Lancaster Online provides some more background to yesterday’s news of a homicide charge against Justo Smoker in the Linda Stoltzfoos disappearance. First, a response from Linda’s uncle, Mervin Fisher:
“I think, speaking myself as a father, if you have a man who knows where your daughter is and has not said, that’s tough when it comes to closure,” he said. Fisher helped search for Stoltzfoos in the summer. As of mid-afternoon Monday, he hadn’t spoken with the family about the homicide charge, but in his mind, it felt like progress.
“Even though we don’t know where she is, or her body, this feels like a step forward,” he said.
More specifics have now been revealed, including the report that Smoker had been “stalking” Amish girls and women previous to Linda’s disappearance:
Court documents supporting the homicide charge state that Smoker had been stalking Amish girls and women prior to Stoltzfoos’ disappearance. Several Amish girls told investigators that a car matching Smoker’s drove suspiciously around them near where Stoltzfoos disappeared on June 20 and June 21. One of the girls told police the car passed her slowly four times, alarming her so much that she walked to a group of nearby fishermen and then to a nearby barn to hide.
And on June 20, Smoker bought two pairs of latex gloves, according to court documents. On June 21, in the hours before Stoltzfoos disappeared, he bought two eight-packs of disposable gloves and five pairs of shoe laces.
He also bought some clothes and a pair of sneakers at Walmart on June 20. Despite searching his apartment and a storage unit of his, the sneakers were never found.
Investigators said they found an open bottle of bleach in his car and that he’d been seen wiping down his car’s interior later on the day of Stoltzfoos’ disappearance. And they said indentations in the car’s carpet indicate that floor mats, which as “commonly known to contain trace evidence,” were missing, according to court documents.
Former federal prosecutor Thomas A. DiBiasen commented on prosecuting a homicide case without a body (Linda has not been found):
Based on his data of 538 U.S. cases through March, prosecutors won convictions in no-body cases about 86% of the time compared with a conviction rate for all murder cases of 70%, based on Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The conviction rate is high, he said, because only the strongest no-body cases go to trial and the killer is often obvious, such as a husband or boyfriend.
The biggest challenge to prosecutors taking a case to trial is proving the victim is dead and hasn’t chosen to disappear, he said.
When a person who would not otherwise be expected to leave disappears, it raises the possibility of foul play, he said. And people who willingly leave their lives are likely to leave some sort of digital clue behind.
Finally, Donald Kraybill, one of the co-authors of Amish Grace, a book on how Amish responded after the Nickel Mines shooting, commented on the aspect of forgiveness:
Dr. Donald Kraybill, a retired Elizabethtown College professor and an expert on the Amish, said his sense is while the community is grateful for the work of the investigators and non-Amish, such a crime can strain the trust they have in the outside world.
Kraybill said it will take time to tell how the community and family will respond. Amish are often forgiving to individuals who have wronged them, including in the 2006 Nickel Mines school shooting.
“This is not as easy a forgiveness story as the Nickel Mines shooting,” Kraybill said. “When the person is still alive, it is a very different situation.”
In 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV killed five and injured five more at the Amish school in Bart Township before killing himself. Kraybill is sure that conversations on forgiveness will occur in the Stoltzfoos case, but added that forgiveness among the Amish is not a robotic action and that each situation is different.
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