BRECKNOCK TOWNSHIP, Pa. - The unsolved mystery of yesterday afternooninvolved nothing more sinister than a mangled mailbox, and it didn't take longfor local authorities to finger the chief suspect: a county snowplow.
That's the kind of trouble people are used to in this farming community inLancaster County, a region famous for its Amish people and covered bridges.Worse crime is not unheard of here, or in the county, but the township's lastmurder came in a domestic dispute some 60 years ago, the county historiansays.
So, as locals gathered yesterday at diners for biscuits and gravy on a wet,snowy morning, they grappled with a far more profound mystery: the murder ofBaltimore federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna, found drowned in a creek hereearly Thursday with 36 stab wounds.
"It's very disturbing because we don't usually hear about this kind ofstuff," truck driver Galen Martin said at the Silk City Diner in nearbyDenver.
"This is big news for us," said Ben Mellinger, an employee at Weaver'sStore, where customers swapped news amid stacks of Lee jeans and racks oftools. "It's a shock for this community. People are asking what's going onaround here?"
Some residents sought solace in the fact that Luna was not from this area,that maybe the crime didn't have much to do with them.
"The reaction was, `Here?' " said Linda Leid, a waitress at the LyndonDiner a few miles from where Luna's body was found. "But then people weresaying, `Well, he was from Baltimore,'" suggesting the murder had beencommitted elsewhere.
"Still, it's close to home," she said. "My daughter used to play in thatcreek on a farm back there when she was growing up."
Kids play nearby still, and yesterday three were sledding on a hillside ata farm across Route 897 from the crime scene.
Even if Luna's killer or killers randomly chose this as a remote place todrop a body, some say the case offers a stark reminder that Lancaster Countyis not as isolated as many assume.
"The perception of a lot of outsiders and tourists is this is a bucoliclandscape of Amish farms and farm families," said Tom Ryan, executive directorof the Lancaster County Historical Society.
That remains true in many ways, he said, but Lancaster, a city of 56,000about 20 miles southwest of Brecknock, has crime and drug problems along withfine cultural offerings and a vibrant farmers' market. The city of Reading, tothe northeast, suffers similar ills.
On rare occasions, violence has spilled into rural parts of LancasterCounty.
In 2001, a husband and wife in Ephrata Township - eight miles from whereLuna's body was found - were tortured and murdered in their home. The sameday, a bicyclist was shot in the neck in Fivepointville, a mile from the Lunacrime scene. Four people were convicted in the related crimes; one is onPennsylvania's death row.
Mostly, the crimes are nonviolent. Someone was charged with drunkendriving, another person was accused of stealing from Wal-Mart. The localnewspaper noted in September that someone scratched Marlin Longenecker's car.
No one was surprised that yesterday's edition of the LancasterIntelligencer Journal blared the news of Luna's death across the front page:"U.S. prosecutor found slain."
Little was left of the crime scene yesterday. Only a wooden birdhouse stoodsentry, the police tape taken down after a second, pre-dawn search of thearea. Despite the falling snow, it was still possible to see the tire marksmade by Luna's Honda Accord near the creek where he was found dead.
"It's just creepy to think he may have been killed on our property," saidMary Sensenig, 52, wife of one of the owners of Sensenig & Weaver WellDrilling.
An employee spotted the car at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, alerted by a red lighton the dashboard, she said. He drove over to shine headlights on the car, asilver Accord with blood visible. He got out, saw a child's car seat, Sensenigsaid, but no body. That was left to a Pennsylvania state trooper who respondedto a 911 call.
The snow began falling not long after the second search ended earlyyesterday. In nearby fields, the stubble of cornstalks poked through freshsnow. On Route 897, two Amish men squinted into heavy sleet as two big drafthorses pulled a wagon loaded with logs.
Subdivisions have risen on some farmland in recent years, and the roadshave their share of strip stores. But the township, home to 6,700, is a quietplace overall, and some locals believe it was no accident Luna's body ended upwhere it did.
"They could get away with it out there because no one was out to hearanything," said Dana Funk, who works at Procopio's Pizza.
That is not entirely true, even in the wee hours. Keely Johnston, atownship police officer, noted that, "starting about 3:30 [a.m.], you do getthe milk trucks starting to come in to the dairy farms."
Brecknock, one of the county's early townships, was named for the Welshsettlers who moved to an area later dominated by German immigrants. In the1800s, a group of outlaws holed up on nearby Welsh Mountain, said Jack Loose,county historian. Known as the Buzzard Gang, the band "stole everything underthe sun," but did not kill.
The last murder in Brecknock occurred in the early days of World War II,when Loose was in his teens. The murderer was a Mennonite man.