In what best selling author Michael Connelly describes as “One of the best looks inside the mind and motives of a serial killer that I’ve ever read”, authors Kathy Kelly and Diana Montane give readers a true crime drama in I WOULD FIND A GIRL WALKING. Just prior to the technological age that would change the way law enforcement would handle criminal investigations forever, Gerald Eugene Stano became one of the most prolific serial killers of his time. Without surveillance cameras, cells phones, DNA evidence, and computer communication between law enforcement agencies, it was basically a simpler time allowing the likes of Stano to ride around in his treasured cars looking for young girls for sex…or what started out that way.
Late in the 1960s and 1970s, Stano could be found cruising around the World’s Most Famous Beach – Daytona Beach, Florida, in search of his next victim. It is hard to understand why these women went with Gerald Stano who was what we might now probably call a nerd (?) – chubby, polyester pant suits and gold jewelry, large plastic framed glasses, disco music loving drunk (most of the time) and yet, they did. But in I WOULD FIND A GIRL WALKING, Kathy Kelly takes her experience with Stano, goes inside the mind of this madman, and along with Diana Montane, provides a glimpse into what made him tick.
At the time, Kathy Kelly was a reporter at The Daytona Beach News-Journal and being on the “police beat”, was the one to write the stories about these killings and Stano. Kathy’s reporting caught Stano’s attention as he loved to read his own press and he would only agree to interviews if it was Kathy who did them. His other connection was with DBPD Sgt. Paul Crow. Crow, who had studied at the FBI Academy in Quantico, was able to connect with Stano in a way no other lawman could, and so was the one that Stano put his trust in. Since so many of the murders were committed in other jurisdictions, the lawmen from those places would work through Crow to deal with Stano. Once Stano took a liking to Kathy Kelly, he agreed to answer questions for her so she could get all the facts and they corresponded. Kathy kept all his letters in a shoe box in her home with thoughts of someday working to put them into some kind of book.
Along with fellow reporter Montane, they worked for two years to tell Stano’s story and the description of the crimes he committed are compelling. More importantly especially to the authors, are the stories of the victims and their families. Taking the details from Stano’s letters, the authors have written a haunting story that readers will find hard to put down. Many of the chapters are devoted to the victims and how their part of the story came about. Yes, some of the women were runaways or prostitutes, but there also was the graduating senior on a class trip, a dancer, a cheerleader, a local champion swimmer, and even a tiny, young skater. All of these girls had families and lives ahead of them and Kathy makes sure readers knows their stories. There are even two of the girls who had twin brothers so being victims wasn’t the only coincidence. Their families and how they dealt with each loss as well as what some are doing today are included. Intertwined to make an intense and fascinating read, I WOULD FIND A GIRL WALKING will keep you turning pages as it surely did for me.
Gerald Stano’s background is also written about from when he was the unwanted child of a prostitute to a very much wanted baby of an adoptive parent who fought to keep him even after he was labeled “inadoptable”. Gerald’s relationship with his adoptive parents even up until the end is described. In confessing to killing about 40 women all around Florida, you would think Stano would have remorse and yet he is described as someone who you never would believe was spending years on death row, even at some point next to another infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy. Stano could be found knitting blankets for inmates’ children and even sending Kathy a scarf and hat he knitted for her one time. It was obvious as you read the book and later in the letters that are there verbatim in the appendix, that Gerald took a liking to Kathy. He even asked Paul Crow if she was married. For Kathy, it was a difficult and emotional journey to “get the story” and keep herself sane while this madman thought of them as friends. The letters in the back of the book are quite meaningful after reading the story as Kathy interjects personal observations to explain some of what Gerald writes about. In fact, it is from one of the letters that the authors got the title of the book. Gerald Stano had written to explain how he picked a victim, and he said very casually that “I would find a girl walking….”. In a second appendix, all the letters to his “good friend” Paul Crow are also included.
How Stano is finally convicted and which of the murders is the one that finally gets him executed is described. The book even has some photographs but as the authors are quick to say, none of them are gruesome. Stano was executed in 1998 and always one to make people think, he changed his stories, recanted his confessions and put the blame on Paul Crow while claiming his innocence in a letter left with his lawyer! With his hints at knowing more than he was telling before his death, we will never know how many more women he really killed. However, the suspicion he tried to throw on Crow was investigated and of course, cleared. Montane in a recent radio interview said about Stano, “I felt he was a very average but cunning individual…self-inflated with a grandiose image of himself…a lady killer, a real lady killer”. I guess that says it all but one thing I know for sure is that it has made me look at strangers differently, no matter how charming they may appear, I am careful when I am out alone. As a resident of Daytona Beach, chills still run up and down my spine as I think of all the places Stano worked and frequented that are so familiar to me. I ask myself each day where I was at a certain time and wasn’t it REALLY possible I, too, must have run into him? Good thing for me I rarely walk anywhere!