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Ex-girlfriend says North Union stabbing suspect threatened her, too

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Lisa Tupta of North Union Twp.
Lisa Tupta of North Union Twp.

Jennifer Straitiff said she was not surprised to learn that the man she formerly dated is accused of fatally stabbing another woman.

Straitiff said she escaped with her own life just eight months ago when Henry Clay Crawford of North Union held her at knifepoint.

“He held a carving knife to my head,” Straitiff, 35, of Uniontown said Tuesday. “I really thought he was going to kill me and my daughter.”

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Crawford, 56, of 227 Christmas St., for fatally stabbing Lisa Faye Tupta, 49, said Trooper Thomas Broadwater of state police at Uniontown.

Crawford will be arraigned on homicide, aggravated assault and burglary charges when he is released from UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh, where he underwent surgery late Monday for stab wounds, Broadwater said.

It is unclear how Crawford was hurt.

“We're not sure if it's self-inflicted, or if she (Tupta) did it,” Broadwater said.

Police have accused Crawford of kicking in the door to Tupta's home at the Holiday Mobile Home Park on Monday afternoon and fatally stabbing her. Troopers found Tupta on her couch, bleeding from stab wounds to her neck and abdomen.

Officers saw Crawford at a rear door of the home, holding a knife, when they arrived. He closed the door, then responded, “Who is it?” when officers knocked on the front door.

Troopers entered the home and found Tupta on the couch and Crawford hiding in a closet in the rear bedroom, police said.

Tupta was taken to Uniontown Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 7:27 p.m. She suffered stab wounds to her right hand, the right side of her neck and her upper left abdomen. An autopsy was to be performed Tuesday, the Fayette County Coroner's Office said.

Court records indicate Crawford has a lengthy history of violence toward women, including an active protection from abuse order that forbade contact with Tupta. Tupta sought the order after two violent encounters with Crawford, records show.

Crawford was charged by police with harassment, terroristic threats and simple assault for choking Tupta into unconsciousness at her home. Police said Crawford pushed his way into the home on Nov. 6 and began to choke her when she tried to flee.

Tupta told police she lost consciousness and awoke to find Crawford on top of her, shaking her by her shoulders. He then held a knife to her throat, according to the complaint, and cut her left cheek.

“He realized the severity of what he was doing and stopped,” Tupta wrote in the application for the order. “He held a knife up to my face and cut my jaw.”

In the second incident, Crawford was charged by Uniontown Police with stalking, simple assault, harassment, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness during an altercation outside Tupta's workplace at the Department of Public Welfare on West Church Street in Uniontown.

Tupta wrote that Crawford climbed into her vehicle after she left work on Nov. 8, pulled her by her hair and lifted her by her neck onto the hood of a pickup truck. Both criminal cases were dismissed when Tupta refused to testify, according to court records.

Despite the rocky relationship, Tupta agreed to care for Crawford's mother while he was in jail on the criminal charges.

“She was good to me,” Vivian Crawford told WPXI-TV on Tuesday. “She paid my bills. She did whatever she could do.”

Crawford, who breathes with the assistance of an oxygen machine, said Tupta “tried to help everybody.”

Tupta's mother, Peggy Crable, told WPXI she has lost her “best friend.”

She said Crawford befriended Tupta while she was grieving the loss of a pet chihuahua. Crawford wanted to become more than friends, but Tupta declined. “He just wouldn't take no for an answer,” Crable said.

Wayne Crable told the Tribune-Review that his stepdaughter and Crawford were not dating. The two met because Tupta ran errands and cared for Crawford's mother, who lives with her son in a mobile home behind Tupta's.

Tupta, who had four dogs, “would never leave an animal out in the cold,” Wayne Crable said. “She would always find homes for them.”

Straitiff said she obtained a temporary court order against Crawford in May, when he came to her apartment and accused her of having something to do with his son's death.

Marlin “Zeus” Crawford, 28, died May 13 of a bullet wound to the head at Pershing Court, a public housing complex in Uniontown. Kurtavius J. Smith, 28, of Uniontown, is awaiting trial for homicide.

Straitiff said an angry, intoxicated Henry Crawford arrived at her apartment the day he buried his son and held her and two others “hostage” and held the carving knife to her head.

“He thought someone inside the house was responsible for Zeus' murder, so he took our phones and we weren't allowed to move,” Straitiff said. She convinced Crawford he was wrong and he left, but he sat outside for a time, she said, watching her apartment.

Straitiff said she was aware of Crawford's violent past – court records show she and three other women sought a total of seven protection orders against Crawford since 2004 – but dated him only out of fear.

“He ran over an ex, he stabbed an ex, he had such a violent past, when you are in a situation like that, you just say, OK, if it keeps you from killing me, I'll be your girlfriend,” Straitiff said. “Anybody that was friends with Henry had a close call of some sort with him.”

One of the other women, court records show, had her leg broken when Crawford rammed his vehicle into hers in 2007, causing her vehicle to crash into a house in Uniontown.

Crawford has a lengthy criminal record that dates to a 1978 aggravated assault charge. Although the most recent cases are for drug possession and driving under the influence, he was accused in 2008 of breaking into a Connellsville woman's house, pointing a gun at her and telling her “never to hang the phone up on him again or he would kill her.”

He was found not guilty at trial.

In an unrelated 2008 case, Crawford was accused of putting a knife to a woman's throat, cutting her knee and holding her against her will for nearly five hours inside her Connellsville home. Charges were dismissed when the victim failed to appear to testify, records show.

In 2007, Crawford was sentenced to up to 13 months in jail for striking a woman in the face with a baseball bat, hitting her in the head with a piece of glass, holding a knife to her throat and threatening to kill her and her family, according to court records.

Tupta's ex-husband, North Union Township Supervisor Robert Tupta, was unavailable for comment. A woman who answered the phone at the municipal building said the family has asked that their privacy be respected.

Straitiff said she was able to break off with Crawford when he went to jail. “He's a dangerous man,” Straitiff said. “Right now, I don't have to worry.”

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166.

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