RETURN TO AMISH Why did Jeremiah Raber’s aunt murder his dad? Was it because of Jeremiah?

Return To Amish Jeremiah Raber's dad Lawrence Larry Hiltabidel was killed by his wife and Jeremiah's aunt Sheila Hiltabidel

Breaking Amish and Return To Amish star Jeremiah Raber was adopted by an Amish family when he was an infant. Jeremiah’s search for his birth family became a story line on the show, but NO ONE could have predicted what Jeremiah’s search would eventually reveal!

Let’s start at the beginning. Jeremiah says that he was taken from his birth mother when he was either 8 or 9 months old. He was later adopted by an Amish family when he was a year-and-a-half. Jeremiah talked about his difficulties after the adoption in a 2018 Facebook post. Here’s an excerpt:

I never really lived by [their] rules since I knew I wasn’t meant to be Amish. Don’t get me wrong they do have good things going on. Then just because I didn’t live up to their expectations my adopted mom looked me straight in the eyes and told me 3 different times she doesn’t know why she adopted me. I haven’t talked to them for more then 10 min in the last 2 1/2 years now nor do I want to.

Jeremiah met his biological mother much later, after his biological half-sister found him. He opened up about meeting his mother and siblings in a 2018 episode of Return To Amish. “In the beginning, I believed every damn word that my family told me,” Jeremiah recalled. “I agreed to meet up with them. And it was the f***ing worst mistake I’ve made in this entire life.”

Jeremiah and his biological mother had a huge falling out that reportedly played out in part on social media. (Jeremiah shared a YouTube video about his last interactions with his mother, but that video is no longer available.) Jeremiah read one comment allegedly posted by his mother during the 2018 Return To Amish episode. “I have all my kids that I love and love me,” his mother allegedly wrote.

Jeremiah Raber and Dennis

After Jeremiah’s horrible experience meeting his biological mother and siblings, it would make sense that he was reluctant to meet his biological father when he reached out to Jeremiah much later.

During Return To Amish Season 6, Jeremiah finally agreed to travel to Michigan with his wife Carmela to meet Dennis. Dennis was married to Jeremiah’s mother not long before Jeremiah was born, so he assumed he was the father.

Unlike the experience between Jeremiah and his mother, the meeting with Dennis went extremely well. He seemed sincerely thrilled to have a son he didn’t know about.

During the episode featuring the meeting, Dennis recounted the story of his relationship with Jeremiah’s mother during a confessional:

I met Jeremiah’s mother when I was in the army. I was married to her for a total of, I think, it was five years. And then things hit the fan, and I tried to be — do the right thing and get back and take over, and responsibility… I didn’t know that she was pregnant with Jeremiah when it came to a head, and I left, finally.

I found out Jeremiah was my son when his two older brother and sister found me. He came to me and said that they had a brother. And then I said, ‘Well, let’s find him.’ I’d have never dreamt I had a son living with the Amish, but here it is.

Despite the bond forming between Dennis and Jeremiah, there was still some doubt in Jeremiah’s mind about whether or not they were actually related. He asked if Dennis would take a paternity test, and he agreed.

The DNA results showed that Dennis was not Jeremiah’s biological father, but instead revealed that Jeremiah shared DNA with his uncle, who was married to his mother’s sister. This uncle, Lawrence “Larry” Hiltabidel, passed away at a very young age at roughly the same time as Jeremiah’s adoption.

Breaking Amish Jeremiah Raber's dad Lawrence Hiltabidel

Jeremiah finds out his dad was murdered

The discovery about his real dad resulted in Jeremiah making another trip, this time to meet Larry Hiltabidel’s close relatives. His newfound cousin Chris shared the tragic story of how Larry died — and it left Jeremiah reeling.

With the help of some old newspaper clippings, Chris revealed to Jeremiah that Larry was murdered by his wife, Sheila Ann Hiltabidel. The two had been out at a bar together just before Christmas, and returned home later that night. Larry left and came back, then Sheila stabbed him in the chest with a knife. He later died from his wound and Sheila was charged with murder.

After initially denying that she killed Larry, Sheila would later plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 5 to 25 years in prison.

Breaking Amish Jeremiah Raber's aunt Sheila Hiltabidel sentenced for killing his dad, Larry Hiltabidel

Jeremiah asked his cousin if Larry having a child with Sheila’s sister was the reason she killed him, but Chris did not have an answer. However, it certainly seems like a rational assumption, especially since Chris revealed that no one on their side of the family knew that Larry had a child. It would also help explain (but not excuse) why Jeremiah’s birth mother didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

If you’re curious about the timeline, Jeremiah Raber was born in January of 1980. According to the information he has shared, Jeremiah was taken from his mother in the fall of 1980. He was adopted by an Amish family in the summer of 1981, probably in July. Sheila stabbed and killed Larry on December 21, 1981.

Return To amish Jeremiah Raber's dad Lawrence Larry Hiltabidel

Details about the murder of Jeremiah Raber’s dad

According to The Akron Beacon Journal articles featured on Return To Amish, Larry, Sheila, Larry’s father, and Larry’s brother went to “the Golden Spike, a Clinton bar, for drinks and to play some electronic games” on December 21, 1981.

Larry’s father dropped the couple off at their home at 9:45PM. Larry reportedly left, but was back less than 15 minutes later. It was very soon after his return that Sheila stabbed Larry once in the chest.

“Deputies were called by a neighbor after Hiltabidel staggered to the neighbor’s house,” The Akron Beacon Journal reported two days later. “Clinton firefighters said he was conscious on the way to the hospital and several times asked them to open the doors because he could not breathe.”

24-year-old Lawrence Hiltabidel died at at Barberton Citizens Hospital at 11:52PM on December 21.

“We don’t know for sure what led up to the stabbing,” said detective Roy E. Mosley. “We have only bits of the story now and we are working on the details.”

Sheila had three children (ages 9, 8, and 5) at the time. They look to be from a previous relationship, and they were reportedly not at the home when Larry was stabbed.

The Akron Beacon Journal revealed that both Larry and Sheila were unemployed at the time of his death. From the paper’s initial article about the arrest:

The Hiltabidels had recently appealed to a Clinton citizens committee organized to help needy families in the village.

“I interviewed the family at their home and they seemed to get along well,” said committee chairman Ned Ledbetter. “The children were beautiful.

“We gave them enough groceries to last about two weeks, a Christmas tree, decorations and three gifts for each of the children.

“That little one (*******) was a heart-stealer. When we took in the groceries. she said she’d rather have a Christmas tree than something to eat.

“That did it. We got some help from people like Marvin Sullivan, who donated a tree and the Fire-men’s Association, which wrote a $50 check.”

Jeremiah Raber's aunt Sheila Ann Hiltabidel mug shot

Sheila Hiltabidel arrest, conviction and sentencing

Sheila Hiltabidel was arrested and charged with the murder of her husband, Lawrence Hiltabidel. While being held at the Summit County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bond, Sheila was indicted for murder by a grand jury on December 31.

After pleading innocent to the murder charge on January 6, Sheila would later plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter on March 12, 1982. Her plea was entered three days before her trial was scheduled to begin.

Jeremiah shared mug shot photos of Sheila on the show, as part of a folder of documents provided to him by his cousin. “He gave me this ugly picture,” Jeremiah told his Return To Amish co-stars. “Right there. That’s the woman who killed my father.”

Return To Amish Jeremiah Raber's aunt Sheila Hiltabidel, who murdered his dad Larry Hiltabidel

You don’t have to look closely to realize the mug shot photos are not from Sheila’s murder arrest. This arrest was from 1974, which was more than seven years before Sheila killed Larry.

The woman’s age in the mug shot photos lines up with Sheila Hiltabidel’s age at the time, so I assume these are her booking photos from a prior arrest. I’ve been unable to get any additional information.

Sheila Ann Hiltabidel died on May 21, 1986 at the age of 33. Her obituary doesn’t reveal any details about the cause of death, or whether Sheila was still in prison at the time. It merely states that she “passed away Wednesday evening at Barberton Citizens Hospital.”

Jeremiah was able to meet his grandmother (Larry Hiltabidel’s mother) in person in October of 2021. He flew out to Vegas, along with some of his other family members, to celebrate grandma Mona’s birthday.

Return To Amish Season 7 filmed the Florida scenes in June and July of 2021, so it would make sense that Jeremiah meeting his grandmother would have been filmed as well. Tune in for new episodes airing Tuesday nights at 10/9c to find out!

UPDATE – Here’s a preview clip from the Return To Amish Season 7 Premiere in which Jeremiah recounts what he found out about his dad as part of trying to understand why he and his wife, Carmela Raber, have been unable to have a child of their own:

Asa Hawks is a writer and editor for Starcasm. You can contact Asa via Twitter, Facebook, or email at starcasmtips(at)

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