The religious group known as the Blackburn Cult, the Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven, or the Great Eleven Club, was started in 1922 on Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles, California; and later formed a retreat in the Southern California Simi Valley. The group's founder, May Otis Blackburn, is said to have received revelations directly from angels, and along with her daughter Ruth Wieland Rizzio believed she was charged by the archangel Gabriel to write books revealing the mysteries of heaven and earth and life and death.
Newspaper articles from the time period reported strange rituals including the sacrifice of animals, sex scandals and attempts to resurrect a dead 16-year-old girl. Police found the corpse of Willa Rhoads under the floor at the Rhoads' residence, wrapped in spices and salt and surrounded by the bodies of seven dead dogs. Mr. and Mrs. Rhoads later confessed to the police that they had placed their daughter in the tomb fourteen months earlier at the suggestion of May Otis Blackburn. The cult was also accused of killing a member in an oven, poisoning another during a "whirling dervish" ceremony, and making several other members disappear.
Indicted for grand theft
In 1929, group leaders were indicted in Los Angeles for grand theft and investigated in the disappearances of several members. These indictments created a media sensation at the time the background on the grand theft was revealed to the public. May Otis Blackburn was charged with twelve counts of grand theft, and articles at that time referred to Blackburn as a "cult leader."
According to Time magazine article "California Cults", the Blackburn Cult was also known as "The Great Eleven", and May Otis Blackburn was referred to as "Heel of God." The cult later collapsed after May Otis Blackburn was imprisoned for stealing $40,000 from Clifford Dabney.
Depicted in theatrical productions
In October 2007, the roles of May Otis Blackburn and Ruth Rizzio were portrayed in the Ghost Tour in Strathearn Park, in Simi Valley, California. The actress playing the role of May Otis Blackburn stated: "May Otis is really fun and flamboyant..She's a cult leader. Who wouldn't want to play a cult leader?" The "Ghost Tour" in Robert P. Strathearn Historical Park had previously featured the character of "cult leader May Otis Blackburn" in a 1999 production.
Subject of fictionalized history
In 2008, R.J. Baudé, son of the last surviving member of the Great Eleven, published a fact-based novel about the group, "The Blackburn Chronicles: A Tale of Murder, Money and Madness." "The Kept Girl," Kim Cooper's novel about the cult, Raymond Chandler and the real-life Philip Marlowe, was published in 2014.
In 2014, Samuel Fort published "Cult of the Great Eleven," a detailed historical account of the rise and fall of the Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven.
- Havens, Patricia; Appleton, Bill (1997), Simi Valley - A Journey Through Time, Simi Valley Historical Society
- L.A. Exposed: Strange Myths and Curious Legends in the City of Angels, Paul Young, St. Martin's Griffin, May 3, 2002, ISBN 0-312-20646-1 , Page 181.
- "Photos of Early Simi Valley Richly Illustrate History Book.", Douglas Clark, Daily News, Nov 29, 1997.
- "Cult of the Great Eleven", Samuel Fort, 2014, ASIN B00OALI9O4.
- "DIVINE ARM CULT CHIEF ARRAIGNED: Mrs. Blackburn's Plea Set for Monday on Charges of $28,000 Grand Theft", Los Angeles Times , Dec 4, 1929.
- California Cults, TIME Magazine, March 31, 1930, Page 3.
- "Priestess of Mystic Cult Guilty in $40,000 Swindle: Jury Out Three Days Decides Finally Woman Defrauded Oil Man. PRIESTESS OF CULT IS GUILTY OF FRAUD", The Washington Post, March 3, 1930, -- "Mrs. May Otis Blackburn, high priestess of the mystic cult known as the Divine Order of the Royal Arm of the Great Eleven, was convicted of grand theft today by a jury which began deliberation last Thursday."
- Ghost tour brought to life after 2 years in suspended animation, By Angela Randazzo, Simi Valley Acorn, Front Page, October 5, 2007.
- "Past Presence; Ghost Tour Opens Tonight, Will Bring Simi History to Life", Sylvia L. Oliande, Daily News, October 22, 1999.
- "Cult Leader May Otis Blackburn and her daughter Ruth Wieland Rizzio in Los Angeles, Calif., 1929", Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs, 1920-1990, Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. 1929.
- The Origin of God: By Rev. May Otis Blackburn, May Otis Blackburn, 1936, 266 Pages.
- "The Blackburn Chronicles: A Tale of Murder, Money and Madness," by R.J. Baudé, Lulu.com, 2008, 193 pages.
- "Cult of the Great Eleven," Samuel Fort, 2014, 240 pages. ASIN B00OALI9O.