A Killing in Amish Country by Gregg Olsen & Rebecca Morris is the true crime tale of only the 3rd murder in hundreds of years of Amish life in America (Available July 7, 2016).
At just 30 years old, with dark-blonde hair and freckles, Barbara Weaver was as pretty as the women depicted on the covers of her favorite “bonnet” stories – romance novels set in Amish America. Barbara had everything she'd ever wanted: five beautiful children, a home, her faith, and a husband named Eli. But while Barbara was happy to live as the Amish have for centuries – without modern conveniences, Eli was tempted by technology: cell phones, the Internet, and sexting. Online he called himself “Amish Stud” and found no shortage of “English” women looking for love and sex. Twice he left Barbara and their children, was shunned, begged for forgiveness, and had been welcomed back to the church.
Barb Raber was raised Amish, but is now a Conservative Mennonite. She drove Eli to appointments in her car, and she gave him what he wanted when he wanted: a cell phone, a laptop, rides to his favorite fishing and hunting places, and, most importantly, sex. When Eli starts asking people to kill his wife for him, Barb offers to help. One night, just after Eli had hitched a ride with a group of men to go fishing in the hours before dawn, Barb Raber entered the Weaver house and shot Barbara Weaver in the chest at close range.
It was only the third murder in hundreds of years of Amish life in America, and it fell to Edna Boyle, a young assistant prosecutor to seek justice for Barbara Weaver.
Where did my friend, love, trustworthy husband go to? He hates me to the core.
ARBARA WEAVER, IN A LETTER TO HER COUNSELOR ABOUT THE DEEP DIVIDE IN HER MARRIAGE .
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.
Copyright © 2016 Gregg Olsen & Rebecca Morris.
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Gregg Olsen has been a journalist and investigative author for more than twenty years. He is the recipient of numerous writing, editing, and photojournalism awards, including citations of excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists (Sigma Delta Chi), the International Association of Business Communicators, Washington Press Association, Society of Technical Communication, and the Public Relations Society of America. He is the author of Abandoned Prayers, A Twisted Faith, and Cruel Deception, among others.
Rebecca Morris is the New York Times bestselling author of Bodies of Evidence as well as If I Can’t Have You: Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance and the Murder of Her Children (both with Gregg Olsen). They are also the authors of a series of books, Notorious USA, about infamous crimes in every state.
She is the author of the bestseller Ted and Ann: The Mystery of a Missing Child and Her Neighbor Ted Bundy and Bad Apples: Inside the Teacher/Student Sex Scandal Epidemic.