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Amish country murder: Red Jeep, Nike sneakers led cops to pregnant mom’s suspected killer

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He tried to cover his tracks – but within days of the murder of a pregnant Amish woman in front of her other children, police were on his doorstep, according to search warrant returns unsealed over the weekend.

The documents, related to the murder of Rebekah Byler in her Sparta Township home, also reveal that she and her husband saw a suspicious man prowling their property two weeks before the brutal slaying. 

Shawn Cranston, a 52-year-old trucker, appears to match the description of a man the Bylers encountered one night around 10 o’clock in early February.

PENNSYLVANIA AMISH MURDER: NO MOTIVE IN PREGNANT WOMAN’S SLAYING, BUT WITNESSES SAW SUSPECT’S CAR AT SCENE

Shawn C. Cranston is accused of killing a pregnant Amish woman in her rural home last month. (Crawford County Correctional Facility via AP)

Byler’s husband, Andy, told police he found a “White, bald male with a white beard” on his property after dark and confronted him. He said the trespasser asked about buying the house. Then the man left in what Byler said was possibly a red vehicle – but he wasn’t sure because it was dark.

Several other witnesses also reported seeing a red Jeep Patriot in the rural area in the weeks before the murder. Police now say the vehicle belongs to the suspect’s wife.

Cranston is accused of stabbing and shooting 23-year-old Rebekah Byler in her living room on the morning of Feb. 26. Her 3-year-old son told detectives he saw “a man wearing sneakers” pull up in a truck, come inside and kill his mom. She was six months pregnant.

Police said surveillance video taken outside the Sparta Sportsmen Gun Club shows Cranston’s red Jeep Patriot near the victim’s home around 9 a.m. on the day of the murder.

POLICE INVESTIGATING AMISH COUNTRY KILLING FIND BROKEN KNIFE, UNIDENTIFIED HAIR IN PREGNANT WOMAN’S ‘SCALPING’

A group of Amish men crosses brick road to pennslyvania courthouse

A group of Amish arrive at the Crawford County Judicial Center in Meadville, Pennsylvania, for the preliminary hearing for Shawn Christopher Cranston on Friday, March 15, 2024. Cranston is being held in connection with the murder of Rebekah A. Byler and her unborn child in her home on Feb. 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

State police obtained search warrants for Cranston’s Jeep, his residence and his DNA. They also obtained surveillance video from across the street that allegedly shows him repeatedly removing items from the Jeep and carrying them out of view – as well as smoke coming from an apparent fire in his yard.

Three key pieces of evidence at the crime scene matched items recovered from Cranston’s home, according to the warrants. The Bylers did not own any Nike Air Force One sneakers – however, there were footprints from the shoes at the crime scene and a pair at Cranston’s house. The Jeep’s treads allegedly matched tire marks left at the crime scene. 

And a box of patterned nitrile gloves taken from Cranston’s house match a piece of rubber left at the crime scene. The Bylers did not own those kind of gloves, according to the warrants.

Witnesses told police Cranston gave them an “uneasy” feeling and that they had “very odd experiences with him” after he worked as a fill-in driver for William Byler, 63, using a red Jeep Patriot.

Amish men line up outside courthouse in Pennsylvania

A group of Amish leave the Crawford County Judicial Center in Meadville, Pennsylvania, following a preliminary hearing Friday, March 15, 2024, for Shawn C. Cranston. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

On one occasion, he allegedly showed up uninvited, wearing all black with a holstered pistol, and began “walking around their property looking aimlessly into their fields” and speaking gibberish. 

The witnesses provided a phone number, which led police to Cranston, who lives in Corry, about 20 miles to the north.

Cranston’s neighbors there told investigators they believed he was a member of the “War Dogs” biker gang, purported to be an outlaw club affiliated with the Hell’s Angels. Cranston is allegedly the local chapter’s “sergeant-at-arms” and uses the alias, “Rumble.”

Police seized a half-dozen guns and numerous boxes of ammunition from Cranston’s home; however, in court last week, prosecutors said they had not discovered the murder weapons.

2 MINNESOTA AMISH CHILDREN DEAD; IDENTICAL TWINS CHARGED WITH SWAPPING PLACES, AND CASE GETS COMPLICATED

Rebekah Byler's home on Fish Flats Road in Sparta Township

Investigators in the death of 23-year-old Amish woman Rebekah Byler in Sparta Township, Crawford County, said she had neck and head wounds when her body was found inside of her Fish Flats Road residence, pictured. (Tim Hahn/Erie Times-News/USA Today Network)

Byler’s husband was gone for about four hours on the morning of the murder, taking measurements at construction sites around Crawford and Venango counties, according to the warrants.

He returned home with his driver, Julie Warner, around 12:30 p.m. and stumbled upon the grisly crime scene.

Responding officers found Byler stabbed in the neck with a “scalping type wound” that the forensic pathologist later determined had actually been caused by a gunshot to the head.

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Police arrested Cranston on March 2. He faces charges of criminal homicide, criminal homicide of an unborn child, felony burglary and criminal trespassing. His prior criminal record includes guilty pleas to reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.

He’s being held without bail.

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