The Amish community pride themselves on purity and clean, honest living. But many people who have been brought up in this closed-off fellowship tell a very different story. For those unfamiliar with the Amish way of life (and have not seen the Harrison Ford film Witness), they are a small group of traditional evangelical Christians who choose to live like it’s the 19th century and reject all modern aspects of western society – this means no technology, no cars, nothing.
The Amish way of life might seem admirable and a breath of fresh air compared to our hectic, tech-obsessed lives, but the hypocrisy and very un-Christian ethics of some of its members paint a very bleak picture of one they try so hard to uphold as good and pure. They preach peace and believe in supporting one another to better themselves, but this heart-warming sense of community kind of goes out of the window when it comes to their members wanting more out of life (and this is kind of inevitable when their society refuses to acknowledge the outside world).
Many members of the Amish community have found this out the hard way. Being part of their community means growing up with very limited education (studying usually stops after the eighth grade), being forced to use medieval-style medical treatments and adhering to outdated attitudes towards dating and marriage. From petty crimes to hidden pregnancies and murder, here are 15 shocking stories to come out of the Amish community.
15. Edward Gingerich, The First Amish Murderer
In 1993, Edward Gingerich became the first ever Amish citizen to be convicted of murder. When you consider that mirrors and jewellery are outlawed out of fear it will rob the Amish of their pure spirit and simple values, this had to rock their community to the core. It was discovered that Gingerich had beaten his wife to death before disemboweling her…and this was all in front of their two young children. Grim.
On the grounds that Gingerich was mentally ill, he was later convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison. Once he was convicted, Gingerich’s parents took custody of his children, but this didn’t stop a volatile Gingerich from offending again. In 2007, eight years after serving his murder sentence, Gingerich tried and failed to kidnap his 15-year-old daughter from her grandparents. In 2011, Gingerich hung himself inside a barn in Pennsylvania.
14. Couple Who “Gifted” Their Teenage Daughter To An Outsider
When a 51-year-old local man helped to save the family farm, an Amish Pennsylvania couple didn’t reward the man with a hearty meal or a knitted blanket – they gave the stranger the gift of their 14-year-old daughter. If that wasn’t messed up enough, the man in question also fathered two children with the teenage girl who he allegedly impregnated almost immediately. The morally bankrupt couple, Daniel and Savila Stoltzfus, moved in with 51-year-old Lee Kaplan soon after.
Four years after Kaplan “accepted” the gift of the couple’s daughter, child welfare workers found Kaplan’s home and discovered even more depravity. When officials came upon Kaplan’s residence in 2016, they found that he had been housing 11 other girls between the ages of six months and 18 years – two of these girls were the children he had fathered with the Stoltzfus’ daughter. The couple were apparently aware that Kaplan was having sex with their daughter and believed the transaction was perfectly “legal.”
13. Girl Who Fell Pregnant From Non-Amish Man
Sex before marriage is strictly prohibited within the Amish faith. So imagine the kind of grounding 21-year-old Elizabeth was in for when it was discovered that she not only engaged in pre-marital sex, but that she also fell pregnant…oh and the father was a non-Amish man. Hell no! Lizzie – as she prefers to be called now – starred in the TV show Breaking Amish in which she revealed all about the pregnancy and relationship she kept secret from her strict Amish family.
After it was revealed that Lizzie had given birth to son Kaden with her bodybuilder man outside the Amish community, her brother was the angriest of her family members. Lizzie was hurt by the hypocrisy of her younger brother who was apparently “on a mission to lose his virginity.” Lizzie’s naturally curious nature could be down to her fusty upbringing, where she was never taught about the birds and the bees. She revealed to RadarOnline that “I was never taught sex ed. We’re only told don’t do it and that doing it is wrong.”
12. The Repeat Sex Offender
It’s no wonder that the Amish community prefer to shun technology in their world – it can sometimes be too smart for your own good and there’s always the chance it can come back to haunt you. When an Amish sex offender was made to wear a GPS bracelet as part of his parole, the authorities were alerted pretty quickly of his next offense. 26-year-old Isaac Yoder deliberately defied his parole to sexually assault a teenage girl in the Amish town of Union.
Yoder had already served three years in prison for second-degree sexual assault of a minor. This was the only assault that Yoder pleaded guilty too. In total, his original assault charges included five counts of sexual assault, which involved both boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 11. Amazingly, Yoder had the brass neck to re-offend, even after being sentenced to nine years of “extended supervision” involving electronic devices following his original assault charges. Maybe the Amish should think twice about banishing technology now.
11. The Amish Pastor Who Poisoned His Wife
In a horrific act of third-degree murder in 2006, an Amish Pastor from Kentucky killed his wife by poisoning her drinks with anti-freeze and putting acid in her rectum. Messed up. 39-year-old Samuel Borntreger, who served as a minister in his Amish Missouri Church, let the authorities believe that his wife’s death was due to a liver condition. It wasn’t until nine years later that Pastor Borntreger confessed his crime to authorities in Barren County, Kentucky, where he admitted that he murdered her because he “no longer loved her.”
The pastor and his wife Anna had four children, one of whom was just a baby when she was murdered at the tender age of 26. Borntreger’s prosecutor said that he was “well known and liked” within his community in rural Missouri, where he also worked as a cabinet maker. Remarkably, Borntreger remarried within a year of his wife’s brutal murder and went on to have another four children.
10. The Amish Mafia
The Mafia and the Amish aren’t two terms you’d ever expect to hear in the same sentence, but true enough, there was a real-life mob within “pure” Amish country. The head mob boss, named Levi King Stoltzfus or “Lebanon Levi” may not have committed the kind of crimes that Tony Soprano would have winced at, but they were committed in the Amish community after all – so this caused quite a stir.
Levi led a gang of local enforcers who made it their sworn duty to preserve the Amish way of life. Here’s where the crooked part comes in – Levi himself had more than a few brushes with the law. He was charged three times with drinking behind the wheel as well as facing two other charges for general drunken behavior and “disorderly conduct.” His fellow mobsters were also slapped with hit and run charges in addition to marijuana possession. This might sound tame by Soprano standards, but this is practically triple homicide where the Amish are concerned!
9. Obtaining Sex From A Minor
The Amish live outside the mainstream law and on their own terms, but this doesn’t mean everything is kept under wraps. Despite a stonewall rejection of technology, a 21-year-old Amish man managed to get hold of a phone and used it for “sexting” purposes. In 2011, a local Amish man named Willard Yoder was apparently sending explicit text messages and photos to a 12-year-old girl when the girl’s mother thankfully got wind of it and reported him to the authorities.
While his despicable conduct is anything but funny, his arrest kind of is. In a similar way that pedophiles are caught out on To Catch A Predator, the police in Indiana played the role of the 12-year-old girl Yoder was texting and lured him to a nearby restaurant. Yoder arrived at his supposed date in his horse and cart and when the authorities had him trapped, he couldn’t make a quick enough getaway.
8. Drunk And Outrunning The Cops
We wouldn’t condone anyone trying to outrun the police, but definitely don’t try doing this in a 19th-century horse and cart contraption! In something out of a comedy film rather than a segment on World’s Wildest Police Videos, a drunken Amish teenager once tried to escape a police car pursuit in a horse and buggy. 17-year-old Levi Detweiler furiously whipped the reigns of his cart to avoid being pulled over for not stopping at a stop sign.
The drunk and disorderly teen led a New York police officer on a slow and less than exciting pursuit that lasted just under a mile. Detweiler was eventually caught when he tried to make a hairpin turn in the buggy and crashed the wheels into a driveway. The reckless Amish boy was later charged with underage alcohol possession, reckless endangerment, and of over-driving an animal. Just another day in the life of an Amish teenager, then?
7. 10 Years Imprisonment For Hair-Cutting
You wouldn’t think a haircut would land you in jail (except maybe if you were Lady Gaga’s stylist), but it can in the Amish world. Back in September 2012, a federal jury found Amish man Samuel Mullet (oh, the irony) and 15 others guilty of hate crimes. The hate crimes in question? Wilfully cutting off the hair and beards of other members within the sect. Each of the defendants allegedly faced a ridiculous total of 10 years in prison for their “hate crime” hair-cutting spree.
If you didn’t already know it about the Amish, hair holds a special significance for them and they’re pretty specific about the styles men and women should have. You’re probably familiar with seeing Amish men with long beards – this is because married men are forbidden from shaving them off, so to see a grown man with a clean shaven look is an immediate scandal. Likewise, the Bible considers long hair “a glory” so Amish women grow theirs out (but keep them hidden under bonnets). Right.
6. Left Behind 13 Siblings For Better Life
If the name Emma Gingerich is familiar to you, it could be because of her best-selling book. Gingerich told her story of living with and leaving her Amish background in her 2014 memoirs Runaway Amish Girl: The Great Escape. The now 29-year-old Emma has criticized the excess of fictional romance books centered around the Amish way of life and the fact that none of them tell the truth about living in the deeply strict and closed-off religious sect.
Gingerich escaped when she was 18 years old (a decision she made at age 14 but chose to wait until she had the money to make a break for it). Spending her days weaving baskets and looking after her 13 siblings, Emma had grown tired of a simple yet limited life. She had no education past the age of 14 and the severe headaches that often plagued her were treated by inserting balloons up her nose and inflating them! Emma now lives in Texas and misses her brothers and sisters, but is glad to be free from medieval medical practice and backward thinking.
5. The Corrupt Investment Banker
Corruption at the top is something we’re very familiar with in the western world, but it’s not something you expect to hear within the good ole’ Amish community. Sure enough, though, a sleazy investment banker was living right under the noses of the mostly decent and honest people in the Amish sector and he managed to con them out of almost $17 million.
In June 2012, 76-year-old Monroe Beachy was found guilty of duping 2,700 of his own clients out of a whopping $17 million over the course of 20 years. One of many victims in Beachy’s con was the Amish Helping fund – a non-profit preservation group of which Beachy himself was a treasurer. Amazingly, nobody caught on to the scam, even when Beachy’s clients received their monthly statements in his own handwriting! The Amish conman was eventually sentenced to a meager six and a half years behind bars.
4. Numerous Sexual Assault Charges
The Amish firmly believe in taking matters into their own hands and dealing with things that are in the best interests of the community. But only when it suits them, it seems. Thankfully, when it became apparent that one of their members had been involved in sexual assault on numerous occasions, they did what most of us would do and contacted the police. In 2010, 26-year-old Amish citizen Chester Mast stood accused of sexual assault of five underage girls in both Missouri and Wisconsin.
Members of Mast’s conservative Amish sect in his home state of Missouri did the right thing and tipped off local authorities to Mast’s indecent attacks. Chester was soon charged with a number of sexual assault and molestation charges from his past that included two counts of sodomy, two counts of statutory rape, one count of incest (with his own cousin), and another for sexual misconduct with a child in his hometown.
3. The Nickel Mines School Shooting
There have been many school shooting incidents across America in recent years and, unfortunately, even the Amish community are no different when it comes to suffering this kind of tragedy. In 2006, a non-Amish local man burst into a one-room school house in the Amish sect of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and tied up 10 school girls before shooting them. Five girls sadly died immediately but the other five miraculously survived.
The Amish community refers to the events of more than 10 years ago as “the happening” – a sign of an apocalyptic threat to humanity. In the close-knit community of the Amish, it’s not hard to see why this school massacre had this kind of effect upon them. Miraculously – owing to their strong belief in forgiveness – the grieving parents and families affected by that horrific day have come to forgive the killer. Although it took years for everyone to reach that stage, the community officially announced their forgiveness within hours of the shooting.
2. A Difficult Home Life Meant Suicide Or Escape
Former Amish woman, Saloma Miller, believed that there are only two ways to leave the Amish “One is through life and the other through death. To leave through life, one has to deliberately walk away.” Miller finally made the brave decision to turn her back on the community she was born and raised in because she strongly felt that the only other option was suicide.
Prior to making a break for it at the age of 20, Miller shared a home with a mentally ill father (something the Amish could never have the resources to cater for) and an older brother who was frequently sexually abusive. After fleeing her Amish Ohio upbringing for Vermont, Miller met and fell in love with a non-Amish or “Yankee” man and changed her name to Furlong to avoid being tracked down. She has since written two books about her ordeal and is enjoying the freedom and advanced education she never had growing up in the Amish world.
1. Mother Has Her Children Stolen And Is Betrayed
Elizabeth Byler was the victim of rape and abuse throughout her Amish childhood in rural Pennsylvania and she vowed never to let her own children suffer the same fate. Tragically, a near fatal accident that she suffered shortly after leaving her Amish roots behind would mark the start of a long and horrendous ordeal for Byler, which would leave her almost paralyzed and unable to see her two young children.
After suffering a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2009, Byler was told her leg needed to be amputated and that she may never walk again. On top of this, a woman named Betsy (who Byler barely knew from her old Amish life) came to the hospital posing as the grandmother of her kids. Before long, Betsy had made herself the legal guardian of the kids while Byler was still in recovery and this kick-started a legal battle that has waged for the last 7 years. As of now, Byler’s children remain in foster care, so heavily drugged up that they resemble “zombies.” There is a petition to get Byler’s children returned to her on Change.org.