Yisrayl Hawkins, leader of the House of Yahweh religious sect located east of Abilene, died Friday.
Monty Howard, owner of Bailey-Howard Funeral Home in Clyde, confirmed Monday the leader's death. Hawkins was 87.
Hawkins died at his home, Howard said. He was interred Sunday at Hawkins Family Cemetery on the sect's property, with additional service information pending.
Once known as "Buffalo" Bill Hawkins, he changed his name in the 1980s after leaving the Abilene Police Department in 1977.
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The Old Testament-based religious group he founded with his brother, J.G. Hawkins, later Jacob or "Yaaqob" Hawkins, first met on T&P Lane in Abilene and acquired acreage in Callahan County in 1990, according to reports.
The Hawkins brothers proclaimed themselves the two witnesses, figures in the Book of Revelation, and key to Yahweh's plan for the second coming of the messiah, "Yahshua."
In the biblical narrative, the two witnesses prophesize for 3½ years, are killed by "the Beast," then later are resurrected and ascend to heaven after lying without burial for 3½ days.
The former J.G. Hawkins died in 1991.
Before the House of Yahweh, Hawkins was a police officer, joining the Abilene Police Department in 1967.
His career as a patrolman would hit a snag when then-Chief Warren Dodson accused Hawkins of lying about a Nov. 15, 1976, incident in which four cans of beer and a dismantled radar unit were found in his patrol car.
In a letter to his superiors, Hawkins said he left the car as he’d found it, though officers who used it before and after him said the radar was in place and no beer was inside when they left it.
Hawkins took two lie detector tests, one which showed he was telling the truth, the other inconclusive.
He was found guilty of charges that he disobeyed an order and neglected his duty, but the Civil Service Commission rules that accusations he had lied were untrue.
It ordered a 30-day suspension retroactively effective to Nov. 28, 1976, which allowed him to return to work.
He resigned in January 1977, citing “time-consuming personal business interests,” including a mobile home park, which he owned, and about 50 rent houses.
Kippa-covered men listen as David Varner instructs from the Bible at House of Yahweh.
Hawkins was born on a tenant farm near Graham, grew up there and on another farm near Lexington, Oklahoma, according to a 1986 news story.
A one-time bible salesman, he briefly attended Midwestern Bible College in Stanberry, Missouri.
He also sang with his brother's rockabilly band, Buffalo Bill and His Whippoorwills.
J.G. Hawkins returned to Texas in 1975 from a seven-year trip to Israel, founding a church in Odessa.
In 1980, Bill Hawkins opened his own House of Yahweh church in an Abilene mobile home after being ordained by his brother in 1978.
Two years later, he built a sanctuary in a vacant field abutting T&P Lane, then legally changed his name to Yisrayl in 1982.
A 1986 story calls Hawkins, then 50, the "leader and founder" of an unusual, but small sect.
But it grew over time, attracting followers from California, New York, Tennessee, Georgia, Africa and continental Europe, according to various sources.
The sect gained greater notoriety in 1996, when several hundred followers changed their last name to Hawkins.
A July 1997 Texas Monthly article, "Happy Doomsday," brought the group into the public light, stating the suspected "Texas cult" was led by a "charismatic leader of questionable integrity who has visions of the end of the world."
Written shortly after the mass deaths associated with the Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego, the article noted how many speculated the House of Yahweh "might be the next cult to engage in a show of fatal one-upmanship" with groups such as the Branch Davidians and the Republic of Texas.
Former police chief Melvin Martin was less impressed, quoted in the article as stating the group was made up of “a smorgasbord, including anti-government outcasts and militia types."
The group, the article states, is based on "rigid adherence" to laws laid forth in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, characterizing Hawkins as "part Wizard of Oz, part Rush Limbaugh."
Worries about alleged weapon caches, guards and the group's potential volatility dogged it, the article says.
But "Abilene will not burn as Waco burned," the story, written by Robert Draper, predicted. "For this compound is but a very peculiar house, and one made of cards at that."
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Reports of alleged polygamy among church members surfaced as far back as the early 1990s.
In 2009, Hawkins penned a four-page newsletter sent to thousands of residents in Taylor, Callahan and Jones counties, claiming the news media had wrongly portrayed the House of Yahweh.
Attorney John Young, said in news archives, that the newsletter was an effort to give a more accurate insight into the religious sect.
Critics, though said the newsletter was an attempt to influence potential jurors when Hawkins went court to face bigamy and other charges, with Callahan County District Attorney Shane Deel calling it a last-ditch "propaganda effort."
Elders David Hodge, left, and Yisrayl Hawkins, at the marquee for House of Yahweh on T&P Lane. in February 1985.
The article, written in January, notes that in 2008, the House of Yahweh made headlines "several times," for the indictment of Hawkins, the conviction of elder Yedidiyah Hawkins for aggravated sexual assault of a child and predictions on national TV of a nuclear holocaust.
Bigamy charges against Hawkins were dismissed after he pleaded no contest to four cases involving child labor violations, according to Reporter-News archives.
Hawkins received a $2,000 fine and was given 15 months of probation for each case.
Deel said at the time that while there was a "mountain of evidence" against Hawkins, most of the cases dated back to 2005, when bigamy was a Class A misdemeanor.
Deel also said "many people were duped" into changing their last names to Hawkins as part of indoctrination into what he termed "a cult."
"We will help them get their names changed," he said.
In 2012, Kay Hawkins, who divorced Yisrayl Hawkins in 1994, wrote a book titled "The House of Yahweh: My Side of the Story," which she self-published.
In a news article, she said that after being excommunicated from the church, she determined to "tell everybody, one of these days, exactly what happened."
In the early pages of the book, Kay defined Bill Hawkins as "a cornfed cowboy with a weak chin and a Stetson hat" in the early 1970s.
But in an interview shortly after her book was published, she chose different descriptions, including "cockroach," "psychopath" and "satanic," according to Reporter-News archives.
Kay Hawkins said the book's long gestation period was because she had to "recover from the manipulation, mind control and indoctrination I had experienced."
Yisrayl Hawkins, right, as his suspension hearing in January 1977. The nine-year Abilene police officer was found guilty of four charges of willfully disobeying orders. He was suspended for 30 days but allowed to return to work. Hawkins soon left the department.
Several times, the group predicated a coming nuclear Armageddon, though those last days, so far, have not come to pass.
Dates included Sept. 12, 2006, June 12, 2007, June 12, 2008, and Dec. 24, 2016.
In a January 24, 2020, news release, Hawkins maintained that "biblical teachings that have been misunderstood, taught incorrectly and have outright deceived millions of people," and proclaimed the Bible was "clear about the timeline" and the House of Yahweh's continued role in prophecy.
In the sect's October newsletter, Hawkins wrote there were "4,199 religions of Satan that have a chokehold on the whole world."
The newsletter proclaims there are "only about 14 months left of the coronavirus and the other six plagues of the seven last plagues that will bring down fire (nuclear) from heaven."
The sect's website shows Hawkins still preached regular sermons, the last on Revelation 20:4, a verse that acclaims those "beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God," and those who had "not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads."
Those faithful, the prophecy states, will live and reign "with Christ a thousand years."
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
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