Cults of the World: Lundgren Cult

*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.

Transcript: 13 charged in human sacrifice By The Associated Press KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Authorities charged 13 former members of a religious commune with murder or conspiracy after the bodies of a family of five were found buried at an Ohio farm in what a prosecutor Friday called a human sacrifice. Seven of those charged were arrested in the the Kansas City area by Friday afternoon, said George Rodriguez of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Kansas City. Six others were being sought. "Two of those arrested have confessed to their participation the mass murders," Rodriguez said at a news conference. In Cleveland, Lake County prosecutor Steven C. LaTourette said the indicted cult members "are not crazy. They are the coolest, most inhuman people this town has ever seen." He said the Dennis Avery family apparently was killed because of commune leader Jeffrey Lundgren's interpretation of a prophecy that members had to be sacrificed before the group could relocate to the wilderness. Rodriguez said the defendants will be extradited to Ohio to face state charges. Five of those in custody waived extradition at a Jackson County, Mo., court hearing Friday afternoon. The bodies were found Wednesday night and Thursday at a farm near Kirtland, Ohio, a ' suburb of Cleveland near Lake Erie. The dead were identified tentatively as Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 42; and their three daughters, Trina, 13; Rebecca, 9; and Karen, 5. Rodriguez said the family, originally from Independence, had lived off and on at Lundgren's farm in Ohio and were killed sometime in mid-April. Rodriguez said the Averys were members of a splinter religious group led by Lundgren, a former lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is based in Independence. The Lake County coroner's office said they had been shot. The Plain Dealer of Cleveland quoted a police source as saying cult members had to perform a sacrifice before traveling west "where they would be cleansed and could search for a 'golden sword,' " which was not further characterized. A neighbor said the group apparently left the farm in April. Lundgren, 39, and his wife, Alice, 38, were among those charged and were being sought Friday. Also being sought is the Lundgrens' 19-year-old son, Damon. Dave True, a spokesman for the ATF in Kansas City, said Jeffrey Lundgren was thought to be somewhere in Missouri. "At this time at least, we don't have anything that tells us there's bodies anywhere else,'' True said. Lundgren left the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1988 after his ministry credentials were revoked arid formed his own religious group, said Dale Luffman, president of the northeast Ohio chapter of the RLDS. "He was silenced for ethical reasons,'' Luffman said. "He would have been expelled from the church on the basis of un-Christian conduct had he riot withdrawn his membership. They formed a radical splinter group. Their activities were very far outside the traditional church." The new splinter group apparently disbanded late in December after members became disgruntled over "sexual indiscretions," according to a report Friday in The Kansas City Times. An ATF agent received a tip about the bodies Dec. 31 from someone who was not part of the commune. Source: Evansville Courier newspaper, CS 089-1, Lundgren Cult.

Newspaper clipping from the Evansville Courier newspaper, 1990. Source: CS 089-1, Lundgren Cult.

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.

Duncan Scott/News-Herald Jeffrey Lundgren watches a prospective juror come in for questioning by Judge Martin O. Parks and the prosecution and defense teams in Lake County Common Pleas Court on Aug.13, 1990, for his trial on capital murder charges. Source: News-Herald Newspaper, 2015.

Jeffrey Lundgren watches a prospective juror come in for questioning by Judge Martin O. Parks and the prosecution and defense teams in Lake County Common Pleas Court on Aug.13, 1990, for his trial on capital murder charges. Source: News-Herald.com

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.

References

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

This entry was posted in American history, Communal Studies, Cult, Murder. Bookmark the permalink.

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