May 07, 2021

Man arrested in death of ex-Mainer in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. — A woman abducted for four days by a man accused of murdering a former Mainer in Orlando’s tourist district told police her captor made her drink alcohol during her ordeal so he could control her better.

Police said Tuesday that James Hartsock told his victim, “I’ll kill you. I’ve killed before and I won’t hesitate to do it again” when he abducted her from the parking lot of a shopping mall last Wednesday.

He told her that he had killed a man and raped a woman two days earlier behind a hotel near Universal Studios Florida, police said.

The 22-year-old airline employee saved her life by talking to Hartsock and winning his confidence. She eventually convinced him to free her Sunday night, said Sgt. Bill Mulloy, an Orlando police spokesman.

“She saved her own life by talking with him and having him talk to her,” Mulloy said.

Hartsock, a 25-year-old Orlando construction worker, was arrested Monday after a police officer in Holly Hill, about 50 miles northeast of Orlando, spotted him in the victim’s stolen Jeep. After a 15-mile chase, the officer captured Hartsock by ramming his patrol car into Hartsock’s vehicle in an Ormond Beach parking lot. Two hitchhikers were with him in the Jeep.

Hartsock was being held without bond Tuesday on charges stemming from the murder and rape. The abductee was examined for sexual assault but police wouldn’t discuss the results.

Police said Hartsock bludgeoned to death 26-year-old Richard Anthony Banaitis and raped a woman Banaitis had just met. The attack occurred April 28 outside the Radisson Twin Towers, across the street from Universal Studios Florida.

The arrest came hours after Banaitis, who grew up in Sabattus, Maine, was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in nearby Lewiston. An aspiring model who moved to Florida seven years ago, Banaitis worked at an Orlando resort.

It was the first of four murders in a three-day period last week near International Drive, an entertainment corridor lined with hotels, family restaurants, water rides, miniature golf courses and outlet shopping malls.

After the attack, Hartsock laid low, police said.

He kidnapped the Virgin Atlantic Airlines employee Wednesday night because he was running out of money and needed transportation, Mulloy said. He approached her in the parking lot of a shopping mall, cut her on the side with a pair of scissors and threatened her.

During the next four days, Hartsock and the woman drove to Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Longboat Key, Melbourne, Sarasota and St. Augustine. They slept in the jeep in parks and remote places and only ate meals at fast-food drive-ins, Mulloy said.

“He liked beaches,” Mulloy said. “He had been to these places before and wanted to go there before he was captured.”

At first, Hartsock made the woman drink alcohol so that he would have better control over her, police said. The woman, a nondrinker, often got sick from the alcohol.

“When he forced her to drink liquor and intoxicated her he felt more confident,” said Detective Jon Parks, the lead investigator.

Eventually she gained his confidence. Hartsock told the woman about the murder and rape and said he didn’t know why he did it but that he was extremely drunk, Mulloy said.

At least once, Hartsock and the woman went into a public place together. At a convenience store where they went to buy a toothbrush and something to drink, the woman tried to make eye contact with people and let them know she needed help. But they ignored her.

“It was like people didn’t understand her or didn’t want to get involved,” Mulloy said.

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