Detroit Free Press / Newspaper Articles

The Detroit Free Press: 7/4/29

POLICE JAIL FRIEND OF VICTIMS IN AX KILLING OF SIX IN CULT HOME

‘DIVINE PROPHET,’ WIFE, 4 CHILDREN HACKED TO DEATH
Father Found with Head Cut Off; Five Other Victims Believed Killed During Sleep.

WEIRD ALTAR IN CELLAR BARES MYSTICS RELIGION
Wholesale Tragedy Laid to Fanatic; Humble St. Aubin Avenue Home In Scene of Murders.

Angelo Depoli, 34 years old, 2630 Pierce street, was arrested last night in connection with the slaying of Benny Evangelist, “divine prophet” of a weird cult, his wife and four children, ranging in age from 18 months to 7 years, hacked to death yesterday at 3587 St. Aubin avenue by an unknown ax wielder, believed to have been actuated by religious mania.

Depoli was arrested by Detective Lieutenant John Whitman and Detective Charles Searle and Earl Switzer, and registered at headquarters as a disorderly person for investigation. The officers said they found a short ax in Depoli’s barn, along with a keen-edged banana knife and a pair of shoes, which apparently had just been washed.

Admits He Knew Family

The ax bore stains which will be tested to determine whether they are blood or rust. The man admitted his acquaintance with the Evangelists, but denied the murders.

Umberto Pecchio, 42 years old, 2630 Pierce street, and three other men were also held for questioning in connection with the slaying. Police declined to say whether these men were considered as suspects, but admitted there was a possibly they might shed some light on the case.

Police last night sought to sustain a theory Evangelist and his family were slain by the individual responsible for the deaths of Mrs. Henry Cipinski and her three children at River Rouge two weeks ago. Members of the Cipinski family were mutilated with the same savage ferocity which characterized the St. Aubin avenue slayings.

Chief Walter Hancock, River Rouge police, suggested that the killer may have consulted the “divine prophet” in connection with the downriver slayings and, fearful lest his confidence should be betrayed, returned to wipe out the Evangelist family.

The dead:

BENNY EVANGELIST, 44 years old, real estate operator and “divine prophet” of a mysterious religious cult.
SANTINA, 38 years old, Evangelist’s wife.
ANGELINE, 7 years old, a daughter.
MARGARET, 5 years old, another daughter.
JEAN, 4 years old, a third daughter.
MARIO, 18 months old, a son.

The body of Evangelist, with the head severed and lying on the floor beside the chair in which it was slumped, was found at 10:30 a. m. by Vincent Elias, 43 years old, real estate dealer, 2324 Glendale avenue. Elias intended to pay a business call on Evangelist, also engaged in the real estate business.

Background of Religious Insanity.

The murderer worked with demoniac frenzy, apparently with the intention to sever the heads and arms of his victims. Behind the tragedy was a grotesque background of religious insanity paralleling in its weirdness and barbarism any voodoo fetish of the West Indies.

The Evangelist home is a two-story frame structure having four rooms downstairs and five up, in addition to a basement and an attic. On the upper floor the two front rooms are bedrooms, the three back ones being unused and virtually devoid of furniture. A bathroom is located off a hallway between one of the front bedrooms and one of the rear rooms. Opposite the bathroom door is the stairway leading downstairs.

Although Evangelist, slain in his office, was almost fully dressed when found, his wife and the children apparently had retired for the night when the assassin entered. Patrolmen Lawrence and Costage found the body of Mrs. Evangelist lying on and hanging partly over her bed. Her head, horribly mutilated and nearly severed from the body, was projected over the side of the bed. The 18th-months-old boy, Mario, was found in bed with her, his head also badly lacerated and resting upon one of the woman’s arms. The mother’s other arm bore a deep laceration at the shoulder as if the murderer had sought to amputate it.

In the opposite bedroom, connected with the mother’s room by a single door, lay the bodies of the remaining three children, two of them on twin beds in the room, and the third lying on the floor. Margaret’s body was discovered on one bed, Jean lay in the other, and Angeline lay on the floor near a door opening to a long but narrow upstairs front porch. Like the parents and the youngest child, the heads of the three daughters had been horribly gashed, one of the children’s arms also being severed at the shoulders.

Nothing of Value Missing

Insofar as is known, nothing of any value, such as money, jewelry, or papers, was disturbed, although Evangelist had the reputation of being a considerably well to do real estate operator among the Italian colony on the east side.

Aside from his lay business activities, which cards found upon his desk indicated, included general building and repair contracting as well as real estate transactions of various kinds, Evangelist was described by neighbors as being a “confirmed religious fanatic.” His religion also was something of a business, since cards found lying about his office read:

“Mr. Benny Evangelist, divine profetil, author and private history writer.”

He also is said to have received as much as $10 for private “readings,” during which he called upon the powers of his own cult to heal various ills, either spiritual or physical, with which his “patients” were afflicted.

This cult, evidence indicated, was known as the “Union Federation of America,” and apparently was founded by Evangelist himself more than 20 years ago in Philadelphia. The founder, according to a preface in the cult’s “bible,” which Evangelist had written, was supposed to be, “with the power of God.” In a dingy, but electrically lighted room of the basement, the “prophet” had set up one of the weirdest “altars” ever uncovered in Detroit.

Eight or ten wax figures, each hideous and grotesque to the extreme, and each presumably representing one of the “celestial planets,” were suspended on the altar in a circle by wires from the ceiling. Among them was a huge eye, electrically lighted from the inside, which Evangelist referred to in his bible as “the sun.”

The walls and ceiling of this “religious sanctum” were lined with light green cloth, which bulged out in places like the walls of a padded cell. In a window of the basement, which was on a line with and visible from St. Aubin avenue, a large card bore the words: “Great Celestial Planet Exhibition.”

Evangelist and his family undoubtedly were killed while the “prophet” was in his office after having “read the signs” from the celestial bodies, for his bible states that he “saw them from 12 to 3 a.m.”

Planned Other Volumes

Evangelist’s “bible” which he had titled “The Oldest History of the World, Discovered by Occult Science in Detroit, Mich.” apparently was written, or was to be written, in four volumes, the first of which covered everything from “4,305 years before our first father, Adam, to 1,116 years after the birth of Adam.” Indications were this was the only one of the four volumes that had been published since it was the only one found in printed form about the premises. Evangelist had written in its preface that he meant to complete his work “if he lived.”

The preface of the Evangelist bible follows, in full:

“My story is from my own views and signs, that I see from 12 to 3 A.M. I began on February 2, 1906 in Philadelphia, Penn., and it was completed on February 2, 1926, in the city of Detroit, County of Wayne, State of Michigan.

“On this new earth the last one was created by God the Father Celestial and the great prophet Miel. We call it today the great Union Federation of America. I am with the power of God and I respect this Nation.

“In this book I shall express all my views of past twenty years. In this great continent are all the generations.

Tales of the ‘Old World’

“By the willingness of God, my respect to this nation, I shall do my best to tell you of the old world. I shall tell about the world before God was created up until this last generation, and I shall explain to you your descendants. 1. – Creation of God; 2. – Eternity; 3. – Creation of the Celestial World; 4. – Creation of Light; 5. – Creation of the Earth; 6. – Creation of the Sun; 7. – Creation of Eldom; 8. – Creation of the Moon and seven Celestial Commanders and how they united to rule the Earth. 9. – Creation of all Animals; 10. – Creation of Adam; 11. – Creation of Eve. 12. – The generations of Adam and Eve and their descendants; 13. – How and when all the generations began, from Adam to Noah. 14. – All the Celestial signs and earth phenomena and changes of peoples and laws.

“The Second World. After the flood, began the second world. 1. – Noah replaced all the people that were saved from the flood; 2. – Laws of the Second World; 3. – All the disaster happening to the people from Noah’s time until the New Testament; 4. – The building of the Tower of Babylon, the separation of five generations; 5. – King Solomon and his laws: 6. – Novita, the first astronomer, and first author of astronomy and the Bible; 7. – Something about the Astronomers and Prophets; 8. – Creation of South America; 9. – Creation of Attirante (Asia Minor); 10. – Creation of Northern (North America); 11. – Alessandro Magno and his power; 12. – The first people that sailed to three new lands, when and where they came from; 13. – Foundation of cities in the Second World, and the reincarnation of the people.

The ‘Third World’ Begins

“The Third World. After the reincarnation of the Song of God that we call Jesus Christ, begins the Third World; how we are today, in the year 1926. If I live, I shall tell of the Third World; if not, the story closes at the Quates of Rome. Benny Evangelist.”

After this, which apparently was intended as a combination preface and index, Chapter One of the “bible” begins.

Despite the mass of evidence indicating that Evangelist was hopelessly mad on the subject of the mysterious cult of which he was the leader, a considerable number of holy pictures and tokens of the Christian faith were found on his walls in the various rooms of the home.

On the walls of the office were found a crucifix, an ordinary wooden cross and a picture of the Last Supper. There, also, were found two swords, neither of which, however, had been used in the slaying. A false wig and beard, probably used by Evangelist in his “readings,” lay among the unsightly disarray of office furniture. Three larger pictures of a child in a coffin were strewn on the floor.

Find Man’s Footprints

In the kitchen, a pile of dishes, probably used for the last time Tuesday evening, had been washed but not put away. Beginning near where Evangelist’s head lay, a man’s bloody foot prints lead back through the kitchen and up the stairway to the mother’s bedroom. The man who made them left one track as he started to return, but there the prints were lost.

Evangelist’s office is located to the side of a small reception room which contains the one and only front door to the house. That the slayer left the house by that door is evidenced by bloody finger and thumb prints left upon the latch.

Beer Found Near “Prophets”

In another room of the basement, nearby the one containing the weird collection of “celestial prophets,” was found an assortment of wine and beer, in kegs and bottles, a considerable quantity of vinegar, and a dozen or more jars of preserved fruits. In the attic, detectives found a larger quantity of old clothing, and a few herbs being dried preparatory to being used in the “prophet’s” healing work.

That the “bible” was not written by Evangelist himself, but by another person for him, is seen in a typewritten letter which he had written and left upon the office table.

Evangelist was described as insane by his family physician, Dr. Alf E. Thomas, 3929 St. Aubin avenue. The victim, according to the doctor, had not been married many years and Dr. Thomas believed the children were Mrs. Evangelist’s by a former marriage. Evangelist, the physician stated, had been planning to make a motion picture depicting the history of mankind as interpreted by Evangelist in his peculiar religious belief. The “prophet’s” right name was Benjamino Evangelista, Dr. Thomas said, and he originally was a carpenter.

Involved in Lawsuits

Evangelist had been involved in a number of lawsuits over various real estate transactions, according to his attorney, Anthony A. Esperti, 2305 Mack avenue. However, none of these suits had inspired any enmity that might have caused yesterday’s maniacal killings, Mr. Esperti said.

Except for his religious fanaticism, which was generally known both in his neighborhood and in the police department, Evangelist had a good reputation. His one and only arrested occurred in October, 1923, when charged with violation of the plumbing ordinance.

Although the “prophet,” neighbors said, guarded with an almost sacred devotion the basement room where the various images of his cult held forth, he was given to frequent religious demonstrations on the street. One particular practice characterizing these public incantations, it was said, was his way of gazing toward and waving his arms at the sky.

Public is Invited

About a month ago, police said, Evangelist suddenly was struck with the idea of admitting the general public to his “shrine,” probably with the idea of converting other persons and enlarging his cult. Permission to place the strange images on exhibit was denied him for fear it would cause trouble in the neighborhood.

Included in his “healer’s” work, neighbors stated, was the ministration of a “love potion,” although he usually confined his “healings” to herbs and spiritual invocations. He had a permit to practice medicine so long as he did not use drugs or prescribe medicine, according to Major John F. Roehl, investigator for the department of health.

So revolting was the nature of the fiend’s work that the crime drew to the scene practically every police official at headquarters, from Chief of Detectives Edward H. Fox down. A score or more detectives, including Inspector Bert MacPherson, of the blackhand squad; Inspector Joseph A. Garvin, of the crime and bomb squad; Detective Lieutenant John Navarre, acting head of the homicide squad; Inspector Joseph J. Miller, of Hunt street station, and Inspector Charles S. Carmody, of the finger-print bureau.

A squad of patrolmen was brought to the scene to keep back several hundred persons who had gathered on the street outside the house. The crowd remained long after the six bodies were removed to the county morgue.

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