Rebekah Byler Case Update (5 New Details) – Suspect Wanted To Go To Amish Church; Behaved Strangely & Burned Items

In the past week, court documents were unsealed that revealed new details in the Rebekah Byler murder case. Much of it concerns the behavior of the man charged with the crimes, Shawn C. Cranston, as well as relevant evidence (and what he may have done with it).

There are also new details on Cranston’s prior contact with the Amish – both with other members of the community, and with the Byler family. If you prefer viewing, I put out a new video on this topic several days ago (below). This update follows up on the last update, which came out after Cranston’s March 15 preliminary hearing.

1. Cranston (likely) showed up at the Byler home 2 weeks prior

Rebekah’s husband Andy reported that he found a man fitting Cranston’s description on his property two weeks prior to Rebekah’s murder. When confronted, the man inquired about buying the Byler’s home, and then left in a vehicle which may or may not have been red in color (Andy Byler wasn’t sure; Cranston was known to use a red Jeep, which had been seen in the area on the day of Rebekah’s murder).

The Byler property. Image: Fox 66 News

Though he was described as a driver for the Amish, Andy Byler testified that he did not personally know Cranston. This may not have been his first appearance at the Byler home, though. There is also this:

A neighbor of Rebekah Byler told police that 10 days before the murder, a bald, white man driving a red SUV pulled into her driveway, the documents said. The man then backed out of the driveway and drove toward Rebekah Byler’s house, she told police.

So it sounds like Cranston was spending some time, on multiple occasions, in the area of his future crime.

2. Cranston’s strange behavior around Amish

Cranston had previously been described as a driver for the Amish, according to Amish sources. Apparently, a man named John had been driving for them, and one day couldn’t make it, so he suggested his dad, “Shawn” could substitute. Shawn, described as around 50, fits the description of Cranston. So it sounds like Shawn Cranston was more of a fill-in driver.

Shawn C. Cranston of Corry, PA has been charged in the murder of Rebekah Byler and her unborn baby

Amish witnesses said that the man’s behavior gave them an “uneasy feeling” and that they had had “very odd experiences with him”. According to Amish sources, he began showing up unannounced at their property. More on that from Penn Live:

From Dec. 10 to Feb. 16, had “very odd experiences” with the driver named Shawn, court records said. They did not know his last name but said he appeared to be about 50. They said after he provided the first ride, he would randomly show up at their home.

One time, Shawn drove a red Jeep to their home, parked in their driveway, then wandered around their property wearing black clothing from head to toe, including black sunglasses. He had a black pistol in a holster on his belt. He was walking aimlessly, the neighbors said, and his speech made no sense. He asked when and where they attended church and said he wanted to go with them.

I can understand why they got an uneasy feeling. I doubt he was ever reported for this to police, in part because Amish tend to be less eager to do so, and probably in part that he didn’t do anything necessarily reportable. But I certainly wouldn’t want someone of Shawn’s description, armed with a pistol and speaking gibberish, showing up at my home more than once.

3. Burned evidence?

Three items found at the crime scene were described as key pieces of evidence which matched items recovered from Cranston’s Corry, PA residence. They were:

a) Nike Air Force One sneakers – footprints from this type of sneaker were found at the crime scene. The Bylers did not own this type of footwear. A pair of red and black Nike Air Force Ones were found inside a camper at Cranston’s home, and the shoe pattern was similar to that photographed inside the Byler home.

Red-and-black Nike Air Force One shoes were recovered from Cranston’s property. The shoe pattern resembles marks left in the Byler home

b) Tire treads at the crime scene – The treads of the red Jeep owned by the Cranstons are said to have matched tire marks left at the Byler home.

c) Nitrile gloves – A box of nitrile gloves removed from Cranston’s home matched a piece of rubber from the crime scene. The Bylers did not own this type of glove.

Video surveillance from a building across the street from Cranston’s home appear to show Cranston removing items from his Jeep and burning them during the afternoon after the killing.

4. Cranston belonged to an “outlaw” biker gang

It was believed Cranston belonged to a motorcycle gang called “War Dogs”, which has affiliation with the Hell’s Angels. Cranson served as “sergeant at arms” in the local chapter of the club. That position apparently includes the role of “enforcer” in these gangs.

Membership in a motorcycle club or gang is not necessarily a damning detail, but this information does provide another layer to the picture of this person.

5. No murder weapons have been found

Rebekah Byler suffered both gunshot and cutting wounds. Neither of those weapons have been found, though police have recovered multiple firearms and ammunition from Cranston’s home. This is not exactly new evidence, but I’m including it as people have been wondering about the murder weapons.

6. Child’s description of vehicle doesn’t match

This additional detail I’m including is I believe a new piece of information. Sadly, the Byler’s three-year-old son witnessed what happened, telling authorities that a vehicle arrived, and a man in sneakers got out, entered the home, and killed his mother. The detail which doesn’t quite match is that the boy described the vehicle as a green truck. So, not a red Jeep.

Image of Cranston’s Jeep being seized by authorities. Via Fox 66 News

That information is confusing, but it may be that Cranston had access to more than one vehicle, or the boy could have been confused. I am also not sure how much you can put on the testimony of such a young child who witnessed a certainly traumatizing event. Additionally, in the comments of the YouTube video, many people have suggested that in colorblind individuals, red can be mistaken for green. I can’t speak on that, but maybe something else to consider.

What’s next?

Police are continuing their work, including further analysis of the Cranstons’ vehicle for evidence. They have also collected fingerprints and DNA from Cranston as a part of their investigation. Recent reports said they also sought to remove remnants of the burn pile.

I’ve not been able to find the next court-related date in this process. Cranston is currently being held without bail. He faces charges of criminal homicide, criminal homicide of an unborn child, felony burglary, and criminal trespassing. Cranston has a prior criminal record, which includes guilty pleas to reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.

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    10 Comments

    1. Anthony Shope

      Eye for an eye.

      This leaves me wondering if the Amish would support a death penalty. I’ll have to ask but I suspect not.

      1. Ann the Least

        No death penalty

        Obviously, as the Amish are strict pacifists, they do not support any kind of retributional killing.

    2. Thanks for the update

      Erik, thanks for the update. Eyewitness testimony is overrated. I wouldn’t discount a suspect just because of a green, not red truck. My money’s on forensic evidence from the burn pile, the disposable glove (I’ve known of a case where a fingerprint was taken off the INSIDE of the suspect’s latex glove), footprints, and trying to match the bullet to a firearm (even though the firearm hasn’t been found yet). Criminals generally don’t understand that trying to destroy evidence by burning it or attempting to destroy a crime scene (ex. arson of a house) still leaves a lot of potential evidence. (Have you ever tired burning newspapers in a trash can?) Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, eventually, comes forward to share with law enforcement damaging evidence on a suspect. Loyalty among criminals, even in gangs, is also overrated. Criminals often want to play make a deal, like asking law enforcement to drop a felony charge if they cooperate–or they just get greedy. (Have you heard if the authorities are offering a reward for information that leads to an arrest &/or conviction?) Finally, if the murderer turns out to be a person walking around aimlessly & speaking gibberish, there’s every reason to believe he (or she) is not the sharpest crayon in the box. It was not a well-planned crime. They’ve made a lot of mistakes. A word of caution: People need to understand that putting a suspect at the crime scene is a great start, but only a start. The prosecutor will want additional evidence to prove the crime of murder. Boy, I feel for that little boy.

      1. Erik Wesner

        Great comment Jim, thanks, I was hoping you might chip one in here. I haven’t come across anything on a reward. And I appreciate your note of caution. I guess that’s why they try to take their time with these things.

        1. So many possibilities

          Erik, it’s difficult for me to not get ahead of myself when I think of all the possibilities on this horrendous crime. The prosecutor will be consideirng what charges to file. When a person wears nitrile gloves while committing a crime, then that points to premeditation of a crime. This could be very important in determining the criminal charges. Premeditated murder can lead to first degree murder charges. It carries way more time than something like manslaughter (accidentaly causing a death). On another subject, when someone is acting erratically prior to a crime, that can actually help lead the defense to try and use an insanity defense. Of course, there are all kinds of psychological tests done by experts prior to a trial, both for the defense and the prosecution team. They often disagree. If every person who acted erratically was declared insane, then the it would be used all the time by criminal defense attorneys. It’s not. So often, when the general public reads about a violent crime, it just doesn’t make sense. We may ask, “How could a ‘normal’ person murder anyone, especially a pregnant Amish woman who believes in nonviolence?” In my world, that’s crazy thinking. However, I remind myself, that sane, but desperate, people do desperate things. Like murder.

    3. Daisy

      Terrible tragedy

      This man sounds like a nut. Drugs, alcohol and/or mental illness made him a ticking time bomb. If he had not killed poor Mrs. Byler, he probably had other easy victims lined up.

      1. Ann the Least

        Trial by public opinion

        This comment, which is yet another example of trial by public opinion, is a good example of why jury selection is so difficult. People are innocent until proven guilty. Maybe seeing someone of a vague description at a particular place is not admissible as proof. Physical evidence is.
        I say this as someone who was called a suspect in a murder by a work colleague who called an anonymous tip line in retaliatiin for my promotion at work. I had to clear myself with the local police or the FBI would have become involved (it was a federal case) and I would have lost my job.

    4. Loretta

      Thank you

      Much appreciation for this column, for the work that you do to bring us factual information. You do the digging and vetting and bring us what you have found. This case hurts my heart for this family. We are surrounded by so much evil in this world.
      Thanks again from a long-time reader but not frequent commenter.

      1. Erik Wesner

        Glad if it was helpful Loretta. I am mostly citing other news reports here who go through the primary documents so I can’t take a ton of credit. But I try to look at multiple sources to compare what has been highlighted and see what stands out. And yes I have thought a lot about what that poor woman must have gone through and it’s hard to imagine for her and the family.

    5. Debra

      Possibly the little boy did not see the vehicle, since he was inside and not outside. Maybe he was nervous when being interviewed by police and did not know the answer to that question, so he just said whatever popped into his mind. Sometimes children think they have to answer all of the questions and don’t know what to say if they don’t know. A green truck almost sounds like a John Deere toy which many children his age have or have seen, especially in rural communities.