George Emil Banks is the man responsible for the largest single mass murder in Pennsylvania. On 25 September 1982, he shot and killed 13 people including five of his own children while in a haze of alcohol and drugs and in a delusional obsessive mental state. Sentenced to death in 1983, he has received a stay of execution twice as legal teams debate his mental capacity and ability to understand the proceedings against him.

George Banks being taken for sentencing at Luzerne County Courthouse.

George Banks being taken for sentencing at Luzerne County Courthouse.

This is a man who has committed the most horrific of crimes, brutally taking the lives of not only innocent adults but children who had done no wrong and had no ability to defend themselves. All but one of his victims were known to him and in the shadows of dark delusions about an impending race war coming to the world, George Banks is presented as a man who believed he was saving his children from the same racism and abuse he suffered throughout his childhood.

George Emil Banks was born in 1942 and grew up in the suburbs of Wiles-Barre in Pennsylvania, a city whose population is almost 80% white. Banks was a mixed-race child born to an African-American father and white mother. He experienced racism from an early age both against himself and against his mother who people ostracised because she had married and had a child with a black man. Experiences which are claimed to have deeply affected a young George and were carried with him into his adulthood.

At 17-years-old he joined the Army looking for a successful and secure career which was not to be when disagreements with his superiors found him being discharged two years later. In 1961 George Banks was convicted of armed robbery when he and accomplices robbed a store in South Scranton with a shotgun, shooting and wounding the store owner. Banks served 8 years in prison for his participation in the crime and was released back into the community in 1969.

His dating history was equally as chaotic, with a short marriage to a black woman producing two children ending in divorce in 1976. After the breakdown of this relationship, Banks decided he would only date white women and went out of his way to start relationships in keeping with his new philosophy. By 1982 he had purchased a house in Wiles-Barre and was living with three younger women who he had met and offered accommodation to when they were vulnerable and on the streets, viewing George Banks as a person who could provide them with stability and roof over their heads.  Decisions which would later cost them their lives.

40-year-old George Banks had four children with Dorothy Lyons, 29, Regina Clemens, 29, and Susan Yuhas, 23 and a young 5-year-old son with ex-girlfriend 24-year-old Sharon Mazzillo, who lived in her own mobile home with their son 4 miles away in Jenkins Township. The relationship with Sharon Mazzillo had ended badly and Banks was engaged in a bitter custody battle for his son. Although he had been granted parental responsibility, Sharon Mazzillo was not complying with the court order and insisted on keeping their son living with her.

Since his release from prison, George Banks appeared have calmed his criminal activities and had held down a number of jobs, although never remained in the same role for long. In 1980 he gained employment as a prison guard at Camp Hill State Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, despite his criminal record. His time there, however, had become strained and in the weeks before his shooting spree he had been placed on medical leave and referred to a mental health centre after displaying unbalanced behaviour at the prison and making threats against his children and himself.

The Mass Shooting

After a night of drinking and taking prescription drugs, Banks, in the early hours of 25 September 1982, shot and killed the three women he lived with and the five children in the house. When he left dressed in full combat military clothing he shot at two men leaving a house across the street telling them they would not be able to tell anyone they had seen him. 22-year old Jimmy Olsen survived the shots but his friend, 24-year-old Ray Hall, was killed instantly.

Banks then went to find his former girlfriend, Sharon Mazzillo, and their son at the nearby mobile home park. After forcing entry he shot and killed Sharon Mazzillo, her 7-year-old nephew Scott Mazzillo, her mother Alice Mazzillo and his own 5-year-old son Kissmayu Banks. Sharon’s young brothers were also in the mobile home that day and hid when they heard the shots, calling police as soon as they were able telling them George Banks had just entered their home and began shooting.

The victims of George Banks: Montanzima Banks and Kissmayu Banks (top), Scott Mazzillo and Nancy Lyons (bottom).

The victims of George Banks: Montanzima Banks and Kissmayu Banks (top), Scott Mazzillo and Nancy Lyons (bottom).

After this report, police soon discovered the bodies lying dead in Bank’s own home and connected the shootings of the two men across the street to a now on the loose and dangerous George Banks. After visiting his mother’s home and confessing what he had done, Banks locked himself inside an empty house with his automatic rifle and refused to come out. After four hours of negotiation, the words of a former colleague resonated with Banks and he surrendered his weapon and came out of the house peacefully.

A Disturbed Mind

In psychiatric interviews after the shootings George Banks spoke of a “conspiracy he believes had been plotted against him, overwhelming his thoughts,” Dr. Michael Spodak, Chief of Psychiatry at Baltimore Country General Hospital said.

“In my opinion he was completely irrational. 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.”

While Dr. Spodak felt George Banks was “terminally paranoid” and not competent to stand trial, another psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Sadoff testifying at a pre-trial hearing on behalf of the prosecution, felt although he exhibited “bizarre” behaviour, George Banks fully understood the charges that were made against him. The judge agreed with Dr. Sadoff and ruled Banks legally competent to stand trial.

The Trial

Due to the extensive media reporting on the case, the jury for the multiple murder trial of George Emil Banks had been selected from Pittsburgh 260 miles away and the trial began on 6 June 1983 at Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. He insisted in testifying in his own trial against the advice of his attorneys who were arguing Banks was criminally insane and could not be held responsible for his actions. His attorney presented a man with disturbed and paranoid thoughts and a fixation on an impending race war he believed was coming to the world. Said to be suffering from paranoia psychosis at the time of the shootings, defence psychiatrists testified he believed he had not murdered his family but a white police detective had killed them.

On the stand Banks exclaimed it was the police who had killed the victims, he had just wounded them and if they would let him exhume the victims’ bodies he could prove his theory. He demanded the jury look at the gruesome crime scene photographs again, claiming this evidence would prove he did not kill anyone. He told the jury his actions were the result of his drinking alcohol and taking drugs the night before and due to the build-up of abuse he had suffered throughout his life.

During his trial, the two 10-year-old children who were in the mobile home on the day of the shootings and survived only by hiding from Banks, testified how they saw their step-brother shoot their mother, sister, and nephew. A gas-station attendant also testified against Banks, recounting how a man he now knew to be George Banks stole his car at gunpoint and told him he had just killed his children.  He told the court Banks was carrying a semi-automatic rifle.

The emergency operator who received a 911 call on September 25 told the court what she heard over the phone. “She said someone was there assaulting her and her kids, and there 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.”

The mother of George Banks and his friends and co-workers all stated that Banks struggled as a child being mixed race and the racism he had been subjected to had changed him, leaving him with a resentment against both races as a result.

While both sides agreed on the paranoia psychosis diagnosis, they disagreed on whether due to this mental state George Banks fully understood his actions and knew right and wrong in relation to carrying them out. The prosecution maintained that although mental illness may have contributed to his behaviour and his actions, George Banks knew what he was doing and killed the women in his life and his children as he felt he was losing control over them. They brought in testimony that Banks had abused past girlfriends and witnesses who said they saw Banks physically assaulting the women who lived in the house with him.

A Death Sentence and The Appeals Process

On 21 June 1983, George Emil Banks was found guilty of 12 counts of first-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault and robbery, theft and endangering the life of another person and the jury recommended the death penalty the following day.

His attorneys have continued to argue that George Banks lacked the mental competency to be executed. Since his conviction and during his numerous appeals, George Banks repeatedly tried to take his own life and engaged in a hunger strike resulting in the need to be force fed in order to keep him alive. His death warrant was signed by the Pennsylvania Governor twice, once in 1996 and again in 1999, both times he received a stay of execution.

George Banks in 2010 at Bernard Brominski Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

George Banks in 2010 at Bernard Brominski Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

From his conviction until 2000, Bank’s defence team filed six appeals across the State Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court, the Federal Court, and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, all of which were denied. In October 2001, upon another appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the death penalty for George Banks was overturned based on the ruling from Mills V Maryland in 1988 regarding how juries are instructed in death penalty cases with the Court of Appeals deciding that this ruling should be applied to cases re-dating that trial. However, two years later, in June 2003, this decision was overruled by the US Supreme Court and George Banks once again faced the death penalty.

Scheduled for death for the third time a last minute decision was received from the State Supreme Court stating that George Banks needed to be re-evaluated to see if he had the mental capacity and competency to be executed. In 2010 it was finally ruled George Emil Banks was not competent to be executed.

“Banks is out of touch with reality. He views his circumstances and the events around him through the prism of his delusions. His delusional beliefs are at the core of his understanding of his current legal situation, including the reasons for his continued incarceration and his possible execution.”

This ruling has been challenged numerous times since it was made but it appears the decision still holds and, as it stands, George Emil Banks will not be executed for the 13 murders he carried out in 1982. Now in his 70s, he remains on death row in Pennsylvania in case his mental state is ever deemed competent once again. In his last known hearing in 2010 he told the court he was “willing to die” as death to him he said, “would deliver his soul back to the Lord”.