On Friday the 13th of November 1981, a construction worker drove his truck down a narrow dirt road to a rock pit located on the edge of the Everglades for a routine equipment check.
As he parked his vehicle, he noticed a large red blanket spread over the weeds a few feet from the road, an odd sight in the remote area populated by 12-foot alligators, panthers and strangler figs. He got out of his truck and walked toward it.
It was late morning, and the glades were quiet but for the occasional whine of a mosquito or the distant splash of an alligator plunging into the murky swamp. The temperature hovered at 70 degrees, a pleasant change from the oppressive heat and humidity of summer.
He bent over the blanket and pulled up the fabric. Underneath was a man in jeans and Florida Atlantic University T-shirt. He was missing his head. It took several long seconds for the information to sink in, and the construction worker stared down at the body, transfixed by horror. Blood still seeped from the severed neck into the saw-toothed grass, and he realized the man had been murdered only a short time before. He jerked upright and looked around wildly, noticing a tree next to the body spattered red with blood, before sprinting back to his truck to radio his office.
“Get security!” he screeched into the handset.
Ashton Green’s body found
The corpse belonged to Aston Green, 25, a Jamaican-born man who dared to defy a growing cult that would strike terror in the heart of Miami over the next decade. The Yahweh ben Yahweh cult was lead by a self-proclaimed black messiah named Hulon Mitchell Jr. who based his religion on a hatred of whites and urged his followers to murder “white devils” and bring him back body parts – a sliced-off ear or finger or head – as proof of the kill.
Mitchell’s spite was also directed at defectors such as Green, who’d grown disillusioned with the cult’s odious dogma and renounced it. For that sin, he was beheaded, the first of 14 murders attributed to the cult.
The story of how Mitchell — a dirt poor preacher’s kid from Oklahoma rose to the status of deity to some 12,000 followers – is a bizarre one. He told his flock that blacks were the “true Jews,” one of the 12 tribes of Israel who were driven from their homeland in Old Testament times, and that God was black, as were the apostles. He said he was the black messiah, Yahweh ben Yahweh, Hebrew for “God son of God,” and that he would lead them back to the promised land of Jerusalem to establish their kingdom.
Yahweh ben Yahweh, aka Hulon Mitchell Jr.
His message of black empowerment and superiority resonated with many African Americans who were confronted daily by racism. Those who joined the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult included fraternity boys, sheriff’s deputies, grandmothers and ex-cons fresh out of prison. They allowed Mitchell to control every aspect of their lives, from their diet to their finances to their sexual liaisons.
Most didn’t realize they’d forfeited their free will to a violent megalomaniac until it was too late…and then they had Green’s beheading to remind them what happened to “blasphemers.”
A Colored Childhood
Map: Kingfisher, Oklahoma
The tale of the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult reaches back to Kingfisher, Oklahoma, a tiny wheat town where Hulon Mitchell Jr. was born in 1935, the first of 15 children born to Pearl and Hulon Mitchell Sr.
His family, one of the few black families in town, was subjected to the full effect of Jim Crow South, forced to go to “colored” schools, stores, and movie houses.
Hulon Mitchell Sr.
His father, Hulon Sr., was a Holiness Pentecostal preacher, whose fervent services, complete with ecstatic dancing and speaking in tongues, were ridiculed by the townspeople, who were mainly Baptist; kids would gawk through the windows to watch the antics of the “holy rollers.”
Mitchell listened intently as his father told his flock they would be rewarded in heaven for the religious and racial ostracism they endured on Earth. One of his favorite Bible tales was the Exodus story, in which Moses led the enslaved Israelites to freedom.
The family scraped by during the Depression, with Mitchell’s father taking odd sales jobs and his mother working as a maid.
Mitchell, who was light-skinned like his mother and had hazel eyes, was a moody child, given to crying jags one moment and howling with laughter then next, according to Sydney Freedberg’s exhaustive biography of Mitchell’s life, “Brother Love.”
In 1941, the family moved an hour north to Enid, Oklahoma. Although it was a larger town, blacks were still marginalized. In grade school, Mitchell joined a “colored” Boy Scout’s troupe. In high school, he and his pals had to pack their own food and water when they tooled around in a beat-up junker, not knowing if they’d find a black-friendly place to buy food during their meanderings.
Vance Air Force Base
Mitchell was drafted at 18, and enlisted as an airman with the Vance Air Force Base in Enid. He married a teenage sweetheart and the couple had four babies in four years, three girls and a boy. They were transferred to Air Force bases in California and Texas, and Mitchell became as devout a soldier as he was a Pentecostal as a boy. He quickly rose through the ranks to become an instructor.
The military taught him to put his country before all else, including religion, family and self, but eventually he began to question this loyalty. Black soldiers had sacrificed their lives for their country throughout U.S. history and yet, across the country, black veterans were legally barred from sitting at a lunch counter to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He started to question everything, including his parents’ passive acceptance of Jim Crow. He didn’t want to wait until heaven to be compensated for his suffering in this life. In fact, he didn’t see why he should suffer at all. It was the 1950s, and the Civil Rights movement was kicking into high gear. Blacks were demanding equal rights, and starting to get them. A young Baptist minister from Alabama named Martin Luther King Jr. started preaching that segregation was un-Christian, and should be fought through passive resistance.
Mitchell took up the call to arms and became a leader in Enid’s civil rights movement, staging successful sit-ins at two downtown lunch counters and effectively dismantling the racist infrastructure of his hometown.
An Eye for an Eye
Phillips University logo
It was also a time of personal upheaval for Mitchell, according to Freedberg. He received an honorable discharge and enrolled as a Psychology major at Enid’s Phillips University, which had recently opened its doors to black students. He also started dabbling in alternative spiritual movements, including the Rosicrucians, a secretive order whose adherents believe they can develop “mental powers” to help them achieve health, wealth, and happiness.
All Mitchell’s spiritual and political angsting was too much for his conservative wife. They divorced, and he was awarded custody of their children when she didn’t show in court for the custody proceedings.
But Mitchell grew disillusioned with the civil rights movement.
“The civil rights movement,” he’d later say,” was not about becoming free from the oppressor. The civil right movement was about fighting and dying to get inside of oppression, to be better oppressed… The civil rights movement was about being able to stop giving your money to your black brother and give it all to your oppressor. You wanted to sleep in the white hotel and eat in the white restaurant so you wouldn’t have to eat in the black restaurant no more.”
He started attending meetings of the Nation of Islam, whose adherents believe blacks are genetically superior to other races and call for total segregation. Suddenly Mitchell no longer viewed his blackness as a curse, but a blessing.
Blacks had to band together to physically protect themselves from the racist white establishment, the Nation taught. The group’s eye-for-an-eye militancy was more appealing to Mitchell than the turn-the-other-cheek Christianity of his parents.
The Black Muslims, as they’re also known, change their “slave names” – the names slaveholders gave their ancestors – to “X” as a rejection of white oppression before eventually changing it to an Arabic name descriptive of their character. Perhaps the most famous black Muslim was Malcolm X, an ex-con and fiery orator who later denounced the group’s teachings and was gunned down as he delivered a speech. Although a connection has never been proven, many believe his killers were Black Muslim henchman.
Mitchell X moved to Atlanta, where he attended a mosque, studied the Qur’an, and took courses toward a Master’s degree in Economics at Atlanta University. He gave his money to black merchants and home-schooled his children with the help of a new wife, Chloe Hight. He hawked copies of the nation’s newspaper, “Muhammad Speaks,” on street corners and changed his last name to “Shah,” which means ruler or minister.
He started conducting his own services in a converted Baptist church, and he was a keen speaker, fluent in both ghetto and business slang. He used his degree to manage Black Muslim enterprises, including restaurants, a bakery and a clothing store.
But just as “Minister Shah’s” power within the Nation was growing, he was accused of fleecing $50,000 from church coffers and molesting children in his flock. Mitchell, 32, didn’t wait around for church investigations to conclude, but quit the movement, fearing that he’d end up assassinated like Malcolm X.
Father Michel, aka Hulon Mitchell Jr.
Mitchell resurfaced in another part of Atlanta shortly afterward, calling himself “Father Michel.” Freedberg says he changed the trademark bow tie of the National of Islam for a long white robe, based on Revelation 3: 5: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.”
Together with a “Father Jone,” he took to Atlanta’s airwaves, pushing a “total blessing plan” on the city’s gospel stations that would bring listeners health, happiness and winning lottery numbers – for a small donation.
The Black Muslims watched this metamorphosis closely, tailing him as he drove around town in his Cadillac and Biblical attire. They thought he’d gone nuts. They also believed Mitchell’s quick exit from the Nation of Islam was a tacit admission of guilt, and wanted him to return the missing funds. Nobody crossed the Muslims. Mitchell hired bodyguards and equipped his home with an alarm system and burglar bars.
His fears were founded. In May 1969, three men gunned down Father Jone in what looked like a Black Muslim hit. But Father Michel stayed put; the money was good, and he had nowhere else to go. He’d take his chances.
He printed brochures claiming he could heal people with a “blessed prayer cloth” and improve their fortunes. “The Lame Walk!” the brochures exclaimed. “Disorders Disappear!”
The propaganda cited happy customers who Mitchell’s prayers had scored them a Cadillac or made their beauty salon prosper.
The religious racket worked. He moved his family into a large house and purchased two El Dorados. He opened a church, the “Modern Christian Church,” and started wearing flamboyant costumes, white satin tunics and robes with zebra lining, a gold crown and a scepter. At his urging, his congregation started to call him the King. In the church’s corporate charter, he named himself president and minister for life.
“God wants you to be rich!” he proclaimed to his congregation. It was a message that the pious poor wanted to hear. If wealth was God’s blessing, they wanted Father Michel to tell the secret to getting it. They came Sunday after Sunday, tithing a portion of their miserable earnings, ever hopeful that the divine currency would begin to flow, that with a little more prayer and a little more belief, it would finally happen.
Mitchell’s rags-to-riches message worked until the mid-‘70s, when the congregation squabbled over communal property and disbanded. By the time the churchgoers decided to sue Father Michel for fraud, he was long gone, leaving his wife behind.
He resurrected in Orlando, Florida, as a street preacher named “Brother Love.”
Strolling down the city’s sidewalks offering hope to the downtrodden, he soon gathered a small coterie of followers. One of them was Linda, a 29-year-old single mother of three children. Linda found Mitchell’s straight-laced lifestyle — no alcohol or drugs — appealing, and she thought he’d be a good influence on her family. Little did she know the horrors that awaited her and her children over the next decade as she stuck doggedly by Mitchell’s side.
With his followers paying the bills, Mitchell again resumed his religious studies. He read up on Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and just about every other ‘ism he could find, Freedberg writes. He grew to believe the Bible contained secret messages that would reveal themselves with enough studious attention. He plucked beliefs from the different ‘isms to cook up a new religion based on the Black Hebrew movement, which taught that Africans were the “true Jews” who’d descended from the lost tribes of Israel.
Like the Black Muslims, the Black Hebrews rejected Christianity as a religion forced on African Americans by their slave ancestors’ owners. Both movements created black-centric religions to replace what they viewed as white-centric Christianity. Judaism, with its strong emphasis on freedom and the Exodus tale — a story of a persecuted people escaping from slavery and founding their own nation — seemed like a natural fit for oppressed blacks. Mitchell changed his name to Och Mosche Israel, Hebrew for Brother Moses Israel, because like Moses, he believed he was ordained to lead his people to freedom.
Map: Florida with Miami locator
In 1978, Mitchell and Linda moved to Miami, after he’d had a “revelation” directing him there. Blacks in Miami were a forgotten minority as Cubans fleeing their communist island rose to power alongside the old-money whites. Black neighborhoods festered with cocaine-fueled crime and poverty, and Och Mosche was going to save them.
It was in Miami that Mitchell laid the foundations for his last and most successful transformation, that of the leader of the “Black Hebrew Israelites” or “Yahwehs,” the cult that would make international headlines for violence and terror.
As soon as the couple arrived in the sweltering seaside city, Mitchell used his street preacher tactics to win adherents. He claimed disciples one by one, sidling up to people in diners, in bookstores and in parks, introducing himself as a “Bible teacher,” dressed in a sharp suit and talking to them in a soft, earnest voice.
“Did you know that God is black?” he’d ask them. “Yes, it’s true! It’s the world’s best kept secret!”
Some of the strangers were intrigued and asked questions, which he happily answered. He told them that blacks were the true Jews, God’s chosen people. He cracked open his dog-eared King James Bible to offer them proof, tapping the Scriptures with his finger.
“In Daniel 7:9, God is described as having hair like pure wool,” he’d say. “Look at black folks’ hair… it also looks like wool! And in Psalm 119:83, God says ‘For I am become like a bottle in the smoke… A bottle of smoke is black!”
He’d lean in close and tell his audience why this wasn’t popular knowledge: whites had lied about their elevated status for centuries, so they could dominate and brutalize black folks.
Mitchell printed fliers and peppered black neighborhoods with them, inviting people to learn about his new religion. The curious began to gather at his doorstep. They sat on the floor of his living room, listening to Och Mosche Israel proclaim their superior status, and felt uplifted.
He read Genesis 15:13 to them — “And he said unto Abram, know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” — and interpreted the passage for them. It’s whites enslaving blacks for 400 years, he said. He had been chosen, he said, by the “Terrible Black God, Yahweh” to lead oppressed African Americans back to their promised land of Israel, where they would establish a kingdom and live in equality and prosperity.
These early disciples recruited more disciples, who recruited family and friends and co-workers. They went door-to-door in the black communities of Overtown, Liberty City and Little Haiti, knocking on doors, smartly dressed, polite.
“Shalom,” they said to residents, greeting them with the Hebrew word for peace.
They ventured into Miami’s steamy, drug-infested ghettos, visiting people who were broke and broken and desperate for hope. Mitchell gave it to them. As his congregation grew, his belief system kept evolving. He told his followers that white Jews were Satan’s spawn, based on Revelation 3:9 — “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” The passage was yet another indication that blacks were God’s chosen people, he said.
Yahweh ben Yahweh
He told his growing flock that blacks should separate themselves as much as possible from white mainstream culture and to that end he started a private school in a congregant’s home. Two dozen kids of all ages crammed into a single room. The school wasn’t licensed by the state — it wasn’t required to be — so Mitchell had free reign to design his own curriculum. He fanned the flames of black rage in his young scholars by ad-libbing his way through Social Studies class, bringing in news articles about police abuse that “proved” there was a conspiracy against African Americans. When the kids started walking around yelling “I hate whitey!” a couple of concerned parents pulled their children from the school.
Then came the Arthur McDuffie beating, in December 1979. Five Miami cops beat a black insurance salesman to death with their heavy flashlights after he led them on a high-speed chase. When an all-white jury returned a “not guilty” verdict, it seemed to confirm Mitchell’s racialized teachings: whites got away with murdering a black man!
Riots broke out, and the city burst into flames. Three days later, 18 were dead, and 417 injured.
Immediately afterward, Mitchell’s followers visited black communities to pass out tracts with titles such as “Can I Protect My Child from Whitey’s Evil Influence?” and “White Americans are Kidnappers and Terrorists,” and they came in droves to hear his message. They were afraid, angry, and didn’t trust the people in charge of protecting them.
Mitchell told them he’d care for them, feed, clothe, and protect them. And someday he’d lead them out of racist America to the new Jerusalem. He started to call himself Yahweh ben Yahweh, Hebrew for God, son of God, and told them he was the messiah that God had promised them in the Bible.
“Who has the power to deliver us from the brutality of the white man?” he’d ask his congregation during his sermons, which were meticulously tape-recorded.
“Yahweh ben Yahweh!” they’d answer. “One God! One mind! One love! Praise Yahweh!”
In a typical cult move, Freedberg says Mitchell urged members to cut off family and friends who weren’t part of the congregation. There was life before Yahweh, and life after Yahweh. They pooled their money, rented houses together, and home-schooled their children. They rejected white standards of beauty, and the men stopped shaving, and the women stopped using chemical straighteners on their hair. They donned loose white robes that skimmed the floor, just like Mitchell’s. They ate a kosher-based diet and didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. They gave up their “slave names” in favor of the common last name “Israel” and chose Biblical first names like Solomon or Gideon or Esther.
Mitchell told them that as long as they were of one mind, no one could harm them. Dissent would tear them apart, he warned prophetically, quoting Leviticus:
“If you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life.”
Going Full Time
By October 1980, the Yahweh ben Yahweh flock was 150 strong. They bought a dilapidated warehouse in a black section of Miami called Liberty City where Mitchell told them they’d live until the exodus to Jerusalem.
Most members balked at the idea of going “full time” and completely renouncing mainstream America. Ultimately, 30 people sold their homes and cars, quit schools and jobs, and moved into the skid row dwelling.
Yahweh worshippers in prayer
The building was huge, spanning a city block. Everyone pitched in to fix it up, giving the walls a fresh coat of paint and restoring the plumbing and electricity. They hung paintings of black Bible characters on the walls – a black Virgin Mary, Noah, Moses, a black Last Supper. Someone painted a futuristic city populated by black folks, complete with flying saucers. “The black Christ is risen among us today to deliver us from white people,” the caption said.
They named the warehouse the “Yahweh Temple of Love.”
They subdivided it into a miniature village, with spaces for a sanctuary, a cafeteria, a grocery store, laundry, health center, and even an ice-cream parlor. The print shop published Mitchell’s propaganda, including a booklet called You Are Not a @+@%!$!Our True History; The World’s Best Kept Secret ” and a King James Bible with depictions of black saints.
In the living quarters, each family was zoned a 10-by-15 foot cubicle that was separated from the others by an 8-foot partition. Some people furnished their cubicle with mementos of their old lives, some just threw a blanket on the bare floor. There was no privacy.
They kept strict schedules. Up at 5 a.m. for chores, then prayers and Bible lessons.
Mitchell picked 10 strong young men, which he called the “Circle of Ten,” to monitor the warehouse and environs. They carried wooden clubs, which they called the “staffs of life.”
Mitchell’s services accompanied by the thudding rock music and he was a master performer, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his black-is-better message. “Praise Yahweh!” they shouted.
As his flock continued to grow, so did his demands of them, according to court documents.
“How many of you would die for Yahweh?” he’d ask as he stood at the pulpit. “Would you kill for Yahweh?”
Yes, they’d answer back, they would die for Yahweh. Yes, they would kill for Yahweh.
Given’ It Up for Yahweh
It was hard to keep secrets in such cramped quarters, and people started to discuss Mitchell’s increasingly suspicious behavior. He’d slip into sisters’ rooms in the middle of the night, ostensibly for Bible lessons – with the lights off. When Mitchell caught wind of the talk, he indignantly proclaimed that he was celibate, as Yahweh required him to be.
Then there were the sex-ed classes.
Mitchell required women and adolescent girls to attend midwife classes that he himself conducted. They were to shun modern medicine and have their babies at home, like in Bible times, he told them.
Couples were forbidden from using birth control, and the son of God wanted his disciples to start having babies as soon as they reached puberty. He wanted his tribe to grow, and now.
“Get it, brothers! …Sisters, give it up!” he exhorted them. …it’s not about fallin’ in love, it’s about multiplyin.’ …have babies and let’s subdue and control the Earth.”
Mitchell recorded children who were born in the warehouse into a large black binder he called the “Lamb’s Book of Life” – the same book where God records the names of the believers who will be saved from Hell, according to the Bible.
What happened in the midwife classes was supposed to stay behind closed doors, but the details leaked out.
Mitchell, who had no formal medical training, read the women books on how to home-deliver babies, then had them undress and inspect each others’ genitalia. He showed them how to use a douche, demonstrating on a volunteer. He had one woman lie naked on her back and another blow into her vagina, telling them it was how you performed CPR on unborn babies.
He also held secret sex classes for boys and men. He showed them movies of white women having sex with animals to dissuade them from lusting after white females, and he made them pull down their pants for a “D.I.” or dick inspection, Freedberg says. Those who weren’t circumcised paid $100 to be circumcised – by Mitchell himself. He presided over group circumcisions in the sanctuary, reassuring them that it would be quick and painless. As he sliced off foreskin, they shrieked with pain, and some passed out. They started murmuring about the strange goings-ons with their wives and girlfriends, and questioning Mitchell’s authority.
Over the year, Mitchell became a sexual predator, singling out girls as young as 10 to serve his depraved lust. He told the girls that as God’s emissary, it was his job to teach women how to have sex. In exchange for keeping his dirty secret, he showered them with gifts – little girl taffeta dresses, necklaces, and trips to fancy restaurants. One of the girls he abused would later tell investigators that Mitchell, approaching 50, had sex with her and another pubescent girl at the same time.
More women came forward to tell of the black savior’s abuse at the cult’s trial. One married woman testified that Mitchell forced her to have sex with him four days after she delivered a baby, tearing her stitches. One of Mitchell’s sisters – who joined the cult and later defected – said he’d raped her and another sister back in Oklahoma and that he’d molested one of his biological daughters.
One of the girls he abused was the daughter of Linda, the woman who’d accompanied him to Miami. After enduring the shameful activity for years, the daughter broke down and told her brothers, who already distrusted Mitchell. One of them agreed to wear a bug for the FBI, and provided valuable evidence that helped lead to the cult’s take-down.
No matter how twisted or racist Mitchell’s teachings got, no one dared contradict him. He was, after all, the son of God, and the Temple of Love was absolute theocracy. Those who dared defy him were singled out for public ridicule. In one case, a grown man was made to bend over a chair as the women took turns paddling him. In another case, a teenage girl was forced to strip off her shirt and bra as Mitchell whipped her back. Anyone who disagreed with him was called an “Uncle Tom,” or worse, a “blasphemer.”
The Circle of Ten — now carrying machetes and clubs and practicing marching drills in front of the temple — kept a close watch on people who fell out of Mitchell’s favor.
Nevertheless, a small group of dissenters managed to find each other, Freedberg writes. They met at the house of a Yahweh member who lived outside the warehouse and compared notes on the bizarre things that were taking place.
Word of their meetings got back to Mitchell, and he excommunicated them, scratched their names from The Book of Life, and printed up a flier titled “Yahweh’s Hypocrites are Warned.”
“Knowest thou not this of old?” he wrote in the stilted English of the King James Bible. “Since man was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; yet he shall perish forever like his own dung.”
But their betrayal continued to goad him. The deserters were a thorn in his side and he wanted them gone.
“Whoever does not want me to rule over them, those are my enemies,” he thundered. “And if you are my enemy, you must die. (You) must be killed…I want to see it…I want to see your head come off personally. I want to see the blood seep from your vein, you know that jugular vein. I want to see it.” He made a gurgling noise. “you won’t be able to see it seep, but you’ll feel that sword when it bites your neck. I can’t wait to see that. What a pleasure! All my enemies killed with a sword.”
The Circle of Ten thugs took Mitchell’s words to heart, and the Jamaican-born Aston Green was their first victim.
Green, a former Sunday school teacher who had long eyelashes and still talked with an island twang, was a month shy of 26 when he was beheaded. He’d taken the name Elijah Israel when he joined the cult, but reverted back to his birth name when he left. And although he’d been warned to steer clear of the Temple of Love after his defection, he still had friends at the warehouse and frequently returned to visit them.
So when he showed up yet again that fatal Friday the 13th, the temple enforcers decided to put an end to him. They brought him to a remote corner of the warehouse and beat him to a bloody pulp. As they hit him, kicked him and stomped on his chest, a little boy ran out of a nearby classroom to see what the commotion was and was shooed away. The beating was so severe that they later painted the floor red to hide the stain of Green’s blood, which they couldn’t scrub away.
They dumped Green’s limp form in the trunk of a car, then drove him to the rock quarry, where he’d beg them for mercy in a weak voice. But the thugs were intent on their thuggery and they dragged him to the piece of coral rock, stretched his neck over it, and chopped off his head.
“Damn. This blade is dull,” one of them said, according to court documents, as they tried to sever Green’s head. It took about 20 hacks to do so.
Mitchell was triumphant when his avenging angels told them what they’d done, according to Freedberg.
“When we take the next head, we’re going to put the head in a basket on a post so the whole city can see it and fear Yahweh,” he told them.
News of Green’s death swept quickly through dissident circles, and a few decided it was time to let the police know what was happening inside the dilapidated complex in Liberty City. Little did they know that there were moles among them, waiting to take news of their betrayal back to their cult meister.
The Hit List
Mitchell’s enforcers were waiting for Carlton Carey, formerly Yakim Israel, when he returned home from an exhausting police interview. His wife, Mildred Banks, was with him when four men wearing ski masks attacked them as soon as they walked through the door of their house. They shot Carey to death, but, miraculously, Banks survived despite being shot in the chest and having her throat slit. The gunman left her for dead and she dragged herself to the house of a neighbor, who alerted the police.
Machete used in Carey attack
Although Banks recovered, changed her name, and relocated to a secret place, the jagged scar necklace would remind her of that hellish night for the rest of her life.
Back at the Temple, Mitchell held a pep rally to celebrate the death of the infidels. Although some attendees were horrified by the news, they dared not show it. The temple guards were watching the congregation closely, looking for any sign of inconformity. They had no choice but to clap their hands and praise Yahweh with the rest of the horde; they didn’t want to be next on Mitchell’s hit list.
After the murders, plainclothes cops started patrolling the warehouse full time. Unmarked squad cars patrolled the neighborhood, sizing up the turbaned, machete-carrying guards. The police had no proof pegging the attacks to the cult and couldn’t raid their holy compound without solid evidence. All they could do was keep their frustrating watch, as 14 terrified dissidents went into hiding, carefully erasing the trail behind them.
And then a break came in the case. The cops noticed a green carpet hanging from the temple wall that matched a piece of carpet found with Green’s body. Sergeant Frank Wesolowski, the head of the homicide department, decided to pay an official visit to the eccentric prophet.
Mitchell received them in his office, calmly sitting at his desk, flanked by two large guards. He deflected their questions about the cult, lecturing them instead about white oppression of blacks. At one point, he held up a copy of a historical photograph showing black men being lynched by a white mob, Freedberg writes.
“This is what your people have done to us for the last 400 years,” Mitchell told Wesolowski.
The detectives left scratching their heads, baffled by the virulence of cult leader, yet unable to pry any useful information from him.
Bound by Blood
Despite the killings, Mitchell’s flock kept expanding. Emissaries traveled to black communities across the country, dressed in their Biblical robes and sandals, giving away copies of “You Are Not a @+@%!$!” and recruiting new members.
In its hey day, the Yahwehs claimed satellite churches in 45 cities and tens of thousands of members. Five hundred people lived at the warehouse, and Mitchell bought old buses from Dade County to house single men, who lived three or four to a bus and to accommodate members of satellite churches who made pilgrimages to Liberty City for various “feasts” and celebrations.
One of those pilgrims was a 22-year-old black belt karate expert from New Orleans who attended the “Feast of the Tabernacles” in the fall of 1983. Leonard Dupree’s parents didn’t want him to join the weird, turban-wearing cult to begin with. But Dupree was a strong-willed young man, a searcher, and his father finally relented to loaning him money to catch a bus to the cult’s headquarters. He never returned home.
Dupree drew the attention of temple guards for spacing out in class and wandering around by himself. Rumors started making the rounds that Dupree was an assassin, sent to kill the messiah. Mitchell became quite paranoid after the defections and murders, and started censoring mail to and from the temple, fearing infidels lurked among his throng.
One afternoon shortly after Dupree’s arrival, he got into a fight with another Yahweh as a crowd of 70 onlookers watched.
Mitchell was called to the scene.
“Do you want to hurt me?” Mitchell asked Dupree.
“No,” the young man replied. “I just want to kiss your feet.”
Unmoved, Mitchell accused Dupree of coming to start mayhem as an angry crowd surged around him. When someone yelled, “Kill him!” Mitchell didn’t stand in the way. A man wielding a tire iron cracked Dupree’s skull, and the crowd continued to beat him after he sunk to the floor. They ripped off his pants and kicked his privates. Someone poked his eye out with a broomstick.
Sentries locked the doors so no one could leave, and Mitchell made everyone present – every man, woman and child – hit Dupree as he screamed in agony. They would be bound together by blood. No one’s hand would be clean. No one would be able to denounce the murder to the authorities. The flock that kills together, Mitchell reasoned, stays together.
After his slow death, a group of men rolled Dupree’s body in carpet and dumped it near a canal, whose location they’d later forget. Police were never able to recover Dupree’s body.
Black Role Model
Spreading Yahweh’s word was expensive, and Mitchell put his economics degree to work to make ends meet. He opened a food-distribution firm, a housing business, and a bottling company that cranked out bottles of Yahweh beer, Yahweh wine and Yahweh soda-drinks the Yahwehs themselves were forbidden from tasting.
Everyone contributed to the greater good, Freedberg writes. One member, a former hair dresser, created a line of hair unguents for black folk that was a national success. Others hawked merchandise on the city streets, selling cassettes of Mitchell’s sermons, Yahweh key rings, pencils and T-shirts.
Some of the people they approached had heard of the cult’s shady activities and wanted nothing to do with them.
“You go Yahway, and I’ll go ma way,” they shouted at the people in the white robes.
The street peddlers worked 18-hour days, and the sales of each one were meticulously recorded. If they failed to meet a sales quota, they were sent to the prayer room – also known as the “pain room” – where they were forced to kneel for hours at a time as the temple guards watched and hit them with a switch if they got up without permission.
Those Yahwehs who still held jobs in the outside world were required to deposit their entire paycheck into the Yahweh bank account.
But these sacrifices weren’t enough. Mitchell cut back on food, serving one meal – usually consisting of beans – a day. Some of the kids became emaciated and developed pot bellies.
Mitchell saved money by starving and overworking his flock, and he invested it in real estate. He bought and renovated rundown apartments in blighted neighborhoods.
The messiah-cum-slum lord presented himself as the ghetto’s savior and was lauded in the business community. As his influence grew, he was able to secure loans and buy more buildings, and his real estate empire – motels, apartment complexes and grocery stores – helped the Temple of Love, Inc.’s fortunes rise to $8.5 million. It became one of Miami’s largest black-owned corporations.
Mitchell was hailed as a black role model and credited with eliminating the drug trade wherever his businesses were located.
While Mitchell drew accolades in public, he became increasingly paranoid about what was being said about him at the warehouse.
He formed a secret group called “The Brotherhood,” a band of tall, muscular young men available for discrete missions. To become a member of The Brotherhood, applicants had to kill a “white devil” and bring Mitchell a body part – an ear, nose or finger – as proof of the kill. Between April and October 1986, according to court papers, Mitchell’s “Death Angels” descended on Miami frequently to kill random white people.
Robert Rozier, a former pro football player, was his chief enforcer.
Rozier, a muscular 6-foot-4 giant who once played football for the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Oakland Raiders, was one step from homelessness by the time he found Yahweh in 1982. He was wanted by police across the United States and in Canada for a string of petty crimes ranging from writing bad checks to forgery.
He moved into the Temple of Love after serving a six-month prison stint, and changed his name to Neariah Israel, or child of god. He worked hard in the Yahweh booze factory and earned brownie points with Temple elders.
On a Saturday night in April 1986, Rozier decided to try out for The Brotherhood. He donned street clothes, slipped a 12-inch Japanese-style knife inside his jacket, and left the warehouse to go hunting for white devils.
He ended up in Coconut Grove, a thriving gay neighborhood, and followed groups of people around, looking for someone who was weak or small, impatient to kill. A white man, stumbling down the street as if he were drunk caught his attention and Rozier followed him to his apartment. As the man opened the door, Rozier forced his way inside and stabbed the man in the heart. There was another white man living in the apartment, and he stabbed that man to death as well. He briefly considered chopping off their heads to take to Mitchell, but couldn’t figure out how to transport the heads in public without arousing suspicion, so he left.
When Rozier showed Mitchell his knife the next day and told him what he did, Mitchell praised him. Next time, he’d remember to bring back a body part.
Rozier, who admitted killing seven people, later became the prosecution’s star witness. In a cool, detached voice, he told the courtroom how, on another occasion, he and another Death Angel walked the streets of Miami for hours looking for white devils, before coming across a man passed out in a car in a bar parking lot. The two men stabbed the man in the chest repeatedly, then sliced off his ear. When they dropped it in the dark and couldn’t find it, they went back and cut off his other ear and brought it to Mitchell.
As a reward, Mitchell gave the men the following day free; they went to see the movieAliens.
As more white men, usually homeless or alcoholic drifters, started showing up dead and mutilated on Miami’s streets, the police thought the killer was a deranged Vietnam vet. They never suspected the killings had been ordered by one of the city’s revered black leaders.
Yahweh ben Yahweh Day
In 1986, the cult took over the mortgage on an apartment in Opa-locka, a small city northwest of Miami. When they tried to evict the residents, some residents refused to leave. Yahweh’s thugs were sent in to forcibly remove the people, and two residents were shot to death.
A witness told police Rozier was the gunman, and he was arrested on Halloween 1986 and charged with murder. At first he refused to cooperate with investigators. He gave his age as 404 and answered all questions with “Praise Yahweh!”
Yahweh ben Yahweh
But with the evidence mounting against him, he changed his tune and turned state’s evidence. In exchange for testifying against the cult, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
As the noose began to tighten on his evil empire, Mitchell scurried to polish the cult’s image. He hired a media-savvy lawyer, Ellis Rubin, as an adviser, and held open-houses where community leaders and journalists traipsed through the previously hidden confines of the Temple of Love. The visitors noticed nothing menacing. The enforcers had exchanged their weapons for briefcases. Smiling children sat in clean classrooms, reciting lessons. Smiling Yahwehs greeted them warmly as they toured the print shop. The were “one big happy family,” Mitchell said.He told his guests that his church was about black empowerment, not murder or hate, and insisted Rozier was acting on his own.
Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez
For years, Mitchell succeeded in pulling the wool over the public’s eyes, and at an event held at the Miami Arena that was attended by thousands of his followers, Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez declared October 7, 1990, “Yahweh ben Yahweh Day.”Meanwhile, a federal grand jury was putting the final touches on a 25-page indictment accusing Yahweh and 15 disciples of 14 murders, extortion and running a racketeering enterprise.
A few weeks after Mayor Suarez’s announcement, God son of God was arrested in New Orleans. “Obviously I was wrong,” Suarez said tersely when reporters hounded him for a reaction to Mitchell’s arrest.
U.S. v. God, Son of God
Federal judge Norman Roetgger
The case was finally tried in 1992 at the U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. The presiding judge, Norman Roetgger, called it the most violent case heard by a federal court. Fearing Mitchell’s followers might pull a stunt, the feds secured the streets around the courthouse with SWAT teams.
Over the objections of the defendants’ lawyers, the jury was shown 30-by-40-inch photos of some of the victims, including Aston Green’s torso and severed head, to illustrate the extent of the cult’s savagery.
Dissenters who had suffered in silence for years finally had their day in court and provided lurid details of the cult’s inner workings. One man told the jury how he lost his sense of self after working long hours and not sleeping or eating enough.
“I saw my own children starving,” he testified. “I was beaten. He (Mitchell) had sex with almost every woman in the temple, including my wife.”
Robert Rozier under arrest
As more than a dozen Judases took the witness stand, Mitchell kept a poker face. Mildred Banks testified with a scarf hiding the scar where his thugs had slit her throat. Robert Rozier, released from prison for the occasion, recounted his six murders for Yahweh in cold detail. He admitted to stabbing a seventh man to death on his own accord, a Cuban panhandler who wouldn’t leave him alone.
Although witnesses testified at length about the murder of dissidents and “white devils,” the prosecution could not prove that Mitchell ordered the deaths.
The case of the United States v. God, son of God got even weirder when Mitchell himself took the stand. He identified himself as the “grand master of the celestial lodge, the architect of the universe” and denied everything. His religion was about love, he said, not death.
After a decade-long investigation, a year and half of court dates and 160 witnesses, the ethnically diverse jury handed down the verdict. The prosecution was stunned: the panel acquitted seven disciples, convicted seven of conspiracy, and declared a mistrial in the case of two members when they failed to agree on a verdict. They found Mitchell guilty of conspiracy but deadlocked on the racketeering charge.
Judge Roetgger sentenced the seven disciples to 15 to 16 years each, and Mitchell 18 years. His followers cried tears of joy and his victims, tears of bitter frustration. The cult had gotten away with murder.
In August 2001, Hulon Mitchell Jr., 65, walked out of prison a free man, a mere 10 years after entering it. Soon afterward, hundreds of his followers resurfaced at a conference in Canada, their new “Promised Land.”