At the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, Jeff Gordon
Remember the episode of "The Twilight Zone" when the old guy hitcher is in the back seat of the
young woman's car at night after being spotted by her every time she turns around on a road trip?
In the March-April 1981 issue of The Way Magazine there is a photograph of Dr. Victor
Paul Wierwille at Washington National Airport. He has a tall, chimneysweep, stovepipe
hat and a striped ascot. He and his wife are in Washington, D.C. to attend the inauguration
of President Ronald Reagan, the magazine reports.
His address starts out with, "This is a momentous day in the history of our lives....As I
see it, this could be the time when we with the greatness of God's Word could move out
greatly across our country and world because I think we've been in enslavement long
enough. We could get out of the wilderness where we've been long enough and get into
the Promised Land. And outside of this ministry there is no way it could be done, because
the organized systems have had their 150-200 years and instead of gaining for us more
liberty, more freedom, more greatness of the power of God, it seems like we've been
ending up with less and less.
So I believe that it could be possible at this particular time by Do's mercy and grace
that this fortieth (presidency) can be like the beginning of the time when they (Israel)
moved out from the wilderness and took the Promised Land and lived with the greatness
of God's Word."
It was right about this time in history that the Rev. Jim Bakker was doing the dirty
deed with a future Playmate.
"We are the Israel of God..."
The President's Newsletter goes on to announce the newest addition to the Outreach
Services Center at International Headquarters, the Research Library. Designs began in
January 1980, he says, with physical work starting in October 1980, completed in January
1981. The 600-square-foot rare books room (primarily Dr. Wierwille's collection), the
2,125-square-foot main section and eight offices (1,250 square feet) for Research and
Translations and the three lighting systems are chronicled. "A birch accordion door
separates the main area from the conference room." Wierwille says all the design and
construction was done by his own Way Builders, including "custom" carpeting and
Monty Hobbs, Way Builders coordinator, says, "The whole aim of Way Builders is to
build facilities out of love so people can better move the Word of God day by day."
One of those days I sat in the home of Detective Bob Kennedy outside Boone on a
hilly section on the northeast portion of Watauga County. Bob kept a lot of firearms in his
trunk. Last I heard, after having bumped into him at a narc convention in Wilmington,
N.C., he was busting people in Boone, wearing very long hair, which I would like to see.
The farmer was an older gentleman, dressed casually, held his face in his hands, tears
streaming down his cheeks as he choked back sobs. Bob and I exchanged glances, and I
tried to get my mind off this unsettling scene by remembering the time Bob opened up his
trunk to show off some new guns to me.
"Take it easy," I told the farmer. "I know it's rough. I'm sorry about what has happened
Under normal circumstances, a farmer from Castalia, N.C. would not cry in front of
another man. He probably wouldn't weep in front of a woman, even his wife. But this
man's mind was on his daughter, who had been a freshman at Appalachian State University
until she met a member of The Way International while watching TV. "We have a
solicitation policy on campus," responded a spokesman for the ASU Residence Life
Department. "We treat everybody the same, whether they are a religious group or a
political group or whatever. The problem that many times the staff is the last person told
that they're there." Complaints were made by students over The Way members in the
dorms, he added.
At Gaston Lake in the Piedmont area of North Carolina deprogrammers counseled
Nelms' daughter for a week, the farmer told us, as Bob served us soda and pretzels.
This disturbing experience was a bit distant from the halcyon days his daughter had spent
in childhood at the Red Bud Baptist Church in Castalia.
Nelms took a long drag off his cigarette and smeared its sparkling tip into the ashtray
after the long day of court and told his side of the story.
"She told a different story up here today," said Nelms, then 45. I had been in court
when Nelms sat among the curiosity seekers in the gallery.
Nelms plowed many rows of tobacco in the humid fields of his farm in Franklin County
to send one of his two daughters to college. One was Karen Rene Nelms.
"She had never given us any problems at all, always at church, dependable, good
worker," he recalled, blowing smoke out his nose and mouth. "We were sending her
money the whole time. I just feel like everybody needs a college education now."
Four weeks after Ms. Nelms enrolled at ASU, her father said he learned of her
involvement with The Way.
"She was a little homesick, a little lonesome," he said. "I was stupid on it.
Thanksgiving is when I found out that it was serious. I asked her not to go back with that
group, and she told me she wouldn't...."
At Christmas he purchased the young woman a brand new $9,800 car, registering it in
his name and telling her she could have it on the condition that she steer clear of the
Nelms finished his third cigarette. His expensive gift to his little girl had not changed a
"The group was using the car - she was walking where she needed to go. It was what
she felt she was supposed to do. She pawned her class ring; I went and got that back."
A Boone Baptist Student Union representative called Nelms after spring semester had
begin, informing him that his daughter had not attended classes in three weeks. It was
ultimately the denomination of Nelms' faith that saved his daughter from the jaws of The
Finally, it became distinctly apparent that she would not be continuing her education,
so when Nelms came up to help her pack her clothes in her dorm room he said there was
company - Way members.
Nelms said, "They were standing there, looking at me, calling me "kidnapper." I won't
afraid, a little ill...I really wasn't ill. I'm going to put it like this - I didn't listen to them. We
talked to a lady (in Castalia) as far as counseling, talked to a minister, and long that night,
sometime around one or two o'clock, that's when she took the car an came back up here. I
told her, "Don't take the car."
She should have taken his advice, or maybe it was a good thing that she broke the law.
Upon Nelms' request Franklin County Sheriff's Department authorities drew up warrants
for a Ms. Karen Nelms and her arrest on the charge of felonious automobile larceny, and a
Boone detective served them on her outside the Way apartment in Boone. The detective
had been Bob Kennedy.
All this time Nelms had hired a private detective to trail his daughter. One of the
hardest things a parent might have to do with a child is to sick the law on your seed. It's
the ultimate parental right of custody and persuasion.
"They released her to my custody, and she refused to go with me, of course, after
talking with me, I did get her to go with me," Nelms said. "She told me that she was afraid
She was about to visit Iowa for the first time in her life.
Two of the deprogrammers were women, one of whom was a psychiatrist, he said, and
another counselor was a former Way member himself.
Nelms said he was present 95 percent of the week, which he said was punctuated by
late-night sessions and proper meals, but not contact with the outside world.
On that Friday Nelms sent her to a deprogramming center in Iowa City, Iowa - a spot
he felt was "safe" from the Boone group. "She stayed five days, made four phone calls
while she was there," he said. Two calls were made to the Pizza Hut in Boone, where she
had worked, and two were made to her home in Castalia, he said.
Ms. Nelms admitted that someone gave her assistance so she could travel back to
For six days Nelms said he didn't know where she was until she called him. "She told
me how much she loved me," said Nelms. I asked the guy if he loved his daughter.
"Would you spend $20,000, and that's how much I spent, would that mean I loved her
or not? I didn't have it. My friends have taken care of all my farming, my chickenhouses.
Anyway, they could help me, they have helped me, and they have helped me financially."
Cross examination of Karen Nelms by the prosecutor:
Q. "Now, you say you were a student at one time?"
A. "Yes, sir."
Q. "When did you leave school?"
A. "Last semester, well, I finished one semester."
Q. "Why did you leave, ma'am?"
A. "I didn't like it. School wasn't for me."
(I could relate to that.)
Q. "Why didn't you like it?"
A. "I just don't like to study." (I could definitely relate to that.) We sell food tickets at
ASU for pot and N.Y. submarines with a Coke from Yogi's on Main Street in Boone.
A. "Because of my parents." (My parents had nothing to do with my hatred of studying. I
was merely lazy.)
Q. "Because of your parents?"
A. "Yes, they wanted me to go."
Q. "How far had you gone in school?"
A. "One semester."
Q. "One semester."
A. "Uh huh."
Q. "How did you get involved in The Way?"
A. "I met them watching TV, and they asked me if I wanted to come to a fellowship, and I
agreed." (My memories are shaped by my early years of watching television, "Felix the
Cat," "The Wild, West West," "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" episode about "The Jar" and
the reoccurring nightmare I have about having a scary show on, and I jerk the plug from
the wall, and the Devil keeps broadcasting over the TV set even though there is a lack of
Q. "And you work at the Pizza Hut now?"
A. "Yes, sir."
Q. "Do you contribute your wages to The Way?"
A. "Yes, sir. Not my wages, a percent."
Q. "What percent?"
A. "Ten percent or what I have. What I can give of that."
Mine pitiful tithe was never the 10-percenter, only coinage. My Novocain fanny was numb
in the court seat.
Q. "Ten percent?"
A. "Yes, sir."
Q. "And you have been a member of The Way for how long?"
A. "Since August, about eight months."
Q. Where were you on the 16th of March '83?"
A. "16th of March, I had just got back here to Boone."
Q. "From where?"
A. "From Iowa City."
(Lord knows what those deprogrammers did to that poor chick, and her emotionless
face reflected a sense of loss, the same numbness my fanny was feeling.) I have since
stopped saying, "chick," after the elderly copy editor at the Wilmington newspaper
reported me for using a derogatory term against females even though the bandleader of
the Letterman show did it regularly.
Q. "What were you doing in Iowa City?" (Shucking corn, you stupid son-of-a-bitch! What
the fuck do you think was going on? You know.)
Visiting. Tourism beats all, doesn't it?
Q. "Did you arrive back on that day?"
A. "Yes, sir."
Q. Where were you on the 2nd of March?"
A. "2nd of March, I don't rightly know."
(I tell you where I was, I was down and dirty at my apartment with a bottle of Jack
Q. "Where were you on the 24th of February?" (I had been throwing up into a campfire
at a party in Foscoe beside a creek.)
A. "I don't know."
Q. "But yet you remember exactly what happened on the 20th of November?" (That was
the night my buddy John rode with me back from Blowing Rock, the long way around Boone, and it
was sleeting and snowing, and I had no brakes, using the emergency brake to slow us
down the long straightaway blacktop out of Boone to Vilas as one tire gripped the gravel
off the road, and I shoved the Maverick's transmission into "1" while John wigged.
A. "After I sat down and thought about it."
Q. "After you sat down and thought about it?"
A. "Yes, sir."
Another Way member sat in the witness stand.
Q. "Pat Yacongis. Now where does Mr. Yacongis live?"
A. "725 East Howard Street."
Q. All right. And is that headquarters here of The Way?"
A. "You could say that for Boone."
Q. "All right. Is there anyone else who lives there in that same building?"
A. "Yes, sir."
Q. "Who lives there?"
A. "Mark Edwards, David Reilly and Lee Metzger.
Q. "And they are all members of this organization The Way?"
A. "Yes, sir."
Q. "How did you come to be a member of The Way, ma'am?"
A. "I met Pat Yacongis and Mark Edwards at the very first of the year in August, and I
became friends with them, and became interested in what they were doing, and so I stared
going to their fellowships."
Q. "Well, what was it that they were doing that you were interested
A. "They were really excited about being alive, and I wanted to know how to be that
way." (She sounded like an Amway salesman.)
Q. "What do you mean, they were really excited about being alive?"
A. "They were always happy, and had something really special...."
"The Way International, New Knoxville, OH 45871." The newsletter in my dusty old
box announces that the LEAD Outdoor Academy International in Tinnie, New Mexico is
"upward and onward." I pull the second six-pack out of the freezer since it's cold now,
and sift through the box as I hear the mailbox's lid close shut and the shadow at the door
fade into the sunlight.
In the "Military Household News," a theme of military saints as "Athletes of the Spirit,"
is forged for a weekend program at the Holiday Inn by the Ocean in Virginia Beach with
speakers Walter J. Cummins, Research Development Chairman, Randy Anderson, Mid-
Atlantic Region coordinator, and limb coordinator of Virginia, Britt Lynn, limb
coordinator of West Virginia, and Michael Rood, limb coordinator of D.C.
There is a photograph of Wierwille signing "Jesus Christ, Our Passover," one of 5,000
first-edition copies he personally autographed. He signed copies for his sisters, Mrs.
Martin Kuck and Mrs. Walter Henkener, and for his brother, Reuben Wierwille. The book
is dedicated to Reuben.
A story on Broadway lists female Power for Abundant Living graduates as being in
shows like "Forty-Second Street," "Sugar Babies," and "Evita." On Sunday, Jan. 25, 1981
The President's Newsletter outlines Wierwille's planned retirement for Oct. 3, 1982 with
the Rev. L. Craig Martindale as president-elect.
In his acceptance address, Martindale said, "I was Associate Pastor and Youth Minister
at one of the great Southern Baptist churches in the Southwest and was definitely one of
the bright and rising stars of the denomination ... yet deep in my heart, it wasn't just being
someone with a position and prestige that motivated me. I wanted to do something for
"Was Michelangelo replaced? da Vinci? Charlemagne? Thomas Edison? Babe Ruth?
Vince Lombardi? Jeremiah? Paul? No...others came along to keep things rolling (which in
some cases was successful and some not), but not to actually replace."
The new leader said he entered the Second Way Corps in 1971, becoming the second
International WOW coordinator in his first year and later becoming second state
coordinator of Oklahoma in 1973-74. WOW ambassadors preached "Word Over the
World). The crux of The Way was Wierwille's Power for Abundant Living course.
In the fall of 1975 the new leader said he entered The Way College of Emporia to start
the second Way Corps training locale. At the end of his address there are display
advertisements for "The Hope of Glory" by David Charles Craley, editor of The Way
Magazine and coordinator of Way Publications. It's 352 pp., $4.95 with Ohio residents
adding 5.5% tax.
The only kudo is by Wierwille, "Changed by the great power of God. A great book!
Every questing person should read it, and you should give a copy to a friend." "A Novel of
Deliverance" is the headline for the other book, "The Rescue," by Dennis McGee, a
graduate of The Way Corps, a WOW vet and a member of the Way Builders. It's 198 pp.,
$8.95 plus $1.50 shipping with a tax for Ohioans and another critique by the leader.
"...one of the most exciting books I have read. The accuracy of the Word, the heart, the
location, the buildup, all pleased and blessed me much."
The Way also claimed the Fine Arts and Historical Center in Sidney, Ohio, a 14-room
mansion listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of
Interior. In New Knoxville The Way's American Christian Press printed The Way
Magazine, Way propaganda and the bimonthly Heart newsletter, with the April-May issue
looking like a National Lampoon spoof with a shaded silhouette of Christ, headlined, "The
Attempted Deprogramming of Jesus Christ."
The Way claims the outdoor center in New Mexico and a 100-acre Camp Gunnison
Way Family Ranch in Colorado.
"I really feel it's a totalistic group," Priscilla Coates, director of the Citizens Freedom
Foundation in Hannacroix, N.Y. told me. The anti-cult agency had 55 affiliates in 31
states, including North Carolina, with offices in Greensboro and Raliehg. It was running
up the newspaper's telephone at this point, but I didn't care, even though I was told from
time to time to watch it on long distance charges.
"Whoever leads The Way, leads it with total control," she said. "It's his way - or no
The most chilling aspect of Way activities is its paramilitary weapons training, she
said, which was publicized after people heard of a national Guard weapons course being
taken by Way College students in New Knoxville.
"We don't have it anymore," said a Way spokesperson.
Is there mind control and brainwashing in the way?
"My answer to that would simply be come for yourself and make your own judgment,"
said one spokesman.
As The Way's official public relations officer, a woman addressed the accusation of
brainwashing. "The charge of brainwashing is basically introduced to cause confusion and
suspicion," she said. "Nobody can pin down what it is that they think we are doing
because it doesn't exist. Unfortunately, we have a number of these kinds of complaints
Sometimes parents are victims of a fast-talking deprogrammer who is trying to make his
commission like a salesman does. It is kidnapping and therefore illegal." I recalled the "No
Soliciting" sign on our door and the unrelenting line of salesmen, church doughnut pitch-
children and other hawkers who broke the city's peddler law daily and forced me to do a
story on the law.
Concerning the Reilly case, she said, "My major concern is what he did is not a
reflection of what our organization teaches." Reilly, a member of the local group, was
charged with breaking into a Japanese steakhouse he worked at and stealing money out of
a vandalized cigarette machine and other junk.
Two years ago the Citizens Freedom Foundation "bit the bullet" on its policy toward
deprogramming, declaring it was an acceptable method of behavior modification, Ms.
Coates said. I wondered if such modification would work on my pot-smoking and intake
of moonshine from Wilkesboro.
"We do not support kidnapping or holding a person against their will," she explained.
Since community members were gossiping about the group with firsthand information, she
urged me to ask citizens to attend a fellowship session to witness that no brainwashing,
low-protein diets or other odd things were going on.
"I ain't going to no meeting like that!"
Seated two feet from the reception window at the Boone Police Department two
storefronts down from the newspaper, the dispatcher laughed, her face turning red. Every
morning I'd traipse down and take the local pulse and see what was happening.
"Tim Bullard, you'd better watch out if you go up there on that street and mess with
those people. You need to go to church with me!"
Ms. Coates said that the thing that has upset her the most about The Way hit her as she
was reading one day. A writer wrote that Wierwille's hometown is only 47 miles from
Lynn, Ind. - the birthplace of the Rev. Jim Jones who led more than 900 cankered souls to
suicide in Jonestown.
"That's always given me cold chills," she said.
I've never been that interested in cult groups, except the Baptist State Convention, as I
was growing up Baptist in a Baptist world in Scotland County, N.C. Now I know the only
cult is the religions to which you cling. Researching The Way International, I learned
about the modus operandi of cults and the brainwashing that is just as strong, seductive
and alluring as that of a political party.
In the April 4, 1977 issue of TIME, a N.Y. judge excoriated deprogramming as a
violation of the First Amendment. The deprogrammers had just won a test involving
Success is what a former county prosecutor in Arizona called what happened to 88 or
90 disciples of a Booneville, Calif. camp of Sun Myung Moon. The Moonies' attorney
compared the conversions to the ones you see the Rev. Billy Graham of Montreat, N.C.
doing. There were stories of "browbeating."
God knows what went on in Iowa City, Iowa where our crying N.C. farmer sent
$20,000 of plow money to get his daughter deprogrammed, but what happened afterward
was a tragedy.
"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads" - Henry David Thoreau.
I was beginning to disinfect this blemish of humanity through journalism, the same way
I clean the brown mung caked around the white, ceramic drain of my shower bathtub.
Spray a little unwatered-down bleach on it and it will clean itself. Sunlight is supposed to
be the best disinfectant.
Freedom of religion is a constitutional right respected by the Rev. David Long of First
Presbyterian Church in Boone. To find a clear, level-headed response and explanation of
cult groups, I figured the reasonable place to start was with a Protestant officiant.
"We have to allow and protect, under the law, a group like The Way," Long said. "I'd
describe it as a very dangerous cult by what I know and what I've read - it's very
dangerous. They accept the scriptures, but they variate from them. Pretty soon, they have
you off out here. The church doesn't have all the truth about the scriptures."
Long described the personal susceptible to a cult: "the person who has biblical or
religious or Christian training, the person who has a church background, the person who is
not the most popular person, but who needs approval of friends...a rather strict
upbringing, a so-called sheltered life, a person who is lonely, lonely from family, lonely
from friends, and they really lack a personal relationship with God."
Later when I asked Long about speaking in tongues and exorcism, he said he saw an
exorcism in Africa and believed one could speak in tongues. Durn. I never realized
that Presbyterians believed in exorcism and towers of psychobabble.
Long described brainwashing. I knew what it was. For several months I was on an in-
patient unit in Pinehurst, N.C. after flunking out at ASU and becoming extremely
I knew what deprogramming was like. "It would be cleansing the mind of all previous
conceptions and placing in their place those conceptions that are desired by the one who
brainwashes or by the one who modifies behavior. You don't wash the brain. You don't
have a mental breakdown. You don't just pull a brain out and scrub it and put it back in."
That's probably what had happened to me the night before, or maybe it was the 10th
brew at Clyde's in Blowing Rock and the first lobster I'd ever eaten in my life,
microwaved. I faintly remember a female who, on a dare, lifted up her skirt to her chest,
revealing to all bar patrons that she was wearing no panties while music of The Dillards
blasted over the Bose speakers.
Presbyterian Long concluded, "We have to allow and protect, under the law, a group
like The Way."
Michael Van Dyke, N.C. Way Director in Greenville, N.C., told me, "One man's cult is
another man's religion, and one man's religion is another man's cult.
Ms. Nelms asked me to print that she loves her parents and has not tried to do anything
to hurt them. The next time I saw her was with Edwards in our front office buying a
classified ad for the sale of a $175 flute.
The Nelms experience is not new in North Carolina. "No, it's not the first case I know
of," said an anti-cult spokesman. "They are in every state."
Colonization of Way groups had evolved into a network encompassing all 50 states
and 50 foreign countries since Wierwille, born in 1917, quit his ministry at United Church
of Christ in Van Wert, Ohio to inoculate his own herd. He studied at Mission House
College, Moody Bible Institute, the University of Chicago Divinity School, getting his
masters of theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and his doctorate from Pike's
Peak Seminary, an alleged "degree mill."
During the flower child movement of the 1960s Wierwille had mustered up a flock in
the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, later moving to his family's homeplace, a
147-acre farm in New Knoxville.
The 197-acre Way College of Biblical Research was in Rome City, Ind. My notes and
manuscripts from covering The Way are brown, yellowed, torn and out of order. Some of
the original pages were thrown in the trash that day in Perkinsville, a small borough on the
east side of Boone, when my landlord instructed employees to throw all my personal
belongings out of the apartment in which I was residing.
John and I knew a guy named John. "John's" father was a judge from Morganton. The judge told
me he'd rather not discuss The Way.
His son later decided to ask me not to use any of his quotes, but changed his mind so
many times I wasn't quite sure what he wanted. He told me of when he was 22 six years
ago and traveled to the Rock of Ages Festival The Way sponsored every year.
"I had just graduated from college," he said. "I went with two girls and another guy,
Nancy, Lisa and Steve. We went in a VW bug. It was fun. I had a good time. A lot of
pussy. Itis. We all camped out up there. Everybody walking and saying, "Jesus loves!" All
these Jesus freaks. It was wild as hell. It took us, I believe, 16 or 18 hours. We just
partied, you know, drove on down the road, drank beer, smoked pot."
This guy was funny to John and I because he was a friendly fellow who would
sometimes lapse into a state of quiet oblivion, but the thing that tickled us about him was
the fact that most of the time he would not be looking at you when he talked.
"I wanted to see what it was like and what they did. She said that I'd like it. I went, I
guess, because of her. We all just slept in one big tent. It was a big old fairground deal, a
bunch of parking spaces. They had tents all around, mobile homes, trailers and all. There
was about 100,000 people there." He said there was a band and stage and people singing
"Jesus Loves You This I Know."
Music could feature groups like The Joyful Noise or The Good Seed.
"They'd say, "Yeah, you want to be with The Way," you know. Most of them were real
straight, real flower children. There were a lot of hippies and s---. A lot of people walked
around with cups with beer and liquor. A lot of them were smoking. You could walk
around and smell it everywhere."
The reason he didn't want me to include his comments was that his sister had been in
the group, and his father, the judge, wanted her out.
One of the photocopied documents I got from the Citizens Freedom Foundation
involved a 25-year-old guy rescued from The Way in Norfolk after he was approached by
a couple in the local shopping mall. He was later deprogrammed
"When I first became a member I didn't think it was a cult. But it is a cult that uses
mind control techniques and the issue is not doctrine but mind control," he said Dec. 3,
1980. His father exploded and his mom "just sat there and wanted to listen to what I had
"I read that deprogramming was holding you against your will, for a long period of
time, trying to convert you to believe a different belief system and that is not true. What is
true is that a deprogramming shows you in a very defined way how hypnosis, self-hypnosis
and brainwashing techniques operate."
"A lot of the teachings are what I would consider very good teachings. But even still,
though Dr. Wierwille has changed a few basic doctrines around and he knows he has to.
because he will not defend his position. He will either become very angry with you and
not defend himself or he will remain calm and quiet and act real peaceful."
"While you were in The Way did you know about the anti-Semitism of The Way
"No, I hadn't been aware of that until my deprogramming where it was made known to
me that a book that they have on the shelf of the library at the international headquarters
teaches that the six million Jews were not killed by the Germans."
"Did you know that when a person makes a contribution to the Nazi Party that they are
sent a pamphlet written by Dr. Wierwille?"
"No I did not know that until right now Where did you find out your information from
Sue Martin at Keuka College is described as a student intern at the NEC center. "From
an Ex-Way member." "The Myth of the Six Million" was the publication in question, a
document abhorred by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith along with "The Hoax
of the 20th Century." "How do you feel about the people in The Way now that you're
"Oh, I have nothing against them at all. I think that the time we spent together was
pretty good. They're still my friends, but we have one less thing in common. May be more
than one thing, but I'm no longer a member and they are."
"Have any of The Way members tried to harass you?"
"Well, I know they don't call it harassment, but I know that when you are invaded,
your own privacy, that it's not right, I believe that they are doing what is called "God's
will" all the time and even if it means they will break man's laws, to do God's will."
"And what God's will is, is Dr. Wierwille's will?"
In "Cults, World Religions and You" there is a chapter on The Way International,
stating its college in Emporia, Kan. was established in 1975, and that before the senior
year, students had to spend a year as missionaries. There are retreats and "advances" and
prison outreaches. The Minuteman Program dispatches PFAL grads to cities for the
summer to create twig groups and enroll new students in the PFAL course. I used to go to
the Boone Police Department and talk with Phyllis, the secretary, for hours about The
Way and what people thought of it, and when we weren't talking about The Way, we'd
talk about the existentialism of Jason in the "Halloween" series. Most of the small
mountain churches were scared shitless of a cult group in town, and any such talk was d
deemed as a social threat against the crux and cornerstone of "Our Town."
The publication accuses The Way of coordinating and developing businesses owned by
members and providing work for members and a larger financial base. There is a 10
percent tithe. The tapes students listen to are described as involving singing, praying and
speaking in tongues. Female ministers are ordained along with males. Christmas or Easter
are not the most important day for The Way which the publication says Pentecost tops the
Zealous enthusiasm is highlighted, and drugs, alcohol, premarital sex and slothfulness
Wierwille wrote a book called "Jesus Christ Is Not God," "The Bible Tells Me So,
"The Word's Way," and "Receiving the Holy Spirit Today."
In July 1979 when Wierwille was 62 Ohio Magazine published a story by Michael
Harden that begins, "From a farm in Western Ohio, an international multimillion dollar
religious cult pulls the strings for its army of tens of thousands of disciples. Many have
gone through a religious boot camp, many have received small arms training, all are
fiercely loyal to one man."
Wierwille grew up on a Shelby County farm, the article reports, where the international
headquarters were built. He was called to be a minister of the Evangelical and Reformed
Church in Van Wert and Payne, Ohio. The PFAL course began in 1953. He resigned in
Van Wert in 1957 at the United Church of Christ. Wierwille reportedly began with the
help of a disc jockey named Steve Heefner who assisted in The Way's canonization in a
seven-page LIFE magazine featured entitled "The Groovy Christians of Rye, N.Y," a story
written by Jane Howard in May 1971. LIFE said Wierwille called Rye a "very dark town
in a very dark county."
Ohio Magazine claimed The Way's East group in New York raised $100,000 in 18
months, and the group was growing.
The price of the Power For Abundant Living Course had been free, increasing to $15
and then to $100. There were even groups in Little Rock, Ark. "Blind allegiance," Ohio
Magazine called it. Training for The Way Corps training required one to keep one's
marital status, incorporate a low-protein diet and get to bed around 12:30 a.m, awaking by
It was supposedly "okay to sleep with somebody else (other than your spouse) as long
as it honors God or builds the ministry or some kind of clowny stuff like that," a guy is
One publication reported The Way denied the Trinity and Christ's divinity and
incarnation, adding that Jesus was resurrected on Saturday and that four people instead of
two were crucified next to the Lord. The Way believed only believers after Pentecost
would be saved, and they must remain dead until the final resurrection. Water baptism was
discouraged, and speaking in tongues was taught with members practicing 30 minutes
Way Corps trainees supposedly were punished for being five minutes late for dinner or
forgetting a name tag by missing a meal. Fasts included only vitamins, water and Colo
Cleanse, a "volcanic ash product."
In the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette Tom Jenkinson, director of The Way College of
Biblical Research in Rome City, said trainees are free "within the restrictions of the
program and within the restrictions I think you would experience, I assume, in most any
other training program, be it your first year of college or the Marine Corps."
Bubbling underwater, I emerged from the baptismal pool of First Baptist Church of
Laurinburg a saved individual, experiencing the same stifling sensation of drowning the
church pest behind me was about to get. It was the scariest moment of my life. There was
a painting on the wall behind the pool with the scene of a mountainside that you could slip
into during a boring sermon. If you sat close to the front row, you could see us wet in our white
choir robes as we emerged from the pool as Christians. Breathtaking. I wore underwear on my
submerging trip underwater. I felt like Lloyd Bridge on "Sea Hunt." Got water in my ears. It felt
good dribbling out that night.
Marksmanship and weapons handling and safety courses were offered at the National
guard Armory of Emporia over two years, Ohio Magazine reported.
The article said The Way had a police force of three people at its headquarters under a
105-year-old Ohio law which first permitted Chautaugua gatherings to have event
"The Bless Patrol" was the squad's name Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart had to
"It is hard to guess what legislators were thinking in 1874," the sheriff told the
magazine, "but this law has the potential of being really abused. They would have police
powers to conduct investigations, as I understand it, any place in the state of Ohio.
Anybody you can think of could start their own police agency, carry firearms, conduct
investigations, and I don't think that's healthy. There's no checks and balances. There's no
mayor they answer to, no town council that hey answer to. It's the type of thing where
they could have five officers today and 500 tomorrow."
Shelby County Prosecutor Scott Jarvis was listed as a Way member and The Way's
legal counsel, and as saying they should refrain from making vehicle stops near Wierwille
Road. A "Mrs. Moore" with First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. told me, "It's just an
evil group. I'll tell you that. It's a sad situation."
Boone Way fellowship meetings were held at 8 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday night,
so on April 29 before a spokesman had invited me to attend, I went with my cousin, Jeff,
who lives 45 miles away in Newton. He's husky like me, and we look and feel like
brothers. I asked him to go, and he was hesitant, but agreed when it looked like we would
go chasing women in Blowing Rock at the bars afterward. He still wanted to just hit the
bars, but sheepishly accompanied me.
Twig leader Pat Yaconis was preaching out of the book of Acts and Ephesians, talking
about change and how those who persecute might be converted. No way, Jose. It was a
nice house on a respectable street above The Flick theatre. Prayers were uttered, and a
reed horn of plenty was passed around, so I gave Wierwille a buck. Didn't even ask for
compensation at work. There are a lot of invisible costs for journalists. Karen Nelms had
been contributing 10 percent of her waitress money to the group. I'm just not a 10-
percenter at heart. One of my stories quoted estimated Way assets at $10 million or near
I thought I'd melt from embarrassment when we started singing some corny oldie-but-
goldies from the Sing Along The Way songbook, but everyone else chimed in with laughs
"Again, what you saw is not different from anything else we do," The Way spokesman
reminded me later.
The merriment subsided into a serious conversation when I told them I was a news
reporter. Somber indeed.
Yaconis said he'd have to refer questions to New Knoxville, but he did say, "David is
"THOU SHALT NOT STEAL." - God
Mark Edwards, sitting next to Way member Karen Nelms, said that the group had
contacted the FBI in Hickory to report that the group was being railroaded, but no
assistance was given. The life of Reilly was in jeopardy. Reilly was a Boone twig member
who was in trouble in the court system.
On New Year's Eve David Michael Reilly, 23, of Methuen, Mass., found himself facing
charges of felonious breaking and entering and larceny because of an incident in
November 1982 at a Japanese steakhouse restaurant where he worked. A vandalized
cigarette machine was smashed, and money was stolen. Boone Police Department officers
had arrested him at the twig's $450 a month home, charging that he stole $6,767.77 from
the restaurant on Saturday, Nov. 21. Over $5,000 damage was sustained at the location of
our newspaper's company Christmas party, where the showboat chefs feigned translation
difficulties until they had captured a fair maiden customer following the flaming shrimp
ritual and the miracle of catching a yellow rind of lemon behind the back on the second or
third try. Sometimes they did it the first time. Our parties were fun. My last Christmas
bonus was great, about $400. The Coffeys were generous. The Jehovah's Witness
photographer flatly refused a Christmas bonus, but he would accept it only as an incentive
bonus. Praise the Lord.
The company safe was found opened on the lobby floor.
After David Michael Reilly, was by the Boone Police Department and went to court,
Henry Upchurch of Sugar Grove, eight miles from Boone near Vilas, made his $10,000
bond. Reilly received a three-year sentence. After a Watauga County jury deliberated
about four hours April 15 before convicting Reilly, he got a three year active sentence.
During his trial, Reilly's attorney argued fiercely when the judge allowed the
prosecutor's questioning to ramble way out of bounds into The Way's financial
transactions and to a razy little thing called deprogramming. A Boone detective testified
that Reilly protested when he was arrested, and that during questioning the suspect stated
that "he had no damned business around that cigarette machine."
Prints found on the cigarette machine were "fresh," the officer testified, having been
applied within 48 hours of the break-in. The prints were identified as Reilly's.
"He has no prior record, to my knowledge," he said.
During the trial I had a rather strong attack of gas and tried to squeak out a silent
emission, but all was for naught. The triple treblo horn sounded, and thankfully no one
sitting near me in the press box, including the cops, issued any signal that my transgression
was picked up by radar.
"He has no prior record, to my knowledge," the officer said.
A vendor said that when he checked his machine after the crime, cigarettes were
missing, but no money had been swiped. A Makoto's assistant manager testified that the
defendant, a former morning janitor, had been relieved of his duties over a week before the
theft because he had missed a day of work.
"I thought it was my day off," Reilly testified later.
He and other Way members were sworn in together with their hands placed squarely
on bibles. Reilly said he had been bowling and watching TV. Dr. Joe Glass, Lenoir-Rhyne
professor of religion, said a member of The Way once approached student in Hickory at the
Lutheran college. He opposed their outreach program.
"A few years ago they came through here. I didn't encourage it."
Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Johnny Turner told me that his
department had assisted former Boone Police Chief Clyde Tester and his staff in the Reilly
Nelms lighted Cigarette Number 5.
He said that when he would drive to Boone to see his daughter, Way members were
always with her and would watch them until the end of the visits.
I did a story for the Hickory Daily Record on Feb. 9, 1987 that reported the son of a
Valdese couple, who are themselves members of Waldensian Presbyterian Church in
Valdese, now lived in New Knoxville, living with Wierwille's daughter and their twin sons.
The story reported that Kevin Guigou, 29, graduated in 1981 from the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte with degrees in architecture, and he then worked for The Way
architectural and engineering office. He also was project coordinator for The Family
Commons Building at The Way's camp in Gunnison, Col.
"He got started in Valdese," his father told me over the telephone, adding that The
Way was a good organization. "It's real influential. It's the kind of thing you can belong to
and leave. "It's because they don't know much about it," his dad told me of the critics. It's
just lack of proper knowledge. We're not involved. We're sticking with our church here."
A N.C. State Bureau of Investigation agent told me that there was no on-going
investigation of The Way, but he referred to information in an article in The Raleigh News
& Observer published April 6, 1981. The story told about an ex-Way member and N.C.
State University Wolfpack student David Richard's disillusionment with one of the 10
fellowships in the Raleigh area in the fall of 1973 and his charges of mind control,
fraternity-joke hazing, sleep deprivation and malnourishment.
A map of the root family compound illustrates the "Jordan River" creek, basketball
courts, the Wierwille family barn circa 1891, Reuben Avenue, Sevilla Avenue, Allen
Circle, Lydia Avenue, Randall Drive, Owens Drive, and a tertiary pond. Camp Gunnison is
advertised as having hunting, fishing, horseback riding, jeep trips, snowmobiling,
backpacking, downhill and cross-country skiing, tobogganing and ice skating with
chuckwagon cookouts, campfire singalongs and twig fellowships. In Sidney, Ohio there
was The Fine Arts and Historical Center built in the 1890s as a 14-room mansion in 18-
inch Indiana limestone on a bluff and "dramatized by a variety of hardwoods used
throughout, including heavily carved bird's eye maple, red mahogany, cherry, golden oak
and curly birch. It's listed in the National Register of Historic Places, housing Wierwille's
research works and "historical" Way documents.
The group even had a recording studio in New Bremen, Ohio with Way Productions
and Take A Stand Caravan, a group of singers and musicians. There were festivals in
Europe and South America.
Another Way member in Boone testified in the Reilly trial. "Jesus Christ is the Son of
God," she said under oath, adding that she stays in the group of her own free will. Her
mother, Mary Reece, told me later that after reading some Way documents her daughter
brought home one weekend, she doesn't believe Way doctrines are too kosher and
definitely unlike the preachings of the family's worship at Pine Log Baptist Church. "Great
name," Susannah had written in the margin.
She and her husband, Max, would like their daughter out of The Way too, she said.
"Nice double entendre," Susannah wrote.
Her daughter testified that she met Way member Mark Edward in August, and she
went to a meeting because she was interested in what the group had to say.
"They were really excited about being alive, and I wanted to be the same way," she
said. "They smile a lot...."
Reilly explained how he met other Way members. "We went to this thing called The
Rock of Ages; it's this thing like a Christian gathering," he said.
He and his new friends then moved to Hickory and on to Boone 45 clicks away. He
said he signed an application to become a Word Over the World (WOW) ambassador. All
local twig money now goes to Way Treasurer Howard Allen, according to Reilly.
The last page of my Rolling Stone manuscript may not be the final one, since I left it at
a reporter's apartment in Gastonia as he packed for Florida.
"Nightmares of nuclear war, dreams about my old girlfriend and anxiety attacks have
lightened up some since I've come to the end of this research. Well, Ms. Nelms has just
recently spent a weekend at home with her family. Her father drove her back to Boone as
he promised he would.
"She is still with The Way. Reilly's case is pending, and because of that, Boone Police
Chief Clyde Tester said he couldn't comment on the case since it might jeopardize his
"It was a thorough investigation. A lot of time was spent on it," he said.
The money was never returned or recovered.
Joining a cult group isn't so bad; it isn't as bad as Disney World work; becoming an associate and
cleaning up kid vomit at Wal-Mart isn't being a cult member, even though I swear I saw Sam
Walton in the bathroom the other day. Your world is your cult. Whether you marry with thousands,
or just plain love hanging out in airports baldheaded, you belong to a cult. Rejoice. Your time is at
hand. Sorry. I gotta run. Late for an Amway meeting.