Suspects in hair-cutting attacks on Amish to return to court

The Amish live a simple agrarian life that shuns technology from later than the mid-1800s.

Story highlights

  • The five Amish men face kidnapping and burglary charges
  • The suspects belong to an extremist splinter group, local sheriff says
  • Suspects related to splinter group's leader, Bishop Sam Mullet
  • Attacks were directed against Amish identity, notably custom of letting hair grow
Five purported Amish splinter group members, who are suspected in a string of hair-cutting attacks on Amish men and women in their community, are scheduled to be back in court Wednesday morning for arraignment, said the sheriff of Jefferson County, Ohio.
Four separate incidents are being investigated in the eastern Ohio counties of Jefferson, Holmes, Carroll and Trumbull, said Frank Abdalla, the Jefferson County sheriff.
Officials report the first assault happened on September 6. The last attack was on October 4, just days before three of the five suspects were arrested. The men are accused of breaking into multiple homes and holding the victims down before using scissors or battery operated clippers to forcibly cut off women's hair and men's beards.
Lester Mullet, 26, Johnny Mullet, 38, and Levi Miller, 53, were arrested last Friday in Jefferson County, Abdalla said. Daniel Mullet and Eli Miller turned themselves in to Holmes County authorities a few days later.
All five men are charged with kidnapping and burglary. They were released on $50,000 bond, which was paid by Bishop Sam Mullet, who, according to Abdalla, is the leader of an extreme Amish splinter group.
Three of the suspects are Mullet's sons; a third is his nephew.
Abdalla is not the only one who believes Mullet may be behind the attacks.
"This renegade leader is like a cult," said Donald Kraybill, an Amish scholar at Elizabethtown College. "He (Mullet) masquerades under the Amish name, using religion as a way to create a kind of barrier between him and law enforcement."
"Nothing moves in this (particular) Amish community unless (Bishop Mullet) says it moves," Abdalla said.
According to the sheriff, Mullet instigated the attacks after being "shunned from his faith some years ago."
"His behavior contradicts all the standard Amish expectation for behavior," Kraybill said.
The assaults are considered a particularly egregious offense in the Amish society, and can be considered an attack on the Amish identity.
"It's very shameful," said Kraybill.
As a symbol of adulthood, Amish men typically grow beards after they get married and Amish women do not cut their hair, said Kraybill. The practices are based on biblical teachings, Kraybill said.
"I don't know of any other cases like this," said Kraybill. "Amish-on-Amish violence is very rare." Kraybill also pointed out that it's not correct to call the attacks Amish-on-Amish violence because Mullet is not recognized by the mainstream group.
Both Holmes and Jefferson counties have large Amish populations. It is rare for the deeply private religious group to involve outsiders in their internal and religious problems.
But Kraybill said when it becomes serious or involves some kind of violence, they will turn to outside agencies for help.
This "is a difficult, terrible crime," Abdalla said. "We are doing everything we can do."