Sworn to Silence (Kate Burkholder Series #1)

Sworn to Silence (Kate Burkholder Series #1)

by Linda Castillo

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Now the subject of the Lifetime original movie, An Amish Murder

Sworn to Silence is the first in Linda Castillo's New York Times bestselling Kate Burkholder series.


In the sleepy rural town of Painters Mill, Ohio, the Amish and “English” residents have lived side by side for two centuries. But sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community. In the aftermath of the violence, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence. Kate Burkholder, a young Amish girl, survived the terror of the Slaughterhouse Killer but came away from its brutality with the realization that she no longer belonged with the Amish.

Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate has been asked to return to Painters Mill as chief of police. Her Amish roots and big city law enforcement background make her the perfect candidate. She’s certain she’s come to terms with her past—until the first body is discovered in a snowy field. Kate vows to stop the killer before he strikes again. But to do so, she must betray both her family and her Amish past—and expose a dark secret that could destroy her.

*BONUS CONTENT: This edition of Sworn to Silence includes a new introduction from the author and a discussion guide.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Romance novelist Castillo, who grew up near Amish country, convincingly switches gears with this debut thriller, balancing chilling suspense and a nuanced portrait of the English-Amish divide. Starring a tough, complicated cop who speaks Pennsylvania Dutch as smoothly as she downs a vodka, Silence is the opening salvo in what promises to be a gripping series.” —People magazine (3 ½ out of 4 stars)

“Lovers of suspense will find no better novel to read this summer than Sworn to Silence, a teeth-chattering debut thriller from romance writer Linda Castillo. . . . This first in a series will delight fans of Chelsea Cain and Thomas Harris . . . compelling characters, excellent plotting and a hair-raising finale.” —USA Today

“Absolutely stunning. . . . A perfectly crafted thriller.” —Lisa Scottoline

“[Castillo] combines the protagonist's Amish background with her tough cop persona so skillfully and with such finesse, that both aspects of her character are totally believable. She also makes police procedure anything but tedious.” —Sandra Brown

“Complicated, haunted protagonists, shocking murders, psychological twists and bizarre crime scenes. . . . Sworn to Silence is a nail-biting series debut.” —Chelsea Cain

“Castillo's backdrop of Amish Country is so alive and crawling with atmosphere that you'll swear you can hear the snow crunching underfoot. Sworn to Silence packs a healthy dose of twists but it's Kate's memorable voice that will leave you wanting to hear more.” —Alex Kava

“Kate Burkholder is the real deal and Sworn to Silence is a vivid, intense, and brutal page-turner of a novel.” —C.J. Box

“With an utterly compelling protagonist, sharp twists and a setting so real you feel it, Castillo doesn't just hit the ball out of the park, she knocks the skin off the ball.” —John Hart

“This book will keep you up late and follow you into your dreams.” —Brian Freeman

“‘A gun-toting, cursing, former Amish female chief of police' stars in this excellent first in a new suspense series . . . Adept at creating characters with depth and nuance, Castillo smoothly integrates their backstories into a well-paced plot that illuminates the divide between the Amish and ‘English' worlds.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Sworn marks Castillo's move from romantic suspense to straight mystery, and judging by this novel, the move is a good one . . . this is very well done. The small-town setting, complicated relationships among the inhabitants, and the strong but battle-scarred protagonist bring Julia Spencer-Fleming's series to mind.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Castillo's hardcover debut should come with a warning: Pick up when you have time to finish. Excitement, danger, mystery, a fascinating setting and a conflicted heroine make this a book you won't put down.” —Romantic Times (Top Pick, 4 1/2 stars)

“Think Harrison Ford in the movie Witness and add just a touch of the Coen brothers' Fargo and you have the feel of this brilliant, nail-biting thriller. . . . Very dark, intricate and packed with twists, it literally chokes the breath from your body. It's that good.” —Daily Mail (UK)

Sworn to Silence promises to be the breakout title for [Castillo]. Katie Burkholder, a character I hope we see much more of in the future, is a great lead with a different background—a former member of a close-knit Amish community who has returned home to become Chief of Police. . . . Fans of Thomas Harris and Chelsea Cain are going to love this one.” —BookBitch.com

Sworn to Silence immediately shot to the very top of my 'Best Books of 2009' list. . . . A 5-star thrilling ride from Linda Castillo that fans have come to expect from this prolific writer.” —ArmchairInterviews.com

“Romance writer Linda Castillo makes a successful move to crime fiction with an evocative and often heartfelt look at Amish society . . . chillingly realistic . . . Set during a bitter Ohio winter, Sworn to Silence will make you forget about any summer heat wave.” —South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“The story moves along at a fast clip, making this tasty little beach read.” —The Herald (Rock Hill, SC)

“There's a new sheriff in thriller-ville. And her name is Kate Burkholder. . . . The thriller is marked by interesting characters, strong plotting, suspense and gore galore.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Impressive.” —The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)

Sworn to Silence is one of the good ones. . . . fast-paced . . . Linda Castillo is an author to be watched and Sworn to Silence is a book to be enjoyed.” —Mystery News

“The complicated relationships between the Amish and ‘English' worlds add more drama to this suspense novel. Fast-paced and very well written, it is worth a read.” —The Oklahoman

Sworn to Silence is a gripping thriller whose story will stay with you a long time. . . . Excellent pacing and clue-dropping keep suspense and interest high. Characters are believable . . . and the setting is described so well it feels like you're there in the snow with Kate. After a certain point, you'll let supper burn rather than put this book down.” —I Heart a Mystery.com

“Linda Castillo has come up with a story of striking originality . . . Castillo ratchets up the suspense with each page, as Kate is faced with a diabolical murderer, an antagonistic town council member and a dark secret from her past that threatens to derail the investigation. The first in a projected series, Sworn to Silence is filled with blood-chilling storytelling, fair play with clues and arresting prose.” —Richmond Times Dispatch

“[G]ripping and suspenseful.” —Midwest Book Review

“Castillo has created a spell-binding thriller that draws readers in from the beginning and doesn't let go until the last page. There's no putting this book down . . . What readers will enjoy are the twists and turns along the way, as well as the great heart that Linda Castillo has given to the police department in Painters Mill.” —ReviewingTheEvidence.com

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429983730
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/23/2009
Series: Kate Burkholder Series , #1
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 172
File size: 6 MB

Read an Excerpt

Sworn to Silence

By Linda Castillo

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Linda Castillo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8373-0


The cruiser's strobes cast red and blue light onto winter dead trees. Officer T.J. Banks pulled the car onto the shoulder and flipped on the spotlight, running the beam along the edge of the field where corn stalks shivered in the cold. Twenty yards away, six Jersey cows stood in the bar ditch, chewing their cud.

"Stupid fuckin' cows," he muttered. Besides chickens, they had to be the dumbest animals on earth.

He hit the radio. "Dispatch, this is forty-seven."

"What's up, T.J.?" asked Mona, the night dispatcher.

"I got a 10-54. Stutz's damn cows are out again."

"That's the second time in a week."

"Always on my shift, too."

"So what are you going to do? He ain't got no phone out there."

A glance at the clock on the dash told him it was nearly two A.M. "Well, I'm not going to stand out here in the frickin' cold and round up these stupid shits."

"Maybe you ought to just shoot 'em."

"Don't tempt me." Looking around, he sighed. Livestock on the road at this hour was an accident waiting to happen. If someone came around the curve too fast it could be bad. He thought of all the paperwork an accident would entail and shook his head. "I'll set up some flares then go drag his Amish ass out of bed."

"Let me know if you need backup." She snickered.

Yanking the zipper of his coat up to his chin, he slid his flashlight from its nest beside the seat and got out of the cruiser. It was so cold he could feel his nose hairs freezing. His boots crunched through snow as he made his way to the bar ditch, his breaths puffing out in front of him. He hated the graveyard shift almost as much as he hated winter.

He ran the flashlight beam along the fence line. Sure enough, twenty feet away two strands of barbed wire had come loose from a gnarled locust-wood post. Hoofprints told him several head had discovered the opening and ventured onto the shoulder for some illicit grazing.

"Stupid fuckin' cows."

T.J. went back to the cruiser and popped the trunk. Removing two flares, he set them up on the centerline to warn traffic. He was on his way back to the cruiser when he spotted something in the snow on the opposite side of the road. Curious, he crossed to it. A solitary woman's shoe lay on the shoulder. Judging from its condition and lack of snow cover, it hadn't been there long. Teenagers, probably. This deserted stretch of road was a favorite place to smoke dope and have sex. They were almost as stupid as cows.

Frowning, T.J. nudged the shoe with his foot. That was when he noticed the drag marks, as if something heavy had been hauled through the snow. He traced the path with the flashlight beam, tracking it to the fence and into the field beyond. The hairs at the back of his neck prickled when he spotted blood. A lot of it.

"What the hell?"

He followed the trail into the ditch where yellow grass poked up through the snow. He climbed the fence and found more blood on the other side, stark and black against pristine white. It was enough to give a guy the willies.

The path took him to a stand of bare-branched hedge apple trees at the edge of a cornfield. He could hear himself breathing hard, the dead corn stalks whispering all around. T.J. set his hand on his revolver and swept the beam in a 360-degree circle. That was when he noticed the object in the snow.

At first he thought an animal had been hit and dragged itself there to die. But as he neared, the beam revealed something else. Pale flesh. A shock of darkish hair. A bare foot sticking out of the snow. Adrenaline kicked hard in his gut. "Holy shit."

For an instant he couldn't move. He couldn't stop looking at the dark circle of blood and colorless flesh. Giving himself a hard mental shake, T.J. dropped to his knees beside the body. His first thought was that she might still be alive. Brushing at the snow, he set his hand against a bare shoulder. Her skin was ice cold, but he rolled her over anyway. He saw more blood and pasty flesh and glazed eyes that seemed to stare right at him.

Shaken, he scrambled back. His hand trembled as he grappled for his lapel mike. "Dispatch! This is forty-seven!"

"What now, T.J? One of them cows chase you up a tree?"

"I got a fuckin' body here at Stutz's place."


They used the ten-code system in Painters Mill, but for the life of him he couldn't remember the number for a dead body. He'd never had to use it. "I said I got a dead body."

"I heard you the first time." But the words were followed by a stunned pause as realization hit her.

"What's your twenty?"

"Dog Leg Road, just south of the covered bridge."

A beat of silence. "Who is it?"

Everyone knew everyone in Painters Mill, but he'd never seen this woman before. "I don't know. A woman. Naked as the day she came into this world and deader than Elvis."

"A wreck or what?"

"This was no accident." Setting his hand on the butt of his .38, T.J. scanned the shadows within the trees. He could feel his heart beating fast in his chest. "You'd better call the chief, Mona. I think we got us a murder."


I dream of death.

As always, I'm in the kitchen of the old farmhouse. Blood shimmers stark and red against the scuffed hardwood floor. The scents of yeast bread and fresh-cut hay mingle with the harsh stench of my own terror, a contrariety my mind cannot reconcile. The curtains billow in the breeze coming through the window above the sink. I see flecks of blood on the yellow fabric. More spatter on the wall. I feel the stickiness of it on my hands.

I crouch in the corner, animal sounds I don't recognize tearing from my throat like stifled screams. I feel death in the room. Darkness all around me. Inside me. And at the age of fourteen, I know evil exists in my safe and sheltered world.

The phone rattles me from sleep. The nightmare slinks back into its hole like some nocturnal creature. Rolling, I grapple with the phone on the nightstand and set the phone against my ear. "Yeah." My voice comes out like a croak.

"Chief. This is Mona. Sorry to wake you, but I think you'd better come in."

Mona is my graveyard dispatcher. She's not prone to hysterics, so the anxiety in her tone garners my full attention. "What happened?"

"T.J.'s out at the Stutz place. He was rounding up cows and found a dead body."

Suddenly, I'm no longer sleepy. Sitting up, I shove the hair from my face. "What?"

"He found a body. Sounds pretty shaken up."

Judging from the tone of her voice, T.J. isn't the only one. I throw my legs over the side of the bed and reach for my robe. A glance at the alarm tells me it's almost two-thirty A.M. "An accident?"

"Just a body. Nude. Female."

Realizing I need my clothes, not the robe, I turn on the lamp. The light hurts my eyes, but I'm fully awake now. I'm still trying to get my mind around the idea of one of my officers finding a body. I ask for the location, and she tells me.

"Call Doc Coblentz," I say. Doc Coblentz is one of six doctors in the town of Painters Mill, Ohio, and acting coroner for Holmes County.

I cross to the closet and reach for my bra, socks and long johns. "Tell T.J. not to touch anything or move the body. I'll be there in ten minutes."

The Stutz farm sits on eighty acres bordered on one side by Dog Leg Road, the other by the north fork of Painters Creek. The location Mona gave me is half a mile from the old covered bridge on a deserted stretch of road that dead ends at the county line.

I crave coffee as I pull up behind T.J.'s cruiser. My headlights reveal his silhouette in the driver's seat. I'm pleased to see he set out flares and left his strobes on. Grabbing my Mag-Lite, I slide out of the Explorer. The cold shocks me, and I huddle deeper into my parka, wishing I'd remembered my hat. T.J. looks shaken as I approach. "What do you have?"

"A body. Female." He's doing his best to maintain his cop persona, but his hand shakes as he points toward the field. I know those tremors aren't from the temperature. "Thirty feet in by those trees."

"You sure she's dead?"

T.J.'s Adam's apple bobs twice. "She's cold. No pulse. There's blood all over the fuckin' place."

"Let's take a look." We start toward the trees. "Did you touch anything? Disturb the scene?"

He drops his head slightly, and I know he did. "I thought maybe she was ... alive, so I rolled her over, checked."

Not good, but I don't say anything. T.J. Banks has the makings of a good cop. He's diligent and serious about his work. But this is his first job in law enforcement. Having been my officer for only six months, he's green. I'd lay odds this is his first dead body.

We crunch through ankle-deep snow. A sense of dread staggers me when I spot the body. I wish for daylight, but it will be hours before my wish is granted. Nights are long this time of year. The victim is naked. Late teens or early twenties. Dark blonde hair. A slick of blood two feet in diameter surrounds her head. She'd once been pretty, but in death her face is macabre. I can tell she'd originally been lying prone; lividity has set in, leaving one side of her face purple. Her eyes are halfway open and glazed. Her tongue bulges from between swollen lips, and I see ice crystals on it.

I squat next to the body. "Looks like she's been here a few hours."

"Starting to get freezer burn," T.J. notes.

Though I was a patrol officer in Columbus, Ohio, for six years, a homicide detective for two, I feel as if I'm out of my league. Columbus isn't exactly the murder capital of the world, but like every city it has a dark side. I've seen my share of death. Still, the blatant brutality of this crime shocks me. I want to think violent murder doesn't happen in towns like Painters Mill.

But I know it does.

I remind myself this is a crime scene. Rising, I fan my flashlight beam around the perimeter. There are no tracks other than ours. With a sinking sensation, I realize we've contaminated possible evidence. "Call Glock and tell him to get out here."

"He's on va —"

My look cuts his words short.

The Painters Mill PD consists of myself, three full-time officers, two dispatchers and one auxiliary officer. Rupert "Glock" Maddox is a former Marine and my most experienced. He earned his nickname because of his fondness for his side arm. Vacation or not, I need him.

"Tell him to bring crime scene tape." I think about what else we're going to need. "Get an ambulance out here. Alert the hospital in Millersburg. Tell them we'll be transporting a body to the morgue. Oh, and tell Rupert to bring coffee. Lot's of it." I look down at the body. "We're going to be here a while."

Dr. Ludwig Coblentz is a rotund man with a big head, a balding pate and a belly the size of a Volkswagen. I meet him on the shoulder as he slides from his Escalade. "I hear one of your officers had a close encounter with a dead body," he says grimly.

"Not just dead," I say. "Murdered."

He wears khaki trousers and a red plaid pajama top beneath his parka. I watch as he pulls a black bag from the passenger seat. Holding it like a lunchbox, he turns to me, his expression telling me he's ready to get down to business.

I lead him into the bar ditch. It's a short walk to the body, but his breathing is labored by the time we climb the fence. "How the hell did a body get all the way out here?" he mutters.

"Someone dumped her or she dragged herself before she died."

He gives me a look, but I don't elaborate. I don't want him walking into this with preconceived notions. First impressions are important in police work.

We duck under the crime scene tape Glock has strung through the trees like toilet paper at Halloween. T.J. has clipped an AC work light to a branch above the body. It doesn't cast much light, but it's better than flashlights and will free up our hands. I wish for a generator.

"Scene is secure." Glock approaches holding two cups of coffee and shoves one at me. "You look like you could use this."

Taking the Styrofoam cup, I peel back the tab and sip. "God, that's good."

He glances at the body. "You figure someone dumped her?"

"Looks that way."

T.J. joins us, his gaze flicking to the dead woman. "Jeez, Chief, I hate to see her laid out like that."

I hate it, too. From where we stand I can see her breasts and pubic hair. The woman inside me cringes at that. But there's nothing I can do about it; we can't move her or cover her until we process the scene. "Do either of you recognize her?" I ask.

Both men shake their heads.

Sipping my coffee, I study the scene, trying to piece together what might have happened. "Glock, do you still have that old Polaroid?"

"In my trunk."

"Take some photos of the body and the scene." I think of the trampled snow and mentally kick myself for disturbing the area. A boot tread might have been helpful. "I want shots of the drag marks, too." I speak to both men now. "Set up a grid inside the crime scene tape and walk it, starting at the trees. Bag everything you find, even if you think it's not important. Be sure to photograph everything before you touch it. See if you can find a boot tread. Keep your eyes open for clothing or a wallet."

"Will do, Chief." Glock and T.J. start toward the trees.

I turn to Doc Coblentz, who is standing next to the body. "Any idea who she is?" I ask.

"I don't recognize her." The doc removes his mittens, slides his chubby fingers into latex gloves. He grunts as he kneels.

"Any idea how long she's been dead?"

"Hard to tell because of the cold." He lifts her arm. Red grooves mark her wrist. The surrounding flesh is bruised and smeared with blood. "Her hands were bound," he says.

I look at the scored flesh. She'd struggled violently to get free. "With wire?"

"That would be my guess."

Her painted fingernails tell me she's not Amish. I notice two nails on her right hand are broken to the quick. She'd fought back. I make a mental note to get nail scrapings.

"Rigor has set in," the doc says. "She's been dead at least eight hours. Judging from the ice crystals on the mucous membranes, probably closer to ten. Once I get her to the hospital, I'll get a core body temp. Body temp drops a degree to a degree and a half per hour, so a core will narrow down TOD." He releases her hand.

His finger hovers above the purple flesh of her cheek. "Lividity in the face here." He looks up at me. His glasses are fogged. His eyes appear huge behind the thick lenses. "Did someone move her?" he asks.

I nod, but I don't mention who. "What about cause of death?"

Removing a penlight from his inside pocket, the doctor peels back an eyelid and shines it into her eye. "No petechial hemorrhages."

"So she wasn't strangled."

"Right." Gently, he sets his hand beneath her chin and shifts her head to the left. Her lips part, and I notice two of her front teeth are broken to the gum line. He turns her head to the right and the wound on her throat gapes like a bloody mouth.

"Throat was cut," the doc says.

"Any idea what kind of weapon made the wound?"

"Something sharp. With no serration. No obvious sign of tearing. Not a slash or it would be longer and more shallow on the edges. Hard to tell in this light." Gently, he rolls her body to one side.

My eyes skim the corpse. Her left shoulder is covered with bright red abrasions or possibly burns. More of the same appear on her left buttock. Both knees are abraded as well as the tops of her feet. The skin at both ankles is the color of ripe eggplant. The flesh isn't laid open like her wrists, but her feet had definitely been bound.

My heart drops into my stomach when I notice more blood on her abdomen, just above her navel. Obscured within the dark smear is something I've seen before. Something I've imagined a thousand times in my nightmares. "What about that?"

"Good God." The doctor's voice quivers. "It looks like something carved into her flesh."

"Hard to make out what it is." But in that instant I'm certain we both know. Neither of us wants to say it aloud.

The doc leans closer, so that his face is less than a foot from the wound. "Looks like two X's and three I's."

"Or the Roman numeral twenty-three," I finish.

He looks at me and in his eyes I see the same horror and disbelief I feel clenching my chest. "It's been sixteen years since I've seen anything like it," he whispers.

Staring at the bloody carving on this young woman's body, I'm filled with a revulsion so deep I shiver.

After a moment, Doc Coblentz leans back on his heels. Shaking his head, he motions toward the marks on her buttocks, the broken fingernails and teeth. "Someone put her through a lot."

Outrage and a fear I don't want to acknowledge sweep through me. "Was she sexually assaulted?"

My heart pounds as he shines the pen light onto her pubis. I see blood on the insides of her thighs and shudder inwardly.

"Looks like it." He shakes his head. "I'll know more once I get her to the morgue. Hopefully the son of a bitch left us a DNA sample."

The fist twisting my gut warns me it isn't going to be that easy.

Looking down at the body, I wonder what kind of monster could do this to a young woman with so much life ahead. I wonder how many lives will be destroyed by her death. The coffee has gone bitter on my tongue. I'm no longer cold. I'm deeply offended and angered by the brutality of what I see. Worse, I'm afraid.

"Will you bag her hands for me, Doc?"



Excerpted from Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. Copyright © 2009 Linda Castillo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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