IMAGE: STEPHEN STANKO
MSNBC TV
Stephen Stanko is seen at a detention facility in Augusta, Ga., shortly after his arrest on Tuesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/12/2005 7:58:25 PM ET 2005-04-12T23:58:25

An ex-convict who collaborated with two professors on a book about life behind bars and vowed never to go back to prison was captured in Georgia on Tuesday after being accused of two slayings.

Stephen Stanko, 37, was arrested in a shopping center parking lot in Augusta, Ga., a day after authorities launched a nationwide manhunt, police said. Authorities had been tipped that a truck they believed Stanko was driving had been seen in the lot.

Stanko, who had just eaten lunch, was unarmed and was taken into custody without incident, Horry County Police spokesman Andy Christenson said. He was wearing a suit and tie.

“He did not look dangerous at all,” said Marcie Crown, manager of the Atlanta Bread Co. restaurant where Stanko ate. “It’s very freaky.”

Earlier Tuesday, federal investigators had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his capture. He was being held in an Augusta-area jail awaiting a federal court appearance, most likely Wednesday.

Stanko is suspected of killing Laura Ling, 43, a librarian who lived with him outside Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Henry Lee Turner, 74.

Ling’s body was discovered Friday after a teenage girl in the home called authorities and said she had been raped by Stanko, police said. Turner was found shot to death in his home on Saturday.

Insider author
Stanko was released from prison nearly a year ago after serving most of a 10-year sentence for kidnapping. While in prison, he co-wrote a book titled “Living in Prison: A History of the Correctional System With an Insider’s View” with the help of two criminology professors.

Stanko wrote about the hardships of prison life and the fear of being labeled “a convicted felon” after his release. “What I fear most now is that I may carry some of this total institution back into society with me,” he wrote.

Authorities said Stanko met Ling and Turner at the library where the ex-convict said he was researching a book.

A week ago, Stanko was fired after working for a month as a salesman for Stucco Supply in Myrtle Beach. Jeff Kendall, general manager, said Stanko was unreliable and brought in few sales.

Past was an open book
Acquaintances described Stanko as an intelligent, polished ex-convict who didn’t mind talking about his life in prison or the book he’d written about the hardships of prison life and the fear of being labeled “a convicted felon” after his release.

“He seemed to feel comfortable letting people know that he was an ex-con,” said John Gaumer, who was in a library book group with Stanko. “It didn’t seem to bother him.”

“What I fear most now is that I may carry some of this total institution back into society with me,” he wrote.

And it was his love of books that brought him to the library where he met the two people he is suspected of killing — the librarian who would move in with him and the elderly man who spent many days chatting with the couple, said John Gaumer, director of the Horry County Memorial Library.

Gordon Crews, a criminal justice professor in Rhode Island and one of Stanko’s co-authors, said Monday that he didn't expect the fugitive to be taken alive. “I don’t see him giving up,” he told Florence, S.C., television station WBTW. “I don’t see an easy resolution to this at all.”

Hard time in the real world
Crews said Stanko had been having a hard time getting back into the real world after his release last year after serving 8 1/2 years of a 10-year sentence for kidnapping.

“Nobody wants a convicted kidnapper working at Best Buy with them,” said Crews, who teaches at Roger Williams University.

“The last time I spoke to him, he was very, very depressed. He was on the verge of giving up,” Crews said. “He had stated he was not going back to prison because of the things he had been through.”

A week ago, Stanko was fired after working for a month as a salesman for Stucco Supply in Myrtle Beach. Jeff Kendall, the company’s general manager, described Stanko as a smooth talker who was up front about his time in prison but was unreliable and brought in few sales.

“He wanted to do everything,” Kendall said. “I was the one that gave him a chance. I said, ‘I’ll give you a chance, but from there, it’s up to you.’”

Pretending to be a lawyer
Even when he was working, though, Stanko reportedly was scamming on the side, pretending to be a lawyer.

Connie Price of Socastee, S.C., told The Charlotte Observer that Ling, who she knew through the local library, said Stanko was a lawyer who could help her with some of her legal problems.

Price said she hired Stanko as her attorney since about Thanksgiving and she last spoke with him Thursday.

"He said he was on his way to Columbia to meet with [former N.C. Sen.] John Edwards and was waiting on a package for me. I gave him almost $1,000. He's the biggest con man in the world," Price said.

He also was able to maintain a veneer of normalcy at the Horry County Memorial Library, according to several who knew him. They spoke Monday after investigators swarmed the building, taking the branch’s copy of Stanko’s book and sealing Ling's office.

Police said they believed that Stanko took Turner’s black 1996 Mazda pickup truck when he fled the area; Ling’s car was found in Turner’s driveway, authorities said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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