Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Lost Identity

As the months passed by, Katies hopes of a quick cure for Ed diminished. Follow-up visits with Doc Terrell in August, September, and December, had little effect. Docs drugless cures did not seem to be helping and Ed appeared to be getting worse.

On March 21, 1989, just four days after her 25th birthday, Katie gave birth to another boy. The child was named Enos, after one of Katies younger brothers. Ed was neither upset nor overjoyed by the birth-- he simply did not care. Family members continued to keep their low opinions of Ed to themselves. Bishop Shetler, who considered Ed a bad apple, decided to keep a close eye on him.

Mill Village Fire Department (David Lohr)
Mill Village Fire Department
(David Lohr)

Eds problems persisted and were only compounded when tragedy befell the clan on the night of December 3, 1989. An English farmer, while driving west on Sturgis Road, saw flames shooting into the sky as he approached the Frisbeetown intersection. As the farmer drew closer, he discovered that the blaze was originating from the Gingerichs sawmill. By the time fire trucks arrived at the scene, it was too late. Ed, Katie, and several family members stood by and watched as the mill burned to the ground. It was later determined that an unmonitored fire in a wood stove had gotten out of control and caused the blaze. Not only did the fire take the mill, but it also took Eds refuge, purpose, and identity. His machine shop lost its justification and he was left feeling as though he had no future.

Because the Amish do not believe in insurance, the mill was a total loss. Nonetheless, they do band together within their communities and see that anyone who needs financial help is not turned away. Hence, Ed made it his mission to see to it that another mill was erected in place of the old one. He wanted to design it from top to bottom and build it on a four-acre plot his father had given him on Sturgis Road. Eds plans included modernizing the mill to increase production and profit. However, before proceeding with his plans, Ed had to receive permission from Bishop Shetler.

The idea of a new mill did not bother the bishop and Ed was given permission to build, as long as he agreed to only hire Amish workers, and not to make the mill too modern. Eds obsession with modern mechanics was displeasing to the bishop and he strictly advised that the new mill adhere to the Ordnung1. Ed disliked the fact that he was restricted in how he constructed his mill; however the excitement of regaining his identity outweighed his anger for the time being.

As plans for the new mill fell into place, Katie discovered that she was once again pregnant. Ed was anything but pleased with the news. The thought of another child was not something he relished.

On March 13, 1990, four days before her 26th birthday, Katie gave birth to a seven-pound girl. The child was named Mary after Eds mother. Ed did not pay any attention to Katie or their newborn; he was too busy planning construction of the new mill, something he seemingly cared about more than anything.

Construction of the mill began in April of 1990. The building took little time to erect, and in the end measured an impressive 150 feet long and 25 feet wide. Ed showed off his knowledge by designing a fully automated plant, which impressed Amish and English alike. Diesel-powered conveyor belts delivered logs through a 5-foot saw blade, and saw dust was automatically hauled out on a specially-designed carrier belt. Ed was pleased with his work and his machine shop once again had a purpose.

The sawmill (David Lohr)
The sawmill (David Lohr)

The everyday workings of the new mill were handed over to Noah Stutzman, a hard working young man who was new to the Brownhill settlement. Ed wanted the freedom to come and go as he pleased, and by hiring Noah he would have more time to devote to his machine shop.

Problems between Ed and Katie continued to grow. Ed refused to have sex with Katie for fear of getting her pregnant and he began staying out late again, continuously ignoring Katie and the children. Whenever Ed spoke to Katie, he would frighten her with talk of modernization or leaving the Amish lifestyle. Katie feared that if Bishop Shetler learned that Ed thought such things, they would be excommunicated2 for good.

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1. Donald B. Kraybill, in his book, The Riddle of Amish Culture, writes: The Amish blueprint for expected behavior, called the Ordnung, regulates private, public, and ceremonial life. Ordnung does not translate readily into English. Sometimes rendered as ordnance or discipline, the Ordnung is best thought of as an ordering of the whole way of life . . . a code of conduct, which the church maintains by tradition rather than by systematic or explicit rules. Rather than a packet or rules to memorize, the Ordnung is the "understood" behavior by which the Amish are expected to live. In the same way that the rules of grammar are learned by children, so the Ordnung, the grammar of order, is learned by Amish youth. The Ordnung evolved gradually over the decades as the church sought to strike a delicate balance between tradition and change. Specific details of the Ordnung vary across church districts and settlements.

2. Excommunicated-- meaning eternally damned, or banned, in the eyes of the Amish.

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