*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.
In part three of “Cults of the World”, cults are remembered for multiple reasons, whether their ideology, demise, or leader(s). That is what happened in Kirtland, Ohio as Jeffrey Lundgren and his cult committed an unspeakable act, leaving Kirtland in fear and horrified.
Born on March 3, 1950 in Independence, Missouri, Jeffrey Lundgren joined the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Lundgren was actively involved with the church due to his strict upbringing. Later on, he served as a lay minister in Kirtland, Ohio until his dismissal by the church in 1988 (Biography.com, 2014; Grasier, 2014).
As an adult, Lundgren became a religious lunatic: he began to tell people he was “… the self-professed prophet” (People, 2006) and preaching on the apocalypse and upcoming war. In 1984, Lundgren and his family moved to Kirtland, Ohio. In 1987, one of his followers, Dennis Avery, also moved to Kirtland. After Avery’s arrival, Lundgren went dark and mysterious by buying a large amount of guns (Biography, 2014; Glasier, 2014). Little did anyone know, Lundgren was about to conduct a murder plot on four of cult members.
On April 17, 1989, Lundgren invited the Avery family over for dinner: Dennis, 47, Cheryl, 46, and three daughters, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and Karen, 7 (Associated Press, 2006). Lundgren devised a plan to kill the entire family “… as a sacrifice to God for man’s sin” (Biography.com, 2014). After he murdered the family, Lundgren buried them in a pit in his barn and fled Ohio. The bodies were not discovered until January 3, 1990. Larry Johnson, former cult member of Lundgren, told the ATF about the murder, in revenge, because his wife left him for Lundgren (Associated Press, 2006; Grasier, 2014).
Arrest warrants were issued on January 5, 1990: Lundgren, his wife, and son were all arrested just before fleeing toe Mexico (Glasier, 2014). In all, thirteen cult members along with Lundgren and his wife, were arrested and convicted of the murders of the Avery family. Lundgren received the death penalty in 1990; however, Lundgren was not executed until 2006 (Glasier, 2014; People, 2006).
At the University Archives and Special Collections, we maintain the communal studies collection and the Center for Communal Studies. The Center’s focuses on contemporary and historic communal groups. The communal studies collection finding aids are available online at http://digitalarchives.usi.edu/digital/collection/CSFA/search.
Associated Press (2006, August 24). Cult leader who killed 5 sentenced to death. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14500204/#.WvSazaQvxhE
Biography.com. (2014, April 4). Jeffrey Lundgren. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/jeffrey-lundgren-14467539
Glasier, D. (2014, December 31). Kirtland cult killings: timeline of events. Retrieved from http://www.news-herald.com/article/HR/20141231/NEWS/141239952
People. (2006). Christian Century, 123(23), 19. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=f4ac705e-9d76-47ca-9165-02fa305fcba8%40sessionmgr4006&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=23077524&db=aph