White Picket Murder

Date Published 05.20.07

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, known as "the Garden Spot of America," is only an hour west of Philadelphia, but those 70 miles might as well be light years. Lancaster County is Pennsylvania Dutch country, a pastoral paradise of neatly kept farms and horse drawn carriages. "You'll find beautiful scenery dotted with one-room schoolhouses, wooden covered bridges, four-and six-mule teams, and homemade clothing and quilts gently blowing in the breeze," says a Pennsylvania Dutch tourist website.

What they don't mention is a rash of vicious murders, some unsolved, that hint at a dark undercurrent lurking beneath the rural idyll.

Lancaster County.jpgLancaster County

One of the more high profile cases was the Amish school shootings last October, when a local milk-truck driver took over a one-room schoolhouse and killed five Amish schoolgirls before turning the gun on himself.

But perhaps the most troubling, in terms of the unknown, is the triple homicide last week of a family living on cheerfully named Peach Lane. Three members of the Haines family were stabbed to death as they slept, and the police, in a rare admission of confusion and fear, have urged neighbors to take precautions such as "locking doors at night, turning on lights at night, knowing where their children are during the day, meeting with neighbors to be sure that they know each other's daily routines." The message was clear: there's a maniac on the loose, beware.

Noise in the Night

It was around 2:20 a.m. on Saturday, May 12 when Maggie Haines, 20, was awakened by a strange, "scuffling" sound coming from her younger brother's bedroom.

According to news reports, Maggie went into her parents' bedroom and saw her father lying at the end of the bed and her mother sitting next to him. Her mother quietly urged Maggie to run out of the house and get help. Maggie ran to a neighbor's home across the street where a 911 call was made. The police arrived within five minutes. They found Tom Haines, 51, Lisa Haines, 47, and Kevin Haines, 16, stabbed to death on the second floor. Nothing appeared stolen. There were no signs of forced entry, but the back door was wide open.

Maggie Haines had just returned home after finishing her sophomore year at Bucknell University. She'd been back two days.

204254PeachLaneMurders2_ful.jpgThe Haines home
(Marty Heisey, New Era)

What Happened on Peach Lane?

Police don't appear to suspect Maggie Haines of killing her family. No weapon has been found, Maggie wasn't covered in blood, and, most significantly, according to a news report police dogs tracked a scent toward Lititz Pike, a nearby thoroughfare.

Other factors support Maggie's innocence. Women rarely use knives to commit murder. And while the lone survivor in a family massacre is always an initial suspect, the fact that Maggie had just returned home from college, rather than suspicious, is probably the reason she's alive today. The killer likely didn't know she was there.

Newspaper reports and message board comments left by neighbors indicate the Haines family had no known, obvious enemies. They've been described as quiet, churchgoing, low-key. While a random attack by a knife-wielding psychopath can't be ruled out, it seems unlikely. Police say the back door was unlocked, but if you're a killer bent on violence checking for unlocked doors in the neighborhood, there are easier targets: hedges make the Haines house "virtually invisible" from the street, says one news story.

Who Wanted Them Dead?

Stabbing is a highly personal way to kill someone. It's messy, inefficient, and is often fueled by intensely personal rage. To boldly enter a home and stab to death three members of one family shows a criminally unsophisticated person driven by impulse rather than cold, rational thought. An assassin would take out a target with a single bullet when no one was around to witness the act. The Haines family's killer didn't think like an assassin. He behaved like an out-of-control slasher from a violent serial killer film. Who are the number one consumers of such films? Teenage boys.

The stabbing method is highly personal, so we can assume the killer knew his victims. But he didn't know them well enough to know Maggie was home from college. Also, if he were close enough to the family Lisa Haines would likely have said his name to Maggie when she urged her daughter to run and get help. She didn't. But it's interesting to note that she was sitting on the edge of the bed when Maggie saw her. Lisa Haines was a pre-school teacher. It's easy to imagine her sitting up in bed, calmly trying to talk reason with a jittery young person.

Another way to profile a killer is by studying the victim's wounds. Lisa had a single stab wound to the abdomen. She wasn't the killer's target. Tom Haines had multiple stab wounds to the chest. As the eldest male in the house he posed the most threat. But it's Kevin who seems to have been the focus of the killer's rage. He was found in the hallway, presumably after scuffling with his attacker. He had multiple stab wounds and his throat was slit. The killer took time with Kevin, and his wounds reveal "overkill."

Kevin Haines was a sophomore at Manheim Township High School. He was a boy scout and a member of the high school's Quiz Bowl Team. Reports suggest he was smart and well liked. He wasn't a troublemaker. Still, police are interested enough in Kevin's background that they've become a "visible presence" at the high school in recent days, according to a story on Lancaster Online.

One of the earliest stories about the case made passing mention of the fact that Manheim Township High School's prom was Saturday, May 12, the night of the murders. Kevin, a sophomore, was probably too young to attend the prom, but it's interesting to note as a possible "precipatating stressor" for the killer, if he is a peer of Kevin's, as a high school prom is an emotional event that can represent rejection and shame for some young people.

Did one of those young people act out his anguish at 85 Peach Lane? Police have called in the FBI to help find out. Until then, houses in the Haines' neighborhood are lit up like Christmas trees, and the people of Lancaster County, despite the horse drawn carriages and one-room schoolhouses, are buying new and improved locks for their doors.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary: https://t.co/ijA8xHJ8Tm
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.