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David Koresh

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David Koresh (August 17, 1959 – April 19, 1993), born Vernon Wayne Howell, was the leader of a Branch Davidian religious sect, believing himself to be its final prophet. Vernon Howell had his name legally changed to David Koresh on May 15, 1990. A 1993 raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the subsequent siege by the FBI ended with the burning of the Branch Davidian ranch outside of Waco, Texas in McLennan County. Koresh, 54 adults and 21 children were found dead after the fire.

Early life

Koresh was born in Houston, Texas, to a 14-year-old single mother, Bonnie Sue Clark.[1] His father was a 20-year-old man named Bobby Howell. The pair remained unmarried. Two months before Koresh was born, his father met another teenage girl and abandoned Bonnie Sue. Koresh never met his father and his mother began cohabiting with a violent alcoholic.[1] In 1963, Koresh's mother left her boyfriend and placed her 4-year-old son in the care of his maternal grandmother, Earline Clark. His mother returned when he was seven, after her marriage to a carpenter named Roy Haldeman. Haldeman and Clark had a son together named Roger, who was born in 1968.

Koresh described his early childhood as lonely, and it has been alleged that he was once gang raped by older boys when he was 8.[1] A poor student who was illiterate and diagnosed with dyslexia, Koresh dropped out of Garland High School in his junior year. Due to his poor study skills, he was put in special ed classes and nicknamed "Vernie" by his fellow students,[2] but by the age of 11, he had memorized the entire New Testament.[1] When he was 19, Koresh had an affair with a 15-year-old girl who became pregnant.[1] He claimed to have become a born-again Christian in the Southern Baptist Church and soon joined his mother's church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There he fell in love with the pastor's daughter and while praying for guidance he opened his eyes and allegedly found the Bible open at Isaiah 34, stating that none should want for a mate; convinced this was a sign from God, he approached the pastor and told him that God wanted him to have his daughter for a wife. The pastor threw him out, and when he continued to persist with his pursuit of the daughter he was expelled from the congregation.[1]

In 1981 he moved to Waco, Texas, where he joined the Branch Davidians, a religious group originating from a schism in the 1950s from the Shepherd's Rod, themselves disfellowshipped members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 1930s. They had established their headquarters at a ranch about 10 miles out of Waco, which they called the Mount Carmel Center (after the Biblical Mount Carmel), in 1955.

Ascent to leadership of the Branch Davidians

In 1983 he began claiming the gift of prophecy. Koresh then had a speculated sexual relationship with Lois Roden, the prophetess and leader of the sect who was then 78 years old, eventually claiming that God had chosen him to father a child with her, who would be the Chosen One.[1] In 1983, Roden allowed Koresh to begin teaching his own message which caused controversy in the group. Lois Roden's son George Roden intended to be the group's next leader and considered Koresh an interloper. When Koresh announced that God had instructed him to marry Rachel Jones (who then added Koresh to her name), there was a short period of calm at Mount Carmel, but it proved only temporary. In the ensuing power struggle, George Roden, claiming to have the support of the majority of the group, forced Koresh and his group off the property at gunpoint. Disturbed by the events and the move away from the philosophy of the community's founders, a further splinter group led by Charles Joseph Pace moved out of Mount Carmel and set up home in Gadsden, Alabama.

Koresh and around 25 followers set up camp at Palestine, Texas, 90 miles from Waco, where they lived for roughly the next two years, during which time Koresh undertook recruitment of new followers in California, the United Kingdom, Israel and Australia. In 1985 Koresh traveled to Israel and it was there that he claimed he had a vision that he was the modern day Cyrus. The founder of the Davidian movement, Victor Houteff, wanted to be God's implement and establish the Davidic kingdom in Palestine, Israel. Koresh also wanted to be God's tool and set up the Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem. At least until 1990, he believed the place of his martyrdom might be in Israel, but by 1991 he was convinced that his martyrdom would be in the United States. Instead of Israel, he said the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled in Waco and that the Mount Carmel center was the Davidic kingdom.[3]

At the Palestine, Texas camp, Koresh "worked it so that everyone was forced to rely on him, and him alone. All previous bonds and attachments, family or otherwise, meant nothing. His rationale was if they had no one to depend on, they had to depend on him, and that made them vulnerable."[4] By this time, he had already begun to give the message of his own "Christhood," proclaiming that he was "the Son of God, the Lamb who could open the Seven Seals."[3]

Lois Roden died in 1986. Up until then Koresh had been teaching that monogamy was the only way to live, but he suddenly announced that polygamy was allowed for him. In March 1986, Koresh first slept with Karen Doyle, aged 14.[5] He claimed her as his second wife. In August 1986, Koresh began secretly sleeping with Michele Jones, his wife's younger 12-year-old sister. In September 1986 Koresh began to preach that he was entitled to 140 wives, 60 women as his "queens" and 80 as concubines, which he based upon his interpretation of the Biblical Song of Solomon.[4] Koresh then built up an entirely new theology around his "marriage" to Doyle. This theology was called the "New Light," with a doctrine of polygamy for himself, which he called "The House of David." According to this doctrine, Doyle was supposed to have a daughter named Shoshanna who would then be married to Koresh's firstborn son Cyrus. However, Doyle failed to conceive, so Koresh then transferred his attention to his wife's sister. Former Davidian David Bunds said that Koresh's doctrine of polygamy "rose out of his deep desire to have sex with young girls. Once he was able to convince himself that it was God's will then he was able to be free of guilt and have sex with as many young girls as he could get his hands on."[5]

By late 1987, George Roden's support had withered. To regain it, he challenged Koresh to a contest to raise the dead, even digging up one corpse to practice on it. Koresh went to authorities to file charges of corpse abuse against Roden, but was told he would have to show proof (such as a photograph of the corpse). Koresh returned to Mount Carmel in camouflage, with seven armed followers. All but one - who managed to escape - were arrested by the local police, who had been alerted by the sound of gunfire.[1] When deputy sheriffs arrived, they found Koresh and six followers firing their rifles at Roden, who was also armed. Roden had already suffered a minor gunshot wound and was pinned down behind a tree at the Compound. The sheriff called into the chapel by telephone and talked Koresh into surrender.[6] As a result of the incident, Koresh and his followers were charged with attempted murder. At the trial, Koresh testified that he went to Mount Carmel to uncover evidence of corpse abuse by George Roden. Koresh's followers were acquitted, and in Koresh's case a mistrial was declared.

In 1989 Roden murdered Wayman Dale Adair with an axe blow to the skull after Adair stated his belief that he (Adair) was the true Messiah.[7] Roden was convicted of murder and imprisoned in a mental hospital at Vernon, Texas. Because Roden owed thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, Mount Carmel was placed for sale. Koresh and his followers raised the money and purchased the property, which he subsequently renamed "Ranch Apocalypse."[1] Roden continued to harass the Koresh faction by filing legal papers while imprisoned. When Koresh and his followers reclaimed Mt. Carmel, they discovered that tenants who had rented from Roden had left behind a methamphetamine laboratory, which Koresh reported to the local police department and asked to have removed.[8][9]

Name change

The name Koresh is a transliteration of the Hebrew name of Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed the Jews who had been dispersed throughout Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their homelands. During the siege, Koresh would explain to the FBI negotiators that (in Koresh's mind at least) "koresh" had a deeper meaning:

Koresh: "What is Christ revealed as, according to the fourth seal?"
FBI: "Pale... a rider on a pale horse."
Koresh: "And his name is what?"
FBI: "Death."
Koresh: "Now, do you know what the name Koresh means?"
FBI: "Go ahead..."
Koresh: "It means death." [10]

Accusations of child abuse and statutory rape

Koresh himself denied all allegations of polygamy and child abuse in public interviews. The popular media, disaffected Davidians, and spokespersons for the US government, however, tell sordid tales of Koresh's personal life.

It has been alleged that Koresh advocated polygamy for himself, and asserted that he was married to several female residents of the small community.[1][6] Some former members of the cult also alleged that Koresh felt he could claim any of the females in the compound as his.[1][6]

The 1993 U.S. Department of Justice report sets out allegations of historical child sexual and physical abuse. ATF Special Agent David Aguilera had interviewed former Branch Davidian Jeannine Bunds, who claimed that Koresh had fathered at least fifteen children with various women and young girls at the compound. According to Bunds, some of the girls who had babies fathered by Koresh were as young as 12 years old. She said she had personally delivered seven of these children. Bunds also claims that Koresh would annul all marriages of couples who joined his cult. He then had exclusive sexual access to the women. He would also have regular sexual relations with young girls.[11] In his book, James Tabor states that Koresh acknowledged on a videotape sent out of the compound during the standoff that he had fathered more than 12 children by several "wives," some of whom were as young as 12 or 13 when they became pregnant.[12] DNA testing of the women and children in the video who died in the subsequent fire confirmed that some of the children were his. On March 3, 1993, during negotiations to secure the release of the remaining children, Koresh advised the Negotiation Team that: "My children are different than those others" referring to his direct lineage, versus those children previously released.

At the time, in Texas, the age of parental consent for a minor to marry was 14, as was the age for consent to engage in sexual relations. In the documentary film, Waco: The Rules of Engagement (long version), Jack Harwell, Sheriff of McLennan County, stated: "You have to have proof to go into court . . . Keep in mind, too, that most of the girls who were involved were at least 14 years old and 14 year olds get married with parental consent. So if their parents were there and letting things happen in the way of sexual activities and what have you with their 14 year old kids, you have common law husbands and wives. Uh, I don’t say that I agree with that and that I approve of it. But at the same time, if parents are there and they’re giving parental consent, we have a problem with that in making a case."

Kiri Jewell, daughter of Branch Davidian Sherri Jewell, claimed in testimony before Congress in 1995 that she was sexually molested at the age of 10 by Koresh, who then read to her from the Bible. She originally related the incident in a 1992 custody battle, and the judge ordered that she be kept away from Koresh and Mount Carmel.[13] While conceding that Jewell's testimony may be true, the attorney of Steve Schneider, Koresh's right-hand man, expressed doubts about the veracity of her evidence. In his appearance at the House hearings on Waco, Jack B. Zimmermann stated: "There’s been doubts about contradictory statements that she’s made in the past. Now, it may be 100 percent true."

Raid and siege

On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided Mount Carmel. The raid resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians. Shortly after the initial raid, the FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) took command of the federal operation, since FBI has jurisdiction over incidents involving the deaths of federal agents. Contact was established with Koresh inside the compound. Communication over the next 51 days included telephone exchanges with various FBI negotiators. As the standoff continued, Koresh, who was seriously injured by a gunshot wound, along with his closest male leaders negotiated delays, possibly so he could write religious documents he said he needed to complete before he surrendered. His conversations with the negotiators were dense with Biblical imagery. The federal negotiators treated the situation as a hostage crisis despite a two hour video tape sent out by the Davidians in which the adults and older children/teens appeared to explain clearly and confidently why they chose of their own free will to remain with Koresh.

The 51-day siege of Mount Carmel ended when U.S Attorney General Janet Reno approved recommendations of veteran FBI officials to proceed with a final assault in which the Branch Davidians were to be removed from their building by force. In the course of the assault, the church building caught fire. The cause of the fire was later alleged by the "Danforth Report," a report commissioned by The Special Counsel, to be the deliberate actions of some of the Branch Davidians inside the building.[14] However this hypothesis is disputed in the documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement which argues that the fire was deliberately set when the FBI fired an incendiary device into the building after loading the building with CS gas.[15] At the subsequent trial of the surviving Branch Davidians, the jury listened to edited parts of a tape-recording from hidden microphones inside Mt. Carmel during the final attack and fire of 19 April. These consisted of sounds of static during which one could faintly hear a voice saying ". . . fire . . . ". A government expert testified that through electronic enhancement, he had reconstructed some clearly incriminating comments, even if the jury couldn't hear them.[16] It later transpired that the FBI, when meeting Koresh's demands that milk be sent in for the children's wellbeing, also sent in tiny listening devices concealed inside the milk cartons and their styrofoam containers.[17]

Barricaded in their building, seventy-six Branch Davidians, including Koresh, did not survive the fire. Seventeen of these victims were children under the age of 17. The Danforth Report claims that those who died were unable, or unwilling, to flee and that Steve Schneider, Koresh's right-hand man, probably shot Koresh and killed himself with the same gun. Waco: The Rules of Engagement claims that FBI sharpshooters fired on, and killed, many Branch Davidians who attempted to flee the flames. Testimony by the few Branch Davidians who did successfully flee the fire supports this claim. Autopsy records indicate that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot, including 5 children. The Danforth Report concluded that the adults who died of gunshot wounds shot themselves after shooting the children.

Aftermath

David Koresh is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, Tyler, Texas.

In 2004, Koresh's 1968 Camaro with a 427c.i. swap, which had been damaged by the military during the raid, sold for $37,000 at auction.[18]

On January 23, 2009, Koresh's mother, Bonnie Clark Haldeman, was stabbed to death in Chandler, Texas. Her sister, Beverly Clark, was charged with the murder.[19]

References

  • Reavis, Dick J. The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995). ISBN 0-684-81132-4
  • Samples, Kenneth et al. Prophets of the Apocalypse: David Koresh & Other American Messiahs (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994). ISBN 0-8010-8367-2

Footnotes

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Wilson, Colin (2000), written at London, The Devil's Party, Virgin Books, ISBN 1-85227-843-9
  2. Final 24 Episode on David Koresh.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Valentine, Carol A. (2001), David Koresh and The Cuckoo's Egg - pt. 3, <http://www.public-action.com/SkyWriter/WacoMuseum/burial/page/b_kce3.html>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Samuelson, Eric (1993), written at Austin, Texas, Subject: Initial Waco Chronology (Part 1/2), <http://www.skepticfiles.org/waco/batf.htm>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mann, John (1999), Discussion with David Bunds Part 1 - David Bunds to John Mann 29 June 1999, <http://www.btinternet.com/~fountain/koresh/bunds.html>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Secretary Of The Treasury (1993), written at Washington D.C., Report of The Department Of The Treasury on the Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco, And Firearms Investigation of Vernon Wayne Howell also known as David Koresh, United States Department of the Treasury, ISBN 0-16-042025-3, <http://carolmoore.whatwouldgandhido.net/waco/waco-treasury-report1.html>
  7. Marc Breault and Martin King, Inside the Cult, Signet, 1st Printing June 1993. ISBN 978-0451180292. (Australian edition entitled Preacher of Death).
  8. Thibodeau, David (1999), The truth about Waco, <http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/09/09/waco/>
  9. Thomas R. Lujan, "Legal Aspects of Domestic Employment of the Army", Parameters US Army War College Quarterly, Autumn 1997, Vol. XXVII, No. 3.
  10. Excerpt from transcript of conversation between Koresh and an FBI negotiator (John #4) discussing the Book of Revelation, 7 March 1993, early evening.
  11. U.S. Department of Justice (1993), "Evidence of Historical Child Sexual and Physical Abuse", written at Washington, D.C., Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas February 28 to April 19, 1993 (From ATF Affidavit in Support of Arrest of Koresh, taken from ATF Special Agent Aguilera's interview of former compound resident Jeannine Bunds, included in Agent Aguilera's affidavit in support of the Koresh arrest warrant "Davy Aguilera, Special Agent Bureau of ATF, Subscribed and sworn to before me this 25th day of February 1993 Dennis G. Green United States Magistrate Judge Western District of Texas - Waco" (Redacted ed.), U.S.DoJ, <http://www.usdoj.gov/05publications/waco/wacotocpg.htm#toc>. Retrieved on 2007-02-04
  12. Tabor, James D. & Eugene V. Gallagher (1997), written at Berkeley, California, Why Waco?: Cults & the Battle for Religious Freedom in America, University of California Press, ISBN 9780520208995
  13. Smith, J.B. (2003-04-07). "Youthful Nightmares - Children of Mount Carmel haunted by Davidian days". Waco Tribune-Herald. 
  14. Danforth, John (2000), Final report to the Deputy Attorney General concerning the 1993 confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex, Waco, Texas November 8, 2000 by John C. Danforth, Special Counsel, <http://www.waco93.com/Danforth-finalreport.pdf>
  15. Danaher, Kevin. "SWAT takes on fire and smoke". Police Magazine. http://www.policeone.com/writers/columnists/PoliceMagazine/articles/77198/. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  16. Tausch, Egon Richard, The Branch Davidian Trial, <http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/waco.tausch.html>
  17. Jamar, Jeff (1995), FBI commander at Waco speaking on "Frontline" Show #1401 Air Date: October 17, 1995., <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/waco/wacotranscript.html>
  18. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/09/26/MNGGP8VDP51.DTL
  19. http://www.kltv.com/global/story.asp?s=9726691

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