In what bestselling author Michael Connelly describes as “One of the best insights into the mind and motives of a serial killer I’ve ever read,” authors Kathy Kelly and Diana Montane offer readers a true crime drama in I WOULD FIND A GIRL WALKING. Just before the technological age that would forever change the way law enforcement handled criminal investigations, Gerald Eugene Stano became one of the most prolific serial killers of his time. Without surveillance cameras, cell phones, DNA evidence, and computer communication between law enforcement agencies, it was basically a simpler time to allow people like Stano to go around in their precious cars looking for young girls to have sex… or what started like this. road.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Stano could be found surfing the world’s most famous beach, Daytona Beach, Florida, searching for his next victim. It’s hard to understand why these women chose Gerald Stano, who was what we would now probably call a nerd (?): chubby, polyester pantsuit and gold jewelry, large plastic-rimmed glasses, music-loving drunk drive (most of the time) and yet they did. But in I WOULD FIND A GIRL WALKING, Kathy Kelly takes her experience with Stano, gets inside the mind of this crazy man, and, along with Diana Montane, offers a glimpse of what motivated him.
At the time, Kathy Kelly was a reporter at The Daytona Beach News-Journal and, being on the “police beat,” was the one who wrote the stories about these murders and Stano. Kathy’s reporting caught Stano’s attention, as he loved reading his own press and he would only accept interviews if Kathy did them. Her other connection was to DBPD Sgt. Paul Raven. Crow, who had studied at the FBI Academy at Quantico, was able to connect with Stano in a way no other law enforcement officer could, and he was also the one Stano trusted. Since many of the murders were committed in other jurisdictions, law enforcement officers from those locations would work through Crow to deal with Stano. Once Stano took a liking to Kathy Kelly, he agreed to answer her questions so she could get all the facts and reciprocate. Kathy kept all her letters in a shoe box at her house with the idea of working someday to put them in 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 important, especially for the authors, are the stories of the victims and their families. Taking 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 to be. Yes, some of the women were runaways or prostitutes, but there was also the graduating senior on a field trip, a dancer, a cheerleader, a local champion swimmer, and even a petite young roller skater. All of these girls had families and lives ahead of them, and Kathy makes sure readers know their stories. There are even two of the girls who had twin brothers, so being victims was not the only coincidence. Included are their families and how they dealt with each loss, as well as what some are doing today. Woven together to make for an intense and riveting 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 being the unwanted child of a prostitute to a much-wanted baby of an adoptive father who fought to keep him even after he was labeled “unadoptable.” Gerald’s relationship with his adoptive parents is described even to the end. Confessing to killing some 40 women in Florida, one would think Stano would feel remorse, and yet he is described as someone who would never believe he spent years on death row, even at one point alongside another infamous killer in series, Ted Bundy. . Stano could be found knitting blankets for the children of inmates and even sending Kathy a scarf and hat that he knitted for her once. It was obvious from reading the book and later in the letters that are verbatim in the appendix that Gerald liked Kathy. She even asked Paul Crow if she was married. For Kathy, it was a difficult and emotional journey to “get the story” and stay sane while this madman thought of them as friends. The lyrics at the back of the book are quite significant after reading the story, as Kathy interjects personal observations to explain some of what Gerald writes. 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 chose a victim, and said very casually that “I would find a girl walking…”. Also included in a second appendix are all the letters to his “good friend” Paul Crow.
It is described how Stano is finally convicted and which of the murders is the one that finally gets him executed. The book even has some photographs, but as the authors are quick to point out, none of them are gruesome. Stano was executed in 1998 and always willing to make people think, he changed his stories, retracted his confessions and blamed Paul Crow while he claimed his innocence in a letter he left to the his lawyer. With his insinuations of knowing more than he was saying before his death, we’ll never know how many more women he actually killed. However, the suspicion that he tried to cast on Crow was investigated and, of course, cleared up. Montane, in a recent radio interview, said of Stano, “I felt he was a very average but cunning individual…self-inflated with a grandiose image of himself…a killer of women, a real killer of women.” I guess that says it all, but one thing I’m sure of is that he’s made me see strangers differently, no matter how charming they may seem, I’m careful when I’m alone. As a resident of Daytona Beach, I still get goosebumps when I think of all the places Stano worked and frequented that are so familiar to me. I wonder every day where he was at a certain time and wasn’t it REALLY possible that I ran into him too? Good thing I rarely walk anywhere!