That afternoon I drove out to Brownhill to ask Ben Stutzman’s if he thought Noah Gingerich had told the truth about Joe Gingerich. The deacon said he believed every word of the young man’s testimony. If that’s what happened, I said, doesn’t that make Joe Gingerich either incredibly stupid or grossly reckless? Ben, who had known Joe for more than twenty-years, said he had always been wild. Did he think the judge’s warning and the bond monitoring system would protect Mary? Ben doubted that anything the judge did or said would have much effect on Joe Gingerich. I couldn’t help wondering if Ed wasn’t the only person in the Gingerich family with bipolar disorder.
Two days after the preliminary hearing, I called the new-order Amish man who had approached me in Saegertown as I stood outside the jail complex waiting for the hearing to begin. He had handed me a slip of paper with his phone number, said he knew Ed Gingerich well, and suggested that we talk sometime about his friend. This man, who asked me not to publish his name, looked but didn’t sound Amish. He was quite articulate which may have explained why he was acting as the unofficial spokesman for Ed and Joe’s new-order supporters. I will refer to this man as Eli.
In response to my question, Eli summarized the differences between his religious beliefs and those held by the old-order Amish. “New-order Amish accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior,” he said. “That is our religion. Old-order Amish believe in being Amish, but being Amish is not a religion, it’s a way of life. They have no faith. We are also against shunning and we use electricity.”
While Joe and Atlee Gingerich were no longer old-order Amish, they were not, according to Eli, affiliated with a specific new-order church. Eli believed that Ed in fact had not become new-order, that he was more interested in being integrated back into the Brownhill Amish community. For years he had been trying, without success, to get back into bishop Shetler’s good graces. If this were true, I thought, he certainly had an odd way of doing it.
Having worked as a volunteer counselor at Harmony Haven Home from the fall of 1997 to the summer of 2000, Eli was intimately familiar with bishop Omer Miller and the inner workings of the institution. He said he remembered my visit to Evart and Omer Miller’s discomfort regarding my interest in Ed and the details of his psychiatric treatment. Responding to my question of why Omer had declined to meet with me, Eli said that Omer didn’t want me to know that Ed had suffered numerous mental relapses. He said, however, that the rumor about Ed having threatening a woman with a knife was not true.
Eli assured me that when Ed relapsed, unlike some of the other patients at Harmony Haven, he did not turn into a “raving lunatic.” When Ed became “fuzzy,” he grew stubborn and a bit difficult to deal with, but getting him to the hospital in Midland for a drug adjustment was never a problem. I asked Eli if Ed ever stopped taking his medication altogether. Ed did quit his medicine, but according to Eli, it wasn’t his fault. In fact, that was the reason Eli had left Harmony Haven. He did not approve of how Omer was medically treating Ed and some of the other psychotically ill residents.
The rift between himself and Omer Miller started in 1999 or 2000 when the director of Harmony Haven fell under the influence of a physician from Chicago who believed that sick people, including paranoid schizophrenics, could be cured by giving them minerals such a zinc and iron. After having Ed’s blood analyzed in Chicago, Omer began treating him with minerals instead of his antipsychotic medication. This “naturalistic” approach caused Ed to relapse, and every time he did, his hospitalization cost the Evart Amish $10,000. This resulted in a split within the local Amish community over the cost of treating patients with serious psychotic illnesses. In 2004, caught in the middle of this internal debate, Ed decided to leave Evart. There were many in the Amish community, weary of the expense, glad to see him go.
In Goshen, Indiana where Ed was admitted as an in-patient at the Mennonite mental heath complex, doctors put him back on antipsychotic drugs. The larger new-order community in Indiana could afford to pick up the cost of his health care. “Ed,” Eli dolefully noted, “is an expensive friend to have.”
I asked Eli if he could explain the rumor that Ed had been asked to leave Evart after he made romantic advances toward the bishop’s wife. This was the first time Eli had heard this story and he doubted it was true. Because of his history Ed knew that many women were afraid of him. For that reason he was quite “reserved” around females. He didn’t flirt, and as far as Eli knew, never had a girlfriend. Eli was mystified how a rumor like this had gotten started.
I was curious to know what Eli thought of Mary Gingerich’s testimony at the preliminary hearing. Was she telling the truth? Eli said he wasn’t sure if Mary had been taken to McKean County against her will, or had been pressured by her grandparents to make that claim. I mentioned to Eli that after the preliminary hearing, I overheard Trooper Goss tell a reporter that on the two and a half hour drive back to Crawford County, Mary had made it clear to him that she had been coerced into taking the trip with her father. She had made this claim before her grandparents had a chance to influence her testimony. Did that alter his view of the incident? Eli said he had no way of knowing Mary’s state of mind before going off with her father. He did concede, however, that Mary, caught in the middle of a family war, was like a child in the middle of a divorce. On that level she was definitely a victim.
I asked Eli why Joe Gingerich, a grown man on bail, would be intimidating his seventeen-year-old niece two days before she was scheduled to testify against him and his brothers. “Well,” he said, “there are two sides to that story.” Joe’s version of the event, according to Eli, started when Joe heard voices coming from his sawmill. He grabbed a flashlight and as he approached the mill saw a buggy roll off his property onto Frisbeetown Road. He ran up to the rig and flashed his light into the cab illuminating Noah and Mary. “So Noah lied to the judge?” I asked.
“Then why didn’t Joe defend himself in court? Why didn’t he tell the judge his version of the story?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he thought it wasn’t Christian.”
“Why would Noah lie?”
“I don’t know that either,” Eli said. “But did you notice how medicated he was?”
“No. What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s on bipolar medicine, you can tell by looking at him. I’ve seen it in Ed and in dozens of people at Harmony Haven. He’s been mentally ill for years.”
“What about Joe Gingerich? Is he mentally ill? Are they all out of their minds?”
“No, Joe is not a lunatic,” Eli replied.
I thanked Eli for his time and we said our goodbyes. It seemed the deeper I got into Ed’s story the less I knew.
Early in June, about a week following the preliminary hearing, Ed sent a letter to Barbara Mountjoy, the Meadville family law attorney representing his parents and his daughter. He requested the opportunity to visit Mary. Attorney Mountjoy, on June 18, responded by letter informing Ed that until his sons Daniel and Enos, his brothers Joe and Atlee, and his nephews David and Albert stopped criminally harassing his daughter and others in the old-order community, he would not be granted access to his daughter. Mountjoy informed Ed that his so-called supporters, by their actions, were not helping his cause.
A few days after her letter to Ed, the attorney received an angry, handwritten letter from Joe Gingerich accusing her of meddling in family business. “We are not criminals and you are not a judge,” he wrote. The letter also contained several thinly disguised, borderline threats. The fact that Joe had responded to a letter she had written to Ed revealed to the attorney who was really in charge.
With Ed and his sons, brothers, and nephews under close police, judicial, and public scrutiny, one would expect that the nighttime harassment in Brownhill would cease. It didn’t. One night early in June, an unidentified male wearing a ski mask and an Amish dress entered the home of on old-order family and proceeded to the girls’ bedroom where he awakened them with a flashlight. Screams of the occupants sent the intruder out of the house and into the night. On other occasions before that, young Amish men in ski masks had been seen joy-riding horses they had appropriated. The animals had to be rounded up the next morning by their owners.
Shortly before midnight on June 25, Ed’s son Daniel and Joe’s boy David rode up alongside Noah Gingerich’s buggy on Frisbeetown Road. Their faces were covered with ski masks and David wore a dress. They flashed their lights into the eyes of Noah’s horse in an attempt to spook the animal. Noah stopped the buggy, chased the boys down, and reported the incident to the state police. The next day Dan and David were charged with disorderly conduct. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 16 before Judge Lincoln Zilhaver who was now quite familiar with the disorder plaguing the Brownhill community. The fact the boys had been charged with disorderly conduct, a more serious crime than harassment, reflected this awareness and growing impatience of the police and the judge.
On July 6, Joe Gingerich was back in Saegertown before Judge Zilhaver to be tried for the summary offense of harassment. This charge related to the incident occurring on May 28, the night before the preliminary hearing associated with the allegations that he and his brothers had failed to disclose the whereabouts of Ed’s daughter, Mary. According to the complainants, Noah and Mary Gingerich, Joe, lying in wait along Frisbeetown Road, had flashed a beam of light into their buggy. If convicted of harassment, Joe could be fined and sent to jail for up to ninety days.
Representing himself before thirty or so spectators from the new and old-order communities, Joe testified that on the night in question he’d been awakened by a barking dog. He got up, dressed, and shook his son Albert awake. After searching for and finding a flashlight, Joe ran out of the house thinking that someone had stolen fuel oil from his sawmill. He cut across his field to Frisbeetown Road where he encountered a buggy which he believed belonged to the trespasser and possible thief. When he shined his light into the cab he saw his younger brother Noah and his niece Mary. Asked by Judge Zilhaver if he knew that his son and nephews had been accused of harassing certain people at night by shining flashlights into their buggies, Joe said no, he hadn’t been aware of that. Joe’s flat denial of what he obviously had knowledge of severely undermined his credibility.
Judge Zilhaver, stating that he didn’t think Joe’s testimony rang true, found him guilty of harassment and sentenced him to thirty to sixty days in the Crawford County Jail. Before locking him up the judge gave the defendant thirty days to appeal the conviction. At this point, Joe Gingerich’s future as the leader of a band of nighttime marauders didn’t look bright. He was facing jail time on the harassment conviction and still had to be tried in November as a conspirator in the case involving Mary’s involuntary “vacation.”
Following Joe Gingerich’s summary harassment trial, Judge Zilhaver arraigned Ed’s son Dan for criminal trespass involving his frightening Mary in the woodshed on the night before his father’s preliminary hearing. He set bail on that offense at $10,000. The judge also arraigned Dan on the misdemeanor III charge of disorderly conduct stemming from the June 25 harassment of his uncle Noah. That charge, one that could bring Dan a year in jail, would be tried at some future date in the common pleas court in Meadville. Judge Zilhaver set bail for that offense at $10,000.
That morning the judge also arraigned David Gingerich, Joe’s son, on the June 25 disorderly conduct charge. Some in the gallery were taken back by the allegation that David had been wearing a ski mask and an Amish dress. Zilhaver set his bail at $5,000. Both men were booked into the Crawford County jail. The next day they were freed when someone paid their bail in cash. Altogether, between Joe, Ed, Atlee and their sons, the family had paid out $200,000 in bail. Members of the old-order community couldn’t figure out where they had gotten all that money.
We expect to see Amish people in their buggies and fields, not in court. But on Monday, July 16, 2007, Judge Lincoln Zilhaver entered his Saegertown courtroom to find what had become a familiar scene: Amish men at the defense table, an Amish man standing by to testify for the prosecution, and, in the gallery, Amish friends and foes of the defendants. This morning Judge Zilhaver would preside over Dan and David Gingerich’s preliminary hearing on the disorderly conduct charges stemming from the previous month’s late night encounter with their uncle Noah. Among those watching from the other side of the glass partition were Ed, Joe, and Atlee Gingerich.
Before the hearing got underway, Barbara Mountjoy, the family law attorney representing Mary and the senior Gingerichs, asked Ed for a private discussion about his daughter. Before Ed could respond, Joe spoke up. If the attorney had anything to discuss with his brother, she could say it in front of him. The attorney said no, this was strictly between the two of them. And while on the subject, Mountjoy wanted to know why Joe had responded to her letter to Ed? Why was he answering his brother’s mail? What business was it of his? To that Joe replied, “United we stand.”
“United you fall,” the lawyer shot back.
Judge Zilhaver read the charges, advised the unrepresented defendants of their legal rights, and explained that they were in court this day to determine if the government had enough evidence against them to move the case into the court of common pleas. Although Dan and David had the right to defend themselves at this preliminary hearing, the more appropriate time for this would come at their trial. In other words, the hearing was not about determining their guilt or innocence but merely an early step in the criminal justice process.
Noah Gingerich, the late night victim of roadside harassment and intimidation by ski masked men including a rider wearing an Amish dress, took the stand. As before, he came across as sympathetic and credible. At the completion of Noah’s testimony the judge asked the defendants if they had questions for the witness. They did not.
Pennsylvania state trooper Gillette from the Meadville barracks took the stand and revealed that in an effort to catch the Brownhill marauders in the act, he had been riding around at night in Noah Gingerich’s buggy. While riding in the buggy the previous night, the trooper had experienced first-hand what Noah had been exposed to. As Noah and the officer rolled up Frisbeetown Road south of Sturgis, someone from the side of the road shot a blinding beam of light into the cab. Trooper Gillette jumped out of the buggy, but by the time he scaled the bank into the corn field, the subject had disappeared into the darkness. When the officer, a large man, returned to the buggy, Noah, impressed with his quickness, said, “I couldn’t have gotten up there as fast as you did.”
A few minutes later, while still moving north on Frisbeetown, Noah and the trooper encountered a car moving toward them slowly with only the parking lights on. The officer climbed out of the buggy and flagged the vehicle to a stop. The driver, a woman in her seventies named Kay Brown, was accompanied by her daughter, Kim Kerstetter. Kim, a longtime friend of Joe Gingerich and his wife Annie, lived just down the lane from Joe’s farm. Mrs. Brown lived on the other side of Frisbeetown Road not far from her daughter’s house. In 1993, Kim and her friend Richard Zimmer had driven Ed and Katie to Doc Terrell’s place just before the murder. She had been one of the few English people to attend Katie’s funeral.
Kim and her mother were not alone in the car. In the back seat sat Dan and David Gingerich. After they had identified themselves, the trooper ordered them out of the vehicle. When he looked in the back of the car the officer found and seized a spotlight attached to a long extension cord equipped with a toggle switch. What were they doing out at night with that spotlight? the officer asked, confident he had just been flashed by that very fixture. “We found it in the woods,” Dan replied. “We were trying to find its owner.”
At the completion of the trooper’s testimony, the district attorney rested his case on the June 25 disorderly conduct charges. The prosecutor had not decided whether to charge Dan and David for intimidating a witness on the night before their preliminary hearing. That matter, still under investigation, included submitting the spotlight battery for fingerprint analysis. Following the officer’s testimony one thing was clear, these boys had no respect for the law.
With the state trooper’s testimony still ringing in the courtroom, Judge Zilhaver asked the defendants if they had witnesses to put on the stand. Dan said yes, he’d like to call his brother Enos. After Enos settled into the witness chair, the judge indicated that he wanted Dan to proceed with the questioning. But Dan just sat there staring at his brother. “Go ahead,” the judge said. “He’s your witness.” Dan said nothing. Again the judge prompted the defendant to go forward with his questions but nothing came out of Dan’s mouth. People in the courtroom, made uncomfortable by the silence, stirred in their seats. Finally the judge looked at Dan and asked, “Are you on medication?”
“No,” Dan replied.
“Do you suffer from some kind of mental illness?”
“No.”The judge turned to Enos and said, “You may take your seat.”
As his brother walked back to his place in the courtroom, Dan said, “I didn’t do it.”
The judge asked David if he had witnesses. David said he did and called his brother Albert to the stand who stated that on the night in question, June 25, 2007, the defendant had never left the house. Asked by the judge how he knew this, Albert said that on this particular night he had been out with a spotlight keeping track of Noah. David had not been with him. Having left the district attorney and the judge speechless, the witness returned to his seat. Were these people crazy?
Judge Zilhaver concluded the two-hour hearing by ruling in favor of the prosecution. The disorderly conduct case was bound over to the common pleas court, scheduled for the September term. Until then, the defendants were under a 9 PM to 6 AM court imposed curfew of which no one in the criminal justice community expected them to obey.
The Sunday night following the spotlighting of Noah Gingerich and the state cop riding in his buggy, six troopers in unmarked cars patrolled the dirt roads in and around Brownhill. The mid-July night passed without an arrest creating hope that finally, with so many Gingerich men facing incarceration, they had seen the light and decided to stop harassing their old-order neighbors.
On July 25, the old-order residents of Brownhill started seeing buckboards carrying Amish men wearing pastel-colored shirts, suspenders, and black, narrow-brimmed straw hats. These different looking Amish folk and their wives were seen coming and going from Joe Gingerich’s farm, Atlee’s place, and Ed’s house. One of them stopped by Ben Stutzman’s house to discuss the division in the community. He said he represented a new-order group from Indiana sympathetic to Ed Gingerich’s efforts to get back his daughter and reintegrate back into the Brownhill enclave. The deacon, having nothing to say to this man, showed him the door.
To better understand what had been going on in Brownhill since Ed’s return, I decided to learn a little more about Joe Gingerich, the leader of the opposition and the principal source of the community upheaval. In researching Crimson Stain, I had focused mainly on Ed Gingerich. On July 26, 2007, I drove out to Brownhill to speak with the people who knew Joe Gingerich best, his old-order neighbors who had lived in the community since the mid-1980s when Dan Gingerich moved his family from Norwich, Canada to Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Everyone I approached, fearing retaliation from Joe, spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. This, standing alone, told me a lot about the object of my inquiry.
While the men who spoke to me felt sorry for Mr. Gingerich, senior, they criticized him for having been extremely lenient and hands-off in raising Atlee, Joe, and Ed. The boys, wild by nature, had grown up without guidance or discipline. As teenagers, they did what they pleased. When neighbors complained about the pranks, the vandalism, the bullying, the nude swimming, and the Saturday night window peeking, Mr. Gingerich did nothing to rein them in. He simply found it easier to believe, against all the evidence, their denials of wrongdoing. They were out of control and grew up believing that the rules of polite society did not apply to them. The boys never had to answer to, or take responsibility for, their transgressions. They grew up believing they could make their own rules which included, once they were married, knocking around their wives when they got out of line. This attitude toward women is reflected in Atlee and Joe’s belief that Katie Gingerich’s strong-headedness had led to her death. Had she been a more obedient wife, she would be still be alive.
Among the three brothers, Ed had always been the intelligent, sick one, Atlee the shrewd one, and Joe the erratic, hot-tempered instigator. Joe was not only aggressive and violent, he possessed an unnerving streak of cruelty. He was the kind of person who would work a horse to death, or shoot a dog when it wandered onto his property. To those who got on his wrong side, Joe did not forgive or forget. He held his grudges tightly, and forever.
Joe Gingerich had plowed through life creating bad memories for the people with whom he had had disagreements and fights. Every one I spoke to had a Joe Gingerich story that illustrated his violent, volatile personality. For example, a year or so before the excommunication and shunning, Joe sat on the Brownhill school board. One of the students had been caught pulling a prank on the teacher, a stunt reminiscent of Joe’s childhood. The teacher had punished the boy and so had his father, but Joe didn’t think he had suffered enough. In the home of a fellow board member, Joe proposed they teach the boy a real lesson by beating him “within an inch of his life.” Appalled by the suggestion, the other man said he’d have nothing to do with such a barbaric and unnecessary plan. This rebuff angered Joe and the two men argued. When the more reasonable board member realized he couldn’t reason with Joe, he asked him to leave the house. Joe started for the door then turn and walked back toward his adversary who thought they were going to fight. Perhaps realizing he might lose that battle, Joe changed his mind and stormed out of the house. The following Sunday in church, Joe, still smarting over the insult, sat through the service staring at his adversary. Joe hasn’t spoken to him since.
According to the men I spoke to that day, Ed’s sons, Dan and Enos, while being raised by their grandparents during Ed’s prison term and residency in Michigan, had been ordinary, well-behaved boys. When Ed returned to Brownhill once each summer to visit them, they had resisted seeing him. They became unruly after their uncle Joe pulled his family out of the old-order church. Now they were different people.
Following my old-order Amish interviews, I drove to Meadville where I spoke to district attorney Francis Schultz who acknowledged that Joe Gingerich seemed to be the man behind the turmoil and lawlessness in the Brownhill community. I asked the prosecutor if he knew why Joe and his followers were so oblivious to the criminal justice consequences of their actions. Did they think that because they were Amish they were above the law, or that the law didn’t apply to them? Mr. Schultz said that Joe Gingerich possessed the false belief that when these matters were aired-out in court, the trial judge would rule against their old-order adversaries. Although he had been advised otherwise, Joe didn’t think that any of his people would end up behind bars. He actually seemed to be enjoying his bad boy role and the misery he was causing in the community. In his mind, the inability of the old-order Amish to deal with a few harmless pranks made them look like fools.
Joe’s failed attempts to pry Mary Gingerich from the arms of her grandparents and the old-order church constituted an ongoing and infuriating reminder that he wasn’t the master of his universe. He was using Ed’s desire to re-unite with his daughter as the high-minded albeit insincere rationale for his Brownhill insurgency. Joe’s muscle-flexing abduction of his niece turned into a devastating defeat which had virtually destroyed Ed’s chance of winning back his daughter. Ed and Mary turned out to be victims of Joe’s illusions of grandeur. Also victims were Joe’s sons and nephews who, as bored young Amish men who believed Joe Gingerich made the law in Brownhill, had become addicted to the excitement.
The old-order men I spoke to that afternoon had expressed concern for Bennie Yoder, Mary’s nineteen-year-old boyfriend who lived with his parents, Levi and Lovina Yoder on Frisbeetown Road across from Joe Gingerich’s farm. In the spring of 2007, two men wearing ski masks had invaded their house terrorizing Mrs. Yoder and her daughters. Over the past months Eli and his sisters had been also spotlighted in their buggies. A few weeks earlier, while Bennie was visiting Mary at her grandparents’ house, one of the Gingerich boys detached his horse from the buggy and rode it bareback until the horse bucked him off. Later that night the horse returned to the barn. The Yoders were too frightened of Joe Gingerich to report the harassment and home invasion to the authorities.
On July 31, 2007, Ed’s son Dan was back in Zilhaver’s court in Saegertown. The occasion involved his preliminary hearing on the misdemeanor charge of defiant trespass in connection with the alleged unlawful intrusion into his grandparent’s woodshed on May 28, the night before his sister Mary’s testimony against his father and two uncles. The hearing got underway at one o’clock with Ed, Atlee, and Joe looking on behind the big glass window. Also in the gallery stood a dozen or so of their new-order supporters as well as several representatives from the old-order Brownhill community. Mary Gingerich took the stand as the state’s first witness.
Responding to the judge’s questions, Mary, her voice barely audible and her head lowered, gave her testimony. On the night before the preliminary hearing related to her coerced trip to the Allegheny Mountains, she had been in the woodshed washing her hair when she heard the outer door crack open and the wooden floor creak under the weight of the intruder who frightened her by flashing a beam of light into her face. Before fleeing the scene, she was able to identify him as her brother, Dan.
Because the defendant’s May 28 trespass had been preceded by a previous conviction stemming from an unlawful intrusion on the same property, the judge was treating this case as a misdemeanor offense. Following testimony from Mr. Gingerich, senior, the judge, finding enough evidence to move the case forward, bound it over for trial in the fall.
In the lobby outside Judge Zilhaver’s courtroom, the defendant, perhaps relieved he was going home instead of jail, was all smiles. His uncle Joe, obviously in an triumphant mood, spoke to Mary’s attorney, Barbara Mountjoy. “This is so petty,” he said. “It’s a real shame they (the old-order Amish) are wasting their time on stupid things like this.” The attorney found these statements stunningly arrogant, and a bit disconcerting. To one of the old-order Brownhill Amish men outside the building, Joe said, in a triumphant tone, “You can go home now and get back to work. You should quit wasting your time.”
After working all day in the mid-August heat, Ed’s sons Dan and Enos went swimming in their uncle Joe’s pond. After dark they and their cousins sat around the fire gossiping and telling stories, a nocturnal activity that had become a Saturday night ritual. As witnessed by Noah Gingerich who clandestinely watched the activities that night from fifty feet away, the group included Ed who seemed disoriented and lost in thought. When he spoke it was usually to himself. Enos was telling the story again about being shot earlier in the day with a B-B and was speculating on the identity of the sniper when Ed rose to his feet and without a word started walking toward Hogback Road.
“Where are you going?” Enos asked his departing father.
“Down to Ben’s,” Ed replied without stopping or looking back.
“You come back here!”
Ed kept walking.
“I’m getting Uncle Joe!” Enos yelled. As Ed disappeared into the darkness, Enos ran to his uncle’s house. According to Noah, Ed’s decision to visit his adversary while in a mental state that could make him dangerous, “shivered me.”
Ed crossed Hogback Road, and as he moved up Ben Stutzman’s sidewalk he caught the attention of the family dog. Amid its frantic barking, Ed opened the screen door and stepped into the enclosed front porch. Ben’s twenty-year-old son Andy came out of the house to investigate the source of the ruckus, and came face-to-face with a mumbling Ed Gingerich. Andy, reacting as though he and his family were about to be murdered, jumped back into the dwelling and locked the door. While Ed stood in the semi-darkness talking to himself, Andy summoned his father.
Told by his son that Ed Gingerich was at their front door acting strange, Ben rolled out of bed. He made his way to the front door and sure enough, there was Ed Gingerich looking at him through the window. It was eleven o’clock at night. What in God’s name did this man want?
“All I want is peace,” Ed said from the other side of the door. “All I want is peace.”
“I want you to leave my house right now,” Ben replied. “Please get off my property.”
“All I want is peace.”
Seemingly lost, and unsure what to do, Ed stood frozen a minute or so before walking out the door. As he approached Hogback a buggy driven by Joe Gingerich rolled up to the Stutzman house. Albert climbed down and helped his uncle into the rig. It pulled away toward Ed’s house.
Worried that Ed was off his medication and a danger to himself and others, the deacon get dressed and walked east to an English house where he called the Pennsylvania State Police in Meadville. Trooper Eric Cox and a female officer were dispatched to the Stutzman house. Trooper Cox, having presented the defiant trespass case against Joe’s son David and Ed’s boy Dan the past July in magistrate Zilhaver’s court, had a familiarity with the ongoing turmoil in the Brownhill community.
The officers arrive at the deacon’s house at eleven-thirty. After Ben and Andy described their bizarre encounter with Ed, Ben asked that the officers question Ed to determine his present mental state. Everyone knew what Ed was capable of when off his medicine. He was free on bail on the condition he kept taking his anti-psychotic medicine. Ben Stutzman made it clear he had no intention of pressing criminal charges against Ed, but if he was off his medication and out of his mind, the authorities needed to take action to protect the community. Wasn’t that what the police were for?
Ed’s boys Enos and Dan came out of his house to greet the officers. Their dad was sleeping and they didn’t want him disturbed. Trooper Cox wanted to know what their father was doing at Ben Stutzman’s house at eleven o’clock at night. Enos said he had been inquiring about the B-B gun assault. “Where were you shot?” the trooper asked.
“In the leg.”
“Let’s see the mark.”
“There is no mark,” Enos replied.
“We need to speak to your father,” Trooper Cox said. “I want to know if he’s on his meds. Wake him up.”
Enos entered the house and returned with a sheet of paper that looked like a register or a log. “See,” he said handing the document to the trooper. “This shows my dad has been taking his pills.”
“This doesn’t prove anything,” Trooper Cox replied. “Bring him out here.”
At this point trooper entered the conversation. She said she was satisfied that all was well with Ed Gingerich and could see no reason to disturb the man at this late hour. Following a brief back and forth between the troopers, they left the scene without resolving the question of Ed’s mental condition. Trooper Cox was not pleased with this decision. The officers did not report back to Ben Stutzman.
Sunday morning, as work spread around the Brownhill community that the state police had checked on Ed after his scary late-night visit with the deacon, there was hope that Ed had been re-hospitalized. These hopes were dashed when it became apparent that Ed was still around and nothing had changed. Although Ben Stutzman didn’t know it, the police had let him and the community down. On Monday morning, the deacon called Ron Arnold, the Crawford County Human Services counselor in charge of Ed’s case. Ben reported that he and other members of the old-order community were concerned that Ed was not staying on his medication. Ben followed the Ron Arnold call with a letter expressing these concerns.
Ed, perhaps in anticipation of the outcome of the case against him and his two brothers regarding Mary’s coerced trip to the Allegheny Mountains in April, decided to ask a Crawford Court for the right to visit Mary three times a week. According to his petition, he wanted each visit to “last not less than three hours; at the home of Atlee Gingerich, Joseph Gingerich, or Johnny Gingerich….” In his quest to reconnect with his daughter he had acquired the services of a Pittsburgh based attorney named Donna M. Doblick who filed the petition on September 10, 2007.
According to Ed’s visitation petition, he never intended to relinquish custody of Mary and “throughout his incarceration and the years following his incarceration, Father [Ed] made frequent attempts to interact with all of his children.” Ed also claimed that his parents have “wrongfully and without lawful justification barred Father from having any contact with his daughter. Plaintiffs [Ed’s parents in their motion for custody of Mary] have also wrongfully and without lawful justification barred Father’s sons from having any contact with their sister.” Without mentioning that Ed had brutally killed his children’s mother in front of two of his children, attorney wrote: “Ed Gingerich is a fit, capable, and responsible parent, one who has made exemplary efforts to manage and overcome mental illness. Father is not mentally unstable or violent, and he receives regular support from mental health professionals and a group of family members and friends.”
Ed, no doubt under the guidance and prompting of Joe Gingerich, decided that making the case that he was a “fit, capable, and responsible parent” wasn’t enough. To acquire visitation rights with his daughter, Ed found it necessary to demonize his younger brother Noah, claiming, without documented sources, that Noah was too unfit and dangerous to live under the same roof with Ed’s daughter. The petition: “Noah Gingerich has a temper control problem. Moreover, on information and belief [this is not evidence], Noah Gingerich is engaged in inappropriate conduct that renders him a poor influence on, and potential danger to Mary. Father has bona fide concerns for his daughter’s well-being in the Plaintiff’s [Ed’s parents’] residence under these circumstances….Plaintiffs [Ed’s parents] refusal even to consider that Noah Gingerich may be engaged in inappropriate conduct that involves or affects Mary heightens Father’s concern for her well-being in that residence.” Nowhere in the petition does the attorney specify exactly what it is that Noah is supposedly doing that his so harmful to his niece.
On October 7, 2007, the family court judge presiding over the custody dispute and Ed’s petition granted legal custody of Mary Gingerich to her grandparents Dan and Mary Gingerich. The same judge denied Ed Gingerich visitation rights.
On Sunday, September 16, 2007, the Erie Times News published an one-sided article entitled, “Amish Settlement Struggles.” The piece was so sympathetic to Ed’s point-of-view the attorney who would be representing him at his upcoming criminal trial would not go wrong reading it the jury. The core of this advocacy piece were statements written that summer by Ed, Joe, Atlee and their sons. These extremely self-serving and horribly misleading accounts were submitted for publication on the condition that the authors of these statements would not be questioned by a reporter. In other words, you can publish this stuff as long as you don’t challenge any of it. The following is an excerpt from one of the published statements, an account and interpretation of Katie Gingerich’s brutal killing that puts the blame on everyone but the man who committed the crime:
All of the people quoted in Carroll’s article were sympathetic to Ed and his brothers. John Otto, new-order Amish man [new-order Amish are against shunning] who had made public statements in support of Ed and his brothers [and to me as well] in the past, was quoted as follows regarding the killing of Katie Gingerich: “He [Ed] remembers he had this intense hallucination. Ed is educated. He is sharp. He is sensitive. It’s just unfortunate that he had this sickness.” When Ed’s supporters make statements like this, when they say “unfortunate,” they usually mean unfortunate for Ed.
The editor never acknowledged my letter and decided not to publish it. Perhaps it was too one-side.
A few weeks after sending my letter to the newspaper, when it had become obvious it was not going to be published, I drove back to Brownhill with a copy of it for Ben Stutzman. I wanted him to know I had written it. In the course of our conversation he told me that, because of the Gingerich disruption in the enclave, ten Amish families have moved away within the past two years, about twenty-five percent of the Amish population. Most are now living in the Conewango Valley settlement in New York. Noah Gingerich, exhausted by the unrelenting intimidation and slander, had recently moved to Norwich, Canada where he is working at an English owned machine shop. Noah was planning on returning to Brownhill in order to testify against Ed and his other two brothers at their upcoming trial.
About a week after my visit with Ben Stutzman, the local papers carried the news that Ed, Joe, and Atlee had been allowed to plead no contest to reduced charges before Judge John Spataro in the Crawford County Court. The pleas were part of a plea bargain agreement with the district attorney’s office. Defense attorney Doblick, following the proceeding, said this to the press: “They don’t believe they did anything wrong. They entered the pleas for the sake of everyone involved not to drag this on.”
Ed and his brothers had pleaded no contest to second-degree misdemeanor charges of criminal conspiracy to commit concealment of the whereabouts of a child. The most punishment they could face, under these reduced charges, was two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. On December 5 Judge Spataro sentenced Ed and his two brothers to six months probation. They were each fined $500. Attorney Doblick told the judge that Ed had taken his daughter Mary to the hunting camp in April because he wanted to spend a short vacation with her. “It never occurred to them,” she said, “that going away with her father and his brothers was criminal.” Following the plea bargaining session, Barbara Mountjoy, Mary’s attorney, told reporters that the slap-in-the-wrist sentences sent a bad message to the younger Gingerich boys who would not be deterred by the threat of going to jail. “We thought it would be over after today’s outcome, but this won’t end until everyone moves away.”