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John Frederick THANOS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: August-September 1990
Date of birth: 1949
Victims profile: Billy Winebrenner, 16, Gregory Allen Taylor, 18, and Melody Pistorio, 14
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Baltimore County, Maryland, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Maryland on May 17, 1994

Court of Appeals of Maryland
Thanos v. State

opinion 45 opinion 66

Maryland's first execution by lethal injection occurred on May 17, 1994, the condemned man being John F. Thanos, convicted of the slaying of two individuals in 1990.


John Frederick Thanos (c. 1951 May 17, 1994) was convicted in 1992 of the murders of Billy Winebrenner, Gregory Allen Taylor, and Melody Pistorio.

At his trial he taunted the families of his victims, saying he wished he could dig up their bodies and defile their corpses. "I don't believe I could satisfy my thirst yet in this matter unless I was to be able to dig these brats' bones up out of their graves right now and beat them into powder and urinate on them and then stir it into a murky yellowish elixir and serve it up to those loved ones," Thanos said during his sentencing hearing for the murder of Winebrenner and Pistorio.

Thanos waived his appeals and refused to fight his death sentence after he was convicted and sentenced to die. He was executed in 1994 by the state of Maryland by lethal injection, aged 43, becoming the first person to be executed in Maryland since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated. His last word was "Adios".


Maryland Makes Plans For Resuming Executions

The New York Times

May 15, 1994

As Maryland prepares for its first execution in 33 years, only one person knows the precise day and time next week that the condemned prisoner, John Frederick Thanos, will die by lethal injection.

A law passed in 1922 forbids advance public notice of executions in Maryland. Only the Corrections Commissioner, Richard Lanham, knows the date and time.

Under the death warrant, Mr. Thanos can be executed any time from 12:01 A.M. on Monday through midnight on May 22.

Other states routinely give the exact day and time of an execution months in advance.

In Maryland, official witnesses, including selected journalists, will be notified of the execution three hours beforehand. They must agree not to divulge the information to anyone.

Mr. Thanos, convicted of murdering three teen-agers in a weeklong crime spree in 1990, will not get the official word until an hour before he is to die. But he should get some inkling that his death is imminent when prison officials inventory his belongings the day before the execution.

Families of his victims and the public will not know about the execution until it is over.

"As far as I'm concerned, I don't think it's fair that neither one of us will be told when the execution will be taking place, on what day that it will be taking place, and we will not be allowed to be there," said Lois Dennis, whose 18-year-old son, Gregory Taylor Jr., was killed by Mr. Thanos.

Before the 1922 law was adopted, Maryland executions were public hangings that sometimes became frightful spectacles. During one pre-World War I hanging, spectators broke through a fence and plucked the condemned man's hair and clothing as souvenirs.

"I'm not aware there has been any litigation to test that, but my understanding is that it would withstand challenge, because there are strong governmental reasons to allow for the secrecy," said Mary Ellen Barbera, deputy chief of the Maryland Attorney General's criminal appeals division.

Joe Riener, coordinator for Let Live, a 650-member group that opposes the death penalty, said secrecy was not a significant concern. "The main thing is the state is going about killing someone," Mr. Riener said. "How they do it, when they do it, is not as much of a concern as them doing it."

Mr. Thanos, 45, confessed to killing Mr. Taylor and two Baltimore County teen-agers but proved to be a hostile defendant, telling a judge he wished he could kill two of his victims again. He publicly berated his lawyers when they brought up claims of childhood abuse by his father.

Mr. Thanos has refused to file any appeals, renouncing petitions filed by his mother and sister.

"I did it, I was sentenced, I accept that," Mr. Thanos said in a hearing May 7 in which his family tried to prove he is incompetent. A judge rejected the claim on Tuesday, and his family dropped further appeals.

As of Thursday, Mr. Thanos was in his cell in Maryland's Supermax, the state's top-security prison.

Before the execution, he will be moved into a windowless holding cell in the death house. He will not receive a special last meal, only the same fare served to other prisoners.


John Frederick Thanos

In Maryland, USA, in May 1994, John Frederick Thanos, who murdered three teenagers in 1990, was executed by lethal injection.

He may have got away with life imprisonment but for his big mouth! At a hearing to determine if he should get the death penalty Thanos stated that he still had a desire to "Dig these brat's bones out of their graves right now, beat them into powder and urinate on them and then stir it into a mercury yellowish elixir and serve it up to their loved ones!"

The judge then asked him for his preference, Death or Life imprisonment without the possibilty of parole.

Thanos answered, "Life in prison with the possibility of escape!"

The rest is history!


John Thanos

The first man put to death after the resumption of state executions was John Frederick Thanos, 45, who fatally shot three Maryland teen-agers during a week of crime in late summer 1990.

On May 17, 1994, he became the first man executed in Maryland by lethal injection - the method used by more than 30 of the 38 states with death penalty laws. 

Victims: Billy Winebrenner, Gregory Allen Taylor, and Melody Pistorio


Killer of MD. teens says he wants to defile corpses

The Washington Post

June 3, 1992

Convicted killer John F. Thanos said at his sentencing hearing today that he would find pleasure in defiling the remains of his two teenage victims to torment their grieving loved ones.

"Their cries bring laughter from the darkest caverns of my soul," Thanos told Garrett County Circuit Court Judge Frederick A. Thayer in a speech during the second day of his sentencing proceedings for the murder of two Baltimore County youths.

"I don't believe I could satisfy my thirst yet in this matter unless I was to be able to dig these brats' bones up out of their graves right now and beat them into powder and urinate on them and then stir it into a mercury yellowish elixir and serve it up to those loved ones," Thanos said.

The defendant, wearing a navy blue skullcap decorated with a Playboy bunny, threatened his two attorneys and their families. He called Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Sue Schenning a "hysterical woman" and said he had cast a spell of cancer on her female organs.

Thanos, 42, could be sentenced to die in Maryland's gas chamber for murdering Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, both of Baltimore County. Thanos shot them in the head during a robbery at a convenience store in Middle River on Labor Day 1990.

Three members of the youths' families were visibly shaken and crying after Thanos's 15-minute speech. He called them cowards for not trying to kill him in revenge for murdering the teenagers. The family members declined to comment.

Earlier in the day, two mental health experts testified that Thanos suffers from a borderline personality disorder characterized by poor self-identity, impulsive rages and self-mutilation.

Thomas Goldman, a Washington psychiatrist, said the disorder stemmed from a chaotic family life with an abusive father who once punched Thanos in the groin and another time twisted his wrist so tightly that he cracked a bone.

"The father was out of control, doing all kinds of things that constitute psychic torture," Goldman said.

Lawrence Donner, a psychologist from Baltimore, said Thanos's personality disorder prevented him from conforming his behavior to the requirements of the law. "He is a very seriously disturbed individual," Donner said.

Neil Blumberg, a psychiatrist and rebuttal witness for the state, agreed that Thanos suffers from the personality disorder, but said that he was not substantially impaired when he shot the two teenagers in the head. Blumberg said Thanos's videotaped confession to the slayings indicated that he did not impulsively kill the two youths, but that the slayings were planned.

"He clearly is not psychotic," Blumberg said about Thanos's statements on the videotape. "He clearly is rational."

The sentencing hearing is to continue on Wednesday.

Thanos was convicted of the two youths' murders by a jury.

He already has been sentenced to death for the murder of a third youth on the Eastern Shore on Aug. 31, 1990.

All three murders occurred after Thanos was mistakenly released from the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County on April 5, 1990.

Thanos had served nearly four years of a seven-year prison sentence for robbery.



MO: Shot robbery victims age 14-18

DISPOSITION: Condemned on three counts; executed May 17, 1994.



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