2 Heinous Crimes, 2 Uneasy Dispositions The Murders Sparked Fear And Horror Across The Area. But A Deal And A Deadlock Spared The Killers' Lives.

Posted: July 28, 1996

Two of the area's ugliest murder cases - killings that rattled even a crime-numbed public - were largely put to rest last week.

On Tuesday, Tracey Shaw was sentenced to life in prison for setting a rowhouse fire that claimed six children, including four of her own, in East Germantown.

A day later, Caleb Fairley answered for strangling a mother and her toddler in a Montgomery County children's clothing store. He, too, was sentenced to life.

Shaw's sentence came after a jury in Philadelphia deadlocked on whether she should be put to death. The jury had convicted her of six counts of first-degree murder in the blaze of Dec. 23, 1994.

Shaw, 27, escaped the fire by climbing out a second-floor bedroom window with her 6-month-old son. Trapped inside were her four other children - Catria Jones, 8; Jerra Jones, 6; Albertus Shawn Holman, 4; and Shirley Mary Holman, 2 - as well as two next-door neighbors who were spending the night: Inez Lassiter, 15, and Linda Lassiter, 11. All died of oxygen deprivation.

Fairley, 22, of Gulph Mills, was convicted in April of first-degree murder in the deaths of Lisa Marie Manderach, 29, and her daughter Devon, 19 months. On Sept. 10, while working in his parents' Collegeville boutique, Fairley strangled the victims amid racks of children's attire.

Both cases drew vast publicity.

In the fire, the sheer number of dead children was troubling enough. The notion that a mother might torch her own youngsters was even more unthinkable.

The Fairley murders were so random that they shattered many suburbanites' sense of immunity from violent crime.

But neither crime brought the death penalty, for very different reasons.

Shaw and her lawyer, Michael McGovern, maintained her innocence to the end. No one saw Shaw set the fire, and McGovern accused Shaw's former boyfriend of igniting the flames.

After her conviction, Shaw begged for her life, imploring jurors to let her remain a mother to her surviving son, if only from prison. Other witnesses portrayed her as a pitiful, traumatized woman.

The Shaw jury deliberated for more than a day before deadlocking on whether she should live or die. By law, that meant her sentence had to be life.

Fairley's sentence, on the other hand, was sealed the day of his arrest. That day, his lawyer and prosecutors struck a controversial deal that both spared his life and cemented the evidence against him.

Within hours of the murders, hikers found Devon Manderach's body in Valley Forge National Historical Park. Police found Lisa Manderach's car outside Fairley's store, but no sign of the mother.

When police questioned Fairley the next day, his face bore claw marks that he had covered with makeup. Investigators theorized that Lisa Manderach inflicted the wounds as she fought and that Fairley's skin would still be under her fingernails.

But her body remained missing. And without it, police feared, they could not arrest Fairley. They also worried that DNA evidence linking Fairley to her murder could be lost if the body decayed.

So District Attorney Michael D. Marino accepted an offer from Fairley's lawyer at the time: Marino agreed not to seek the death penalty if Fairley's lawyer would provide directions to Lisa Manderach's body.

The body was recovered, Fairley was charged, and lab tests ultimately found incriminating DNA evidence on Manderach's body.

At last week's sentencings, both judges had no choice but to impose life terms - the only possible punishment, short of death, for first-degree murder.

But both found ways to underscore the enormity of the cases before them. They ran the multiple life sentences back to back, rather than concurrently.

Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer gave Shaw six consecutive life terms - one for each dead child. He called the case ``a horrible, unspeakable tragedy.''

In Montgomery County, Judge William R. Carpenter handed Fairley two consecutive life terms - one for the mother's death, one for the child's.

``It's only a symbolic victory,'' said Bruce L. Castor Jr., Montgomery County first assistant district attorney, who prosecuted Fairley. ``But at least this court recognizes that this is the most horrendous crime that you could possibly imagine.''

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