Son charged in dismemberment death of mother, stepfather in Penn Hills
A man with a history of mental illness who recently attacked his sister and father turned on his mother and stepfather, stabbing them, dismembering them, and stuffing their body parts into garbage cans in their Penn Hills home, police said Wednesday.
Frederick Cooper Harris III, 47, told a court-appointed psychiatrist three years ago that he had a “great” childhood and maintained close relationships with his family members.
Wednesday afternoon, investigators with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Olivia and Lamar Gilbert, 73 and 76 respectively, died of injuries inflicted by a sharp instrument, likely the five bloodied kitchen knives, some with bent blades and broken handles, police say they recovered from one of seven garbage cans discovered in the Gilberts’ garage.
Police charged Harris with two counts each of homicide and abuse of a corpse.
Harris, who was lying unresponsive in a bed in a locked bedroom when Penn Hills police burst into the Gilberts’ home Tuesday, had a note in his pocket that read: “Hello Fred Thanks for house sitting and fixing up the place while we are on vacation. See You soon, tell everyone hello. Mr and Mrs Gilbert Lamar PS Don’t answer the door for anyone,” according to the criminal complaint.
His sister, Angela, called 911 because she hadn’t heard from her mother since Saturday, Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said. He said there were no prior issues at the house.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Angela Harris declined to comment.
“I just can’t talk right now,” she said.
Warrant out since March
Westmoreland County Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro said there has been a warrant for Harris’ arrest since March. Prosecutors attempted to revoke his parole there because he failed to undergo a mental health evaluation or follow its recommendations. That revocation hearing was never conducted because Harris failed to appear in court. Harris had pleaded guilty to trespassing after police discovered in 2011 that he’d taken up residence in an upscale Murrysville home that was empty and for sale.
Five of the garbage cans police found in the Penn Hills garage contained body parts; some parts — including Olivia Gilbert’s torso — are missing, police said.
In the basement laundry room, detectives found three bottles of bleach and an anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner: a test revealed several wiping motions throughout the laundry room and blood spatters on the wall, the complaint said.
Police also found receipts from Home Depot for garbage cans dated Monday and Tuesday, the complaint said. Surveillance video obtained from Home Depot shows Harris buying garbage cans and putting them in his mother’s Toyota Camry, police said.
A doctor diagnosed Harris with bipolar disorder and prescribed him anti-psychotic and mood stabilizer drugs, according to court records of an interview with a psychiatrist while Harris was in the Westmoreland County Prison in 2011.
Dr. Barbara Beadles wrote in the report that Harris was “polite, calm and cooperative” during the hour and a half interview. He told her he had worked as a corrections officer and had been in the Army National Guard. Those claims could not immediately be confirmed. Harris told her he received treatment from Western Psych from 2001 to 2002, and again in 2004, according to the report.
Beadles wrote that his answers to some questions were guarded and that some of the thoughts he expressed were “consistent with delusional ideation.”
She wrote he was not fit to stand trial and indicated he could be treated in an outpatient setting, but it would be easier to supervise him and address his concerns about housing if he were placed in a group home.
Harris pleaded guilty to trespassing, was ordered to pay restitution and continue with mental health treatment, and was paroled March 22, 2012.
Less than two months later — on May 13, 2012 — Penn Hills police charged Harris with assault after his sister, Angela, told them he punched her several times when they argued in the kitchen of her home.
Harris’ parents told police at the time that he used their address on Suncrest Drive but didn’t live there and had been staying in shelters.
Couple kept to themselves
Harris’ father recently made him leave his home because Harris attacked him and attempted to choke him, the complaint said. Harris apparently went to his mother’s to stay; Olivia and Lamar Gilbert’s neighbors said he had been staying with the couple.
Police took the unresponsive Harris to a hospital when they found him Tuesday. He was cleared medically, but police had to pull him from the police car and put him in a wheelchair when they brought him to county police headquarters to be interviewed, the complaint said. In the interview room, he sat upright in the chair with his eyes closed and refused to speak to detectives. The complaint said he had a cut to his palm that appeared fresh.
In Penn Hills, neighbors said the Gilberts had lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, but no one knew them well.
“They are really quiet. They seem to be nice. They kept to themselves,” said Lanie Frazier, 37, who lives across the street.
Timothy McCray, 85, said he last saw Lamar about a week ago, “putting out Christmas lights.”
“They came and they went. We would always say ‘hello,’ just in passing,” McCray said.
Wednesday morning — when police were still describing the incident as a “disappearance” — Curtis Bell, 55, drove to a wooded hillside nearby the home to check for the couple.
“Even though I didn’t know them that well, we’re still neighbors,” Bell said.
Writers Rich Cholodofsky and Michael Hasch contributed. Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.