Mike Warnke Part II: The Real Story
continued from Mike Warnke Part I
Warnke networked widely in the evangelical community, forging ties with the Jesus People, the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, Pentacostal preachers, Charismatics, and anyone else who unquestioningly accepted his testimony. They adored him. He was real, solid proof that an occult underground was devouring America's youth.
As mentioned in Part I, Warnke moved Sue and their two children to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1974 so he could attend Trinity Bible College. The Warnkes became friends with another student at the bible college, Carolyn Alberty. Her testimony, while not as thrilling as Mike's, still grabbed attention: She was "third-generation Mafia", with a dad who ran gambling dens and a mom who ran brothels.
By the end of the school year, Mike and Carolyn were having an affair.
It was also around this time that Warnke made the peculiar decision to become a deacon in the Syro-Chaldean Church, a renegade offshoot of the Eastern Orthodox church. He would later lace his own services with Orthodox accoutrements such as gaudy robes and incense, which is very much at odds with the negative picture he paints in The Satan Seller of the "almost sensual" trappings of Catholicism. (p. 7)
After graduating from Trinity in the spring of '75, the Warnkes moved to Denver. Mike lured his mistress, Carolyn, there with the promise of employment at Pastor Wally Hickey's Happy Church, where Mike held an unpaid position as an evangelist for one of the church's lay ministries.
By the end of the year, he and Carolyn were openly a couple and his "employment" with The Happy Church was over.
In September '76, Mike moved with Carolyn to Nashville. He divorced Sue that December, despite desperate efforts by friends to negotiate a reconciliation. In early '77, Carolyn and Mike married. Though a few Christian associates frowned heavily on the divorce and remarriage, it didn't put a serious dent in Warnke's public image. He appeared on the cover of the October '76 issue of the Christian magazine Harmony. In the article, he's quoted as saying, "Now, I'm a strong civil rights advocate. The last time I had been in Alabama was with Dr. Martin Luther King, back in my college days when I went down there on Freedom Rides. The last time I was there was to march in a civil rights demonstration. "
As you know from Part I, Warnke was in college (very briefly) in 1965. The Freedom Rides were in '61, when Warnke was 15 years old and living in California.
In the fall of 1978, the future seemed bright for Mike Warnke. His three albums were the most popular Christian comedy albums every recorded, and his '79 tour was going to be his biggest yet. He had also written a second memoir, Hitchhiking on Hope Street.
He was touring continuously while Carolyn remained in Nashville with her mother. You can probably see where this is going. In Kentucky, Warnke met a young woman named Rose Hall and began courting her openly. The lovers met in various cities while Warnke was on the road, dishing out Christian comedy and salvation.
His relationship with Carolyn allegedly turned violent. One night that summer, according to Carolyn, Mike shoved her into a wall during a fight and split her head open. He told her, "If you go to a local hospital and tell them what your name is, I'll kill you. I don't have to do it physically. I can do it from another room or another state."
They divorced in November. Warnke told several friends that Carolyn had died.
In January 1980, he married Rose Hall. She would take a more active role in his ministry than either Sue or Carolyn, but this union was also doomed.
Sometime after his third wedding, Warnke became a "bishop". Independent "bishop" Richard Morrill had married Carolyn and Mike in Nashville, and in 1980 he consecrated Warnke a bishop in his "Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, Eastern and Apostolic" (registered in the state of Texas).
In 1982, Mike and Rose registered their own ministry as "The Holy Orthodox Catholic Church in Kentucky".
The centre of Warnke's ministry remained anti-occult, though. Throughout the early eighties, he and Rose traveled the country warning Christian audiences of the occult menace, and described their work in Kentucky helping victims of Satanism. One such victim, a little boy they called "Jeffy", was so traumatized by years of Satanic ritual abuse that he had lapsed into catatonia.
To date, no one has been able to locate "Jeffy".
On May 6, 1985, ABC's 20/20 program aired a special on Satanism in America, The Devil Worshipers. This allegedly "skeptical" report by Tom Gerold was alarmist in tone from beginning to end. On the Ricky Kasso case: "Despite numerous signs that Kasso was into Satanism and rock music associated with devil worship, police steadfastly refused to label this case Satanic. The offical explanation: A drug-related crime." Well, it was a drug-related crime. The victim, Gary Lauwers, allegedly stole ten packets of angel dust from Kasso, and Kasso (a small-time dealer) vowed he wouldn't get away with it.
Much of the program is taken up with the problems of juvenile graffiti, dog mutilations, and horror movies, but then Warnke shows up as a "former Satanist" to describe some of the practices of devil worship. He sits behind an arrangement of props that include a sword, a goblet, and a human skull. Holding up a bone, he explains that Satanists use them to tell the future. He says he was drawn into Satanism as a young man because he "wanted to be somebody special."
Cut to stark black-and-white photos of a teenage boy's corpse. Writing is faintly visible on his skin. "This is a 15-year-old boy who also wanted to be special," Tom Gerald tells us. The boy hung himself after scrawling Satanic slogans and symbols on his body. As we'll see, tying a bizarre teen suicide to Warnke's cult confessions was not a wise journalistic move.
Other "occult experts" interviewed for the program included "cult cop" Sandi Gallant and Dale Griffis, a former police chief whose academic credentials were exposed as bogus during the trial of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin.
Contributions to Warnke's ministry topped $1 million in 1985, and reached over $2 million each year from 1987 to 1990. By '91 he had released eight albums and produced a video (Do You Hear Me?). Until the spectacular collapse of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's multimedia Christian empire, he was a regular guest on The PTL Club.
Warnke's account of his year as a Satanist had become more elaborate over the years. Though the only famous person to appear in The Satan Seller is Anton LaVey, Warnke told Morris Cerullo and others that Charles Manson attended one of his coven's rituals in 1966 and was unimpressed, apparently disappointed that Warnke only pretended to disembowel the nude altar girl. Manson also attended the same San Francisco occult conference as LaVey, Warnke said.
Between June 1960 and March 1967, Manson was in jail for violating the Mann Act and his probation. Warnke could not have met him in the flesh unless he traveled out to McNeil Island penitentiary.
These weren't the only stretchers Warnke was telling. In '82, he told Contemporary Christian Music magazine he had earned a Ph.D in philosophy, a master's degree in theology, and a second master's degree in Christian education. Since his single term at San Bernadino Valley College back in '65, the only schooling he had was his year in bible college. The degrees were completely fictional.
Beginning in late '86, the Warnkes talked of establishing a treatment facility for children rescued from Satanism, and began taking donations for it. This centre never materialized. By April of 1987, the lovely brick complex of Warnke Ministries in Burgin, Kentucky, consisted of offices, chapel, and library. There were no medical facilities, no rehab quarters, and no staff trained to deal with traumatized children. Dr. John Cooper was hired as director of the centre in 1989, but was fired later that year without treating a single child.
Mike and Rose separated the same year. They divorced in '91, and six weeks later Mike married his fourth (and current) wife, Susan Patton. They returned to California. Mike published his third book, an "educational" tome titled Schemes of Satan, quickly followed by his fourth book (co-written with Rose), Recovering from Divorce. Warnke was becoming something of an expert on the latter subject.
Cornerstone writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein had already examined Lauren Stratford's popular memoir of child abuse and Satanic worship, Satan's Underground (which we'll see later in this series). They found that Stratford's story didn't correspond in any way to the known facts of her life. This was a disappointment to the many Christians and anti-occult activists who had supported "Lauren" and promoted her testimony, but the publishers of Cornerstone felt the truth was more important than protecting the reputations of fellow Christians.
They took the same approach to Warnke's background. Trott and Hertenstein interviewed family, classmates, friends, associates, and former employees of Warnke. They also waded through a swamp of divorce proceedings, financial documents, and academic records to ferret out which of Warnke's many claims were true.
The results were stunning. Trott and Hertenstein learned from Warnke's own mother (half-sister Shirley Schrader) that he had not wandered away from church life as a teenager. In fact, he asked to be confirmed as a Catholic in his senior year of high school.
When he was supposedly living with two slave-girls in a Satanic bachelor pad, strung out on speed, with bleached hair down to his butt and black-painted fingernails, Warnke was actually engaged to a devoutly Catholic nursing student named Lois Eckenrod. They met within the first two months of college, got engaged in the winter of 1965, and spent every day together until Mike joined the Navy the following June. Lois says Mike was a Christian who always kept his hair short. He lived alone. He showed no signs of drug or alcohol abuse.
His college friend Greg Gilbert, with whom he lived for a while, described 18-year-old Warnke in much the same way. He was part of a loose-knit group of clean-cut, mostly Christian, students who bowled, played croquet, and drank very little.
His high school and college buddies had never seen him take a drag, much less move hundreds of kilos into the Inland Empire at the behest of Satanic kingpins. While Mike "Judas" Warnke was supposedly lopping off the fingers of devil-worshipers and sipping blood from a chalice, the real Mike Warnke was bowling, sharing hot fudge sundaes with his Catholic girlfriend, and listening to folk music at campus coffeehouses.
While Warnke claims he avoided his family after enrolling at college, Shirley Schrader says Mike had Christmas dinner in Crestline with the family in '65. She noticed nothing out of the ordinary about his appearance or demeanor.
The recollections of his friends and family members weren't the only things that contradicted Warnke's story. Trott and Hertenstein used the handful of time cues in The Satan Seller to figure out just how long it took Warnke to become a drug-addicted Satanic high priest. In their side-article "Why the Dates Don't Work", they explain how his chronology is flat-out impossible.
They also sorted out Warnke's confusing claims about his education, learning that he didn't possess a single degree aside from the one issued by Trinity Bible College - a nonaccredited school.
They heard allegations of death threats and abuse from Warnke's second wife, Carolyn. They learned that he had carried on an affair during this marriage even before meeting his third wife, Rose.
They spoke to former ministry employees who quit or were fired after they realized that all the money being raised wasn't being spent in the ways it was supposed to be spent. The rehab center for child victims of Satanic ritual abuse, for instance, never existed as anything more than a fantasy.
Cornerstone published the results of Trott and Hertenstein's research as a cover article in June 1992: "Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke".
Testimonials supporting Warnke immediately cropped up: David Balsiger, first wife Sue Studer, Bob Larson, Pat Matrisciana, Joanna Michealson, and others stood behind him. Note that all of these people met Warnke after his supposed year of Satanic involvement.
His record label, Word, also pledged loyalty to Warnke. Warnke himself penned a scathing letter to Cornerstone, declaring that he stood by his autobiography "exactly as published", boasting of his "nationally recognized expertise on the occult", and dismissing ex-wife Carolyn as a "cold-hearted and calculating temptress".
The Lexington Herald-Leader then picked up the ball, printing an expose of financial irregularities in Warnke's ministry.
Word promtply dumped Warnke.
In September, the Warnkes shut down their ministry. Warnke ultimately admitted that his coven of 1500 Satanists actually consisted of 13 people. He declined to give their names, claiming that 8 of them were deceased, and never provided any evidence in support of his testimony.
In the spring of 1993, a panel of ministers assembled to sort out Warnke's problems, both spiritual and financial. The group rebuked him for his ungodly behaviour, recommended changes to his ministry (including accountability reports and salary caps), and advised that he pay back taxes to the IRS. Warnke reportedly complied with everything.
Warnke's ministry took a severe beating for a few years, but in the grand tradition of American preacher scandals, he was rehabilitated and welcomed back into the arms of the Christian community. By 2000, he was back on tour. The born again was born again.
But he wasn't entirely chastened by his scandal. In 2002 he published a book titled Friendly Fire: A Recovery Guide for Believers Battered by Religion, in which he vented about his treatment at the hands of other Christians. And to this day, he maintains that his experiences with Satanism are essentially as he described them back in the '70s.
Today, Warnke and his fourth wife run Celebrations of Hope Ministry. Warnke's fellow preachers skirt around the whole Satanic thing these days, focusing instead on his trials and triumphs as a temporary Christian pariah. During Warnke's appearance on The New Jim Bakker Show in 2007, Bakker told the audience, "Mike was saved out of Satanism or something."
Warnke's own comments during this show are illuminating. He joked that exaggeration on the part of televangelists is "evangelasticity". Explaining how he got into comedy/ministry, he said, "I was a child of the Jesus Movement, and of course in the Jesus Movement we all had to have a testimony. If you had been to seminary, if you had six doctorates, if you'd been in the ministry for 25 years, nobody wanted to hear a word you had to say. If you killed your mom, in say 15 minutes they'd let you pass [into] the church." In time, he realized that his own "four-star testimony" was bumming out his audiences, so he leavened it with comedy.
He says he entered the Navy to escape murderous Satanists. He figured there wouldn't be any Satanists or homosexuals there.
Today, Warnke is a "Right Reverend", and the website of Christian Communion International identifies him as a doctor.
The long hair is gone, the evangelasticity is a little less springy, but he's still the same "former Satanist" who scared the hell out of millions of Christians for nearly two decades. His four-star testimony convinced them that all witches, Pagans, and Satanists are a threat to every American family, and that the occult menace of Halloween celebrations and rock music must be destroyed.
The rehabilitation of his career demonstrates that truth is of secondary importance to certain quarters of America's faith community.