Child sex abuse cases at two Ozarks churches could widen

Associated Press/August 28, 2006

Springfield -- Allegations of years of child sex abuse at two reclusive Ozarks church communities are likely to widen as more victims come forward, with charges possible against people other than the five church leaders named so far in complaints, authorities said today.

The assistant prosecutor in a case in Newton County and the sheriff's deputy leading the investigation of a related case in McDonald County, both in southwest Missouri, said more possible victims are being interviewed and are naming other alleged perpetrators.

Prosecutors this month filed complaints alleging felony child sex abuse against a pastor, his wife and two deacons of a church compound in rural McDonald County and the pastor of an affiliated church in the small town of Granby, about 75 miles southwest of Springfield.

"I anticipate there will be additional defendants," Newton County assistant prosecutor Bill Dobbs said, but he would not reveal more details because the investigation was still active.

Newton County prosecutors have so far filed eight counts of felony statutory sodomy against George Otis Johnston, 63, the pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, a group of about 35-45 people living on a leased 10-acre lot.

That church is believed by investigators to be an offshoot of an older live-in community called Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, a 100-acre farm about 40 miles south of Granby in eastern McDonald County that dates back to the 1970s and once housed as many as 100 people.

McDonald County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Le Seuer said he also expected additional charges against more adults at the Grand Valley church.

Prosecutors have filed felony complaints of child sex abuse going back three decades, some of it as part of a ritual or ceremony, against the Rev. Raymond Lambert, 51; his wife Patty Lambert, 49; and her brothers Paul Epling, 53, and Tom Epling, 51, who were church deacons.

Attorney George W. Evenson, representing the Lamberts and Eplings, said they deny the charges but declined to make them available for interviews.

The four turned themselves into authorities and posted bond last Monday. Johnston did the same on Friday.

Le Seuer said his investigation started in May when some members of the McDonald County church in their 20s and 30s, who had grown up there, left the remote compound on foot after an argument and asked for a law enforcement escort to go get other family members.

"These people left on foot. They didn't have jobs, their own money, or vehicles," Le Seuer said.

During the ride back to the compound, one of the young women made the first allegations that she had been abused as child, the deputy said.

Since then, the community that once numbered between 75 and 100 people has broken up and a large number have left, the deputy said. Le Seuer said the number still there is uncertain but could be about a dozen.

Le Seuer said he had passed along information in June from alleged victims in his case to the Newton County sheriff's office, resulting in the investigation there.

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