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A RAGE OUT OF TIME WITH AN AMISH HOUSEWIFE'S MURDER, 20TH CENTURY CRIME JOLTS A 19TH CENTURY COMMUNITY

"Each of us will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?

"For it is true that we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give, or more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted.

"And so it is those that we live with and should know who elude us.

"But we can still love them.

"We can love completely without complete understanding."

-- From the movie "A River Runs Through It"

The Mill Village, Pa., ambulance crew had been told that the scene was not safe. The call was for a disturbed male. But when they saw the strapping young Amish man walking up the road with two of his little children, they figured things were OK.

Assistant Fire Chief Andrew McLaughlin was told to go up and check out the house, for he had been there before, roughly a year earlier. The Amish man, Edward Gingerich, 28, had gone berserk then: howling like a dog, cackling and spitting like a madman, and battling as his brothers and the ambulance crew wrestled him into restraints.

That day, McLaughlin had ridden in the back of the ambulance on the way to the hospital in Erie and had listened as the man whispered that his heart was loose, that he was drowning inside.

This time, McLaughlin presumed, it was the same thing.

But there had been talk about Gingerich's wife.

"He's up there killing her," someone had said.

Now, here came Edward Gingerich, calm and quiet. One of his hands looked swollen, but the children, Enos, 4, and Mary, 3, were not crying. Besides, Edward was talking about how his people would understand everything.

So when McLaughlin, 32, drove his Chevy Blazer up Sturgis Road from the staging area and mushed up the Gingerich's dirt driveway, he was not expecting to find much.

What he found as he stepped up on the small porch and pushed open the front door to the spartan Amish house on that cold afternoon of March 18, 1993, was a scene from a nightmare.

The unclothed body of Katie Gingerich, one day past her 29th birthday, lay face up on the floor. Her skull had been smashed. A ragged, seven-inch incision had been cut in her abdomen, through which she had been eviscerated. Her internal organs lay on the floor beside her, along with a small, curved paring knife. Nearby lay a pile of Amish women's clothes.

Stunned, McLaughlin radioed back to keep a close watch on Edward and to send the police up right away. He would remember the moment a long time.

A little move than a month ago, just over a year after that awful discovery, Edward Gingerich was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for killing his wife, a slaying sparked by a wedding invitation and committed when two of his three small children were in the house.

The jury found him guilty but mentally ill. It seemed a simple, logical verdict.

But it was the culmination of a long, complex agony for the Gingerich family and the small, highly conservative Amish community in the bleak country south of here into which had stolen the demon of mental sickness.

It was an agony that had gone on for more than two years, that pained those who witnessed it, that tested all who tried to cope with it, and that, in the end, overwhelmed a simple people's efforts to save one of its own.

It saw an engaging, mechanically creative Amish man change into a lunatic -- "a man gone wild," his younger brother would say -- a man who at times had to be tied down, who barked like a dog, who raved about the devil, and who once jumped out a window and had to be chased down by relatives in a horse and wagon.

It saw the devotion of a family plagued by other such illness but whose members resorted to folk remedies -- such as scalp manipulation, molasses supplements and herbal notions -- to combat the rapid deterioration of a psychotic.

And in one week in March, in the white-steepled, red-brick Crawford County courthouse in Meadville, Pa., it saw a procession of uneasy Amish faces in dark beards, black hats and black bonnets, some whispering in Pennsylvania Dutch -- people whose pacifist and religious beliefs are so strong that to swear them in on the witness stand would have been an insult. They always tell the truth.

Gingerich is believed to be the first Amish person tried for criminal homicide in this century. An Amish man growing up in Ohio in the early 1900s was a suspect in the killing of a child, but no charges were filed. Another man, who left the Amish faith, is serving a prison sentence in Texas for a killing.

Yet now, as the swollen rivers herald the passing of winter and the verdict closes the murder case, friends still grieve for Katie and Edward and ask themselves, over and over, why they failed to see the catastrophe coming.

Katie and Ed Gingerich and their three children lived with 26 other Amish families in a quiet, quaint and isolated valley near Mill Village, Pa., about 20 miles southeast of Erie. The Amish moved there from Norwich, Ont., in 1983, and have become known as the Brownhill Amish, for the country road that runs through the settlement. They are Abe Troyer Church Amish, a conservative splinter group of the faith.

Ed, one of 11 children, operated a sawmill on the family property. He also repaired diesel engines, and his skill at this had earned him a reputation as a master mechanic. In a religious community that often frowns on the use of worldly technology, it was said that no one could repair an engine better than Ed.

But he had been having problems lately, and his mental state was taking its toll on his wife and family.

"I feel like my brain is boiling over," Ed told one of his brothers.

Whenever someone in an Amish settlement "takes sick" the extended community offers its support. Vigils at bedside are commonplace. Household and farm chores are taken care of and, if necessary, money is sent for family expenses once the word gets out, often through the Amish national newspaper called the Budget.

But the insidious nature of Ed's illness was puzzling to the Amish community. As one neighbor said, "We knew something just wasn't right with Ed, but we couldn't put our hand on it."

Katie also came from a large family. Her parents, Levi and Emma Shetler, had 16 children. She loved her garden and was upbeat last March when she told her mother a few days before her death how much she was looking forward to spring. But she didn't talk much about her husband's problem.

Katie was perplexed by Ed's mercurial behavior, but hoped that prayer and time would be good healers. They had been married for six years, and until Ed's most recent relapse, Katie had preferred to try to work things out with just him.

Family members kept a respectful distance. There is an unspoken credo in many Amish families, according to Katie's father. "No one should come between a man and his wife," Shetler said. "That is what I was taught by my father; that is what I pass on to my kids."

Family members, however, could not help but notice the strain and change in Katie, subtle though it was. One said: "Katie didn't want to say much about Ed. But I could tell she was bothered, because she was awfully quiet when she last visited. She did perk up a bit when she talked about her spring garden."

Sid Workman does not quite remember how he got the word, a phone message perhaps. But he knows that, as he headed home from work on March 17, 1993, he stopped at the Gingerich place, because something serious was up.

Workman, 52, a service representative for an electric engine firm, was a neighbor and friend of the Gingeriches. He had dined with Ed and Katie, and they had dined with him. Ed cut lumber for Workman. In the summer, Workman took ice to the couple.

He knew Ed as an amiable workaholic, a member of an Amish community whose longer hair and darker clothing marked it as even more traditional than some other Amish in the area.

But he also knew that, about a year before, Ed had developed serious mental problems. He knew that Ed had been taken from his home to the psychiatric unit of the Hamot Medical Center in Erie.

And Workman himself had driven Ed's wife, Katie, and several of Ed's siblings to visit Ed a few weeks later after he had been taken to a mental facility in Jamestown, about 50 miles away.

He did not know that Ed, bothered by side effects, had stopped taking his medicine after each hospitalization. He did not know how tortured Ed was by his illness; that his skin crawled, his hair tingled and his brain burned as if a blinding light were in his eyes; that he sometimes saw giant, threatening rabbits outside his window; that he heard voices and believed that the devil was winning the struggle with God over his soul.

He did not know that Ed sometimes had to be tied down and that there was similar mental illness among several of his uncles.

But at 4:30 p.m. on that wintry day last year, when Workman arrived at the machine shop, he could tell that his friend was in trouble.

"You're not feeling good, are you, Eddie?" Workman remembered asking.

"No," he said Gingerich replied. "How can you tell?"

"Your eyes," Workman said.

They were glassy and "kind of spacy," Workman related in an interview after the trial.

He recalled talking with Ed about whether he should see a doctor and, if so, whom. Workman went into the house and spoke with Ed and Katie.

"Then he really started talking about how bad he felt," Workman said.

Ed Gingerich spoke of suicide.

"It was enough to make me concerned that, by golly, I'd better offer my services," said Workman, pointing out that Old Order Amish, such as the Gingerich family, do not own cars.

The family suggested a doctor in Punxsutawney. Darkness was approaching, and Punxsutawney was almost 100 miles southeast, but Workman offered to drive. He went home to change and came back in his Chevy Lumina. Ed, Katie and four other family members piled in.

For hours they drove over snowy roads. Ed sat in the back seat, moaning, while his younger brother, Daniel, massaged his feet.

"Hang in there, Eddie," Workman would say. "We're going to get you help."

It was not until about 10:30 p.m. that they reached the doctor's. And when they did, Workman was crushed. It was not a doctor at all, he said, but what he called an Amish herbalist and "eye reader."

All the members of the family went in, and Workman said they were given many small bottles of what he believed to be herbs.

"What a ripoff," he remembered thinking. "What a shame."

On the way home, Ed was lethargic and quiet. Katie told Workman that she would bake him some bread to pay for the trip. By the time they got back, it was about 2:30 on the morning of March 18. Everyone was tired.

"It was the last time I saw Katie," Workman said.

According to court testimony, Edward passed the night calmly but worsened after morning. He still might have gotten help, though. He had an appointment with another practitioner, this time outside the hamlet of Venango, about 15 miles southwest.

And this time one of the Gingeriches' non-Amish neighbors was going for treatment with him. Richard Zimmer, who ran a farm near the Gingerich place, had fallen off a horse and broken his neck in 1974. He had recovered, but the neck still bothered him.

His Amish friends had convinced him to go see a local chiropractor named Merritt W. Terrell. The chiropractor had a large Amish clientele covering three states and, in the past, had been known among out-of-state Amish as "the Pennsylvania doctor."

Gingerich had been seeing Terrell almost monthly for half a year. Terrell -- whose sign outside his tiny office reads, "Dr. M.W. Terrell . . . Drugless Therapy" -- had been treating Gingerich with scalp manipulation and blackstrap molasses.

Zimmer picked up Ed, Katie, one of their children and another neighbor in his club cab pickup for the afternoon appointment.

Ed seemed bad. He kept saying he had to find himself.

"I can't function this way," he said.

For a month his mental condition had been deteriorating. "He complained about hearing voices, about not being able to sleep," a family member said later, and they had kept a watchful eye on Ed and took turns staying at his house at night.

"We didn't expect that anything violent might happen," a brother said. "We just wanted to show our concern for Ed and Katie -- to let them know we cared."

Later, on the way to the doctor March 18, he again said he was thinking of suicide.

Don't, Zimmer told him. "That's the coward's way out."

When they arrived at Terrell's, Ed went in first. Terrell testified in court that Ed said he was suffering from sleeplessness, anger and the sweats.

"I manipulated him," Terrell testified at Gingerich's trial. "I adjusted his head."

He explained later, outside the courtroom, that he had administered a scalp massage, but didn't explain the reasoning behind his treatment.

After Ed was treated, Zimmer went in. He described his complaints. He said Terrell told him he was getting an infection, manipulated one of his toes and told him to come back in a month.

Zimmer said he was then billed $50. He was outraged.

"I got out of there," he recalled. "I says: 'Ed, you need a doctor. You don't need this guy.' I says: 'I'll help you. I'll help you get a doctor.' "

He didn't realize he had so little time to act. On the way home, the women started talking about a wedding dinner that evening for Noah and Lovina Hertzler. Katie planned to drive herself to the dinner in the family buggy. On the way she would stop to pick up her sister-in-law, Anna Gingerich.

It was decided that Ed ought not go to the wedding celebration; he just was not well enough. Someone would stay home with him while others in the family attended.

One brother, Atlee, had gone to the morning ceremonies while brother Danny had stayed around to watch Ed. Now Danny was getting ready to go when Atlee returned.

According to court testimony, Ed had taken a nap and awakened angry over not being allowed to attend the wedding. It was almost time to go, and Katie was washing the dishes and singing or humming to herself.

He knocked her down first, then went out to the porch and returned in his barn boots. Katie told her son to go for help.

His oldest boy, Daniel, 5, ran to his Uncle Danny's.

It was a half a mile.

When he got there, he said, "Come over quick.

"Dad's sick."

Gingerich was arrested after McLaughlin's call from the house. The arrest affidavit noted that "Edward Gingerich was advised of his rights and he admitted he had killed Katie."

Meanwhile, several Amish boys who had heard what happened arrived at the Hertzler wedding dinner. They summoned Katie's father. Katie's parents were expecting her to arrive shortly. Told of his daughter's murder, a stunned Levi Shetler gasped, walked slowly to his wife and said only: "Ed's not being nice to Katie. We have to go."

On March 26, little more than a year after Katie's death, a Crawford County Common Pleas jury in Meadville found Gingerich guilty of involuntary manslaughter but mentally ill in the beating death of Katie.

Defense attorney Donald Lewis of Meadville asked that his client be taken to Warren State Hospital for evaluation, saying, "He needs professional help."

Dr. Lawson Bernstein, a psychiatrist from Western Psychiatric Hospital in Pittsburgh, testified that Gingerich was schizophrenic and psychotic. According to Bernstein, "We have a wonderful window into (Gingerich's) mind" in the taped confession taken by state police several hours after the killing. A debilitating thought disorder, schizophrenia causes some people to experience delusions and hallucinations. Sufferers may not be able to distinguish what is real from what is not. According to Dr. Harvey Ruben, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University, instances of violence are rare among people who suffer from schizophrenia. "There are lots of studies that show people who suffer from schizophrenia are no more violent than anyone else in society," Ruben says.

Life goes on for the Brownhill Amish.

Katie and Ed's three children now live with Ed's parents, and Atlee Gingerich has moved into their former home. Part of the sawmill where Ed worked was lost in a fire over the winter, but work there continues.

The Amish show a remarkable and ardent, almost natural, inclination to place the past behind and carry on. Many in the community fear Ed Gingerich and hope he doesn't return if he is ever freed. However, the Amish bishop said that because Gingerich was found to be mentally ills, he may not be excommunicated by the church.

Katie's parents visited Ed shortly after their daughter's death, while he was held and examined at the Warren State Hospital.

They, too, show a remarkable gift of forgiveness toward Ed.

They forgive but, of course, will never forget.

Katie is at peace, her family believes. And soon the garden, Katie's garden, will make the days that much more glorious.

Tim Moriarty is an assistant professor of communications at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., and has studied Amish society for more than 20 years. Michael E. Ruane is a reporter for Knight-Ridder Newspapers.

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