Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Eli Stutzman. He was the ex-Amishman that was the central figure in my first book, ABANDONED PRAYERS. I’m including most of the text from an article written by reporter Rick Armon and published in today’s Akron Beacon Journal.
At the the LCC event in Seattle, several people asked me about my True Crime career and the switch to fiction. They all want to know the difference and the reason for it. So read this article and you’ll see why I still love True Crime and how a true story has claws that dig in the way, at least for me, fiction rarely can.
Here’s the snip from the article:
Mystery followed Eli Stutzman.
In life and now even in death.
The charismatic Wayne County killer from Dalton — infamous for being the father of “Little Boy Blue,” a child found frozen along a Nebraska road more than 20 years ago — died in his Fort Worth, Texas, apartment last month.
The 56-year-old sliced open his left arm and bled to death, the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled.
There was no suicide note.
Now those who have followed his ignominious life, chronicled in newspapers as early as 1977 with the death of his Amish farm wife and in the 1990 true-crime book Abandoned Prayers, are wondering if the truth about the many mysteries and tragedies surrounding the homosexual Amish-born man will ever be fully revealed.
The main question is whether Stutzman, who was convicted of murdering his roommate in Texas, was a serial killer. Did he also kill his wife, Ida, and son Danny, as some authorities have suspected — or were their deaths accidental and natural, as he claimed? And did he kill two men in Durango, Colo., in 1985?
The answers about his wife and son may die with him.
But Durango police have requested fingerprints and DNA from his corpse to see if he’s responsible for two unsolved murders in their community.
“I’m very interested in the outcome of the Colorado cases and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the authorities there do the right thing and wrap them up,” said Gregg Olsen, author of Abandoned Prayers. “I’ve been pushing for this for 20 years and finally, some action. Closing the books on David Tyler and Dennis Slaeter’s murders would mean the world to me. The system totally failed us on Danny and Ida’s deaths.”
Ida A. Stutzman died at the age of 26 in an early morning barn fire at the Stutzmans’ Moser Road farm in Dalton.
Her husband found her overcome in the milk house, rescued her and tried to revive her, according to a July 12, 1977, story in the Beacon Journal. But it was too late and she was dead on arrival at Dunlap Memorial Hospital.
Ida was eight months pregnant at the time.
Olsen contends that authorities — particularly the coroner at the time — botched the investigation, choosing to believe everything Stutzman said instead of conducting a thorough probe.
“The truth is that if she was not Amish, there would have been a real investigation,” Olsen said.
“Stutzman was the consummate liar,” he added. “His gentle facade made it easy for those to fall for him — the tortured former Amishman, no one could understand what he’d been through. He played on their sympathies and lied right to their faces.”
Wayne County Sheriff’s Capt. Douglas Hunter, who started with the department four years after the fire, said the case has been long forgotten.
Olsen said Stutzman, who was gay and having relationships with men, wanted his wife out of the way. After she was dead, he began placing classified ads in the Advocate, a gay magazine, to seek companionship.
“There was no way out of the Amish. No divorce,” Olsen said. “The Amish kept trying to help him with his mental problems (as they saw it) and he knew that he’d never be rid of their good intentions as long as he was tied to Ida. Killing her was his way out. No doubt about that.”
He sold his farm in 1982 and moved with Danny to Ignacio, Colo., where, neighbors said at the time, he planned to get involved in cattle ranching.
He told a friend from Akron that he was leaving because of pressure from the Amish to return to his faith.
Gas station owner Chuck Kleveland was driving down U.S. 81 near Chester, Neb., on Christmas Eve in 1985 when his eye caught a flash of blue in the snow.
He stopped and discovered the frozen body of a little boy wearing only blue pajamas. No one knew who he was.
Horrified by the death, the town of Chester adopted him, named him Matthew and built a shrine to — as he would be called — Little Boy Blue. For two years, his identity remained a mystery, until a woman reading a Reader’s Digest story about the case recognized the picture of the boy.
It was Danny Stutzman, Eli’s son.
Authorities were convinced that Stutzman killed Danny. But there were no signs of foul play.
Stutzman was charged with felony child abuse.
He would speak publicly about the case only once — in a Nebraska courtroom.
Stutzman said that while driving from Wyoming, where Danny had been staying with foster parents, to Ohio, he found the boy dead in the vehicle, his eyes rolled back in his head and his complexion white. Danny wasn’t breathing and had no pulse, he said, adding that the boy had developed a respiratory illness while in Wyoming.
“I had difficulty facing the fact that he had died,” Stutzman said. “I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t figure out why.”
Killer Year member Gregg Olsen’s first novel A WICKED SNOW is coming from Kensington in March. He blogs over at www.crimerant.com. Use the search feature on Crime Rant to see other posts about Eli Stutzman.
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