The brutal horrors that befell an East Coventry Township family on May 10, 1978, were painfully relived yesterday by two witnesses to the bloodshed: the daughters of Richard Greist.
Greist, 53, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1980 of crimes that included fatally stabbing his pregnant wife, ripping his unborn son from her womb, mutilating the fetus, gouging the eye of his 6-year-old daughter, slashing his grandmother’s throat, and butchering the family cat.
Because a judge ruled that Greist could not be held responsible for his crimes, he can never be incarcerated for them.
The daughters, both of whom are married, came forward after learning that the staff at Norristown State Hospital, Greist’s primary residence since his arrest, continue to seek greater freedom for their father.
Neither believes Greist should be released to a group home – as the hospital staff has recommended – and both read letters, with visible difficulty, at Greist’s annual commitment hearing in Chester County Court.
Elizabeth Anna Butts, 32, who lost an eye during the attack, said she is reminded of it every day when she looks in the mirror.
“I wish my father no harm,” she said. “I don’t believe he intentionally harmed me; that’s what’s scary.”
Butts said the love of God and family has helped her regain some semblance of a normal life, which would be shattered if she had to start worrying about running into her father at the grocery store.
Echoing the testimony of two experts hired by the commonwealth, psychiatrist Barbara Ziv and psychologist Steven E. Samuel, Butts said the fact that doctors do not know why the psychotic episode happened suggests that no one can be sure it will not recur.
Her younger sister, Angela Dykie, 31, said she would be forever haunted by “the sounds of hard thumps, searing slaps, deadly stabs, moans of pain, screams of terror, and wails of horror.”
She said that after being thrown across the kitchen into a coal bucket, she escaped across the street where she watched her mother come out “in a body bag” and her sister come out “clinging to life, expected to die.”
Dykie said her father “manipulated” her into seeing him when she was 18, and the experience made her “hit rock bottom” and consider ending her life. She said she was not surprised when Greist’s second wife, Patricia, committed suicide after a year of marriage.
After her death, she said, her father pressured her “to testify for his freedom,” arguing that he had no one else to support him.
“I pushed him away,” said Dykie. “When I did that, my life came back to normal.”
A different view was presented by Frances Greist, his third wife.
She testified that she met Greist in June on the Internet, in a chat room for Jehovah’s Witnesses. She said she traveled from New Zealand to Norristown on Nov. 11 and married Greist on Nov. 29.
“He’s a darling,” she said, adding that the two hope to relocate to New Zealand.
Asked by Assistant District Attorney Peter Hobart about the particulars of the assault, she said Greist “was trying to save the baby in his own way” when he ripped the fetus from his wife’s body.
Greist, who covered his face with his hands during his daughters’ testimony, also addressed the court during the daylong hearing, describing fond parenthood memories, such as the smell of the girls’ freshly shampooed hair.
“My dreams were also shattered on that horrific day,” he said.
Greist said he wished he could change the past, which was destroyed by his mental illness, and wants to change the future.
“I have so much love to give my daughters,” he said.
Hobart said Greist’s daughters requested that the court be informed that they want no contact with their father.
“You saw chillingly, the effect he has on his daughters,” said Hobart, who urged Chester County Court Judge Edward Griffith not to lift any restrictions.
Greist’s attorney, Marita Malloy Hutchinson, asked Griffith to “follow the recommendation” of Greist’s hospital treatment team, led by psychiatrist Sudhir Stokes, and explore “a less restrictive environment” for her client.
Before taking the case under advisement, the judge addressed Greist.
“If you really do care about [your daughters], I think it would be best if you had no contact with them,” Griffith said.
Greist replied that he agreed.