On August 12, 1999, Frances Williams disappeared from her home at 101 Clearview Avenue, Crafton Heights. She and her husband, Connie, had been fighting at the time.
Frances’s sister, Janice Smith, filed a missing persons report on August 20. Questioned by police, Connie Williams said his wife, whom he had married in 1995, had left him due to marital problems. An investigation into Frances’s whereabouts began, and continued without urgency for several months.
After interviewing Connie Williams again on January 5, 2000, the investigation took on more urgency. Their suspicions of foul play raised by their questioning, police sought and gained permission to search Williams’ residence. Multiple searches followed. When the presence of blood was detected in Williams’ home on January 14, 2000, he was arrested.
Under questioning by police, Williams confessed. He said that the killing occurred on August 18, 1999, when he and his wife argued over his infidelity, the presence of his children in their home, and her drug use. When she insulted him, he stabbed her with a steak knife. Realizing she was dead, he dismembered her in the basement. Part of her body was disposed of in a ravine on the North Side. Other body parts were found in a salvage yard in McKees Rocks.
First-degree murder charges were filed and a decision was made to pursue the death penalty. Though it could not have been known at the time, this case would be the last in Allegheny County in which the death penalty functioned in an “ordinary” sense, as a viable sentencing alternative for typical domestic and felony murders and murderers.
In Allegheny County, certainly, and in Pennsylvania and beyond to a lesser extent, the death penalty was exhausted. No Allegheny County defendant had been executed in forty years. Most who had been sentenced to death found their death sentences later reversed. The legal standards were changing, as were the prosecutorial, budgetary, and political calculuses; the death penalty no longer returned on the investment.
From this point forward, as it turned out, the death penalty would be reserved for multiple or mass murderers, such as Richard Baumhammers, Gerald Hairston, Ronald Taylor, and Richard Poplawski, or for those, like Patrick Stollar, who bumbled into a death sentence.
At trial, Williams’ defense admitted he killed his wife, but said he did so in a fit of passion. Williams was found guilty of first-degree murder on January 23, 2002, and sentenced to death. His conviction and death sentence affirmed on initial appeal in 2004 (Commonwealth v. Williams, 578 Pa. 504), Williams sought reconsideration under the Post-Conviction Relief Act. His death sentence was overturned and he was ordered released from death row on April 15, 2010, after a legal determination that he was developmentally disabled. His IQ was tested in the low 50s to low 80s.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld that order on February 20, 2013 (Commonwealth v. Williams, 619 Pa. 219). Now 70 years old, Connie Williams is serving a life sentence at SCI-Greene.
Williams has an extensive criminal record. Most notably, he served seven years in prison for the April 1974 stabbing murder of his landlord, C.W. Hopkins. Hopkins’ decomposed body was found under Williams’ bed three to four weeks after the murder. Williams was convicted of second-degree murder in that case, sentenced to 7 to 20 years in prison, and paroled in 1981.
He also has a 1969 conviction for auto theft, a 1971 drug conviction, a 1971 burglary conviction for which he received a 1 to 2 year sentence, and a 1973 attempted burglary conviction.