Saturday, November 1, 2014

Joe Jeffers and the Kingdom of Yahweh

Rev. Dr. Joe Jeffers, founder of the Kingdom of Yahweh



Few nominally-Christian leaders based in California – or anywhere else in America, for that matter – ever advocated doctrines quite as strange, or led lives quite as colorful, as those of Joseph D. Jeffers, founder of the Kingdom of Yahweh. Although Jeffers began his seven-decade career in the American South, and ended it in the Southwest, the dozen-odd years he spent as one of Los Angeles’ most controversial spiritual leaders, and the nationwide influence he wielded during that era, make him one of the Golden State’s more distinctive maverick Christian sectarians.

The son of a Roanoke, Alabama railroad worker, Jeffers was born in 1898 into a family of fifteen children, several of whom later became foreign missionaries. Ordained as a Baptist pastor in 1918, Jeffers became a follower of J. Frank Norris, a key leader in the early years of American Fundamentalist Christianity. Militantly anti-evolution and anti-liberalism, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Norris pastored a Baptist flock of many thousands, ran America’s first radio ministry, and would be tried (but not convicted) for both murder and arson during his ministerial career. Interestingly enough, his protégé Jeffers would later be accused of plotting the very same crimes – among many others.

As Pastor of First Baptist Church in Mexia, Texas, Jeffers spent the early 1920s preaching Norris’ hardshell-Baptist doctrines to a sizable following. There was a ready audience for it -- Fundamentalist theology, with its literal interpretation of the Bible and rejection of “modernist” doctrines, caught fire in a society reeling from the Roaring Twenties’ rapid social, cultural, and technological changes. The First World War, along with mass immigration and Prohibition (and its attendant hedonism and lawlessness) fueled a reassertion of small-town American values, and a desperate need for belonging expressed in Twenties phenomena as disparate as the rise of the Rotarians, the depredations of the Ku Klux Klan, and the growing influence of Fundamentalist Christian pastors like Jeffers.

In 1924, Jeffers took his first wife, Jesse Eubanks. The following year he departed Mexia for the revival circuit, holding tent meetings across the south-central states. Jeffers quickly gained a reputation as both a spellbinding preacher and a combative controversialist – more than one of his revival meetings ended in fistfights and arrests.

Taking a cue from his mentor Norris, Jeffers ramped up his militancy during Roman Catholic politician Al Smith’s 1928 Presidential campaign, warning his followers that a victorious Smith would deliver the fair Republic into the hands of the Vatican. Playing on his White-Southern listeners’ other great prejudice, Jeffers claimed that Governor Smith had appointed Negroes on his New York State staff, and would no doubt revive Reconstruction’s race-mixing horrors on a national scale if elected. Smith’s resounding defeat that year was credited partly to the fears such rhetoric instilled in voters; Jeffers himself preached similar themes to great effect in the years to come.

First Baptist Church -- the center of the violent "Jonesboro Church War"

In 1930, Jeffers was at the center of a genuine American religious war, complete with riots, gun battles, bombings, and National Guard troops called in to suppress violence. In June of that year he landed in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and held a revival meeting that was so successful he was asked to replace the local First Baptist Church’s outgoing pastor. When he took the pulpit in August, however, many of the church’s members protested, claiming that they’d never been consulted on their choice of a new leader. After some deliberation, the Jonesboro parishioners voted in Dow H. Heard of Big Spring, Texas as their minister, and Jeffers went back on the revival trail, seemingly satisfied with the results.

But in August 1931, Jeffers returned to Jonesboro and First Baptist, claiming that the Second Coming was due in May 1932, and that both the Reverend Heard and town Mayor Herbert J. Bosler were sinful reprobates unworthy to hold their offices on the eve of the Apocalypse. On September 9th, fights broke out between Jeffers’ and Heard’s supporters at a First Baptist service; when police intervened, they arrested Jeffers loyalist George L. Cox Jr.

The next day, Jeffers led a mob of his faithful to the Jonesboro courthouse where Cox was on trial.  Rallying outside the building, the preacher called on God to strike the mayor dead, while his followers rioted, assaulting Mayor Bosler and Police Chief W.C. Craig.

Arkansas National Guard troops on patrol during the Jonesboro Church War

Alarmed, Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell sent a company of National Guard troops, along with a military observation plane, to separate Jonesboro’s warring factions and keep peace. Most of the soldiers were stationed near Jeffers’ revival tent – an immense structure that could hold 5,000 people. 

By September 14, it seemed as if things had cooled down in Jonesboro, and the soldiers were withdrawn. But two days later, someone threw a tear-gas bomb at Jeffers’ tent. And then, on October 25th, the structure burned to the ground. Jeffers claimed that his rivals were behind the attacks, while his opponents maintained the bombing and burning were false-flag operations designed to smear them and rally support for the fiery Baptist preacher.

Jeffers departed Jonesboro again in 1932. Before he left town, he supervised the construction of a new tabernacle, Jonesboro Baptist Church, where his doctrines would be taught and his supporters would worship unmolested. Jeffers chose Dale Crowley of Denton, Texas to pastor the new flock, and then hit the road once more.

But the contentious preacher just couldn’t keep away from the Arkansas town or its religious real-estate. Less than a year after he left, Jeffers was back in Jonesboro, this time demanding full possession of Jonesboro Baptist Church. When Crowley refused to yield the pulpit, Jeffers just set up his own one inside the building. As a result, every Sunday parishioners had to choose between two different services being held side-by-side by the rival preachers, each complete with separate sermons and competing choirs trying to drown each other out. By August 1933, fistfights were once again breaking out in the pews, and some faithful were even carrying shotguns into church.

When the conflict went to court that October 9th, the law ruled in favor of Crowley. The next day, when Crowley and his bodyguard L. H. Kayre armed themselves and attempted to take possession of the church building, Jeffers’ hired watchman J. P. McMurdo opened fire on the two, wounding Kayre. Crowley fired back and hit McMurdo three times; days later, when the watchman died from his injuries, the Baptist pastor was arrested and charged with murder.

While Crowley was imprisoned in the county jail, someone poked a submachine gun through the window-bars of his cell, and blindly sprayed the room with bullets. Amazingly, Crowley was unhurt, but the attack pointed up how volatile the climate was in Jonesboro, and his trial was moved to neighboring Piggott. In January 1934 a jury found Crowley innocent, and Jeffers left Jonesboro for good.

The Jonesboro Church Wars, as they would later be called, soured the town’s spiritual culture for decades. Nobody was ever charged for the gas-bombing, the tent-arson or the submachine-gun attack, and to this day locals maintain a stony silence about the people and circumstances behind the events. The “wars” also landed Jeffers in the pages of TIME magazine and national newspapers – the first of several major media-splashes the outspoken preacher would provoke.

Part of the contention between Jeffers and Crowley came from the former’s promotion of a strange, and to many Baptists heretical, theology. Around 1933, Jeffers embraced what would later be known as the Sacred Name theology – a movement that started within Adventist Christianity – and preached its tenets for the rest of his life.

Jeffers' core work on Sacred Name theology
Originating largely in the Church of God (Seventh Day), the Sacred Name adherents believed that along with emulating the uses of Old Testament Judaism – Saturday Sabbaths, Jewish holidays, kosher dietary laws et al – they also needed to refer to the Father and Son in their original Aramaic names: Yahweh and Yashua (variously spelled). They maintained that when one prayed to “God”, one was addressing a generic deity, not the Elohim of Israel whose exclusive worship was mandated by the Bible. Some Sacred Name adherents claimed they carried the “Elijah Message,” after the passage in I Kings 18:36 where the prophet Elijah extolled Yahweh as the True Lord to be venerated by the faithful.

As for His Son, Sacred Name believers claimed that “Jesus” was a Latin corruption of the Savior’s birth name that referenced a heathen deity (“Ea-Zeus”), and that “Christ” was taken from a Greek Pagan term referring to being “anointed”. To the Sacred Name followers, the Son needed to be petitioned by the name His Jewish followers knew him: Yashua.

The Sacred Name movement would birth a widely-read periodical, The Faith, as well as several influential theologians and denominations within the Adventist world, and even its own Bible translations. But it took erstwhile Fundamentalist Baptist preacher Joe Jeffers to put “Yahwehism” on the front pages of America’s newspapers, albeit not in the way most of its followers would have wished.

In 1935, Jeffers founded The Kingdom of Yahweh to spread his own version of Sacred Name worship. Two years later, he divorced Jessie (who had bore him a son, Joe Jr., in 1926), and then relocated to the North American capital of new religious movements and maverick prophets: Los Angeles.

In the City of Angels, Jeffers first put his tent-revival skills to work in a more permanent edifice: the downtown Embassy Auditorium, where he preached the worship of Yahweh to thousands of Angelenos. When he’d gathered enough of a following, Jeffers opened his own church, the Kingdom Temple, two blocks away at 927 South Flower Street. Claiming that he heard the voices of Noah and Jesus (or Yashua, as it were), and that he wielded power over his followers’ fates, his sermons were broadcast on KMPC and KGER to an audience that he claimed numbered over 100,000 across the United States.

Jeffers soon became one of the city’s most controversial preachers – not a mean feat in Thirties Los Angeles, whose manifold spiritual and cultural eccentricities were captured for the ages in Nathanael West’s novel, THE DAY OF THE LOCUST. Reviving his anti-Catholic rants of a decade earlier, Jeffers bashed the Papacy and the Roman Church from the pulpit, claiming that “The Black Pope has had his hands in the political affairs here. . . but that is going to be changed.” He also mined a rich vein of anti-Semitism among his Southern Californian followers, decrying the “Communist Jews who are trying to get a war with America,” as well as the Jewish-dominated motion-picture business, which he claimed was corrupting public morality.

Such rhetoric caught the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, DC. According to the nationally-syndicated “Hollywood Merry-Go-Round” column, Congressional investigators found out that Jeffers had toured Europe in mid-1938, and had claimed he’d met with Mussolini and Hermann Goering. They also linked him to the pro-Nazi German-American Bund on the West Coast, and surmised that he would soon head up an anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic mass-movement in California.

Locally, Los Angeles DA Burton Fitts heard rumors that Jeffers planned to burn down the Kingdom Temple for insurance money, that he was involved in a smuggling ring, and that he and his new young wife Zella Joy were throwing “wild parties” at their Wilshire District high-rise flat. Fitts authorized wiretaps to be placed in the Jeffers’ home, and hired investigator Vincent Higgins to infiltrate the preachers’ inner circle, and find out what dirty doings were happening therein.

The DA’s office placed Higgins in an apartment adjacent to the couple’s. Posing as a screenwriter interested in pitching Jeffers’ life story to the studios, he introduced himself to the couple, and was invited over to their place for drinks one evening in March 1939. What happened that night got the Jeffers arrested for immoral conduct, and once again put the Yahweh-preaching pastor in the national news.

Joe and Zella Jeffers on trial in Los Angeles

During the sensational four-week trial that followed, Higgins testified that on the night he stopped by the Jeffers’ flat, Zella Joy had appeared at her door in sheer silk pajamas, with a welcoming glass of champagne in her hand. Sitting him down, she showed the investigator “French postcards”; when he expressed surprise at the novel sexual positions depicted on them, Zella sat in his lap and suggested that perhaps he needed a little instruction in the more exotic erotic arts. Zella and Joe then disrobed, Higgins said, and gave him a visual lesson in lovemaking. At that point he signaled police who were waiting in the hallway; they broke in with arrest warrants and cameras, and caught the Jeffers en dishabille on motion-picture film.

Another witness against the couple was Kingdom Temple member Marguerite Morgan. The attractive blonde beautician testified that one evening, when Joe Jeffers had brought her back to his flat for a nightcap, Zella had answered the door stark naked. Like Higgins, she was given bubbly, shown pornographic pictures, and treated to a live sex-show by the couple; papers of the time obliquely referred to an “unnatural act” they performed for Ms. Morgan’s benefit.

Zella Jeffers on the stand

Prosecutors, who’d screened out potential jury members that weren’t “shock-proof”, played tape recordings and films to the court that seemed to corroborate the testimony. They claimed that orgies were a regular occurrence at the Jeffers household, and that on one memorable evening, Zella Jeffers and a male lover copulated while the pair watched hubby Joe going at it with three women at once. In her sworn pre-trial testimony, Zella maintained she’d gone along with the sexual escapades because “I loved my husband and wanted to keep working with him to win him away from his peculiar ideas.”

But on the witness stand, Zella denied everything. In tears, she claimed that their supposed “friend” Higgins had drugged the couple’s champagne, and had “induced” the couple into immoral acts. At one point, the humiliated, hysterical woman ripped the court microphone off her sleeve and screamed, “Oh, it’s unfair! I’m not getting a fair trial!”

When her husband took the stand, he claimed he’d been framed by “the Communist Jews”, and named Jewish studio chiefs Harry and Jack Warner as the sting’s instigators. (Although the Warners denied involvement in the bust, two years later Higgins sued them, claiming they’d stiffed him on a $50,000 payment they’d promised if he could prove Jeffers was a “Nazi spy”. Higgins lost the case, but during the trial, the head of Warner Brothers security testified that he’d rented the apartment next door to the Jeffers’, and set up listening devices there.)

The jury ultimately decided that the whole affair was blatant, sleazy entrapment, and found the couple not guilty on all counts. Joe Jeffers himself emerged largely unscathed from the trial; during breaks in the proceedings, he’d rallied hundreds of supporters in front of the courthouse, while countless other spectators tried to get into the courtroom for a gander at the lurid evidence and testimony.

After he was acquitted, Jeffers led his followers outside the courthouse in a sarcastic public mass-prayer for the Jews, as well as for the Catholics, the DA’s office, and the rest of his supposed persecutors. When a reporter asked him if he was anti-Semitic, Jeffers responded with a rationale straight out of British-Israelite Adventism: "I'm not against all Jews; we're really all Jews.  But I 'm against Bolshevik Jews.  They caused the Jews’ downfall in Germany. I want to save my people from Communistic Jews.  I 'm not a Jew-baiter.  How could I be when I 'm a Jew myself?" 

And as if to thumb his nose at Washington and the Warner Bros’ suspicions about his Nazi sympathies, he soon afterwards hosted a recruiting night at Kingdom Temple for the Silver Legion, a Fascist paramilitary headed by William Dudley Pelley, himself a believer in Anglo-Israelism, among other unorthodox spiritual doctrines.

Such antics didn’t endear him to the authorities once the United States entered World War II. Still widely suspected of being a Nazi spy, the military probed Jeffers for pro-Axis sentiments in 1943, and even considered banning him from the Fourth Army Corps territory as a dangerous subversive.

That year saw Jeffers in the courtroom and the headlines once again – this time, in a messy divorce case. No longer a mere pastor, he announced to his followers that he was now “Son of Yahweh, Ruler of the Universe” – the voice on Earth of his Father, who commanded the cosmos from His home in the constellation Orion.  The latest of Yahweh’s commands was for the Son to father a “sacred child” in the desert to fulfill prophecy and carry on his holy lineage. Stepping up to the plate as a potential mother was pretty Helen Veborg, one of his many female followers and an aspiring actress.

Jeffers, who predicted that a Biblical-scale drought would soon turn Florida into an arid desert, took Helen on a pilgrimage to the Sunshine State so that he could gift the nubile blonde with his holy seed under the balmy tropical sun. Hot on the couple’s heels was Zella Jeffers, understandably incensed and with a divorce petition in her hand.

When the matter came to court, Zella alleged that Joe Jeffers was “under the delusion that he’s Jesus reincarnated,” and that Kingdom Temple, far from being a true place of worship, was “a mere convenience through which he may and does do business for himself.” In her petition, she demanded one-half of their community property, including the wartime rations of gasoline, groceries and auto tires that the Son of Yahweh had hoarded.

The judge granted Zella her divorce, and awarded her a share of Jeffers’ property, along with alimony. One of the items she gained was Jeffers’ car, an eight-cylinder Cadillac that had been converted to run on butane, and that the papers referred to as “The Golden Chariot of Kingdom Come.”

Helen Veborg, Jeffers' third wife

Right after the ruling, Jeffers took Helene Veborg as his third wife. Then he claimed that Heaven gave him the message to commandeer the Caddy, and asked his followers to “join with the chariot” on a convoy back to Florida. Arrested for driving the stolen vehicle across state lines, Jeffers was soon convicted for violating the Dyer Act, and sentenced to four years in Federal prison.

Jeffers served seventeen months of his term. When he was released on parole, he joined Helene in Florida, but soon returned to postwar Southern California, where most of his faithful followers resided.

In Los Angeles, The Son of Yahweh rented a 32-room mansion on Laurel Canyon Boulevard – a sylvan mountain thoroughfare that had long been a magnet for well-heeled, eccentric Angelenos. Then he filled the house with his followers, mostly middle-aged women who’d been charged between $50,000 and $100,000 for the privilege of sharing living quarters with the Prophet and his wife. Jeffers used the money to purchase an 823-acre ranch near Palm Springs that he dubbed “Yahweh Springs”, and planned to use as a survival retreat during a nuclear war, which the prophet predicted would hit Los Angeles in 1949.

Once again, Jeffers got into legal trouble. It started when his Laurel Canyon neighbors complained to officials about his outdoor, predawn prayer services. They charged that the preacher would lead his flock in loud petitions to Heaven through the wee hours, begging Yahweh to rain money upon them. Arrested for disturbing the peace, Jeffers was ultimately charged with a zoning violation, and fined.

Soon afterwards, more than a dozen disciples sued him for fraud and misrepresentation. They claimed that Jeffers had pocketed donations intended for ministry, and had stiffed them on various contracts. The Son of Yahweh had to settle more than $50,000 worth of claims, and the bad publicity slowed the flow of “love offerings” into the Kingdom’s coffers.

Finally, Zella Jeffers took her estranged husband to court for nonpayment of alimony. Facing the court, Jeffers claimed that although Yahweh had given him $5 billion for his services, the cash was located in the constellation Orion and therefore presently inaccessible for the payment of his Earthly debts. In the meantime, Jeffers said, he was worth exactly $1.53 American, and turned out his pockets for the judge’s benefit.

When the judge asked Jeffers how he could afford to maintain a car he kept at Yahweh Springs, the prophet responded: “Yahweh has all the automobiles in the world. He can use them any time he wants. . . . We have been in communication with Yahweh for years. In the back of my head is a two-way radio set I use to talk to him. It’s two-way, you see, ‘Yah’ going out to Orion and ‘Weh’ coming back to me.”

Along with his claims of direct contact with the Most High, Jeffers also boasted of necromancy: “We know everything President Truman does” he told the court, “because Huey Long [the radical Louisiana politician assassinated back in 1935] covers the White House for us.” Unimpressed, the judge ruled for Zella, and the Son of Yahweh was sent back to the Federal pen for parole violation.

When he was finally released, Jeffers moved to Phoenix, Arizona, filed for bankruptcy, and settled down to shepherd a flock of followers well below the 5,000 faithful he’d claimed just a few years earlier. Now billing himself as “Dr. Joseph Jeffers,” he concentrated on spreading the Yahwist message via the lecture circuit and the written word. Joined by his wife Helene, who, like Jeffers, sported a self-granted Doctorate of Divinity, the pair spent the early 1950s speaking to audiences across America, and researching and writing about the origins and future of Yahwism.

Much of their work ended up in The Kingdom Voice, the sect’s monthly periodical, as well as various self-published books and pamphlets. Jeffers, who still claimed to be receiving regular revelations from Yahweh Himself, added to the Adventist and Sacred Name teachings his own peculiar spiritual touches.

Jeffers' writings on lost continents

For starters, Jeffers adopted the occult legends of lost continents to his doctrine. He maintained that Atlantis and Lemuria had not only been real land masses, but that they had been drowned in a prehistoric flood when their peoples turned their back on Yahweh. But soon they would rise again from the Atlantic and the Pacific, in an apocalyptic Second Coming that would wipe the “negative” (wicked) people off the Earth, and usher in a Seventh Age of Mankind where multiple Suns would light the Earth and banish darkness and baleful moonlight forever.

Jeffers also advocated a vegetarian, raw-food diet. He insisted that, contrary to historical Jewish and Christian teachings, Yahweh had never advocated the sacrifice of animals to him, much less cooking and consuming them. Jeffers believed that there was a hierarchy of Earth creatures, with “spiritual” animals like humans and horses at the top of the pyramid, and vile beasts like rats and scorpions, which had been created by “negative thought”, at the bottom. These nefarious critters, he said, would be swept off the Earth along with all other traces of evil and death when Yahweh cleared the planet.

And the Son of Yahweh was an enthusiastic promoter of the past-lives doctrine. For a $25 donation, Jeffers and his wife would perform “reincarnation revelations” for their followers, tapping into the Akashic records and viewing a soul’s previous incarnations.

Jeffers himself sported quite an impressive set of past-life credentials. He claimed that “…his many lifetimes as a teacher on earth included Adam, Noah, Osiris, Joseph of Egypt [who also designed the Great Pyramid], Joshua, Solomon, Elijah, Hosea, Aristotle (the Persian Zoroaster), Apollo, Amenhotep II, the Great White Spirit of the Inca Indians, Quetzalcoatl of ancient Mexico, Eochaidh the Heremon of Ireland, and Yahoshua the Master of Justice of the Essenes of the Dead Sea.”

These, and the various other strange and sometimes bizarre teachings Jeffers promoted, took the Kingdom of Yahweh far from Christianity’s outer frontiers, into a sort of occult/science-fiction pseudo- Adventism that brought Biblical mythology and exegesis into the New Age and the Space Age simultaneously. Although Jeffers was regarded even in the fringe-Adventist community as something of a kook, his imaginative writings and forceful preaching still captured enough of an audience to keep the prophet and his wife both busy and well-compensated.

But by the mid-1950s, trouble was once again brewing on the home front. For the third time, Jeffers had spurned his current wife for a younger model; now, Helene’s eighteen year-old secretary Connie Bernice was the object of the Prophet’s roving eye.

Eventually Helene divorced Jeffers. Billing herself as Dr. Helene VeaBorge, lecturer on psychic phenomena, she then set up an office in Denver, Colorado. In February 1957, Helene was attacked, beaten and raped in her office by an unknown assailant; three days later, she died of her injuries. The murder has never been solved.

Joe Jeffers, during questioning about
his third wife's rape and murder

Back in Phoenix, Jeffers took Connie as his fourth wife. In 1965 she gave birth to a son; it was the 66 year-old father’s second child. That year, the Jeffers’ were featured in an Arizona Republic human-interest story, where Joseph claimed, among other things, that during his travels he’d been “shot at sixteen times by Communists”, that he’d predicted postwar Germany would be divided into Western and Communist sides years before the fact, and that Vietnam would become “the site and start of World War III.”

The year 1965 also brought a fresh round of legal troubles for the Kingdom of Yahweh. That year the Jeffers were arrested after an investigation revealed that the couple had been taking love-offerings from loyalists, and then betting the proceeds on dog and horse races in Phoenix. The Jeffers justified the gambling, saying that “games of chance were a part of the congregation’s metaphysical research and study of extrasensory perception”, i.e., that they gauged their psychic powers and spiritual development based on wins and losses at the track.

Not surprisingly, the judge didn’t buy it, and convicted them on thirteen counts of mail fraud, fining Joseph and Connie each $500 per count, and placing them on three years’ probation.  But in 1968 the Ninth Circuit Court reversed the conviction, stating that “The spectacle presented to the jury — of a 67 year old eccentric purporting to have psychic powers, and his attractive 27 year old wife betting contributors' funds at the dog races — was so highly prejudicial that we cannot conclude that a fair trial was had….”

By the 1970s, the Jeffers’ were on the move again – this time, to Missouri, just over the border from where Jeffers had touched off the Jonesboro Church Wars forty years before. There the couple purchased a 350-acre tract near the town of St. James, and set up a communal center where they lived alongside several dozen of their followers. The centerpiece of the community was the “Temple” – a pyramid-shaped, 28-foot tall tabernacle where the gathered faithful praised Yahweh. Jeffers maintained that the building would serve as a refuge from a Soviet nuclear attack that he predicted would occur in May 1979, as well as a beacon for Yahweh’s spaceships when they arrived from Orion.

If Jeffers had any plans to spend his late 70s peacefully awaiting the Second Coming, they were quickly dashed. First, Connie divorced him. Then they remarried. Then she left him again, this time taking with her several million dollars the couple had stashed in the Kingdom bank account. When Jeffers pursued his estranged wife to Florida in 1978, he and two of his lieutenants were arrested, and charged with conspiring to murder her. Just to sweeten the pot, the authorities also charged the 79 year-old prophet with statutory rape of a 14 year-old girl at the Kingdom compound.

Luckily for Jeffers, all the charges were eventually dropped. He also won a court judgment against his wife over the pilfered millions, and finalized a second divorce with her in 1979. That year, he once again relocated the Kingdom of Yahweh, this time, to Texas.

But the Son of Yahweh would cap his seven-decade mission with one more embarrassing scandal. In late 1978, one of his longtime followers, a wealthy, reclusive 84 year-old widow named Esther Price, died under mysterious circumstances in her hotel room in Richmond, Missouri. A will written just one month before her death left her entire fortune to Jeffers, contradicting two earlier wills that gave the prophet considerably less. Relatives contested the legacy in court, saying that the aging preacher had manipulated the lonely old woman into naming himself as her prime beneficiary. By the time the case was finally settled in 1982, the $5 million Price estate had dwindled down to a mere $300,000 and some real estate. Jeffers eventually got about half of it, with the remainder going to other individuals and institutions named in an earlier will.

Even in his eighties, Jeffers remained active, continuing to research and write profusely at the sect’s final home back in Arizona. The octogenarian still cut a striking figure; newspapers of the time said Jeffers usually visited his followers clad in red slacks, blue suede shoes, a long white coat and a broad-brimmed white hat. To the end, he kept abreast of nontraditional history and theology, working into his writings ideas put forth by controversial Biblical scholars like John Allegro and Michael Baigent, as well as the latest translations and theories regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls and other apocryphal works.

Finally, on July 11, 1988, the 89 year-old Prophet discarded his much-aged body and joined Yahweh in Orion for eternity. The Kingdom was taken over by longtime Jeffers associate Philip Evans – a position he holds to this day.

With its founder gone, and the organized communities a distant memory, Jeffers’ church, now called Yahweh’s New Kingdom, exists today mainly to promote his writings, as well as those of other authors who share his beliefs. Along with a Web site and a monthly newsletter, the Kingdom produces hundreds of booklets and pamphlets with titles like “Scriptural Proofs of Reincarnation,” “Onward Christian Cannibals,” and “What Yahweh Thinks of Christmas.”

The Son of Yahweh may not have lived to see his beloved Father bring forth the New World that he’d prophesied since his days as a 20-something Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. But he did leave a unique legacy to the spiritual landscape of both California and the United States as a whole – a vision of an Adventist spirituality linked with both New Age esoteric teachings and modern UFO mythology, and expressed in a life and career with few parallels anywhere in the modern Christian world.

Sources/Notes


www.yahwehsnewkingdom.com The online home of the Kingdom  of Yahweh
"Jonesboro Church Wars", Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Faiths, Cults, and Sects of America, by Richard Mathison (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960).





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