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Amish Murder


Born into an Old-Order Amish family, raised without television, little league, shopping malls, or babysitters, by loving parents who indulged him, Ed grew into a moody, rebellious, lazy, dishonest child. He craved attention. He brooded. He was a bully, a practical joker, a know-it-all, a show-off. He came to America as an angry, frustrated, unhappy adult. He blamed his misery on his father, the bishop, and the rigid, stifling restraints of Amish culture. He thought he wanted more out of life. He wanted the freedom to enjoy and be a part of modern technology, to explore mechanics and electricity. He was too clever, intelligent, inquisitive, independent, and outgoing to be an Amishman, to farm, to run an old-fashioned sawmill. When he had the chance to leave the fold Ed couldn't find the courage to make the break. He was all talk, no action. Katie came along and sucked him into marriage. They had children. He felt trapped, he was trapped. Ed hated weakness. His father was weak, and now he was weak. Katie was strong, she had enslaved him. Ed wallowed in self-pity, He lived a life without meaning, a life without passion. Ed was dead – he had died inside himself. He blamed Katie for his unhappiness. She had ruined his life. Maybe the children were not really his. Suppose Katie had been impregnated by his brother Danny. Katie liked Danny, everybody did. Danny, the perfect Amishman. Ed loved Danny, he hated Danny. Ed's children were not his, they were Danny's – if this were true – who could blame him for leaving Katie? Katie and Danny making love behind his back – the perfect excuse – an exquisite mix of paranoia, self-pity, and wishful thinking. The children were his, Ed knew they were his, but they could have been Danny's, he wanted them to be Danny's, and that was the truth. Reality after all, was in the eye of the beholder.

Ed lost his grip. From an unhappy, accident-prone malingerer, he slipped into depression, became sickly, then dependent, all the while keeping up a good front for his English associates. It was killing him. He was married to a stubborn, pig-headed woman who refused to let go of the marriage. He treated her like dirt, he hit her, he stayed out at night with other women, he embarrassed her in front of others. She held on, she had no pride. She still loved him. She tried to figure out what she was doing wrong. Her desperation disgusted him. He couldn't kill her love. He hated her love. He hated her. He hated himself. He hated God. He ridiculed and disdained the Amish church, but he believed in God, and all-knowing, unforgiving God. He had sinned and was being punished with a miserable life to be followed by an eternity in hell. The inevitability of hell terrified him, deepened his depression, and pushed him closer to the edge of reality. It was hopeless. He was delirious with despair. The evangelists – the religious busybodies – came with their message of hope and rebirth and the promise of a new life. They found a man dying of thirst and gave him water. Ed needed a sip, he got a wave. It was too much, too late. Ed went crazy and killed his wife. He killed because he hated. He killed because he feared. He killed to save himself. In the end, he saved himself.

Ed's insanity didn't turn him into a killer, the urge was already there, the mental illness just released it. Murder is pathological, evil, irrational, deviant, and illegal, but it is not a symptom of mental illness. Murder is personality. If Ed's brother Danny went nuts he wouldn't kill anyone. That's because he and Ed are different people – Ed is a killer, Danny isn't. What is special about Ed? What does he have that Danny doesn't have? What does he lack that Danny possesses? What aspect of Ed's personality gave him the potential to kill? Psychiatrists and psychologists don't ask questions like this. Psychiatrists treat the mental illness with drugs, psychologists provide therapy. In Ed's case, that meant helping him cope with the fact that he was a killer, helping him rationalize his murderous behavior by blaming Katie's death on his insanity. No wonder nobody knows why Ed killed Katie. Amish culture, depression, religious melancholia, the devil, paranoid schizophrenia, Gunk, religious busybodies, quackery, delayed medical treatment, and premature discharges from mental wards, in part or in some combination, did not kill Katie Gingerich. Ed did.

Ed knew he had committed a terrible and horrific act: “I'm the bad guy,” he said when the police came. “My father will understand.” His father, of course, did not understand. No one did. Experts examined Ed, he was tried in a court of law, and when all was said and done, Katie's death remained a mystery. The men who prosecuted the case didn't have the foggiest idea why Ed killed Katie. They didn't care. Why should they? It wasn't their job to figure this out. Under the law they didn't have to prove why, just the how, when, and where. The prosecutors did not have to prove that Ed was sane, the defense had to prove him otherwise. It really didn't matter anyway, juries hate the insanity defense. If a man kills his wife he should go to jail, at least for a while. Sure, Ed was nuts. Would a sane person do what he had done? But so what? His wife is just as dead.

Defense attorney Don Lewis didn't know why Ed killed Katie. He didn't want to know either. Ed went crazy and snuffed his wife. He lost his mind. Whose fault was that? A man catches a cold, he passes it to his wife, she dies of pneumonia. Is that murder? The poor man was sick, he lost his beloved wife! How can that be murder? This man should not be pitied, not punished; cured not cursed. What ever happened to compassion? Ed's trial was a sham and a farce. Worse, it was boring. The most interesting, and perhaps enlightening evidence came from the prosecution side in the form of an unconstitutionally acquired confession that helped the defense. The experts for the defense were useless. They had no sense of Ed beyond the fact that he was an Amishman who flipped his lid and killed his spouse. He was, to them, nothing more than a bundle of symptoms, a collection of labels. He didn't exist as a living, breathing, complicated man with a tortured past. He was a stranger. The idea that Ed's homicidal fury was triggered by the degreasing solvent was laughable and absurd. What was the jury to do with this kind of puerility? They did what they had to do: they ignored the judge and butchered the law. They found Ed guilty of a crime he did not commit. Legally, they put Ed in a class with drunk drivers, careless hunters, and businessmen who chain up fire exit doors. Katie Gingerich's death was not a result of a reckless act.

The most telling clue to Katie's murder is the post-mortem evisceration. What kind of man kills a woman with his bare hands then mutilates her body with a knife? It's not enough to call Jack-the-Ripper crazy. The way in which this man opened up his prostitute victims in East London is no less expressive, no less ritualistic, than the way Ed opened up Katie and pulled out her insides. Men who commit crimes like this hate women. Ed was a man who frightened women. He scared Emma Shetler, he frightened Katie, he terrified his own mother. He gave Kim Kerstetter a look that made her blood run cold. He terrorized the nurse in the Crawford County Jail, and he offered to kill a dog for the nurse in North Warren. He had been physically abusing his wife.

By gutting Katie, Ed destroyed her womanhood. It wasn't a sexual act, he didn't touch her external genitalia, it was hate. It was rage. It was fear. It was power. He left her dead, he left her hollow.

Like himself.

Jim Fisher
January 9, 1997

This page was last updated on: Monday, January 7, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com