Rebekah Byler Murder Case Update: Cranston Drove For The Amish

Shawn C. Cranston, accused in the killing of Amish mother Rebekah Byler, had a preliminary hearing on Friday, March 15th. It lasted over three hours and saw more than 10 witnesses called to testify. After looking at reporting from the case, I’ve put together some of the takeaways here, compiled from several reports linked within this post.

1) Cranston as Amish taxi driver

Cranston apparently drove for the Amish. One Amish person “testified that she knew Cranston as a driver and that earlier this year he showed up at her house unannounced.”

Another (possibly the same) Amish person said that “Cranston was wearing all black and carried a pistol on his hip.” The context (eg time and place) of this pistol observation is unclear by the reporting.

Shawn C. Cranston, 52, of Corry, PA is accused in the killing of 23-year-old Rebekah Byler and her unborn child.

Additionally, “Several members of Pennsylvania State Police testified they were able to get in touch with Amish who had used Cranston as a driver and were able to obtain a cell phone number which led them to finding his address in Corry.”

So between Cranston and the Amish community, there was at least the Amish taxi connection. Though according to one of his relatives, there may have been a lot more (see below).

2) Details before & after Rebekah’s death

More details of what happened that morning before and after Rebekah’s killing. Rebekah had been doing laundry that morning while Andy, her husband, went out with a driver to check on his roofing jobs. Witnesses testified that they saw a red Jeep in the area, including at the Byler home. Cranston drove a red Jeep, and a neighbor of Cranston’s testified that the Jeep was gone from Cranston’s home the morning of Rebekah’s death.

Laundry outside the Byler home. Image: Jet 24

When Andy returned, his young children “told him of the killing”, and he discovered her lifeless on the floor. “I didn’t really believe it,” he said. “I walked in and saw her cap laying inside the door.”

The driver, Julie Warner, called 911 and collected the children while Andy waited in a truck outside for authorities. Warner could not check Rebekah’s pulse, but could tell the body was cold. Rebekah reportedly suffered both gunshot and cutting wounds. This corresponds with one early report regarding use of a firearm.

Image: Fox 66 News

As an aside, the age of the children is apparently very young. So one can only hope they suffer minimal trauma from being present when their mother was killed.

3) Attempt to have charges dismissed; Judge rules for case to proceed

Cranston’s lawyer attempted to have the charges dismissed on the basis that no murder weapon had been found and no motive has been established. However Judge Amy Nichols rejected this, and ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the case to continue to Crawford County Common Pleas Court for trial proceedings (I’m not seeing a scheduled date for the next court proceeding).

Amish outside the Crawford County Judicial Center following the hearing. Image: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Cranston faces counts of homicide for the deaths of Rebekah Byler and her unborn child, as well as charges of burglary and trespassing. He said nothing at the hearing. Amish supporters reportedly “filled four rows on one side of the courtroom.”

4) Motive?

What was not reported here: more on the motive in the case. What we do have as far as possible motive comes from a relative of Cranston. Shortly after his arrest, a woman who said she was Cranston’s foster daughter did an interview in which she said that Cranston “just wanted his grandson back”.

According to the unnamed woman, the grandson had been adopted by a different Amish couple, who allegedly lived in that home previously. The woman suggested that Rebekah’s killing was a case of “mistaken identity”.

Police tape marking Cranston’s home in Corry, PA. Image: Jet 24

If this story holds, I guess one question that will come under scrutiny is whether Cranston showed up planning to kill whoever he thought were the adoptive parents of his grandson, or if the killing was unpremeditated.

And assuming the foster daughter’s story is accurate, I’m not exactly sure what the line of thinking or plan is for someone attempting to “get back” a child who has been long ago legally adopted. That idea in and of itself is crazy to begin with.

And that it would end in the brutal murder of a person who had nothing to do with the adopted child is equal parts stupid, tragic, brutal, and probably other adjectives that I can’t share right now.

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    17 Comments

    1. ImAmish

      Not a License!

      #4 “Mistaken Identity” does NOT give license to murder anyone!

    2. K.D.

      Rebekah Byler case . . .

      Hi Erik,
      Thanks for the update in the Rebekah Byler case. Must admit I’m no
      lawyer, but doesn’t burglary involve taking something from someone
      that doesn’t belong to you? I find it incredulous that Cranston’s lawyer
      tried to have the case dismissed due to lack of a murder weapon being
      found in his home (vehicle?), nor a clear motive established. Surely the
      local investigators at Cranston’s home found something they believe
      ties Cranston to this case. Sounds like the desperate attempts of a
      lawyer trying to make the charges against his client simply “disappear”.

      Of course, this is simply my opinion. We’ll all have to wait and see. Just
      very glad that Judge Nichols found sufficient evidence for this case to
      continue. No doubt, the eyewitness who said that she once found Cranston
      parked in her driveway helped give the judge another reason to go forward.

      1. Ann the Least

        Burglary

        He may have taken something but also it may be more like breaking and entering. Depends on state law.

      2. Erik Wesner

        I am also no lawyer but I imagine attempting to have charges dismissed for various reasons like that is probably just standard procedure for a defense. Even when it’s doubtful that it will work you probably have to try anyway to be able to say you exhausted every possibility to help your client. Just my assumption though.

        1. Central Virginian

          Defense

          A possible ground for a mistrial is the defendant not having adequate defense. (I’m not a lawyer.)

      3. Central Virginian

        Burglary

        Burglary is often related to theft, but technically entry into a building illegally with intent to commit any crime.

    3. Andrew R Brett

      Foster Daughter

      Hmmm…
      1 since he was a “Driver” he knew who lived there
      2.The most bizarre theory… I’ve heard about it before and reread it several times.
      3. Would like more information about the foster daughter…how long had she lived there ….her age and was she molested…

      2+2 isn’t adding to 4

      1. mare care

        Great

        Valid points and questions raised.

      2. Erik Wesner

        This Amish community has an estimated population of over 2,600 Amish (leaving out the other half-dozen Amish communities in Crawford County). That’s at least several hundred Amish households.

        Being a driver, even one who does a lot of driving (and there’s no indication how much actual Amish taxi driving Cranston did), is no guarantee you are up to speed on who lives in every household.

        That said, I don’t disagree that the suggestion of why he was there (to get the grandson “back”?) and that mistaken identity was involved is at least a touch bizarre. If that’s really what he was after, you’d think he would have a better idea of who currently lived in that home.

    4. R.C.

      The journalist Gavin Fish was in the courtroom during this hearing and took detailed notes on what the witnesses said. He goes over his notes and gives further commentary in a livestream (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn4Ggs4Oe0A) on his Youtube channel. It’s over an hour long, but it’s probably the most complete record of the proceedings other than the court transcript itself.

    5. Leana

      Heartbreaking

      Heartbreaking, tragic, and horrific are all that come to mind. Two young lives cut short for no reason, not that there would be one anyway, but not even who he was after. And other young kids now without their mother, and having seen the murder. So sad!
      There have been increased dangers to the Amish as I have noticed with the news items. On top of it they don’t believe in harming anyone for any reason and at times even self defense. It’s just so brutal and unfair.

    6. john

      Amish Murder

      I noticed in the article that when the father came home that the children told their father about their mother being killed. That means they were old enough to see and remember the killing and will have to live with it the rest of their lives. Hopefully they do suffer from PTSD in the future. Even though the lawyer said they did not have a weapon for the killing he was doing what he is being ro do right or wrong if he did not make every effort to defend the man done the road they could appeal his conviction saying he did not defend in court.

    7. tom

      murder weapon

      My pendulum says that the murder weapon is in a pond , not a river , not a lake , but a pond.

    8. Central Virginian

      Grandson

      A blessing the murderer didn’t take one of Andy & Rebekah’s children per his reported quest to “get his grandson back.”

    9. Clu Carradine

      Rebekah Byler

      That poor woman and her family, and their entire community as well. This story is so horrifying that I don’t have words….at least not words I can say publicly in polite company…for what I feel. So sad…so so sad…

    10. Terrye Robins

      Tragic!

      Thanks for the update! I’m continuing to pray for this precious family.

    11. BETTY RADLEY

      GAVIN FISH BEST ANALYSIS

      I found a journalist who is on YouTube who attended the preliminary hearing because he lives in the area. He covered everything for over an hour. Very excellent reporting. He said it was an intended burglary. The Amish supposedly don’t report crime ie. a burglary to the police unless it is very violent like murder. In addition, he said many times the Amish store large sums of money around their house rather than a bank. That is why Cranston targeted an Amish home. He had cased the house previously to the break in. The foster daughter is his “bar daughter”, not blood related, from regular drinking with her at a local watering hole. Cranston’s two children have no children for this guy to have grandchildren. The bar daughter made all this up about Cranston having a grandson. Anyway watch the video on prelim hearing and the comments afterward!