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Suburban siege ends

Man kills girlfriend, leading to daylong chase, suicide

Saturday, May 15, 1999

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This report was written by Post-Gazette Staff Writer Dennis B. Roddy based on his reporting and that of Staff Writers Kristen Ostendorf, Brenden Sager, Jonathan D. Silver, Mike Bucsko, Michael A. Fuoco, Cindi Lash, Jim McKinnon, Torsten Ove and Joe Grata

SWAT team members search a yard of Highland Avenue yesterday for shooting suspect Francis Paul Weber. (John Beale,Post-Gazette)  

A daylong rampage that killed one woman and put two North Hills communities under siege ended last night when the suspect killed himself.

Police said Francis Paul Weber, 49, of Bell Acres tracked his girlfriend to a friend's house in Coraopolis hours after she had left him, killed her, then fired on police in West View when they stopped him as he tried to get to the home of his estranged wife, a woman he had previously threatened to kill.

After a day of house-to-house searches, police tracked Weber to an empty home on Valley Drive in Ross.

"I messed up. I'm sorry," Weber shouted from inside the house.

Ross Police Sgt. Frank Zotter said officers tried to persuade Weber to surrender.

"He asked about the woman he shot. He wanted to know if she made it," Zotter said.

Police told Weber the woman, Amy Lynn Beardsley, had died.

"He quit talking and we heard a muffled shot."

Police, uncertain what had happened, fired tear gas and stun grenades into the home in a final attempt to flush out Weber. When he did not emerge, a team of officers crept into the house where they found Weber dead.

Police said Weber had fired one shot at random inside the home, then fired a second one into his head.

Court records and interviews with police, family and friends, show that Weber had a history of domestic violence. At least three protection-from-abuse orders were on file against him with the courts. A firearms charge was pending against him since 1996.

In the early hours of Friday, police and witnesses said, Weber dragged Beardsley, with whom he had shared a home on a wooded street in Bell Acres for three years, out into the yard of a friend's home in Coraopolis, where he killed her with a single shotgun blast.

After killing Beardsley, police said, Weber then drove to the home he had shared with her in Bell Acres, where he laid six booby traps and set it afire. Emergency workers, fearing Weber might have been lying in wait, allowed it to burn.

But by then police say Weber had driven to the home of his estranged wife, Rebekah Weber in West View. Bell Acres Police Chief John Delach, suspecting the worst, had telephoned Mrs. Weber and warned her and her two children to flee the house.

Police were waiting when Frank Weber arrived at the West View house at 5:25 a.m. They dove for cover when he fired at least eight rounds from an rifle. Police say Weber fled on foot, still carrying the rifle. He left behind a shotgun and a .357-caliber pistol in his pickup truck.

"This is another sign of violence in our community, making us prisoners in our own homes," said one West View resident, Lori Walter, who kept her doors locked yesterday as police searched for Weber along her street and on the greens of the neighboring Highland Country Club. "It's frightening for our children. They're very concerned. They keep asking 'Have they gotten him yet?' They're very scared."

By last night, police -- following the lead of a team of tracking dogs called in for the search -- had shifted their search from the West View neighborhood of Wellington Heights to neighboring Ross, where they finally discovered Weber holed up in the vacant home of a former Alcosan official who had died last year.

It was there that a life steeped in threats and violence ended.

Police, family and friends described Weber as a volatile, jealous man given to violent outbursts. Allegheny County court records show he had once forced his way into the home of his estranged wife, who brought charges of assault and harassment against him. Friends also say Beardsley had written to her estranged husband saying she feared for her life.

She attached instructions on who should get her possessions.

"He told her several times that if he went down, she'd go down with him," said Beardsley's mother,

Margaret Sarver. "He would have followed her to the moon to kill her."

  Amy Beardsley, who was gunned down outside a friend's home in Coraopolis.

A violent past

Amy Beardsley wanted out.

Thirty-four years old and separated from her husband, Art, she had set up housekeeping with one of her husband's former drinking buddies, a man she called "Ace" Weber. They had met three years earlier at a Neville Island bar called Characters. The 5-foot 5-inch Beardsley, an attractive blonde, tended bar there.

For Amy Beardsley, Weber was, at first, a charmer.

Margaret Sarver, Beardsley's mother, said Weber had a nice house, a nice yard and nice manners. He was a great cook. And he was attentive to Amy and spent Christmas and Easter with the family.

"She was madly in love with him, I guess," Sarver said yesterday. "She was very happy in the beginning."

But Thursday night marked the beginning of the end. A year after she'd begun confiding to her mother about Weber's verbal abuse and obsessive behavior. Weber had become possessive, checking on her whereabouts and paging her repeatedly during the day, when she worked as a case aide with Allegheny County's Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Beardsley's job was to deliver children of fractured families to court-supervised visits with the other parent -- usually a father. At one point, friends say, Weber had even tried to arrange for Beardsley to supervise his visits with his own children, something the agency immediately rejected.

Now, Beardsley had recently interviewed for a job with the Allegheny County sheriff's department. She was looking to move ahead in life. Weber was to start a new job on Monday. He'd been promoted at Columbia Gas.

But their relationship had worn thin. Beardsley had written to her estranged husband, complaining that Weber was violent.

"If anything ever happens to me," she reportedly wrote to Art Beardsley, "you know who did it. Ace did it."

Beardsley's sister, Vicki Sarver-Asturi, had long had misgivings about Weber. Her husband, Joe, said he had worked with Weber 20 years ago at Dravo Corp. on Neville Island. Weber got into a fight with a foreman and practically bit off his nose.

Weber's had an extensive history of domestic troubles. In some instances, Beardsley clearly knew about it. She accompanied him, for instance, on the night in August 1996 when he drove to Rebekah Weber's house with a shotgun, a day after he had told their children, during a visit, that he planned to kill their mother.

Police searched his car and charged Weber with two counts of possessing prohibited offensive weapons -- a sawed-off shotgun and a 9 mm pistol. Bell Acres police searched his house and found about a dozen other weapons.

Charges in the case were pending after Weber turned down a plea bargain. His lawyer, Charles Knoll, petitioned Allegheny County court to suppress evidence found in the search of Weber's car.

Court files showed a recurring pattern of domestic disputes, police searches and seized weapons.

His first wife, Catherine Weber, filed a complaint in 1981 when her husband stopped making court-ordered child-support payments. By 1984, Catherine Weber, whose age and address were not available, had complained that her ex-husband was more than $13,000 behind in support payments.

In 1989, Weber's second wife, Rebekah, obtained a protection-from-abuse order charging that her estranged husband physically attacked her and their two children, Matthew, now 17, and Laura, now 13, when the children were still toddlers. She said Weber had frequently hit and choked her during their disputes. They separated and Weber was allowed visitation.

Police said they had quelled numerous domestic disputes at the Weber house in Bell Acres. Sometime after 1989, they confiscated 14 weapons, including two sawed-off shotguns and an AK-47 style assault rifle.

Weber later obtained a court order to get the weapons back.

Following the 1996 death threat, Rebekah Weber obtained a second PFA against her husband and later filed for divorce. Francis Weber repeatedly refused to sign the divorce papers, the only thing holding up a final ruling in the case.

Rebekah Weber's third PFA against her husband followed a Feb. 23 incident when he turned up at her apartment building and, looking for her, broke into a neighbor's home by mistake. Court records say Weber then began pounding on Rebekah's door and shouted, "Are you ready for your interview and ass-whipping?"

Court records say Weber then forced his way into Rebekah's apartment, assaulted her and got into a fight with her brother, Tom Allison.

During the melee, Weber was about to strike Rebekah when her brother intervened. The Webers' daughter, Laura, telephoned police.

A judge later revoked Weber's visitation rights with his children. Rebekah Weber, in her petition for the third PFA, wrote:

"Something must be done with him before he hurts, maims or kills myself and my children."

The courts had ordered a June 1 conciliation hearing for the Webers on their pending divorce.

Francis Paul Weber, who killed himself after a standoff with police in Ross.  

Beardsley flees

On Thursday, Amy Beardsley, now fearful for her life, decided she would make a quick break. She told her mother that Francis Weber had beaten her on occasion. She took an afternoon break from her job with CYF and dropped by her mother's house to explain her plans.

"She was miserable," Margaret Sarver said.

Beardsley called Weber and, after a conversation, agreed to meet him to talk about their future.

"They ended up deciding to talk and go get a pizza. She had a bad feeling about it," Sarver said.

The couple, with Beardsley driving, picked up a pizza and headed to their home in Bell Acres -- a remote, cinder-block structure on a wooded hillside that Weber had dubbed "Little Round Top," after the famous Civil War battle at Gettysburg.

But when Weber got out of the car with the pizza, Beardsley locked the doors and drove away. It was supposed to be a clean break.

She visited her mother, who was in Coraopolis, babysitting for Amy's sister, Sarver-Asturi. She walked into the house with Regina Small, a friend from a few blocks away. Small was going to let Amy stay with her.

"She was happy. She was finally at peace because she'd left," Margaret Sarver said. "This time there was no going back. She just wouldn't take it anymore."

Sometime around 9 or 10 p.m. -- neighbor Violet Santeufemio isn't sure just when -- Regina Small telephoned to ask if her friend Amy Beardsley could park her car by the Santeufemio house.

"I said to her, 'What's the matter?'" Santeufemio recalled.

"They're arguing. She wanted to get away," Small replied.

"I said 'Regina, you shouldn't get involved with that,'" Santeufemio remembered.

Beardsley stayed.

About 1:30 a.m. yesterday, Small and Beardsley, apparently still up, watching television, heard dogs barking up and down the street. Next door to Small's house, Mark Darby's dog woke him, pulling him by the arm.

Small opened the door to let her own dog out when she saw Weber, dressed in camouflage fatigues, a shotgun propped over his shoulder.

Small slammed the door shut but Weber broke it in, trapping her behind it. Small screamed a warning to Beardsley. Weber walked into the living room and Small fled outside to Sarver-Asturi's house to get help.

According to accounts by family members and neighbors, Weber dragged Beardsley outside by her hair and slammed her against the house. A neighbor screamed at Weber to stop.

Then he fired one shot into Beardsley's chest.

Police surround a house in Ross Township where Francis Paul Weber shot himself in the head, ending a daylong manhunt. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)  

House torched

Minutes after they arrived at the shooting scene, Coraopolis police called Bell Acres police to ask about Francis Weber.

They knew him well. The duty officer called Chief Delach.

Delach had suspected several months ago that Weber was being rough with Beardsley, but Beardsley had always balked at bringing charges.

"I would see her around and talk to her and I could see that she was deathly afraid of him. After 20 years in this business you have an instinct about these things," Delach said. "But she would never do anything about it."

Now, Beardsley was shot -- she would be pronounced dead by 3:27 a.m. Delach remembered the incident three years ago when he and his men seized guns from Weber after Weber had told his own children he was going to kill their mother.

Delach dialed Rebekah Weber in West View.

"There was no time to be gentle about it. I told her, 'Frank just shot Amy and we don't know where he's at. Get your children and get the hell out of there.'"

Rebekah Weber and her kids fled.

Francis Weber apparently made a stop at his own house. Police don't know for certain what he might have taken with him. Weber was a diabetic, needing daily injections of insulin. What he apparently left behind was a burning house, rigged with pools and containers of flammable liquid, each designed to burst into flame as the fire from the preceding one reached it.

Neighbors knew Weber as a strange man who had feuded with them.

"I've known him for 10 years. For the last five he didn't speak to me and I didn't speak to him," said Blair Bishoff, 78, who lives at Rough-Shod Diamond Farm on the other side of Beadnell Drive from the Weber compound.

Bishoff's family once owned the land on which the Weber home sits. Weber had been trying to buy additional land from the Bishoffs but they balked.

Weber responded by cutting the water line that ran from a spring on his property to the Bishoff land.

"He wanted some kind of settlement from us -- the water for the land. I ended up drilling a couple of wells instead," Bishoff recalled.

Bishoff liked Rebekah Weber and the two children. He felt sorry for them. He knew Weber had owned guns that had been taken by police, but didn't expect violence from him.

"It wasn't but a few months ago that he got his picture in the Sewickley Herald [newspaper] for saving the life of somebody else at the gas company," Bishoff said. "He had his good points, I supposed. He could be mean, I guess, but I never thought he'd kill anybody."

Shots, then silence

John Coll was sipping a cup of coffee and watching the news at his home on Montclair Avenue, near Highland Avenue in West View. It was about 5:25 a.m. when he heard popping sounds not far from his home.

"What was that? Thunder?" his wife asked.

"Those were gunshots," Coll said.

There was a pause. Then a full burst of gunfire.

Coll told his wife and kids -- ages 14 and 4 -- to get down. He turned off the lights.

Seconds later, police cars raced up the street, lights flashing. Coll looked outside and spotted a uniformed officer on Highland Avenue, a rifle in his hands.

"I heard him yell, 'Get back in your house and lock the doors!' to someone," Coll said. A co-worker who was driving Coll to work phoned to say the streets were blocked off. Coll, thinking everything was now under control, strolled down the street, met up with his ride, and went off to work.

For the next several hours, Coll's neighborhood was sealed off, under virtual siege.

Joe Russo, 38, was sleeping on his couch in his home on Highland Avenue when the volley of shots shook him awake.

He knew Francis Weber from various job sites, but didn't realize he was the man whose pickup truck was out on the street, apparently after ramming into two police cars.

"The bullets might have gone into the garage or into my car," Russo said. As of last night, he hadn't checked yet.

More than 150 police officers fanned out across West View and, hours later, Ross, searching for Weber from house to house.

North Allegheny School District called off outdoor activities and sealed entrances. Student parking lots were patrolled.

The Port Authority cancelled bus routes in areas where police had closed off roads as their search moved block-by-block northward toward Ross.

At one point, police tracked Weber to a house on Washington Drive in Ross. They found a note the fugitive had left behind for his family.

"It just states that he thought he was a good family man and father," Ross Police Sgt. Frank Zotter said.

Around 7:45 p.m., just as West View Chief Charles Holtgraver told reporters police planned to call off their search for Weber, attention suddenly shifted to Valley Drive in Ross, a short distance away.

Police converged on a two-story house on a 1.9-acre lot toward the end of the cul-de-sac. It apparently was empty. Its owner, Joseph Lengyel, former executive director of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, died in February 1998. A crowd of more than 100 people, many of them teen-agers with camcorders, gathered at a roadblock 250 yards away.

Police tried to talk Weber out of the house.

After brief negotiations, police heard a shot from inside the house.

"We don't know if he shot at police, shot up in the air, or shot out the window. We don't know," said Allegheny County police Superintendent Dan Colaizzi.

Ten minutes later, police fired 32 rounds of tear gas into the house and waited. Weber did not emerge.

The neighborhood fell silent.

Francis "Ace" Weber's life had ended the way he lived it. This time, he turned his violence against himself.

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