Ministry emails revealed nightmare plots of hate attacks and murder. Divine Fury. Chapter 53

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A VG Serial: Divine Fury

Chapter 53

BOBBIE CONNORS WAS both surprised and pissed when the Soldiers of Christ Ministry’s lawyer called the San Francisco DA’s office with a gracious invitation: Send Connors to their offices in Los Angeles and take anything she felt might be helpful to her investigation.

She guessed that the attorney for Bud Walters had tipped off SOCM even while he negotiated the Salinas grower’s plea deal, probably via the informal attorneys’ hotline.  She made a mental note to settle accounts with the prick when she had the chance, whether it was next month or five years in the future.  She valued her reputation as a detective who neither ignored nor forgot a situation that required payback.  It kept a lot of people in line.

Sure, this made the process faster and less costly than raiding the place.  But it also gave the ministry plenty of time to cull incriminating evidence from their files.  The worst thing, though – and she knew she was being less than professional about this – is that it deprived her of the opportunity to bust the balls of the sanctimonious televangelist.  What was his name?  Burgess.  That was it.  She’d seen enough of his shows now to know the garbage he was preaching.  In her book, it was hate, plain and simple.

She had so looked forward to knocking on his door with uniformed Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in tow and holding the search warrant in his face.  In her fantasy, she envisioned herself sticking her index finger an inch from his nose and telling Burgess:  “Lesbian and loving it, you hypocritical son of a bitch!”

When Connors did fly to Los Angeles with two paralegals from the San Francisco DA’s office and arrived at SOCM’s headquarters with a Mayflower truck and extra packers, she fought hard to control her attitude.

They were waiting for her.  Burgess in a business suit.  His lawyer, similarly dressed with gray hair and tapping his foot with impatience.  And, a 50ish woman, presumably the office manager, carrying a green spiral notepad.

It was the woman whose jaw dropped steadily as Connors walked from room to room sticking round yellow stickers on everything that was to be loaded into the truck outside.  She tagged every file cabinet, every computer – including personal laptops – and the contents of every desk drawer she examined that had anything resembling a file in it.

“Detective Connors,” said the lawyer as the movers came in with their hand trucks.  “This seems unduly burdensome.  How can the ministry continue to operate without their records…without their computers?  You’ll be leaving with pens and paper clips.  Surely we can reach some reasonable accommodation.”

Connors did her best to rein in the snarl that kept trying to ripple across her upper lip.

“Were you joking when you said you were giving us full cooperation, counselor?” she said.  “I can still go back and get a warrant and put on the record exactly why we feel we’re entitled to what I’m requesting.”  This wasn’t nearly as satisfying as raiding the place unannounced with a search warrant.  But Connors was damned if she was going to let this be easy for them.  No.  It was not going to be business as usual here.

“Whoa,” said Burgess.  “Just a minute.  I know we can manage our way around this little problem.  I am sure the San Francisco authorities will do their best to get these things back to us as soon as they can.”

He nodded at the office manager.

“Eileen,” he said.  “We’ll manage just fine.  Just break down everything we need to do piece by piece and we’ll work it out.  It’s a challenge we can meet.  We might get some valuable lessons about how we’re doing things here.”

The lights were out in the last SOCM office Connors inspected.  The sign told her it had belonged to Brent Daggart, SOCM’s vice president.  The ministry had already informed the DA’s office that Daggart had been fired when Burgess and the church realized he had gone rogue and involved himself in illegal activities.  In retrospect, they wondered now if he had been mentally unstable for some time.

To Connors, this meant they were throwing Daggart overboard, a sacrifice to the gods of law enforcement in the hope it would appease them and allow Burgess and SOCM to escape to calmer waters.  She wasn’t surprised to see that some of Daggart’s files appeared to have been removed and that his office was the only one with no computer.

She rode with the truck back to San Francisco and got the DA’s office to start the indexing and document review immediately and even throw in some weekend overtime.  Two days into it, she got a call from the DA’s chief computer geek.  He usually wanted to brag about unlocking passwords, cracking encryption or uncovering computer files that suspects thought, incorrectly, that they had thoroughly erased.

What he showed her instead were strings of emails in the backup files for Brent Daggart’s computer.  It was clear that some emails were missing from the threads and all were at least two weeks old.  The DA’s tech speculated that the backup system missed the emails Daggart sent and received from a home computer.  Also, his laptop might have been switched off or been disconnected from the SOCM network during the most recent backup sessions.

Daggart had signed them “Deacon” and the exchanges read to Connors like the combined ramblings of Adolph Hitler, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and the Son of Sam.  But one thread in particular seemed cogent, reasonably literate and absolutely chilling.

It was from someone using the initials “S.W.”  The author seemed bitter, depressed and perhaps even suicidal.  Over a period of months, the rants and self-pity had gradually cooled and coalesced around a succession of plans.  First, it had been to blow up part of an army base.  Then, it shifted to storming something – an abortion clinic, a government office or someplace filled with gays and minorities – and killing everyone there.

In the final distillation he had moved from the mass murder fantasy to settle on a single target.  It was Andrew Harper, candidate for California governor.  In the last email available that was more than three weeks old, the author said he was leaving something or somewhere he called ‘Bliss’ and was on his way to  San Francisco.


Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.

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