Alamo followers arrested in abduction of child

Newsday Inc.
August 17, 1989

He insists his faith is firmly rooted in the good book, but critics of Tony Alamo – the self-anointed leader of a Christian sect – contend his is the handiwork of the devil.

The saga of Tony Alamo and his Holy Alamo Christian Church is unfolding in rural country towns and major cities, fueled by impassioned anti-Catholic rhetoric and a rigid adherence to the Bible.

This month, his spiritual trail wound its way to New York, with the Aug. 3 arrests of three men in connection with the 1987 abduction of a 17-day-old boy. The baby’s father, Brian Broderick, one of those arrested in lower Manhattan, is a member of the sect. The child’s mother, Mary Lou Weinzetl, was reunited with the boy Monday after a nearly two-year separation.

In a telephone interview yesterday from an undisclosed location in California, Alamo – whose real name is Bernard Hoffman – defended his 25-year-old church, which he maintains has “hundreds of thousands” of followers, a figure disputed by Weinzetl, who put it closer to 500 nationwide.

The sect encourages corporal punishment, members and law enforcement officials say. Alamo, in fact, says that spanking children is outlined in the scriptures.

“The distinguishing mark of our church is that when the government says you cannot spank children, we say we will, because it’s in the Bible,” he said, saying street crime is escalating because “children have not been paddled.”

Law enforcement officials, however, say the sect’s stock in trade is child abuse and baby snatching.

Alamo and five members of his group are charged with felony child abuse in Saugus, Calif., stemming from a January, 1988, incident in which an 11-year-old boy was allegedly struck approximately 140 times on the buttocks with a three-foot paddle.

A warrant for Alamo’s arrest has been issued in California, but Alamo insisted yesterday he is not in hiding. “They are trying to make me appear as though I’m on the run, but I’m not. I’m quite sure the FBI would kill me,” he said.

Alamo said his church survives through the manufacture and sale of clothing to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Tyson. Based in Alma, Ark., it has chapters in Chicago, Omaha, Nashville, Saugus, and Brooklyn, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said yesterday. In Brooklyn, the sect was supposed to have operated out of a building at 217 Cortelyou Rd., though a resident there said yesterday the cult had not been active in about five years.

Alamo is also the leader of the fundamentalist Christian Foundation, operates the Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation, which is known for circulating anti-Catholic literature. The organization, an offshoot of the Holiness Tabernacle of Alma, Ark., has branches in Illinois and Tennessee, according to FBI investigators.

Weinzetl said the church was created to benefit but one person – Tony Alamo.

“They’re doing everything they’re doing for Tony Alamo and his personal gain, power and money,” she said. “People really believe they’re doing this for the Lord and they’re not . . . I think the children in the church are at risk.”

Copyright Newsday Inc., 1989

SEE MAIN STORY: Boy 2, Reunited with Mom. Spent his life with dad in Christian cult.

Both mother and son have warm hazel eyes. Their light brown hair curls softly. That they were related seemed obvious. But the 2-year-old boy reached as easily for the police officer standing nearby at yesterday’s news conference as he did for his mother. To him they seemed equally familiar. After all, before their reunion Monday, Brendan had not seen his mother since he was 17 days old.

“I thought I’d never see him again,” said Mary Lou Weinzetl, whose son was returned to her Monday after being found in a van in Manhattan.

As Brendan munched on Skittles in a paper cup, his 25-year-old mother broke into tears.

Every week for the past two years, Weinzetl, who left her son and daughter behind when she broke from a religious cult in Alma, Ark., called the FBI hoping for news. She took her story to the media, contacted politicians and a variety organizations, including the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children . The child she saw Monday surprised her.

“I didn’t expect Brendan to be as big as he was,” Weinzetl said, explaining her thoughts when she first saw her son. “I had a lot of mixed feelings and emotions. I was afraid I was going to scare him more than he was.”

At the first meeting, she recalled, “I just wanted to hug him and kiss him, but he pushed me away.”

In an December 1988 Woman’s World article she wrote, Weinzetl, who won’t say exactly where she lives near Chicago, said she joined Alamo Christian Churches in October, 1986, after she was divorced from her first husband, in suburban Illinois. “I wanted a new start and a good home for my 1-year-old daughter, Jackie,” Weinzetl said, explaining she was “lonely and had no one I could look to for support.” She called an 800-number for information about the church.

At first, she said, the life was ideal. She had no responsibilities and she was “grateful to be guided and protected.” She worked for Tony Alamo, the leader of the group, sewing rhinestone-covered clothes that were sold to country western singers.

Soon, however, the church began taking over making personal decisions from her “family life to sex life.” Just weeks into her stay, she was told she would be marrying Brian Broderick, who became Brendan’s father. Although she fell in love with him, Weinzetl said she became disenchanted with the church, urging her husband to leave it along with her.. The breaking point came, she said, when she went to a lawyer about having her marriage annulled and found it wasn’t legal in the first place.

She said she attempted to leave the church five or six times before Brian Broderick finally gave her a bus ticket home to Illinois. But her husband and church leaders would not allow her daughter or Brendan to leave.

Although her daughter, who is now 3, was returned to Weinzetl five months later by Broderick’s mother, Broderick disappeared with their son.

She said it was difficult when she first left the church, Weinzetl said “I thought I was going to hell” for leaving; to this day she has not set foot in another church. “I don’t feel like I only lost my children, I feel like I was spiritually raped,” she said.

In: 1980-1989

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