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Cult Leader Thought Jesus Would Destroy All But His Followers

January 7, 1990

KIRTLAND, Ohio (AP) _ A cult leader accused of murdering a five-member family in his flock preached that Jesus would return to Earth and destroy everyone but his followers, a minister familiar with the cult said Saturday.

Jeffrey Lundgren, his wife, their 19-year-old son and two of his followers remained at large Saturday, but eight others have been arrested in the shootings on a farm where the small cult lived until April 1989.

Dale Luffman, president of the northeast Ohio chapter of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said Lundgren worked from 1985 to 1987 at a church temple in Kirtland, about 30 miles east of Cleveland.

Lundgren, once a lay minister of the Reorganized Church, conducted tours of the church’s 153-year-old temple in Kirtland when he moved here from Kansas City, Mo., Luffman said.

Lundgren lived on church property until he began preaching radical doctrines during tours, Luffman said. He was defrocked and left the church with some followers to form his cult in 1987, Luffman said.

Several of Lundgren’s followers who left the cult told authorities that the leader had violent beliefs, which included death threats against members of his flock, Luffman said.

″There were some that dropped out,″ Luffman said. ″One alerted authorities about things that really scared him.″

Lundgren preached to his followers, who were estimated at more than a dozen, that Jesus would destroy anyone not inside the historic Kirtland temple where he once worked.

The temple was founded in 1836 by Joseph Smith, founder of the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church, which shares some beliefs with the Reorganized Church, based in Independence, Mo., but is not affiliated with it.

Lundgren named two specific dates when Jesus was to return to Earth, but the days came and went, Luffman said.

″When that moment was supposed to occur, they were to be in the temple. Only those who got in the temple would be saved and the unrighteous would be destroyed,″ Luffman said. ″They believed that they were the only people God could speak to.″

The remains of the family, including three daughters, were found Wednesday and Thursday buried in a barn on the farm that Lundgren rented about 1 1/2 miles east of this northeast Ohio community.

Authorities have tentatively identified the five as Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 42; and their three daughters, Trina, 15; Rebecca, 13; and Karen, 7. Investigators believe they were killed in mid-April.

In addition to being shot, the victims’ eyes were covered with duct tape, and some had their hands and feet bound with duct tape, Kirtland Fire Chief Richard A. Martincic said Saturday.

On Friday, Lake County Prosecutor Steven C. LaTourette said the Averys apparently were killed because of Lundgren’s interpretation of a prophecy that members had to be sacrificed before the group could relocate to the wilderness.

Luffman, however, said he did not believe the slayings were a sacrifice but probably came after a dispute over money, sex or fear the family would leave the cult.

An eighth cult member was arrested Saturday, but Lundgren, his wife, Alice, their 19-year-old son Damon and two other cult members remained at large.

Sharon Bluntschley, 31, of Independence, Mo., turned herself into Michigan State Police in Bay City, Mich., Saturday afternoon, said George Rodriguez, of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Ms. Bluntschley is charged with conspiracy and complicity to commit murder and kidnapping.

In all, 13 people were charged with murder or conspiracy in the shooting.

Kirtland Police Chief Dennis Yarborough said his investigation of the house where Lundgren lived began in April 1988 when he heard reports of paramilitary activity and civil rights violations. No charges were filed, Yarborough said.

Local businessmen who knew the Lundgren family say they seemed ordinary.

″He (Lundgren) was always fishing and hunting, and always had people around him,″ said Ray Byers, owner of Kirtland Hardware. ″He was a religious guy when I first knew him. He was dressed real well.″

Another Kirtland resident, Doris Straka, said the Lundgrens kept to themselves. ″They didn’t associate much with the community,″ she said.

She said the Lundgrens renovated the farmhouse and gave it a new coat of paint, landscaped the yard, revived an orchard, and set up a gymnasium in the barn where the bodies were found.

Lundgren left the area in April 1989 and the cult disbanded, Luffman said.

Jeffrey and Damon Lundgren were charged with five counts each of aggravated murder and five counts of kidnapping. Alice Lundgren was charged with five counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, five counts of kidnapping and five counts of complicity in the commission of aggravated murder.

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