The Investigators: Deadly Faith

WMC-TV 5 Action News, Tennessee/April28, 2011

To family members, it seems Ruth Thompson was determined to die. A crumpled Cadillac was all that was left after her third attempt to kill herself behind the wheel.

During that third attempt, Thompson drove up a hill on the wrong side of Highway 100 in Chester County, and slammed head-on into a motor home.

"She was brainwashed," said her mother, Lois Gilliam. "And whatever she was told to do, almost like a Jim Jones kind of thing, she'd do it."

"They made my mother get in that car and drive in front of that trailer and kill herself," Ryan Thompson added. "They were behind it"

"They" are the leaders of a church called New Covenant Faith Ministries, a church Ruth's family calls a cult which once operated out of a building in Brownsville, Tennessee. Altha Maclin, who calls herself God's 21st Century Prophet, led the congregation.

"As long as she said 'thus said the Lord' my mom believed everything," Thompson said.

"My daughter, gave all of her checks and whatever she got, she gave it to her," Gilliam added.

State records show witnesses reported Ruth acting strangely before she died, wearing an all-white uniform and a cardboard sign that read, "I cannot obey authority." She also cut off all ties with her family. It was during this time Ruth's family believes the church told her to kill herself so the "prophet" could collect insurance money.

"This is what she told us," Ryan Thompson said. "The Lord revealed to her that we need to get insurance on each other, because this is how we're going to be able to benefit and grow our ministry."

"They had several policies on my daughter," Gilliam added. "My daughter's name was on it, but the owner was Altha Maclin."

Detectives with four state and federal agencies investigated Thompson's death, and her family's accusations the church assisted in her suicide. Action News 5 was granted exclusive access to the case file, which shows ten life insurance policies taken out on Ruth Thompson, naming Altha Maclin or her daughter, Monica Greer, as the beneficiary.

According to a summary report, the day after Ruth Thompson's death, claims totaling $1.7 million dollars were filed by Maclin and Greer. But none of the insurance companies paid out those claims, and investigators never proved New Covenant Faith Ministries was responsible for her death, which was ruled a suicide.

After checking multiple addresses trying to talk to the "prophet" Altha Maclin, Action News 5 discovered Maclin's daughter, Shena Coleman – a junior prophet at New Covenant Faith Ministries.

Action News 5's Ursula Madden told Coleman that Thompson's mother and daughter want the case reopened.

'I can understand their hurt and their pain about Ruth," Coleman said. "I can understand. But, simply as you said, these are accusations."

URSULA: "Ruth's mother and Ruth's daughter are saying they feel like New Covenant Faith Ministries is a cult."
SHENA COLEMAN: And you know what, it's funny they belonged to the church at one time as well, but they have a right to their own opinion you see what I'm saying, so I'm not going to..."
URSULA: So the church is not a cult?
SHENA COLEMAN: It's not in a cult? It's not in a cult. But they have a right to feel that way."

"Listen, I'm not going to discuss this any further," Coleman added. :Like I said before, these are accusations. If there had been some validity to what they're accusing us of, I guess it would have come out in the wash."

But what about all those insurance policies the church tried to cash in just 24 hours after Ruth Thompson died?

"We were relatives, so if Ruth wanted to leave something to somebody, that was Ruth's alternative to leave something to somebody," Coleman said.

What Ruth's family wants now is somebody to explain what really happened in a case with so many unanswered questions.

"When you're on the outside looking in, you see all the wrong," Ryan Thompson said. "This is not of God. This is not in the Bible. This is not what God says. But when you're inside, it's just coming from every which way, that you can't see the light. You can't see the truth."

Action News 5 was never able to locate the prophet, Altha Maclin. Records show she never showed up to be interviewed by investigators in this case. And when the investigation changed hands, no follow-up was ever made.

The Madison County District Attorney's office says they believe New Covenant Faith Ministries is still operating somewhere in Memphis.

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