Vernon Wayne Howell
|Also Known As:||"David Koresh"|
|Birthplace:||Houston, Harris, TX, USA|
|Death:||Died in outside Waco, McLennan, TX, USA|
|Cause of death:||burning of the Branch Davidian ranch during FBI siege|
|Managed by:||Private User|
Historical records matching David Koresh (leader of Branch Davidian religious sect)
About David Koresh (leader of Branch Davidian religious sect)
David Koresh (August 17, 1959 – April 19, 1993), born Vernon Wayne Howell, was the leader of a Branch Davidian religious sect, believing himself to be its final prophet. Howell legally changed his name to David Koresh on May 15, 1990. A 1993 raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the subsequent siege by the FBI ended with the burning of the Branch Davidian ranch outside of Waco, Texas, in McLennan County. Koresh, 54 other adults and 21 children were found dead after the fire.
Koresh was born in Houston to a 14-year-old single mother, Bonnie Sue Clark. His father was a 20-year-old man named Bobby Howell. Before Koresh was born, his father met another teenage girl and abandoned Bonnie Sue. Koresh never met his father and his mother began cohabiting with a violent alcoholic. In 1963, Koresh's mother left her boyfriend and placed her 4-year-old son in the care of his maternal grandmother, Earline Clark. His mother returned when he was seven, after her marriage to a carpenter named Roy Haldeman. Haldeman and Clark had a son together named Roger, who was born in 1966.
Koresh described his early childhood as lonely, and it has been alleged that he was once gang raped by older boys when he was 8. Koresh dropped out of Garland High School in his junior year.
When he was 22, Koresh had an affair with a 15-year-old girl who became pregnant. He claimed to have become a born-again Christian in the Southern Baptist Church and soon joined his mother's church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There he fell in love with the pastor's daughter and while praying for guidance he opened his eyes and allegedly found the Bible open at Isaiah 34, stating that none should want for a mate; convinced this was a sign from God, he approached the pastor and told him that God wanted him to have his daughter for a wife. The pastor threw him out, and when he continued to persist with his pursuit of the daughter he was expelled from the congregation.
In 1981 he moved to Waco, Texas, where he joined the Branch Davidians, a religious group originating from a schism in the 1950s from the Shepherd's Rod, themselves disfellowshipped members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 1930s. They had established their headquarters at a ranch about 10 miles out of Waco, which they called the Mount Carmel Center (after the Biblical Mount Carmel), in 1955.
Koresh played guitar and sang in church services at Mt Carmel; his band did play a few times at clubs in Waco; former members (such as David Thibodeau) have written that he recruited them through music. He also tried pursuing his own record company but because of lack of funds and support was not successful. His status as a "rock singer" was very localized.
Ascent to leadership of the Branch Davidians
In 1983 he began claiming the gift of prophecy. It is speculated[by whom?] that Koresh had a sexual relationship with Lois Roden, the prophetess and leader of the sect who was then 76 years old, eventually claiming that God had chosen him to father a child with her, who would be the Chosen One. In 1983, Roden allowed Koresh to begin teaching his own message which caused controversy in the group. Lois Roden's son George Roden intended to be the group's next leader and considered Koresh an interloper. When Koresh announced that God had instructed him to marry Rachel Jones (who then added Koresh to her name), there was a short period of calm at Mount Carmel, but it proved only temporary. In the ensuing power struggle, George Roden, claiming to have the support of the majority of the group, forced Koresh and his group off the property at gunpoint. Disturbed by the events and the move away from the philosophy of the community's founders, a further splinter group led by Charles Joseph Pace moved out of Mount Carmel and set up home in Gadsden, Alabama.
In 1985 Koresh and around 25 followers set up camp at Palestine, Texas, 90 miles from Waco, where they lived under rough conditions in buses and tents for the next two years, during which time Koresh undertook recruitment of new followers in California, the United Kingdom, Israel and Australia. That same year Koresh traveled to Israel where he claimed he had a vision that he was the modern day Cyrus. The founder of the Davidian movement, Victor Houteff, wanted to be God's implement and establish the Davidic kingdom in Palestine. Koresh also wanted to be God's tool and set up the Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem. At least until 1990, he believed the place of his martyrdom might be in Israel, but by 1991 he was convinced that his martyrdom would be in the United States. Instead of Israel, he said the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled in Waco and that the Mount Carmel Center was the Davidic kingdom.
After being exiled to the Palestine, Texas camp, Koresh and his followers eked out a primitive existence. When Lois Roden died in 1986, the exiled Davidians wondered if they would ever be able to return to Mount Carmel. But despite the displacement, "Koresh now enjoyed the loyalty of the majority of the [Davidian] community."
By late 1987, George Roden's support was severely withering. To regain it, he challenged Koresh to a contest to raise the dead, going so far as to exhume a corpse to demonstrate his spiritual supremacy. Koresh went to authorities to file charges against Roden for illegally exhuming a corpse, but was told he would have to show proof (such as a photograph of the corpse). Koresh seized the opportunity to seek criminal prosecution of Roden by returning to Mount Carmel with seven armed followers attempting to get photographic proof of the crime. Koresh's group was discovered by Roden and a gunfight broke out. When the sheriff arrived, Roden had already suffered a minor gunshot wound and was pinned down behind a tree. As a result of the incident, Koresh and his followers were charged with attempted murder. At the trial, Koresh explained that he went to Mount Carmel to uncover evidence of criminal disturbance of a corpse by Roden. Koresh's followers were acquitted, and in Koresh's case a mistrial was declared.
In 1989 Roden murdered Wayman Dale Adair with an axe blow to the skull after Adair stated his belief that he (Adair) was the true Messiah. Roden was convicted of murder and imprisoned in a mental hospital at Vernon, Texas. Since Roden owed thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes on Mount Carmel, Koresh and his followers were able to raise the money and reclaim the property. Roden continued to harass the Koresh faction by filing legal papers while imprisoned. When Koresh and his followers reclaimed Mt. Carmel, they discovered that tenants who had rented from Roden had left behind a methamphetamine laboratory, which Koresh reported to the local police department and asked to have removed.
Vernon Howell filed a petition in California State Superior Court in Pomona on May 15, 1990, to legally change his name "for publicity and business purposes" to David Koresh. On August 28, 1990, Judge Robert Martinez granted the petition.
The name Koresh is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for "belly". It is also a transliteration of the Persian name of Cyrus (Modern Persian: کوروش, Kurosh), the Persian king, who allowed the Jews - who had been dispersed throughout Babylonia - by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their homelands. His first name, David, symbolized a lineage directly to the biblical King David, from whom the new messiah would descend. By taking the name of David Koresh, he was "professing himself to be the spiritual descendent of King David, a messianic figure carrying out a divinely commissioned errand."
Accusations of child abuse and statutory rape
The child abuse and sexual abuse claims have been widely circulated in the press coverage though it is often difficult to separate the purported claims from the evidence. Koresh's doctrine of the House of David did lead to spiritual marriages with both married and single women in the group and with at least one underage girl. The underage girl was Michelle Jones, the younger sister of Koresh's legal wife Rachel and the daughter of life-long Davidians Perry and Mary Belle Jones. Koresh took Michelle as a spiritual wife when she was thirteen, evidently with the consent of the Joneses. This means Koresh was in violation of state law and could have been prosecuted for statutory rape in Texas. A six-month investigation of child abuse allegations by the Texas Child Protection Services in 1992 failed to turn up any evidence likely because the Davidians concealed the spiritual marriage of Koresh to Michelle Jones, assigning a surrogate husband (David Thibodeau), to the girl for the sake of appearances. A second allegation involved an underage girl, Kiri Jewell, who testified in the Congressional hearings on Waco in 1995. She claimed Koresh engaged in improper sexual touching and other behaviors that would have brought sexual assault charges against him. There is no independent confirmation of this incident, however, Kiri's family was split over whether they believed her story.
Regarding the allegations of child abuse, the evidence is less compelling. In one widely reported incident, ex-members claimed that Koresh became irritated with the cries of his son Cyrus and spanked the child severely for several minutes on three consecutive visits to the child's bedroom. In a second report, Koresh was said to have beaten the eight-month old daughter of another member for approximately forty minutes until the girl's bottom bled. In a third incident, a man involved in a custody battle visited Mt. Carmel and claimed to have seen the beating of a young boy with a stick. Finally, the FBI's justification for forcing an end to the 51 day standoff was predicated on the charge that Koresh was abusing children inside Mount Carmel. In hours following the deadly conflagration, Attorney General Janet Reno told reporters that "We had specific information that babies were being beaten." But FBI Director William Sessions publicly denied the charge and told reporters that they had no such information about child abuse inside the Mount Carmel. A careful examination of the other child abuse charges found the evidence to be weak and ambiguous, casting doubt on the allegations.
The allegations of child abuse stem largely from detractors and ex-members. The 1993 U.S. Department of Justice report cites allegations of child sexual and physical abuse. But despite the merits of the charges, legal scholars point out that the ATF had no legal jurisdiction in the matter of child protection and it appears that these accounts were inserted by the ATF to inflame the case against Koresh. For example, the account of former Branch Davidian Jeannine Bunds is reproduced in the affidavit. She claimed that Koresh had fathered at least fifteen children with various women and that she had personally delivered seven of these children. Bunds also claims that Koresh would annul all marriages of couples who joined the group, had exclusive sexual access to the women, and would also have regular sexual relations with young girls, though some of these charges are clearly exaggerated. There is no question that Koresh had multiple children by different women in the group. His House of David doctrine based on a purported revelation involved the reproduction of 24 children by chosen women in the community. These 24 children were to serve as the ruling elders over the millennium after the return of Christ. In his book, James Tabor states that Koresh acknowledged on a videotape sent out of the compound during the standoff that he had fathered more than 12 children by several "wives." On March 3, 1993, during negotiations to secure the release of the remaining children, Koresh advised the Negotiation Team that: "My children are different than those others," referring to his direct lineage versus those children previously released.
At the time, in Texas, the age of parental consent for a minor to marry was 14, as was the age for consent to engage in sexual relations. In the documentary film, Waco: The Rules of Engagement (long version), Jack Harwell, Sheriff of McLennan County, stated: "You have to have proof to go into court . . . Keep in mind, too, that most of the girls who were involved were at least 14 years old and 14 year olds get married with parental consent. So if their parents were there and letting things happen in the way of sexual activities and what have you with their 14 year old kids, you have common law husbands and wives. Uh, I don’t say that I agree with that and that I approve of it. But at the same time, if parents are there and they’re giving parental consent, we have a problem with that in making a case."
Raid and siege
Main article: Waco siege
On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided Mount Carmel. The raid resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians. Shortly after the initial raid, the FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) took command of the federal operation, since FBI has jurisdiction over incidents involving the deaths of federal agents. Contact was established with Koresh inside the compound. Communication over the next 51 days included telephone exchanges with various FBI negotiators.
As the standoff continued, Koresh, who was seriously injured by a gunshot wound, along with his closest male leaders negotiated delays, possibly so he could write religious documents he said he needed to complete before he surrendered. His conversations with the negotiators were dense with biblical imagery. The federal negotiators treated the situation as a hostage crisis despite a two hour video tape sent out by the Davidians in which the adults and older children/teens appeared to explain clearly and confidently why they chose of their own free will to remain with Koresh.
The 51-day siege of Mount Carmel ended on April 19th when U.S Attorney General Janet Reno approved recommendations of veteran FBI officials to proceed with a final assault in which the Branch Davidians were to be removed from their building by force. In the course of the assault, the church building caught fire. The cause of the fire was later alleged by the "Danforth Report", a report commissioned by The Special Counsel, to be the deliberate actions of some of the Branch Davidians inside the building. However this hypothesis is disputed by some scholars as well as in the documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement which argues that the fire was deliberately set when the FBI fired an incendiary device into the building after loading the building with CS gas. CS gas (tear gas) can be an explosive and fire hazard in conditions such as those created by the FBI attack on Mount Carmel. High levels of CS gas in a confined space, experienced by the barricaded sect members under the six-hour insertion of the chemical warfare agent. "A single spark produced by the tracks of the twenty-nine-foot-long, fifty-two-ton M60 combat engineering vehicle (CEV) in metal-to-metal contact during the insertion and penetration of the Mount Carmel Center would have been sufficient to ignite the initial fire." The first indication on such was observed in a FLIR at 12:07:41 less than two minutes after a CEV breaches into the southeast corner area of the building. "By noon, Mount Carmel was a virtual tinderbox after the massive insertion of CS, which coated everything inside the building, producing a flammable vapor-air mixture."
The following account was recorded by two FBI crisis negotiators in one barricade incident. In attempting to force suspects out of a building, the police fired a CS canister into the area where they thought men where holed up. When the SWAT team fired the CS, the “gas canister landed on a sofa and burned down the entire structure." No details was offered about how the CS canisters could set the sofa on fire. The fire was thus attributed to ignition of CS. "At the subsequent trial of the surviving Branch Davidians, the jury listened to edited parts of a tape-recording from hidden microphones inside Mt. Carmel during the final attack and fire of April 19. These consisted of sounds of static during which one could faintly hear a voice saying ". . . fire . . . ". A government expert testified that through electronic enhancement, he had reconstructed some clearly incriminating comments, even if the jury could not hear them. It later transpired that the FBI, when meeting Koresh's demands that milk be sent in for the children's wellbeing, also sent in tiny listening devices concealed inside the milk cartons and their styrofoam containers.
Barricaded in their building, seventy-six Branch Davidians, including Koresh, did not survive the fire. Seventeen of these victims were children under the age of 17. The Danforth Report claims that those who died were unable, or unwilling, to flee and that Steve Schneider, Koresh's right-hand man, probably shot Koresh and committed suicide with the same gun. Autopsy records indicate that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot, including 5 children. Waco: The Rules of Engagement claims that FBI sharpshooters fired on, and killed, many Branch Davidians who attempted to flee the flames. While the few Branch Davidians who did successfully flee the fire supported this claim, the Danforth Report concluded that the adults who died of gunshot wounds shot themselves after shooting the children. Independent third party investigations refute the Danforth Report. On the final day of the Branch Davidian siege in 1993, aerial FLIR film was shot by the FBI that seemed to show automatic weapons fire directed into the burning buildings. Former Senator John Danforth, under the direction of Acting Attorney General Eric Holder, conducted a 14-month, $17-million investigation that exonerated the government of any wrongdoing.
David Koresh is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, Tyler, Texas.
Several of David Koresh's albums were released including Voice Of Fire in 1994.
The Mount Carmel raid and the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident were cited by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols as motivations for the Oklahoma City bombing. This terrorist act was carried out on April 19, 1995 -- timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the Waco assault.
In 2004, Koresh's 1968 Camaro with a 427c.i. swap, which had been damaged by the military during the raid, sold for $37,000 at auction.
On January 23, 2009, Koresh's mother, Bonnie Clark Haldeman, was stabbed to death in Chandler, Texas. Her sister, Beverly Clark, was charged with the murder.