The story of Richard L. Greist remains frightening and bizarre nearly 27 years after the East Coventry man killed his pregnant wife, mutilated his unborn son and attacked his two daughters and grandmother.
This week in a Chester County courtroom, those events were relived as Greist made another appeal to be released from Norristown State Mental Hospital.
Greist, who was found not guilty of the killings by reason of insanity, makes a plea for his freedom every year at his recommitment hearing, but Wednesday, the proceedings were different.
Greist, 53, spoke publicly for the first time at the hearing. His two daughters testified for the first time, too, sparing few details of the gruesome attacks that occurred May 10, 1978, inside their Sanatoga Road home.
“The horror of watching him stab, kick and punch my family will forever be etched in my mind,” said Angela Dykie, Greist’s younger daughter.
Dykie, who was 5 at the time of the attack, recalled being picked up by her father thrown across the room. She also watched as Greist lifted her older sister, now Elizabeth A. Butts, by her feet and repeatedly pounded her head onto the floor, then “dropped her like a rag doll.”
“He came at me like a wild animal,” said Dykie, now 31. “He had fiery orange and green swirling eyes. They were empty and the most evil thing I’ve ever seen.”
Dykie told the court as she cried uncontrollably that she escaped the house to her aunt’s home across the street, where she waited, getting lost among the chaos.
Then she spoke about visiting her sister in the hospital, where she saw “a little bundle of bandages from head to toe,” and screaming so loudly the nurses forbade her from returning to the room.
“We saw evil in the face that May day,” Dykie said, “and how do we know it won’t come back?”
“I see in the mirror everyday, the aftermath of that day,” said Elizabeth A. Butts.
She lost her left eye as a result of the attack. She was 6 at the time.
“I’ve worked so hard over the years to make my life as happy and normal as possible,” said Butts, now 32. She told Common Pleas Court Judge Edward Griffith she hoped her father would not be released from the hospital — “not now or ever.
“I wish my father no harm,” Butts said. “I don’t believe he intentionally harmed me or my family. That’s what is so scary. It wasn’t intentional.”
The psychiatrists who have examined Greist say the killings were the result of a psychotic break. Initially he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but therapists have since changed that diagnosis and conclude Greist suffers from a personality disorder.
Dr. Sudhir Stokes, the psychiatrist in charge of Greist’s care at Norristown, said his patient “was slipping” prior to attacks.
“He may not have been aware of it,” Stokes said. “Those around him may have been aware of it, but they didn’t act on it.”
Greist was 27 at the time, working at a health facility for mentally retarded individuals.
Dr. Barbara E. Ziv, a psychiatrist hired by the state, testified Wednesday that sleep deprivation, use of amphetamines and extramarital affairs Greist was having were additional stresses contributing to the psychotic break.
During Greist’s trial in 1980, psychiatrists testified the man believed he was an incarnation of Jesus Christ and thought he was killing devils during the rampage against his family.
Greist, a tall, slender man, was dressed in a tan suit, white shirt and tan-striped tie for his hearing before Judge Griffith. He seemed to listen to the testimony, occasionally passing notes to his lawyer, Marita M. Hutchinson, shuffling through stacks of papers, and putting on and removing black-rimmed reading glasses.
When he spoke, his voice was timid and he stopped several times to choke back tears.
“If my family could see the tears I’ve cried. I am still crying,” Greist said. “Why have I allowed this to happen?”
The court heard about one of the newest chapters in Greist’s life, his marriage to his wife Frances M. Greist, 46, of New Zealand, on Nov. 29 — Greist’s third wife.
The couple met through a Jehovah’s Witness Web site in June 2004. Richard became a member of the church during his stay at Norristown State Hospital; Frances, who worked tutoring math skills to adults, joined the religion shortly after her husband of 17 years left her.
“He decided he found the neighbor’s daughter more attractive than me,” she said.
Frances testified she was initially attracted to the killer because of the number of Bible studies he had organized.
“I didn’t know at the time he was locked up,” she said, but added that Greist was forthright about his past. “He gave me Web sites to look at. He gave me everything that was out there.”
Assistant District Attorney Peter Hobart probed the issue.
“Did he tell you what happened to his wife?” Hobart asked.
“Yes, he did,” she said.
“Did he tell you what happened to the baby?” the attorney said.
“Yes, but he was trying to save the baby,” Frances Greist said. “In his mind he was trying to save the baby.”
“Did he tell you what he did to the bodies?” Hobart continued.
“I’m not sure,” Frances replied.
Throughout the summer, Richard Greist and Frances’ relationship progressed from the Internet to the telephone, and the couple began spending thousands of dollars on phone calls, talking between two and eight hours daily. At the same time, Richard Greist’s friends wrote Frances flattering letters on his behalf.
“He’s a darling,” Frances testified. “I came to check him out. I wanted to see if he was all that I had heard.”
Frances arrived in Norristown on Nov. 11. The couple married 18 days later in the office of Montgomery County District Justice Francis Lawrence Jr.; the bride sporting a 1.5-carat diamond ring Richard purchased via the Internet. None of Frances’ three adult sons attended the ceremony nor did any other any other family members of the bride or groom.
Frances Greist lives in Norristown and told the court she is supported largely by the income Richard Greist collects through the two rental properties he owns there. She also earns some money through a vacation retreat she leases in New Zealand.
The husband and wife have seen each other all but three or four days together since their wedding, Frances said, spending most of their time together at the hospital’s cafeteria where Richard Greist works as manager. He mans the cash register while Frances Greist said she spread the word of Jehovah to patients.
They dream of moving to New Zealand, Frances said, if Richard Greist is ever released from the mental hospital. And if he remains committed, she intends to stay by his side.
“I am married to my husband, and I love him dearly,” Frances said. “I will be here as long as it takes.”
Greist married his second wife, Patricia, 14 years ago. A year after they married, she committed suicide.
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