Just seconds before the state police arrived, Joshua [K] turned to his pastor, still unsure of how to tell them his story.
What am I supposed to say? What do I have to do to get right with God? the 21-year-old asked, looking squarely at Sam J. Wibberley, a man more than 20 years his senior and leader among the three pastors of The Kings Chapel in Norwich.
At about 4 a.m. on a September Saturday, after no sleep and three other late nights of inquisition by his pastors, [K] was desperate, eager to put an end to the disciplines and deliverances that had started the Sunday before.
Tell them just what we said, [K] remembers being instructed by Wibberley, who appeared calm, businesslike and ready to join the other men in the kitchen for SnackWells and Granola bars. Wibberley and his colleagues had finished yet another exorcism of lustful demons from one of their parishioners. According to many former church members, the pastors thought the problem was pervasive. The men, usually at the instigation of an elderly woman they consider a prophet and spiritual guide, had admonished, exhorted or condemned dozens of parishioners over the years for their sexual desires, including three of Wibberleys sons.
[K], in a daze and still cornered on the living room sofa, felt relief was near. In logic driven by fatigue and fear, he thought he could end the harangue by confirming accusations that hed molested parish children. And if he were able to rid himself of the demons they said were within him, the church pastors were certain to allow his marriage the next week at Kings Chapel.
His ordeal, [K] reasoned, would be over as soon as police arrived. Then he could tell them what the pastors had agreed would be his story, that for four years or more, he had sexually abused or raped his younger sister, his younger brother and a neighborhood girl in the cases of the girls, more than 100 times.
Hed been directed by the pastors, however, to omit from the police confession that he molested other young girls. Supposedly among those children were the young daughters of two pastors, one of whom was now munching on snacks in Richard McPhauls kitchen on Ashland Street in Jewett City.
But relief didnt come shortly before dawn on Sept. 14, 1996, as Josh [K] envisioned it would. After an immediate confession to state police, he was barred from seeing his little brother and sister for the next year. Although he recanted his story within 48 hours, claiming hed been brainwashed and was only trying to satisfy his pastors, the investigation continued.
That Christmas he would consider suicide. His sister and brother and the neighborhood girl would undergo medical examinations and weeks of psychological counseling. And, in yet another cruel unraveling, [K]s fiancée the woman he had fallen wildly in love with a year before would cancel the wedding they had planned for Sept. 21. She now is married to another man.
The ruinous episode took an abrupt turn in the fall of 1997, when police closed their investigation without an arrest. Nothing but a failed lie-detector test could bolster in any way [K]s confession. Examinations of the alleged victims showed no signs of molestation. The children denied any abuse. In their last report on the case, state police cited the churchs role in the forced confession. In late November, they concluded there was no evidence of a crime.
Today, [K] lives again at the family home in Jewett City and works in construction with his father.
Once stalwart believers, the [K]s and dozens of others have left Kings Chapel. The small, non-denominational church white paint peeling in places sits along a residential stretch of Boswell Avenue not far from Norwichs center. Today it has about 90 adult and child members. Although unaffiliated with any institution in the United States, it has a strong bond with a sister parish in central England Bethel Church in a working-class town in Nottinghamshire County.
The [K]s and others say they left behind a cult, directed in large part by a phony prophet. Kings Chapel and Bethel, they say, are parishes where leaders preach a contradictory, destructive message of elitism and subservience. Pastors and the prophet Jean Spademan would not comment directly about any of the ex-parishioners, any of their claims, or any of the incidents they have described to The Day.
On one hand, ex-members say, the congregation is led to believe it is among the chosen few, that members are super-warriors with a super-mission to rid the world of spiritual evils that wrack humanity.
But then they can feel whittled and worn down. They frequently are reminded of their woefulness and inadequacies. They are warned to be vigilant against demons doubt, pride, greed and lust foremost among them. Obedience is all-important, pastors tell them. One woman is convinced that her son, Ronald Allen, killed himself at age 29 during a deep depression that had its roots in his abandoning plans to live in the dream house he had built for his family in Preston. Edith Bolles claims that church leaders and other Kings Chapel members were directing her sons life and that he sold the new house to follow their advice.
In Kings Chapel, sharing money, homes, cars and other worldly goods becomes a reasonable expectation. Free labor at all hours of the day and night is a way of showing faith.
Clenton Collier remembers that on several occasions he took apart his sons bunk beds on demand and carted them up the street to Wibberleys home for English visitors to use during their stay in Jewett City. Hed call and ask, and Id do it. The boys would sleep on the floor.
You cant outgive God was a favorite church maxim.
As Debra Lathrop, a former follower from Jewett City, described the feeling: You are never good enough. You can never do enough.
Today, the [K]s are on a crusade of another sort. They would like to heal from an experience that they and 34 others have described as emotionally, psychologically, even financially crippling. They hope that people will stay away from Kings Chapel and that those who still belong will leave.
In interview after interview, a teacher, therapists, housewives, an engineer, mechanics, business owners, secretaries, a nurse and carpenters tell of how a loving embrace into the church gradually turns into a stranglehold of control. Their stories show how faith and obedience are corrupted into paranoia and subservience.
Some of those interviewed have moved out of Connecticut, but many have remained, most still in Jewett City, where the pastors urged the congregation to live.
In 1986, Sue Wing and her husband, Sidney, sold their country home in East Killingly to come where the manna is. The Wings still regret letting go of that home and settling in on Taylor Hill Road across the street from the VFW hall.
The Wings and the [K]s are among about two dozen people who have formed a support group. All ex-members of Kings Chapel, they meet informally once a month for fellowship and to discuss their experiences in the church. Though some have known one another for almost 20 years, they are often shocked by the stories.
We werent allowed to talk about things, problems. It was murmuring and gossiping, said Maria [K], whose six children and husband were in the church. We werent even supposed to offer sympathy.
When people quit the church, pastors urged parishioners to shun them. If you talked to someone who left, just even talked to them, you might get a spirit of doubt, explained Clenton Collier, once an associate pastor of Kings Chapel. And you wanted to avoid that. You didnt want to give doubt a foothold.
The power the pastors wield may come, in part, from charisma, but they play a trump card that wins many over to the congregation their claim of a modern-day prophet. The 73-year-old English grandmother Jean Spademan, it is said, hears Gods thoughts and knows peoples sins.
Over the years, Spademan has developed a remarkable influence over the pastors in Connecticut and in England. Through them, she has directed lives in ways both whimsical and profound. She usually is in steady communication with church leaders, whether in person while on one of her many extended stays in Jewett City usually at Wibberleys home on East Main Street or by telephone from Mansfield-Woodhouse, England, home of Bethel Church.
Spademan is known by the nickname Syro, an obscure Biblical reference to a Syro-Phoenician woman who appeals to Jesus to save her daughter from a demon.
The alliance between Syro and the pastors, as described by former congregants, is an unholy one, a symbiosis that works far more for the benefit of the leaders than for anyone else.
In the almost 20 years that the team has been together, they have attracted an earnest, devout flock of Christians, many of moderate incomes. Some left home-based evangelical or fundamentalist groups to join Kings Chapel. Some were in Pastor Wibberleys first small congregation, called Dayspring Church Of God, which he started with John V. Monahan Jr. in the late 1970s in Jewett City. That was before the two men met up with Syro and others from England.
Today, many who ardently criticize Kings Chapel remain strong in their Christian faith. They have well-worn Bibles handy in their kitchens or living rooms to refer to when quoting scriptures. Many have found new churches. Others have been deeply wounded by their experience. Teri Collier, Clentons ex-wife, hasnt belonged to a church since 1988, when her family left Jewett City. I certainly dont believe like I used to, she said. Too much happened.
When they belonged to Kings Chapel, parishioners were frequently called on to donate their money, time and labor. As Marines for God, some gave well beyond what they could afford or could psychologically handle.
The gain for Syro, they say, is a far better life than the one she has described as having as a washer-woman, before she met John Hibbert, the main pastor at Bethel. Syro, like the pastors, would not comment about her finances or any allegations.
Americans who have visited the Mansfield-Woodhouse parish over the years describe Syros house as well-appointed, with brass in the bathrooms, a winding staircase, chandeliers and an in-ground, covered pool. Her major concern, they say, seems to be her family six children and numerous grandchildren.
On their visits, many say, they were asked to take undeclared dollars and gifts in special suitcases. Americans have gone to celebrate weddings of Syros relatives. Several men traveled there, often at their own expense, to work for free on her home and those of her children.
Collier, once a Navy officer and now a logistics engineer in Texas, went to England at his own expense in the mid-1980s to help construct Syros pool. It was for medicinal purposes, for her, and for her grandkids, said the 48-year-old.
One of Sam Wibberleys sons, 28-year-old Christopher Wibberley, volunteered to help build apartments that belonged to Bethel Church in the nearby town of Sutton.
For Syros struggles in expelling demons and nasties from parishioners, they have been asked to donate toward her vacations to Disney World and New Hampshire. She usually took along family from England, according to dozens of people.
For her missionary work although the two churches have no outside affiliations Syro has traveled along with pastors to far reaches of the world. Honduras, China, Alaska and Spain were among the places. Her informal link to an orphanage in Honduras called Finca de los Niños never led to building another, grander orphanage there. The church pastors promised the new facility in a campaign in the mid-1980s that raised tens of thousands of dollars, according to Collier.
For their part, the pastors have attained but sometimes lost extraordinary power. They, along with Syro, have determined where the obedient should live, whom they should marry, even what they should name their newborns.
I think they have gotten into a position of so much power and control that its become an aphrodisiac thats exciting, said Collier, who left the church in September 1988 after seven years. I dont know how dynamic their message is now, but if it had lived up to what they were saying back then, they would have orphanages everywhere. And they would have good works everywhere around the world.At various times, according to Teri Collier, a former church treasurer, Wibberley asked that money from a church account be withdrawn to help pay the bills at his business, Sam Wibberley Tire. The auto repair and tire business is in Danielson, but there used to be a second shop in Canterbury.
In the mid-1980s the pastor asked various people at different times to buy spiritual shares in Wibberley Tire. A Norwich businessman who wanted to remain anonymous says that he and 19 others were approached to buy shares at $1,000 each because Wibberley Tire was in debt. He did that, but he and his wife eventually got out of the church because they lost confidence in the ministry, in what they were doing.
In 1986, the [K]s say, Wibberley met privately with them to explain that spiritual investments, at $1,500 a share, would help to free him from business pressures so that he could devote more time and energy to his religious calling. About a dozen shares were solicited at the time, according to ex-members. The [K]s invested but saw no returns.
Help for Wibberley Tire went beyond donations, according to dozens of people. Many from England illegally worked there over the years, according to Sallie Bowen, a former longtime employee, and to a former manager who requested anonymity. Some earned no salary, while others were given stipends, according to several accounts.
Collier wrote letters and called the Internal Revenue Service and immigration officials shortly after he left the church to tell them about English nationals working illegally at the tire business. From about 1981 until 1988, he says, there would be about four people from England and maybe four parishioners of Kings Chapel working at any one time at the shop for wages well below minimum.
The English would get $50 a week, plus room and board, he said. Theyd work 40- to 50-hour weeks. No records. No documents. Collier says he knows the details of their earnings and living arrangements because he often was called up in the evenings to do plumbing or electrical repairs at their residences for free. I was Mr. Fix-It, he said.
Glenn Bissonette, now of Danielson, filed an unfair labor practice complaint in 1990 claiming he worked for no wages for three years. He got six months of back pay, but a statute of limitations kept him from collecting for the entire time.
Parishioners also helped to remodel and repaint pastors homes in Jewett City - Wibberleys on East Main Street and Kevin F. Hamels down the street without pay. They have remodeled a kitchen, and painted and repaired exteriors and interiors. Several women and their daughters describe regularly cleaning Wibberleys house sometimes at 1 or 2 in the morning in shows of obedience. Some were asked to baby-sit for free for other mothers in the church.Josh [K] slept almost 48 hours after his interrogations and confession. From the state police barracks in Montville, he went to stay with another church family in Jewett City.
The same morning as his confession, the youngest [K] children, then 8 and 9, along with a 10-year-old girl, were taken to The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich for physical examinations. The girls would later undergo more intrusive exams. No signs of abuse were found.
When [K] awoke from his long sleep, he called home to speak to his mother. His fiancee, Jennifer Stamp, was there, commiserating with Maria [K]. Jennifer had been told by a church pastor that Josh never found her as sexually attractive as children.
I told her I didnt do it, that I didnt literally do anything, [K] said, describing that telephone conversation. It was the first time in the ordeal, he says, that he broke down and cried.
[K] is one of several ex-church members who tell with sadness or horror the awful deeds they admitted committing after blistering disciplinings from their pastors. Those sessions often occurred after theyd had little sleep over days, even weeks. Many say they were run ragged by doing good deeds at all hours often at the inconvenience or sacrifice of their own families.
Nancy McPhaul Davis remembers getting countless calls past midnight.
Once married to Richard McPhaul, she says the pastors and Syro concluded she was preoccupied with perverse desires.
They called me every night for a month at 1, 2, 3 in the morning, said Davis, 47 and now living in California. Wibberley, Hamel, Monahan, even Syro, browbeat her into confessing her sickness, she says.
The pastors also kept her busy so busy, she says, she never had time to rest and think. A mother of three daughters, she was responsible for her own household. She remembers being called up almost daily to work at Wibberleys or Hamels homes. She would make meals, clean, iron, shop and baby-sit.
Sam (Wibberley) would say, We really think something is wrong with you. When you agreed then he would push it further, said Davis. Over time, her admissions became more outrageous. She agreed that shed thought about murder, even cannibalism.
You figure he knows better than you do at that point, she said. Youre scared to death because he is so intimidating.
Her lust was considered so acute, she says, that she was taken by Wibberley in the autumn of 1991 to an empty house in Putnam owned by her mother. Davis was left there with no food or car for three days. She needed to get right with God.
But Davis wasnt alone. Cynthia Wibberley, her sister and Sams wife, was also sent to rural isolation. She, like Davis, was supposedly plagued by evil spirits, Davis says. Cynthia Wibberley refused to be interviewed.
As Davis describes it, the sisters foraged for berries in the woods. They slept on the floor because there was no bedding or furniture. They were picked up after two nights and three days, tired but as it turned out not repentant enough. In more middle-of-the night calls and in encounters, the pastors extracted more doubt and sin, says Davis.
They focus on sex, totally, she said, recalling their questions and tactics. Are you thinking about a red, juicy apple? Are you thinking about cutting it? And then they would progress to body (parts). They would say every grotesque thing you could think of. Sam threatened to take all my clothes off and march me up the street with a stick. I thought they would do that. At that point, I believed.
The ramifications of her sins went well beyond her, Davis says. Pastors would accuse her of hurting Syro. They blame Jeans ailments on the people that are sinning because they believe that they open the door to the devil, who then attacks her.The precious reward for their affiliation, say people now out of the church, has been the friendships they made with other parishioners. Otherwise, Kings Chapel led them to at least one serious problem or another. For some, it has been divided families, for others divorce. The church has mistreated children, broken spirits and driven a few to the verge of mental collapse, they say. Two women were diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSD) shortly after they got out. Others have needed extensive counseling.
One of those women, Teri Collier, now 44, saw a Christian counselor for depression before she and her then-husband quit Kings Chapel. But, says Clenton Collier, after talking about his wifes counseling with Wibberley and Monahan, he stopped her from continuing the treatment.
They said no, that I needed to stand my ground for righteousness, said Clenton Collier. Because (the therapist) wasnt part of the church, she couldnt see that counselor. She needed to see Sam or John.
Ron Allen, who committed suicide, was a follower along with his wife and two small children. He had become depressed after the church urged him to sell a house he had built off Amos Lake in Preston, according to his mother and his two sisters. He started treatment shortly before his death.
When his mother and his sister, Charlotte Fenton, advised him to keep the home and leave the apartment on Ashland Street in Jewett City he was renting from church member Mary Bowles, he told them he couldnt.
He said, You dont know what its like to be brainwashed, Fenton recalled of that get-together with her brother and mother shortly before Allens suicide in December 1987.
It wasnt because of money that he sold (the house). He had a good job at United Nuclear, his mother, Edith Bolles, said. If Ronald didnt move to Ashland (Street), hed be alive today. Those people led him astray. And my whole family feels that way.
Teri Collier says that once she got to Texas in June 1988 she went to a therapist as often as three times a week for almost three years and was initially advised to check into a hospital because of her severe depression and PSD.
I would have done that, she said in a telephone interview from her home in the western United States, but I was afraid my husband would go back (to the church) and Id lose my children.
Today Collier works as an occupational therapist. She did not want to say where she lives for fear of being tracked down by the pastors. Before her divorce and departure from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, she was a speaker for the Cult Awareness Network in Dallas.
It is such a sick community, she said of the church leadership.Since his early teens, Josh [K] had been told that he had dirty thoughts.
For years, when (Josh) got disciplined, back to when he was 15, it was that Syro believes that Joshua is a molester, that he wants to molest little children, said George [K], his adoptive father.
The sad part is that Maria and I bought into it. Thats what is so evil about it.
Christopher Wibberley, one of the Wibberleys four sons, recalls the same sort of accusations. Lusting. Always a lot of lusting, said the 28-year-old.
Like his older brother Wayne, Chris was adopted. When Wayne was 20, he pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. In a highly unusual move, he made his guilty plea on May 31, 1984, only one day after his arrest. His criminal record shows that the arrest by Jewett Citys former police chief, Thurston Fields, occurred almost three months after two alleged assaults, yet there is no warrant in his court record to explain the charges. No name is given for Waynes attorney, and there is no description of any crimes. Fields says he cannot recall the incident.
After his release in Connecticut, Wayne Wibberley moved to Florida. In February 1987 he was convicted of five counts of sexual battery in Pinellas County Court and was sentenced to 25 years. A parole officer there says he was recently discharged, but he could not be traced.
Another Wibberley brother is in Kentucky, where he first went as a teen-age resident in a Pure Life Ministries group home for people with sexual problems. Matthew Wibberley, now 22, spoke briefly by telephone. He has been satisfied with the guidance from Syro, who, he says, is like his grandmother. He did not want to talk about why he was sent to Kentucky.
How can that many people in one little church be doing what they say theyre doing? said Chris Wibberley. It doesnt make sense. He and his wife stopped attending Kings Chapel last fall.
When Sue Wing was in the church from 1983 to 1992, her three daughters were growing up. In their early teen-age years, Wing says, one of them would sometimes join the church youth group at Kevin Hamels house to play flashlight tag in the dark. The games were organized by Hamel. Josh [K] and others remember watching R-rated movies there, too.
Then afterward my daughter was raked over the coals about her relationship with Josh, Wing said of her middle daughter. Then, within a month, they called my youngest daughter, who was 11 then, telling her, Youve got sexual problems. Youve got lustful thoughts. I know my daughters. My daughters are very different, said Wing. And my youngest daughter didnt think that way.
For the adults, the pastors helped to organize Disco Nights in the church with secular music and fun games with bad names, as Wing put it. There were Musical Laps and Wife Swapping.
Wife Swapping was played in a circle where each man sat on a chair with two women seated on either side. When another man stole one of his women, he had to steal a replacement. Musical Laps resembled musical chairs; the men sat and the women marched around them until the music stopped, when they tried to sit.
An evening of such games, according to former members, could be followed within days by phone calls from pastors accusing them of extra-marital lusting. Disciplining might be in order.For Josh [K], disciplining reached a fever pitch in September 1996, shortly before his planned wedding day.
He and his fiancee, Jennifer, were taking a fellow church-goer to Bostons Logan Airport. The young man was headed for England and was taking along a trunk of goods for Syro. The departure time on Sept. 8 was an odd one, and [K] was driving back to Jewett City in the early morning that Sunday when he ran the car into a guardrail on Interstate 395, just as they entered Connecticut near Danielson.
Neither [K] nor his fiancee was badly hurt, but the car was totaled. [K], too, was a wreck; hed recently had a string of speeding tickets and minor accidents, and the church pastors still hadnt given their blessing to the wedding. Invitations couldnt be sent out until they did.
Because so many things were going badly, [K] thought he might have fallen from grace. His mother, his father, even Jennifer thought he should go to his pastors for counseling. He remembers agreeing reluctantly.
Josh and Jennifer met with Syro, Wibberley and Hamel that Sunday afternoon. The conversation at Wibberleys house was friendly, and Josh thought there were no serious problems.
But on Monday night, he got a phone call around 10 p.m. He went over to Richard McPhauls house. Wibberley, Hamel, Monahan, McPhaul and Seth Croteau were there.
The first thing (Wibberley) said is, Isnt it ironic were back here? [K] said.
The McPhaul house was where he had been disciplined years before, after being caught reading Playboy magazines with other boys.
(Wibberley) had gotten a list (of demons) from Syro, whod gotten them from God, Josh said of the charges against him. Two of them I remember being hatred and rape. Some of the others I never even heard of.
As the hours passed, [K] says, he admitted to one thing after another, but only in response to their specific suggestions. When his deliverance was over in the wee hours, he sensed liberation.
For the first time in years, he thought his pastors were pleased with him. He got up early Tuesday morning feeling rejuvenated. He worked for Kevin Hamels construction company, often alongside his father. He headed out to a house-building site in the woods of Ledyard.
Relief was short-lived.
After just a few hours of sleep and the pounding of construction, he said, I got the worst headache of my life. But I didnt want to tell anyone. I didnt want them to think I was going backward into sin again.
Tuesday night he went to a regular service at the church. He didnt get a late-night phone call.
Then Wednesday, after work and while getting ready for bed, he got another call. He was summoned to Hamels house. He sat at the head of the dining room table. Hamel, Wibberley and McPhaul were on the sides. After a half-hour or so, the accusations grew harsher, more specific: he had touched girls here, and here and here; he had slept with his little sister.
Then Syro appeared.
She said, God is not going to forgive you, if you dont come clean, [K] said. I think I said no once. That I hadnt done it. She got flustered and said (to the men), You deal with him.
The same, intense session replayed itself Thursday night, this time at McPhauls. Maria [K] became worried. So many disciplinings, even for a [K], seemed like big trouble.
I knocked on his door to tell him hes got the call, she said of that Thursday. I said, Josh, dont confess to anything you havent done.
It went badly. He couldnt remember all the touching and lusting he was being accused of. He wasnt getting much sleep. By nights he was being called out. By days he was building a house. He hadnt seen his fiancee since Sunday.
On Friday night, when he dragged himself over to McPhauls house again, his head hurt.
The whole atmosphere was grim. Despair was in this room. And my stomach was already in knots.
While he was on the living room sofa, the pastors and elders sat in chairs, forming a close semi-circle around him. Sometimes they put their hands on his head, urging in prayer for the demons to come out.
As was customary in such purgings, Wibberley talked on the telephone to Syro as he sat in the semi-circle. Syro, visiting again from England, was at the pastors house, not too far away. Coincidentally, Joshs sister Jessica, then 19, was cleaning the Wibberley home past midnight.
Wibberley said stuff like Gods just sick of it! We want you to get well. We want you to become the righteous man you can become, [K] said. They started naming names of people who I lusted after. They would talk about the girls I admitted touching. Then theyd say, Why dont you tell us just what you did?
Did you do this? Did you do that? he said of their questioning tactic. And if I admitted it, then theyd say, Did you do it 10 times? Did you do it 100 times?
McPhaul, in a recent interview, disagreed with the account, saying Josh confessed to sexual abuse without prompting. He says he is still convinced that Josh molested children.
When Maria and George [K] were called over about 3 a.m. and told of their sons confession, both were distraught. Maria apologized to the pastors for her sons deeds. She even hugged them. On advice from Wibberley, she called the state police.
George recalls feeling no anger toward Josh, although he does remember thinking about a favorite snapshot of his son. Taken when Josh was about 4 years old, it shows him on his bed, surrounded by his toy trucks. That was a picture of a beautiful boy, George said. And I was wondering how a boy that beautiful could grow up and do what he did.
Now, with so much time to reflect, Maria has a clear picture of her church leaders that night.
It was like theyd finished their business, she said. The ministers were proud of what they did.