Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edward D. Gingerich: The Only Amish Man Convicted of Murder

The Old Order

On Thursday March 18, 1993, a Pennsylvania Amish man named Edward Gingerich murdered his wife Katie as their children looked on in horror. The brutality of the crime shocked the Amish community and the nation. Who was Edward Gingerich? What was he? And how would the Amish community deal with his crime? This story is a true account of the only Amish man in history ever to be convicted of homicide.

Unfortunately, knowledge of the Amish and their religious practices come almost exclusively from the media. A journalist for the New York Post once wrote, Everything I know about the Amish, I learned from the Harrison Ford movie, Witness. While this and similar films may be entertaining, they also tend to stereotype the Amish community and make it very difficult for the layman to separate fact from fiction.

In reality, the Amish are a religious group who live in settlements in 22 states and Ontario, Canada. The Amish stress humility, family, community, self-sufficiency, uniformity and separation. They were part of the early Anabaptist movement in Europe, which took place at the time of Reformation. The Anabaptists believed that only adults who had confessed their faith should be baptized, and that they should remain separate from the larger society. Both Catholics and Protestants put many early Anabaptists to death, considering them heretics. The remaining groups quickly fled to Switzerland and Germany to escape religious persecution. Here began the Amish tradition of farming and holding their worship services in homes rather than churches.

A young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement in 1536. His writings united many of the Anabaptist groups, who were nicknamed "Mennonites." A Swiss bishop named Jacob Ammon broke from the Mennonite church in 1693. His followers were called the "Amish." Although the two groups split, the Amish and Mennonite churches continued to share many of the same beliefs. They differ only in matters of dress, language, form of worship, interpretation of the Bible, and technology. The Amish and Mennonites both settled in Pennsylvania as part of William Penn's "holy experiment" of religious tolerance. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in Pennsylvania during the late 1730s.

Modern day Amish differ very little from their predecessors. Old Order groups, such as the one Ed Gingerich belonged to, all drive horses and buggies rather than cars, do not have electricity, and send their children to private one-room schoolhouses. Children only attend school through the eighth grade. After that, they work on their family's farm or business until they marry.

Old Order Amish women and girls wear modest dresses made from solid-colored fabric with long sleeves and a full skirt. These dresses are covered with an apron and are fastened with straight pins or snaps. They never cut their hair, which they wear in a bun on the back of the head. On their heads they wear a white prayer covering if they are married and a black one if they are single. Men and boys wear dark-colored suits, straight-cut coats, broad trousers, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, black socks and shoes, and black or straw broad-brimmed hats. Their shirts fasten with conventional buttons, but their suit coats fasten with hooks and eyes. The Amish feel these distinctive clothes encourage humility and separation from the world. Amish men do not have mustaches, but they grow beards after they marry. There is no such thing as an Amish divorce, and until 1993, there had never been an Amish murderer.

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