Police made a gruesome discovery last month when they found Peter Gerold’s dismembered body in the back of a U-Haul near his Northeast Philadelphia home.

In the weeks since, friends of Gerold, who would have turned 70 last month, have expressed shock over the death of a man they described as “one of the kindest people you ever could meet.”

Gerold, a massage therapist with offices in Mount Airy and Bucks County, loved animals and kept parrots, tortoises, bearded dragon lizards, and dogs in his home, and raised koi in a backyard pond. He grew fruit trees and raised honey bees.

It is not clear how Gerold died or why anyone would have wanted to kill him. Police have not divulged many details in the case as they continue to investigate. No one has been charged in Gerold’s killing, but authorities have charged three people, including a man who worked for him, with burglary and related offenses for taking thousands in cash, a television, and other items from his house.

Law enforcement sources said at least one of the three is expected to face murder charges, possibly as soon as Monday.

Police found Gerold’s dismembered torso inside a trash bag in the back of the U-Haul truck around 9 a.m. Feb. 11 after a neighbor called about a burglary in progress at Gerold’s 1½-story home, with trees and beehives in the front yard, on the 1000 block of Sanibel Street in Somerton. But an even more grisly discovery was yet to come. As police later searched dumpsters behind a strip mall near Gerold’s home, they found more body parts, including hands and feet that were deep-fried. That ghoulish find horrified Gerold’s friends and neighbors and even seasoned police investigators.

The case began to unfold when officers stopped the U-Haul after it drove a short distance away from Gerold’s home shortly after the neighbor’s phone call.

The driver of the U-Haul, a 43-year-old man, told the officers he was merely giving a friend a ride. “I don’t want anything to do with this,” he said, according to police, “ — and there’s a body in the back.”

The passenger in the truck, Taray Herring, appeared nervous, said he was coming from his “lover’s house,” and told officers he had been paid $1,000 to remove a body, according to court documents.

Herring, 47, was charged with abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence for allegedly dismembering Gerold’s body with a saw, according to a law enforcement source, deep-frying parts of it, and disposing of the body in the U-Haul and in the dumpsters. He was also charged with burglary and related offenses in the theft of items from Gerold’s home.

A close friend of Gerold’s, Frank Burkhead, said Gerold was not in a romantic relationship with Herring and called that claim “a lie.” He said Herring worked for Gerold, taking care of his pets.

According to court documents, Herring told detectives Gerold was killed during a botched robbery carried out by his ex-girlfriend and her new beau.

He said he invited them into the house, then left them there and when he returned, Gerold was on the floor, bleeding from the head and not moving.

He later recanted, according to court documents, telling detectives he was angry at the couple because they took things from the house and Gerold’s Ford Expedition SUV and did not return, leaving him alone with the body.

» READ MORE: Philly man charged with burglary, abuse of corpse in case of dismembered body found in U-Haul truck

Herring, of Northeast Philadelphia, is in custody in a city jail and has been denied bail. His attorney, Derek Steenson, declined to comment, saying he had spoken with Herring only briefly about the case.

Herring, a registered sex offender, has another open burglary case and previous convictions on charges including unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, indecent assault, and aggravated assault. He spent about half of his adult life behind bars, including serving about 14 years in state prison on aggravated assault and indecent assault cases, prison records show.

Herring’s former girlfriend, Jeanette Pace, 42, and her boyfriend, Rafique McNichols, 39, both of Ventnor, were charged with burglary and related offenses for allegedly stealing items from Gerold’s house. She is also charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in the taking of Gerold’s Ford Expedition, which was found by police in Ventnor near the apartment where the couple lived.

Pace told detectives Herring wanted her to sell some of Gerold’s animals, and that on Feb. 8, Herring and McNichols broke into Gerold’s safe and took out about $3,000. She said she and McNichols only later learned that a body had been found and that Herring had been arrested.

Pace’s attorney, David Glanzberg, declined to comment. McNichols’ attorney, Andre Martino, did not return calls seeking comment.

» READ MORE: After finding a dismembered body in a U-Haul, Philly police search for evidence in strip mall dumpsters

As police search for answers in the crime, Gerold’s friends say they’re bewildered by his violent death.

Burkhead, Gerold’s friend, said Gerold had hired Herring last year to work for him to help take care of his numerous pets. Herring also helped Gerold shovel snow and had helped him move items from his Langhorne office to a new office in Yardley, Burkhead said.

Burkhead, 50, of Langhorne, described Gerold as caring and kind.

“He loved his pets, he loved his house, he loved his clients,” Burkhead said.

Another friend, Barb Blasko, of Newtown, said Gerold “had an extremely giving heart and personality.”

She recalled how Gerold delighted in the windows in his new office in Yardley. “He loved his plants and loved his sunshine, and the days getting longer,” she said.

She and others who knew and cared for Gerold said they found the circumstances of his death unfathomable.

“He had the heart of a healer,” said Burkhead. “Knowing what happened, I still can’t wrap my head around it. We’re devastated.”