Lore and legend have long swirled around Charles Meade.
What little he has said publicly about his life is posted on his ministry's Web site. (The Internet, once branded an instrument of Satan, was accepted once Meade's End Time Ministry found it useful for recruiting new members.)
The Web site says he was born "near" Paintsville, Ky., in 1916, the twelfth of 15 children. "The Lord," it states, "appeared to his mother before he was born and told her that the child she was expecting would be mightily used of the Lord in a great end time ministry unlike any other."
It goes on to add that Meade spent four years on the front lines during World War II, was "seriously injured during several invasions," and left the U.S. Army as a highly decorated veteran.
In 1967, "the mighty hand of God reached down and performed a complete and total healing miracle on a dying man," the Web site states. This miracle "resulted in a divine health that has enabled him to actively and vigorously lead the congregation all through the years right to the present hour."
Public records tell Meade's life story somewhat differently.
According to his birth certificate, "Charlie Meade" was the 9th child of Julia Howard Meade, a farmer's wife, who delivered him on Dec. 24, 1916, in Oil Springs, Ky., a poor, rural community 100 miles east of Lexington. He quit school in 7th grade, moved to the town of Lickburg, and was later drafted in Cincinnati on April 17, 1942, according to Army records.
Meade served in the Army Corps of Engineers in Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, Germany and France, and, according to his discharge record, earned eight Bronze Stars. The record gives no indication he was wounded, notes that he rose to the rank of corporal, and states that he was honorably discharged on Sept. 20, 1945.
After the war, Meade found work in the lab of the Owens-Illinois Glass Co., in Muncie, Ind., where he lasted one year. He then became a shipping clerk at the Ball Bros. Glass Manufacturing Co., according to Delaware County, Ind., census records. The factory employed Meade until 1961 - except for a two-year stretch, from 1948 to 1950, when he became a felon.
According to records obtained from the Delaware County circuit court, it happened this way:
On April 17, 1948, Meade flew into a rage and plunged a knife into a man named Lucius Morrow in view of an eyewitness. Meade fled, but police caught him three days later and charged him with assault and battery with intent to murder.
At first, he denied any wrongdoing; but on Feb. 26, 1949, while awaiting trial, he switched his plea to guilty and was given the maximum sentence - 10 years. The sentence, however, was suspended, the judge citing Meade's "good past record" and "good behavior" while awaiting trial in jail.
At age 44, Meade left the glass factory and never again held a steady job in Indiana, according to Delaware County census records. He was still listed as unemployed in the late '60s - around the time he joined the "Glory Barn and Faith Assembly," a Pentecostal group led by another self-professed prophet, Hobart Freeman.
Under Freeman's influence, Meade became a firm believer in faith healing, according to people who knew and followed both men. But eventually they had a falling out and parted ways.
Later, Indiana officials documented 94 deaths of Faith Assembly members who had not received medical care between 1973 and 1984. Forty-two of the deaths involved children. In 1984, the year Meade moved to Florida, a grand jury indicted Freeman on a conspiracy charge in connection with with the death of a 15-year-old girl. (She died of a treatable kidney disease.) But before the end of his trial, he died of untreated pneumonia.
Meanwhile, Meade started "The House Church," later renaming it "The Body," "The Assembly," "The Body of Christ Charismatic Church," and finally, "End Time Ministry."
His first recruits were students at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. - idealistic young people who were disillusioned by Vietnam and Watergate.
For weeks on end, they listened to tapes of sermons Meade recorded in a garage, former sect members said, and later used them to attract converts in their hometowns, including Sioux Falls, S.D., and Billings, Mont.