Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: The Bogus Christian Memoir Hall of Shame

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Literary fraud is an important topic at Swallowing the Camel. Whether it’s middle-aged women pretending to be teen boys afflicted with HIV/AIDS (here and here), or James Cameron’s BFF letting himself be snowjobbed by a lying WWII vet, or fake Holocaust memoirists, no one gets a free pass when it comes to literary misdeeds. So why should Christians be any different? This week’s Weirdness Roundup covers some of the most egregious frauds involving inspirational Christian nonfiction, starting with the most recent case:

  • A year after diligent readers expressed their concerns, UK Christian publishing house Authentic Media has withdrawn a popular preacher’s autobiography from the market. Tony Anthony’s Taming the Tiger (2004) told the awesome story of how Jesus transformed him from an angry young criminal to the person he is today (I’ll let you decide if that was an improvement or not).
    Taming the Tiger describes how 4-year-old Tony learned Kung Fu from his grandfather. As the book’s cover reminds us, he ultimately became a “3 times Kung Fu World Champion”. His professional debut was in 1984. The following year, he went to work as a bodyguard for international VIPs, including the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Italy, and Cyprus. In 1988 or ’89, his world fell apart when his girlfriend of three years, Aiya, was killed in a car accident. He turned his back on everything good in his life and become an enforcer for his boss, threatening and beating and even killing people who posed the slightest danger to the ambassador. He then became a burglar to raise money for an expensive medical procedure his father needed, and started getting into confrontations with police in Cyprus, where he was then living. He landed himself in jail in Christmas 1989, and it was there that an Irish missionary introduced him to Jesus Christ.
    Upon release in 1992, Anthony returned to the UK and settled down to have a family. He considered himself a good Christian, but after he was arrested for killing a woman in a hit and run (and lying to police about it) in 2001, he realized he still needed a lot of work. His second awakening as a Christian spurred him to write the memoir, which has sold more than a million copies in 25 languages. Its success gave him the opportunity to preach all over the world, and he established an Essex-based international evangelism organization called Avanti Ministries.
    The whole thing imploded when skeptical readers decided to look into Anthony’s actual background. One of the first things they discovered was that he was born in 1971…meaning he would have been just 13 years old when he became a Kung Fu grand master, and 14 when he was supposedly protecting an ambassador. He would still have been a teenager when he ended up in Nicosia prison. Also, the Saudi ambassador to the UK from 1980-1992, Nasser Almanqour, was never sent to Italy or Cyprus.
    It wasn’t just readers who were skeptical. One director of Avanti Ministries, Mike Hancock, resigned because Anthony seemed reluctant to verify the stories in his book. Hancock joined forces with another former Avanti director and a few concerned Christian ministers to investigate Anthony’s claims. Last year, they submitted a summary of their findings to the board of Avanti, the UK’s Evangelical Alliance, and Authentic Media, resulting in Authentic’s decision to pull the book.
    Tony Anthony has issued a statement saying he “wholeheartedly” defends everything he wrote in Taming the Tiger, with the exception of some details that he claims he wasn’t aware of at the time he wrote it. He admits that some names, places, etc., were altered to protect the privacy of certain people. He also claims he recently tried to publish an updated autobiography, but was blocked from doing so by unnamed persons “intent on discrediting” his ministry. Hilariously, he seems astonished that anyone would be interested in the historical veracity of his work (which is categorized as a nonfiction martial arts book in libraries and bookstores).
    Anthony’s statement includes the announcement that Avanti Ministries will no longer be in charge of its outreach programs.
  • The story of “Lauren Stratford” is by far the weirdest, most convoluted bogus Christian memoir tale of the past several decades. In 1988, her book Satan’s Underground was published by one of the top Christian publishers in America, Harvest House. In it, Stratford described a nightmarish existence as an abused child prostitute, handed over to child pornographers and pedophile rapists by her own mother (a schoolteacher). As a teen, she became a virtual sex slave to a Satan-worshiping porno kingpin known only as “Victor”. Victor’s cult engaged in everything from infanticide to cannibalism, and Lauren was forced to participate in their hellish rites. She was the first former Satanist to claim status as a “breeder”, a woman forced to bear children for ritual sacrifice, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that within months of the release of Satan’s Underground, breeders were popping out of the woodwork to appear on Geraldo and Sally Jesse Raphael. Stratford herself was invited to appear on Oprah and Geraldo as a victim of Satanic ritual abuse. Her book became very popular with recovered memory advocates and Christian therapists, and other ritual abuse survivors credited Stratford’s book with helping them retrieve their own “repressed memories”.
    Then, in 1991, the Christian magazine Cornerstone investigated Stratford’s background. The reporters couldn’t find a shred of evidence that Laurel Wilson had ever been abused by Satanists or anyone else, but they did uncover evidence indicating that Wilson/Stratford suffered a factitious disorder.
    Toward the end of her life, Stratford re-emerged as a Holocaust survivor named “Laura Grabowski”. She said she had been one of Josef Mengele’s victims, and even had a touching reunion with a fellow child survivor of Auschwitz, Binjamin Wilkomirski. The problem was, Wilkomirski had never been in Auschwitz, either.
    You can read more about the peculiar Wilson/Stratford/Grabowski saga in Part IX of my series The Prodigal Witch.
  • In 1986, Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick published a bizarre book titled He Came to Set the Captives Free, by one “Rebecca Brown, M.D.” It told the story of a crusading Christian doctor (Brown herself) who was engaged in a life-or-death struggle against evil forces in Indiana. Satanists were dogging her every step because she had rescued a young woman named Elaine from their clutches. Elaine had been brainwashed by the Satanists from childhood, and as an adult was forced to literally marry Satan in his human form.
    Having divorced Satan and her second husband too, Elaine helped Dr. Brown foil Satanic assassins and rescue other cult victims. The duo claimed to have saved about 1000 witches from dangerous covens in the first half of the ’80s alone. Brown published a second book about her battles with darkness, Prepare for War, in 1987. That same year, she and Elaine appeared on one of Geraldo Rivera’s shows about Satanism.
    In 1989, writers G. Richard Risher, Paul R. Blizard, and M. Kurt Goedelman delved into the backgrounds of Rebecca Brown and Elaine for the Personal Freedom Outreach Newsletter. What they found was deeply disturbing. Brown was really Ruth Bailey, and she had been stripped of her medical license five years earlier, after colleagues discovered she had been giving massive (potentially fatal) doses of prescription painkillers to one of her patients, Edna Moses. Edna Moses was “Elaine”. The two women had been living together in a filthy house for years, telling neighbours they were sisters. Bailey was known for her violent, unstable, paranoid behaviour. Edna/Elaine died in 2005.
    Bailey/Brown left Edna in 1989 to marry an ex-con who claimed he was tortured by Swiss rabbis as a boy, and the couple now runs a small ministry called Harvest Warriors.
    Though many Christians recognize Brown’s books for what they are (pure batshit insanity), they remain in print and continue to captivate the more gullible members of the Christian community.  In 2010, a sixth-grade science teacher in Brooklyn was mildly reprimanded for distributing and selling copies of They Came to Set the Captives Free to some of his students.
    The full story of Ruth Bailey and Edna Moses can be read in Part VIII of my Prodigal Witch series.
  • In the early ’70s, a roly-poly young Californian named Mike Warnke took the evangelical world by storm. He was loved for his Christian stand-up comedy (yes, that’s a thing, I guess), but it was his truly sinister background that drew the most attention to him. As he detailed in his 1973 memoir The Satan Seller, Warnke had dropped out of college to lead one branch of a nationwide Satanic cult that practiced blasphemous rites, lured teenagers into their ranks with the promise of sex and drugs, and occasionally raped and dismembered innocents in the name of the Devil. You know, typical frat stuff.
    Just like Tony Anthony, Warnke founded a successful ministry on the strength of his testimony. It wasn’t until 1992, nearly 20 years after The Satan Seller was printed, that a group of Christians published an exhaustive refutation of Warnke’s claims in a Cornerstone magazine article. As writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein revealed, Warnke hadn’t been a Devil-worshiping drug addict in college; he had already become a Christian by that time, and spent most of his time doing ridiculously wholesome things that other square kids did in the late ’60s: Bowling, going out for ice cream, double-dating with his devoutly Catholic girlfriend, etc.
    Confronted with his make-believe past, Warnke weakly explained that his Satanic following may have been a bit smaller than he originally stated (around a dozen people, rather than 1500). He would not back down from anything else in his book. A few years ago, though, he admitted to Jim Bakker that he had felt compelled to present a dramatic conversion testimony to impress the evangelical community, and made a joke about “evangelasticity”.
    You can read more about Warnke in
    Part II of the Prodigal Witch series.
  • The same year The Satan Seller was published, Doreen Irvine’s autobiography From Witchcraft to Christ was released in the UK. A prim-looking older lady, Irvine claimed to have been a teen prostitute who was inducted into Satanism in London around 1950. Over the next 12 years, she developed the abilities to levitate several feet off the ground, read minds, render herself invisible, manifest apports, and kill birds in midflight just by looking at them. She was crowned Queen of the Black Witches of Europe. Then she walked into a church on a whim and was instantly converted to Christianity. After a grueling exorcism removed 47 demons from her body, she traveled to churches all over the world, sharing her story of redemption.
    No one has ever extensively refuted the claims in From Witchcraft to Christ, probably because they are too absurd to take seriously in the first place. But the book, and Doreen’s preaching, had a profound and lasting impact that has left at least one young woman dead. You can read more about her influence in Part I of The Prodigal Witch.

There are a number of other Christian memoirs that definitely set off my BS alarm, but the claims made in these books are so unverifiable that there is really no way to refute them. These include:

  • A Divine Revelation of Hell (1997) and A Divine Revelation of Heaven (1998) by Mary K. Baxter. Baxter, a Pentacostal preacher from Michigan, claims she was given walking tours of both Heaven and Hell by Jesus himself, so that she could bear witness to their physical reality. She says Hell is located near the planet’s core, is shaped like a human body, and contains many homosexuals. In Heaven, angels collect the tears of everyone on Earth and store them away in jars.
  • Blood Secrets by Isaiah Oke, as told to Joe Wright (1989). Oke is a Nigerian Christian who claims he was once a ju-ju shaman, and that he witnessed a brutal human sacrifice carried out by his mentor. The person who commissioned this sacrifice is described as a powerful colonel, and it’s quite obvious that Oke wants us to think he was Idi Amin.
    Oke became a Christian while studying accounting at college. As he and Wright tell it, a young American co-ed had annoyed him one day, but Oke was unable to “hex” her even after numerous attempts. Finally, he asked her why she was resistant to his magical powers, and she told him she was a Christian. He promptly converted, and continues to talk smack about Nigerian spirituality to the present day.
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Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Satan, Satan Everywhere

Think Satanic panic disappeared along with Geraldo and acid-washed jeans? Well, not quite. Welcome to the world of Jordanian Satanists conducting ceremonies in college bathrooms, panty-stealing gremlins, demonic mermaids – and the deeply misguided authorities who persecute them. 

Satan Is Real

 

  • We’ll get to Satan, but first: Yet another alien body has surfaced, this time in China. In what appears to be the Eastern version of the Dr. Reed Microwave Burrito Alien hoax, a man identified only as Li claims he witnessed a UFO crash near his home on the Yellow River in Binzhou, Shangdong province, on a night in March. The next day, checking his electric rabbit traps, he found the remains of a lightly fried entity roughly four feet tall, with pebbly white skin, a bulbous head, and what appears to be female genitalia. Li took the alien lady home and stowed her in his freezer, where local police officers made a landmark scientific discovery: Somewhere in the cosmos, there exists an alien race made entirely out of rubber.
  • Since 2011, four women have filed lawsuits against Mark Schwartz, founder of the Castlewood Treatment Center for eating disorders in Ballwood, Missouri. The former patients allege that in the course of treatment Schwartz and his partner, Lori Galperin, persuaded them to “recover” (false) memories of Satanic ritual abuse, cannibalism, and even murder. Schwartz has stepped down as the director of Castlewood.
    This is practically an instant replay of a case that erupted over 15 years ago in Chicago. In the mid-’90s, Dr. Bennett Braun was sued by several former patients after he and members of his staff at the Dissociative Disorders Unit of Rush Presbyterian Hospital convinced the women they were recovering repressed memories of belonging to abusive, powerful Satanic cults. Though Braun and his colleagues were trained and licensed medical professionals, their methods weren’t much better than those of the bizarre faux-psychotherapy cult of Okie pastor Doug Riggs, and the outcomes were identical: Dozens of people came to believe their loved ones were actually demented Devil worshipers who had enslaved them through a combination of ritualistic abuse and sophisticated mind control programming.
    I’ll be posting about the Schwartz and Braun cases at Speak of the Devil in the near future, because there’s far too much weirdness there for a mere roundup.
  • Also in the ritual abuse category, a Dutch woman named Toos Nijenhuis has declared that child sacrifices are taking place in Holland. She recently told a group of independent researchers that a sinister international cabal, which includes such prominent members as Prince Bernhard of Holland and British royals, has been ritualistically abusing and experimenting upon children for some arcane purpose. Nijenhuis led the researchers to a rural forest near Zwolle where she claims ritual child sacrifices have been committed as recently as November of 2010. Her claims are virtually identical to those made by some of the former witches and Satanists I wrote about in the Prodigal Witch series, particularly Arizona Wilder (who has retracted her claims about a clan of Satanic lizard-people ruling the planet) and alleged Illuminati slave Cisco Wheeler. The Canadian-based citizens’ group called the International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State (ITCCS) and allied organizations plan to investigate Ms. Nijenhuis’ allegations and possibly issue  “court summonses” to the royals and high-level clerics she has named.
  • In Etwatwa, South Africa, a 14-year-old boy stands accused of murdering four members of his family with an ax. Police have reportedly called in an occult expert to determine if the boy was connected to Satanism or Satanists, but no link has been discovered so far. That hasn’t stopped neighbours and South Africans in general from declaring the murders a Satanic ritual sacrifice, as shown in the video report below and in this tabloid article, which cites a detailed confession allegedly given by the boy. The boy’s family, on the other hand, seems to think drugs were involved.
  • Many reports out of Africa draw parallels between the Etwatwa ax murders and the “Satanic” stabbing murder of schoolgirl Keamogetswe Sefularo in March, which brought up memories of the “Satanic burning” of teenager Kirsty Theologo two years ago. Two 18-year-old boys were convicted of Kirsty’s murder last March, sentenced to 17 years each.
  • Also in Africa, a 2-year-old Northern Cape girl drowned in late May after she was allegedly pushed into a dam by a female 12-year-old cousin who reportedly had a history of doing the same thing to other young children. Family members promptly blamed Satanism, telling the press the girl was possessed and “doing the Devil’s work”. Before they start shopping for an exorcist, they should perhaps ptry adopting some appropriate water safety and child supervision practices.
  • Parts of Zimbabwe have been aflame with Satanic panic in the past year. In Bulawayo’s suburban Cowdray Park last October, a teen girl confessed to participating in 16 murders committed by a neighbourhood cult of Satanists, causing deep rifts and panic in the community. Around the same time, at least three schools in the country were closed after students were stricken with bizarre symptoms they attributed to Satanic spells. Then there are the evil mermaids. Last March, Zimbabwe Water Resources Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo told a senate oversight committee that mermaids had been terrifying workers at reservoirs in Mutare, Gokwe, and Manicaland, causing them to flee their work and refuse to return. Many Zimbabweans consider mermaids to be demonic creatures, and a man named Justice Manyonga even claims to have been held captive by them for two years. To remedy the mermaid infestation, Nkomo summoned traditional chiefs to perform exorcisms at the Gokwe and Mutare dams.
    In Gokwe, Underpants Gnomes made an appearance around the same time. A 62-year-old man declared that a rash of missing ladies’ undergarments in his neighbourhood was caused by a panty-stealing goblin he had somehow acquired years earlier. Incredibly, this is not the most bizarre goblin story to come out of Zimbabwe in the past year. In January of this year, an explosion in Chitungwiza, Zumbabwe, killed 5 people in a single house. The home was owned by a traditional healer, and he claimed the explosion occurred because he was attempting to behead a goblin on behalf of a client. Just like the owner of the Underpants Gnome, this guy says he bought a goblin to help bring himself good luck and prosperity, but it ended up being a major PITA. So if you buy a goblin through Kijiji or Craigslist, make sure you get a warranty on that sucker.
  • In March, five students at Al al-Bayt university in Mafraq, Jordan, were accused of burning pages from the Koran as part of a supposed Devil-worship ritual conducted in a campus bathroom. They were promptly arrested for desecrating the Koran, but no charges were filed against them, prompting Human Rights Watch to call for their release. This resulted in immediate charges against  the students. They were tried before a military tribunal in May and acquitted of all charges, but the incident caused tremendous strife and distress throughout Jordan, with extremists demanding the students be lynched and others bewailing the lack of freedom of religious expression in a country that has been presented to the world as relatively open and progressive.

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Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Bigfoot, Smallfoot, and Another Atacama Humanoid

  • Another Boy from La Noria: The latest news on the Boy from La Noria (the “Atacama humanoid”) is that he wasn’t the first tiny child discovered in the Atacama Desert and paraded around as a sideshow curiosity. Back in the 1930s, Robert Ripley himself possessed and exhibited a 6.5″-tall human he named Atta. There’s a photo of Ripley posing with Atta in the palm of his hand in Neal Thompson’s recently-released biography A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley.
    According to Thompson, Ripley was fascinated by shrunken heads and the much rarer shrunken bodies, and seemed to think that Atta was an adult human skeleton shrunk to miniature dimensions, perhaps by the Jivaro Indians of Peru. That’s not how head- or body-shrinking works, of course, but try telling that to a guy who’s been dead for nearly 65 years. 
beetlejuice-shrunken-heads

Nope.

Ripley’s Atta was probably bought by a private collector after its novelty wore off. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
It’s not easy to discern Atta’s features in the existing black-and-white photos, but there is nothing to indicate Atta wasn’t simply a mummified fetus, as many believe the boy from La Noria to be.  Edward Meyer, vice president of exhibits and archives for Ripley Entertainment, holds that view, but still wants to know what became of Atta. He has asked that anyone with information about Atta contact him at meyer@ripleys.com.

  • In Botswana, tiny humanoids aren’t a thing of the past. As Loren Coleman tells us, every part of Africa has its own folkloric man-beast that isn’t very tall, kind of like mini Sasquatches or short Ron Jeremys. On May 17, Mathiba Primary School in the town of Maun had to cancel classes for the day after hysterical children glimpsed a stumpy humanoid with thick black fur roaming the halls and classrooms.  Ten of the kids were sent to hospital to be treated for shock, and school authorities convened a prayer meeting. Greg Newkirk at Who Forted? observes that this mini Squatch  just happened to show up right before 7th-grade final exams. How totally inconsiderate.
  • Now, what about that full-size Bigfoot that was supposedly gunned down in Pennsylvania, as mentioned in last week’s Roundup? Well, no body turned up, and the only documented “sighting” around the time of the supposed kill was made by one John Winesickle, who reported to police that he had uncovered proof of Bigfoot. Someone overheard officers discussing Winesickle’s call over the radio and jumped to the conclusion that proof meant a dead body (it was, after all, the opening day of turkey season). What Winesickle actually found were some footprints in the woods.
  • If you simply must have a dead Bigfoot story, though, I suggest you dip into the bizarre conspiracy theory that rocked the Bigfoot world several years back. It involved Bobbie Short, a well-known Bigfoot researcher who passed away last week, and centred around film footage and photos from a 1967 Bigfoot expedition to Blue Creek Mountain in California. Canadian Sasquatch enthusiast John Green and the quirky Canadian Sasquatch-hunter Rene Dahinden traveled to Bluff Creek that summer to investigate Squatch tracks that were reported to have been left on Blue Creek Mountain, and they shot some film to document their trip. Several months later, in October, the famous Patterson-Gimlin film of a sauntering female Bigfoot was shot in the same area.
    Roughly six years ago, certain Bigfoot researchers claimed to find, in the film and photos from the Green-Dahinden expedition, clear evidence that the Patterson-Gimlin film was fake, part of a vast cover-up/conspiracy involving the massacre of several real Bigfoot. John Green, who published On the Track of the Sasquatch the following year, was supposedly the mastermind of this cover-up, if not the massacre itself.
    The evidence was pretty thin. One fellow tinted the hands of a man in a photo to make it look like he had blood on his hands. Others, like Bobbie Short, insisted the expedition pilot was actually Bob Titmus, an alleged hoaxer who amassed more plaster footprint casts of Bigfoot than anyone alive. Bobbie Short promoted the Bluff Creek Massacre conspiracy theory on her website, Bigfoot Encounters, and via rather cryptic emails to the others in the field. It’s a confusing but fascinating tale. Just Google “Blue Creek Mountain Bigfoot massacre” or something along those lines to find out more about it.  As always, Bigfoot researchers prove to far be more peculiar and intriguing than the beasts they’re seeking.