The following Phoenix Book Review of Crimson Stain is from 2002 and may still be viewed on-line by clicking here.
There are almost 150,000 Amish people currently living in small communities across the United States. They are honest, hardworking, peace loving and God fearing, shunning the conveniences of modern life such as electricity, telephones and vehicles in order to live as self-sufficiently as possible, following a religion that has its roots in the 17th century. In a patriarchal society, the word of an ordained elder, known as the bishop, is law. Until 1993, no member of the Amish community had ever committed a murder. Edward Gingerich was the first, thus his story, related in the book "Crimson Stain" by Jim Fisher, is a truly unique contribution to the True-Crime genre.
It is a story that is told extremely well by an author who knows his subject and is prepared to patiently explain the vagaries of the Amish community to his readership. Who is Edward Gingerich and what life events propelled him to become a killer? The book begins with a very brief introduction into the ways of the Amish followed by a list of members for both the Gingerich family and the Shetler family. (Katie Shetler, wife and ultimately victim of Edward, was one of sixteen children and Edward himself was one of eleven so the list is very handy to refer back to while reading the book.) Next comes a brief prologue detailing the murder of Katie by Edward while two of their children looked on in horror. The bulk of the book is Edward's story, both before and after the murder that made history.
Edward was a reluctant Amish who longed to escape the confines of the community but was unable to face the excommunication that would inevitably follow. Unwilling to stay, but afraid to go, he followed the confining Amish traditions half-heartedly whilst simultaneously rebelling by missing prayers and disobeying his elders. Finally Edward finds himself with a straightforward choice. He must either marry, this settling for a traditional Amish life and values, or he must jump ship and try to survive amongst the "English" (non-Amish).
His marriage was an abusive one, in which he regularly beat his wife. It soon became evident that all was not well with Edward as he began to display unmistakable signs of mental illness. His "spells" could have been due to the onset of schizophrenia or could just as easily result from inhaling chemical fumes at his place of work. Nobody could say for certain. What was certain, however, was that his family couldn't afford much in the way of medical care and his illness was treated by a succession of quacks. After a breakdown, he was eventually hospitalised in New York but the expense involved forced him to withdraw from treatment prematurely with tragic consequences to his wife and family.
The book continues throughout the controversial arrest and trail of Edward, culminating in a truly shocking verdict from the jury. There are 8 pages of photographs, the most chilling being a picture of a wildly staring Edward, taken at the time of his arrest.
This book is one of a kind - the first book, about the first ever murder by an Amish man. It is extremely well researched, particularly with regard to the ways of the Amish, a community that might seem alien and baffling to those of us on the outside.
Finding an interesting book about crime - and a unique crime at that - written by someone who knows his subject inside out is quite frankly a refreshing change. Author Jim Fisher is a former FBI agent and current professor of criminal justice at Edinboro, University, Pennsylvania. His book seems to have been written more to inform than entertain. It manages to do both.