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Ex-con arrested in Georgia after alert

Man suspected in South Carolina killings and sexual assault

Stephen Stanko is escorted by a law enforcement officer after his arrest Tuesday.
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South Carolina police issued an alert for an ex-convict.

(CNN) -- An ex-convict suspected of killing two people and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in South Carolina over the weekend was captured Tuesday in Augusta, Georgia, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

Stephen Stanko, 37, was arrested without incident about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Augusta, said Chris Dudley, chief of domestic investigations for the Marshals Service.

He could appear before a federal magistrate on charges of wrongful flight to avoid prosecution as early as Tuesday afternoon, Dudley said.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Marshals Service announced it was offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Stanko's arrest.

On Monday, police in Horry County, South Carolina, alerted law enforcement agencies nationwide to be on the lookout for Stanko, who has served time in the past for kidnapping, aggravated assault and battery.

Lt. Andy Christenson said Tuesday before Stanko's capture that authorities had gained no leads after checking with his relatives in Charleston, South Carolina, and Fayetteville, North Carolina.

"He has been described to us as being well-dressed, being clean cut, being a smooth talker and being a very convincing individual," Christenson said in a news conference Monday.

The manhunt for Stanko began Friday after the 15-year-old in Murrells Inlet, on the northeast coast of the state, called authorities about 3 a.m. to report the sexual assault and the slaying of a woman, who was later identified as Laura Ling, 43, said Georgetown County Sheriff's Department spokesman Bill Nichols.

Authorities believe Ling and Stanko had dated.

Stanko allegedly stole Ling's 1994 red Mustang convertible, which was found early Saturday morning in Conway, South Carolina, parked in the driveway of a home, Nichols said.

Inside the home they found a 74-year-old man, Henry Lee Turner, dead from a gunshot to the head. Authorities said they believe he was killed Friday morning.

Turner's 1996 Mazda B2300 extended-cab pickup truck was missing from the home. Also missing from the home were several firearms, Christenson said.

Dudley said Turner's truck was found with Stanko when he was arrested Tuesday. But Christenson said Stanko was not carrying a weapon when he was arrested.

Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb said articles on Jeffrey Dahmer, Green River killer Gary Ridgway and other serial killers were found in Stanko's home.

"He either was just interested in serial killers or he was becoming a serial killer," Cribb said.

Stanko was released from prison in 2004 after serving more than eight years for kidnapping his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Buckner.

Buckner, who now lives in Massachusetts, said Stanko became violent when she confronted him about a series of lies.

"He had habitually lied about so many different things -- about jobs he maintained and been fired from," Buckner told CNN.

"And this one really escalated because he was involved in stealing automobiles from a car dealership and pretending to start a used car dealership with a neighbor friend."

Buckner said Stanko "has a very manipulative approach to things," trying to adjust his behavior to become "who he believes that person sees him as."

"He can make you believe something that you know for a fact is not the truth, but he has a very, very wicked way about twisting things around," Buckner said. "He tried to convince me it was not what I suspected."

Before Tuesday's arrest, a former police officer who wrote a book with Stanko said his co-author was becoming frustrated as he tried to adjust to life outside prison.

"You could tell the depression was setting in, because he kept describing himself as, you know, kind of getting slapped down constantly," said author and criminologist Gordon Crews, who has known Stanko since 2000, when they worked together on the book "Living in Prison."

Crews said that based on conversations he's had with others familiar with Stanko it appeared the suspect was repeating a pattern of past criminal behavior.

"What's been painted now is that basically, he kind of puts on a facade ... to move forward and accomplish what he's wanting to accomplish, whether it's employment or job or relationships," Crews said.

"Then once he's confronted with the lies -- if that is a difficult enough confrontation -- then apparently he resorts to violence."

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