Massacre of 6 in Cult Family Baffles Police
Three Quizzed and Released Without Results; Others Expected to Be Freed.
The release of three of five suspects arrested late Wednesday night in connection with ax murder of Benny Evangelist, cult leader; his wife and four children, their home, 3587 St. Aubin avenue, was the only development police would disclose yesterday in their investigation into the slayings. Indications last night were that the remaining two suspects would be released, leaving detectives virtually where they started following discovery of the bodies at 10:30 a. m. Wednesday.
Those still being held were Angelo Depoli, 34 years old, 2630 Pierce street, behind whose home, near the house of death, detectives found an ax and a knife “either of which,” police said, “might have been used in the killing,” and Umberto Pecchio, 42, of the same address. John Valentine, 25; Samuel Verrachia, 51, and Steven Assoli, 46, all of whom live at 3731 Chane street, were released after the five men had undergone a thorough grilling at police headquarters.
Stains on the ax and knife discovered in Depoli’s barn were founded yesterday not to have been caused by blood.
Detectives working on the case, who include all the members of both the homicide and blackhand squad, as well as several from Inspector Charles B. Carmody’s fingerprint bureau, were unable to link any of the suspects to the crime by any of the finger and footprints left about the house by the slayer.
Evangelist, who professed to be a “divine prophet” of a weird religious order of his own founding, was beheaded early Wednesday morning. The “prophet’s” body was discovered by Vincent Elias, 2324 Glendale avenue, a real estate dealer who had called at the Evangelist home on a business mission. Elias notified police, whose investigation disclosed the remaining victims.
All Hacked to Death
Mrs. Santina Evangelist, 38, the wife, police found on a bed upstairs. Except for their son, Mario, 18 months old, found slain in the bed with his mother, bodies of the other three children, Angelina, 7; Margaret,5, and Eugenis, 4, were found in their bedroom adjoining that of their parents. Like the father, all had been hacked to death.
Because the size of a pair of shoes which he was wearing corresponded with the bloody footprints leading from the headless body of the cult leader to the bedrooms upstairs, Elias was questioned for several hours at both the scene and at headquarters. He was released however, when he convinced detectives he could shed no light on the massacre.
In the virtual absence of clues police yesterday realized they are confronted with one of the most troublesome murder mysteries in recent years.
No one can be found who will admit having seen anyone enter the Evangelist home during the preceding few hours, and no one can be found who will admit having seen anyone leave.
Religion Adds to Mystery
The killings are made the more perplexing by a tangled mass of angles growing out of the “prophet’s” religious and business activities.
Evangelist was a man of mystifying history on the religious side of his life. More than 20 years ago he founded the “Union Federation of America,” a weird religious theory in his own somewhat warped mind, and, having been “appointed by God,” he wrote the “bible” of that faith.
Briefly, the “bible” relates the adventures and good deeds of one Miel, an “exalted and powerful prophet,” and “representative of God on earth.” Apparently using the Christian Jesus as a prototype, Evangelist had the prophet Miel traveling with two “assistant prophets,” obliterating dissension among peoples, winning wars for the righteous, and spreading the gospel of God’s commandments wherever he went.
“Bible” Visions Own Fate
Evangelist pictured one character in his bible wrenching the head of an antagonist from his shoulders and hurling it at his feet, a fate such as the author, himself, suffered. Several other characters in Evangelist’s writing suffered dismembered arms, just as Mrs. Evangelist and one of the children were mutilated. Detectives found a long wooden staff in the victim’s office. In his “bible,” Evangelist had described just such a staff as the one used by Miel and on which he had carved a notch for each of his children.
The weirdest of Evangelist’s religions tokens, no doubt, were the waxen images of the “celestial planets,” rulers over his religious world, found suspended from the ceiling of a room in the “prophet’s” basement. Police believe this room was the scene of numerous seances presided over by Evangelist.
Fanatical in Worship
Although Evangelist was fanatical to the point of frenzy in his manner of worship, he rarely ever discussed his beliefs with relatives or friends, according to Ben Sugumosta, 13904 Trumbull avenue, a second cousin of Mrs. Evangelist.
Sugumosta, a machinist, said yesterday he and his wife had visited the Evangelist family last Sunday and “noticed that Evangelist seemed to be worrying about something.”
“Ordinarily,” Sugumosta said, “Benny was very jovial and friendly. Sunday he seemed to be pre-occupied, seemed to have his mind on something else. He smiled but little and had virtually nothing to say during our visit.”
Box after box filled with hundreds of papers, trinkets, and clothing of various kinds founded virtually littering the death house, have been carted to police headquarters to be more closely examined in the hope that some bit of it might point out an indistinct finger toward the slayer. Out of this wide assortment of material, nothing of value thus far has emerged.
Several pieces of women’s undergarments, each tagged with the name of its owner, police point out, reveal that the so-called mystic indulged in practices of “voodoosim,” or devil worship. Such garments, “voodooism” has it, can lead to the finding of a missing person, when they are properly handled by one versed in the mystic arts of that belief.
Theories the police advanced yesterday follow:
That Evangelist and his family were slain by a member of his cult, a man himself so rabid that he had come to believe the “prophet” a faker.
That the family was wiped out by a husband whose home life had been wrecked because of his wife’s interest in Evangelist and his “occult powers.”
May Be a Rival Cult
That a rival cult leader, jealous of Evangelist’s growing “flock,” and from whose ranks Evangelist may have been drawing followers committed the crime.
Despite his work in the cult which he had founded, Evangelist was a Roman Catholic and often attended San
Francisco’s Catholic church, at Rivard and Brewster streets, Father Francis Beccheniu said yesterday. Father Beccheniu will officiate at the burial services for the entire family Saturday.
“Evangelist, no doubt, was insane,” Father Beccheniu said, “Of that I am sure, although he was shrewd and seemed to have quite a lot of intelligence in other matters. Mrs. Evangelist was more of a fanatic than her husband on the subject of religion, and she did not display the intelligence revealed by him.
Was Not Sincere
“I do not believe Evangelist was sincere in practicing the creed he had established. Rather, I believe he founded the mysterious cult with all of its weird props and practices, with the sole idea of making money. He was a practical mind.”
The couple’s oldest daughter, Angeline, 7 years old, attended the San Francisco parish school, Father Becchineu said.
Dr. Paul Klebba, Wayne county medical examiner, who yesterday performed postmortem examination on the six bodies, stated that the murderer must have used a sharp and heavy knife rather than an ax. The bodies were released shortly after the postmortem exanimations to Anthony Evangelist, 2150 Erskine street, a brother of the slain father. Funeral services will be held Saturday.
KIN ESTRANGED FROM PROPHET
Evangelist’s Brother Split With Ax Victim Over Strange Religious Tenets
A four year old girl sat on the steps of a house at 2156 Erskine street yesterday afternoon apparently convinced she was not doing justice to the celebrations demanded by the Fourth of July. She seemed bored.
Inside the house in a darkened room, were the only Detroit relatives of Benny Evangelist, who, with his wife and four children, was founded hacked to death in his combination home, office and religious shrine at 3587 St. Aubin avenue, Wednesday morning.
Brothers Were Estranged
Anthony Evangelist, the dead man’s brother, his wife and friends of the family from about the neighborhood had gathered to mourn and exchange views on the mysterious wholesale murder of the strange self-styled “divine prophet.”
There was little to say. Practically no contact had been maintained between the two families, although they lived within easy walking distance of each other.
A rift between the two brothers took place some 20 years ago in Philadelphia when Benny began to have the ideas which lead to the founding of his cult. Anthony, eight years his senior and a devout Roman Catholic, refused to have anything to do with it. He had never attended one of his brother’s seances, nor had he been inclined to listen to Benny’s doctrines, or to read his books.
Split Over Doctrines
Benny was born in Naples, Italy and, according to his brother, had been a perfectly normal boy. Twenty-eight years ago Anthony came to Philadelphia. Two years later he sent for Benny, who was then 17 years old. A third brother is still living in Naples.
In Philadelphia, they lived together for six years until the theology of the younger brother came between them. Some years later both brothers came to Detroit, but remained estranged.
Anthony’s eyes were red from weeping yesterday. Others in the gathering were dry-faced, but serious. Their faces showed plainly that it was the manner in which the family had met their deaths rather than death itself that had effected them. A few sentences in Italian were exchanged from time to time, but there was a silence for the most part
Solution of Killings Is Seen In the Stars
Detroit Astrologer Describes Slayer of Evangelist, Wife, Children.
While detectives continued their efforts to solve the murder of Benny Evangelist and his family, it was indicated last night that such measures were unnecessary. The slayer will give himself up probably with a few days. If he does not he will talk freely and be easily captured.
Both conclusions were reached by Clark Robson, “human engineer.”
Sees It In Stars
His conclusions were arrived at by the use of astrology. His deductions are based on the position of the planets with relation to one another in the 12 divisions of the heavens as viewed from Detroit at the approximate time of the crime. He also studied the juxtaposition of the planets at the time of Evangelist’s birth. Robson says many astonishing things were revealed.
The murdered, he says, in all probability, is a man of less than medium of height, of dark complexion and strong, agile and wiry. His hair may have a reddish tinge, and he has an egocentric personality. This can be concluded from the fact that the planet Uranus was rising on the eastern horizon in the sign Ares.
“Woman Has a Hand”
The presence of a woman at the scene of the crime, Robson learns, is indicated by the fact that the Moon was in conjunction with Venus and involved in violent aspects with Mars and Neptune. There is a woman in it somewhere, Robson said, and if she wasn’t on hand at the scene, she has been told about it since. The woman mentioned is not Mrs. Evangelist, however.
The motive, arrived at through the aspects of Mars and Neptune’s in the sign of Leo, was undoubtedly jealously.
The statement that the crime will be solved easily and probably through the inability of the perpetrator of the crime to keep his own counsel, comes from the aspect of Mercury to Uranus. They are 50 degrees apart. The murderer also is likely a braggart, because of this and if he is and arrested because he talks may even go so far as to give himself up in order to achieve notoriety.
“Could Have Saved Self”
Evangelist probably could have prevented the crime, Robson believes, since Mars appears to have been the ruler of both the first division of the chart and of the division known as the House of Death. He probably suspected it and didn’t care much, or else thought that he had time to escape.
It was probably some matter of money that led to the argument which preceded the murders. A great deal of discussion was indulged in before the crime, according to Robson’s horoscope for Evangelist, who adds that it probably was his ability to anger another which lead to his death.
Homicidal tendencies are prominent in the chart, Robson said, with the conflictions of Mars and Neptune to the Moon and Venus. Mrs. Ruth Snyder, who went to the electric chair for the murder of her husband, was born under the same confliction, Robson pointed out. This also suggests a treacherous nature for the murderer and Robson has no doubt that it was someone well acquainted with Evangelist.
As for Evangelist’s horoscope, cleverness and strength of character are shown. He was probably not insane but had an ego-exultation complex and desire for money was a motivating power in his life, according to the stars. He was a man who would deceive intentionally, Robson declared.