Frederick Mayhue

Harlene Grimes Mayhue filed for divorce from her husband, Frederick, on August 5, 1981. So contentious was the divorce – over matters financial and personal – that it had not yet culminated more than five years later when Mrs. Mayhue was murdered.

In the interim unfolded one of the more complicated and poorly concealed conspiracies to commit murder on record.

At the time of the divorce filing, the Mayhues, who lived in Rochester (Beaver County), Pennsylvania, and had been married for more than thirty years, were joint owners of a residential sewer cleaning business, E.L. Mayhue & Son. Well off and anticipating a bitter divorce, Fred had been diverting money from the business into an account he established in the name of a shell business, Amayco Environmental Services, in an effort to shield money from the divorce proceedings.

Unwilling to reach a financial settlement with his wife and bitter that his scheme to defraud had been revealed (Mayhue v. Mayhue, 336 Pa. Superior Ct. 188, 1984), Fred Mayhue began to plan her murder.

Harlene Mayhue was last seen leaving a birthday party for her daughter, Debbie Meyer, at Meyer’s New Galilee home at 10:45pm on December 15, 1986. Her body was found in the trunk of the car she had been driving at 3:00am the next day at the Findlay Township, Allegheny County, home of David Kisow.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 17, 1986

Kisow and his friend, Donald Meerdo, found the car in Kisow’s driveway when they returned from a bar. When they opened the trunk, they found Mrs. Mayhue. She had been beaten, strangled, and shot in the head. Meerdo called the police against Kisow’s wishes.

Initially denying any knowledge of what happened, Kisow began to cooperate with police after receiving a threatening phone call from Mayhue. Included was information that Mayhue had repeatedly mentioned to Kisow, a construction worker, that he would like for him to chop a car that contained a dead body.

The investigation also found blood at Mrs. Mayhue’s Daugherty Township home, leading police to believe initially that the murder occurred in Beaver County. When they found shell casings matching the murder weapon at Kisow’s residence, they concluded instead that Mrs. Mayhue had been beaten at home before being moved into Allegheny County where she was shot and killed.

Despite his elaborate efforts to use friends to construct an alibi, Mayhue was arrested on December 22, 1986, due to inconsistencies in stories told by him and his friends.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 23, 1986

James Hardin, a Rochester Township commissioner and former police officer, Gerald McCarthy, and Edward Lau were also arrested for their involvement in various roles in plots to kill Mrs. Mayhue.

Once in jail, Mayhue solicited fellow inmates to kill witnesses against him.

In February 1987, Steve Gavura, a landscaper and excavator who owned a large lot next door to Harlene Mayhue, told police that Fred Mayhue and McCarthy had approached him on April 5, 1985, about burying a body on his property. Earl Span, investigators learned, had been paid by Mayhue to kill his wife, failed to do so, and was killed as a result. His body was recovered from Gavura’s property on February 12, 1987.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 14, 1987

At trial, the evidence revealed a premeditated, sprawling, and messy effort to kill Harlene Mayhue. Lau, who was granted immunity, testified against Mayhue, as did Gavura, Wayne Shackleford, and several other men who were privy to Mayhue’s various schemes. As the Assistant District Attorney said during the trial, “Perhaps never before in the history of Western Pennsylvania have so many people stalked one person for so long.”

Mayhue was convicted of first-degree murder on January 6, 1988, after a four week trial. He was sentenced to death two days later. Hardin, Mayhue’s principal accomplice, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. McCarthy was convicted of criminal solicitation and sentenced to five to ten years in prison.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 7, 1988

On appeal, on March 18, 1994, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated Mayhue’s death sentence and sentenced him to life imprisonment (Commonwealth v. Mayhue, 536 Pa. 271). The reversal was based on the absence of aggravating factors warranting a death sentence. The court ruled that because the contract to kill Mrs. Mayhue was never carried out, that contract could not be used as an aggravator, leaving the case without the circumstances to justify a death sentence under Pennsylvania law.

Mayhue died in prison on October 3, 2013. He was 79 years old.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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