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Penn Hills officer recalls finding severed heads, body parts, mangled knives at home

| Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, 6:06 p.m.

A call to check on the welfare of an elderly Penn Hills couple nine days before Christmas 2014 went from strange to horrifying for police.

On the main floor of the Suncrest Drive home, officers found a half-assembled Christmas tree in the living room and Frederick Harris III curled up in the bedroom that his mother, Olivia, 73, normally shared with his stepfather, Lamar Gilbert, 76.

Harris was uninjured, but alone and completely unresponsive.

While checking the house with other officers, Penn Hills police Officer Michael Lake said he found seven large garbage cans in the basement garage, most of which appeared to be brand new. Lifting the lid of one revealed a chunk of torn carpet with blood soaked through to the backing; a second contained tape-sealed garbage bags.

“When we looked inside that can, we found what we believed to be human body parts. ... We believed it to be a human head,” Lake testified Thursday in the second day of Frederick Harris' homicide trial. Penn Hills police immediately halted their search and called in Allegheny County homicide detectives, he said.

Police and prosecutors allege Harris, 49, stabbed the couple to death and dismembered them about Dec. 13.

In the garbage bag Lake discovered, technicians at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office found bloody clothes and the heads of Olivia and Lamar Gilbert, both severed just above the shoulders, county homicide Detective Patrick Kinavey testified.

Dismembered body parts were found in four other trash cans, but some parts of the elderly couple remained missing. Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini said they may have been collected with the trash the day before.

In the same can as the carpet were five bloody kitchen knives ranging in size from a large serrated bread knife to a shorter utility knife, Kinavey said. All the knives had bent or broken blades; two had broken handles, he said.

Detectives found what appeared to be blood spatters on an ironing board, on some papers found at the foot of the basement steps and along the bottom of the water heater and furnace, Kinavey said.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney Carrie Allman, Kinavey said Harris's sister, Angela Harris, who called police, had broken a back door to let police into the home, leaving her open to possible criminal charges for doing so. Kinavey said detectives never charged Angela Harris or searched her home.

Allman used her opening statement Wednesday to suggest Angela should be a suspect in the murders because she had killed two pets when she went off her psychiatric medication in the past.

Harris's trial is scheduled to continue Friday before Common Pleas Judge Kevin Sasinoski.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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