Sahuarita property owners evict World Ministries group

Arizona Daily Star/April 3, 2003
By Stephanie Innes

Sahuarita property owners have evicted the religious group associated with praying for three weeks over a dead Tucson man's decaying body.

"I hope we've seen the last of them,'' said Reuben Birkholz, a retired Lutheran pastor who owns a 10-acre parcel in Sahuarita, where World Ministries leader Stan A. Bennett and his wife, Jill, had been holding religious gatherings.

"We've told Stan a dozen times to get his you-know-what off the property."

The Bennetts could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Former World Ministries members say Stan Bennett considered the Sahuarita property to be a haven when the world ends.

Bennett's group came into the public eye recently when police discovered the decomposing body of James Killeen, 50, inside his Tucson home while members of Bennett's group, including Killeen's wife, Eleanor, reportedly stood around him praying for his resurrection.

The Bennetts' son-in-law had been caretaker for the Water of Life Christian Center retreat in a gated compound just below the 10-acre site that Birkholz owns. Birkholz started the retreat center in the 1970s and later gave it to a board of directors that now oversees it.

Stan Bennett, who recently asked an Arizona Daily Star reporter to leave the Sahuarita property where his religious group met, does not own any of the land he claimed to occupy, according to Birkholz and Water of Life Christian Center board President Ralph Sumstine.

Birkholz says he has been trying to contact Stan and Jill Bennett for months now because they stopped paying their rent last year. He has since contacted an attorney, changed the locks on the gate around his land and put up a "no trespassing" sign.

Similarly, Sumstine said the Water of Life Christian Center has changed the locks on its property and Bennett, whom Water of Life officials suspect had been using their retreat without permission, is no longer welcome there. Sumstine said Bennett had allowed a friend to live in the retreat center, and that officials are evicting the friend.

Sumstine said he hasn't spoken to Bennett since Christmas.

An autopsy report could not determine the cause of death for Killeen, whom family members described as a robust railroad worker. Family members and friends said Killeen, who suffered from diabetes, was on a 40-day fast when he died. Family and friends say Killeen was doing the fast as part of his worship with World Ministries.

The Pima County Attorney's Office on Wednesday said it would not pursue any felony charges in connection with Killeen's death. Failure to report a death is a misdemeanor, but no such charges have been filed.

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