Born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, Charles Scherer was recently widowed with seven children when he married Bertha Banks in 1909. She was twenty years his junior. They moved to Pittsburgh in July 1917. Their time there was brief.
Scherer was obsessively, violently jealous and possessive of his wife; a trait that had long been in evidence. Compounded by alcohol abuse, his jealousy led him to quit his job in March 1918 so he could watch his wife.
He believed she was involved with Peter Butkiewicz, a barber whose shop was across the street from their 3531 Butler St., Lawrenceville home. Scherer had even complained to police about their relationship, though police had investigated and not found any evidence to support Scherer’s concerns.
On April 27, 1918, the morning after another argument, Scherer shot and killed his wife as she was getting dressed. He said he was awakened by a noise and fired his gun in response. Scherer immediately turned himself in to police.
At trial, Scherer claimed a lack of premeditation, a defense overwhelmed by inculpatory evidence that included a recently purchased gun, a history of fight and threats, his confession to police of shooting his wife due to jealousy, and a letter to his sister expressing regret for what he had done.
Pittsburgh Press, February 24, 1919
Scherer was convicted of first-degree murder on March 1, 1919. After his motion for a new trial was rejected, he was sentenced to death on July 10, 1919. His appeal, which raised no new defense and offered no new evidence or argument, was rejected (Commonwealth v. Scherer, 266 Pa. 210, 1920).
The Pardon Board viewed Scherer’s actions much more favorably, believing that Scherer’s wife had been unfaithful to him, that Scherer had witnessed these infidelities and was distraught by the violation they represented, and that she had pointed a gun at him the day before the murder.
Charles Scherer was granted a commutation to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity on September 20, 1920, and transferred to Western Penitentiary.
A decade later, the Pardon Board reviewed the case again, determined that Scherer’s sentence should be reduced to time served, and recommended a period of probation. His “prior good record”was also noted.
He was released from prison on December 11, 1930, after serving 11 years.
After marrying a third time, Charles Scherer died in Sharon, Pa., on October 20, 1953. He was 82 years old.
The portrayal of Scherer as the aggrieved husband is challenged by two cases from North Carolina. In February 1908, just before the death of his first wife, Scherer was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault in what appears to be the attempted rape of Mamie Brock, who operated a local “disorderly house.” He pleaded guilty to several related charges on March 30, 1908. His first wife, Iola, died two from complications related to childbirth two months later.
On April 11, 1917, only months before Scherer moved to Pittsburgh, Neal Walton was killed while in the company of a young woman in Wilmington, N.C. Scherer was the main suspect in the case. Some speculated at the time that Scherer mistook Walton for a man he suspected of being involved with his wife. After returning to North Carolina to stand trial, the charges against Scherer were dismissed due to a lack of evidence.