Crime Experiences Of The Amish…Told By The Amish

There is no doubt that the media loves to report on crimes of all kinds, and experienced by all kinds of people. And none more readily make the news than crimes with Amish as the victims.

Like all crime stories, it is the more heinous incidents that most likely make the front page.

For several days, it was the murder of Rebekah Byler in late February. Rebekah, a 23-year-old pregnant woman, was a member of the Spartansburg Amish community of western Pennsylvania. In Pike County of southern Ohio, a 16-year-old Amish teenager was driving a cart with his horse down a rural road in mid-April when a pick-up truck drove up, with the driver pointing a gun at him, demanding money.

Police tape outside the home of Rebekah Byler. Image: Jet 24 News

A search of the web can find plenty of crime stories about the Amish, and inevitably with catchy headlines like (this one is hypothetical) “shocking crime rocks quiet community” and often replete with hackneyed stereotypes of Amish life, such as “simple”, “against progress”, “against technology”, “against education”, and so on, and so on.

Yet, there is a way to understand the crime experiences of the Amish without sensational headlines and uninformed stereotypes. That was the purpose of the JPAC article I wrote, published in the most recent issue.

There is very little science-based literature about the crime experiences of the Amish. Generally, it is believed that the Amish are infrequent victims of crime, but this seems less true today than in the past.

Damaged buggy following baseball bat attacks and robberies perpetrated by four Ohio teens. Image: Mary Kilpatrick/Northeast Ohio Media Group

The aim of this article was to advance the systematic study of Amish and crime by collecting and organizing types of crime experiences – based on descriptions by scribes from various settlements who report on community events in the monthly periodical The Diary.

Identifying Amish-Related Crime Incidents

Two hundred and forty incidents were identified in scribe reports from The Diary over a 13-year period from January 2010 through December 2022, including both direct victimizations (such as vandalism, burglary, etc.) and incidents that occurred on or near the properties of Amish persons, but in which they themselves were not the victims.

The rationale for including such incidents, such as the search for an escaped convict who may be hiding on Amish property, or a drug bust at a non-Amish neighbor’s residence, is that they can be as fear-provoking and worrisome for the community as a direct victimization.

Crimes which occurred in the vicinity of Amish were also considered for their impact. Image: Jim Halverson

To maintain the anonymity of scribes, their names were not included, nor is the specific settlement identified. In addition, the volume, issue, and page numbers locating the narrative in The Diary were not used, which adds another layer of confidentiality. Settlement locations are described in broad geographic terms, not by the name of a specific county or other indicators of place. Phrases such as “[name of family]” or “[name of road]”substitute for the actual names. Sometimes a first name is included in the narrative to aid readability, but it is a pseudonym, not the original name.

One final point – the narratives found in the JPAC article were not otherwise edited, even for minor spelling and grammar faux pas. Hence, these are the crime experiences of the Amish in their own words, or at least, the words of the scribes.

Crimes Against The Amish…In Their Own Words

Burglary is breaking into or the illegal entry into a house or building for the purpose of stealing property. Burglary was the most frequently reported crime. Here is one example, from a settlement in Tennessee.

“Now this last Sunday while the [name of family] were in the funeral at [name of family where the visitation took place], they broke into 4 of their houses. Breaking the glass in the door. They made a big mess dumping drawers, pulling mattresses on the floor for whatever they could find, including letters and a large amount of money, they took a couple hundred dollars and 3 high powered rifles at [name of family].”

This narrative describes two attractive targets for burglaries—money and guns used for hunting. It also suggests that the burglars were aware of the times when the Amish would be away from their dwellings for the visitation.

A burglary ring targeted Amish in northwest PA in 2021

Cases of larceny (theft) were reported by scribes almost as frequently. Here is a somewhat unusual example from Ohio, but it shows how valuable property of any kind can be, and how attractive to thieves that property becomes. The scribe himself was the victim.

“Ginseng season opens Sept 1 which is a nice and profitable hobby for oldies like me….Five or six years ago I planted a nice patch of ginseng and nursed along all this time and it takes that long and longer to grow a good root. The other day I took a walk out in the woods to check on my patch and it was dug up and stolen. I was aware that it could happen as ginseng poachers are quite common in this area….Some people call it green gold. The last few years dry root has sold for six to eight hundred dollars per pound. It takes about 3½ lbs to make one pound of dry root and you can walk quite a while climbing hills and hollers to find that amount.”

Robbery is the theft of something with the threat or actual use of force. From Kentucky is the following incident. Remember, the names are fake.

“Marcus and Ruth were on their way home after dark. They were on [name of road] when a truck coming from behind swerved right in front of them, hitting the horse a little. The man quickly came back to them, wanting their money, putting Marcus under gun-point. Marcus took his time and got one bill at a time out of his jacket pocket, knowing he had a hundred-dollar bill, he thought he slipped that one under his arm, but gave him the rest, then the guy turned to Ruth, wanting hers. She waved her hands and told him she didn’t have any. Then, Marcus found that he had saved a $20 bill instead of $100 bill than he thought.”

Even though Marcus was, to use a colloquialism, “a cool customer,” he did not execute his strategy successfully, and his actions to save a few dollars may have resulted in more serious consequences.

Harassment of the Amish is nothing new and it continues to be a frequent way the Amish experience crime. This example is from Tennessee.

“The community was sort of shaken when word came around that a vehicle was driving through the Amish settlement on [name of road] without lights on the evening of the 16th. They passed by several homes that they shot at. When they passed Wayne’s, they shot and hit the block-built house close to a window, where a girl was standing inside. Thankfully nobody was hurt. I don’t know that they got caught.”

A spate of rock attacks plagued one Ohio Amish community over several months in 2023. Photo: Bob Jones/News 5

Amish businesses can also be the targets for crime. This one is a case of vandalism to equipment at a sawmill in Missouri. It also illustrates a distinctive Amish approach to recovery and putting a perspective on a bad experience.

“…we had someone do some vandalism on the logging equipment we use at work. They put bolts in the oil pans of 2 skidders. One of the engines tried to eat a bolt, with very bad results! So, we ended up replacing that engine, and then tore the other one apart, found the bolts, and got them out before they did any damage. We have no idea who did it, so I’m just trying to forgive whoever it was…we did put locks on all the machines now. So, like I said, it was kind of hectic around here, but God is still in control. We still have so much to be thankful for. We received lots of letters and also quite a few sunshine boxes, which we all enjoyed.”

Memories of the kidnapping and murder of Linda Stoltzfoos in Lancaster County is still fresh in the memory of the Amish, especially in Pennsylvania. But, this incident is not the only example. Here is one that thankfully did not go any further.

“One of (name of parents) boys, 11 or 12, was out by the mailbox when a car stopped and said the man in the field needs a rope, as there was an Amish man working in a field close by. He got a rope and this person said, I’ll take him there, but as he opened the car door, he didn’t think something looked right as he had a dress on and didn’t talk loud. Right then a driver came along and said he’ll go with him and the car took off. A higher power was there and oh how thankful.”

A New York man used Molotov cocktails to “burn down” the mailboxes of Amish business associates in 2021. Photo: SI

There were also scribe reports of scams (bad check passing), arson, trespassing, and aggravated assault, all of which are described in the JPAC article in the words of the scribes from the settlements where the crimes occurred. Perhaps it is best, however, to end with a police action that includes a humorous note in the midst of a sad outcome. It is from a settlement in New York near the border with Canada.

“Prisoners are on the loose! That what’s on everyone lips in the past three weeks…one prisoner is a former Navy Seal, so he had lots of survival training that allowed them to remain hidden in about a ten mile radius….They tried to locate them with choppers, but their detectors didn’t work well with the heavy foliage in the woods….Both were serving life sentences for murder….The lady prison worker…helped sneak some tools in to them and was supposed to pick them up, but she got so nervous that she couldn’t follow up and ended up in the emergency room with chest pain….One report said over 800 law enforcement personnel were on duty to find these two men. We see many trooper vehicles daily since we live here on the main road….Several days ago, they detected that something crossed the border line at a certain point, so off went about 15 border patrol cars. When they got there and searched the area with guns ready, they found a happy cow. The two escaped prisoners were caught…after three weeks on the loose. One was shot and killed, and the other shot two days later but he survived.”

Places which draw Amish also face crime

Perhaps crime is now more common among the Amish than in the past, and crime is likely to increase simply because of the rapid increase in the size of the Amish population and the number of new settlements now found throughout North America.

Readers should remember not to think of rural areas as relatively crime-free when compared to urban localities. That too is a stereotype, hence, as the Amish take advantage of low land prices to start new settlements, they are also moving to areas with likely high levels of poverty, high unemployment, and other characteristics associated with interpersonal violence, drug use and trafficking, and few police resources.

Understanding the patterns of crime occurring to the Amish, that is, the M.O. (modus operandi) is important because it also might help to identify safety strategies that fit within the practices of the Amish residing in various communities. Further, unlike city environments, Amish homes are spread out on more land – whether they are a farming family or engaged in other pursuits to make a living. This ecology influences the kinds of crime committed and when these crime occur.

Read the full article “The Crime Experiences of the Amish” by Joe Donnermeyer in the latest issue of the Journal of Plain Anabaptist Communities.

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    1. john

      Amish Crime

      From the comments in your article about crime in the Amish community it just a poor sign of our society going down the drain. The different shows and music that encourage the crimes and violence today is getting worse I was a recent store shopping and 2 women accidently bumped in to each other and they started swearing at each other and one pulled a knife on the other until they both cooled down. There was a recent weekend activity in the Detroit area where they had to shut down the carnival early at night because young kids were fighting and the sad thing this was the second year in a row this has happened. We as a society show no tolerance for each other. Look at all the road rage going on today because somebody looked at you wrong or cut you off or said hello to you girlfriend or wife. As they say they need to take a chill pill.

      1. K.D.

        Crime . . . Told By The Amish.

        Couldn’t agree with you more John. Society is going downhill and what’s worse is that people don’t seem to
        care anymore. As a kid in the 70s &
        80s, I can tell you mayors/police/parents/ etc. NEVER would’ve put up with this kind of thing. Shame really . . .

    2. K.D.

      Crimes . . . Told By The Amish

      Hello, Erik . . .

      Many thanks for such a fascinating piece. I had no idea things were that bad. Must admit I bought into the notion that country living was/is “safer” living, but I
      see I am wrong. Quick question: Does anyone out there know what a Sunshine Box is?? It was mentioned under the caption “Vandalism”. Just curious.

      1. Erik Wesner

        Sunshine box

        Amish will put gift items in a box for someone in the community who may have suffered a loss, going through a hard time etc.

        And I’ll pass your thanks on to Joe as the author of this! I agree it was fascinating.

    3. Martha Cable

      I do live in the country, not really far out, but we DO have crime out here. Went out of state to visit my daughter as usual, spending a couple days in Lancaster county, which is my heaven on earth, and going on to New England. On the way home, a couple of “characters” opened the pasture gate and let my horses and mule out. The man taking care of them had noticed small car tire tracks that went up to my shed the day before. I had a small item go missing a couple weeks before i left. I think whoever walked up my 500’ driveway took the item had noticed chainsaws in that shed and they had come back for them. They were locked in my house. A couple characters were in a SMALL car when my neighbors helped get my animals back. The one remarked “the horse ran home”, while still driving behind my mule and large pony pushing them AWAY from the house. An officer showed up and they disappeared. I find out that drug users steal and ransom the animals and there happens to be a drug dealer about a quarter mile back on the other side of the road. I’m thinking they were a couple of his customers. NOW,. I have locks on both gates, my front gate also gets padlocked and I have cameras. One “heck” of a way to live because of lowlifes. When I am home, I have five dogs in the yard and a “boom boom “stick ready.

    4. Carrie

      Amish Crime

      You never mention what crimes the Amish will commit. Locally a Stop sign was stolen by an Amish kid, Adult amish will LIE about a Building permit being for a BARN and then LIVE in it, also running their Gray water directly to a Creek. I could mention MANY more things that they feel they are above the Law about. Perhaps they should start living by the LAWS of the areas they move to instead of expecting the people of the area to now CHANGE their lifestyle to Cater to THEM. Not only are they stealig from individuals but the whole community with NOT paying their fair share of Town income that every English person has to follow. Amish should not be exempt from PUBLIC Property laws and laws on their building construction, etc…