5/22/08 – Dr. Phil Covers Anna Baez-Davis’ Story

Dr. Phil Show
May 22, 2008





Show: Cults?

Imagine living in an extreme religious group where your every move is controlled. Dr. Phil recently examined the aftermath of the raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and now he shines a spotlight on one woman who says she left a religious sect but struggles with life in the outside world.

A Mother’s Sorrow

Anna joined Tony Alamo ministries in 1989. In 2000, she escaped what she calls a cult with her seven children. Her ex-husband, Don, visited the family several years ago in December, and Anna let him take four of their kids Christmas shopping. She hasn’t seen them since.
“I felt like my life was in danger.”

“I was a member of the Tony Alamo church. Just one day out of the blue, my sister called me up and told me about this church that she was in and how her life had changed. She wanted me to come down there and visit,” says Anna. “It seemed like a normal church. Everybody seemed really happy and friendly. It really can make a person think, ‘Hey, this is what I need right now.’ Tony Alamo, he’s their God. I absolutely adored Tony. I loved this man.”

“To even meet him or talk to him, you felt like you were blessed by God to just see him,” says Hannah, Anna’s 16-year-old daughter. “That’s how much everyone looks up to him.”

But Anna was soon to discover how restrictive her new church was. “There were rules. You could not go anywhere by yourself. You had to have permission to go shopping, to go to services, to stay home. You’re not allowed to have a magazine, you’re not allowed to have a radio, a DVD player — any of those things that keep you in tune with what’s going on outside of the church.”

“We couldn’t wear shorts or T-shirts. We couldn’t wear nail polish, or any makeup or lip gloss, no jewelry at all,” reports Anna’s 15-year-old daughter, Katarah.

“Instead of getting punished, like, grounded like a normal kid, you would get taken off of eating for weeks at a time,” Hannah remembers. “A lot of times, I was really weak, and I passed out one time when I was playing with the rest of the kids in the church.”

“Tony has about 13 wives. He picked certain girls, and they’d come to his house and go swimming in his big pool,” Anna says. “He takes to beautiful girls, special girls. He likes eyes and hair, certain things about them. He tells them, ‘I have a big bowl of candy bars beside my bed,’ so all these girls just started going up there and staying with him. I thought, ‘If it’s in God’s Word, I agree with it, but I don’t know how I feel about you taking girls.’”

After 12 years of being a member of the church, Anna decided to flee. “Tony Alamo had said that I was a threat to his church. I started asking myself, ‘Why is he the only one who can have more than one wife? Why is he so special that we’re living in trailers, and he’s got Olympic-sized pools?’” she recalls. Anna says she not only felt dominated by the church, but also by her husband, Don. “The more I questioned my husband about it, my husband would show up with a paddle. The last time, I thought to myself, that’s it. I’m out of here. I grabbed my children, and we walked to this woman’s house, and I asked her to please call a taxi. As I was leaving, this van pulls up with two of his members inside of it. They’re yelling at me, and trying to grab me and pull me away. They’re telling me, ‘What are you doing? Are you crazy? Your kids are going to go to hell. You’re going to go to hell.’ I turned around and looked at that sister, and I said, ‘You go to hell!’ and I jumped in that taxi.

“About a year went by. My ex-husband called me, and he told me he was no longer a member. He came by the house and wanted to see the children. I trusted him,” Anna continues. “Basically, he took the youngest ones with him and never returned. Don has Jasper, Olivia, Jacob and David. I’m living with Hannah, Katarah and Deanna. Don doesn’t allow me to speak with the children.”

Anna and her daughter, Hannah, join Dr. Phil. He addresses Anna. “You’re not even able to speak to these four children, correct?” he asks.

“Correct,” she replies.

“How did you escape?”

“It took a lot of strength. I just knew I had to. I knew if I didn’t move quickly, I didn’t know what would happen to me next,” she replies.

“But what pushed you over the edge? You had been there for a good while,” Dr. Phil points out.

“I just knew something was really wrong,” she replies. “I felt like my life was in danger. I was afraid of my husband. I was afraid of Tony [Alamo].”

“You get out with seven of the children. You’re running from [Don] and them, but then you have some dialogue with your now ex-husband in the ensuing time, and he’s at the house. He comes to your house,” Dr. Phil summarizes.

“Yes, correct,” Anna responds.

Dr. Phil continues his summation of the situation.“[Don] says, ‘I’m going to take four of the kids, and we’re going to go buy a gift, and we’ll be right back,’” he recounts.

“Yes,” Anna replies.

Dr. Phil is puzzled. “Did anything go off in your mind that he might be taking off with those children?” he inquires.

“No, because it had been quite some time since I had spoken with him.”

“He told you he was out of the church,” Dr. Phil notes. “So he loads the kids, goes to the store and never comes back.”

“That is correct.”

“And you haven’t seen those four children since,” Dr. Phil muses. “What’s it been like for you to not be able to see those children, to hold those children, to be with them?”

“It’s been horrible because I blame myself for a lot of it,” Anna answers. “I wanted to keep a very positive relationship with him so that my kids weren’t affected. The divorce was hard enough for them.”

“If you know where the compound is, and you know that your four children are there, why haven’t you gone to get them?”

“I have tried,” Anna replies. “I filed the instructions I was given by the officials to go down there and bring my divorce decree. So I went down there immediately. They said if I came to the property with a divorce decree, that they would go ahead and allow me to go get my kids, if they were there. When we went to go into the home and out the back door to confront whoever it was there who had the kids, she pulled my son away from me, and she shut the door. [The officer] said, ‘If you go on their property, it’s considered trespassing, and I will have to arrest you.’”

Search inside the Sect

Private investigator Harold Copus goes on the hunt for Anna’s children. You won’t believe what his search yields.
“These people are heavily armed and dangerous.”

Harold Copus drives down a lonely road in Arkansas. “I’m about to meet a lady who has information, who hopefully can help us find the children and where the dad’s at, so we can help reunite the children with their mother,” he says.

The private investigator enters the house of Mary Coker, who is an Alamo church observer, and sits at her kitchen table. “What do you know about that church? Do you know anything about these children, or children in general, there?” Harold asks.

“Tony Alamo, it’s his cult. I know they keep to themselves, they’re very secretive, they guard the compound,” Mary replies. “The children who are in there, they have no education, they have no identity. He claims to be a prophet.”

“What are the police saying about all of this?” Harold probes.

“The same thing that the state, and FBI and everybody else say: They have to have evidence before they go in there.”

“Are they carrying weapons?”

“They have carried weapons,” Mary says.

Mary offers to show Harold the compound. “I’ve got two years invested in trying to get something done about these kids,” she says. As they ride through town, she explains what they will encounter as they try to gain entrance. “If the security guard is where he normally is, we’ll be identified. They’ll start contacting the other guards, and they’ll know that we’re here. We’re passing in front of the main church. This street is the street that Tony Alamo lives on.”

Harold passes a house with a black SUV parked in front. “This is Tony’s house?” he asks.


“Mary has told us that there’s a house that the Alamo Ministries is renovating. [Don] Davis is an employee-type who works on houses. We’re going to go down here. May be our guy. I don’t know,” Harold reports. When he returns from the house, he reflects on his experience. “I talked to two workers in there. One guy told me that the house belonged to Don Davis, that Don was not there right now, that he was out of town. We could be sitting on the house where these kids are coming to. We may have hit gold here.”

Dr. Phil asks Hannah if her father, Don, allows her to speak to her siblings.

“He has let me talk to them,” she replies. “He tells them what to tell me on the phone, because I can hear him in the background. They just tell me that they love me, and that they want me to come back and be with them and that they’re really happy. That’s all they’re allowed to say on the phone.”

“What was the worst thing for you while you were there?” Dr. Phil inquires

“The worst thing for me was the way they punished the children. It was fasting — going without food for weeks at a time — and only giving you water. They would hit you with boards, and sometimes switches, like, branches off the tree,” Hannah replies.

“Who is ‘they’?”

“Usually your parents do it.”

“Would this be your dad?”

“Yeah, and my stepmom.”

“Tell me about this starving, or fasting, as you call it. You say you’ve actually passed out from it.”

“I got in trouble for not vacuuming the hallway, and my stepmom told me I had to go on a two-week fast. She would not allow me to eat or drink anything but water,” Hannah recalls. “I think it was going on to the second week, and I was playing with my friends outside. I passed out and fell to the ground. They came and picked me up, and they called my dad. My dad came to see me, if I was all right, and they told him it was from sun exhaustion, and I know it wasn’t. I couldn’t even move sometimes, because I was so weak.”

Anna and Hannah sit in front of a computer. “I just received some pictures in an e-mail. I’m going to check it out and see if any of these might be my kids,” Anna says. She stares at the picture of a little boy in a red shirt. “That’s not David.”

“Are you sure?” Hannah asks.

“Yes, I’m sure. I know what my kids look like. That’s not my son.”

Anna receives more e-mailed images the next day. “That’s my son. That’s my son, Jacob, right there,” she exclaims with a relieved smile. “You can’t see his face, but that is definitely Jacob.” She examines another image. “This one young man with the hat on could possibly be my son, Jasper, because of the cheeks and the roundness of the face. I’m excited, but I feel scared. I’m just so close, but I’m just afraid something will go wrong.”

“You would feel unsafe going inside the compound to get them?” Dr. Phil asks Anna.

“Definitely,” she replies

Dr. Phil confers with Harold Copus. “The police have told you that these people are heavily armed and dangerous?”

“They certainly are,” he replies. “We have a problem with this group.”

Dr. Phil turns back to Anna. “I know you have children at home now who can be stressful, can be difficult. You’re getting ready to add four more back to that situation. How do you handle and discipline the kids you have now? Because of what you’ve been exposed to and learned, do you go too far?”

“No, I think I’m too lenient. I have a really hard time with disciplining my kids now. A lot of times, if I have problems with the littlest one, I go to my grandmother and ask her for help,” Anna answers.

“Do you use corporal punishment with these kids?” Dr. Phil asks Anna.

“No, sir.”

“You don’t hit them?”

“No. I never spank them.”

Dr. Phil turns to Hannah. “Do you agree with that?” he asks.

“Yes,” she replies. Then she clarifies, “I agree that my mom doesn’t hit us and that she’s a good mom.”

“Help me out here because I’m trying to help this whole family. Are you telling me that because it’s what you truly believe, or are you telling me that because you’ve got to go home with Mom when this is all over with?”

“That is truly what I believe,” Hannah says.

Once Hannah leaves the stage, Dr. Phil drills down on Anna. “As I sit here and I look at your daughter — you’ve got to understand I’ve been doing this a long time — she looks to me to be terrified of you. When I asked her that question, she would not look at me. She had a difficult time answering,” he observes. “You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge. Anna, if you have a problem in this way, tell me and I’ll help you with it. I’m not going to say you don’t deserve these children. I’m not going to stop helping you. But I’m trying to work both ends of the equation here. I need to know that, having been through what you’ve been through, you’re able to handle that.”

“Yes, and I don’t know why you find that so hard to believe,” she replies.

“Because of what you’ve been through, because of what you’ve been exposed to.”

“My children were never beaten when I was there. [My ex-husband] never put his hands on my kids,” she says.

“I’m involved in this for the children, so I have to ask hard questions of everybody,” Dr. Phil explains.

For this show in its full context click HERE.
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