Sep. 25-WILKES-BARRE - Of all the ugliness he saw in the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 1982, one image remains embedded in Jim Zardecki's mind.
Zardecki was Luzerne County's Chief Detective back then when mass murderer George Banks methodically shot and killed 13 people at two separate locations and left another man critically wounded.
When he arrived at the scene on Schoolhouse Lane, Zardecki said he walked in and could not believe what he was seeing.
Zardecki said former Luzerne County Deputy Coroner Joseph Shaver had warned him that the scene was horrific, telling Zardecki that there were "bodies and blood all over the place."
"When I walked in the house on Schoolhouse Lane, there were five bodies on the first floor - on a couch and on the floor - and all were deceased," Zardecki said. "Then I went to the second floor."
That's where Zardecki came upon a young girl sitting on a bed with her back against the wall.
"It's still my most vivid memory of that night," he said. "The little girl's eyes were wide open and you could see the look of fear was still there and there was a bullet hole between her eyes."
On Sept. 25, 1982, George Emil Banks gunned down nine people on Schoolhouse Lane and four at Heather Highlands, a Jenkins Township trailer park.
At the time, it was the largest killing spree by a single mass murderer in Pennsylvania history. Zardecki said it was the first mass murder where an AR-15 rifle was used.
And most of the victims were shot at close range.
The event was reported worldwide.
Banks, now 80, remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Phoenix.
While Zardecki was at Schoolhouse Lane, the phone rang. It was Banks' mother.
"She said George told her he did some terrible things - that he had shot all of his kids," Zardecki said. "And then she put George on the phone."
Zardecki said Banks said, "I know I killed them."
Zardecki tried to find out where Banks was. He told Banks that his kids were still alive and needed blood.
A Schoolhouse Lane neighbor told Zardecki that Banks was at his mother's house on Monroe Street.
"We all went there," he said. "We started to talk to try to negotiate with him to get him to surrender."
Then Zardecki said he heard a crash - Banks had used the butt of his rifle to break the glass in a second floor window.
"I saw George turn the rifle around and point it at us all," Zardecki said. "He said he was going to kill us all - he was screaming. We tried to calm him down. We talked to him to try to give him some hope. We were careful not to set him off to the point where he would start firing."
Zardecki said Banks would say that he didn't want his kids growing up in "a white racist world."
"He said it was a good day to die," Zardecki recalled. "We didn't know the weapon was an AR-15 at that time. We were told he was fully armed and that he might even have some grenades."
Zardecki said then Wilkes-Barre City Police Chief John Swim and others tried to talk to Banks, as did then Luzerne County District Attorney Robert Gillespie.
"Our goal was to get him out without anybody else getting hurt," Zardecki said. "We had been there for more than three hours before we finally got him out a little after noon, thanks to Bob Brunson, who told us he was a friend of Banks."
Zardecki said Gillespie asked Pat Ward of WILK radio to do a fake broadcast to try to convince Banks that his kids were still alive in hospitals and they needed blood.
"Banks never bought that," Zardecki said. "Bob Brunson deserves the credit for getting George to come out. Banks trusted him. Brunson convinced Banks that he was there to help and he needed him to come out."
Zardecki said the entire law enforcement team performed well that day.
"But we were more lucky than good that day," he said. "We were fortunate that nobody else got hurt that day. One wrong move could have resulted in more loss of life."
In archival photos of Sept. 25, 1982, law enforcement personnel are wearing protective vests.
"That AR-15 would have penetrated them, no doubt," Zardecki said.
Zardecki thinks of the Banks case and he talked about how fragile the human mind can be.
"Our children are what they live - they are a result of the atmosphere that they grow up in," Zardecki said. "This case has made me more sensitive to people and life. Bad people just don't happen - they develop for various reasons.
"But I think of that little girl more than anything else. I will never forget her."
On June 22, 1983, a jury from Allegheny County found Banks guilty of 13 counts of first-degree murder. The next day, the same panel returned 12 death sentences and one life sentence for the murders.
According to a Times Leader story in 2017, the night before the killings, Banks was at a birthday party in Wilkes-Barre where he drank beer, played darts and fawned over a woman's T-shirt that read "Kill Them All and Let God Sort It Out."
The story went on to say:
"Banks and the woman switched shirts, and he donned it underneath military-style fatigues the next morning when he methodically began walking through his home firing an AR-15 rifle.
"When the rampage ended hours later, Banks had killed 13 people at two homes - seven children, his three live-in girlfriends, an ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend's mother, and a bystander in the street. Five of the seven children were his own; he has fathered at least seven."
The story brought national attention to Wilkes-Barre.
Banks was found holed up at 24 Monroe St. in Wilkes-Barre - his mother's home - where swarms of police tried to convince him he should give himself up.
This was as sensational and horrific a story that could ever be. To this day, questions linger as to why Banks would ever do what he did to his own children and family.
In a Times Leader story in 2017, DA Gillespie, now deceased, recalled the case.
"You never forget seeing a child that has been brutally murdered," said Gillespie, who prosecuted Banks.
Gillespie and Attorney Al Flora Jr., who was the lead attorney for Banks' defense, battled in the courtroom over Banks' culpability and competency.
After a highly publicized trial that lasted just under two weeks, a jury from Allegheny County found Banks guilty of 13 counts of first-degree murder on June 22, 1983. The next day, the panel returned 12 death sentences and one life sentence for the murders.
"We had done nothing but work toward it for a year and there was some pride, but no pleasure, in hearing the jury actually assert he should be put to death," Gillespie said. "But if there was ever anyone who deserved the death penalty, in my opinion, it was George Banks."
Yet Banks was never executed and never will be - the death penalty was removed from his sentence.
In 1961, not long after Banks was discharged from the Army, that he committed his first serious violent crime - the shooting of an unarmed tavern-keeper during a robbery in 1961. He was sentenced to six to 15 years in prison, then was hit with additional time when he briefly escaped in 1964.
Despite the escape attempt, Banks was granted parole in 1969, and his sentence was commuted by Gov. Milton Shapp in 1974.
After prison, Banks was hired by the state, first by the Department of Environmental Resources, then as a guard at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill in Harrisburg.
Weeks before the murder spree, Banks was suspended from prison-guard duty after he locked himself in a guard tower with a shotgun and threatened to kill himself.
Fellow guards also had complained Banks had been talking about committing a mass killing.
He was placed on involuntary sick leave and was supposed to see a psychologist on Sept. 29, 1982, but four days earlier he embarked on the unprovoked killing spree that defense attorneys have long argued was a product of paranoid delusion.
Flora said he last met with Banks in 2010.
That year, after numerous rounds of appeals, Luzerne County Senior Judge Joseph Augello ruled Banks was too mentally ill to be executed, describing the inmate's mindset as a "tossed salad of ideas and beliefs."
Augello wrote that Banks is not competent to be executed "because he has a fixed, false belief, a delusion, that his sentence has been vacated by God, the governor and (former President) George W. Bush. He believes he is in prison illegally, and he should be going home. He should be out there ministering to the people, but there is a conspiracy against him."
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2012.
At trial, Banks' bizarre behavior was a constant obstacle, Flora recalled. He refused to cooperate with Flora and fellow defense attorneys Basil Russin and Joseph Sklarosky Sr., who had hoped to have him declared not guilty by reason of insanity.
Against Flora's advice, Banks took the stand in his own defense, then delivered a rambling account of the shootings. During that account, he showed jurors the gory photographs of his victims that his attorneys labored to keep out of trial. Banks, who is bi-racial, then claimed he had only wounded the victims and said racist police officers had fired the fatal shots to frame him.
Judge Patrick J. Toole presided at the trial.
Gillespie said Toole was clear on courtroom decorum - there would be no emotional outbursts from relatives of Banks or his victims.
Flora, who long has fought to have Banks declared incompetent, said the case is now considered closed, and Banks is destined to die in prison.
"Being locked in a cell 24 hours a day and being in isolation will have a profound effect on someone," Flora said. "George has significantly deteriorated. He is severely mentally ill - and there is likely no treatment for him."
Flora said he first met with Banks at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
"We met in the prison library," Flora said. "George was not handcuffed or shackled and there were no guards present."
Flora said Banks was always respectful and never raised his voice. He said he found Banks to be intelligent and articulate.
"But I soon realized that his thought process was more than a little bit skewed," Flora said. "He always said he shot everybody to save them from the race war that was coming."
George Banks' victims
-At Schoolhouse Lane
Regina Clemens (29) - girlfriend of George Banks.
Montanzima Banks (6) - daughter of Clemens and Banks.
Susan Yuhas (23) - girlfriend of Banks; sister of Regina Clemens.
Boende Banks (4) - son of Yuhas and Banks.
Mauritania Banks (20 months) - daughter of Yuhas and Banks.
Dorothy Lyons (29) - girlfriend of George Banks.
Nancy Lyons (11) - daughter of Dorothy Lyons.
Foraroude Banks (1) - son of Dorothy Lyons and George Banks.
Raymond F. Hall, Jr. (24) - bystander shot across from Banks' house on Schoolhouse Lane.
-At Heather Highlands mobile home
Sharon Mazzillo (24) - former girlfriend.
Kissmayu Banks (5) - son of Sharon Mazzillo and George Banks.
Scott Mazzillo (7) - nephew of Sharon Mazzillo.
Alice Mazzillo (47) - Sharon Mazzillo's mother.
James Olsen (22) - bystander, shot on Schoolhouse Lane.
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.