Frank Gerade, a German-born painter, his wife, Sophia, and two children, lived in poverty on Shady Avenue, along the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway line, above Woods Run Station in Allegheny. His brothers, Herman and William, and their families, lived nearby.
Over the course of years, the Gerades were regularly involved in serious incidents of child and spousal abuse. Sophia Gerade was arrested in 1887 for the near-fatal assault of her daughter. She was sent to the “insane department of the Allegheny Poor Farm” two days later (Pittsburgh Daily Post, November 4, 1887). Frank and Herman were arrested in 1888 when, after police responded to Herman beating his wife, Frank intervened and assaulted a police officer.
This tragic history culminated on March 15, 1890, when Frank Gerade beat and killed his eight-year old stepdaughter, Annie Hofer. Suggestive of the circumstances, the Pittsburgh Daily Post noted that a“ fitter place for the tragic occurrence of Saturday could not be imagined by the writer of dime novel fiction.” Annie’s death was caused by blunt force injuries to the head. There is no evidence or history of sexual abuse.
At trial, Gerade was convicted of first-degree murder on October 1, 1890. Ironically, though fittingly, his trial counsel was J. Charles Dicken. He was sentenced to death on November 8, 1890. It was the first Allegheny County capital case in which a child was the sole or targeted victim.[i]
At the time of Gerade’s conviction, an era in which the death penalty was being reconsidered, the Daily Post wrote that his conviction “may mark the advent of a more creditable era in the punishment of capital crimes in Allegheny county. And it may not.”
It did not, at least as that sentiment goes. Gerade’s original conviction was overturned on appeal due to concern that the jury instructions did not clearly explain how to regard evidence of Gerade’s insanity (Commonwealth v. Frank Gerade, 145 Pa. 289, 1891) and a new trial was granted on May 27, 1891.
He was tried a second time and convicted of first-degree murder on November 25, 1891. He was again sentenced to death. After a motion for a new trial, the court ruled on October 24, 1892, that Gerade’s conviction was invalid due to the strength of the evidence of his insanity.
A third trial followed quickly. On November 2, 1892, Gerade pleaded guilty. On April 17, 1893, the court set the degree of murder at second degree and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
Herman Gerade was arrested again in 1894 for beating his wife and threatening to kill her and their children.
Sophia Gerade, who did not speak English, and their surviving children were sent to the poor farm when Frank Gerade went to prison. She died in 1905.
After being released from prison in 1904, Gerade briefly returned to Germany. Frank Gerade died in Pittsburgh on August 9, 1928. He was 72 years old.
[i] Though a child died as a result of David Evans’ murder of his wife in 1858, Evans was not charged with her murder.