Cult remnant still believes 22 years later, April 9, 2000
By Bill Morlin

Murder-suicides in Salt Lake City didn't finish Family of David Spokane _ This is the first of two stories on the Family of David. Read part two in which two former cult members and a Florida police chief whose brother professed to be God in the 1970s say the Family of David is a dangerous cult, and they're surprised it still exists.

On an August morning in 1978, Rachel David marched her seven children to an 11th-floor balcony of a Salt Lake City hotel. One by one, she threw or coaxed them over the railing. Then she jumped.

Three days earlier, her husband, Immanuel David, who believed he was God, killed himself because the FBI was investigating his cult. Most people thought the shocking saga of Immanuel David and his cult -- the biggest murdersuicide case in Utah's history -- ended 22 years ago. It didn't.

About a dozen members of the Family of David in Spokane and Denver are keeping alive the belief that Immanuel David is God. All have changed their last names to David.

One member is the woman who, as a 15-year-old, was the only survivor of the 100-foot plunge from the balcony.

She is now 38, brain-damaged and otherwise disabled, and lives with remnants of Immanuel David's flock near Denver.

Leaders of the Family of David signed and distributed a "testimonial letter" three years ago that outlines their beliefs and commitment to the man they still say is God. They denounce Mormons and Catholics as the anti-Christ. The Family of David has attempted to recruit back two former followers, in Utah and Kentucky, who say they want nothing to do with the "dangerous cult."

But those in the sect say they wouldn't think of following their God's path of suicide.

"It's hard for me to fathom," said Dean Longo, chief of police in Auburndale, Fla. He was a police officer in Vero Beach, Fla., when his brother, Charles Bruce Longo, became Immanuel David and declared he was God.

"I think my brother actually believed, in his own mind, that he was God," Dean Longo said. "He was that far off base.

"He was a very flawed mortal, so for him to have gained this kind of influence over people is amazing, particularly for it to still exist," he said.

In their testimonial letter and in interviews, Immanuel David's followers in Spokane and Denver say they believe their God is about to return, and they're preparing for his second coming.

They claim the Star of David belongs to Immanuel David and not to Jews. They also say white people are the real Israelites, the true children of God -- religious beliefs that stem in part from the so-called Lost Books of the Bible.

The testimonial letter is given to those who ask about the group's beliefs, but leaders say they aren't proselytizing. In the letter they say they believe they are reincarnated Biblical figures -- Moses, Abraham, Adam, Eve and others.

The disabled survivor of the hotel plunge is told she's Eve. Rachel David, who has the same name as her late mother, now lives in Aurora, Colo., with other members of the "family."

Authorities in Utah, after spending more than $100,000 on the teenager's medical recovery, ultimately released her to a foster home. At some later point she began living with her uncle, who had changed his name to Jacob David and joined the sect.

It's unclear if officials with Utah's Division of Family Services knew that Rachel David ended up back with the same sect that police say attempted to kill her.

Jacob David, now her legal guardian, said he provides good care for Rachel David. They live in a rented home with his three sons and Ruth David, the former wife of Spokane resident Matthias David.

Rachel David can't remember what happened to her in 1978. "It's all hazy," she said from her wheelchair as Jacob David listened. Her speech is halting and she seems frustrated that she can't speak more quickly.

"It's something I want to shove out," she said. "I want my family back." She can't walk, but raises her crippled body with the aid of a walker. She does paint-by-number art and likes coffee and listening to Neil Diamond. She said she likes to go outdoors, but gets out only about twice a week "if somebody takes me."

She sometimes erupts in anger or a flurry of vocal demands, her family members say.

Her father will soon return, as God, Jacob David says. He and a Spokane man, Matthias David -- Immanuel David's one-time bodyguard -- are described as leaders of the family, which apparently has about a dozen members.

Matthias David, 56, believes he once was Moses. Jacob David, who's 64, says he is Abraham reincarnated.

They are in regular contact and frequently meet during campouts at Priest Lake, Idaho.

Matthias David now owns a Spokane martial arts studio. He is an accomplished karate instructor who helped train the Spokane Police Department SWAT team and teaches private classes.

Spokane police officials only recently found out that Matthias David is a felon, convicted as Sterling Peacock in Utah in 1978 of federal wire fraud resulting from fundraising efforts on behalf of Immanuel David.

Another member of the group, Gil Hibben, who was known as Peter David, also faced federal fraud charges associated with the group's activities.

"(Immanuel) David is God," Matthias David said in a recent interview, "and I know you don't believe that.

"The Star of David, that's the Lord's star," he said. "It doesn't have anything to do with the Jewish people at all. It's the Lord, Immanuel David's star."

He doesn't belong to a cult or a church, the karate instructor said, but a group he views as an extended family.

"Jacob David in Colorado is my brother," he said. "I'm closer to them than any family I ever had."

Matthias David said it was outrageous to ask if the remaining members of the group might repeat the suicides and murders that occurred in 1978. He doesn't describe those events as crimes.

Matthias David was in federal prison in California when the suicides and murders occurred.

One of his daughters contends, in a Spokane Superior Court affidavit filed in a 1995 child-custody case, that the group she was raised in is a "fanatical religious cult."

She is now estranged from her bearded father and the group. Matthias David dismisses those allegations.

"What I believe in is David and Rachel and their family," Matthias David said. "They could not be apart. When David left, they left with him. "That was their choice, and a shock to us."

Jacob David, stroking his gray straggly beard, said he, too, believes his late brother-in-law, Immanuel David, is God.

"We are regular Christians," he said in his living room, where photos of Matthias David hang on the wall.

"You know, people think we're Jewish, and we're not," he said, pointing to a gold Star of David he wears on a necklace.

"We are Israelites, from the Lost Tribes of Israel," Jacob David said. "And this is God's star."

The man who would later claim to be God was born Nov. 9, 1938, in Yonkers, N.Y., to a wealthy doctor and his wife.

Bruce Longo was raised in his parents' fashionable colonial house on North Broadway and attended the Episcopal Church. He graduated from Gorton High School in 1956 and joined the Marine Corps soon after.

While in the Marines, friends acquainted him with beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He converted to the Mormon faith in 1958 and became an LDS youth leader and assistant Boy Scout leader. In 1960, he accepted a Mormon missionary assignment to Uruguay.

"He was a very, very excited missionary," Skip Daynes, his missionary companion, recalled in 1978.

Longo quickly learned Spanish and could quote the Book of Mormon from memory. Daynes said Longo was effective in recruiting new members to the Mormon Church.

But he was released early from his church mission after he said he began to hear voices. He returned to Yonkers and was hospitalized for hepatitis and mental illness.

In fall 1961, he went to Utah where he enrolled at Brigham Young University, studying Spanish and political science.

By Christmas of that year, he met Margit Birgitta Ericsson, a pretty Swedish immigrant who also was attending BYU. The couple married and had three children before Longo graduated from BYU in 1965.

He met regularly with other young Mormon men, including Sterling Peacock, Gil Hibben and Paul Chipman, and they became close friends.

About that time, Longo told his friends that he'd had another vision -- that he was going to become a prominent official of the Mormon Church.

He wrote letters to the Mormon Church headquarters and the Israeli Knesset. Those letters are reprinted in the sect's 1996 testimonial letter. Immanuel David told the Israeli prime minister and the Knesset in 1973 that he was God.

"I am the Father of Jesus Christ that you slew," the letter warned the Israeli government. "I am the only one that can deliver you. Without me you will perish."

"I am the father of Israel and the blood of Israel runs through my veins," Immanuel David wrote to the Israelis.

In another letter, he proclaimed to be the new president of the Mormon Church.

In a 1977 letter, Immanuel David called Mormon Church president Spencer Kimball an "evil shepherd."

"Your people are perishing in their ignorance and unbelief," David wrote to the church. Church records are sealed, but LDS officials confirmed that Longo was excommunicated in June 1969.

But his friends, believing Longo was a prophet and charmed by his persuasive powers, stood by him. They, too, were excommunicated from the Mormon Church. They began living a communal lifestyle in Manti, Utah, deifying Immanuel David.

Follower Gil Hibben taught knifemaking skills to some of the two dozen members of group.

They made a large sword for Immanuel David, who began declaring that he was God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit all in one. He vowed to "lop off thousands of heads" if needed.

Police and Mormon Church security officers kept a watchful eye when the bearded, 300-pound religious leader frequently showed up with his followers at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

The group was often told to leave, but there was no violence or arrests. In 1971, Immanuel David and his followers began to travel to Nebraska, Washington and Montana.

Ex-members say Immanuel David frequently separated men from their wives and children.

Sterling Peacock, who had changed his name to Matthias David, and Paul Chipman, who was Jonathan David, came to Spokane in about 1974 and opened a karate studio.

They began sending the profits to support Immanuel David, his wife and their seven children.

From June 1975 to January 1976, Immanuel David lived in the Red Lion Inn in Missoula, while his followers worked elsewhere. Then he had a vision.

He decided Matthias, Jonathan and Peter David were really archangels, and he renamed them Michael, Raphael and Gabriel, ex-followers say.

Immanuel David believed the federal government was about to collapse. He promised to save the republic and become its new leader. He told his archangels to sell their karate studio in Spokane and go to Washington, D.C., to await the government's collapse. He left behind an unpaid $6,000 hotel bill in Missoula and returned to Utah.

He gave each of his three followers a few hundred dollars, and told them to stay in Washington, D.C.

But the archangels quickly ran out of money and became homeless, sleeping on sidewalk heat grates.

Their faith in Immanuel David, however, was undiminished. They called him collect every day, as he stayed at $100-a-day hotel suites with his family.

Jacob David returned to his native Scandinavia, where he worked as a carpenter and roofer. He said he never lost his faith in Immanuel David. He sent regular tithing checks.

Finally, after about a year, Immanuel David ordered his three archangels to return to Salt Lake City, where he said he had obtained the original tablets given to Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith.

"When we got back to Salt Lake, of course, he didn't have the tablets," recalls ex-member Paul Chipman, who was known as Jonathan David. "He said he was the tablets."

Matthias David grew tired of his archangel assignment in Washington, D.C., and got a job there in a lumber yard. He earned enough money to buy a motorcycle and rode it to Albuquerque, where he opened another karate studio.

But by 1977, FBI agents were investigating the group's fund-raising activities.

Matthias David, indicted as Sterling Peacock, and Gil Hibben were charged with wire fraud by a federal grand jury that met in Salt Lake City. They were accused of making up phony hard-luck stories to raise money. Matthias David now says the money went to support Immanuel David.

"Actually, I just borrowed the money," Matthias David said recently in an interview in his karate studio in east Spokane. "I had no intention of ripping anybody off. I kept track of every dollar.

"I really don't want all of this kind of stuff brought back up," he said.

"You're hashing stuff that's been gone for years and years." With the convictions of Peacock and Hibben, federal investigators were moving toward indicting Immanuel David on either tax evasion or wire fraud charges when he committed suicide.

He borrowed a truck from Daynes, his former Mormon missionary partner, and drove to Emigration Canyon where he piped exhaust into the truck and killed himself. He had $5 in his pocket, and left no note.

Shortly after the murders and suicides, Detective Sgt. Brent Davis said that it was the fear of jail that drove Immanuel David to take his own life. "I think he must have been aware of the wire fraud investigation and how close he was to being locked up," Davis said.

"His ego just wouldn't allow him to face jail."

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