Many people contributed in some way, small or large, to this book. To those who requested anonymity, please know how grateful I am for your assistance. To the others, I would like to thank you here:
McKither Bodison, Warden, Lieber Correctional Institution; Michael C. “Mickey” Braswell, at East Tennessee State University; Kelly Lee Brosky, at the Horry County Office of Public Information; Elizabeth McLendon Buckner; Patti Burns, at the Georgetown County Library; forensic pathologist Dr. Kimberly A. Collins; Dr. Gordon Crews, Associate Professor, Marshall University; Kathleen “Kelly” Crolley and the Owl-O-Rest Factory Outlet furniture store in Surfside Beach, South Carolina; Sergeant Robert A. Cross, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office; librarian extraordinaire Margaret Devereaux; my agent, Jake Elwell, Harold Ober Associates; the manager of International and Business Affairs at truTV, Laura Forti; Ann M. Fotiades, Unit Manager, CBS News Information Resources; Greg Froom, at the
South Carolina Lawyers Weekly;
Ginger Gaskins-Weiss, at the Office of the Berkeley County Attorney; Sergeant Jeff Gause, Horry County Police Department; South Carolina Department of Corrections Communications director Josh Gelinas; Laura Ling’s tennis buddy, Janis Walker Gilmore; Kensington editor Gary Goldstein; Georgetown County public defender Reuben Goude; the J. Reuben Long Detention Center; the Honorable Deadra L. Jefferson; Margaret Knox, at the Office of General Counsel, SLED; Tracy Minarik, of BlueWaters Pottery, at the Center for Clay Arts, Little River, South Carolina; U.S. Marshal Thedus Mayo; Keith Moore; Maria Montas, CBS News Archives; Captain Bill Pierce, at the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office; Tonya Root, of the
Stanko’s high-school science teacher, Clarice Wenz; and Hillary Winburn, at the Conway Library.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
Weak and dazed, a small female voice whimpered incoherently on the other end of the line. “Uh . . . uh . . . I . . .”
“May I help you?” the male dispatcher asked.
“I, uh . . .” For a moment, the voice sounded far away.
A deep breath: “I’m at my house and I’ve been
She spit out the last word through clenched teeth.
“What’s your address?”
“My mom is dead.”
“Okay. What—what, what’s your address?” the dispatcher stammered.
She recited her address. The operator asked her to check her mother: “See if she has a pulse.”
“I can’t. My hands are tied.”
“Okay, just hang on.” The tape picked up the sound of the dispatcher typing on a keyboard.
“Ma’am, ma’am, just stay on the phone with me. I’ve got people on the way, okay? . . . So who did this?”
“My mom’s boyfriend.”
“Your mom’s boyfriend. What’s his name?”
The victim now elongated her words and enunciated carefully: “Ste-phen Stan-ko.” She started to cry. “I’m scared,” she said. He had made her watch while he killed her mother.
“Calm down for a second, okay. I’m going to put you on with another dispatcher, okay?”
“Okay, hold on.”
After a pause, a mature and calm female voice came on the line. “Hey,” she said.
“Hi,” the victim replied. “I’m bleeding from my ear.”
“You’re bleeding from your ear?”
“Oh God! Oh God!”
“Did he try to hurt you?”
“He raped me!”
“He raped you?”
“My hands are still tied!”
“You’re still tied up?”
“Okay. We got men out there. They should be there shortly.”
“Please hurry. Help me, help me, help me.”
“Is he around, do you know?”
“No, he left. Oh God, this isn’t supposed to happen to me. There’s blood everywhere. I think he cut . . . he cut my neck.”
“Did you ever think he might do something like this?”
“No, no. I want my mommy,” she said.
“How old are you?”
“Fifteen. I tried to put up a fight. I tried! I tried!”
“Did he hit you or something?”
“Oh God, yes! Mommy—oh God—Mommy!”
The dispatcher kept the girl on the line until help arrived. The girl was letting out high-pitched cries of anguish, repeating again and again that her mother was dead.
“What’s taking them so long?”
“They will be right there, honey.”
“I want my mommy. Please help my mommy.”
One of the first responders to the scene of horror was Charles “Chuck” Petrella, a young paramedic with the rescue squad. Petrella talked to Penny and stayed with her as she was ambulanced to the hospital, leaving her dead mother behind.
Petrella, a father himelf, was moved by Penny, and the next day came to visit her in the hospital. On his way, he stopped at the hospital gift shop and bought her a teddy bear, little knowing that one day she would clutch that teddy bear tightly even as she sat in a court of law delivering testimony that could send her attacker, the murderer of her mother, to death row.