Thirty-year-old Barbara Weaver was content to live as the Amish have for centurieswithout modern conveniencesbut her husband, Eli, wanted a life beyond horses and buggies. Soon he gave in to the temptation of technology, and found ways to go online and meet women. When Barbara was found dead, shot in the chest at close range, all eyes were on Eli…and his mistress, a Conservative Mennonite named Barb Raber.
A NEW KIND OF BETRAYALAND DEATH. . .
Barb drove Eli to appointments in her car. She gave him everything he asked for: a laptop, rides to his favorite fishing and hunting spotsand sex. Above all, she gave him the cell phone he would use to plan a murder. The Weaver case marked only the third time an Amish man was suspected of killing his wife in more than two hundred years in America. But the investigation raised almost as many questions as it answered: Was Barb Raber the one who fired the fatal shot? Or was Barbara Weaver dead before someone entered the house? What did Eli’s friends, family, and church really know about him? And will life among the “Plain People” ever be the same?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
REBECCA MORRIS is an award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast and print journalism in New York City; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington.
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A Killing in Amish Country
Sex, Betrayal, and a Cold-Blooded Murder
By Gregg Olsen, Rebecca Morris
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Gregg Olsen and Rebecca Morris
All rights reserved.
Where did my friend, love, trustworthy husband go to? He hates me to the core.
— BARBARA WEAVER, INA LETTER TO HERCOUNSELOR ABOUT THEDEEP DIVIDE IN HERMARRIAGE.
A pleasant stillness is one of the hallmarks of most June nights in Apple Creek, Ohio. No incessant chatter coming from the television. No buzzing of fluorescent lights. None of the loud voices that come from people who have had too much to drink and something to prove. Nothing wafts over the hilly terrain but the softness of warm air circulating around the plain white farmhouses, barns, and outbuildings that dot much of Wayne and Holmes Counties, where most of America's Amish people live.
From the outside, things are picture-perfect. Boys and men in light-blue shirts and suspender-supported trousers; girls and women in an array of dark purples, blues, and greens with paper-thin bonnets covering long hair pinned up on the back of their heads. Houses with no power lines. Dirt driveways rutted with buggy tracks.
That veneer of undeniable charm and quaintness belies reality. During the late-night hours of June 1, 2009, the quiet of the milieu ebbed when the clouds opened and it began to rain, then, drop after drop, the wind kicked up. There was thunder, too. The weather brought a kind of restlessness across the community. Some of the children in Eli and Barbara Weaver's house left their upstairs bedrooms and made their way downstairs to sleep away from the noise of the storm and closer to the master bedroom on the main floor.
With the light of a gas lantern casting long shadows over the room, Barbara, a pretty young mother with dark-blond hair, rocked her youngest, Lizzie. There was nothing more important to Barbara and her sister Fannie Troyer than their children. Barbara had five, and Fannie had four, all under the age of nine.
On this evening, there was a blended group sleeping at the Weavers'. Four of Barbara's children, Harley, Sarah, Joseph, and Lizzie Weaver, and their cousins Susie and Mary Troyer, were winding down after a day of play. Barbara encouraged them to speak in hushed tones so as not wake the ones that were beginning to get drowsy in Barbara's bed. The cousins had come to the Weavers', and Barbara's son Jacob had stayed at her sister's house, after a birthday party for nine-year old Harley at the Troyers' the night before.
Susie settled on the sofa and Harley found a cozy spot on the recliner that was his father's main place of refuge when he was home and not working at the family's hunting and fishing supply business, Maysville Outfitters. Except Eli Weaver was rarely home, and he didn't consider it a sanctuary. None of the children would recall seeing much, if anything, of the Amish man in recent days. Which wasn't new. He was almost never home for meals — an important time in Amish family life — and he didn't like his children hanging out at his store. At least twice in their young lives he had disappeared for weeks or months at a time.
At some point in the early morning of June 2, Eli came home and carried Mary, Sarah, and Joseph upstairs. He had just a couple of hours to get some sleep before he left on a fishing trip to Lake Erie.
After little Lizzie cried out from her room on the main floor, Susie left the living room and slept upstairs for the rest of the night. That left just Harley on the other side of his parents' bedroom wall.
With the gaslights off and the wind rolling across the farmhouse, Harley listened as the shower ran in the bathroom down the hallway. Soon after, slumber overtook him. Only once during the night did he stir. A thunderclap, he thought, woke him. But he turned over and fell back to sleep.
Later, the boy would play that noise over and over in his head, trying to pinpoint just what it was that he'd heard.
And what or who had made the sound.
* * *
Around 8:00 A.M., the house stirred to life. It was late. Barbara Weaver liked to get up early and write in her journal. But when the girls in the upstairs bedroom awoke, the house was silent. As the oldest girl, Susie got up and started to help with the children — a role she enjoyed. But Mary wanted breakfast and Lizzie was crying, and it was a bit too much for Susie to handle.
Then Susie heard the younger children shrieking. Still in her nightclothes, she followed the sobbing down the hall to her Aunt Barbara's room.
When she pushed open the bedroom door, Susie knew something was very wrong. Her sister, Mary, and her cousins Sarah and Joseph were clutching at the comforter. Barbara Weaver was still, her bedding splattered with red.
Susie hurried out of the bedroom and found Harley.
In the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect spoken by the Amish, she cried out to get his attention. Harley hurried into his parents' bedroom. It was as though the house were alive by then, breathing in, sucking all of the children into that one room. They surrounded the bed. They cried out. They screamed.
With a trembling hand, the boy touched his mother's leg. It was cool.
Something's very wrong!
Susie thought it was possible that Barbara had been sick and maybe thrown up some blood. The color red was imprinted on the minds of the young people looking on and wondering what had happened.
Why isn't she answering? Why isn't Mama moving?
Harley, who had been around guns all his life — his father had a shop that sold them — knew what had happened. Their mother had been shot. He was almost certain of it. Even so, the boy wracked his brain. It didn't quite compute. He hadn't heard any gunfire.
Just a thunderclap in the storm.
* * *
In the chaos of that moment, the children tugged at their mother. One of them tried to open her eyes. They called out for her to wake up, but her eyes looked into nothingness. Her lips were tinged a strange hue. Someone pulled back the comforter, revealing an ugly hole in their mother's chest.
Harley extricated himself from the room and the confused and frightened children. He dressed as fast as his arms could move. There was no phone in the house. No way to call for an ambulance. Though he was sure his mother was dead, a tremendous urgency fueled each step as he ran across the road to the home of Linda and Firman Yoder. He needed help. They all needed help.
Something terrible has happened to our mother!
On that June day, things began to change in Amish country. Quiet nights, a distancing from modern technology, a promise to stay close as a family and a community — all of what makes up the Amish way of life — would unravel like the frayed edges of a treasured quilt. And like torn fabric, things never could be completely mended. The damage would always be visible.CHAPTER 2
He wants me to be the submissive little wife and I want to be, but what's right counts more.
— Barbara Weaver, On The Expectations Shefelt As An Amish Wife
The half-eaten birthday cake was gone. It had sat forlornly on the kitchen counter for days. The bloody comforter with a bullet hole had been removed, too. Later, twelve jurors and two alternates would see photographs of the house as it was the day thirty- year-old Barbara Weaver, devout Amish wife and mother of five, was murdered in cold blood. Now it was just a nearly empty structure, the scene of a heinous crime. Little was left of what had made the house a home.
On Thursday, September 17, 2009, three months and fifteen days after Barbara Weaver was killed with a .410 gauge shotgun to the chest, jury members walked through the two-story house on Harrison Road, in Apple Creek Township, in Wayne County, Ohio. Wayne County and its neighbor Holmes County are home to the majority of the sixty thousand Amish in Ohio.
There were no Amish on the jury. Because they believe in forgiveness and not judging others, the Amish have long been excused from jury duty. Ohio made it official in 2004, adopting a law excusing the Amish from jury duty for religious reasons.
Unlike the homes of jury members, the house did not have electricity. The Weavers used propane to heat water, operate a stove, and light the home, shop, and barns. A refrigerator with the electrical parts removed and a new chunk of ice every week kept perishables chilled.
There was no telephone and no SUV parked in the driveway. The Amish have rules — many unwritten but adopted over the years — called the Ordnung (the German word for "order"), guidelines for life and the use of conveniences the majority of Americans take for granted. The Ordnung isn't static; it can change and has changed, in some groups more than in others. Andy Weaver Amish — the order that the Weavers were members of — is much slower to adapt than some other Amish groups. Though some of the Ordnung goes back as far as the 1800s, new inventions and innovations have led to modifications. Some things haven't changed. The Amish make a distinction between ownership and use. In the 1920s the Amish set rules concerning modern life that stand today: they may ride in a motor vehicle but not drive one, and they may use a telephone but not have one in the house. After all, no one would visit if they could phone instead.
The Amish are not Luddites who find technology frightening. They just believe it's important to adhere to the old ways. When a new invention or new technology arrives on the scene, the Amish are concerned not only with how it will affect their lives, but also with how it will affect their children and grandchildren, too. They believe the focus in America is on the individual. Their focus is on church first, then family. Not too long ago, most Americans lived like the Amish. They farmed, and they knew their neighbors. It's America that's changed, the Amish say, not them.
Judge Robert J. Brown, who accompanied the jury for the fifteen-minute drive from the courthouse in Wooster to the Weaver house, instructed the jury not to talk about what they saw and not to read media coverage. He called the house "the alleged crime scene" and told them not to form any opinions yet. Rob, as his friends called the judge, was in his late fifties, good-looking with a handsome face, close-cropped hair, and blue eyes. He had spent his life in the area, growing up just two counties north. He had been an assistant prosecutor for three years and a trial judge for more than twenty. He hadn't seen many crimes involving the Amish — there had been only two reported murders among the Amish in America in more than 250 years.
Neither of the two people charged with the murder accompanied the judge and jury to the house. The attorney for the killer didn't want the jury to get a "mental image" of his client at the scene.
The prosecutor, however, was there. Edna Boyle, Wayne County assistant district attorney, wife, mother of two young children, and former municipal court judge, would seek justice for Barbara Weaver.
The jury was overwhelmingly made up of women thanks to Boyle, who knew a group of females would be sympathetic to the victim, a young mother. They were shown key areas of the house, including the basement, where an open cash box with a large amount of money had been found, a sign that the killer, who entered through a nearby unlocked door, wasn't there to rob. They also saw the living room; the upstairs bedrooms and main-floor nursery where the younger Weaver children slept; and the kitchen, where the cake had sat since a family birthday party for Harley two days before the murder. The killer had also ignored more cash for the taking on a kitchen counter.
There was no evidence that the crime was random, the result of a break-in. Someone had walked in with a shotgun, aimed, and fired once at the sleeping woman.
The house was not empty. There was a sofa and a recliner in the living room, as well as an adult-sized pair of boots in the living room, as if their owner had thought, "'We'll be right back,'" Boyle said.
The master bedroom, where Barbara Weaver was found, was at the end of a hall on the first floor. The jury would hear that Barbara was wearing a plain, homemade light-blue nightgown, purple underwear, and a white head covering pinned to the top of her head when one shot smashed through the right side of her chest, sending pellets to her heart. They would learn that it was the children who had pushed open the bedroom door the morning of June 2 and tried to wake their mother.
The jury saw Maysville Outfitters, a fishing and hunting shop run by Barbara's husband, Eli, twenty-nine, on property adjacent to the home. Inside were essentials needed by hunters and fishermen, including shotguns, ammunition, rain jackets, and fishing gear.
There was a shanty near the store that looked like an outhouse but housed a telephone. The structures are a common sight — the Amish share phones to conduct farm business or reach family members in other communities. There was also a portable toilet outside the store. The jurors saw two sheds and the barn where Eli stored feed. The prosecution would tell them it had been the scene of trysts between Eli and one of his lovers.
Some members of the jury may have been inside an Amish home before. Although they live different lives, the Amish and the English (what the Amish call the non-Amish) live among one another and do business with each other. For 250 years the Amish had farmed Wayne County, Ohio. Until the middle of the twentieth century, all Amish farmed. Today, only one-quarter do. Nonfarmwork pays better than farming, and since the 1970s, farmland has been scarcer. Cornfields have been turned into Walmarts.
More and more Amish have turned to nonfarming occupations to support their families. While many do get jobs working for non-Amish business owners, where Pennsylvania Dutch–speaking Amish employees rub shoulders with English coworkers building gazebos and storage sheds, others have become entrepreneurs and moved into a variety of nonagricultural enterprises.
The Amish are worried about the move away from farming. As one bishop said, "The lunch pail is the greatest threat to our way of life."
The English, in turn, sometimes work for the Amish. It's common for the Amish to hire an English man or woman to drive them long distances or to places where it is not practical to take a horse and buggy. Eli Weaver regularly hired an English woman to drive him on business and pleasure trips.
Now that they had seen the house where Barbara Weaver was murdered, the jury would hear one question repeatedly: Who would kill a young wife and mother with her children sleeping nearby?CHAPTER 3
This isn't the end of it. When Satan gets hold of a person, he isn't going to let go easily.
— A Skeptical Barbaraweaver To A Neighbor,On Eli's Return Homeafter Living As English
Few people knew as much about the Weaver marriage as Fannie Troyer did. Barbara's sister would be invaluable in the early days of the investigation. She was at the murder scene minutes after her sister's body was found.
Fannie and Barbara Miller grew up near Orrville, Ohio, a town of about eight thousand and home since 1897 to the J.M. Smucker Company, maker of jams, jellies, and ice cream toppings. ("With a name like Smucker's, it has to be good!") The sisters — Fannie was the big sister — and their two brothers grew up members of the Andy Weaver Amish. The conservative Amish group adheres to beliefs about driving, hair length, men's facial hair (mustaches are forbidden), and electricity. The differences between Amish sects can be mindboggling. The Swartzentruber Amish — the most conservative Amish — paint their barns red, believing white is too flashy. The Andy Weaver group falls between the ultraconservative Swartzentruber Amish and the more progressive Old Order Amish.
Locally, members of Andy Weaver are known as Dan Gmay (pronounced Gamay), literally "Dan Church." After the split from the Old Order in 1952, led by Andy Weaver, all the ministers in one district had the first name of Dan, and the nickname took and has continued.
There have been ugly, bitter church schisms in Wayne and Holmes Counties, usually over issues of how the different sects view excommunication, education, and the use of barns and modern-day conveniences.
The Amish first settled in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s after fleeing persecution in Switzerland over their beliefs as Anabaptists, Christians who believe in adult baptism, separation of church and state, and nonviolence. In Europe, the Amish had alienated both Catholics and Protestants with their views on adult baptism. Until the middle of the twentieth century, the Amish attended public schools in America. But when school consolidation began, with the pressure to bus students to large public schools and a growing emphasis on extracurricular activities that cut into the time young people could be with family, the Amish established their own schools.
Excerpted from A Killing in Amish Country by Gregg Olsen, Rebecca Morris. Copyright © 2016 Gregg Olsen and Rebecca Morris. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Linda Castillo,
2. The House,
4. The Letters,
6. The Knock,
8. The News,
10. The Taxi Lady,
11. The Children,
12. The Women,
13. Amish Stud,
14. Dancing in the Rain,
16. The Go-To Attorney for Wayward Amish,
17. The Viewing,
18. Eli and Barb,
21. Barb in Jail,
22. Jailhouse Talk,
23. Eli in Jail,
25. A Husband's Questions,
26. Too Much Information,
31. The Shot,
32. Best Friends,
33. It Was Lust,
34. It Was Lust II,
Afterword by Karen M. Johnson-Weiner,
Also by Gregg Olsen and Rebecca Morris,
About the Authors,