Two arrests lift veil on cult - and possibly a slaying

The Seattle Times, Friday, July 23, 1998
By Chris Solomon

The recent arrests of two former Snohomish County residents in San Diego turns yet another page in a bizarre tale of alleged fraud, cult-like fanaticism, demagoguery and murder.

The men - Chris Turgeon, 34, and Blaine Applin, 27 - were the same ones Mountlake Terrace police have been investigating in connection with the March slaying of Dan Jess.

Turgeon and Applin now sit in a California jail on $1 million bail on charges that include attempting to kill a police officer and armed robbery.

Police interrupted the two as they allegedly were about to rob a restaurant last week. A gunfight erupted, ending with the suspects' capture a few hours later.

In Snohomish County, however, Mountlake Terrace police say, the two are suspects in a more serious crime, murder.

The central figure may be Turgeon, a self-described prophet and leader of a small band of followers.

On Monday, a SWAT team and other law-enforcement groups served a search warrant on the group's compound in the sparsely populated area of Pala, 60 miles north of San Diego. Officers say that inside the 5-acre compound, which is surrounded by a high chain-link fence, they found guns and spoils of previous robberies buried.

Before he was killed, Jess, 40, lived alone in Mountlake Terrace in a trailer behind a house in the 4800 block of 242nd Street Southwest. He was quiet and didn't care for much in the way of material things.

Yet, the part-time tree cutter wanted something more from his life.

"He was always looking for something, I think - searching for something," said Ed Jess, his father.

Eventually, he took to religion - with a vengeance, his family said. "He wasn't a person to go on and on about something - unless it was Scripture - then he'd go on and on about it," his father said.

But his fervor didn't seem healthy. He would come by the house and push militant, apocalyptic visions on family members. He told another friend that he feared the underground concentration camps where "they" sent good Christians.

"We'd read Revelations, and he knew right where to go in the Bible" to find passages, his father said.

Dan Jess, a former Marine, told his family he didn't trust the government, or banks. He urged his brother to keep a year's stockpile of food.

It split the family further apart.

"He wasn't nuts," his father said. "I just don't think he ever found his place, is all."

Jess may have thought he found that place when he met Turgeon.

Turgeon was a 19-year-old Bible college student when he said he heard a voice in his head. It was God calling, he'd later say.

By 29, Turgeon was an Everett preacher with a clutch of 15 to 25 followers. His philosophy was heavy on fire and brimstone and the primacy of men over women.

The preacher was not some wild-eyed Jeremiah. Acquaintances all described Turgeon as a soft-spoken, charismatic man. One said he resembled Opie from "The Andy Griffith Show," only all grown up and a bit more stout.

Glenn Applin, the father of Blaine Applin, said yesterday that his son had been wooed into Turgeon's group, where Turgeon would "stroke them so that they would feel they're special."

"He was absolutely controlling. He controlled everything they said, everything they did, what they watched on TV, when they were married, who they married," said Scott Smith, the Mountlake Terrace police commander.

The group, which eventually became known as the Gatekeepers, seemed to keep to themselves.

But in 1992, when more than 100 arsons swept the Seattle-Everett area, Turgeon made headlines by saying God had told him to warn churches that a "mighty wind" would set their churches aflame because of their aberrant teachings.

Dan Jess began spending time with Turgeon and his friend Applin, the son of a captain in the Everett Fire Department. Applin had seemed to undergo a change for the better after meeting Turgeon and reading the Bible.

"He wore a big cross around his neck; the first time I remember seeing it, it was a surprise because I knew Blaine when he wasn't that way," said a longtime acquaintance.

But a rift later developed between Jess and the others, perhaps because Turgeon and Applin weren't what they seemed to be, some say.

Several people and companies came after both suspects, filing suits that claimed fraud in deals, leasing and business purchases for a construction company the two ran for a while.

Then, suddenly, the two men vanished last September, owing thousands of dollars to others.

In the middle of last winter, Jess called a friend he hadn't seen in several years and asked for help with his faith. He said he was ready to chuck everything and join his erstwhile friends at their California compound.

Jess and his friend prayed in several grueling sessions lasting up to three hours.

The friend, who requested anonymity, said Jess told him, "You're going to see Jerusalem overthrown."

"I said, `Dan, push it aside, it's garbage,' " said the friend, who says he still fears Turgeon's followers.

Eventually, Jess seemed freed from the grip of his wilder beliefs, the friend said.

On March 27, Jess dropped by the friend's place to pick up a new Bible.

"That Friday before he was killed," the friend said Jess told him, " `I know what it's like to have the peace of God, and love, in me.' " He had a new job, a new outlook.

About that time, police say, Jess also spoke with Turgeon. Police think Jess may have given Turgeon the impression that he knew about some alleged illegal activity in Washington.

At 3 a.m. on Sunday, March 29, Jess opened the door to his trailer and looked down the barrel of a gun.

The first shots hit Jess in the arm, as he probably tried to run to the back of the trailer, ballistics reports suggested. Several more shots, fired at close range, hit him in the back and buttocks. In all, 11 shots were fired.

Police say they began looking for a Glock 9-mm pistol - the same style as one taken from Turgeon and Applin when arrested in California.

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