Syracuse Journal, August 23, 1933
Druggist, Two Women Poisoned
PITTSBURGH (INS) — A suburban druggist gave a young woman patient some wrong pills last night which caused her death, and then drove down a lonely lane with his best friend’s wife and took a dose of poison with her.
The victims of the triple tragedy were Edward V. W. Kerr, New Kensington, druggist; Dorothy Yunker, 25 of New Kensington, the woman to whom he gave poison, and Mrs. Della Gradler, 24, of New Kensington, mother of two children.
The bodies of Kerr and Mrs. Gradler were found slumped over in the seat of Kerr’s auto today by a passing motorist. The Yunker woman died last night, a short time after she had taken two of six capsules she bought from Kerr because she was having trouble getting to sleep at night.
Kerr’s wife, Mrs. Margaret Kerr, is in Syracuse on a vacation.
Identification of the druggist and Mrs. Gradler was made by the latter’s husband, J. L. Gradler, at the county morgue. He told police Kerr came to his home last night, asking if he could take Mrs. Gradler to a party in Wilkinsburg where they were shy one lady.
“It was a strange request,” Gradler admitted today, “but I’ve known him so long that I trusted him implicitly.”
Motive for the apparent double suicide was unknown. Police were investigating in an attempt to learn whether Kerr gave the Mrs. Yunker poison by accident of intentionally.
Considering the pain he inflicted upon two women, their five young children, two fathers, his own wife, countless relatives, neighbors and customers, Edward V. W. Kerr's period of public, shameful notoriety was rather brief. He and his crimes dropped out of the news in less than a week.
Kerr owned a drug store in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, and except for a $500 fine levied against him in 1929 for selling alcohol at his business establishment, he led a quiet, uneventful life until August 22, 1933.
People in the New Kensington area who read both Pittsburgh newspapers — the Press and the Post-Gazette — could be excused for thinking their stories were about two different incidents. For one thing, stories couldn't agree whether Kerr's first name was Edward or Edwin, and the fact the man had two middle initials also caused confusion.
The evening Press tip-toed through the story, withholding judgment until authorities determined whether Kerr had intentionally killed Mrs. Yunker, then intentionally killed Mrs. Gradler and himself — or whether he was simply an inept pharmacist who couldn't tell the difference between poison and sleeping powder.
The morning Post-Gazette quickly realized Edward V. W. Kerr was one very sick puppy, though it took a couple of days before his motive came into focus. Even then the newspaper seemed to miss a rather obvious reason for the timing of what clearly was a case of two murders and a suicide.
Kerr, it turned out, was frustrated. He had a wife, but couldn't take his eyes off the many young women who frequented his store.
The point that seemed to be missed in all the coverage of the story is that Kerr's philandering, uncovered by the Post-Gazette two days after the deaths, began almost immediately after Mrs. Kerr left for Syracuse to spend the summer with her family. She was the daughter of George and Frances Jewel. Her family was from Pennsylvania, but her parents had moved to Central New York.
Edward and Margaret Kerr had been married about six years. They had no children. When she left him alone in early June it was like the opening scene of "The Seven Year Itch."
Kerr's lifestyle turned upside down. Always a bit of a flirt, Kerr would later be described by some of his women customers as “a nice little fellow” but “not the sort of man to become excited about.”
The Post-Gazette described that happened next:
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 26, 1933
Then he met a woman, young and gay, who did not discourage his advances. Kerr went out with her, always late at night. They visited roadhouses, dancing places. Kerr hinted to some of his intimate friends of wild parties. But he always had been a silent, tight-lipped person and the habit of reticence was not easily overcome.
Changes in his manner, however, were noticed by those close to him. He never had drank much, but now he sometimes took a drink or two during store hours. He began to dress more conspicuously. Even more than before he became attentive to women customers.
Kerr’s wife had gone away for the summer to visit her parents. He would have been extremely lonely except for the unknown woman who came into his life. With her he became the hero of his dreams.
He spoke of her occasionally to a former clerk, invited him out to parties. The clerk didn’t go and the identity of the druggist’s lady friend remains a mystery.
Nearly four weeks ago, however, Kerr stopped seeing the mystery girl. No one knows why. Perhaps they quarreled, perhaps she went away. At any event, it was then Kerr began to pursue other women in the neighborhood.
It was about this time that the druggist bought the poison with which he later killed the wife of a neighbor and the wife of a friend.
That can of poison remained unopened on a shelf in his prescription department until the day before the murders, said one of Kerr’s clerks.
Kerr began to obsess about one customer in particular — Mrs. Dorothy Yunker, 25-year-old mother of three who lived across the street from the drug store. Because she lived so close, she was a frequent customer. A clerk who worked at the drug store told police he had strict orders to leave whenever Mrs. Yunker was present so that Kerr could wait on her.
At first she ignored Kerr's flirtations, never even mentioning them to her husband.
But then he asked the woman's sister, Mrs. Elva Coudriet, to arrange a date. She reminded him that Dorothy was married, and he replied, "Well, so am I."
Kerr decided on the direct approach and Mrs. Yunker turned him down. He then focused his attention on Della Gradler, wife of his best friend and the mother of two children.
But summer was running out. Kerr's wife was due to return from Syracuse on Sunday, August 27.
Perhaps feeling guilty about his brief affair with the mystery woman and unable to face his wife, Kerr decided to kill himself. I wonder if he would have exacted his sick revenge on the faithful Mrs. Yunker had she not come to the drug store on August 22 needing something to help her sleep?
After giving her six poison-laced capsules, he was certain she would follow his instructions and take two that night at bedtime.
Details of Kerr's movements after Mrs. Yunker picked up the capsules around 10 p.m. are confusing and subject to different interpretations. For one thing, New Kensington apparently was a small city that never slept. I mean, there's Edward Kerr showing up at the Gradler home on a Tuesday night after 11, reminding his friend, Joe, that he wants to borrow his wife, Della, to attend a party being held somewhere in Wilkinsburg several miles away.
Why Mrs. Gradler agreed to go is perhaps the biggest unanswered question in the whole tragic story. Must be that Edward Kerr was one heck of a dancer, since that's all they were ever seen doing together, with their spouses always close by.
The Gradlers kept Kerr waiting for 20 minutes before she was ready to leave. By that time Mrs. Yunker, whose house Kerr would pass a minute or so later, was dead, and her sister, Mrs. Coudriet, was shouting for the world to hear that Edward Kerr had killed her.
The Post-Gazette speculated the rest:
Her sister screamed, the whole neighborhood was in commotion.
Kerr was coming down the hill then, with Mrs. Gradler in his car.
As he passed the Yunker home again there is no doubt but what he heard the screams of Mrs. Elva Coudriet, a sister of the dead woman. She was shrieking Kerr’s name, screaming that he would hang for killing her sister.
Kerr and Mrs. Gradler both probably heard it.
One person saw Kerr’s car after that, and the man was driving faster, this lad said, that he had ever seen Kerr drive before.
Apparently Kerr knew he was hunted. He drove into the hills near Verona and later to the hollow on Sandy Creek Road.
On the way he was repulsed by Mrs Gradler who knew, because of the screams and what Kerr had told her, of the first crime.
About 2 o’clock in the morning he stopped the car. Mrs. Gradler, overwrought, had become ill. Kerr gave her one of the other capsules.
There with the dead woman beside him, Kerr took a capsule and died. They both washed the poison down with water Kerr had carried for that purpose in a thermos bottle.
The point is, it didn't matter whether Kerr heard Mrs. Coudriet's screams. He had planned all along to kill himself and a confused or naive Della Gradler. Kerr had placed the thermos of water and the poison capsules in the car before he left for the Gradler home. He knew Mrs. Yunker's body would be discovered no later than the next morning — her husband worked a night shift at a local power plant — but he had no idea the discovery would be made almost immediately after she died.
How Kerr forced Mrs. Gradler to take a capsule is another matter. Perhaps she didn't think him capable of killing her, too, and actually believed he was giving her something merely to calm down.
As mentioned earlier, I think Kerr couldn't face his wife, though, oddly, he wrote a letter to her that evening before he left the drug store. In it he said he'd meet her in Buffalo on Sunday and they would drive together back home to New Kensington. Apparently she would take a train from Syracuse to Buffalo.
Why write a letter he had no intention of mailing? That was one of several unanswered questions.
As for Mrs. Kerr, the only mention of what happened to her after the tragedy was a story in the Post-Gazette on August 24 which reported, "Mrs. Margaret Jewel Kerr was said to have collapsed in Greensburg yesterday afternoon on her way home from Syracuse."
Greensburg seems an out-of-the-way location for someone traveling from Syracuse to New Kensington.
She also certainly spent Friday, August 25, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where Edward V. W. Kerr was buried, quietly and secretly.