Early in May 1994, Edward Gingerich, prisoner 5427, traveled to the state penitentiary in Pittsburgh for evaluation and classification. Corrections officials there would determine the most suitable place for him to serve his involuntary manslaughter sentence. Having spent more than a year in the Crawford County Jail, Ed had more or less adjusted to life behind bars. On July 12, Ed’s attorney, Don Lewis, took me to Pittsburgh to see his client. I had not met Ed and he didn’t know I was coming. Following a rather cold reception, I told him I was a writer thinking about doing a book about the violent death of his wife. Ed didn’t say anything but I could tell he wasn’t thrilled by the idea. Since I had not yet interviewed Emma Shetler, Ben Stutzman, Rudy Shetler, or any of the others in the Brownhill Amish and English communities, I knew little about Ed beyond what I had learned at his trial. To me, Ed was still a mystery.
Ed said he would speak with me but wouldn’t discuss anything related to Katie’s death. He obviously wasn’t pleased that his attorney had brought me to Pittsburgh to question him about something he didn’t want to talk about. Don Lewis, believing I would be charmed by his client, thought our meeting would be a plus for Ed. As it turned out, the lawyer would be wrong about that.
I asked Ed what he thought of the psychiatric care he had received before he killed his wife. He mentioned Dr. Merritt Terrell, the dispenser of black strap molasses, a man he called a “quack.” He had seen the “Pennsylvania Doctor” simply to please his wife who had been a believer in Terrell’s chiropractic magic. Ed thought less of Jacob Troyer, the “Punxsutawney healer” who, in the shadow of his sawmill near Smicksburg, predicted illness by looking into your eyes, and had an herbal remedy for anything that ailed you. Again, it was Katie who believed in the hocus-pocus of iridology. As for his legitimate psychiatric care, Ed believed he had been discharged prematurely from the Hamot Medical Center in Erie. He liked the food there but considered the group therapy sessions a waste of time. He said he had been discharged from Hamot feeling unwell and completely in the dark regarding what was wrong with his brain. He felt he had received much better treatment at the mental ward in Jamestown, New York. He had asked Katie to let him return to Jamestown, but she had insisted instead on Doc Terrell and Jacob Troyer.
I asked Ed what it was like at the forensic unit at the State Hospital in North Warren. He said it was the worst place he had even been. It was there he had seen “a lot of people walking around in baby steps looking up at the ceiling.” In the forensic unit he had shared a small room with three other patients, including a dentist who had been charged with murdering his wife. He had gotten along nicely with the dentist, but didn’t think much of his other roommates. Too tired to lift weights, work with ceramics, or build bird houses, he spent most of his time sitting in his room, enduring one boring day after another. He had kind words for the counselors, however, characterizing them as nice people who had tried to help him.
Worried that he would be convicted of first-degree murder and sent to prison for life, Ed found his trial experience extremely stressful. He had been greatly relieved by the verdict. The jury had been lenient, he thought, because of his mental illness and the fact he was Amish. He had no hard feelings against the police and the prosecutors who had tried to have him locked up for the rest of his life. He had been bothered, however, by the trial reporters who never stopped pestering him for statements they could put in their newspapers. They had no respect for his privacy. (By telling me this, Ed was implying that I had no respect for his privacy either.)
Ed told me that two days earlier, his parents had brought his three children to Pittsburgh. This had been the first time he had spoken to them since the killing. To his relief, they went right to him, showing no fear. His four-year-old daughter Mary had said, “Dad, you shouldn’t have done that to mom.” Asked what his parents say to the children about him, Ed replied , “They tell them their father is sick, that he’ll come home when he’s better.” Regarding his children, Ed said, “ I hope this won’t make trouble for them when they get older.” I asked him to elaborate but he declined.
Aware that Levi Shetler had died of a heart attack, Ed had written Emma several letters asking her to forgive him. So far she had not written back. Although he believed he still had some support among the Brownhill Amish, Ed wasn’t sure he would return to the community. As far as he knew, he had not been shunned from the church or his family. He surprised me by saying he would like to marry again, but figured bishop Shetler would not approve. When I expressed interest in that possibility, he said marrying an English woman was not out of the question as long as she agreed to join the church and follow the bishop’s rules. I asked Ed if, under the circumstances, it would be hard for him to find a wife. If he got the point of the question he didn’t let on.
Don Lewis believed that his client was a decent, God-fearing man who had been victimized by a society of unforgiving old-order Amish who didn’t understand how untreated mental illness can make the afflicted person act out of character. Going into the interview I had been prepared to believe that as well. After the visit, however, I wasn’t so sure. Ed came across as self-centered and unremorseful. I was surprised how easily he had blamed Katie for dealing improperly with his mental condition. Ed didn’t seem to appreciate the difficulty of handling people who are seriously mentally ill, and how hard it is on the people close to them. He didn’t seem to take responsibility for, or even acknowledge, that after two stints in the hospital mental wards he had quit taking his anti-psychotic medication. His somewhat superior attitude and self-serving responses to my questions reminded me of some of the sociopaths I had dealt with when I was in the FBI. He was not what I had expected in an old-order Amish man who had gone crazy and killed his wife.
In September, after prison authorities moved Ed to a minimum security facility near Mercer, Pennsylvania fifty miles south of Brownhill, I wrote him a letter asking him to add me to his list of authorized visitors. A few days later he called me collect from the prison. He said he had heard that I had been in Brownhill asking questions about him and didn’t like that I was snooping into his past for the purpose of a book. Stating his belief that I would write whatever I wanted regardless of what he told me, he saw no reason to see me again. He was not happy that Don Lewis had taken me to Pittsburgh to question him. It was only because of Don that he had spoken to me in the first place. Having said what he wanted to say, he hung up. I then realized that if I were to unlock the mystery of Ed Gingerich, I would have to do it without his help. At that point I wasn’t sure if Ed had something to hide, or simply didn’t like me invading his privacy.
Ed’s prison visitor list, comprised of thirty-eight names, did not include David Lindsey or Lazar LeMajic. The evangelists who had boggled his psychotic mind with hopes of redemption and a way into heaven, had been replaced by a group of new-order Amish from the Guys Mills area east of Meadville. These evangelists had reached out to Ed through Eli Mast, a recently converted old-order Amish man who had once purchased a diesel motor from Ed. Eli and his wife Sarah, members of the Crossroads Mission Church, had prayed with Ed twice a month at the Crawford County Jail. They had visited him in Pittsburgh as well, and after the authorities moved Ed to Mercer, Ed placed Eli on his visitor list, designating him as his “spiritual advisor.”
In November 1994, after listening to a series of audio-taped sermons brought to the prison by Eli, Ed wrote a note announcing to the world that he had been saved. He gave the written testimony to Eli, asking him to read it to the Crossroads congregation:
A brother in Christ
In April 2005, Ed informed Eli Mast that he had no choice but to remove him from his list of visitors. Five months earlier, Ed had taken deacon Ben Stutzman and bishop Rudy Shetler off the prison roster. Ed’s father had told him that if he continued seeing Eli and the other evangelists, the Brownhill Amish would shun him. If that happened, Ed would not be welcomed back into the community. He would also be denied access to his children. Eli Mast stopped coming to Mercer but continued sending Ed the religious tapes.
Eventually word got back to bishop Shetler that Ed had embraced a new-order theology. The bishop and others in the community had also learned that Ed was telling people that if Katie had allowed him the proper spiritual support, she would not have been killed. The Brownhill elders felt they had no choice but to kick Ed out of the church and ban him from his children, his family, and the old-order community.
On April 21, 1995, Emma Shetler and her unmarried children left Brownhill. She had sold the 150-acre farm on Townline Road and had purchased a house in the Conewango Valley settlement in New York. Her son Emanuel and his family were also moving to the Amish enclave near Jamestown. The Shetlers were leaving out of fear of what Ed might do when he got out of prison. Emma didn’t want to answer a knock on her door some night and find Ed standing on her porch. The mere thought of that possibility gave her the shakes.
In February 1996, bishop Vernon Kline, minister John M. Yoder, and two other members of a new-order Amish settlement in Holmes County near Homesville, Ohio, pulled up to bishop Shetler’s house in a van. They had come to Brownhill to discuss the possibility of Ed and his children settling in their community. In explaining why Ed had been shunned from the Brownhill church, bishop Shetler said it was because he had found a new religion. Members of the Brownhill community where also struggling with the terrible thing he had done to his wife, and were afraid of him. For those reasons, they did not want him back among them. As for Ed’s children, they were being raised by his parents. While Dan and Mary Gingerich didn’t have court-ordered custody of Dan, Enos, and Mary, they had no intention of turning them over to Ed when he got out of prison. (Ed had, by handwritten letter, given custody of his children to his parents.) Bishop Shetler cautioned bishop Kline and his group against inviting Ed into their community. Ed had a way of getting people to like and support him, but beneath the façade, especially when he wasn’t on his medication, he was a cunning and dangerous man. He was also a notorious liar.
The visitors from Ohio made it clear they did not believe Ed was a danger to his children or anyone else. It was their understanding, after talking to Ed, that he had adopted a new religion simply because he had been thrown out of the old-order church in Brownhill. Bishop Shetler knew this to be untrue and he said so. The Ohio delegation seemed shocked by the lack of forgiveness exhibited by Ed’s former people. They climbed into their van in a huff and were driven off.
Ed’s parents weren’t sure what would happen when Ed walked out of prison. In his most recent letters he talked about taking his children to Ohio and raising them as new-order Amish. In January 1997, the Gingerichs consulted a lawyer in Meadville about acquiring legal custody of Dan, Enos, and Mary. They learned that Ed, by killing their mother, had not automatically lost legal custody of his children. To take legal control from their son, the Gingerichs would have to go to court. Because old-order Amish are reluctant to take such drastic legal measures, Dan and Mary Gingerich decided to handle the problem through the family and the church.
As Ed’s release date approached, members of the Brownhill community became increasingly anxious. Since Ed’s incarceration in Mercer, there had been persistent rumors that a band of evangelists had broken him out of prison and were on their way to Brownhill to kidnap his children in the name of Jesus. In May 1997, to the relief of many, the state parole board denied Ed’s second request for early release. Emma Shetler and the bishop had written letters urging the authorities to keep him behind bars. But on March 19, 1998, four years after his conviction, Ed walked out of the minimum security facility a free man. Because he had served his full sentence, the state had no say over where he lived, what he did, or whether or not he kept taking his anti-psychotic medication. Based upon the behavior of other paranoid schizophrenics, one could reasonably assume that at some point Ed would stop taking his drugs. The difference between Ed and most schizophrenics, however, was that Ed, when off his medicine, had committed an act of extreme violence. That made him, in the minds of many, a walking time-bomb.
The Brownhill Amish were collectively relieved when they learned that Ed was not coming home. A group of new-order Amish from central Indiana had taken Ed to an Amish-run and financed rehabilitation center in northern Michigan called Harmony Haven Home. Housed in an unpretentious prefab building amid a cluster of Amish dwellings and farms, Harmony Haven served as a combination treatment facility and religious retreat for mentally and emotionally troubled plain people. Omer P. Miller, a new-order Amish bishop with an eighth-grade education and religious views not unlike Eli Mast’s, occupied the position of director. Administrator Ben Fisher ran the operation on a day-to-day basis. The local enclave, known as the Evart Amish, wore traditional Amish clothing and got around in horse-drawn buggies. The men sported beards and the women wore bonnets and capes. But unlike most of their old-order counterparts, the Evart clan used heavy machinery, trucks, and telephones to conduct their business which involved the manufacture of outdoor furniture and log cabin assembly kits. Ed would work in the machine shop that served the large, modern sawmill.
Harmony Haven “residents,” people sent to the facility from settlements throughout the United States and Canada, are exposed to a period of intense religious indoctrination. The more serious the problem, the longer the “treatment.” Once the devil has been prayed out of them, a process that takes between three to nine months, they are returned to their homes cleansed of their demons. It took seven months to spiritually rehabilitate Ed. Since he had nowhere to go following his indoctrination, he remained in the Evart community as a permanent resident.
At any given time there are six to eight residents under Omer Miller’s care at Harmony Haven. They live in small houses and are looked after by so-called “house parents” from their respected communities. Ed was cared for by Joseph A. and Linda G. Gingerich (no relation), a new-order couple from Guys Mills who lived with Ed during his first four months. James A. Miller from the same Crawford County community looked after Ed during the remaining three months of his spiritual healing.
Shortly after Ed arrived in Evart, his parents sent him a letter setting out the terms, drawn-up by the Brownhill elders, of his child visitation program. Once every June Ed could return to Brownhill for a closely supervised afternoon with his children. The visits were to be preceded by sufficient notice. Although Ed considered these terms restrictive in the extreme, and not legally enforceable, he decided to comply.
On July 13, 2000, two months after the publication of Crimson Stain, I received a letter from Emma Shetler in which she wrote that a friend in Michigan had reported that Ed had “gone after a woman with a knife” and was back in jail. To confirm that Ed had been arrested, I called the Michigan State Police in Reed City and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. No one I spoke to found any record of Ed’s arrest, were familiar with the name, or had heard of Harmony Haven Home. A few days later I spoke to James A. Miller and Joseph A. Gingerich, Ed’s Harmony Haven house parents. Mr. Miller said he had heard the rumor, but after talking with Ed could report that it wasn’t true. He would say no more about the matter. Mr. Gingerich, a bit more forthcoming, told me he and his wife Linda had visited Ed in Michigan the previous February. While they were there, a snow storm had kept Ed from traveling to Mount Pleasant for his medication. During the next few days Ed’s personality deteriorated. He became morose, edgy, and suspicious of everyone. Joe offered the possibility that during this period Ed may have frightened a female member of the staff. Perhaps the rumor about the knife attack had originated from such an incident.
That August, accompanied by Daniel L. Barber, a private investigator and longtime colleague with relatives in the Evart area, I traveled to Michigan to confirm or debunk the knife attack rumor. On Monday, August 7, I spoke to Omer P. Miller from my motel phone. I advised Omer I was in Reed City and asked if I could drop by Harmony Haven for a talk about Ed. I also said I would like to spend some time with Ed himself. Omer said he’d see me in his office Wednesday morning at nine. If Ed wanted to speak with me he would be there as well. Omer had read Crimson Stain, and had read selected parts to Ed. I asked what parts of the book were passed onto Ed. Omer said they had gone over the middle section of the book. According to Omer, Ed had no memory of Katie’s death. To my question of how Ed had responded to the rumors involving his relationship with Debbie Williams, Omer replied that Ed had told him that he and Debbie had just been friends. She had wanted more, but he had resisted. Ed also denied physically abusing Katie before becoming mentally ill. Ed’s older brothers, Atlee and Joe, had also read the book and declared it “full of lies.” When I inquired about the nature of the lies, Omer said he didn’t have the specifics.
At two-fifteen that afternoon, Omer called the motel and said that he was having second thoughts about my Harmony Haven visit. He was concerned I would write another book about Ed which would portray the Evart institution in a bad light. After reading Crimson Stain Omer felt certain I wouldn’t approve of his mental health methodology. He would be speaking to Ed that evening, and if Ed allowed it, our meeting would take place as scheduled.
The next morning at nine, Omer called and said, “Ed doesn’t necessarily want to see you. This brings a lot back to him. Call back at eleven o’clock for a final decision.” Later that morning I learned that Ed did not want to speak to me and that the meeting was off. Figuring this was my last chance to speak to Omer, I asked him directly if Ed had gone off his medication and attacked a woman with a knife. Responding indirectly to my question, Omer acknowledged that Ed had suffered a “relapse” after having his medicine switched to a generic brand. Because this story didn’t square with Joseph A. Gingerich’s snow storm account, I wondered if Ed had “relapsed” more than once. Perhaps neither event had anything to do with the knife attack rumor.
Before Omer ended our conversation, I mentioned Emma Shetler’s letter containing the rumor that Ed had been arrested, noting that she still lived in fear of her former son-in-law. “Emma didn’t appreciate Ed at all,” Omer replied. “At least she tried to get him medical help. Katie didn’t.” Referring to Dr. Merritt Terrell and Jacob Troyer as “quacks,” Omer said, “They should have gone to prison instead of Ed.” Based on these comments, I wondered if a major component of Ed’s rehabilitation included absolving himself of any responsibility for Katie’s death.
I left Michigan without speaking to Ed or confirming Emma Shetler’s rumor. I had learned that Ed had “relapsed” and was blaming Katie, and to a lesser extent the herb healers, for her death. Based upon what Joseph A. Gingerich had said, I believed that Emma Shetler, while she may not have been in danger from Ed, was correct in assuming he was still dangerous.
I had been back in Pennsylvania a few days when Emma Shetler called with the information that Linda A. Gingerich had been the woman Ed had threatened with a knife at Harmony Haven. Emma had heard that Linda had been working in the kitchen cutting meat when Ed came up behind her. The look on his face caused her to summon help by activating her “panic button.” She had not been attacked or injured, but had left Michigan with a bad case of “the shaky legs.” I called Linda Gingerich and asked if Emma’s account of the incident were true. She said she did not want to talk to me about Harmony Haven or Edward Gingerich. I later spoke to several new-order Amish people from the Guys Mills area who said they had heard accounts similar to Emma’s story. As it stood, without the cooperation of Omer Miller, the rumor about Ed and the knife would remain just that, a rumor.
In the years that followed Emma’s letter and my trip to Michigan, I didn’t hear a thing about Ed, Harmony Haven, or what was going on in the Brownhill community other than Merritt Terrell, “the Pennsylvania doctor,” had died. I did hear regularly from readers of Crimson Stain who wanted to know what had become of Ed following his conviction. As far as I knew, he was still living in Michigan with the Evart Amish. I also assumed he was still working in the machine shop next to the sawmill.
On February 2, 2007, I received an email from a reader in Evart who wrote that Ed was no longer living in Michigan. This person thought he had moved to Indiana and asked if I had any further information regarding his whereabouts. I wrote back saying this was news to me and asked for details surrounding his departure from the Evart community. The reader reported that Ed had been asked to leave after he had “gone after the bishop’s wife.” Following another exchange of emails I learned that the bishop in question was Omer Miller and that Ed’s actions toward Miller’s wife had been romantic rather than violent.
On April 19, 2007, ten weeks after hearing from the reader in Evart, a television producer with the CBS affiliate in Erie called with news that Ed Gingerich had moved back into the Brownhill community. According the producer, Ed’s parents, the previous afternoon, had reported Mary, Ed’s seventeen-year-old daughter, missing. Dan and Mary Gingerich told the Pennsylvania State Police that Ed, with the help of his two sons Dan and Enos, and Ed’s older brothers Joe and Atlee and their children, had taken the girl, against her will, to some unknown location. Ed’s whereabouts were also unknown. Mary, unmarried and living with her grandparents, had been missing almost twenty-four hours. People in the community were worried that Ed might harm his estranged daughter. Although no criminal charges had been filed, the police were searching for Ed and the girl.
According to the complaint lodged by Mary’s grandparents, at six o’clock Wednesday evening, on Frisbeetown Road, Ed’s twenty-year-old son Dan jumped into a buggy being driven by Ed’s thirty-nine-year old sister, Clara. Dan took over the reins and directed the rig, also occupied by his sister Mary, toward Atlee’s barn located in the southwest quadrant of the Sturgis-Frisbeetown intersection. From the mouth of the lane leading back to the barn, Enos, Ed’s eighteen-year-old boy, led the horse to its destination. At the barn, Mary and Clara were met by Ed, Atlee, and Joe. Also present were Atlee’s boys David, Eli and Jacob, and Joe’s sons David and Albert. Joe had also brought his fifteen-year-old daughter Matty who was there as Mary’s traveling companion. Someone locked Clara into the barn to keep her from immediately alerting her parents. A short time later, Ed, Mary and her cousin Matty climbed into a car driven by an unidentified English man. Clara, after she had escaped from the barn, reported the incident to Dan and Mary Gingerich. She said she had no idea where the driver had taken Ed and the girls. Mr. and Mrs. Gingerich feared that Ed had taken their granddaughter to some unknown place for a religious brainwashing.
The state trooper taking the missing persons complaint knew nothing of Edward Gingerich or the Brownhill Amish. The Gingerichs explained that their son, a mentally ill person, had been, years earlier, convicted of killing his wife. As a result, they had been raising Ed’s three children. Since 1998, when Ed got out of prison, he had been living in Michigan and Indiana. Ed had returned to the community in late January and was staying with his two sons in a rented house owned by his brother Joe on Hogback Road. The boys worked as farmhands on Atlee’s farm. About a year and a half earlier, Ed’s older brothers Joe and Atlee, and his thirty-four-year old brother John who now ran the sawmill, had been excommunicated after “disrespecting the church.” The leaders of the old-order community had shunned them and their families. John’s wife Katie did not approve of her husband’s alliance with his older brothers, and as a result, she had been harassed by her nephews who had slipped into her house (the site of the other Katie’s murder) and shined flashlights in her face in the middle of the night. She had pack up and left for her parents’ farm in central Kentucky. The couple did not have children. Two months later she returned to Brownhill where she lived apart from her husband. Joe Gingerich and his wife Annie had ten children, ages one month to twenty-one years. Because of the shunning, Joe’s four children between the ages six to fourteen, were prohibited from attending the Brownhill Amish school system.
Although shunned by the Brownhill elders, Joe and Atlee and their families had not left the community. Ed’s younger brother Dan, his best friend growing up, had remained loyal to the old-order ways. Uncomfortable living in a community split over religion and his brother’s excommunication, Dan had avoided harassment by moving his family to Conewango Valley, New York. Ed’s younger brother Noah, thirty-two and unmarried, worked on the Gingerich family farm with his younger brother Simon. Because of Noah’s loyalty to the old-order community and his close relationship with Mary, his niece, his brothers Joe and Atlee and their boys had been intimidating him as well. It had gotten so bad Noah had been visiting Norwich, Canada, the place of his birth, to look for a farm he could rent.
Over the past months, Joe, Atlee and their sons had also been harassing the younger members of the old-order church in an effort to wrench them free of the bishop’s influence. It had gotten so intimidating that several of the old-order families had sold their farms and moved away. At night the younger Gingerich men, riding horseback, pulled up alongside buggies and shined spotlights into the cabs to spook the horses and frighten the occupants. The previous summer the state police had arrested Ed’s son Dan, Joe’s boy Albert, and Atlee’s son David for criminal trespass after they had unlawfully intruded into a Wednesday evening prayer meeting attended by old-order youths. Because the Gingerich boys had violated the restraining order that had been issued following their arrests, the prohibition was still in effect. Joe Gingerich and his followers were making life miserable for Brownhill’s old-order Amish who wanted nothing more than to go about their daily lives without being harassed. Joe Gingerich was a rebel with a cause that didn’t seem to make any sense. No one could figure out what he wanted other than to vent his anger and get even with a society that had shunned his brother.
For the old-order leaders of the Brownhill Amish, Ed’s return to the community had exacerbated an already serious problem. With Ed back in the enclave, the so-called Gingerich gang was all the more intimidating. Given his history of violence, people were not sure what Ed might do. According to Ed’s sister Clara, the one who had been locked into Atlee’s barn, Ed had gotten Mary into the car by threatening to call the police who, according to Ed, would have forced her to live with him at his house on Hogback Road. With Mary gone and her whereabouts unknown, people in the community who were already afraid of Ed, were now worried about the safety of his daughter.
On Thursday, the day the senior Gingerichs lodged the abduction complaint with the state police, they also filed for and obtained an emergency court order requiring Ed, Atlee and Joe to reveal their granddaughter’s whereabouts. Pursuant to this order, Ed and his brothers were barred from further contact with the girl until a judge resolved the matter in an upcoming judicial proceeding. That Dan and Mary Gingerich had sought help from the court, with the approval of bishop Rudy Shetler, revealed the desperation and fear within the old-order community.
The next day, Crawford County district attorney Francis Schultz charged Ed, Atlee, and Joe with interfering with the custody of a child, conspiracy to commit concealment of a child, and concealment of a child. The police arrested Atlee and Joe on Friday, April 20, 2007. Both men refused to reveal where Ed had taken his daughter. According to their account of the incident, Ed had taken Mary on vacation so they could get re-acquainted with each other. She went willingly with her father who believed, because he had legal custody, was doing nothing wrong or unlawful. Her grandparents, because they didn’t want Ed bonding with his daughter, had overreacted. Notwithstanding this line of defense, the district magistrate set bail at $30,000 each and sent the Gingerich brothers to the Crawford County Jail.
At four o’clock Sunday afternoon, April 22, the state police in Kane, a route 6 town two hours east of Mill Village, arrested Ed in a wilderness cluster of houses and deer hunting cabins called Kushequa located in the Allegheny Mountains northeast of the tiny village of Mount Jewett. Responding to an anonymous tip, the trooper found Ed working on a small, two-story house owned by George M. Schroeck, an attorney who used the place as a hunting retreat. The sixty-one-year-old lawyer, who lived on Miller Station Road a few miles west of Ed’s house on Hogback, had represented the Gingerich boysDan, David, and Albertin the 2006 criminal trespass case. Schroeck had also, months earlier, petitioned the court, on Ed’s behalf, for visitation rights with Mary. The trooper took Ed into custody and asked where he could find Mary. Ed said she and her cousin were taking a walk on Kushequa Road. With Ed handcuffed in the back of the cruiser, the officer rolled up alongside Mary and Matty. The girls climbed into the front seat of the patrol car. Asked if they were okay, Mary and her cousin nodded their heads in the affirmative.
A state trooper from the Meadville barracks drove to Kane to pick up Mary and Matty and bring them back to Brownhill. When she got home, Mary immediately assured her grandparents, who were greatly relieved to have her back, that her father had failed to convince her to move in with him and her brothers. She also declared her intention of staying in her grandparents’ home after she turned eighteen.
The state police brought Ed out of McKean County to Titusville just inside the Crawford County line for arraignment before magisterial judge Amy Nichols. The judge set Ed’s bail at $100,000, barred him from contact with his daughter, and ordered him to stay away from attorney George Schroeck. (The judge didn’t explain why Ed was prohibited from associating with his attorney.) Each of the charges against Ed and his brothers were third-degree felonies carrying maximum sentences of seven years. If Ed were convicted of just one of these charges, he could spend more time in prison for concealing the whereabouts of his daughter than he had for killing his wife.
On the day after Ed’s arrest I called the number I still had for Harmony Haven Home. It had been almost seven years since I had spoken with bishop Omer P. Miller. I wanted to know if Ed had returned to Brownhill directly from Evart or had been living somewhere in Indiana. I also hoped to learn if Ed’s leaving Michigan had anything to do with his failing mental health and/or a romantic interest in the bishop’s wife.
Melvin Swartz, Harmony Haven’s administrator, answered the phone. I identified myself and the general purpose of my call and asked to speak to the director. Mr. Schwartz said that the bishop was at the moment unavailable. Instead of hanging up and trying again, I asked Mr. Schwartz if he would answer a few questions. He said he’d be glad to. Regarding where Ed had been living immediately before returning to Brownhill, the administrator said that when he came on the job in September 2005, Ed was no longer living in the Evart community. He had voluntarily moved into a long care mental health institution for Amish people called Pleasant Haven located on the campus of a Mennonite run psychiatric center in Goshen, Indiana called Oaklawn. As to why Ed had moved from Evart to Goshen, Melvin said Ed had a habit of going off his medication and required closer, in-house monitoring and supervision. Stating that Ed “goes out of his head” when he doesn’t take his drugs, Melvin said he had heard stories of Ed’s bizarre and erratic behavior when off his medication. On one occasion, for example, Ed dove head-first through a closed window and ran down the road bleeding from his cuts.
I asked administrator Schwartz if he and the others at Harmony Haven had heard of Ed’s recent problems in Pennsylvania. Yes, he said, they knew Ed had been arrested for running off with his daughter. Omer’s son had seen a news story on a neighbor’s television set about the incident. The son reported to his father that Ed, according to the news account, had told the police that his bishop in Michigan had given him permission to quit taking his medicine. Before I could ask Mr. Schwartz about the rumor concerning Ed and the bishop’s wife, he put me on hold while he checked to see if Omer could come to the phone. A minute later Melvin came back on the line. Omer Miller did not feel comfortable talking to me about Ed. The conversation was over. Melvin said goodbye and hung up.
On Friday, April 27, two days after Joe and Atlee made their bail by shelling out the cash, magisterial judge Lincoln Zilhaver presided over a hearing in Saegertown occasioned by Ed’s request to have his bail lowered. The hearing got underway at two o’clock in the small courtroom attached to the new Crawford County Jail, a facility built after Ed’s homicide trial. The judge, prosecutor Francis Schultz, public defender Dan Mason, Ed, and several witnesses were separated from the media and courtroom spectators by a wall of glass. A handful of reporters and twenty-five new-order Amish from the Conneautville area were stuffed into a space designed to accommodate fifteen people. When deputy sheriffs escorted Ed into the courtroom, several of the Amish men banged on the glass to show their support for the prisoner, a man they believed was being persecuted.
The thrust of Ed’s argument for lower bail involved assurances that the behavior in questionthe trip to McKean County with his daughterhad not been fueled by insanity or the potential of violence. To back this up, attorney Mason presented the testimony, via telephone, of Tim Lichty, a Mennonite minister who had counseled Ed during his tenure in Goshen. According to Lichty, Ed had stayed on his medication at Pleasant Haven and had not been a problem. A Crawford County caseworker testified that since Ed had been back in Brownhill, he had been receiving treatment at the Stairways Behavioral Health facility in Titusville. Moreover, a support group had been formed to make certain Ed kept taking his medicine for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
District attorney Schultz countered with two witnesses of his own. The first, an Amish man who was not identified, said that in Goshen, Ed had to be “confined.” According to this witness, when health care personnel in Indiana learned that Ed was free and back in Brownhill, they had reacted with disbelief and horror. Deacon Ben Stutzman, representing what remained of the old-order faction in Brownhill, took the stand. “The Amish and the non-Amish are in fear for their own safety,” he said. Mr. Stutzman also stated that he had heard “through the grapevine” that some local English people, also fearing Ed’s presence in the area, had threatened to take the law into their own hands. The deacon believed that Atlee and Joe had recruited Ed back into the community to help intimidate the old-order Amish. The deacon was not asked why Joe and Atlee were orchestrating this war against their parents, their younger brother Noah, and other members of the old-order community. Had that questioned been asked, Ben Stutzman would not have had an answer.
Before making his decision, the magistrate asked Ed if he had anything to say on his own behalf. Ed rose to his feet and said that he had entered the mental hospital in Goshen on his own volition. As a result, he had not been confined to the institution.
The magistrate did not lower Ed’s bond. A few hours later however, thanks to his brother Joe who handed over the cash, Ed walked out of jail. An English friend drove him back to Brownhill with an electronic tracking device attached to his ankle. Conditions of his release included not leaving Crawford and Erie counties, staying away from his daughter, meeting regularly with a probation officer, keeping on his medication, and no unsupervised contact with women or children. The judge set his preliminary hearing for May 29.
On Sunday, May 6, I spoke to Ben Stutzman in the front yard of his house on Hogback Road. I asked what it felt like living a half mile down the lane from the man he had just testified against. The deacon said the entire old-order community was on edge, waiting for something bad to happen. Ed’s history in Brownhill of quitting his antipsychotic medicine and turning violent had not been forgotten. Ed’s so-called support group, the people supposed to make sure he took his medication, consisted of Joe and Atlee and Ed’s two sons. The deacon had heard that the hunting camp in McKean County where Mary had been taken was owned by attorney George Schroeck. On Thursday, April 19, the day the girl’s grandparents obtained the court order, Mr. Stutzman had seen the lawyer, on several occasions, driving onto Joe Gingerich’s farm. Referring to Schroeck, Ben Stutzman said, “He’s up to his neck in this.” Mr. Stutzman asked me why the authorities hadn’t charged the lawyer with aiding and abetting the abduction. I said I didn’t know why. It all depended on what the lawyer knew, and when he knew it.
The hearing to determine if the state had enough evidence against Ed, Atlee, and Joe to carry the case to trialto bind it overgot underway on Tuesday, May 29, 2007. The prosecutor didn’t have to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, he just had to present enough evidence to convince the magistrate that the defendants were probably guilty. The judicial proceeding was held at the Crawford County Jail complex in Saegertown. Unlike most preliminary hearings, this one had attracted a crowd. About ninety people, mostly new-order Amish, sat quietly on the benches situated throughout the spacious lobby in the administration building. Mary Gingerich and her grandparents were there. So were her aunts Clara and Lizzie and her uncle Noah. Barbara Mountjoy, the attorney who had helped the Gingerich’s acquire the emergency custody order sat with them. Bishop Rudy Shetler and deacon Ben Stutzman were in the room representing the old-order faction of the Brownhill community. The English people in the lobby included the drivers who had taxied the Amish to the hearing, interested residents of the community, and a handful of newspaper and television reporters who rarely covered preliminary hearings. The remaining spectators, on the surface indistinguishable from their more traditional counterparts, were the defendants’ new-order supporters from the Conneautville/ Guys Mills region. Most of the new-order Amish were men, but a few had brought their wives. Several of them were dressed in their Sunday best. To accommodate this unusually large gathering, judge Zilhaver had decided to set up a temporary courtroom in the lobby.
Before filing into the room to take their places at the temporary defendants’ table, Ed, Joe, and Atlee were seated in the regular courtroom as judge Zilhaver informed them of their legal rights, a step necessitated by the fact Ed and his brothers had chosen to represent themselves. Whether motivated by arrogance, economics, or a mistrust of lawyers, this was not a wise decision. These men were less schooled in the criminal justice system than most English, and the charges against them were felonies. As the old saying goes, they had fools for clients. The pre-hearing conference lasted thirty minutes.
Before the state put on its first witness, the judge asked if anyone at the defense table wished to make an opening statement. The three Amish men shook their heads no. Mary Gingerich, a slim, attractive young woman with fair skin and light brown hair, took her seat at the witness table. District attorney Francis Schultz established, through her hesitant testimony given in a faltering voice, that since her mother Katie’s death in 1993, she had been raised by her paternal grandparents. Looking down to avoid eye contact with her father and two uncles, Mary, with the prosecutor’s prompting, and using a few words as possible, described how her brother Dan had jumped into the buggy that afternoon on Frisbeetown Road and drove her and her aunt Clara to her uncle Atlee’s barn. Did she want to go to her uncles barn? No she replied, she did not. Inside the barn, her father informed her that he wanted to take her, at that moment, on a trip to the Allegheny Mountains. The trip had not been authorized by her grandparents who had no knowledge of her father’s intentions. If she refused, Ed would call the police and the authorities would force her to move in with him and her brothers. The choice was hers: go with him now, or move into his place on Hogback Road. If she decided to accompany him to the mountains, when they returned, she would have the right to chose where she wanted to live. Although she didn’t want to leave Brownhill, Mary felt she had no choice but to go with her father. Her cousin Matty, Atlee’s daughter, would go along to keep her company.
Asked by the district attorney how she spent her time at Mr. Schroeck’s hunting camp, Mary seemed to draw a blank. Did she and her father have long talks? No, she spent most of her time by herself. On Sunday morning, before the police came, she had said to her father, “All I want is home.” Mary seemed to have no idea why her father had taken her there. What were they doing? Where her grandparents worried? She had gone off in the buggy with her aunt Clara who had returned home without her. Did her grandparents know where she was? How long would she be staying at this unfamiliar place?
The prosecutor had no further questions. The judge, before dismissing this frightened but effective witness, asked the defendants if they had any questions for her. They did not. Mary returned to her place on the bench next to her grandparents.
The defendants’ father, a short, stocky man with white hair and beard, a rosy complexion, and a slightly confused look in his eyes, took the stand. The prosecutor handed Mr. Gingerich a sheet of paper and asked him if he recognized the handwriting on it. The district attorney was referring to a statement written by Ed in 1993 granting his parents custody of his three children. The witness identified the handwriting as Ed’s. The prosecutor asked the court to accept this document into evidence. Judge Zilhaver asked the defendants if they had any objection to the introduction of this paper. After indicating that they did not object, Joe said, “It’s not a legal document.” The judge, after accepting this evidence into the record, informed Joe this was not the time to raise that issue.
Trooper Michael Goss of the Pennsylvania State Police testified that he had been assigned the Mary Gingerich case two days after she had disappeared with her father. On April 20 he asked Joe Gingerich where his brother had taken the girl. Joe said he didn’t know, explaining that when Amish people take vacations, they don’t tell others where they are going. According to Joe, Mary would be returned to Brownhill as soon as her grandparents agreed to meet with himself, Ed, and Atlee to discuss matters concerning the family and the church. Trooper Goss asked Joe, if he didn’t know where Ed was, how he could get this information to him. Joe said that Ed checked in regularly by phone. (Joe and Atlee didn’t have telephones, so it’s not clear who Ed would be checking in with.)
Later that day the trooper questioned Atlee who also denied knowledge of Mary’s whereabouts. He too assured Trooper Goss that Ed would return his daughter once Mr. and Mrs. Gingerich agreed to meet with the shunned faction of the family. (If Joe and Atlee wanted to help the police find Ed and his daughter, they would have directed the trooper to the English driver who had taken them to the mountains.) The trooper concluded that Mary was being held as some kind of a hostage and that her uncles were liars.
At the conclusion of Trooper Goss’s testimony, the district attorney announced he had no further witnesses. The judge asked the defendants if they had any closing statements. They did not, but Ed had a request. “I recommend,” he said, “that Mary be placed somewhere else instead of with my parents.” Judge Zilhaver replied that he had no authority to take Mary out of the Gingerich home.
With the testimonial phase of the hearing completed, the district attorney asked the judge to bind the charges over for trial. After briefly consulting a law text, Judge Zilhaver ruled that the state had established a prima facie case against the three defendants. There would be a trial on this case sometime during the fall term of court, probably in November.
Before adjourning, the judge asked Trooper Goss if the defendants had been complying with the conditions of their bail. The trooper reported that Ed’s younger brother Noah had filed a harassment complaint against Joe Gingerich in connection with an incident that occurred two nights earlier. At the judge’s request, Noah, a tall, full-faced, big-boned young man with a striking facial resemblance to Ed, told his story from his seat in the front of the room. He and Mary had been in their buggy riding home on Frisbeetown Road when someone crouched alongside the dirt lane flashed a light beam into their faces. Noah pulled the buggy to a stop, got out, and confronted the person behind the light. It was his older brother Joe. The two had words, Joe started yelling, and Noah got back into the buggy and drove off.
The following night, according to Noah, Ed’s son Dan snuck into the woodshed where Mary was washing her hair and scared her with his flashlight. Later, around midnight, Noah came across Enos hiding in a ditch on the Gingerich farm. Both boys had been warned by the court not to trespass on their grandparents’ property. The implication was clear, Joe and his nephews were trying to intimidate the state’s key witness.
Trooper Goss said he had spoken to Ed just prior to the preliminary hearing about his sons’ behavior. According to the defendant, Dan and Enos had been merely trying to have a word with their sister, an attempt of which he had no prior knowledge. Judge Zilhaver asked Noah if he believed Ed had sent his boys to the farm to frighten Mary. Noah, pausing before he spoke, said he didn’t think Ed would do such a thing. However, in referring to Joe Gingerich, Noah said, “He pushes his kids to do this.”
The judge, in response to the district attorney’s statement that “Mary should not be afraid in her own house,” declared he was “tightening” the conditions of the defendants’ bail. From this point on they were prohibited from causing others to make contact with Mary and her grandparents. Ed looked at the judge and muttered, “I did not know anything about this.” Joe spoke up as well: “We haven’t done anything wrong.” Notwithstanding their denials of wrongdoing, Judge Zilhaver lectured the defendants on how people should act when they are free on bail. “Your behavior must be exemplary,” he cautioned. Referring to Mary, he said, “Just leave her alone. It’s as simple as that.”
Instead of revoking Joe Gingerich’s bail and sending him back to jail, the judge placed the defendant on what he called a “bond monitoring system” that consisted of once a week visits from a county probation officer. With that, the hearing was over. While the bulk of the crowd filtered out of the building, a dozen or so Amish men rushed to the defendant’s table to console and confer with their brothers in Christ.