In the mid 1970's a thieving, lying, lazy, scatologically perverted, physically unpleasant, two-bit con man named Jeffrey Don Lundgren decided that his branch of the Mormon church, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (RLDS) had become too liberal, due mainly to the prospect of its allowing female priests. He found a group of like-thinkers in the Independence, MO, area, and formed a splinter group that soon become essentially the Reorganized Church of Jeffrey Don Lundgren of the Latter Day Saints. Lundgren, his wife Alice (to whom he was regularly and serially unfaithful), and a handful of gullible acolytes moved their base of operations to Kirtland, OH. It was there that things began to get out of hand.
Lundgren, with masterful knowledge of the scriptures and no scruples about twisting their meaning to his advantage, became the guru of his small cult of no more than 20 at any given time. Lundgren recruited people who had funds which they were required to turn over, and he had his followers get jobs, the proceeds of which were similarly turned over to him as - as the "prophet" whose role was to interpret the scriptures and lead his people accordingly - he could not be expected to work.
Lundgren, his megalomania growing exponentially, deciding to put on a pony show, both as a means of convincing his chumps that he was willing to follow the scriptures - of which he was the sole interpreter - and as a means of inducing fear, advised the group that his bible commanded him to kill the wicked, who, in this case, consisted of members Dennis and Cheryl Avery and their three children. The Avery's wickedness consisted of having run out of money and of being kind of uncool, socially awkward people whom Lundgren didn't like and who were scorned by the others. So, while espousing God's will, he, with considerable help from other of the cult members, killed them.
By then, things were getting hot for the group, so Lundgren - who was by then calling himself "God of the whole earth" - decided to relocate the group who spent some months in a federal forest in West Virginia. It was during this stretch that Lundgren reported to Alice, who enthusiastically suffered his whims and exhorted the others to do the same, that he had had a dream in which God had shown him a woman's vagina, and that "God had ordered him to find this vagina." In pursuit of this goal as well as to strip them of their `rebellious pride', Lundgren decided that four of the women in camp - women whose husbands were also there and whose marriages Lundgren had commanded - were going to have "to humble themselves by performing a striptease in front of the `God of the whole earth.'" Neither Alice nor Tonya, whom Lundgren had taken from her husband as his second wife, would have to perform. The command was as follows: "While each woman was dancing naked in front of him, Jeffrey would masturbate and ejaculate his semen into each woman's panties, which he said was `the same as Christ shedding his blood.' After he had `soiled' each woman's panties with semen, he would hand them back and she would be required to wear them the rest of the day. This would fulfill verse 11, which said that the women were to `gird their loins in sackcloth.'
"Jeffrey said that he would be `loaded down' with the sins of the group after the dances. He would ride the ATV up to the mountaintop, where he would meet God and be purified by His presence. The group's sins would then be wiped clean."
While it is clearly open to interpretation as to who was actually loaded down with what, and of what his followers actually needed to be wiped clean, the completely amazing thing is that the group, in a kind of "Well, sure, if that's what God says" mode, bought it.
Though by this time fear was one of the motivators, I found it astounding that throughout Lundgren's reign as lord and master, from Ohio on, the cult members, educated people many of whom had had responsible jobs, went along with everything this sleazy thief and con-man said; commands that anyone with a lick of sense would have found ludicrous beyond an instant's consideration.
The book is PROPHET OF DEATH by Pete Early, and it is magnificent. Early is an outstanding writer and his book is in the finest tradition of true crime. There are no author's asides, no fiction, and no melodrama, the inherent drama in the story being more than sufficient. There is no filler, no repetition. The trials are handled economically with no tedious copying of trial transcripts. The policemen's roles are presented so that they add to the overall quality, but we never hear about what they are wearing, that they chain smoke, how many cups of cold coffee litter their desks, that they are gruff but lovable, or any of the other touchstones of weakly written true crime.
And the research is so thorough, so deep and wide, that it deserves special mention.
The ultimate praise I can give this excellent book is, I was unaware of the writer's presence until I had finished the book and reflected on what a superior job Early had done.
PROPHET OF DEATH is absolute, top of the line, must read true crime for any fan of the genre.