The children of His Community/December 2, 1984

A five part series from The Daily Journal, Kankakee, Ill. Beginning Sunday December 2, 1984 through December 3, 1984
By L. Elisabeth Fosse

First in a series.

Accent began a five-part series today focusing on 18 children who left the area five years ago with parents who belonged to a religious group called His Community.

Some of the children left with one parent, some with both, but all of them left behind family members who have not seen them since.

At the time of their disappearance, Journal writers, L. Elisabeth Fosse and Sherry Seiler reported the details.

In this series, Mrs. Fosse, on special assignment, interviews parents and grandparents of the missing children.

In May, 1979, The Journal ran a series on a religious group here that called itself "His Community." The series originated as a result of calls and letters from former members of the group and the parents and spouses of group members, who told The Journal, "I believe we have a cult in Kankakee."

Two Journal reporters, Sherry Weiler and Lloyd Elisabeth Fosse, began listening to the former members and interviewing families and acquiantances.

After many weeks, The Journal series was published.

Although the series never labeled His Community as a cult, as the stories evolved, it became apparent that members of the group were restricted from meeting with persons outside His Community, and had turned their lives over to five members, David Mulligan, Alice Benoche, Jeff Dickman, Lana Flora and Kurt Falkenhan, who called themselves 'Headship.'

How did a devout volunteer prayer group, formed at St. Joseph's parish, Bradley, become His Community - a reclusive group which took control of the lives, possessions, thoughts and future of its members, until one day the group fled the Kankakee area, without warning, spiriting away with them many children who have not been heard from since?

Mulligan described His Community by saying "We are fundamentalist orthodox Christians." By the time it left, its members included persons from Protestant denominations as well as those from St. Joseph's Church. At the time of The Journal series, it was estimated to have about 150 members - earlier, it had had as many as 300.

By the time of The Journal stories, it asked total commitment - of time, money, self, and then, unquestioning acceptance of the leadership of Headship, according to former members.

One former member, who was interviewed at that time, (after her family had her "deprogrammed") described what happened this way:

Called "Linda" in the story at the time, she said her first contact with Community had been in 1971. She was studying to become a registered nurse. A friend persuaded her to attend a few Bible classes. Three years later, she again attended. "It started good, and it was still good."

In 1975, she began participating regularly in His Community's music ministry, during which the group appeared at many area churches, presenting musical programs - which by all accounts were excellent.

It was then that commitment to the group became more demanding she says.

Those in the ministry were asked to sign a sheet, committing themselves to attend all practices, performances and Bible study for six months.

In the meantime, the three men, Mulligan, Dickman and Falkenhan "rose up" to form headship. (Alice Benoche and Lana Flora, the group's original leaders began to take a less authorative role at that time.)

Later, "Linda" said, an announcement was made that Headship would be a "filtering system."

"They would go over everything from the outside and go over everything going out. They would be like an umbrella, trying to protect us." "Linda" said she believed that was an early sign of the group's evolvement into a "cult." Community had begun to close out the world.

Then she said, in 1977, Headship announced a list of people with whom members could not associate.

In 1978, she was asked to move in with a Community family to help care for children whose mother had died. A short time later she was asked to quit her job - in her view, another sign Community had become a cult. "If you stop working, you stop having contact with the outside. You don't hear other opinions," she said.

There were other signs Community was withdrawing from the outside world. A cabinet factory was opened in 1978, and the mony was to be used to make Community more self-sufficient. That summer, members began learning to can, quilt, garden, bake and improve other skills. In 1979, Headship announced that Community was moving to a new land where members could get back to simple times and become self-sufficient.

This was necessary, they said, because the "end times" as prophesied in the Book of Revelations in the Bible were coming and no one would be able to buy or sell without the dreaded "Mark of the Beast."

Community's aim was to exist without having commerce with the outside world, thus avoiding the "mark" which they believed would cause then to be damned. Their plan was supposedly to escape by living apart from the rest of civilization.

With that end in mind, Sunday's church meetings were closed to visitors so the new land could be discussed.

"There was more pressure," said Linda. "If you didn't go, (to church), you would go to hell because you weren't following God. That's another sign of a cult - they put a fear over you that something bad will happen to you if you leave."

According to other former members, the pressures increased. Persons in Community who had doubts could not talk them over with anyone else, for fear of being reported to Headship, and by now, members' friendships were limited to other members.

In January of 1979, stories appeared in The Journal about the Moonies, said Linda, and Headship became worried that the stories were a subtle way of accuses Community of being a cult.

From then on, she said, members were instructed not to tell anyone, including their families, about plans cause problems and prevent some children from going.

"This was another sign that they were getting that closed environment more secure," she said.

And the pressure continued to mount. If members turned their backs on Community, "you turned your back on God," she said.

During the summer of 1979, some Community members moved to Casey County, Ky., to set up the "promised land" which would be independent of the rest of the world.

While in Kentucky, tensions mounted between the members there and non-Community family members left behind and Community fled in haste from their "promised land."

Those members still in Kankakee area also fled mysteriously, leaving behind dirty clothes, uneaten food, unmade beds, supplies - apparently whatever they owned - giving evidence of sudden and unplanned departure.

The flight was preceded by the announcement of a "Christmas Party" on Dec. 16 (1979), to which Community members had invited all the children of Community who were living with non-member spouses.

The parents waited in vain for their children to be returned from the "party."

They would learn, soon enough, that there had been no party. Their children were gone.

Part II

His Community - five years after they vanished, search goes on.

Partially eaten food and dirty dishes cluttered the table, a grapefruit lay rotting on the sink.

Half-picked boxes of clothing stood in halls and on the unmade beds, all evidence of the sudden decisions to flee.

Five years ago this month, members of His Community - a controversial, secretive religious group - abruptly left their Kankakee area homes.

Only those who fled know for sure why they ran without explanation. They took with them 18 children. Some of them at the time were the subject of custody hearings and neither the parent who fled nor the children they took with them have been found.

His Community evolved from a prayer group that originated in Bradley's St. Joseph Catholic Church. It became the focus of controversy that raged for months.

Parents of young men and women members of His Community complained that their children were being kept from them.

Phone calls were "screened" and not getting through, they said, the members were being "brainwashed."

There were reports that, during His Community worship services, a list was read of persons who members were forbidden to see.

In May, 1979, Journal reporters Sherry Weiler and Lloyd Elisabeth Fosse wrote a series which brought to light the divisions in many area families over His Community.

A short time later a work group from His Community left for Casey County, Ky. A farm there was supposed to be "the promised land," where members could set up independent existence, safe from the outside world.

In December, 1979, the Kankakee-area members vanished.

So did the group in Casey County, even before houses and buildings there could be completed.

As in Kankakee, reports from Casey County gave evidence of sudden departure - new mattresses piled high; stacks of discarded blue jeans never worn.

In Kankakee, on the day of the flight, His Community members announced they were holding a Christmas party to which all the members children were invited.

It was during the "party" - which was never held, that the children disappeared.

That evening, when non-member parents went to pick up the children, they learned that their children were gone. They have not been seen again.

In the ensuing years, word has come back about some of the members who have broken into smaller groups. Whether they are still connected, no one seems to know.

Once, a few years ago, a Kankakee man got lucky. By chance, someone who had returned from a Community settlement in Wisconsin knew where the man's son was located.

Though the son would not see his father, he was alive and well.

There have been few other, small triumphs for the people left behind - an occassional phone call, a post card, and now and then, a former member returning home.

But for most, the search goes on.

Part III

The Children of His Community: Bradley family still feels sorrow.

Of all the families affected by the fallout from His Community, none was harder hit than of Mr. And Mrs. Lawrence "Pug" Benoche of Bradley.

Four of their children, and three of those children's spouses, were members. They became involved through St. Joseph's parish, Bradley, where the original prayer group was formed. Out of this prayer group, His Community.

Of their children, their son Leslie lost the most. When his Community left the Kankakee area, Leslie's former wife, Alice took their six children with her. At the time, she was due in Kankakee County for a custody hearing. He has not seen nor heard of the children since.

A Benoche daughter, JoAnn who was married to David Mulligan (one of the leaders), was left behind with two small children to rear alone, with the help of family and friends. She has never received any aid at all from David - financial or otherwise - according to her parents.

A third daughter, Lois Pelehowski, and her husband, Bernard, went with His Community when the group left for Casey County, Ky. When they realized they had made a mistake, they returned, after "losing everything." They came back to the Kankakee area, moving in with her parents because they had turned their possessions over to Community, and came back with virtually nothing, Mrs. Benoche remembers.

Benoche and his wife, Opal, interviewed in their neat home in Bradley, talked of their sorrow at the losses of their grandchildren, and the stress and emotional and financial problems their children have suffered.

Says Mrs. Benoche, of these past five years: "It's hard to put into words what it has been like. We've never ever been told where Alice and David and the children (Leslie's) are.

"Leslie has heard nothing. He made a trip to Roanoke (in Virginia, where part of His Community had moved.) He didn't see any of his kids. He saw a girl who had been living with them (Alice and the children) in Bradley. He waited around for a week, hoping to see them."

At the time Alice left, custody had not been settled, and she was under court order to deliver the children to their father every Friday until Sunday, Mrs. Benoche explained.

"Those children really loved their dad," Mrs. Benoche said. "It was awful to see the way they clung to him on the weekends, not wanting to go back (to Alice). He used to take the older ones hunting and fishing and hiking."

Mr. and Mrs. Benoche say they have suffered "grief and worry - about the kids and Leslie."

"It's been really hard," Benoche said. "But we have to kind of cope. We hope that someday, we can see them again."

They don't know whether the grandchildren would want to see them now, although they were close before they were taken. "I don't think the three smallest would even know us," their grandmother said. Added Benoche, "The children were always friendly with us. I don't know about now. I know they turned against their dad." Sadly, he added, "By now, the oldest ones could have gotten in touch with us."

Part IV

Children of His Community - Those left behind are tired and disillusioned.

The five years that have passed since His Community members departed from the area have left hurt, confusion, grief and worry in their wake.

Non-member parents whose small children were taken by member parents, parents of the young adults who chose to leave, and grandparents, seem tired and disillusioned. Some, who expected their children to come back home, have grown weary and hopeless.

Said one woman, her voice breaking, "I've never gotten over it."

Another mother and grandmother, who lost her grown daughter and one granddaughter, is Mrs. Wayne Doyle.

Mrs. Doyle's daughter, Debbie Mulligan, wife of former member, Danny Mulligan, left with one daughter, Carol (Danny, who dropped out of Community before they left, has the other daughter). Says Mrs. Doyle, the mother of Debbie and grandmother of Carol, "Of course I still hope to hear. There's not a day goes by that I don't think of her and pray she's all right - she and Carol."

Carol was a baby when her mother left with her, and her grandmother says, "Carol should be in kindergarten now. I hope she is in school. I hope she and Debbie are living a normal life."

Adds Mrs. Doyle sadly, "I hope Debbie is living a normal, fulfilled, independent life. All I wanted for her was to live a free and independent life."

She has not lost all hope, however. "I still feel that, someday, she will come back," she says.

Leslie Benoche, whose wife, Alice took their six children, says, "I still love my kids so much and still want to find them."

Alice and Leslie's custody hearings were still in progress in Kankakee County courts when she left.

Another father of six children who disappeared sounds equally depressed. He is Orville Calhoun of Kankakee, who had been recently divorced from his wife, Barbara, when his Community left.

In December of 1979, Calhoun traveled to Casey County, Ky., where many of His Community members had gone. His purpose was to share Christmas with his children.. However, when he arrived, he discovered that members of Community had left Casey County - as suddenly and mysteriously as they had previously left Kankakee. He has heard nothing about his children since.

What have the last five years been like for him?

"Hell," he answered. "It's been hell. You never get over anything like that."

Does he have hope of ever seeing them again?


The children now range in age from 5 to 20. The youngest was just a baby when they left.

There are others.

Mr. and Mrs. Herman Falkenhan have lost all contact with their son, Kurt "Koot" Falkenhan, and his wife, Carolyn, who left, taking along all three Flakenhan grandchildren.

Said Falkenhan, "My wife and I talk about them all the time. We really miss them - especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas."

They haven't seen their grandchildren in more than six years, he said. During the last year Kurt and Carolyn were in the Kankakee area, they would not let the children visit theur grandparents' home because Kurt felt their lifestyle was "ungodly," and the couple canceled a Christmas visit in 1978 with the Falkenhans.

For many months, the children's wrapped presents were kept in a closet. Falkenhan said, "We finally gave the presents away to people with little kids."

"We try to keep it out of our minds as much as we can."

Does he ever expect to hear from his son again?

"We've been hoping and praying that someday Koot will get hold of us. Even just call us- so we can know how the children are. We'd just like to see the kids. All we've got are pictures from when they were babies.

"It's a sad thing. It's a bad situation."

Alberta Mulligan is the mother of David, a member of Headship (the title given to the four leaders) who left with His Community, and grandmother of Danny Mulligan's daughter, Carol, who was taken away when her mother Debbie left.

Mrs. Mulligan's grief is for her own loss - a son and a granddaughter - and for her son Danny, who lost a brother and the oldest of his two children.

Danny, now in Texas, has daughter, Rebecca, whom he kept home from the "Christmas party" from which daughter, Carol, never returned.

"Danny always asks if anyone has heard anything from David or Carol," Mrs. Mulligan says. "He really loves his brother and misses him. That is his only brother - and he has no sisters. He would really love to find him and Carol."

As for her own sorrow, she has worked to come to terms with it.

"You can't let it consume you. You feel bad about it. But you can't let it consume you."

But then, she adds, "I miss them so very much. I certainly think about them a lot. I would love to be able to find them and see them and know how they are.

"I always pray for them every night. I would love to have them back.. I know Danny is awfully happy he didn't go.

"Carol is such a sweet little girl. I would love to see her. Rebecca wants her sister so bad."

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