Killer's Amish burial gives closure
There is fresh grave in the Amish cemetery, next to the one where Katie Gingerich has lain since her murder in 1993. It belongs to her killer and husband, Edward Gingerich, who was 44 when he hanged himself Jan. 14.
His burial within the community that had shunned him after the killing is a gesture of conciliation that remains as bitterly disputed as his life had been. Amish were pitted against Amish over how to respond to a murderer who everyone agreed was psychotic when he killed his wife. It was the only known case of a homicide committed by an Amishman.
Before his death, relatives who had reconciled with him after his shunning once again cut all contact in obedience to the leaders of the Brownhill Amish community in Rockdale, Crawford County. While shunning can be less severe, the Brownhill Amish banned almost all contact with him.
"He was depressed that he couldn't see his kids, who couldn't come see him on pain of being shunned themselves," said George Schroeck, a non-Amish friend with whom he was living.
"I don't doubt that there might have been some guilt feelings [in the Brownhill Amish] and that's what got him into the graveyard. But this little reconciliation -- to take a corpse back -- it would have been much better had they taken the living Ed back and treated him with some Christian kindness," he said.
Jim Fischer, a retired criminal justice professor who wrote the book "Crimson Stain" about the murder, is more sympathetic to the Brownhill Amish. They knew what he was capable of but their faith forbade them to defend themselves if he went on another rampage, he said. They had no phones to call for help.
"Those who have accused the Brownhill Amish of being cold-hearted and unforgiving because they excommunicated him are wrong," he said. "They have forgiven Ed, they just haven't forgotten what he did. That violent homicide left them fearful."
Katie and his brothers had sought psychiatric help when he began seeing giant rabbits, howling like a wolf and raving that God and Satan were battling for his soul. They hospitalized him twice, once hog-tying him to get him to an emergency room where he sent medical equipment flying once he was freed. But he stopped taking the anti-psychotic drugs that make him sluggish.
He had been severely depressed and threatening suicide on March 18, 1993. That afternoon he kicked Katie to death in front of two of their three children, and used a knife to gut her like a deer.
In jail he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
In 1994 he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter but mentally ill. He served his five-year sentence in the prison ward of a mental hospital. Mr. Fischer believes he should have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, allowing indefinite hospitalization.
"When you imprison someone like that and they serve their time, they are released without condition ... and their treatment is left up to them. Eventually almost all of them quit taking their medication and they relapse. In Ed's case, that could mean violence," he said.
Nearly 60 members of the Brownhill Amish signed a petition asking for his permanent commitment.
"We like Ed Gingerich but absolutely don't trust him and are seriously afraid of him," it said.
But other Amish communities petitioned for his release. Their ministers had visited him and reported that medication had restored his sanity, and he was profoundly sorry for killing Katie. They believed that repentance required forgiveness and full restoration. They offered to take him in and supervise him.
He was released in 1998 and moved to an Amish mental health facility in Michigan. After an incident there he moved to an Indiana psychiatric unit for Amish who need constant supervision.
But he wanted to reconcile with his family, especially his children. In February 2007. Ed Gingerich returned to Crawford County, renting a house among those of the Brownhill Amish. According to John Otto, an Amish friend from a different community, a visiting nurse, gave him his medications, he saw a psychiatrist every two weeks and a caseworker monitored him and set up a support network for him.
Two of his brothers and his two teenage sons reconciled with him, and were shunned along with him. But his daughter, Mary, who lived with her grandparents, was forbidden to see him.
Divisions over his presence were so powerful that when some of the shunned Gingerich teens -- including Ed and Katie's sons -- tried to attend a youth prayer meeting, they were arrested for defiant trespass.
That April of 2007, Ed Gingerich took his 17-year-old daughter from a buggy and disappeared with her. The community was terrified that he would kill her as he had her mother. But after five days she was found safe with him and other relatives in McKean County. His defenders said he only wanted an opportunity to try to reconcile with her before she joined the church and would be required to shun him. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months probation and fined $500.
His final run-in with the law was February 2008, when he was reported for hunting deer with a rifle that his felony conviction made illegal. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and served three months in jail.
Eventually the tension over his presence in Rockdale came to a head. According to James Miller, a cousin from Guys Mills, his brothers, Joe and Atlee, didn't want to leave the community. They chose to reconcile with the Brownhill Amish, and stopped seeing Ed.
"He felt that rejection," Mr. Miller said.
George Schroeck, an attorney who had represented the Gingerich children, believes that a condition for Joe and Atlee's restoration was for Ed to leave. He moved in with cousins in another town, but non-Amish neighbors protested his presence.
Last summer he moved in with Mr. Schroeck and his wife, Stephanie, in Cambridge Springs.
A male nurse came every two weeks to inject him with anti-psychotic drugs, but he took anti-depressants on his own.
"I never saw Ed delusional. I never saw him wigging out," Mr. Schroeck said. "I watched him closely, because I knew his history."
But recently he had fallen into a deep depression, which Mr. Schroeck attributed to the break with his sons and brothers. Then Mr. Schroeck received a call from one of Ed Gingerich's close friends, who said that Ed had stopped taking anti-depressants.
On Jan. 13, Mr Schroeck said, he took him to a doctor. That night and the next morning he assured Mr. Schroeck that he had taken his anti-depressants.
On the 14th, Ed Gingerich went to the barn to feed the horse. Five hours later Mrs. Schroeck found him hanging from the second floor.
"Forgive me please" was written in the dust on a bucket, according to Reuters.
Joe and Atlee Gingerich met with Bishop Rudy Shetler, who was also Katie's uncle, Mr. Schroeck said. The funeral was last Sunday in Atlee's home. The bishop preached, Mr. Miller said.
A non-Amish neighbor was astounded at the crowd.
"There were Amish folks who came from far and wide on short notice. They came from other states," said former Allegheny County commissioner Bob Cranmer.
He asked an Amish friend why the community claimed Ed Gingerich in death when it had shunned him in life.
"He told me it was more for the family than it was for him," Mr. Cranmer said.
Mr. Miller agreed, saying he thought it was a gesture of reconciliation toward his brothers and sons.
"They buried him right next to Katie," he said.
Mr. Fischer, who was once close to Katie's parents, believes they must have supported the decision. "If they didn't want him in that cemetery, he wouldn't be there," he said.
Mr. Schroeck believes the way Ed Gingerich died only added to his family's anguish.
"His brothers are worried about his immortal soul going to hell because he violated the command 'Thou shalt not kill' by committing suicide," he said.
Mr. Miller isn't trying to sort that out.
"He is in the hands of a righteous judge," he said.
First Published January 23, 2011 12:00 am