Sep 24, 2023

History: Faith healer caused national stir, attracting deluge of people seeking mystic cure

Tracy Conrad
Special to The Desert Sun
September 24, 2023

First in a trickle and then in a flood, they came from everywhere to see Avak Hagopian. The arrival in the desert in May 1947 of the young, bearded, Armenian mystic, faith-healer caused a national stir and an unprecedented torrent of visitors to the desert. The newspaper reported, “They are coming into this village on foot, by bus, train, rattle trap automobiles and trucks and in brand new shining automobiles ….”

“And the drift of those with chronic ailments, ranging from professed attacks of just plain and unexplained ‘spells’ to stretcher cases with suffering paralytic victims, can be seen on the streets of Palm Springs. They come from all walks of life like the miner ‘with coal dust in his lungs,’ to the lawyer with a thirty year pain in his right ear; the clerk who said: ‘I have back trouble,’ and the jewel-bedecked matron who stepped from her chauffeur-driven limousine and had to stand in line like the others to await her turn before Avak, The Great, who has declared that he cares naught for money and the ‘poor unto him are not unlike the rich.’”

But he’d come from the other side of the world at the request of one of the very, very rich.

Krikor Arakelian, a native of Turkish Armenia, arrived in the San Joaquin Valley of California in 1895 as a penniless 12-year-old boy and had grown exceedingly wealthy.

Arakelian began his farming operations before World War I and owned three wineries at the time prohibition went into effect. When prohibition was repealed in 1933 he controlled 1,000,000 gallons of the 12,000,000 available in the country. He built his winery’s capacity up to 10,500,000 gallons by 1945.

Arakelian amassed a fortune estimated at $25,000,000. He owned vast acreage of grape vineyards and melon fields in the most fertile farmland in the world. He maintained a 1,500-acre ranch in Madera County and a home in San Francisco, and quite naturally, a home in Palm Springs. He was widely known for his philanthropic and patriotic enterprises, purchasing more than $2,000,000 in war bonds during World War II.

Arakelian’s son Vaughn had been in an accident at age 9 and suffered epilepsy secondary to the head trauma. Finding no relief for his child despite prodigious searching and spending, Arakelian was desperate.

Avak Hagopian had been in Tehran working as a goldsmith when he was struck by a vision from the divine indicating that he could heal with his hands. News of his miraculous powers spread throughout the Middle East and tore through the Armenian community in Southern California.

Arakelian paid for Hagopian's flight from Cairo to the United States. The Associated Press covered each step of the long journey to the American desert. Hagopian’s arrival in Los Angeles was even covered by Pathe in a newsreel.

The Los Angeles Times reported his arrival in Palm Springs, “Avak appeared at the door of the airliner. The faintest trace of a smile flickered across his delicate, olive-tinted face as he stopped and surveyed the mob. He wore a black, hooded cape gathered at the neck by a hand-beaten silver chain and circular buckles. Beneath the cape he wore a brown cassock of coarse weave. Black trouser cuffs extending below the cassock fell on green suede shoes. He wore no jewelry. Beneath Avak’s hood, one could see a hairnet holding his shoulder-length black hair, faintly streaked with silver. His most striking features were his silky, curly beard and his darting eyes that fairly danced with excitement as he talked.” Some likened his appearance to that of Christ.

With the publicity, throngs of the sick and the afflicted deluged the city, puddling around the Arakelian estate, (previously owned by heiress Barbara Hutton,) on the corner of Via Miraleste and Tamarisk Road. “There was one blind woman, a young epileptic, a hunchback man whose speech faltered and others whose hands trembled with palsy,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

The sleepy village struggled under the influx to provide accommodations for all the visitors. Despite the torrent, Hagopian limited himself to “healing” 60 persons per day, five days per week. As more and more people inundated the city, peddlers and patients flooded the streets.

Palm Springs was swamped. The St. Louis Post Dispatch Sun noted, “Cocktail bars and eating-houses could not keep up with the custom. Little carts appeared in the streets. Peddlers sold hot dogs, hamburgers, Eskimo pies and even water by the glass. People sweltered and some fainted. Police had to forbid the pitching of tents. Street pollution became a problem. The police chief had to call in his reserves, bring back his men from vacations."

Arakelian expressed dismay about the crowds, pleading with the press to tell people to stay away from Palm Springs until he could see whether “Avak has real healing ability.” He despaired “we ourselves do not know anything about him except what we read in reports from Iran.” But patients continued to stream into town as Hagopian’s fame swelled.

Hot weather arrived in June and Hagopian announced he was exhausted and went north to the Armenian community in Fresno. He had laid hands on some 8,000 people prior to escaping the heat.

By September, he staged three events at the gigantic Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and appeared at the Armenian Apostolic Holy Cross Church on 20th Street in “a spectacle that stunned church officials.”

“The raven-haired healer strode rapidly toward the entrance as the crowd pressed in around him. Children cried as parents reached to rescue them from falling underfoot. Uniformed policemen held back the overflow at the door when every available space inside had been filled … those inside the walls of the church pressed en masse toward the guest. Women wept. A grandmother held the picture of her daughter … with a tearful and unheard petition. Intent middle-aged men and women disregarded comfort and courtesy in a frantic effort to reach the dais. Believers stood on the church benches to watch him pass, many of them wailing hysterically and pleading for his blessings.”

Rumors began that Hagopian would establish a “faith healing institute” in Los Angeles, sponsored by several prominent businessmen including Tatos Kardashian, the great-grandfather of the reality TV stars, who pledged to build a temple. Several Armenian families were involved.

According to biographer Jerry Oppenheimer, Kardashian’s brother-in-law “Issak Shakarian, had made a fortune in the dairy business in Downey, California. His son, Demos … believed in miracles and healings, and in the early sixties would found a global organization for Pentecostal Christian businessmen called the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International."

They planned a special train tour through 34 states and three Canadian provinces and with an entourage of more than one hundred followers, Hagopian traveled across the nation. But when his visa expired, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to extend it. The temple in Los Angeles was never built.

Vaughn returned to his Madera home, uncured. His millionaire vintner father, unable to help his afflicted son, died in 1951. After the cross-country trip, interest in Hagopian waned. He was arrested in Florida for over-staying his visa and after all the splash of publicity, reports say he died in anonymity in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Tracy Conrad is president of the Palm Springs Historical Society. The Thanks for the Memories column appears Sundays in The Desert Sun. Write to her at

Private jets, prison vans and Palmy: Inside the world of a last-minute Brethren national gathering

The Post

Craig Hoyle

September 23, 2023


Thousands of Exclusive Brethren dropped everything and flocked to Palmerston North this week, following a last-minute directive from the secretive sect’s world leader.

Brethren schools were suddenly closed, Brethren workers packed up and walked away from a trade fair in Auckland, and airports became a hive of activity as members rushed to attend meetings on Wednesday and Friday with Bruce Hales, who flew in from Sydney on a private jet.

Sources told the Sunday Star-Times that many members only learnt of the special meetings on Tuesday, giving them less than 24 hours to make arrangements - with costs running into the thousands for an average family.

Leaked documents suggest there has been turmoil within the Brethren in New Zealand, and former members said they suspected Hales was trying to re-assert his control.

The directive caused unprecedented scenes across New Zealand, as the sect’s approximately 8000 members spanning Kaitaia to Invercargill scrambled to comply; charter flights were put on, and the national air network came under pressure, though Air NZ said it was unable to comment on operational matters involving specific groups.

A number of Brethren also arrived on planes flown by Originair, a regional airline operating from Nelson. Fleets of buses were deployed to ferry Brethren between the airport and the sect’s $17-million compound on Johnstone Drive, completed in 2020; a reporter at the scene also observed Brethren being transported in vans usually used to move prisoners.

“There’s a lot of last-minute panicking,” said former Brethren member Peter Hart, describing how everyone in the sect was expected to drop everything when Hales visited.

“Generally, everyone over the age of five or eight is expected to attend, depending on the venue … It theoretically wasn’t compulsory, but if you did say no then it was suspected that you had doubts about Bruce Hales, and you would get talked about.”


Hart, who was excommunicated from the Brethren in 2020 for questioning Hales’ leadership, said the Palmerston North occasion was “particularly unusual” as members were usually informed at least a week or two in advance of such meetings.

“In the past you did get more warning, and they made sure that Brethren businesses were left with enough employees at home to stay open. But it seems this time some businesses have been forced to close.”

Sources inside the Brethren described shock and panic as thousands of members put their lives on hold.

“It’s just cruel,” said one insider, in comments posted to a private messaging forum for discussion about Brethren events.

Another current Brethren member described how a number of young families were “barely hanging on” trying to comply with church rules.


Professor Peter Lineham, a religious studies expert with decades of experience researching the Brethren movement, said sudden changes were key to maintaining control in a closed environment.

“Shock revelations are usually pretty successful at knocking people into shape, and fast moves work to the great advantage of the leader.”

Lineham added that the New Zealand Brethren had always been outliers when it came to following rules set down by the sect’s international leaders, and often “just played along”.

“If he [Bruce Hales] saw any signs of independence coming from New Zealand … he might regard it as a very significant threat.”

Leaked Brethren documents show Hales has been particularly upset by recent reports of drinking on meeting room grounds, which he described as “the bringing of alcohol in a covert, clandestine, secretive way into the precincts of the assembly”.

In relation to the New Zealand Brethren in particular, Hales said the devil was “trying to undermine the standard, trying to deceive the saints”.

In June, a letter circulated to all assemblies addressed “universal concern” about Brethren engaging in activities such as “overnight trips to other countries for pleasure”, “staying or camping overnight on islands, hotels, and other accommodation venues where there are no Brethren, including honeymooning”, and “travelling without reference to responsible persons locally”.

The letter, which was leaked to journalists and former members, came with an instruction to “destroy after reading”.


This letter, leaked from inside the Brethren, shows how leaders were concerned about members engaging in unapproved activities.

Early reports suggested Hales took a more conciliatory tone in Palmerston North, telling thousands of gathered Brethren that there was a need for “genuine care and compassion”.

Multiple sources told the Sunday Star-Times there had been a rolling feeling of discontent among the Brethren in New Zealand, and Hart said Hales had likely been rattled by the emergence of the Get A Life podcast series on YouTube, where dozens of former members have shared their stories.

“It’s causing a whole lot of unrest, which I think is possibly what this occasion is about.”

Lindy Jacomb, another former Brethren member, who left the sect in 2008, agreed the sudden gathering in Palmerston North was “unprecedented”, and said she wondered “if there’s something more challenging afoot”.

Jacomb is the founder of Olive Leaf Network, a newly-established charity to support those seeking to leave high-demand religious groups in Aotearoa.

“We’ve got a greater understanding now of coercive control and emotional abuse within domestic settings, but we’ve still got a long way to go to understand group coercive control,” said Jacomb.

“Olive Leaf Network hopes to stand in that gap so we can both support leavers directly ourselves, but also so that we can upskill and liaise with others who can support leavers.”

The network connects with five to 10 new people a week, “and many of those people are connected with the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church”, Jacomb said, using the name by which the Exclusive Brethren now describe themselves.

Doug Watt, a senior elder and spokesperson for the Brethren, said members had been attending a bible conference in Palmerston North to “study the scriptures, worship and enjoy fellowship together”.

“The church regularly organises conferences known as fellowship meetings for church members so they can get together to learn more about the Bible and enjoy each other’s company, however, due to the Covid situation, this has not been possible again until recently,” Watt said.

“We have a lot of younger members who enjoy getting together at these fellowship occasions to meet up with their friends, family, fellow Brethren and participate in the sessions.”

Watt described the Brethren as a “mainstream Christian church”, although that characterisation was disputed by former members.

“Many of the Brethren’s core doctrines are not aligned with generally-held Christian orthodoxies, such as their extreme ‘separation from the world’,” said Jacomb, describing the Brethren doctrine of avoiding social contact with non-members.

“As we speak, I’ve just found out that my beloved nana, who was a Brethren member, but who did secretly maintain contact with me, has passed away, and I am currently waiting to find out whether the Brethren will allow me and my other ‘out’ relatives to attend her funeral and graveside service.”

Lineham said Hales could be taking a cautious approach due to the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry, which has interviewed dozens of former Brethren members and is expected to deliver its report in March next year.

However, Lineham added, a conciliatory tone from Hales would not necessarily be enough to staunch the sect’s losses, and it was possible a period of turmoil lay ahead.

“A rebellion from the New Zealand Brethren would be most interesting to watch.”

Additional reporting by Alecia Rousseau.

- Sunday Star Times


Sep 22, 2023

From Victim To Victor: How Jessica Joan's Takedown Of Sex Cult NXIVM Led Her To Self-Discovery


Jessica Joan is retelling her story of how she helped dismantle a sex cult through her new book, "The Untouchable Jessica Joan: The Downfall of NXIVM."


Evie Magazine

Nicole Dominique

September 22, 2023


It's been three years since Keith Raniere, the notorious leader of the NXIVM sex cult, was sentenced to 120 years for sex trafficking and other crimes. One of the most unsettling elements of his organization was the hidden sisterhood within it known as DOS, an acronym for Dominus Obsequious Sororium: "Master Over the Slave Women." DOS members found themselves entangled in a web of secrecy, manipulation, and abuse, echoing the experiences of those like Jessica Joan.

Like millions of young, vulnerable women, Jessica deeply desired to heal the wounds of her traumatic childhood. She began with a personal development course – the Executive Success Program (ESP) – which promised to unlock the full potential of its participants. It was a mix between Landmark seminars and NLP, with a touch of Scientology. The seemingly perfect opportunity was brought to her by her friend, whose prominent clients included actress India Oxenberg and her mother, Catherine Oxenberg, and Mark Vicente, producer and director of What the Bleep Do We Know!? She witnessed the presentation on ESP at her friend's house, where she encountered Vicente, who further influenced her to sign up. Jessica put a deposit down and paid around $4,000 for the five-day course (the full program consists of 16 days).

Jessica and her best friend allowed themselves to be vulnerable during the curriculum in August 2016. It was transformative. It was healing. With the presence of other members, there was a sense of belonging. This was the community she had been longing for, and she was ready for the entire course. Eventually, Jessica journeyed to NXIVM's headquarters in Albany to finish the program in its entirety. It was around this time that she became acquainted with the infamous Keith Raniere and Smallville star Allison Mack.

Things were looking bright. Jessica grew closer to India, who later recruited her to "DOS." The women's secret society was sold to her as a mentorship group unrelated to NXIVM, but it would be far from what it seemed. To gain entry, Jessica had to submit three pieces of collateral – compromising material that could be used against her. Little did she know that her vulnerability and personal disclosures during the courses would be leveraged against her by the people she trusted the most.

Jessica went back to LA when she was finished with the program. Her acting and modeling career was going well for her. Despite this, she still felt empty. Mack asked her to consider moving to Albany permanently to focus on her "healing journey," and Raniere texted her about starting a T-shirt business together. She saw these as opportunities to improve herself rather than working tirelessly. So, she moved to Albany.

Everything seemed fine for a while, until Jessica faced a daunting proposition from her coach-turned-friend Allison, who she later learned was deeply embedded in NXIVM. The actress gave Jessica a call. She filled her mind with praise about how much she's grown: You've been so amazing. Everybody loves you. You fit right in. Then, came the startling proposal: Jessica was asked to seduce Raniere and provide a naked image of herself as proof. It was then that Jessica realized she was manipulated into joining a sex cult. "I lose my breath for a second," she recalled. "And the walls just start spinning and melting. Because prior to that, I was from LA, and I had this persona and this good reputation, and people knew that I moved to Albany thinking I was doing some humanitarian stuff."

"And the worst nightmare, the most cliche thing that could happen to me, was accidentally joining a cult and the leader wanting to sleep with me," Jessica tells me.

But Jessica didn't run away immediately – because she was determined to bring the cult down. After playing the long game and assisting investigators in arresting Raniere, Jessica is now releasing a new edition of her book The Untouchable Jessica Joan: The Downfall of NXIVM on September 24, 2023. The launch party will celebrate her birthday and raise funds for "The Wolf Project," a non-profit that fights against child sex trafficking. Jessica shares her story of dismantling NXIVM, hope, and self-discovery through her latest work.

Nicole Dominique: We often find celebrities in cults. What attracts these types of people to these organizations? 

Jessica Joan: I feel like at the end of the day, regardless of status, people are people. We're all humans trying to figure it out and find deeper meaning. These kinds of groups definitely are attractive to those individuals because they have the influence to recruit more people. And I think, ultimately, there is good intention when people are seeking that out (when they’re high status) because they want something more. Because if you have everything, but you're not feeling whole within yourself, you're going to be seeking something greater. All the things that you have externally do not matter if you're not internally fulfilled. That’s just most people, generally speaking. Also, anything – even a workplace – can be a cult. A relationship can be a cult. It's all about manipulation, power dynamics, coercion, and control.

ND: It must have been terrifying being an insider. What kept you going?

JJ: Honestly, it's just in my nature, being Filipino. I don't know how much study or connection you have with ancestry, but truthfully, Filipinos are gnarly. Our ancestors have been through a lot of stuff, and it's naturally in us. Maybe not everyone, but it's like the warrior energy inside me. And I think because I experienced a lot of abuse early on as a child. I had to endure life and be resilient. I had to be a survivor. I don't want to say that it was easy, but it was easier for me to navigate that because I knew how to get through things. I knew how to rely on myself and be resourceful. There wasn't anything that was going to stop me. It's like when you view things as life or death, that's really when you're pushed to the limit, and you see what you're capable of. Fortunately, unfortunately, however you want to put it, my life experience is what shaped me to be able to navigate in that way.

ND: Your book, The Untouchable Jessica Joan, resonated with many readers. What was the writing process like? 

JJ: I'm a writer and a poet. So I'd already been journaling in my regular life. But when I was back in LA, I was like, I need to write a book. I knew at some point I needed to share my story. I even had Covid-19 at the time, but I needed to get the book done because Allison Mack’s sentencing was happening. And I knew we needed to get the book out around that timing to utilize that momentum. It was not rushed, but it was, like, this was necessary to get out, and I felt really proud about it. Writing it was a super emotional process, super cathartic, and there was so much healing for me in that process.

The intention of writing it and sharing my story was so it could help other people. Because it’s about my own journey of healing as well as my experience with NXIVM. But at the back of the book, I have the Nine Steps of Transmutation, which are essentially the tools that I found along the way or created or that came upon me. To help transmute my pain back into unconditional love, and it's a gift that I have. It's a gift that I essentially want to help other people have for themselves because anyone can do it; it's just really hard, and it takes a lot of work.

My purpose is to help heal our trauma. If we're to move forward and if we don't deal with the traumas, they're going to manifest in other ways. If you look at society, we're a very sick society. Because most people are sick, whether they realize it or not; it's a spiritual sickness. 

People are overindulging, hooking up with many people, or looking for fulfillment, to fill a void, or to ease their pain. And there's no judgment on anything. I've done a lot of different things – drinking all the time, doing drugs, or being lost in materialism. And so I had to go through my own awakening and came from all those different things and got to the other side. So I'm like, okay, how can I help people also do that for themselves?

By sharing my story, I knew that a lot of people would relate to these things, even talking about uncomfortable things like being sexually abused and being molested. My story is unique, but then it's also not. These are things that happen to people all the time. And so it's almost like, I don't want to say an underdog story, but when people look at me, or they meet me, and if they don't know anything about me and then learn about my life, they’re like, “My God, that's crazy. How are you like this?” That's essentially a big part of my purpose: to help people heal themselves.

ND: What was life like after leaving the organization?

JJ: I had to get back to work. I had to figure it out. I mean, I went to France, and I shot a short film, that was really great. And then, when I came back around November 2018, I was in the crosswalk to go to Swingers (an LA-based diner), and I got hit by a car as a pedestrian. I had a tear in the meniscus in my knee. The other jobs I had prior to that were commercial modeling and acting and working as a bottle service girl – I'm just going to say “hot girl jobs,” but after I got hit by a car, I had a knee brace. I was working at this very fancy Beverly Hills rooftop, not as a cute girl, but basically as a slave to this hotel company. It was so humbling and extremely difficult. I know a lot of people, and a lot of people know me. They’d ask, “What have you been up to?” But how do I explain anything to them after everything? So, I was in isolation. I spent a lot of time with myself and only saw friends that I trusted. 

I was really being protective of myself, and then I went to New York to testify at Keith Raniere's trial as one of the key star witnesses, and it was such a pivotal moment for me. I mean, I honestly wish it was recorded because it was pretty badass, I'm not going to lie. I was wearing all white for one of the days that I was on the stand, and it was just such a crazy experience because it was the same courthouse where they tried El Chapo, and it was super intimidating. So I'm walking into this courtroom, and all these people are just looking at me. Keith is there and the judge. I felt electricity running through my body, and I just had to breathe. I was on defense, they tried to put me in a box and defame my character, but I was prepared for that. But then the FBI agents were like, "Just tell your story. You can talk to the jury as if that's your people." And that's what I did. I just told my truth. I just said what happened, and I didn't realize how emotional it would be when sharing my story, and having so much truth being seen in a huge court. 

But it was really hard after that because I felt like a bunny rabbit who had had her fur ripped off after going back into the world. I just had this very intense, powerful experience that only a few got to witness, and then I had to go back to real life and work in a restaurant just to pay bills while having a bum knee. I got depressed because I gained 30 pounds. Eventually, I had to release that original book. I knew that my story was so important and it had to be told in the right way, and I knew that I had to do it. This book is a new addition to the same story, but I added other things after I had time to process everything, heal, and really get back to myself as an artist, and to have full ownership of it now I've done the necessary healing.

ND: What motivated you to retell your story?

JJ: What gets me up every day and pushes me to do the things that I do is to help other people. Fighting child sex trafficking is something that is so important to me. And my two main pillars of focus are to help women, to help them to remember who they are. They're wild woman nature. They're divine femininity, that's what we are, that's the earth, that's the sisterhood, that's all things.

It's going to be my birthday at the end of September, but I'm going to have my birthday book launch party, and I have a new cover. If you look at the old book cover, it looks like self-help, all smiley – that is not the story. That's not me, but I wasn't fully clear about myself and my messaging. Now I'm just allowing everything to happen organically and to allow everything that's meant to be in my life. It's time for me to share my story with the world and let it fly so I can continue doing what I'm meant to do. It's a really big moment for me on September 24, and I'm doing it all grassroots. I didn't take any investors, and I'm also working and making things happen on many prayers. I'm figuring it out and doing it on my own, essentially. It's like if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, and that's so annoying, but it is what it is.

ND: What made you choose The Wolf Project, and can you tell us a little bit more about them?

JJ: Yes. I'm very passionate about making efforts to end human trafficking, especially child sex trafficking, and I'm very aware of a lot of things that most people aren't aware of in that space. And then with Keith Raniere with NXIVM, technically, the charge they got against him in relation to me was attempted sex trafficking. So it naturally allows me to have a platform to speak on that even though I wasn't trafficked.

I was looking for an organization to work with. I wanted to get involved with aftercare and helping other women with their healing journey in that space. I actually came across this woman, her name is Gabrielle, who I am friends with now. I saw all her videos about baiting predators, and she was really vocal about child sex trafficking. There are other people who are obviously champions in the space, but I just really resonated with her and found that she and I share a very strong passion and intensity for this issue.

So I emailed her and told her I wanted to get involved, and then we just started a friendship. We started talking about how we can help each other, and we built a bond based on a shared purpose. I was planning on doing a launch on my birthday, and I wanted to have the event to give back, so I told her, "Hey, I want to donate a portion of the proceeds (book sales) for this event for the nonprofit." And, of course, she's ecstatic.

Human trafficking is such an important issue, and it's such a heavy topic, and I think that's partly because most people are inherently good, and if you haven't gone through hardships or really deep pain or struggle, it's hard for people to fathom that because it hurts them. So they have cognitive dissonance, and I know that people don't want to hear about it. People don't want to talk about it. They don't want to know. It's too much, and I just feel like, especially at this point in society and in life, that light is being shone on all these things. It's like the Jeffrey Epstein thing, or even with how The Sound of Freedom came out, this has been going on forever.

I've known that I've always had a personal responsibility to be a voice for the things that are not spoken about, where innocent people are being harmed, and now I'm in that space of being ready. And obviously, I've already proven myself through my experience with NXIVM. But it's not to have a badge of honor anything; it's just what drives me to help people and bring truth to light.

If you'd like to learn more about Jessica Joan and her launch party, you can follow her journey on Instagram here.


Sep 21, 2023

‘Soldiers of Christ’ victim suffered during initiation: Police

Liz Jassin
September 21, 2023

DULUTH, Ga. (NewsNation) — Five adults and a 15-year-old who call themselves members of the “Soldiers of Christ” religious group are in custody on murder charges after a woman’s body was found in the trunk of a car parked outside a popular spa in Atlanta’s suburbs.

The woman was allegedly lured to the U.S. from South Korea to join “Soldiers of Christ,” which she believed was a religious organization.

Gwinnett County Police Sgt. Michele Pihera told “Banfield” it’s likely that the victim and the suspects charged “had some sort of connection.”

“We believe that the families knew one another, and that the victim came to the United States in the middle of the summer. … We believe that most of these injuries, and most of what she went through, was a result of the initiation into the ‘Soldiers of Christ,'” Pihera said.

Investigators said that someone reported the discovery last week outside of a Korean spa and sauna in Duluth. Authorities said the killing does not appear to be connected to the spa.

The victim, according to arrest warrants, was starved and beaten for weeks before she eventually died. Her identity has not been released.

Facing charges of felony murder, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence and concealing the death of another are Eric Hyun, 26, of Suwanee; Gawom Lee, 26; Joonho Lee, 26; Juoonhyum Lee, 22; Hyunji Lee, 25, and a 15-year-old, all from Lawrenceville.

Each of them also faces multiple gang-related charges. Under Georgia law, a criminal street gang is “any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in criminal gang activity.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

‘Soldiers of Christ’ beat and starve woman to death, put her in car trunk, GA cops say

Irene Wright
Miami Herald
September 14, 2023

A body found in the trunk of a car parked outside a popular Korean bathhouse revealed abuse and deceit at the hands of a self-proclaimed religious group, Georgia police said.

Police were called to Jeju Sauna in Duluth on Sept. 12 after a 911 caller said there was a body in the trunk of a silver Jaguar parked outside, McClatchy News previously reported.

Inside was the decomposing body of a woman in her 20s or 30s, Gwinnett County police said in a Sept. 14 news release.

Detectives believe 26-year-old Eric Hyun drove the car and parked it in the bathhouse’s parking lot sometime earlier, according to the release.

Hyun then called a family member to come and pick him up and take him to the hospital for what police said are “unrelated injuries.”

While there, Hyun asked the family member to grab an item from the Jaguar, according to the release.

The family member found the body in the trunk and called 911, police said.

Officers and detectives searched a home in Lawrenceville that they said was associated with Hyun and found a bloodied basement floor, according to crime scene photos shared by police.

The woman, who has not been identified pending the notification of her death to her family in South Korea, was lured to the United States sometime over the summer by a group calling themselves the “Soldiers of Christ,” police said in a Sept. 14 news conference streamed by WAGA.

She came to the U.S. intending to join the group, police said in the news conference, but when she arrived she was put in the basement and beaten.

She was starved for weeks, and at the time of her death she weighed just 70 pounds, according to police.

Police said they believe she died sometime in late August, according to the news conference, and was in the trunk of the Jaguar for a few days.

The woman’s official cause of death is still under investigation, but the medical examiner said malnourishment was a “contributing factor to her death,” according to the release.

Hyun was taken into custody in the hospital, police said at the news conference.

Police identified the other members of the Soldiers of Christ that were living at the home, including three brothers.

Gawom Lee, 26, Joonho Lee, 26, Juoonhyum Lee, 22, Hyunji Lee, 25, and a 15-year-old were all taken into custody.

The brothers include two adults and the teenager, and one woman charged is a girlfriend of one of the brothers, police said in the news conference.

Hyun also lived at the home for a period of time, police said, but was not related to the other members of the Soldiers of Christ.

All six religious group members were charged with felony murder, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence and concealing the death of another, police said.

Police said in the news conference they do not believe the family member that found the body is involved, and they have not been charged with a crime.

Police have not found evidence of any other victims, they said in the news conference, and they believe all people involved have been charged.

The investigation is ongoing.

The home is n Lawrenceville, about 15 miles from where the woman’s body was found in Duluth and about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta.

Gordon Monson: LDS polygamy has been ditched in the here and now, but it lives on in the hereafter - unfortunately

Like a scarlet letter “P,” it confronts members on Earth today and spurs questions about heaven tomorrow.

Salt Lake Tribune

Gordon Monson

Septemberp 17, 2023

One of the biggest hurdles for some Latter-day Saints to clear in sealing and stabilizing and solidifying their faith in their church, in the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is … yeah … wait for it … it’s right around the corner … uh-huh … polygamy.

Ah, the biggie, the oldie but goodie, the vexing stumbling block, the long-standing point of contention for modern-minded members who often are troubled by that largely 19th-century practice, and who are bothered by it still because, inside their own logic and sense of propriety, they cannot find a way to justify it, even when the spirit whispers.

Some try. Some apologists have found enough elasticity in their imaginations to stretch to the point of calling it an exception to God’s law, a test of faith from on high, considering it an honorable sacrifice, blah-blah-blah.

Are you buying that?

The practice, the historical record and installation of it, confronts members even now. Here’s one reason why (there are more): When outsiders, friends and neighbors find out they are Latter-day Saints, or “Mormons,” the first notion that beams up on the big screen in their brains is polygamy and everything negative associated with it. Way too many members have heard some iteration of the questions: How many wives do you have? How many wives are in your family? How many wives are too many?

It lives on, like a scarlet letter “P” carved into their foreheads, identifying them with an antiquated concept that most of the faithful don’t and can’t grasp, can’t relate to at all, don’t want to relate to. To them, it’s weird. And yet, it bangs around in pop culture and in history books, tying innocents to days of yore, to chapters of church history that many devout members wish could be erased.

The idea of not just a man marrying more than one woman at a time, but also being encouraged to do so under church teachings, is simply a belief bridge too far, at least for a lot of folks who feel sincerely connected to most of the doctrines, but not to that one.

Never that one, especially when early male Latter-day Saint leaders wedded — and bedded — relative youngsters. And yet it was God’s will?

Celestial sealings

While that significant portion and percentage of today’s Latter-day Saints are wholly uncomfortable with this bit of history, the aforementioned apologists rationalize on reasons for the practice, from saying that Old Testament prophets had their concubines to young women in the 1800s needed shelter and protection provided by adult males to the church population having to grow God’s kingdom. Some even argue polygamy is “necessary,” especially in the afterlife, because there are more “righteous” women than there are “righteous” men, thereby necessitating a leveling of the discrepancy.

None of those theories fully sanitizes the image of a man surrounded by two, three, four or 40 wives.

Why bring this up now, more than a century after the church did away with polygamy, not only ending it but also booting out any members who practiced it? And given that other in-depth stories, including multiple ones written for this publication, have been posted about its effects and implementation?

The reasons are fundamental. First, figuratively, because polygamy never goes away. It’s always there, facing the faithful. And, second, literally, because the church still practices it, still sanctions it, at least theologically — not in a terrestrial manner but in a celestial one.

True, no married men are allowed to pick up an additional bride, say, a Relief Society president here and a Young Women counselor there. There are no approved ceremonies for a married Latter-day Saint man to take on more than one wife at once.

But there are religious rites — called sealings — in church temples in which men can be hitched to more than one woman for all eternity. If a Latter-day Saint man loses his spouse on account of sickness or disease or accident or old age, via any form of death, he can eternally marry another in the temple.

As Latter-day Saints believe all women and men when they die are at some point resurrected to live forever, they also believe relationships will go on, too.

Husbands and wives who are sealed together in a temple on earth are believed to be inalienably attached in the great beyond. Their children also are sealed to them, together forever. It’s a beautiful doctrine, really — the idea that families and family relationships can live on and endure, making partnerships and connections in this life permanent.

The inherent inequity

Here’s the particular problem baked into that promise, one that’s been underscored previously: Men, while they’re alive, can be sealed to more than one woman, but women cannot be sealed to more than one man. (Women can be sealed — posthumously — to two men for eternity, often at the prompting of their children, as long as all parties are deceased. From there, a woman, some believe, would choose in the afterlife which husband to keep.)

So eternal polygamy, which the faith has not deep-sixed, will, according to church doctrine, stand firm in the celestial realm.

This principle has caused difficulties for some temple-married couples who have a serious falling-out and later have to untangle the permanence of their partnership. It is said by some that God understands human imperfections and will find a way, in love and mercy and goodness, to have eternal relationships all work out.

But the church continues to sanction a form of one-day-some-day polygamy — pioneer-prophet Brigham Young was sealed to more than 50 women back in the day, and current church President Russell Nelson is sealed to two today — that some say will blow past limited human understanding of love and romance, transcending into something more profound and meaningful, something liberating even, whatever that might look or be like. Many Latter-day Saint women I know recoil at that prospect, women who simply do not want to share their man, not in heaven, not for a gazillion years and certainly not forever.

None of that means anything to nonmembers, nonbelievers who think all of this is a bunch of baloney.

For a good number of believers, though, the notion that men, at least some of them, can and will have more than one wife is difficult to embrace or accept. The additional teaching that women do not have the same “privilege” is the unbalanced, unequal kicker that makes polygamy not just a strange principle that still haunts the church but also a plainly chauvinistic one.


(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.


gmonson@sltrib.comFollow @GordonMonson

Donate to the newsroom now. The Salt Lake Tribune, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) public charity and contributions are tax deductible


Senators bare Surigao Norte cult involved in rape, marriage of minors

Leonel Abasola

Philippine News Agency

September 19, 2023

MANILA – The Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality has been asked to investigate cases of rape, sexual abuse, forced labor and child marriages by an alleged cult in Socorro, Surigao del Norte.

The reported cult, identified as the Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (SBSI) or Omega de Salonera to its followers, has been made to believe that one Jey Rence "Senior Agila" Quilario is the messiah.

The organization now has 3,650 members, including 1,587 children, based in an enclosed and heavily guarded area on a mountain known as Sitio Kapihan in Socorro town, according to Senate Resolution No. 797 filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros.

"Nakakakilabot ang nabuong kulto sa Surigao. Pero mas nakakakilabot at nakakagalit ang mga kaso ng panggagahasa, pananakit, at pilit na pagkakasal na ginawa sa mga menor de edad (The cult that was formed in Surigao is terrifying. But the cases of rape, torture, and forced marriages committed against minors are even more horrifying and infuriating). We must put an end to this. As chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women and Children, and as a mother, I ask us not to allow this monstrosity to continue," Hontiveros said.

Senator Ronald Dela Rosa filed a similar resolution after receiving a letter from Socorro Mayor Riza Rafonselle Timcang requesting for a Senate probe into an alleged shabu laboratory in their island town and the presence of heavily-armed private army dubbed as "Agila" supported by extremist groups in Southern Mindanao.

Dela Rosa likewise received information from Socorro residents that a certain Rosalina Taruc, an official of SBSI, was killed in 2021 while her daughter, former mayor Denia Florano, “mysteriously died” eight days later. 

According to direct and first-hand testimonies gathered by Hontiveros’ office, Quilario sexually abuses and commits violence against minors, including rape, facilitating marriages of children as young as 12 years old with adults, and locking adolescents in rooms where sexual activities happen, among others.

Hontiveros said she has received information that the cult is recruiting minors from Metro Manila while eight children ran away managed to escape in July.

The children's parents, who are still part of the cult, were asked to file petitions for habeas corpus in order to recover the minors from the local government.

Hontiveros also revealed that members of the cult are forced to surrender to Quilario some of their social welfare benefits, such as from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, senior citizen pension and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations.

Meanwhile, in a radio interview, SBSI vice president Mamerto Galanida denied the allegations and said they are prepared to face investigations.

Galanida said the allegations are “fabricated lies.” (PNA)


Sep 20, 2023

Residents of Richmound worry as cult leader settles in


Residents of Richmound, Sask., are concerned that a cult is setting up a presence in their village.

The leader, “Queen Romana Didulo,” claims to be the rightful queen of Canada, promises people their bills will forgiven and asks for money as she travels in motorhomes and buses to meet online followers across the country.

Groups that investigate hate crimes say she has capitalized on “Q-Anon” style tactics and has called for violence against health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week she and her followers were escorted by RCMP out of Kamsack, Sask., near the Manitoba border, after residents there protested the presence of the group.

On Monday, residents of Richmound, 100 kms northeast of Medicine Hat, reported that distinctive vehicles were in the village and a number of people were setting up fencing around the village’s former school.

Several residents of the village of 188 people told the News on Tuesday they are very concerned about the group.

“This is one hour away from Medicine Hat, and I’m not happy,” said one longtime resident, who the News is not identifying.

“We don’t need nut jobs like this in the area. People are (very mad).”

Media outlets in Saskatchewan first reported the encampment Monday, stating RCMP were monitoring the situation, but the vehicles were on private property.

The group gained national attention last August while protesting outside a police station in Peterborough, Ont., and several people were arrested for attempting to themselves “arrest” members of that city’s police force.


Sep 16, 2023

Out of Body Experiences

"Some of the groups I've studied and worked with have elements of out of body experience.

These dissociative events are then labeled as significant and proof of the validity of the teachings. This combination of mindset and setting creates a powerful combination of experience and belief which may lead an acolyte to increasing commitment." - Joseph Kelly

EDITORIAL: LDP's past ties with Unification Church need to be out in the open


Asahi Shimbun

September 16, 2023


At a news conference following his latest Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government was in the final stage of considering whether to seek a court order to disband the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Such a request should be based on evidence gathered through the education ministry’s exercise of its right to question the scandal-tainted religious group, as well as interviews with victims of the church’s dubious activities and business practices.

We wonder if the prime minister realizes it will be essential for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to scrutinize its long-standing relationship with the Unification Church and sincerely reflect on its past ties with the group to truly “break away.” 

The new Cabinet lineup includes four LDP lawmakers who admitted to having ties to the church in the party’s own survey of its members’ standing with the group last fall.

Masahito Moriyama, the newly appointed education minister, and Minoru Kihara, the new minister of defense, attended meetings of organizations linked to the church and delivered speeches and lectures.

Junji Suzuki, the minister of internal affairs and communications, sent a congratulatory telegram to an event held by a church-affiliated organization and paid a participation fee for the function. Environment Minister Shintaro Ito also paid a membership fee to an organization linked to the church.

At news conferences after taking office, all four Cabinet members claimed they had broken off all ties to these organizations.

It appears the prime minister did not question the lawmakers about the matter when he picked them for the Cabinet posts.

Kishida has said the appointments were made on the assumption they no longer had any ties with the religious organization. This is because the LDP, after the survey, took steps to ensure its members no longer had anything to do with the group.

But the LDP’s “review” of the matter was insufficient, given that it was based on reports from the members themselves and left many key questions unasked.

After last year’s Cabinet reshuffle, Kishida was effectively forced to sack Daishiro Yamagiwa, who had been reappointed as state minister in charge of economic revitalization, due to new revelations about his ties with the church.

Kishida should have screened the candidates for Cabinet posts in advance to check their links with the church. In particular, a rigorous background check should have been done on any candidate for the education ministry portfolio, who oversees asking for a court order to dissolve the organization.

Kishida decided to allow Koichi Hagiuda, who is believed to have developed deep relations with the church in the past, to remain in the key party post of policy chief. This decision indicates Kishida only focused on stabilizing his government’s political power base. Hagiuda received volunteer support from the church for his election campaigns and attended a meeting of a church-affiliated group.

What is especially surprising is that Kishida was considering appointing Hagiuda as chief Cabinet secretary, a post that would have made him the government’s top official in charge of communicating the administration’s policies and actions to the public. This suggests Kishida blithely believes the party has already put its relationship with the religious organization behind it.

But neither the role played by the late Shinzo Abe, the slain former prime minister who is said to have distributed votes from the church among LDP candidates, nor the shady circumstances surrounding the government’s permission for the body’s name change, have yet been clarified.

If the party is serious about reflecting on the fact it effectively endorsed the church, it cannot afford to sweep this past under the rug. After all, the church has been embroiled in serious social issues problems. Not only that, the government used it for election campaigns.

Even if the Kishida administration decides to request a court order to dissolve the church, that action alone will not mean the LDP has come to terms with the past and taken responsibility for its  mistakes.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 16


Misguided: My Jesus Freak Life In a Doomsday Cult

Misguided: My Jesus Freak Life In a Doomsday Cult  by Perry Bulwer

A unique first-hand account of a life spent in the Children of God, a/k/a The Family, a millenarian doomsday sex cult under the sway of a charismatic leader, David Berg.

In 1972, Perry Bulwer, a naive 16-year-old growing up in Port Alberni, a mill town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, dropped out of high school to run away with the Children of God, one of a number of millennial Christian cults that sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s. Soon, Perry was preaching the cult's doomsday message on the streets of some of the largest cities in the world.

Bulwer takes the reader on an extraordinary trip through the world of biblical literalism, fundamentalist endtime fantasies, paranormal spirituality, evangelical extremism, ritual abuse, and liberally interpreted biblical teachings that were used to justify licentious sexual doctrines, evangelical prostitution, and child sexual abuse.

Along the way, we learn about the inner workings of the CoG, a/k/a The Family, and the machinations of David Berg, a self-declared endtime prophet who claimed to be personally mentioned in the Bible, and that God spoke through him. Berg predicted the imminent destruction of America, the appearance of the Antichrist in 1985, and the Second Coming of Jesus in 1993. Berg died in 1994, before various law enforcement agencies around the world caught up with him.

Perry Bulwer escaped The Family in 1991, managing to escape the cult's tight control while living in Asia. Returning to Canada, he tried to pick up his life where he had left it off two decades earlier. Through education Bulwer lost his religion, turning from religious extremist to secular humanist lawyer, fighting for the rights of sex workers and drug users living on the streets of Vancouver. Haunted by his own past, Bulwer became an advocate for thousands of second-generation survivors of the cult's child abuse and psychological trauma scattered around the world.

"Misguided provides a detailed, heart-felt look inside the most notorious Christian sect to emerge from the spiritual counterculture of the 1970s. Perry Bulwer's memoir serves as damning indictment of the damage done when twisted prophesy meets blind faith". --Don Lattin, the former religion writer at the San Francisco Chronicle and author of Jesus Freaks -- A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge.

"Perry Bulwer has given us a real treasure, especially given that so few cult memoirs are written from a male perspective. He takes us on a wild and conflicted journey as a member of the Children of God, starting at age 16, living here, there, and everywhere – from Canada to Japan, China, the Philippines, and more. Readers will gain a vivid picture of life in a cult with worldwide spread, led by a pedophiliac narcissist. Definitely a book you will want to read!" --Janja Lalich, PhD, Author of Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships.

"Perry Bulwer has written a deeply personal and richly informative study that shows how a shy but smart (and rather religious) working class kid gets drawn into an emotionally and physically abusive cult, which was constructed around the often angry but always self-serving fantasies of a delusional but inspirational leader.

He weaves stories about his own psycho-emotional development within the cultural context of generational disillusionment about traditional politics and religion, both of which the cult leader prophesized would extinguish in an apocalyptic return of Jesus in 1993. That prophetic failure, plus Perry’s eyewitness account of severe physical and mental abuse of the leader’s granddaughter, contributed to his decision to leave, but twenty years of his own experiences of coercion, manipulation, and control haunt him long after he has renounced and debunked the cult’s doctrines.

His struggles reveal that a toxic cult still can live in a person long after that person no longer lives in a malign cult. This highly readable account, however, is an impressive achievement that reveals a toxicity that Perry hopes all other spiritual seekers can avoid." --Stephen Kent, Emeritus Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta.

CultNEWS101: People Leave Cults Upcoming Support Groups

Weekend Edition: upcoming online support group offerings for marginalized communities, those born or raised, and survivors of complex trauma:

Born or Raised Former Member Group Offering
People Leave Cults is excited to offer a community group designed for those born or raised in cultic groups or relationships (also referred to as second and multi-generational adult former members).

In September's Support Group, we will discuss coping with triggers and recognizing and reclaiming your inner voice.

Facilitators: Dr. Cyndi Matthews, PhD, LPC-S, NCC (she, her) & Ashlen Hilliard, MSc (she, her)
Cost: $25 fee per workshop.
Dates: Our next meetup on September 29th is fully booked. An additional support group has been scheduled for September 27th from 8:00 PM to 9:30 PM EST to accommodate more participants.
Sign-up: In order to register for the September 27th date, completion of a brief application is required. For more information and to complete the screening application, please visit:
People Leave Cults is excited to offer a community group for those who have experienced complex trauma in cultic groups or relationships.

In September's Support Group, we will learn more about complex trauma, the role of disassociation, and how cult-related trauma differs from other types of trauma.

Facilitators: Dr. Erin Falconer, PhD, MSc, LMSW (she, her) & Ashlen Hilliard, MSc (she, her)
Cost:  $45 per Meetup.
Dates: Our next session is from 7:00 - 8:30 PM EST, on September 28th.
Sign-up: *Please note: this group is limited to 15 participants. For more information and registration:
People Leave Cults is excited to offer a community group designed for those who come from marginalized backgrounds and who are also former members of high-control groups or relationships.

*Marginalized groups include women, disabled folx, neurodivergent folx, BIPOC folx, LGBTQ+ folx, lower socioeconomic status folx, etc.

Facilitators: Abi Smith, MS, LPC-Associate (they, them) under the supervision of Beck Munsey, PhD, LPC-S & Ashlen Hilliard, MSc (she, her)
Cost: $25 fee per workshop. Sliding scale is available via our Financial Aid Request page
Dates: Our next meetup is from 7 PM - 8:30 PM Eastern Time, on Friday, October 6th, 2023. This group is offered on a monthly basis.

Disclaimer: Online support and community group services provided by People Leave Cults, LLC is not meant to be a substitute for individualized professional counseling from mental health professionals. This session is NOT an emergency service, therapy, or medical in nature.

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