Tony Alamo entangled in child custody dispute

Chicago Sun Times
October 13, 1987

The leader of a fundamentalist Christian sect, notorious for his anti-Roman Catholic propaganda and attempts to raise his first wife from the dead, is entangled in a child custody dispute in which an Elk Grove Village has been unable to find her children.

Mary Lou Weinzetl, 23, is trying to find her children, 4-year-old Jacquelyn M. Amundson and 2-month-old Brendan M. Broderick, whom she left this summer at the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation of Alma, Ark., when she broke from the sect. She was unable to find them when she returned for them this month.

Robert S. Blatt, a Fort Smith, Ark., attorney representing Weinzetl, said Monday that Alamo followers have told police they don’t know where the children are. The children are most likely with the boy’s father, Alamo devotee Brian M. Broderick, Blatt said.

Sect leader Tony Alamo, reached in Los Angeles, said Broderick had left Alma about a month ago. “I don’t know where he is,” he said.

Alamo contended the matter was a custody dispute that had nothing to do with his ministry.

Alamo, 53, heads the small, non-denominational fundamentalist sect that has been charged by critics as exercising cultlike control over members’ movements. It is based in Crawford County, Ark., with branches in major U.S. cities.

Started in 1969 and noted for anti-Roman Catholic tracts, the foundation has branched out into several businesses worth millions of dollars, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. The businesses range from retail and service companies to cement and clothing operations, the Anti-Defamation League said.

`Looking for help’

Weinzetl joined the sect last year after her first marriage ended. “I was looking for help,” she said. She moved to Arkansas with her daughter, and while working for Alamo she met and “married” Broderick. Weinzetl said they had a son.

The legality of the wedding is in doubt, Blatt said, because Arkansas officials have no record of it.

“I left five or six times” before making a final break Aug. 25, Weinzetl said. “They worked you all the time and followed you everywhere. It was terrible.”

When she left for good, Weinzetl said, “Tony Alamo told me I had to sign a piece of paper (turning the children over to Broderick) before I could leave. I knew it wasn’t legal, but I signed it anyway because I had to get out and then I could get help getting my children.”

Alamo said she was not coerced. His interest was in the welfare of the children, Alamo said, adding that Weinzetl willingly turned them over to Broderick.

Weinzetl returned Oct. 2 and received a court order authorizing a search for the children at the Alma compound and an Alamo church in nearby Dyer, Blatt said.

Three arrested

Three Alamo followers were arrested and later found to be in contempt of court “after police encountered problems entering and leaving the property.”

On Oct. 6, an Arkansas judge awarded Weinzetl custody of the children, Blatt said.

Alamo made headlines in Chicago in 1982 when his organization offered, as an alternative to abortion, to take unmarried pregnant women to Arkansas to deliver their babies. He said his group would care for the infants if the mothers didn’t want them.

The foundation was party to a 1985 Supreme Court decision, which ruled that religious organizations had to pay their members minimum wage for their work. The Alamo group argued that paying wages to its associates would violate their religious convictions.

Followers of Alamo periodically blanket sections of Chicago with anti-Roman Catholic tracts.

Also in 1982, Alamo’s first wife, Susan, died of cancer. Her body was embalmed and put in a coffin that was placed in a darkened room where foundation members prayed 24 hours a day for her return from the dead. Alamo said he had a vision Susan would be resurrected. He remarried in 1985.

In: 1980-1989

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