In 1948 one of the biggest miscarriages of justice took place. It is the case of a man who imprisoned his daughter for multiple years and got off with a 6 month jail sentence but he was eventually freed after serving only 3 months. This is the story of Samuel Hochstetler.
In 1948 a neighbor of Samuel Hochstetler was at Hochstetler house visiting when he heard some chains rattling around. The neighbor contacted the police and they came out. Hochstetler led the police to the unlit room. In the room police found the 41 year old daughter of Hochstetler chained to the bed. She was covered in tics. Her name was Lucy Hochstetler. Lucy was the daughter of Samuel Hochstetler.
The 41 year old daughter had been imprisoned in the room for the previous 10 years. Her wrists were mangled from where they had been cut into by the metal handcuffs. The room was absolutely filthy. The daughter was a completer mess. She stared off into space. Her hair was severely matted. Hochstetler and 2 of his sons admitted to the officers that the daughter had been imprisoned for 10 years. For 7 years she had simply been tied up in the room and for the previous 3 years she had been handcuffed and chained to the bed. Hochstetler was arrested by Sheriff Luther W. Yoder. All of the above information was widely reported in newspapers around the World. Unfortunately much of the facts revolving around the case that was reported in the newspapers at the time was wildly inaccurate and other newspapers picked up and reported these wild inaccuracies as they now sensationalized story spread across the World. Much of the case remained muddled in history until researchers dug back into the case in the 1990s.
Hochstetler had admitted to Sheriff Yoder that he had chained his daughter up and kept in the room in filthy conditions for 10 years. Hochstetler said that he did this because his daughter was demented. What made this crime even more unique was that Hochstetler was Amish. Hochstetler was not just any member of the Amish either. Hochstetler was the Bishop of his Amish Church.
When Hochstetler was booked into jail the media flocked to interview some of the members of Hochstetler’s Amish Church. These members stated that they would be sticking with Hochstetler as their spiritual leader regardless of whether he was found guilty or not because that was the Amish custom. Once a member was appointed to be Bishop he would remain the Bishop of the Church until his death.
Hochstetler was arrested for assault and battery. He kept his adult daughter locked in a room with not bathing, no light, and just enough food to survive and he was charged with assault and battery. Today people get charged with assault and battery for slapping somebody 1 time in the face. Hochstetler would not have gotten away with this crime if he lived in today’s world.
When Hochstetler was arrested he was already 75 years old. Maybe his old age was a part of the reason he got off with only a 6 month jail sentence. Hochstetler showed no remorse for what he did and said that he followed Amish tradition in the handling of his demented daughter. Even during 1948 Hochstetler actions and reasoning was considered strange, even by other Amish sects.
Hochstetler was the leader of an Old Order Amish Community. The Old Order Amish are the strictest with their rules and regulations.
Was Lucy Demented
Samuel Hochstetler stuck by his story that his daughter was demented and he was going to get his daughter looked at and then she would be institutionalized. He knew that if the Psychiatrists and Psychologists met with her for an interview they would see that she was insane and be put into an insane asylum.
Samuel Hochstetler was partially correct because at this point his daughter was insane. She was a certifiable nut job; however, anybody that had been chained to a bed for 10 years, kept away from light, forced to live with tics, spiders, and other insects crawling on you and infesting your hair would turn insane. The sanest of people would tend to go crazy if they had to do that for 10 years like Lucy did. The question though is to ask whether Lucy was insane or crazy before she was locked up in the room by her father. Of course it was to come out that her conditions was greatly exaggerated. There was no doubt that Lucy was chained to the bed but she was not covered in tics and her conditions were much better than reported by the newspapers.
Bishop Hochstetler stuck by his story that she was crazy but neighbors who were interviewed by Sherriff Yoder stated that Lucy Hochstetler had been normal up until the time she graduated high school at age 16. Today Amish Children do not go to school as long as the rest of us do. The Amish use their own schools and only attend school until the 8th grade but back in 1948 the Amish were still forced but the Government to attend school like the “English” students.
Was Hochstetler A Good Guy?
People testified that Lucy was in fact prone to seizures and outbreaks of violence. A lot of people in the 1940s still believed that seizures were caused by people who were inhabited by the devil or evil spirits. Did Hochstetler believe that his daughter’s seizures were related to being possessed by the devil or did he understand that it was a medical condition? Still to this day it is not entirely clear however it does look like Hochstetler did understand that his daughter Lucy had not only medical problems but also mental challenges.
Leave the Amish Sect
It was after Lucy Hochstetler graduated high school that she began to express an interest in leaving the Amish community. Her father then began to keep a close eye on her and reprimand her for even expressing these thoughts of leaving the Amish community much less even thinking of them. Bishop Samuel Hochstetler was one of the original Amish members when some of them broke off and began to be called Old Order Amish. Hochstetler was very strong in his spiritual beliefs and he may have felt that if his daughter Lucy was to leave the community that she would be damned to Hell for eternity. In order to save her from Hell he had to tie her up and chain her in a room to keep her from leaving.
Was Hochstetler trying to keep Lucy from leaving the Amish community? Lucy had left once before and the family found her and forced her to return. This could be it but Lucy also started developing seizures and trouble with her coping skills when she got angry. Why was Lucy angry?
Lucy Hochstetler was probably angry because of numerous reasons including her health problems including her seizures, not liking the Amish community she was forced to live in, not having a husband, and of course being chained to a bed had to keep her angry.
After Hochstetler was placed in jail Sheriff Yoder stated that Lucy Hochstetler would be given a sanity hearing. It was expected that Lucy would be confined to a State Asylum after the sanity hearing. Whether she was sane before her father imprisoned her was moot point.
Eventually Lucy Hochstetler was put into an insane asylum and Bishop Hochstetler was released from jail after 6 months. The investigation of the Hochstetler was investigated further beginning in the 1990s. The case was heavily sensationalized by the media in 1948 and other newspapers reported the wild inaccuracies. A deeper look at the case shows that there may have been a lot of anti-Amish sentiment. This may have been discovered at the time and also account for part of the reason that Hochstetler was only given 6 months in jail.
Anger and Violence
At the time it seemed obvious to investigators that Bishop Yoder may have been keeping his daughter confined to the room against her will to keep her from leaving the Amish community and being banned to hell. Although this is obviously the most likely reason, it was probably wrong. There has been overwhelming evidence that came out to show that Lucy Hochstetler was prone to violence. She would suddenly get angry and nothing could stop her anger. When Lucy got mad it also endangered the other family members who were around her. She would threaten family members with a knife, throw a tantrum and break things, and she even knocked out a sister rendering her unconscious. The Hochstetler family knew she needed help and it came out later that they had put in 2 different hospitals hoping they could make her normal.
For Bishop Samuel Hochstetler to make the decision to seek help from the English World by taking his daughter to 2 different hospitals to get help for her mental problems was huge. It showed he truly did want her to get help and he did not want her to have to end up in an insane asylum.
The Hochstetler began to tie her up to her bed when she would begin to get angry. They had to in order to protect the rest of the family. Once Lucy was calmed down they would untie her again. Eventually Lucy was angry all of the time and they had to keep her tied up non-stop. Eventually the ropes were swapped out for chains. The Hochstetler family at this point had pretty much given up on Lucy ever becoming normal. The Amish believed that they should use the English World as little as possible. Because of this the Hochstetler family felt like it was required of them to care for their daughter. In order to be good Christians and go to heaven they had to take care of their crazy daughter instead of relying on the State of Indiana to do it. The Hochstetler tried their best and failed. At the pint of no return they still chose to chain Lucy up so they good continue being ‘Good Christians” instead of seeking help for her with the State.
There was a lot of Anti-Amish sentiment and hatred going on at the time. Religious tolerance of the Amish was not on par with what it is today. A lot of the newspapers sensationalized the case. History experts on the Hochstetler tend to believe that the case was sensationalized because of the anti-Amish fervor. I believe the newspapers simply sensationalized the case to sell more newspapers. With that being said though, there was a lot of anti-Amish hatred and in 1948 most everybody thought that Samuel Hochstetler was an evil daddy who was horribly mean to his daughter and tortured her simply because he did not want her to leave the Amish community and because he was truly evil in his heart. This could not have been further from the truth yet that was the way he was portrayed and seen back then.
Hochstetler has spent 3 months in jail when his children were finally able to petition and get him released. Hochstetler had reason o be angry because he was locked up for simply trying to help his daughter, at least that is how he and the family viewed it. Although he had reason to be angry he never spoke a negative world about the police who locked him up in jail or the people in the English World who were lying about him in the media and making him out to be a truly evil person. Yes Bishop Hochstetler handled the situation wrong but in his heart he thought he was helping out and doing the right thing.
An example of the sensationalism is that she was covered in bugs when investigators found her. Another piece of extreme sensationalism is when the image of Lucy Hochstetler in handcuffs was released to the media. This picture was passed off as being took as she was being released; however, the picture was not taken until later. Why was the police involved in faking pictures? One theory is that the informant who contacted the police had a vendetta out against the Amish because he was kicked out of the religion. I personally think that the Police simple wanted to squeeze as much fame as they could out of this crime. Sheriff Yoder and his cohorts had found their chance to get World-wide fame and they were going to capitalize on it.
The elusive hunt for fame makes the police wrong. Amish Bishop Samuel Hochstetler and his family were wrong for how they dealt with their daughter Lucy who had mental problems. The neighbors of the Hochstetler were wrong for not reporting Lucy being locked-up in her room. The media was wrong for sensationalizing and helping to spread anti-Amish hate all because they wanted to sell more newspapers. The only person who did no wrong was Lucy Hochstetler. She had mental problems and they were made worse by the actions of her family. Back then there was not the hope for mental problems like we have in today’s society. In today’s society we can get help, medicine, and support groups. Back then the only hope was to be slapped into a strait jacket.
Lucy Hochstetler ended up living until 1978 when she passed away.
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