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Linda Castillo - Sworn to Silence

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Linda Castillo - Sworn to Silence
Sworn to Silence
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Some secrets are too terrible to reveal . . .

Some crimes are too unspeakable to solve . . .

In the sleepy rural town of Painters Mill, Ohio, the Amish and “English” residents have lived side by side for two centuries. But sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community. In the aftermath of the violence, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence. Kate Burkholder, a young Amish girl, survived the terror of the Slaughterhouse Killer but came away from its brutality with the realization that she no longer belonged with the Amish. Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate has been asked to return to Painters Mill as Chief of Police. Her Amish roots and big city law enforcement background make her the perfect candidate. She’s certain she’s come to terms with her past—until the first body is discovered in a snowy field. Kate vows to stop the killer before he strikes again. But to do so, she must betray both her family and her Amish past—and expose a dark secret that could destroy her.





SWORN TO SILENCE. Copyright © 2009 by Linda Castillo. All rights reserved.

I’m one of those writers lucky enough to have a strong support system that sustains me in the long, and sometimes difficult, months it takes to write a novel. This book is dedicated to my husband, Ernest, who just happens to be my real-life hero. And to Jack and Debbie, for that wonderful trip to Amish country. I love you guys.


A writer’s quest for facts while working on a book is a seemingly endless process. Though the writing itself is a solitary endeavor, writers are rewarded during the research phase of the book with the opportunity to speak with countless interesting individuals and professionals who so generously share their expertise. I have many people to thank for helping me bring Sworn to Silence to fruition.

First and foremost, I wish to thank my fabulous agent, Nancy Yost, who saw the possibilities from the start and never faltered along the way. To my wonderful editor, Charlie Spicer, whose enthusiasm for the story and editorial direction shaped the book into a winner. I’d also like to thank the entire St. Martin’s/Minotaur team in New York: Sally Richardson, Andrew Martin, Matthew Shear, Matthew Baldacci, Bob Podrasky, Hector DeJean, David Rotstein, Allison Caplin, and Sarah Melnyk. There are many more brilliant individuals who remain unnamed due to space constraints, but I’m blessed to write for such a dynamic and capable group of people.

On the technical side of things I owe huge thanks to Chief Daniel Light of the Arcanum, Ohio, Police Department, for so generously sharing his knowledge and experience of the inner workings of a small town police department. Thank you to A.C. for all of your insights into the Amish culture and for sharing all of those precious details about daily Amish life. To my critique group: Jennifer Archer, Anita Howard, Marcy McKay, and April Redmon, thanks for letting me keep you up late Wednesday nights. To Kurt Shearer of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, for answering all of my crazy questions without blinking an eye. I took much literary license when depicting many of the law enforcement agencies in my book, particularly BCI. It is a top-notch agency administered by consummate professionals who are very good at what they do. Any procedural errors and embellishments are mine.

            Forwith the devil did appear,

            For name him and he’s always near.

               —Matthew Prior, “Hans Carvel”


She hadn’t believed in monsters since she was six years old, back when her mom would check the closet and look beneath her bed at night. But at the age of twenty-one, bound and brutalized and lying naked on a concrete floor that was as cold as lake ice, she believed.

Enveloped in darkness, she listened to the hard drum of her heart. She couldn’t stop shivering. Couldn’t keep her teeth from chattering. Every minuscule sound made her body tense in terrible anticipation of the monster’s return.

In the beginning, she’d entertained fantasies of escape or convincing her captor to let her go. But she was a realist; she knew this wasn’t going to end nicely. There would be no negotiation. No police rescue. No last-minute reprieve. The monster was going to kill her. It was no longer a question of if, but when. The waiting was almost as hellish as death itself.

She didn’t know where she was or how long she’d been there. She’d lost all concept of time and place. All she could discern about her surroundings was that the place stank of rotting meat, and every little noise echoed as if she were in a cave.

She was hoarse from screaming. Exhausted from struggling. Demoralized by the horrors he’d inflicted upon her. A small part of her just wanted this terrible struggle for life to end. But dear God how she wanted to live . . .

“Mama,” she whispered.

She’d never contemplated death. She had too many dreams. She was too full of hope for the future, and a firm believer in the promise that tomorrow would be better than today. Lying in a cold slick of her own urine, she accepted the fact that there would be no tomorrow. There was no hope. No future. Only the black dread of her impending death and the agony that knowledge brought.

She lay on her side with her knees drawn up to her chest. The wire binding her wrists behind her had tormented her at first, but over the hours the pain had ebbed. She tried not to think of the things he’d done to her. He’d raped her first. But even that outrage was nothing compared to the other depravities she’d endured.

She could still hear the snap of electricity. She felt the hard wrench of it as it jumped through her, jolting her brain inside her skull. She could still hear the animalistic sound of her own screams. The roar of adrenaline-rich blood through her veins. The wild drum of her heart beating out of control. And then there was the knife.

He’d worked with the intense concentration of some macabre artisan. He’d been so close she’d felt the whisper of his breath against her skin. When she screamed, he hit her with the electrical prod. When she lashed out with her feet, he’d hit her again. In the end, she’d lain still and endured the agony in silence. She’d accepted the pain. And for a few brief minutes, her mind had taken her to the beach in Florida where she’d gone with her parents two years ago. White sand hot on her feet. A breeze so moist and warm it was like the breath of God on her soul.

“Help me, Mama . . .”

The sound of boots against concrete jerked her from her reverie. She raised her head and looked around wildly, trying in vain to see past the blindfold. She could hear her breaths rushing between her teeth, like a wild animal that had been hunted down for slaughter. She hated him. She hated what he was, what he’d done to her. If only she could loosen her bonds and run . . .

“Stay away from me, you son of a bitch!” she shouted. “Stay away!”

But she knew he wouldn’t.

A gloved hand brushed her hip. Twisting, she lashed out with both feet. A fleeting sense of satisfaction unfurled when her tormenter grunted. Then the snap of electricity cracked like lightning. Pain raked down her body as if she were at the end of a bullwhip that had just been snapped.

For an instant, the world went silent and gray. Vaguely, she was aware of hands touching her feet. The distant clink of steel against concrete. Cold seeping into her until her entire body quaked uncontrollably.

A pristine new terror whipped through her when she realized her attacker had wrapped a chain around her ankles. The cold links dug into her skin when it was drawn tight. She tried to kick, tried to free her legs so she could make one last, desperate stand.

But it was too late.

She screamed until she ran out of breath. She floundered, twisting and writhing, but her efforts were futile. Above her, steel rattled against steel. The chain slowly lifted her feet from the floor.

“Why are you doing this?” she cried. “Why?”

The chain jangled, pulling her feet upward, higher and higher until she was hanging upside down. All the blood in her body seemed to pool in her head. It pounded in her face, the veins throbbing. She fought to right herself, but gravity tugged her down. “Help me! Someone!”

A mindless panic gripped her when a gloved hand grasped her hair. A scream poured from her lungs when the monster drew her head back. The sudden heat of a razor cut pricked her throat. As if from a great distance she heard the sound of water pouring down, like the spray from a shower echoing off tile walls. Staring into the darkness of the blindfold, she listened to her lifeblood drain away. This could not be happening. Not to her. Not in Painters Mill.

As if someone had flipped a switch, her mind went fuzzy. Her face grew hot, but her body was cold. Terror ebbed into a dull and steady hum. Pain faded into nothingness. Her muscles went slack. Her limbs began to tingle.

He’s not going to hurt me after all, she thought.

And she escaped to the white sand beach where slender palms swayed like elegant flamenco dancers. And the bluest water she’d ever seen stretched as far as the eye could see.


The cruiser’s strobes cast red and blue light onto winter dead trees. Officer T.J. Banks pulled the car onto the shoulder and flipped on the spotlight, running the beam along the edge of the field where corn stalks shivered in the cold. Twenty yards away, six Jersey cows stood in the bar ditch, chewing their cud.

“Stupid fuckin’ cows,” he muttered. Besides chickens, they had to be the dumbest animals on earth.

He hit the radio. “Dispatch, this is forty-seven.”

“What’s up, T.J.?” asked Mona, the night dispatcher.

“I got a 10-54. Stutz’s damn cows are out again.”

“That’s the second time in a week.”

“Always on my shift, too.”

“So what are you going to do? He ain’t got no phone out there.”

A glance at the clock on the dash told him it was nearly two A.M. “Well, I’m not going to stand out here in the frickin’ cold and round up these stupid shits.”

“Maybe you ought to just shoot ’em.”

“Don’t tempt me.” Looking around, he sighed. Livestock on the road at this hour was an accident waiting to happen. If someone came around the curve too fast it could be bad. He thought of all the paperwork an accident would entail and shook his head. “I’ll set up some flares then go drag his Amish ass out of bed.”

“Let me know if you need backup.” She snickered.

Yanking the zipper of his coat up to his chin, he slid his flashlight from its nest beside the seat and got out of the cruiser. It was so cold he could feel his nose hairs freezing. His boots crunched through snow as he made his way to the bar ditch, his breaths puffing out in front of him. He hated the graveyard shift almost as much as he hated winter.

He ran the flashlight beam along the fence line. Sure enough, twenty feet away two strands of barbed wire had come loose from a gnarled locust-wood post. Hoofprints told him several head had discovered the opening and ventured onto the shoulder for some illicit grazing.

“Stupid fuckin’ cows.”

T.J. went back to the cruiser and popped the trunk. Removing two flares, he set them up on the centerline to warn traffic. He was on his way back to the cruiser when he spotted something in the snow on the opposite side of the road. Curious, he crossed to it. A solitary woman’s shoe lay on the shoulder. Judging from its condition and lack of snow cover, it hadn’t been there long. Teenagers, probably. This deserted stretch of road was a favorite place to smoke dope and have sex. They were almost as stupid as cows.

Frowning, T.J. nudged the shoe with his foot. That was when he noticed the drag marks, as if something heavy had been hauled through the snow. He traced the path with the flashlight beam, tracking it to the fence and into the field beyond. The hairs at the back of his neck prickled when he spotted blood. A lot of it.

“What the hell?”

He followed the trail into the ditch where yellow grass poked up through the snow. He climbed the fence and found more blood on the other side, stark and black against pristine white. It was enough to give a guy the willies.

The path took him to a stand of bare-branched hedge apple trees at the edge of a cornfield. He could hear himself breathing hard, the dead corn stalks whispering all around. T.J. set his hand on his revolver and swept the beam in a 360-degree circle. That was when he noticed the object in the snow.

At first he thought an animal had been hit and dragged itself there to die. But as he neared, the beam revealed something else. Pale flesh. A shock of darkish hair. A bare foot sticking out of the snow. Adrenaline kicked hard in his gut. “Holy shit.”

For an instant he couldn’t move. He couldn’t stop looking at the dark circle of blood and colorless flesh. Giving himself a hard mental shake, T.J. dropped to his knees beside the body. His first thought was that she might still be alive. Brushing at the snow, he set his hand against a bare shoulder. Her skin was ice cold, but he rolled her over anyway. He saw more blood and pasty flesh and glazed eyes that seemed to stare right at him.

Shaken, he scrambled back. His hand trembled as he grappled for his lapel mike. “Dispatch! This is forty-seven!”

“What now, T.J? One of them cows chase you up a tree?”

“I got a fuckin’ body here at Stutz’s place.”


They used the ten-code system in Painters Mill, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember the number for a dead body. He’d never had to use it. “I said I got a dead body.”

“I heard you the first time.” But the words were followed by a stunned pause as realization hit her. “What’s your twenty?”

“Dog Leg Road, just south of the covered bridge.”

A beat of silence. “Who is it?”

Everyone knew everyone in Painters Mill, but he’d never seen this woman before. “I don’t know. A woman. Naked as the day she came into this world and deader than Elvis.”

“A wreck or what?”

“This was no accident.” Setting his hand on the butt of his .38, T.J. scanned the shadows within the trees. He could feel his heart beating fast in his chest. “You’d better call the chief, Mona. I think we got us a murder.”


I dream of death.

As always, I’m in the kitchen of the old farmhouse. Blood shimmers stark and red against the scuffed hardwood floor. The scents of yeast bread and fresh-cut hay mingle with the harsh stench of my own terror, a contrariety my mind cannot reconcile. The curtains billow in the breeze coming through the window above the sink. I see flecks of blood on the yellow fabric. More spatter on the wall. I feel the stickiness of it on my hands.

I crouch in the corner, animal sounds I don’t recognize tearing from my throat like stifled screams. I feel death in the room. Darkness all around me. Inside me. And at the age of fourteen, I know evil exists in my safe and sheltered world.

The phone rattles me from sleep. The nightmare slinks back into its hole like some nocturnal creature. Rolling, I grapple with the phone on the nightstand and set the phone against my ear. “Yeah.” My voice comes out like a croak.

“Chief. This is Mona. Sorry to wake you, but I think you’d better come in.”

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