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Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood Atonement Killings [Kindle Edition]

Pete Earley

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Book Description

A true account of the crimes of "prophet" Jeffrey Lundgren describes how the fanatical preacher used his hypnotic oratory and his twisted interpretations of religious texts to justify the excesses of his church–perversion, sexual slavery, and human sacrifice.

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Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1993 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Pete Earley, Inc.; 1.0 edition (18 Jan. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #407,629 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The better of the two books written about the Lundgren case 11 Sept. 2003
By Vibiana - Published on
I own both of the books about Jeffrey Lundgren, and this one is by far better than the quick-and-dirty "Kirtland Massacre" by Sasse and Widder. It goes into a great more detail and is far less scattered.
I knew the Avery family, all five of them, from the time Dennis and Cheryl started attending the same RLDS congregation as my family in the early 1970s, up through the early 1980s, when they changed congregations for the more conservative one where they met Lundgren. I remember when each of the three Avery daughters were born, and one of the things I was surprised to read about in this book was Jeffrey Lundgren's assertion that Cheryl Avery "wore the pants" in their marriage. That is definitely not how I remember them. Dennis Avery may have been something less than Clint Eastwood in the manliness department, but Cheryl Avery was a very dutiful and submissive wife in my memory, although one could concede that it's a child's memory.
In January 1990, I called my parents at the time the news broke about the identities of the bodies found in Kirtland. My mother made a statement to the effect that Dennis and Cheryl Avery had always been very trusting and rather naive, as well as easily led, which had finally resulted in tragedy.
Jeffrey Lundgren was not alone in his criticisms of the RLDS Church (now known as the Community of Christ) in the 1970s and 1980s, nor in his decision to leave it and form his own group. I grew up in Independence, Missouri, the world headquarters of the Church, and I saw the severe conflict and split that resulted from the 1984 revelation permitting women to become ordained in the church. The Church saw something like 40 percent of its membership break completely away and form smaller fundamentalist groups which clung to the traditionalist views most RLDS were familiar with.
My father, an elder in the church for many years, feels that the real issue in 1984 wasn't the ordination of women but the issue of continuing education that rankled most male priesthood members. The president of the RLDS Church at the time of the 1984 revelation was very committed to the idea of lifelong learning for priesthood members. The RLDS Church doctrine is very much centered in divine revelation, and a lot of longtime priesthood members felt they had no need of education once they were ordained -- that God would provide whatever knowledge or discernment they needed.
In my opinion, that doctrinal emphasis on divine revelation is a lot of the reason why Jeffrey Lundgren could come to power among a group of people. When you belong to a religion that encourages you to believe that God speaks through his ordained clergy, how easy is it to dispute what is said?
Although we grew up in the same town, I did not know Jeffrey Lundgren; he was fifteen years older than me and went to a different congregation of the RLDS Church. However, in the couple of years following my graduation from high school in the early 1980s, my circle of acquaintances included Richard Brand, Shar Olson, and Greg Winship, three of the people who were involved in the Lundgren group at one time or another. Shar got away before the Averys were killed. Greg and Richard are in prison, probably for life, and since I recall them, in high school and during their young adult years, as having been two extremely respectable, conscientious and honorable young men, the ease with which they were recruited into their roles as accomplices to the slaughter of five human beings almost defies my ability to understand.
I agree with those who have written that this book is extremely disturbing in its descriptions of Jeffrey Lundgren's actions and their aftermath. I have visited the website of the author, Pete Earley, and noted that he feels, in the years since writing "Prophet of Death," that including some of the more grisly details was a mistake. However, for me they were simply confirmation of how desperately Jeffrey Lundgren needs to never be allowed to breathe a free breath again.
This is an excellent book, and I cannot think of a single comment against it.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings 28 April 2004
By Daniel L. Wheeler - Published on
This is the first `true crime,' that I've read in about four years. The research was impeccable .... the writing excellent [although there was a tendency to use too many articles]. Most books are slanted by the author to grind their hidden agendas into your psyche. This book is a pleasant exception. Although a bit too long, you are properly introduced to the main characters of the cult. Only problem? The graphic descriptions of Lundgren's possible rectum-retentive sexuality triggered my vomit reflex machine. It's a great read ... I couldn't put it down and finished reading the book in two days with sore eyes.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Soooo crazy... 25 Aug. 2003
By S. Pactor - Published on
This book documents the "Mormon Blood Atonement" killing that took place in Kirtland, Ohio during the 80's. Kirtland, of course, is the sight of the original Mormon Temple built by Smith and Sidney Rigdon.
I should say that I read Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven", which deals with the same subject, so I may compare the two during the review.
The MOST interesting part of this book is that it takes you inside the Reorganized Latter Day Saints, a "splinter" faction of Mormonism that stayed behind in the Mid West when the Mormons trekked to Utah with Brigham Young. The RLDS (as it's called) is headquartered in Missouri. It's prophet was(at the time of this book) a lineal descent of Joe Smith. The chruch is also notable because it rejected polygamy (one of the main doctrinal reasons it split from the larger church.
Jeffrey Lundgren is the "prophet" at the heart of this book. He is one sick twist. I'm not going to get into it here, but this book is an NC-17 type of story. Do not read this if you are faint of heart!
Early has a news-papery writing style that fits the subject matter. His sourcing for the tale is outstanding. He managed to interview most, if not all, of the major players.
Unlike Krakauer, Early doesn't cut away from the action to full chapters about the history of Mormonism. His focus is tight on the story. As a result, you do get a fuller picture of Jeffrey Lundgren, but I believe that Early let the RLDS off the hook. Lundgren worked as a tour guide for the RLDS in Kirtland for several years as he assembled together his cult. The back drop to the story is the split in the RLDS between church "liberals", who voted in the '80's to allow women to be ordained in the church, and fundamentalists (like Jeffrey) who wanted to keep things old school.
I believe all of Jeffrey's followers were RLDS members who would describe themselves as "fundamentalist".
I'd have to say this book is just a touch "much" for most people. Fans of true crime or Mormon extremism will be tickled, however, I really can't emphasis enough how dirty this book gets, so you have been warned!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read, 50-Star, True Crime 5 Jan. 2012
By Dan Bogaty - Published on
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.
16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh My! What a Bizarre Story 14 April 2004
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
This is a horror story worthy of anything Stephen King could write. Tragically, it is not fiction. Jeffrey D. Lundgren and his followers in Kirtland, Ohio, former members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, renamed in 2001 the Community of Christ, killed in cold blood the Avery family on April 17, 1989, and buried their bodies in the floor of a barn. They then went into West Virginia "to see God." Not until a rainy morning the next January did the police, acting on a tip from one of the group's disenchanted members, learn about the murders. A search for Lundgren's group took place and within a short time they had all either been captured or turned themselves in to law enforcement authorities. Lundgren was tried for murder and sentenced to death in Ohio in September 1990; many of his followers were also given lengthy prison sentences.
Indeed, "Prophet of Death" is a unique, interesting, and distressing book.
Its story really begins in 1969 with the attendance of Lundgren at Central Missouri State University where he met his wife and accomplice in these crimes. It recites their life together for the next fifteen years: a rocky marriage, religious conservatism in the Reorganized Church, inability to earn a livelihood, and sexual misconduct of the most perverse nature.
It then discusses the Lundgrens' move to Kirtland, where they worked as volunteer guides at the Kirtland Temple and built a following of unhappy Reorganized Church members, which eventually became a cult. Finally, it recites the history of the cult that Lundgren headed and the events before and after the Averys' murders. Peter Earley, a journalist, conducted many hours of interviews with people who were involved in the case, and his research is illuminating. I doubt that any other investigator will be able to uncover much more of interest about it. He also tells a good story, and the fifty-six chapters read quickly, even if it is a shocking account.
As a narrative of events about the case, this is a useful work. Even if readers are already aware of the primary facts of the Lundgren affair, the book will enlighten much further. Most probably will agree with one person who is quoted in the book as saying that "what he was preaching was simply nuts" (p. 159).
Unfortunately, Earley's work fails to satisfy. While his narrative is fast-paced, it never gets at the central question of why these events took place. There is almost no context for how and why Lundgren twisted theological conceptions into bizarre expressions. While there is mention of the difficulties within the Reorganized Church over women's ordination, there is little appreciation of that as a symptom of larger problems and their significance for the membership.
There is also no understanding whatsoever of the church's history and the various factions of Mormonism. He consistently, for example, uses the term "Mormon" in reference to the Reorganized Church in spite of that term's clear identification with the Latter-day Saint movement based in Utah. He refers to blood atonement, as well, but there is no explanation or even an appreciation of its historical and theological evolution. I should add that blood atonement has never been any part of any aspect of the Reorganization, and Lundgren even improperly used the term to describe his actions when compared to nineteenth-century doctrine. There is definitely a need for an explanation of how and why such a grotesque contortion of church history and theology could take place.
"Prophet of Death" also has numerous errors of fact. Even relatively small facts are incorrectly reported. For instance, the year that the Avery family's bodies were discovered is incorrect on the dust jacket. I recognize that errors creep into books in a variety of ways, but the overbearing weight of them makes me question the author's attention to detail. In addition, many readers will deplore the complete lack of references and the reliance of the author on interviews, sometimes with unspecified individuals. That is not an uncommon complaint. The fine work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in "All the President's Men" could be criticized on similar grounds. Like that earlier work in investigative journalism, it may not have been possible to write Prophet of Death without confidential interviews, but I would like to know the sources. The author also uses pseudonyms for some individuals in the book to protect their privacy. While the reasons for this decision were undoubtedly weighed carefully and probably made perfect sense in our litigant society, I lament this aspect of contemporary nonfiction writing. Earley also did not bother to include an index for this book, an absolute must for any work of nonfiction.
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