Jeffrey Don Lundgren|
May 3, 1950
Independence, Missouri, United States
October 24, 2006 (aged 56)|
former cult leader
|Criminal penalty||Capital punishment (September 26, 1990)|
|Date||April 17, 1989|
Jeffrey Don Lundgren (May 3, 1950 – October 24, 2006) was an American self-proclaimed prophet and mass murderer, who on April 17, 1989, killed 5 people in Kirtland, Ohio. Lundgren led a Latter Day Saint movement-based cult in Kirtland where he and several of his followers murdered the Avery family, fellow members of his cult, for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Lundgren was executed in 2006.
Lundgren was born on May 3, 1950, in Independence, Missouri, and grew up as a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church). According to his allegations (supported by some of his former neighbors), he was severely abused as a child, particularly by his father, and his mother reportedly did not defend him. Lundgren was, by most accounts, a loner when he was in middle and high school. He became an expert hunter when he began to spend time with his father as a teenager. The pair would go on hunting trips, and Lundgren became a gun expert, learning shooting and maintenance techniques.
Lundgren enrolled at Central Missouri State University and he spent time at a house that was specially built for RLDS youth. While at the house, he became friends with Alice Keeler and Keith Johnson. Keeler, who had been abused by her father as well, quickly bonded with Lundgren, and the two became lovers. The couple married in 1970 and Lundgren enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and on December 2, 1970, the couple's first child, a boy, was born. By 1974, Keeler was pregnant for the second time. Prior to receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy at the end of his first term, Lundgren sought an early release from his term of duty with an argument that his presence was necessary for the sustenance of his family. He was denied for reasons non-necessary according to military recommendations. He received an honorable discharge from the Navy days before his four-year enlistment was completed. His second son was born soon after.
Lundgren and his new family settled in San Diego, California after he was discharged from the Navy, but once economic problems began to set in the Lundgrens moved back to Missouri. In 1979, Keeler gave birth to a third child, a daughter. People close to the couple claim that Lundgren seemed frustrated by the family's money problems and was generally tired of his wife, and allegedly became abusive after the birth of his daughter. According to hospital records, his wife was hospitalized for a ruptured spleen, which may have been caused by Lundgren pushing her into a closet door handle. In 1980, the couple had their fourth child, another boy.
While Lundgren was living in a church-owned home, located next to the Kirtland Temple, on Chillicothe Road, in Kirtland, Ohio, he volunteered as a tour guide of the historic Kirtland Temple, for the RLDS Church. He began to teach the concept of "dividing the word", known as "chiastic interpretation" or "chiasmus", to interpret scriptures. Lundgren falsely claimed to have created chiastic interpretation. The foundation was that in everything created by God, the right side is a mirror image and, therefore, scripture had to be interpreted using that same method. He cited the Kirtland Temple as an example because the right side was a mirror image of the left side. To apply this concept to scripture, one takes a sentence from scripture; if the sentences before and after are consistent, the center sentence is the "truth"; when the sentences before and after conflict, the center sentence is a lie. His teaching of scriptural interpretations attracted his followers. Lundgren claimed that he moved to Ohio from Missouri because the word, "OHIO" is "chiastic". About 1987, Lundgren was asked to leave the church-owned house and his job as tour guide was terminated due to suspicions of theft.
In 1987, Lundgren and his family moved to a rented farm house, located at 8671 Chardon Road on U.S. Route 6 (aka: Euclid-Chardon Road), east of Ohio State Route #306. Some of the followers knew Lundgren in Missouri while others were attracted to Lundgren when they were exposed to his teachings when he was working as a Kirtland Temple tour guide. At that time, some followers started to move into his home. Those who moved into the house were Kevin Currie, Richard Brand, Greg Winship, Sharon Bluntschly, Daniel Kraft, and Debbie Olivarez. Ronald and Susan Luff; Dennis and Tonya Patrick; and Dennis and Cheryl Avery maintained their own residences. There were others whose names were not made public because they were not significant to the criminal investigation (conspiracy to deprive civil rights, the Kirtland Temple takeover, and multiple homicide of the Avery family). While Lundgren was living at the farm house, Lundgren's teachings continued and he began to practice methods of "mind control", which were consistent with Robert Lifton's criteria for mind control. For example, cult members were forbidden to talk amongst themselves; doing so was a sin, called "murmuring". He would eavesdrop on cult members to cause them to believe that he could read their minds.
On April 23, 1988, a neighbor told Kirtland police officer Ron Andolsek that she suspected that a cult was living at the farm house and that Lundgren's son warned the neighbor's children that on May 15 the earth would open up and demons would emerge. On April 28, 1988, a former cult member, referred by the FBI, called Kirtland Police and reported the cult's conspiracy to take over the Kirtland Temple to Chief Dennis T. Yarborough. Yarborough did not believe the informant's information and on May 2, 1988, Yarborough confronted Lundgren at the Kirtland Police Station. When Lundgren left, Yarborough said that he "neutralized the situation" by warning Lundgren that there were complaints about gun fire on Lundgren's property. Lundgren went back to his followers and told them that the planned May 3 Kirtland Temple takeover was off because he had spoken to a higher power. The Kirtland Police initiated surveillance of Lundgren's residence and of church-owned properties. In September 1988, a second informant came forward. Officer Andolsek cultivated the informant and made contact with the ATF and the FBI. The FBI initiated a domestic terrorism investigation.
On October 10, 1988, the day that Lundgren was excommunicated from the RLDS Church, there was a thunderstorm at the south end of Kirtland. When the sun emerged, a large rainbow appeared to the east. Lundgren told his followers that the rainbow signified the opening of the "Seven Seals". Lundgren and his family soon abandoned the religious group, and Lundgren began to feel a call to teach the Bible in the way he understood it. He formed his own sect soon after. Membership never exceeded more than twenty. These were some of the most conservative members of the RLDS Church who believed that God communicated through regular revelations although some members admitted that they claimed to have revelations even when they did not. The conservatives were also opposed to more liberal rights for women. This was during a rift with the more liberal members of the church. Alice Lundgren often acted as a cheerleader to Jeffrey Lundgren. She had claimed she had once had a revelation that she would meet an important leader of the RLDS Church. She later concluded that this alleged revelation referred to Jeffrey.
Lundgren began to offer Bible study services at his home. Lundgren would dominate the services himself and he would intimidate anyone who did not agree with him. He would later encourage others to intimidate those who disagreed as well. He sought to convince his congregation that he was God's last prophet. He asked for money from his supporters, and some would give him their life's savings, which often were calculated to be thousands of dollars.
Lundgren then proclaimed he had received a call from God to move to Kirtland, Ohio. According to Lundgren, he was told by God that he and his supporters would soon witness the second coming of Christ if they moved to Kirtland. Lundgren was attracted to Kirtland because it was the home of the Kirtland Temple, built by Joseph Smith and Smith's followers. Lundgren would tell his followers that on May 3 (no year specified—May 3 was also Lundgren's birthday) the second coming would happen at the Kirtland Temple and that he and his followers would have to seize the Kirtland Temple by force and hold it for the second coming. The conspiracy involved burglarizing adjacent church-homes and committing murder as part of the "Kirtland Temple takeover". Lundgren called the land around the temple "The Vineyards", which had to be "redeemed" or "cleansed" for him and his followers to take the temple.
By this time, seven of Lundgren's 12 followers had moved into the family home. The remaining five were members of Dennis Avery's family. Lundgren felt that the Averys were committing a sin by not living in his house. The Avery family father, Dennis, sold his Missouri house in order for his family to move to Ohio. Dennis Avery believed in Jeffrey completely and trusted him. Jeffrey, however, considered Dennis Avery to be weak and, when Dennis was no longer useful to Jeffrey, he began talking about Dennis behind his back. Jeffrey often used Dennis as a scapegoat for their troubles even though Dennis was one of the leading contributors. Dennis Avery decided to set apart a relatively small amount of money for his family's use, with a bank account. Once again, Lundgren considered this a sin, because Lundgren wanted all of his followers' money to be given exclusively to him.
In time, Lundgren convinced his followers that they had to seize the temple, from which he had stolen about $40,000, and to kill anyone who stood in their way. He changed his mind, however, and started telling his followers that they had to kill a family of five instead if they wanted to see God. As punishment for their "disloyalty", he chose the Averys. At some point, he referred to the slaughter of the Avery family as "pruning the vineyard".
On April 10, 1989, in Kirtland, Lundgren ordered two of his followers to dig a pit in the barn, in anticipation of burying the Averys' bodies there. The expectation was that there could be five bodies buried in the pit. Lundgren told the rest of his followers, including the Averys, that they would go on a wilderness trip. On April 17, he rented a motel room and had dinner with all of his followers. He then called his group's men into his room. He questioned each as to their purpose in the action. All of the men assured Lundgren that they were with him in the sacrifice. Dennis Avery was not invited to the meeting in Lundgren's bedroom.
According to followers' admissions, Lundgren later went inside the barn, with a church member named Ron Luff luring Dennis Avery into a place where the other men awaited by asking him for help with equipment for the camping trip. Luff attempted to render Avery unconscious with a stun gun, but due to a malfunction a stun bullet struck Avery but did not knock him out.
Avery then was gagged and dragged to the place where Lundgren awaited. He was shot twice in the back, dying almost instantly. To mask the sound of the gun, a chainsaw was left running. Luff then told Avery's wife, Cheryl, that her husband needed help. She was gagged, like her husband, but also had duct tape put over her eyes, and dragged to Lundgren. She was shot three times, twice in the breasts and once in the abdomen. Her body lay next to her husband's. The Averys' 15-year-old daughter, Trina, was shot twice in the head. The first shot entered but ricocheted off of her skull, missing her brain, but the second killed her instantly. Thirteen-year-old Becky Avery was shot twice and left to die, while six-year-old Karen Avery was shot in the chest and head.
Arrest and conviction
On April 18, 1989, the day after the murders, officers coincidentally came to Lundgren's farm to talk to him. After this encounter Lundgren became paranoid about being caught, and with the rest of his cult left Ohio, moving south to West Virginia. As months went by and nothing happened, Lundgren became disillusioned, and he and his family moved to California, abandoning the rest of the surviving cult members behind in West Virginia.
Nine months after the killings, on January 3, 1990, a tip from an informant led police back to the long-abandoned farm, uncovering the five bodies of the Avery family. The Lundgrens became fugitives, media attention increased, and police began to track the cult members, with the FBI joining in the manhunt. Eventually, Lundgren's followers who he had abandoned back east were found, and they helped catch him and his family. Thirteen of Lundgren's sect were arrested in early 1990, including Lundgren and his wife.
Jeffrey Lundgren was given the death penalty. Alice Lundgren received five life sentences (140 years to life) for conspiracy, complicity and kidnapping, while their son, Damon, was sentenced to 120 years to life. Ronald Luff, key in planning and facilitating the murders with Lundgren, was sentenced to 170 years to life. Daniel Kraft was sentenced to 50 years to life. Five of the cult members were released in 2010 or early 2011, after roughly 20 years of incarceration (including pre-trial period). Prosecutor Charles Coulson confirmed that the original plea agreements meant that the five were to be eligible for release "at the earliest possible time", but the Ohio State Parole Board had repeatedly denied earlier requests for parole from Richard Brand and Greg Winship (both were serving 15 years to life), as well as Sharon Bluntschly, Debbie Olivarez and Susan Luff (all were serving to 7 to 25 years). Lundgren followers Kathryn Johnson, Tonya Patrick and Dennis Patrick were determined to have not been involved in the murders, receiving one year sentences for obstruction of justice (the Patricks' sentences were suspended).
On October 17, 2006, Judge Gregory L. Frost issued an order temporarily delaying Lundgren's execution. Lundgren attempted to join a lawsuit with five other Ohio death row inmates challenging the state's death penalty law, claiming that because of his obesity the lethal injection would be particularly painful and amount to cruel and unusual punishment. State Attorney General Jim Petro appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order allowing the execution to go forward. The U.S. Supreme Court refused a last-minute request to stop his execution, and Governor Bob Taft also denied clemency.
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- Lundgren v. Mitchell, F.3d 754 (6th Cir. 2006) ("... we AFFIRM the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief and DENY the petition.").
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