Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

An Unlikely Union

Edward D. Gingerich (AP/Wide World)
Edward D. Gingerich
(AP/Wide World)

During the fall of 1985, Ed met 21-year-old Katie Shetler, the sister of a co-worker and niece of the clans Bishop. Katie was an energetic, hard working young woman who exemplified what it meant to be Old Order Amish. Her father, Levi, was one of the most respected elders in the community, while her mother, Emma, worked hard to keep the family running smoothly and had raised five loving children.

Ed and Katie, while an unlikely pair, dated off and on for approximately a year before Ed started feeling pressure from the elders. In his own family, he was next in line to be married and for Katie, her fear of being passed over in marriage was intense. She was the last of her siblings who had not yet wed. The weight on Eds shoulders was heavy. If he did not marry Katie, the community would most certainly shun him. He could either take his chances in the English world or marry Katie and continue living a lie. As appealing as the English world was, Ed decided it was not time to gamble, so he proposed to Katie.

An Amish couple must take several steps before they may marry. Proper certification of membership must be requested from the church. All couples that plan to marry are "published" and the deacon is responsible for announcing the names of the girls and the men they plan to marry. The fathers then announce the date and time of the wedding and invite the members to attend. The betrothed couple does not attend the church service on the Sunday they are published. Instead, the young woman prepares a meal for her fiancÚ and they enjoy dinner alone at her home. When the girl's family returns from church, the daughter formally introduces her fiancÚ to her parents. Unlike English engagements, the future groom does not give her a diamond. He may give her china or a clock.

After being published, the young people have just a few days before the ceremony. The girl also helps her mother prepare for the wedding and feast, which takes place in her parents' home. During this time, the future husband keeps busy extending personal invitations to members of his church district.

On December 2, 1986, a rainy winters day, Ed married Katie. Friends and family from Canada, western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York attended the daylong ceremony. Katies uncle, Bishop Rudy Shetler, presided over the wedding. Katie wore a dark blue dress during the ceremony. Blue is the typical color chosen for weddings by young Amish women. An Amish bride's wedding attire is always new. She usually makes her own dress and also those of her attendants, known as newehockers, (Pennsylvania Dutch for sidesitters). Katies dress was plain cut, mid-calf length and unadorned -- there was no fancy trim, lace or train. Unlike English brides who normally only wear their bridal dress once, an Amish bride's wedding dress will become her Sunday church attire after she is married. She will also typically be buried in the same dress when she dies. Instead of a veil, Katie wore a black prayer covering to differentiate from her daily white cap. By strict Amish tradition, no one in the bridal party carried flowers. Ed and his newehockers wore black suits. All coats and vests were fastened with hooks and eyes, not buttons. Their shirts were white, and shoes and stockings were black. Ed also wore high-topped black shoes, and a black hat with a three-and-a-half-inch brim. There was no best man or maid of honor; all newehockers are of equal importance. The three-hour long service began with the congregation singing hymns, (without instrumental accompaniment), while the minister counseled Ed and Katie privately. After Bishop Rudy and the young couple returned to the room, a prayer, Scripture reading and long sermon began. Following the sermon, the Bishop asked Katie and Ed to step forward from their seat with the rest of the congregation. Then he questioned them about their marriage to be, which was similar to English wedding vows. The Bishop then blessed the couple and the fathers of the couple gave testimony about marriage to the congregation. A final prayer and the ceremony drew to a close.

Following the wedding ceremony, festivities began. The women served dinner while the men set up tables in a U-shape around the walls. A corner of the table was reserved for Ed, Katie and the bridal party. This is an honored place called the "Eck," meaning corner. The tables were laden with the "roast," (roast chicken with bread stuffing), mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed celery, coleslaw, applesauce, cherry pie, donuts, fruit salad, tapioca pudding and bread, butter and jelly.

Katie sat on Eds left, in the corner (the same way they will sit as man and wife in their buggy). The single women sat on the same side as Katie and the single men on the same side as Ed. The immediate family members sat at a long table in the kitchen, with both fathers at the head. Following dinner, the afternoon was spent visiting and playing games.

The newlyweds' first night together is always spent at the bride's home because they must get up early the next day to help clean the house. In Ed and Katies case, they would have to live in her parents basement until spring, when a home could be constructed.

Their honeymoon was spent visiting all their new relatives on the weekends throughout the winter.

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