A Florida drifter, reportedly complaining that his victims were "bitches," has admitted killing 33 women in a decade of knifings, strangulations and shootings, according to authorities.
"He thinks about three things: stereo systems, cars and killing women," said Edward B. Williams, an agent of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who is working on a regional task force set up last month to investigate the growing number of reported admissions. Authorities said Gerald Eugene Stano, 31, began admitting to a series of unsolved murders of young women after he was jailed in April, 1980, on charges of stabbing a woman in the thigh as she tried to escape from his car in Daytona Beach.
Since then, and particularly in the last few months, police say he has confessed to killing 31 women in Florida and two more in New Jersey, a number of them prostitutes, others hitchhikers.
The number could still rise, they say, because between the 1969 killings in New Jersey and the first murders in Florida in 1973 several young women were killed in similar circumstances in Pennsylvania, where Stano used to live and has since visited.
The investigations are particularly difficult because the victims, including wandering teen-agers, were mostly rootless young women with few attachments or close family members to provide clues. For example, a distraught mother from the Southwest recently telephoned Williams asking whether her runaway 17-year-old twins might be among those killed by Stano.
"This case is just starting," said Danny R. Johnson, special agent in charge of the Department of Law Enforcement's office here.
Previous mass murderers in the United States have included John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted in March, 1980, of killing 33 boys and young men in the Chicago area, and Elmer Wayne Hanley, twice convicted of six murders carried out as part of a series of 26 homosexual tortures and slayings in Houston in the early 1970s. Juan Corona also was convicted twice of killing 25 itinerants in California, also in the early 70s. Gacy's conviction came one month before Stano was arrested on the assault charges and followed a sustained barrage of news about the Chicago killings.
Williams, who has spent long periods with Stano, said Stano has never brought up the Gacy case. The confessions were taken from him a few at a time, sometimes with resistance from Stano. Williams said that Stano's 33 confessions do not seem to be an effort to make himself infamous.
Following leads provided by Stano, and sometimes taking him along to lead the way, police have found and identified 24 bodies and uncovered two sets of skeletal remains too decayed to identify. Five more murders reportedly admitted by Stano are under investigation in Florida, including several in which no bodies were found in locations described by Stano, Johnson said.
Police in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are conducting their own investigations with cooperation from Florida authorities.
Stano, meanwhile, has been sentenced to consecutive life terms on three homicide convictions in Florida, making him eligible for parole after 75 years. He is in Raiford Penal Institution near Gainesville.
Police continue to interview Stano there, sometimes driving with him to places where they say he has said he dumped bodies. Stano, pudgy with a receding hairline, is moody, alternating from surly to smiling, but often is friendly with his interviewers, police say.
Williams said most of the killings appear to have been sex-related, with Stano turning his wrath on women who refused his advances or otherwise frustrated him sexually.
His alleged victims, black and white, ranged in age from 13 to the mid-30s. Stano encountered most of them as prostitutes, hitchhikers or in other circumstances that led him to think of them as sexual partners, Williams said. Although the bodies of some were found partially clad, there was no evidence of mutilation or assault.
"As the killings went on, he got more and more sexual gratification out of just killing them," Williams added. "His basic problem is that he just can't accept rejection from women."
In interviews with police and psychologists, Williams said, Stano often emphasizes that the victims were "bitches" who "pulled my hair" or "threw beer bottles at me."
Stano was born in New York City. According to records, he and his four brothers and sisters were taken into government custody when he was six months old on grounds that his parents were neglecting them. Seven months later, he was adopted by the couple who gave him his name and took him to live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and, eventually, Florida.
Records transmitted to Florida police show that Stano had adjustment and learning problems in school, frequently falling and crashing into other children.
After some time in a Virginia military academy, he graduated from high school and worked in his adoptive father's Daytona Beach filling station, trained to run a motel, waited on tables and served as a short-order cook.