw said Mr. Banks, who he said was wearing Army fatigues, walked out of the woods and into the parking lot carrying a semiautomatic rifle and aimed it at his head.
"As we were driving off, he said he had just killed his children and didn't want any trouble," Mr. Yenchaw testified. "He asked me if I wanted to get out and I said, 'Yes.'"
Mr. Yenchaw said they had driven less than a quarter of a mile before Mr. Banks let him go. Mr. Yenchaw said Mr. Banks "just seemed calm."
"He didn't seem nervous or anything like that and he talked OK," Mr. Yenchaw said.
Impairment Is Suggested
The prosecution has sought to show that Mr. Banks, 40, a former state prison guard and former convict, was neither intoxicated nor on drugs when he went on the shooting rampage. The defense has tried to show that Mr. Banks was mentally incompetent. Mr. Banks has pleaded not guilty.
District attorney Robert Gillespie Jr. told the jury he would prove that Mr. Banks gunned down the victims methodically with an AR-15 rifle, a semiautomatic version of the military M-16.
The jurors in Luzerne County Common Pleas Court were selected across state in Pittsburg on orders of the state Supreme Court because of extensive publicity in northeastern Pennsylvania.
After Mr. Yenchaw, the prosecution called eight witnesses who set the stage for later evidence about the killings in the three-bedroom trailer, where Mr. Banks's estranged girlfriend lived with their 5-year-old son, who was the subject of a custody fight.
Operator Tells of Plea for Aid
Vera Williams, a telephone operator, told the court about an emergency call she received at approximately 2:30 A.M. on Sept. 25 from a women.
"She said someone was there assaulting her and her kids. And their was a noise," the operator testified. "It sounded like a firecracker, and a man's voice shouted, "I'll kill you,' and then there was silence but the line stayed open. Then I heard a young male voice whisper, 'He killed my brother and my sister and my Mom. He shot them all.'"
In previous testimony, four witnesses identified Mr. Banks as the man who shot Raymond Hall, the slain bystander, and James Olsen, a bystander who was shot but survived.
Mental Illness and Moratorium issues
Granted stay of execution
George Banks was a prison guard who, using an assault rifle, killed 13 people, including seven children, five of them his own; his three live-in girlfriends; an ex-girlfriend; her mother; and a bystander in the street. In the early morning of September 25, 1982, Banks shot to death Dorothy Lyons, Regina Clemens, Susan Yuhas, Montanzuma, age six, Bowende, age four, Mauritania, age one and Fararoude, age one, Dorothy's daughter Nancy Lyons, age 11, Sharon Mazzillo and their son Kismayu, age six, Sharon's mother, Alice, her nephew, Scott, age seven and a bystander. Banks was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of 13 people.
Trial testimony indicated that, over time, Banks "developed a persecution complex and became obsessed with the paranoid delusion of imminent international race wars and uprisings." Beginning in 1976, Banks became convinced that a racial war would erupt. He talked about and wrote numerous stories reflecting his pre-occupation with white supremacy, and a racial war in which his male sons, Kismayu, Bowende, and Fararoude would be generals leading an army in a fight against the systematic elimination of blacks. He prepared for the impending war by stockpiling supplies in remote mountain locations and purchasing an AR-15 rifle
In February 1980, Banks began working as a prison guard at the Camp Hill Pennsylvania State Correctional facility. On November 25, 1981, Banks wrote in a journal:
"I feel that I am insane. I have the impulse to take the shotgun out on the catwalk and kill some inmates. I can't think. I'm writing one word at a time. I beg Allah for help-please. My young children come from play and in vain, they ask for me. What has the white man and his senseless racism done to me? Will I live to see my children grow?"
In August, 1982, Banks told co-workers about a custody suit involving Sharon Mazzillo and their son Kismayu, stating that if he wasn't successful in the suit he would kill his family and himself. He was successful in retaining custody. On September 6, 1982, Banks was relieved from guard duty at the state prison and transported to a mental health facility after telling a fellow guard that due to depression and other family problems that he wanted "to go to the tower and blow his brains out."
Between September 6 and September 24, Banks underwent three mental health evaluations. Banks also had to undergo a psychiatric reevaluation by the state prison psychiatrist before returning to work. Banks scheduled the appointment for September 22 and then rescheduled it for September 28. On September 17, eight days before the shootings, one evaluator noted that Banks was more preoccupied with the racial situation, (in Wilkes-Barre and the world), than any ongoing marital difficulty.
On September 24, Banks went to a party with Dorothy Lyons and Regina Clemens. He left the party and returned home where he drank gin and took some pills. He subsequently called Dorothy at the party and told her that he was going to the mountains. He also told her to bring home the AR-15 rifle that was at her sister's house. Dorothy, Regina and Susan Yuhas returned home with the rifle sometime after 1:30 am on September 25.
In the early morning hours of September 25, 1982 at their home on Schoolhouse Lane in Wilkes-Barre, Banks shot to death Dorothy Lyons, Regina Clemens and Susan Yuhas, four of his five children, (Montanzuma, age six, Bowende, age four, Mauritania, age one and Fararoude, age one), and Nancy Lyons, age 11, the daughter of Dorothy.
Banks' version of the incident began with his girlfriends waking him and dressing him in a military flight suit. After he put the bolt in the rifle and loaded it, he passed out. When he awakened, he became aware that he was dressed in the military outfit with a gun across his chest and his bandolier of bullets.
Immediately after the shootings, Banks confronted four teenagers outside his home. Banks testified that he walked towards them, firing his gun twice, shooting two of the youths, and killing one. He heard one girl yell "No, No, No" and thought "Maybe there was a life for them." He raised his gun, turned around and walked down the street. After stealing a car, he went to Sharon Mazzillo's trailer park. He broke into her trailer and shot to death his girlfriend, (Sharon Mazzillo) and their son (Kismayu, age six), Sharon's mother, (Alice), and her nephew, (Scott, age seven). Alice's two children, (Keith and Angelo), were unharmed.
The entire shooting spree lasted approximately 45 minutes. Banks then remembered waking up in a ditch, soaking wet, smelling of gunpowder and seeing a figure in the fog. He felt he had been involved in a great deal of violence. Police located Banks later that morning, barricaded in a friend's house in Wilkes-Barre city.
During the ensuing standoff, Banks told the police that he killed his children to spare them from the racial prejudice that he experienced as a child. He repeatedly threatened suicide. The police used a fake radio broadcast, which aired that his children were still alive and being treated. This ruse convinced Banks to surrender to police without further incident.
The defense testimony at trial "presented a profile of a disturbed and paranoid man." Both prosecution and defense experts agreed that Banks suffered from a "serious mental defect," specifically, "paranoia psychosis." Paranoia psychosis is a chronic, rare and severe mental illness characterized by fixed delusional beliefs. In Banks' case, the fixed delusions involved racial persecution, violence and racial conspiracies.
On three separate occasions before trial, defense counsel raised the issue of Banks' competency. During the first two hearings, counsel presented psychiatric and lay testimony that Banks could neither assist counsel in relating a reliable, accurate account of the incident nor understand the object of the criminal proceedings.
Defense psychiatrists concluded that Banks had a fixed delusional, paranoid belief that a white police detective had shot and mutilated his family, changed their clothing and body locations and covered up bullet holes with coroner paste. They further concluded that Banks perceived that the criminal proceedings provided a method to exhume the bodies and thereby prove the existence of a racially motivated conspiracy to fabricate and destroy evidence. The state trial court denied these motions.
Following jury selection, the trial commenced on June 6, 1983. The state trial court permitted defense counsel, over Banks' objection, to assert an insanity defense. This defense asserted that at the time of the incident Banks' held a psychotic belief that he had a right to kill his children to protect them from the racial prejudice he suffered and to insure that they died pure in the hands of God.
Both the prosecution and defense psychiatrists agreed that, at the time of the incident, Banks was suffering from paranoid psychosis. Disagreement centered on whether, as a result of his severe mental illness, Banks was able to understand the nature and quality of his acts or able to distinguish between right and wrong with respect to those acts.
During trial, the state court permitted Banks, over the objections of his counsel, to personally cross-examine and direct counsel's cross-examination of witnesses and introduce into evidence photos of the deceased victims, which the court had initially suppressed due to their prejudicial content.
In addition, a prosecution psychiatrist testified that Banks was psychotic and delusional when he testified, and his trial testimony was, therefore, unreliable. Despite this conduct, the state trial court summarily denied repeated defense counsel motions challenging Banks' competency.
Despite being presented with such evidence, the jury rejected an insanity defense, convicting Banks of twelve counts of first-degree murder, one count of third degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and related charges. Of note however, although the court rejected claims raised on direct appeal related to Banks' mental illness, it stated:
Before we leave the subject of appellant's mental condition, we wish to make it clear that we are aware that appellant suffers and has suffered from a mental defect that contributed to his bizarre behavior both in the courtroom and on September 25, 1982, when thirteen innocent persons were murdered by his hand. His behavior was inexplicable, and his thought-processes remain difficult to comprehend.
It should be noted that Banks was diagnosed in the 1980s with paranoid psychosis. Diagnostic categories have since changed and his attorney indicates the most similar diagnosis now would be something akin to a delusional disorder.
An additional argument of appeal is that his death sentence should overturned because jurors might have thought they had to be unanimous in finding a mitigating circumstance for the crime, such as mental illness. The Supreme Court has heard argument about whether Mills v. Maryland is retroactive, as a new rule of constitutional law. As a new rule, it could only be applied retroactively if it was a "rule of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding." Finding that it was not a watershed rule, the Court found that it could not be applied retroactively and that the conviction was constitutional.
The last execution in Pennsylvania was of Gary Michael Heidnik on July 6, 1999. Indeed, since the re-instatement of the death penalty in 1976, only three executions have taken place including that of Mr. Heidnik: On May 2, 1995 Keith Zettlemoyer was executed and on 15 August, 1995 Leon Moser was executed. Of note, each of these previous executions involved a volunteer and hence the upcoming execution of Banks will be the first non-volunteer execution in Pennsylvania since re-instatement of the death penalty in 1976.
George Emil Banks
The state Supreme Court December 2004 stopped the execution of mass murderer George Emil Banks, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection this month.
The high court ordered the Luzerne County Court to hold a hearing to determine whether Banks is competent to be executed. Lawyers said that hearing might not happen for months. The execution warrant signed by Gov. Ed Rendell expires at midnight.
In a methodical rampage in 1982, Banks killed 13 people, including his five children, their four mothers and four others, in the Wilkes-Barre area.
He was deemed competent to stand trial, and the jury rejected his insanity defense, sentencing him to death in June 1983. In December 2004, the state Supreme Court ordered a hearing on Banks' mental state to comply with a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision. That ruling says it is unconstitutional to execute defendants who do not understand the proceedings. Banks' attorneys say he is too mentally ill to be executed.
A spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said Banks has not been moved from death row at Graterford state prison to the State Correctional Institution at Rockview in Centre County, where the execution was to have taken place. A Luzerne County judge rejected Banks' appeal Monday, saying it was filed too late.
Michael Wiseman, a lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said Banks, 62, believes God has vacated his sentence. He said Banks believes he will not be executed and that the process is just a test of his faith in Jesus. "He doesn't understand he's going to be executed," Wiseman said.
Wiseman said that even Dr. Robert Sadoff, the prosecution's psychiatric witness at trial, signed an affidavit stating Banks needed to be examined to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Banks' brother, John, welcomed the court ruling last night. "I know the decision the judges had to make wasn't an easy one either politically or emotionally, but I'm glad they had the strength to make it and God bless them for it," John Banks said.
But Ray Hall, whose son Raymond F. Hall Jr. was a passerby who was killed by Banks, told The Associated Press the delay was a bitter disappointment. Hall planned to witness the execution. "This is what really has me mad -- I mean, it's enough, you know? How far can they take it? These courts. I'm sort of sickened," the AP quoted Hall as saying.
Scott C. Gartley, chief appellate counsel for the Luzerne County district attorney's office, expressed disappointment. "It's very unfortunate," he said. "Especially when you remember the case isn't about George Banks, it's about the 13 people he killed and their families. It's unfortunate for them being put through the highs and lows in this case."
Albert J. Flora Jr., Banks' attorney since his 1983 trial, said he expects a competency hearing to take place within 60 to 90 days. "The decision of the state Supreme Court was legally correct and it affords George Banks his day in court, which every person is entitled," Flora said.
Banks, a former Camp Hill prison guard, used an assault rifle to kill his victims. The son of a white mother and black father, Banks said he killed his children to save them from the racism he endured as a mixed-race child. All of his girlfriends were white.
Prosecutors said Banks lashed out because he was losing control of the women, three of whom lived in the same house. Two of those women were sisters. One girlfriend had left him and another sought help at a battered women's shelter. Banks was seen slapping another of the women the week before the slayings.
At trial, Banks thwarted his attorneys' attempts to present an insanity defense. Although he confessed to killing some of the victims in a drug-and-alcohol-induced haze, he said police killed others and mutilated the bodies to make the crime seem worse.
Since his conviction, Banks has tried to kill himself four times and has gone on hunger strikes that required him to be force fed. A psychiatric report filed in the case states that Banks believed he was in a spiritual fight with an anti-Christ in New York, that Pennsylvania was controlled by the Islamic religion, and that he engaged in a "private war with President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky."
The state Supreme Court has rejected Banks' appeals four times. The U.S. Supreme Court has done so twice.
Mass Murder in Eastern Pennsylvania: The True Story of George Emil Banks
by David Lohr
The "Diamond City"
The city of Wilkes-Barre is situated along the scenic Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania. Settlers from Connecticut, who built the town around a square, following the New England custom, founded this picturesque place in 1770. By the turn of the century, the Wilkes-Barre area boasted a newspaper, post office, and courthouse.
During the late 1800's, thousands of immigrants flocked to the region to work the growing anthracite coalmines. This transformed the lush green valley from an isolated farming area into a growing metropolis. The success of the coal industry brought a steady stream of entrepreneurs who formed many new businesses. Silk and garment mills quickly became major employers with companies such as the Empire Silk Mill importing silk from Japan.
Wilkes-Barre was nicknamed the “Diamond City.” Originally, the city’s seal contained a diamond, which symbolized the "black diamonds" of anthracite coal, as well as the diamond-shaped town square. Currently, the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania has a population of nearly 50,000 people. One of those residents was George Emil Banks.
A Tormented Mind Snaps
During the year leading up to the tragedy, George Emil Banks’ mental state had greatly declined and one can only speculate as to what was going on in his mind before the carnage. In the early morning hours of September 25, 1982, Banks awoke from a self-induced haze. The 40-year-old prison guard had taken a cocktail of prescription drugs and straight gin around 11:30 p.m. the previous night.
Banks tried to focus his eyes and looked at his surroundings. Lying next to him was an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which he had purchased the previous year. His four-year-old son, Bowendy, was sleeping next to him while his girlfriends, 29-year-old Regina Clemens, 23-year-old Susan Yuhas, and 29-year-old Dorothy Lyons, sat in chairs nearby. Susan, cradling the couple’s one-year-old daughter Mauritania in her arms, awoke when George began to stir.
George reached down and picked up the gun, locked and loaded it with a thirty-round clip. Most likely, his facial expression began to change as he stroked the military-style assault rifle, his eyes burning with anger and a scowl tainting his generally handsome features. Lacking explanation or any apparent compassion, he raised the weapon and shot Regina Clemens. The bullet pierced her right cheek, sliced downward and traveled directly through her heart, killing her instantly. Her body pitched sideways in a lifeless sprawl.
Susan and Dorothy, frozen with fear, watched in horror as George stood there. He shot Susan five times in the chest at point blank range as her cries for mercy fell upon deaf ears. A single bullet entered Mauritania’s left ear and exited her right eye as her mother Susan had tried in vain to safeguard her from the hail of bullets. Dorothy must have known that she was to be next for she shielded her face with her right arm as George fired two more rounds. The first bullet pierced her arm and chest; the second entered her neck as she fell forward to the floor, her eyes open but glazed with the unmistakable luster of death.
Bowendy’s young face turned away from his father when a single shot rang out; the bullet traveled through his left cheek and exited his right ear, virtually turning his face inside out. The AR-15 fell abruptly silent as George stood amidst the carnage he had inflicted upon his family. Spent cartridges littered the floor and the smell of gunpowder and death permeated the air. His taste for blood had yet to be quenched. He was a man on a deadly mission, and there was still much to do. He made his way up the stairs towards his children’s bedrooms.
Six-year-old Montanzima was sitting up on her bed. Awakened by the gunfire, she looked up at her father quizzically as he entered the room. George raised the weapon and shot the child point blank in the chest. As she fell over, he fired a second shot into her head. Her lifeless body slumped to the floor.
Moving down the hall, George stopped at eleven-year-old Nancy Lyons’ room. She was sitting up on her bed holding her half-brother one-year-old Forarounde Banks in her arms. The young girl saw the anger in his eyes, and attempted to shield her brother as George stood up on the bed and took aim. There were three shots fired in rapid succession. Forarounde was shot in the back of the head, the bullet exiting his left eye. A bullet struck Nancy in the left forearm and one directly in the face that immediately shattered her skull. Both children lie dead as he walked out of the room. George made his way to his bedroom, his clothes splattered with blood, where he donned military style fatigues and a T-shirt that read, “Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out.”
Across the street from Banks’ house, 22-year-old Jimmy Olsen and 24-year-old Ray Hall, Jr. heard the multiple gunshots and decided to get out of the area. As they approached their car, George walked out of his house. Banks immediately ran up to them, “You’re never going to live to tell anyone about this!” he exclaimed as the gun expelled a flurry of bullets at the two men. Hall and Olsen were both struck point blank in the chest and fell to the pavement. Banks stood over their bodies only momentarily before getting into his vehicle and driving off.
George drove approximately four miles from the crime scene at School House Lane to Heather Highlands trailer court in Plains Township. A former girlfriend, Sharon Mazzillo, along with the couple’s son Kissamayu Banks, shared a mobile home there with Sharon’s mother, Alice Mazzillo, her brothers Keith and Angelo Mazzillo, and visiting nephew Scott Mazzillo. George went to the front door stepping over the various toys and bicycles that lay scattered about the yard. 24-year-old Sharon cautiously greeted him at the door. When she saw the rifle in his hand, she tried to close the door but George forced his way inside.
Quickly tiring of Sharon’s resistance, he raised the weapon and fired. The bullet ripped through her chest and severed the main blood vessel to the heart. Her limp body slumped to the ground. George stepped over it and entered the house. He saw five-year-old Kissamayu sleeping on the couch with a blanket pulled over his head. George walked up to the child, placed the barrel of the gun just inches from the boy’s forehead and fired a single shot.
Sharon’s mother, 47-year-old Alice, had heard the shots and was desperately trying to phone for help. Her two sons, 10-year-old Angelo and 13-year-old Keith were looking for a place to hide. Angelo crawled under Alice’s bed while Keith hid in the closet. George entered Alice’s room, walked over to her and strategically placed the barrel of the gun at an angle aiming directly up her nasal passage. He fired one shot. The combination of the combustion from the discharge and the exiting bullet caused Alice’s head to explode, scattering brain matter about the room.
Keith watched in horror through the partly opened closet door as seven-year-old Scott Mazzillo ran into the room and screamed. When Scott saw the horrible scene in the bedroom, he ran down the hall. George grabbed him, kicked him to the ground and punched him repeatedly in the back. When he stopped struggling, George pulled the sobbing boy up by the shoulder, placed the barrel just behind the left ear and fired. George removed his hand and allowed the lifeless child to fall on the floor. Satisfied that he had left no survivors, George stood up, walked out the front door and yelled, “I killed them all!” before fleeing the scene.
A Chilling Discovery
Sometime around 2:30 a.m., Jenkins Township Patrolman John Darski and Detective Captain Ray McGarry, while on routine patrol, received a call instructing them to investigate a possible shooting in Heather Highlands. As the two veteran officers turned into the park entrance, they had no way of knowing the horror and carnage that they were about to witness, a memory that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. Upon reaching lot 188, they immediately noticed that a Caucasian female, covered with blood, was lying next to the steps of the home. She had no vital signs and it was apparent that she had died as a result of at least one gunshot wound.
Upon a cautious and defensive entrance of the home, the officers discovered Kissamayu on the couch, Scott face down in the hallway and the decapitated body of Alice in the bedroom. Realizing they were no longer in danger, Keith and Angelo came out from hiding. Officers on the scene, while sick to their stomach from the bloody massacre, were relieved that at least two children had survived. Alice’s sons, while in a state of shock, were able to tell investigators that George Banks was the man who had committed the appalling crimes. The officers put out an all-points bulletin for Banks’ arrest.
At about the same time Jenkins Township police officers were arriving at Heather Highlands, Wilkes-Barre Police Lt. John Lowe, en route to a similar call, discovered the bodies of two Caucasian males lying next to the street on Schoolhouse Lane. Lowe immediately called for backup before exiting his vehicle to evaluate the situation.
Uncertain as to whether the perpetrator was still in the general vicinity, Lowe walked up to a small white house across from the victims’ bodies and cautiously stepped inside. Hoping to spot the gunman in the home, he shined his light around the interior. A nightmarish scene greeted Lowe. The smell of fresh gunpowder still saturated the air and there were corpses scattered about the rooms.
Paramedics dispatched to the scene immediately treated James Olsen and Raymond Hall. Both men had sustained serious injuries and were in critical condition upon their arrival at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. While the paramedics were treating the wounded, the local police department was just arriving at the scene. Wilkes-Barre Detective Tino Andreoli was one of the first investigators to arrive at 28 School House Lane. Detective Patrick Curley greeted him solemnly as he walked up to Banks’ front door:
Curley: “We have a homicide.”
Andreoli: “How many?”
Curley: “I lost track.”
Detective Andreoli was horrified as he entered the home; in all of his years on the force he had never encountered anything like the slaughter that now presented itself. The rooms were blood-splattered and riddled with bullets. The detectives wondered to themselves how a person could murder young, innocent children in such a heinous cold-blooded manner?
Police had cordoned off all routes out of the city and were desperately trying to find their murder suspect. George was well aware of the manhunt and decided to change vehicles to elude police. After deserting his vehicle, he stopped a motorist near the Cabaret Lounge in Wilkes-Barre. George put his gun to the man’s head and forced him out of his vehicle. He drove the man’s ’72 Chevy to the east-end section of the city and then abandoned it. Still feeling the effects of the alcohol and drugs that he had consumed earlier, George walked into a desolate area, lay down in the grass and passed out.
At Wilkes-Barre General Hospital at 3:30 a.m., Raymond Hall, Jr. was pronounced dead. A Life Flight helicopter rushed James Olsen to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville when his condition deteriorated.
Chaos and Confusion
Police were still searching for Banks. Patrol cars spread out through the city shining lights in back yards and alleyways hoping to catch a glimpse of the dangerous fugitive. Around 5:30 a.m. George awoke, still wearing his military fatigues, his rifle at his side. Uncertain what to do, he ran to the home of his mother, Mary Banks Yelland, located at 98 Metcalfe Street. George was crying and smelled like liquor when his mother opened the door:
Banks: “Mom, if you don’t take me where I want to go, there will be a shootout here and you will be hurt.”
Yelland: “George, what’s wrong?”
Banks: “It’s all over, Mom. It’s all over. I did it. I killed everyone.”
Yelland: “Who did you kill, Georgie? Who did you kill?”
Banks: “I killed them all, Mom. I killed all the kids and girls. Regina, Sharon, them all.”
Yelland: “Georgie, no!”
Banks: “It’s all over, Mom. It’s all over.”
Following the conversation with his mother, George sat down at her kitchen table and began writing a crude will leaving her all of his possessions. Mary Banks Yelland was in a state of shock and decided to phone George’s home in the hopes that what he had confided in her was simply part of his drunken imagination. Chief County Detective Jim Zardecki answered the phone at School House Lane when it rang. George grabbed the phone from his mother and identified himself:
Banks: “This is George Banks, how are the kids?”
Zardecki: “They are alive, George”
Banks: “You’re lying, I know I killed them!”
Banks hung up the telephone. Zardecki had hoped that if George thought the children were still alive, he could keep him on the phone long enough for police to locate him. He was wrong. Banks placed three 30-round clips and numerous other rounds of ammunition into a bag and asked his mother to drive him to a friend’s recently vacated rental house at 24 Monroe Street. Yelland did as George requested, dropped him off in front of the house and drove away. When she got home, she was greeted by a phalanx of police and hesitantly told them where she had just taken her son.
To Lure a Killer
By 7:20 a.m., the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department, and Pennsylvania State Police had the house on Monroe Street surrounded with officers. Banks had barricaded the doors with furniture and kicked out a first floor bedroom window of the two-story home when he saw officers arriving at the scene. Approximately 110 law enforcement officers prepared themselves for a possible shoot-out with Banks.
Wilkes-Barre Detective Patrick Curley and Luzerne County Chief Detective James Zardecki took turns on a loud speaker attempting to get George to surrender and urging him not to do anything that would endanger himself or others. Banks screamed back about living in a racist community and not wanting his kids to grow up in a racist world. Whenever he noticed an officer’s position, he would call it out and threaten to shoot. Detectives Harold Crawley and Jerry Dessoye were hidden across the street from Banks’ location and on several occasions noticed that they would be able to get a clear shot at Banks whenever he came near the window to yell out. However, upon radioing in for permission, they learned that Chief John Swim would not authorize any such action, “If you fire a shot and miss, or just wound him, God knows what will happen.”
At approximately 8:15 a.m. Chief Detective Zardecki went to a nearby phone and called Banks, attempting to use the ploy that his children were still alive again. “George, you’ve got to care about your kids. They need your blood to survive. Come out, George, you’ve got to take care of your children.” Banks replied that he might consider coming out but that he doubted any of the children were still alive. Just before slamming the receiver down, Banks informed Zardecki that he wanted a transistor radio so he could listen to news reports regarding the events.
Shortly after 9:00 a.m., police brought George’s mother to the scene with hopes that she could talk him out. Mrs. Yelland spoke to her son over the police loudspeaker:
Yelland: “Come out for my sake Georgie. I love you. Please son, please. None of your children is dead. Believe me.”
Banks: “I want them to kill me!”
Yelland: “No, you’ve been taking that medicine.”
Banks: “I’m tired. I want them to kill me.”
In an effort to end the drama, District Attorney Robert Gillespie asked local radio station WILK for help. Convinced that if Banks heard a newscast that his children were still alive, he would give himself up. WILK News Director Pat Ward agreed to Gillespie’s plan to go on the air and report the erroneous facts that Banks’ children were not dead although “seriously injured.” A radio was brought to the scene at 9:58 a.m. Officers began playing it over a police loud speaker. Following the newscast, Banks informed officers that he did not believe the report and was not going to surrender.
Wilkes-Barre policeman Dale Minnick attempted to talk Banks out of the house shortly after the false radio broadcast. “You heard the broadcast over the radio,” Minnick conveyed to Banks over a bullhorn. “Throw out your gun and come out. We wouldn't lie to you. You can go down to the hospital and see your kids. It’s been a long day for you and us. Throw your gun out the window. You heard it on the radio, what more do you want from us?” Minnick's words had no affect on Banks, who kept quiet during the entire one-sided conversation.
A Hero in the Midst
Robert Brunson, a resident of Wilkes-Barre, friend and former co-worker of George Banks, heard reports on the news of the standoff on Monroe Street and felt compelled to help. The unemployed and divorced 36-year-old man quickly drove to the scene, and asked the permission of Wilkes-Barre Chief of Police John Swim to talk with Banks, “I feel I can talk to him and would like a chance to try,” Brunson told Swim. With few options left on the table, Swim agreed. Brunson, escorted to a point only a few yards from the home, called out to Banks:
Brunson: “George, can I talk to you before you die? If you came here to die, so be it. But let me talk to you before you do it.”
Banks: “It’s a good day to die!”
Brunson: “No, there are people that care. I cared enough to come down here to talk to you.”
Banks: “No, man, they are using you.”
Brunson: “No, I want to be here. If you fire one shot, the police will shoot you, just like you or I would do if we were in the (prison) tower. Take the first step, man. I’ll be there to walk every step with you.”
Banks: “I have problems I can’t deal with. I want to be treated with dignity.”
Brunson: “George, listen man. Everybody needs a crutch sometimes. I’ll be yours. I’ll put my body between you and these men with guns. But you have to trust the man (police).”
Following the conversation with Brunson, Banks remained silent, contemplating his situation. Finally, four hours after the standoff began, at 11:17 a.m., Banks agreed to come out. He smashed out a rear window in the house and asked that the officers on the scene hold their fire. He was then instructed to hand his weapon to Patrolman Donald Smith through the broken window and surrender himself out the front door of the home into the custody of police. Banks complied.
During an initial search of the home, investigators discovered three 30-round clips and approximately 300 rounds of ammunition. Also noted was that Banks had barricaded all of the windows with furniture and large appliances, and had a mirror set up in order to watch the front and rear doors from a second floor vantage point.
This was a siege like no other in local history. The city of Wilkes-Barre was left in a state of shock following the bloody massacre. Many residents could not understand why Banks, an outwardly stable man, decided to systematically kill 13 innocent human beings for no apparent reason.
Beginning to an End
George Emil Banks was born on June 22, 1942. Born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, he was the son of a white woman and a black man. Banks’ parents never married and the racial mix seemed to torment him throughout his life. He was educated at St. Mary’s Catholic School, where he was an underachiever, despite having been tested with an IQ of 121. George believed that he was shunned and abused by both whites and blacks throughout his childhood because of his bi-racial status.
“I’ve dealt with racial cowards all my life. A lot of things happened during that time,” said Banks referring to his childhood. “There was this kid named Bones who punched me in the back of the head and kept harassing me just to see if I had enough nerve to fight,” Banks stated.
According to Banks, his problems seemed to get worse as he grew older. During his late teens, racist problems amplified and Banks felt he was constantly harassed. “In 1959, I almost got lynched for drinking a soda and eating a doughnut on a sidewalk.”
While in his early twenties, George saw the military as a possible way of escaping his troubled youth and signed up for a tour of duty in the United States Army. This dream, however, was short lived as he was discharged just two years later in 1961 because he “couldn't get along with the officers.” Following his “general discharge” from the Army, Banks’ life continued on a downward spiral.
During the early morning hours of September 9, 1961, Banks and two accomplices attempted to rob the Brazil and Roche bar on Pittston Avenue in south Scranton. The crime was doomed from the start. Saloonkeeper Thomas Roche was doing some late night work at the tavern. When confronted by the assailants, Roche refused to cooperate. Angered, Banks pulled out a pistol, shot Roche directly in the chest and fled empty-handed with his two accomplices. Shortly after the tavern robbery, the Wilkes-Barre and Kingston police apprehended the suspects. For his part in the crime, Banks earned a sentence of six-to-fifteen years in prison. He was sent to the State Correctional Institution (SCI) in Graterford, Pennsylvania to serve his time.
In March of 1964, Banks escaped SCI Graterford while on farm detail. Apprehended just three hours later, George received an additional term of one and one-half to five years for the escape. Paroled on March 28, 1969, after serving seven and one-half years behind bars, Banks was now a free man. Following his release, Banks held a number of jobs and married long-time friend Doris Jones, a black woman with whom he had two daughters.
In 1971, Banks acquired a position as a technician with the bureau of Water Quality of the State Department of Environmental Resources (DER) regional office in Wilkes-Barre. The job was the most notable one George had ever held and paid quite well. Banks filed a request in 1974 for commutation of the maximum term of his sentence. Former Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp granted the release, thereby ending Banks’ days on parole.
Perpetual domestic arguments and continued infidelity on George’s part caused him and his wife to separate in 1976. Doris took the children and moved to Ohio. Surprisingly, it was George not Doris who filed for the couple’s ultimate divorce.
A Bizarre Lifestyle
Following the separation with Doris, Banks purchased a home at 28 Schoolhouse Lane in Wilkes-Barre and began to accumulate a harem of girlfriends. All were white, at least ten years younger than Banks, and easily manipulated. Some were homeless and saw George as their only way off the streets. George lived a cult-like lifestyle, quickly amassing four girlfriends simultaneously, two of which were sisters. They all lived together and all bore him at least one child.
Regina (Duryea) Clemens, Banks’ first lover, became pregnant prior to Banks’ separation with Doris and had a daughter, Montanzima Banks, in 1976. Sharon Mazzillo moved in with Banks and Clemens shortly after Montanzima’s birth. She had a son, Kissamayu Banks, on October 6, 1976. Regina Clemens’ sister Susan (Duryea) Yuhas moved in with the trio shortly after Kissmayu's birth. She became pregnant by George the following year and bore a son, Bowendy Banks, in 1978.
Following the births of his children and the added responsibilities brought on by them, Banks’ mental state began to deteriorate. The State Department of Environmental Resources (DER) asked Banks to resign in 1979. “He was an average worker but we came to a mutual agreement that he should leave,” said James Chester, former Regional Director of the DER in Wilkes-Barre. “His work began to suffer because of his personal problems and the bureau thought that it would be best to conclude the relationship.”
Living in a predominately white neighborhood and being involved in a series of interracial relationships brought its own share of problems to Banks’ home. Banks claimed that his white neighbors “intimidated the women and called the children African niggers.” His home was once firebombed. “They attempted to burn my house, smashed several windows, squirted my babies with water when they were in the yard and intimidated the girls and children.” During a separate incident, while standing at the corner of McCarragher and High streets, Banks said “because I was walking on the sidewalk they hit me with a beer bottle, called me racist names and chased me down the street. I had to grab a pipe to hold them off until police came. Before it was over, about 100 spectators had gathered to watch the whole thing.”
“This is the kind of thing I have had to live with my entire life," Banks said. "They behave in a cowardly fashion. They look down their nose at me, but they’re out there abusing innocent people who have nothing to do with this. They’re out there damaging my property and harassing my family.”
A former neighbor, Lester Scoble said, “He (Banks) didn’t want nobody to bother him. He didn’t want our kids to play in his yard. He didn‘t like them (Banks' girlfriends) talking to other people. I don‘t even think any of them went out. I guess they all were one-man women.”
In 1980, despite Banks’ prior arrest record, he obtained a job as a prison watchtower guard at the State Correctional Institute in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Dorothy Lyons, moved in with the growing family. She brought along her daughter from a previous marriage, Nancy Lyons, age nine. Within months Dorothy was pregnant by Banks and on January 25, 1981 gave birth to a son, Foraroude Banks. Shortly after Foraroude's birth, Susan Yuhas had a second child by Banks, a daughter, Mauritania Banks. Sharon Mazzillo, tired of Banks and his growing harem, left the Banks' household and moved in with her mother a short time later.
Prelude to Mayhem
George's mental state continued to worsen in late 1981. He had obtained a mail-order ordination from the Universal Life Church; however, he became angry after being rejected for religious tax exemptions by the state and picketed city hall in rebuttal. He began to keep a meticulous diary of his thoughts and ideas. He compiled his own list of heroes, including cult leaders Jim Jones, who directed a mass suicide; Charles Manson, who orchestrated a mass murder; and serial killer John Gacy. Banks also had begun to collect survivalist magazines and news accounts on murder and racism. Perhaps the most ominous of all his new hobbies was his desire to build a stockpile of guns and ammunition. A former neighbor stated that Banks "read paramilitary magazines like Solider of Fortune, had books about making bombs, and talked frequently about starting a war.”
By the summer of 1982, Banks had begun talking to fellow guards at work about committing mass killings, preparing his children for warfare, and going into the watchtower and blowing his brains out. Upon learning this, on September 6, 1982 prison officials sent Banks home on extended sick leave to seek psychiatric help. Camp Hill authorities then contacted Luzerne-Wyoming County’s Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center in Wilkes-Barre, requesting assistance for Banks. They scheduled a psychiatric evaluation for September 29, 1982. Kenneth Robinson, a former spokesman for Camp Hill, stated, “He was removed and put on sick leave by the institution as a reaction to the incident (suicide threat).”
By September 24, 1982, George was teetering on the breaking point. He was bitter over his forced leave from work, and even more so by the custody dispute he was having with Sharon Mazzillo over Kissamayu Banks. He wanted full control and custody over the child and was angered that Sharon would not comply. Banks had told the judge during a preliminary custody hearing that, “she (Sharon) can come and see him anytime she wants, I just want the ultimate control over his future, as far as his education and stuff is concerned.” Judge Chester B. Muroski ruled that Banks would retain custody of the child with liberal partial custody granted to Sharon. However, even after the ruling that made Banks the child's primary care giver, Sharon would not comply with the order and kept the child to herself. By the early morning hours of September 25, George Banks, waking from a self-induced drunken/drugged haze, lost whatever control he had left.
Dissertations of Madness
Not until Banks was in custody at Wilkes-Barre police headquarters did most of the officers that were on the scene feel the impact of what had occurred. “I looked at him, handcuffed to a chair,” former Chief Detective Jim Zardecki recalled, “and I felt like a balloon that had suddenly been pricked. I started to quiver. My eyes watered. I thought, what really happened here? My God, what happened? Until then, we’d been reacting. We hadn’t time to think about it. We were more lucky than good. He could have blown anybody away.”
Following his arrest, Banks told investigators that he “wanted to die,” and that if he had known for certain his children were dead, he would have stuck the rifle into his mouth and blown himself away. George avoided direct questions about the murders, although he did admit to them. He was uncertain as to how many he had actually committed. Most of the time police questioned him, he ranted about racism and discrimination rather than his crimes.
Shortly after 4:00 p.m., Banks was arraigned before District Magistrate Joseph Verespy and charged with five counts of criminal homicide, with other charges to be filed later in the week. Verespy ordered Banks be held without bail in the Luzerne County Prison to await a preliminary hearing scheduled for October 6, 1982. Banks remained calm and motionless during the entire proceeding.
After just a few days in the county lockup, Banks began threatening others and talking about suicide. During one altercation with a prison guard, Banks warned, “I’ve already killed seven people. One more body won’t make a difference.” Following the incident, a prison official placed Banks on a round-the-clock suicide watch. Not permitted to interact with other inmates or participate in any prison activities, Banks’ depression deepened.
Attired in a tan coat and dark trousers, Banks appeared before District Justice Robert Verespy for his preliminary hearing in early October. Banks, with tears streaming down his face, entered pleas of “not guilty” to 13 counts of aggravated murder; two counts of robbery; and one count each of the following: attempted murder, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, and theft. Following the plea, Banks requested a jury trial to determine his ultimate fate.
On January 15, 1982, Dr. Anthony Turchetti examined Banks at the request of the defense and deemed him fit to stand trial. “He (Banks) can understand the nature of criminal proceedings and can assist in his own defense,” Turchetti's report stated. Following Banks' request for a change of venue, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on February 26, 1983 ordered that the jury for Banks trial to be selected from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, approximately 250 miles from Wilkes-Barre. Jury selection began on May 23, 1983, and was completed just four days later with five men, seven women and six alternates.
On June 6, 1983, at approximately 9:15 a.m., the trial for accused mass murderer George Banks began at the Luzerne County Courthouse behind locked doors. A prosecution team consisting of District Attorney Robert Gillespie and Assistant District Attorneys Lawrence Klemow and Michael Bart was chosen to represent the state. Public Defender Basil Russin and two assistants, Joseph Sklarosky and Al Flora, Jr., were present to represent Banks.
The prosecution had many advantages during the trial: Banks’ partial confession, the murder weapon, over 100 photographs of the victims, and more than 40 witnesses. Banks’ attorneys, against their client’s wishes, had prepared an insanity defense and planned to bring up Banks’ peculiar lifestyle and abnormal behavior.
One of the first to testify was Dr. Michael K. Spodak, a psychiatrist for the defense. Spodak testified that during his first interview with Banks, the defendant appeared paranoid, delusional, and suicidal. Throughout that interview, Banks indicated to Spodak that he was a victim of a conspiracy in which the district attorney, judge, police, defense attorneys, and city officials were involved. During the cross-examination, Gillespie asked Spodak if he felt Banks was faking a mental disorder. Spodak replied, “I have confidence he was not trying to be deceptive in the interview.”
During the trial, Banks continued to insist that he was not mentally ill and demanded to testify. Banks’ attorneys worried that the jury would consider him sane if he testified. Still, Banks ignored them and took the stand, saying his testimony was the only chance he had “to pull the mask off the devil.”
Sometimes standing, sometimes sitting, Banks coolly and comfortably launched into a rambling, disjointed account of the night of the killings. He voiced his opinion that the police, in a racist conspiracy against him, fired the fatal bullets into some of the victims after he had left them wounded. To prove this theory, Banks wanted to exhume the bodies of the victims for forensic examination. Then he showed the jury the gruesome photographs of the victims, photographs that his attorneys had fought to keep out of the jury's view. The pictures, Banks said, would “prove my theory of a police conspiracy.” During Banks’ testimony, Assistant Public Defender Al Flora, Jr., lowered his head and wept in frustration.
Before wrapping up, the defense called upon Banks’ mother, brother, and religious advisor, in an attempt to show the jury that George was, in fact, suffering from mental abnormalities, and did not understand the consequences of his actions. This testimony, however, came a little too late following Banks’ own damaging admissions to the jury.
When it came time for the prosecution to present its side, James Olsen, sole survivor of the bloody shooting spree was called to the stand. Olsen testified that George Banks was the man that shot him on September 25, 1982 and left him for dead. Following Olsen’s testimony, the prosecution called detectives and medical examiners to further strengthen the case against Banks. Each detective present at the crime scenes came forward and recounted his/her version of the events. At one point, County Coroner Dr. George Hudock, Jr., while describing the murder scene, said, “I’m still sick to my stomach.”
On June 21, 1983, closing arguments in the case began. Attorney Sklarosky, presented his arguments to the jury in a voice hardly audible at times, displayed particular emotion in addressing the panel, and pointed out that the defendant was in store for numerous restless nights and horrible memories during the balance of his lifetime. The defense lawyer noted “the terrible crimes committed by Banks,” but reminded the jury that the defendant “was, and still is, very sick.” Sklarosky challenged the jury to display courage, remembering the fact that, “One person can save his (Banks’) life.”
District Attorney Gillespie countered the defense’s passionate appeal with unemotional arguments. The prosecuting attorney focused the jury on the legal issues, arguing that the evidence showed three possible aggravating circumstances. First was Banks’ prior record; second, his actions endangered others at the time of the killings; and last, that not one, but 13 intentional murders took place at his hands. Gillespie said the evidence showed a "significant history" of violent crimes, stating, “He has graduated now. He no longer assaults with intent to kill. He kills 13 times.”
Following arguments by the attorneys, Judge Toole instructed the jurors for 25 minutes before releasing them for deliberations. The jury of eight women and four men wasted little time in reaching their verdict. George Banks was found guilty of 12 counts of first-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, and one count each of robbery, theft, and endangering the life of another person. Banks said nothing as the jurors, polled individually by request of the defense, affirmed their vote. Following the verdicts, Judge Toole set sentencing for the next day and adjourned the court.
June 22, 1983, Banks, on his 41st birthday, waited in his cell for the jury to decide his fate. As the day wore on, reporters, broadcasters, and spectators kept a vigil. Among those in attendance was Raymond Hall, Sr., the father of victim Raymond Hall, Jr. “Nothing’s going to help us with what we’ve lost,” said the elder Hall as he waited to hear the verdict.
After just five and half hours of deliberation, the jury returned with their verdict. Banks stood emotionless and expressionless as the jury foreman spoke, “We the jury find that the defendant, George Emil Banks, has committed state or federal offenses for which a life or death sentence can be imposed.” The foreman then read aloud the jury’s decree that Banks was to die by execution. As was done the previous day, the jurors were polled individually by request of the defense, affirming their votes. As the second jurist, a 24-year-old woman, affirmed her vote, she was overcome with emotion. Following her statement, Banks blurted out, “It’s not your fault, ma’am. You were lied to. A two-hour exhumation would clear me.” The young woman sank into the arms of a fellow juror as she took her seat.
Following the jury poll, Judge Toole explained to Banks that the sentence would be reviewed by the Supreme Court as required by law, adding, “I sincerely hope that God has touched you and hopefully God will forgive you for what you have done. From this moment on, your life is in the hands of God and the appellate courts.”
After Banks left the courtroom, Toole told the jury, “The legal journey that you embarked upon has ended. I am sure everyone present, hopefully, understands the pressure and awesome responsibility you have all shouldered.” Judge Toole then said that rather than attempting to express his admiration and gratitude via a lengthy dissertation, he would just say, “Thank you.” He then dismissed the jury.
In the aftermath of sentencing, Al Flora, Jr. stated his reaction, “I think the jury displayed more courage than I ever would have. I’m sure, to them, justice has been served. It’s a decision I will always respect and never second guess.” District Attorney Gillespie appeared to have mixed feelings following the verdict. “There is no great surge of joy when the death penalty is achieved, my heart goes out to the members of the jury. They are the ones that should be congratulated. They truly were courageous,” said Gillespie.
Following the trial, George Banks was remanded to the maximum-security unit of the State Correctional Institute at Huntington where he remained until November of 1985, when he was transferred to the State Correctional Institute at Graterford following a refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his verdict.
Profile of a Mass Murderer
George Emil Banks was a mass murderer. What is it that drives a man to the edge? What causes him to kill? Scholars and criminologists have debated over questions such as these for decades. One common point they all seem to agree on is pressure. History seems to suggest that a series of compounded events over a period of time cause these violent men to explode in a blur of insanity. For Banks, these pressures drove him to kill 13 people who became a burdensome responsibility, opposed him or got in his way during his murderous rampage.
Typical mass murderers are usually conservative, middle-aged, white males from relatively stable, lower-to-middle-class backgrounds. These individuals usually aspire to more than they can achieve, and when they see their ambitions thwarted, they blame others for their failures. They feel exclusion and develop an irrational, and eventually, homicidal hatred of anyone they consider a hindrance to their own aspirations. Quite often, they choose to die in an eruption of violence directed at these perceived oppressors. Banks fit the profile in some ways. He felt persecuted by society, failures in employment, and yet until he snapped, he appeared to many to be living a stable, if atypical life.
There are three common types of mass murderers: family annihilators, paramilitary enthusiasts, and disgruntled workers. Social areas of dysfunction, such as unemployment, loneliness, a family breakup, or an argument with a supervisor, can trigger their deadly rage.
However often crimes like this occur today, the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was completely unprepared for the massacre that erupted there in the early 1980’s. Even though it has been almost 20 years since George Banks went on the killing spree that left 13 people dead, residents of Wilkes-Barre still remember the horror that gripped their city. Some townsfolk compare the murders to the Kennedy shooting, “You remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you first heard about it.”
Banks continued to try for an appeal of his case from 1987 to 2000. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear the argument that Banks was not mentally competent to stand trial for his crimes. Pennsylvania State Governor Tom Ridge has twice signed Banks’ death warrant since his trial; however, both times appellate courts have stayed his execution.
George’s home no longer stands, an arson fire destroyed the home shortly after his arrest. The Russian Orthodox Church bought the empty lot in 1987 from George’s brother, with plans of building a church on the location. However, the lot remains vacant to this day. George Banks currently resides at the Pennsylvania State Institution in Green, reportedly dying of liver cancer. Banks was moved from the State Correctional Institute at Graterford in order to obtain better medical treatment.
As of March of 2001, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is set to decide if Banks deserves a new trial. The latest appeal was heard in April of 2001, and centered on two contentions -- that the 1983 trial court erred when it instructed Banks’ jury about mitigation of the death penalty, and that Banks did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to legal counsel when he acted as his own attorney and admitted photographs into evidence that had previously been tossed out by the court. Attorney Scott Gartley, appellate counsel for the Luzerne County District Attorney’s office, is countering that Banks never gave up his right to legal counsel, and that his attorneys stood by him throughout the 1983 trial. Banks is still awaiting a decision by the Third Circuit Court as of this writing.
Serial and Mass Murder - Theory, Research, & Policy, by Thomas O'Reilly-Fleming, June 1996, Canadian Scholars Pr; ISBN: 1551300664
The Killers Among Us - Motives Behind Their Madness, by Colin Wilson, Damon Wilson (Contributor), October 1996, Warner Books; ISBN: 0446603279
The Killers Among Us - Sex, Madness & Mass Murder - Book II, Colin Wilson, Damon Wilson (Contributor), March 1997, Warner Books; 0446603899
Mass Murder - America's Growing Menace, by Jack Levin and James Allen Fox (Photographer), April 1988, Perseus Pr; ISBN: 0306419432
List of victims:
• Sharon Mazzillo, 24, gunshot wound to the chest. She was a former girlfriend of George Banks and was engaged in a custody dispute over their son, Kissmayu Banks.
• Kissmayu Banks, 5, shot in the face as he slept. He was the son of Sharon Mazzillo and George Banks.
• Scott Mazzillo, 7, shot in the head. He was the nephew of Sharon Mazzillo. George Banks hit him with a rifle butt, kicked him, and accused him of using a racial slur against one of Banks' sons. Then Banks shot him.
• Alice Mazzillo, 47, shot in the face while calling police. She was Sharon Mazzillo's mother.
• Regina Clemens, 29, shot in the face. She was a girlfriend of George Banks, sister of Susan Yuhas, and mother of Montanzima Banks.
• Montanzima Banks, 6, gunshot wound to the heart. She was the daughter of Regina Clemens and George Banks.
• Susan Yuhas, 23, shot in the head. She was a girlfriend of George Banks, sister of Regina Clemens, and mother of Boende Banks and Mauritania Banks.
• Boende Banks, 4, gunshot wound in the face. He was the son of Susan Yuhas and George Banks.
• Mauritania Banks, 20 months, shot in the face. She was the daughter of Susan Yuhas and George Banks.
• Dorothy Lyons, 29, gunshot wound to the neck. She was a girlfriend of George Banks, and the mother of Nancy Lyons and Foraroude Banks.
• Nancy Lyons, 11, shot in head as she tried to protect her baby brother. She was the daughter of Dorothy Lyons, and the half-sister of Foraroude Banks.
• Foraroude Banks, 1, shot in the head. He was the son of Dorothy Lyons and George Banks, and half-brother of Nancy Lyons.
• Raymond F. Hall Jr., 24, gunshot wound to the liver and right kidney. He was a bystander who had been attending a party across the street from the second murder site.