Accused Indiana church arsonist dabbled in Satanism

Reuters/February 25, 1999

Daleville, Ind. -- An Indiana man suspected of setting dozens of church fires dabbled in Satanism and lured youngsters into a self-styled cult with a blood oath, authorities said Thursday.

Investigators said the church fires did not appear to be related to the cult or part of a larger conspiracy involving the hundreds of church arsons being probed by a task force.

Jay Scott Ballinger, 36, who was in a hospital detention unit receiving treatment for serious burns allegedly suffered during a church burning earlier this month, was apparently involved in some elements of devil worship that might have been a motive for setting the fires, according to court documents.

His accomplices in at least one church fire admitted scrawling Satanic symbols such as an upside-down cross and the numeral "6" on church targets.

"He was having young kids sign contracts saying they were giving their souls to Satan," said Daleville Police Sgt. Mark Brewer, recounting his contact with Ballinger a few years ago.

"He would have them sign the contracts, then have them cut their finger to draw blood," Brewer said. Ironically, Ballinger worked at a religious camp for a while near town, Brewer said.

Ballinger was charged this week with seven church arsons in Indiana committed since 1994, but court documents indicated he could be a suspect in 35 to 50 church burnings in 11 states. Affidavits filed by federal agents say Ballinger admitted to setting the fires.

Ballinger's attorney, Steven Riggs, said his client's statements to law enforcement represented only part of the story, but would not elaborate. Asked whether further arson charges were in the offing, Riggs said: "Not at this time."

The case, brought in U.S. District Court in nearby Indianapolis, was the talk of Daleville, a town of 2,000, said Melvin Richmond, a cousin of Ballinger's adoptive father.

"He was a troubled child. He was always in trouble in school, never did finish (high) school," Richmond said.

Ballinger was believed to be living in Athens, Georgia, with girlfriend Angela Wood, 24, an exotic dancer, at the time of five church fires on consecutive days that occurred in a two-hour driving distance of the northern Georgia city.

A volunteer fireman died in the last of the fires, a New Year's Eve blaze, when the church ceiling caved in on him.

"That fire is not only first-degree arson, it's also felony murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence," said John Oxendine, the state insurance commissioner and fire marshal. He said there was evidence linking the two to the series of fires that destroyed three churches and heavily damaged two others.

Wood was in a Georgia jail on the basis of an arson charge filed in Indiana, and an Indiana judge Thursday found probable cause to charge a third man, Donald Puckett, 37, of Lebanon, Indiana, with one arson count. Both have also confessed, based on court documents, with Wood telling authorities she acted as a "lookout" at Ballinger's fires.

The National Church Arson Task Force, created in 1996 to investigate a rash of church fires in the South, said in an October report that it had convicted 235 arsonists in 173 church burnings. It identified a total of 670 church fires, bombings or attempted bombings since 1995, but said the number of incidents had dropped off.

The motives uncovered for the church fires included racism, religious hatred, feuding with a minister, covering up a burglary, pyromania or simple vandalism, the report said.

"The cases closed not support the theory that these fires were the product of a broad or nationwide conspiracy," it said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.