Susan Alamo’s Son, Charles Brown, Reveals Her “Con”

Sacramento Bee
May 22, 1991


I didn’t catch the show myself, but one interested viewer called with some thoughts about a segment of last week’s Unsolved Mysteries. It seems that a former Los Angeles street hustler named Tony Alamo, who had transformed himself into a religious cult figure in Arkansas, had disappeared owing the federal government $19 million.

According to the TV show, the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service are looking for Alamo on tax evasion charges, as well as threatening a federal judge.

There was more. When it became expedient to abandon the Susan and Tony Alamo Christian Foundation in Alma, Ark., Tony and some of his followers broke into a mausoleum and stole Susan Alamo’s body. Susan died of cancer in 1982, inadvertently removing the wind from the organization’s sails.

She had been the charismatic leader. When the organization peaked in the late ’70s, Susan Alamo was well known as a TV preacher in a region bounded by Memphis, Fort Smith, Ark., and Monroe, La. Tony hung in the background, occasionally releasing an album like the one titled, Susan, I love you so much it hurts me.

He wasn’t a great singer, the man on the telephone said.

Susan was a little girl around Arkansas who went wild, said the man.
She was married at 14, had a kid at 15, and was divorced at 16. She fled to California, eventually building an empire with a thousand followers, moved back to Arkansas, and almost bought up the town she had left. To see her and Tony become charismatic leaders of a cult was a study in abnormal psychology.

The man on the telephone was, in fact, Susan Alamo’s son [Charles Brown], who is a marketing director for a Sacramento manufacturing concern. Since he was never part of the cult and is not known to his associates as Susan’s son, he asked his name be kept out of it. Also, he is not interested in the attention of Tony and his body-snatchers.

So we will call the man Howard [Charles Brown].
[Tony, Susan, Charles and his wife]
Charles Brown with wife-susan-tony Charles Brown with Tony

Howard [Charles Brown] lives in a prestigious east-area development with his wife. He is, by all indications, a nice guy. Howard was not happy with Unsolved Mysteries. It had several things wrong, he said.

Despite the absence of religion in their backgrounds, the Alamos recognized an unlikely niche for themselves in the late ’60s, Howard said. They would become the ministers of Sunset Strip, helping the street people and the dope-addled hippies to a better life.

I don’t think it was ever totally altruistic, but there were some good intentions, initially, he said. The ministry skyrocketed, and they moved it out to Saugus, Calif., where they bought an old motel and dance hall and turned it into a church.

The Alamos left California under cloudy circumstances in the middle ’70s, moving back to Susan’s hometown of Alma. They took as many as a thousand followers with them, and left about 700 in Saugus.

Unlike later TV ministries, such as that of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the Alamos did not wheedle money on TV. They profited from the labors of their members. A system of elders kept those members in line. Once in Alma, they developed a large restaurant and showroom that featured country music stars, a concrete plant, a nursery, motels and apartments, a clothing concern and other businesses.

It’s amazing how far you can go on free labor, Howard said. Mother showed me a financial statement once that depicted their ministry being worth $52 million in Arkansas alone. She couldn’t understand why I was so stupid, refusing to come into the church, the amount of money that was flowing.

But I had no use for the hate stuff. As with all of these organizations, there was a big hate factor involved. Us against them. I was never interested.

Mother was a great con artist in her own right. They got a lot of kids off the streets, off drugs, but it’s the old story money corrupts. The money flowed, and the power of controlling that many people was very corrupting.

When Susan Alamo died, Howard and his wife paid a dutiful visit and confronted a bizarre greeting.

Tony told me, “You don’t understand the real truth.’ He lined up 15 kids to tell me how a miracle was going to happen, that my mother would come back to life. She was in a coffin in this huge house they had built, 18,000 square feet on a mountaintop. It was like that for months. The state of Arkansas eventually had to sue him to seal the coffin.

Then when Tony took it on the lam, he took the coffin with him. That’s when I began to consider how twisted this might possibly be, said Howard.

On the one hand, Howard, now 54, can express admiration for his late mother. She was always a dreamer who had this great vision of being tremendously wealthy. It was kind of fascinating to see her come into all that money and power in her own life.

I dialed the 800 hotline for Unsolved Mysteries and spoke with a pleasant young woman named Monica. As of Tuesday, no one had been able to provide a trace, as they say, of the vanished Tony Alamo.

In: 1990-1999

| Back to Top |
Want to help?

Click the button!

Comments are closed.