Don’t miss Orioles players, John Means & Paul Fry, as they guest host at our Brews and O’s event!

Killer casts a shadow of violence

The Baltimore Sun

Lawrence Banks could have his parole revoked today for not reporting that he had moved and for allegedly slapping a woman.

But those infractions aren't really why law enforcement officials want Banks behind bars. They want him locked up because his girlfriend's daughter and granddaughter were shot to death in December in Laurel.

Banks has not been charged in those killings, but Elizabeth Bartholomew, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, said Prince George's County police questioned Banks and wanted him held on possible parole violations while their homicide investigation continues.

Cpl. Diane Richardson, a Prince George's police spokeswoman, said yesterday that Banks "has not been eliminated" as a suspect in the Laurel killings and that she could not comment further on the investigation.

The parole commissioner who hears Banks' case today cannot consider the double slaying and can keep Banks in prison only if he determines that Banks violated the terms of his parole. If the violations are not substantiated, Banks could be free by nightfall.

Authorities would much prefer that the 53-year-old remain in a prison cell, where he already has spent nearly half his life. A City College graduate and former Marine, Banks has a frightening 30-year history during which the people closest to him keep turning up dead or severely injured.

He was convicted of throwing a baby daughter through a glass door in 1975. He was convicted of killing a friend and then his own son on a single day in 1991. His first wife's body was found in a closet in East Baltimore, although no one was charged in her death.

A Baltimore prosecutor found his brutality so alarming that she obtained a gun permit, according to a letter she wrote to city police about Banks.

The assault on his infant occurred a few days after Christmas 1975. Banks was at his mother's home near Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore, arguing with his wife, Vivian Banks, when, according to police reports, he drunkenly warned the women he was "going to do something to this baby you'll both regret."

A moment later the women heard the sound of glass breaking and a crash. They rushed to the hallway at the front of the house, where they found Banks' 7-month-old daughter lying bloody on the floor and the glass door shattered. Vivian Banks ran to Hopkins with the injured baby, who survived but needed nearly two dozen stitches on her head, police reports say.

Banks was charged with assault with intent to disfigure. Charging documents in that case say that Vivian Banks "was afraid her husband, Lawrence Banks, would kill her or her children."

It was while he was on bail awaiting trial in that case that police found the body of his wife in a closet of an East Baltimore apartment she had been renting.

Because the body had been decomposing for several weeks, the medical examiner could not determine a cause of death, but court documents in several criminal proceedings against Banks show that detectives believed he had killed her. Less than a year earlier, he had been charged with assault with intent to murder Vivian Banks.

The charging documents in that case say that police watched Banks hold an 8-inch steak knife to her throat and drag her into an East Baltimore house. The officers persuaded Banks to drop the knife and arrested him, the documents say. Although Vivian Banks told police that he threatened to kill her, she later requested that the charge against her husband be dropped. It was.

In October 1976, Banks was convicted of the assault on his daughter. In a pre-sentencing report, an investigator concluded he "is a dangerous and hostile individual who has callous disregard for other people. He has a high potential for violent acting out of anger and hostility. He is very impulsive and he is hypersensitive to the point of bordering on being paranoid."

He was sentenced to 15 years.

In December 1988, at age 35, Banks was released from prison and returned to Baltimore. He soon moved in with a girlfriend, Janet Toliver, and their baby daughter, court documents say.

About that time, he also fathered a son with another woman, Sharon Elliott, the documents say. By then, his two children with Vivian Banks were in their teens.

Drink, drive, die

If anyone had harbored the view that prison had softened Banks, the events of Nov. 19, 1991, would prove otherwise.

He and two friends spent hours together drinking and driving before finding themselves on a roadside in Pasadena in the early morning hours. There, Banks pulled out a gun and shot one of his companions to death. Banks and the other companion, Charles Pannell, drove off, leaving Michael Chisholm's body on the side of the road.

Pannell later told a court, "I feared for my life, too."

Hours later and about 20 miles to the north in Baltimore, Banks shot his 17-year old son, Lawrence Jr., in the head, as the boy cowered in a kitchen corner in the foster home where he was living on Northern Parkway.

While police never identified a motive for the Chisholm killing, they determined that Banks killed his son because Lawrence Jr. and his sister had reported being severely beaten by Banks on several occasions. The girl - whom Banks had thrown through glass as a baby - also said her father had raped her while he was drunk.

Banks learned that Baltimore child abuse detectives were building a case against him and, at a custody hearing Nov. 12, 1991, he heard in detail about his children's allegations. Seven days later, Banks shot his son to death.

The girl told detectives that she feared her father had meant to kill her as well, police reports say. She said he had come looking for her at school and "had threatened her occasionally with meeting the same fate as her mother," according to a police report.

For the death of Lawrence Jr., Banks entered an Alford plea, a no-contest plea in which the defendant does not admit guilt but admits there is enough evidence for a conviction.

Months later in Anne Arundel County, he pleaded guilty to killing Chisholm. Prosecutors in both jurisdictions say they pushed for plea deals over trials because of problems with witnesses and evidence.

Each deal resulted in a 20-year prison term - to be served at the same time.

Baltimore prosecutors were "perplexed and devastated" to learn of the second plea through newspaper articles at the time, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office. She said city prosecutors had believed the Arundel case would go to trial.

Anne Arundel County prosecutors say that nothing in their files shows any agreement with Baltimore City. And, in fact, Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, who presided over the Lawrence Jr. murder case, noted in court records that Banks' term for that killing could be served concurrently with any other sentences.

As it was, Banks collected enough "good-time credits" in prison to be released under mandatory supervision in October 2002. It was as he was being released that Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney Sharon A.H. May, who prosecuted Banks for the Lawrence Jr. murder, wrote letters requesting emergency gun permits for herself and for a local woman who had custody of one of his children.

May, now a defense attorney, would not comment.

Banks returned briefly to Baltimore. He changed his name to Malik Samartaney, remarried and moved to Laurel. But a familiar pattern soon emerged.

Court records show Banks' new wife, Patricia Samartaney, secured three protective orders against him in 2003 and 2004. Those orders could have resulted in parole violations, but Bartholomew, the parole spokeswoman, said agents did not know about them at the time because they don't routinely check civil court records.

The violence seemed to escalate. In May 2004, Patricia Samartaney filed assault charges against Banks in Anne Arundel County District Court.

In court documents, Patricia Samartaney alleged that Banks threatened to kill her, tried to suffocate her with a pillow and choked her with a vacuum cleaner hose. "I must kill you," she quoted Banks telling her. Then he put a knife to her throat and said he would dump her body in the Patuxent River, she said in the court documents.

He was arrested for assault and spent much of 2004 and 2005 in jail. But a jury found him not guilty in April 2005, and he was released.

If the official records suggest a brutish nature, some who know Banks - acquaintances as well as investigators - say that he also had the capacity to ingratiate. Some describe him as a master manipulator who could behave quite normally.

A pre-sentencing investigator in 1976 noted, "He is not at all the person that he presents himself to be. He lies smoothly and talks smoothly. He is quite skilled at misrepresenting himself."

Banks told the same investigator that he liked to travel and to read, particularly Reader's Digest. He said his goal was to get "the best things out of life that I could afford."

He admitted to a quick temper but insisted, "I have a pretty good personality."

"I don't like violence," he added.

Lots of letters

Banks was a prolific letter-writer while in prison, court files show. He routinely ridiculed the evidence against him and begged judges to release him. He called one search warrant "so false and misleading that ... I felt my intelligence being assaulted."

When he wasn't in prison, Banks regularly held jobs, Bartholomew, the parole spokeswoman, said. Court reports show he worked as a salesman, a carwash employee and a home improvement contractor.

A Prince George's County attorney, Erik D. Frye, got to know Banks after Banks was injured in a 2003 car accident while delivering office furniture. Frye litigated the worker's compensation claim for three years.

"I thought he was a character," Frye said in a recent interview. "He was an absolute gentleman to my staff."

When Frye and his employees heard news reports in mid-December that Banks was a suspect in the double shooting in Laurel, "we just couldn't believe it," Frye said. "It was extraordinarily upsetting."

By late last year, Banks had separated from his wife and moved to a Laurel rooming house with a woman, whom police would not identify; her daughter, Lisa Laverne Brown, 22; and her baby granddaughter, Labria.

Just before noon Dec. 12, Brown and Labria were shot to death in the rooming house, on Engleman Drive.

Protective order

Brown had trouble with Banks and requested a protective order on Dec. 1. In filling out the paperwork, she wrote that the two had argued about baby-sitting the 9-month-old. Then, she wrote, Banks slapped her.

A Prince George's County judge approved the order, and sheriff's deputies tried at least three times to serve Banks with notice, said Lt. Joe Aiello, a sheriff's spokesman.

The last time a deputy tried to serve Banks was Dec. 12 at the Engleman Drive house. Hours later, police found Brown and her baby shot to death.

Banks' parole agent got a call from the Prince George's County police, said Bartholomew, the parole spokeswoman, asking that Banks be held on any parole violations. The police tipped off the agent about Brown's protective order, which could be evidence of a parole violation. The agent also found that Banks might have changed his address without notification, another possible violation.

"They wanted to hold him," Bartholomew said of Prince George's County police. Banks was arrested for the alleged parole infractions on Dec. 13, the day after the Laurel killings.

Today, at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup, a parole commissioner will decide whether to send him back to prison, possibly until 2016. If that happens, Banks would end up serving all of his 20 years for the two murders in 1991.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Timeline

July 3, 1975

Baltimore police officers see Lawrence Banks hold a knife to his wife's throat and drag her into a Baltimore rowhouse.

He is arrested that day, but the wife, Vivian Banks, later requests charges be dropped.

Dec. 27, 1975

Lawrence Banks' 7-month-old daughter receives 22 stitches after being thrown through a glass door at the family home in Baltimore.

Banks is later convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

April 1976

Police find Vivian Banks dead in a closet of an apartment she rented. Medical examiner cannot determine a cause of death.

December 1988

Lawrence Banks released from prison in the case of the assault on his daughter.

Fall 1991

Lawrence Banks' teenage son and teenage daughter accuse him of severely beating them. The daughter also accuses her father of rape. Baltimore child abuse detectives begin investigating.

Nov. 19, 1991

Michael Chisholm is shot to death in Pasadena. Banks later pleads guilty to the murder.

Lawrence Banks' 17-year-old son, Lawrence Jr., is shot to death at his foster home in Baltimore.

Banks later pleads no-contest to the murder.

For both crimes, Banks is sentenced to concurrent 20-year prison terms.

October 2002

Lawrence Banks is released from prison in the two murder cases.

May 2004

Banks' second wife charges him with assault in Anne Arundel County District Court. She alleges he threatened to kill her and choked her. He spent nine months in jail awaiting trial and was found not guilty by a jury.

Dec. 1, 2006

Lawrence Banks' girlfriend's daughter receives a peace order that he stay away from her. The 22-year-old Lisa Laverne Brown wrote that he had slapped her during an argument about baby-sitting her 9-month-old daughter.

Dec. 12, 2006

Brown and her baby daughter, Labria, are found shot to death in the Laurel rooming house where they lived with Banks. Prince George's County police are investigating.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
64°