A brief review of the Opinion of the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan, in its decision on the trial court findings of November, 1927, in appeal by the Israelite House of David.
June 10, 1929
This brief will show the rulings of both the trial court of 1927 and the Supreme Court Opinion of 1929 now an interesting forecast that is noticeably prophetic.
Revelation 13:10, He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity; he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and faith of the saints.
The “Star of Bethlehem”, page 142, “Woe to that man who condemns him, for he that does it, shall have the evil for which he was condemned.”
There are a number of exacting prophetic statements recorded in the “Star of Bethlehem”, 1902, and later membership meetings of 1905-1909 that tell such as,
“Benjamin is to be accused of all the things the world is guilty of.”
“When they cannot corrupt him, they will chase him like a fox.”
Let us look at the 4 major complaints, and 13 minor complaints found by the trial court in 1927, maintaining that Benjamin Purnell and the Israelite House of David was a public nuisance. All of which was systematically and summarily denied by all defendants: Benjamin and Mary Purnell, the officers of the church and leading members of the organization. All of the defendants were alleged to have been part of the fraud upon the membership in guise of religion, and were in collusion with alleged immoral practices of Benjamin.
1. In maintaining a religious system and faith which are ab initio fraudulent, in that Benjamin Purnell is a religious impostor and whole scheme is designed to defraud credulous persons and afford Benjamin an opportunity for immoral practices.
2. In gross immoralities committed by Benjamin upon the women and girls of the colony, induced by him through his position as spiritual leader and usually upon the representations that sexual intercourse with him is a religious rite.
3. In that the members are taught to commit perjury for the protection of Benjamin, the colony and the faith.
4. In that the members conspired to obstruct justice in aiding Benjamin to avoid the service of criminal process upon him.
Review: The four major issues revolve around accusations of immoral practices and the alleged subsequent cover up (by the officers, Mary Purnell and members) of these activities. As stated above, the “Answer of Defendants”, was emphatic denial of all such charges as without substance.
The trial court findings also issued a plan of relief calling for the exile of both Mary and Benjamin, a court appointed receiver for all assets of the House of David, a trust providence for the remaining members of the organization, and hopeful dissolution of the Israelite House of David.
The immediate appeal to the State Supreme Court placed the trial court ruling on hold.
11 Days after the lower court ”Opinion” and public issuance, December 5, 1927, Benjamin Purnell died, on December 16.
The Supreme Court, in its Ruling, set the precedent that the death of Benjamin Purnell left the Court with an entirely different set of circumstances to review and decide upon.
Or did it ??
Keep in mind the State of Michigan’s attorney-general, with the nod of the Governor, appointed a one-man grand jury to hear the People v. Purnell case of 1927. There would be no public selected jurors to decide in behalf of the people of the State of Michigan. The whole process of the trial court was to find guilt and to assign an outline of immediate and effect measures for the “abatement of a public nuisance”.
“Review of the trial from a historical perspective, reveals a balance clearly in the favor of the plaintiff. Opposition to Benjamin was generally reflected in the daily press. There was universal presumption of guilt within the State political hierarchy. Judge Louis Fead was appointed to judge this case by an administration that had already agreed on a verdict, one they believed the electorate shared.” Judge Fead had complete control of the People v. Purnell trial. He was a judge sitting in a court of chancery without a jury. Under these conditions, he conducted what he described as a “judicial inquiry” and informed the litigants that normal rules of evidence would not be followed.” Clare Adkin, Brother Benjamin, 1990. In actuality, Judge Fead “never found Benjamin guilty of rape, a matter which the prosecution never pursued.” And, “each of the thirteen witnesses who testified to having had sexual relations with Benjamin had previously signed written statements under oath to the contrary.” Clare Adkin, Brother Benjamin, 1990.
Another critical point that must be understood. The whole history of legal process through three court rooms (two were Federal courts) leading to a final ruling by the State Supreme Court, was in the venue of a Civil issue of purported fraud, heard in civil courts. That kept the plaintiffs in line for monetary rewards, if fraud could be proven. Criminal issues are assigned to criminal courts of law and yield a jail sentence upon conviction.
The Hansel family had already a taste of success in the first round (Grand Rapids, Federal District Court, 1923), where they were awarded $24,000. Criminal complaints were also heard within that court which began the spark that ignited the forest fire of 1927.
From the court record of 1927, People v. Purnell, Judge Fead said: “John W. Hansel was a trouble maker, as is evidenced by the fact that he claimed to have been continuously imposed upon by kindly and peaceable people who bothered no one else. He had plans for starting a rival colony. His own deposition convinced this court that he made himself so obnoxious that the colony was well rid of him.” Pg. 99
Prior to the trial (People v. Purnell), Esther Hansel interviewed certain witnesses for and on the behalf of the State, among them her brother-in-law and sisters. She stated to them as follows: ‘If you want to get money out of the House of David you want to put in your claim now and be a witness for the State.’ ‘If the state wins this case there will be a lot of suckers come around to get something and they won’t get a cent.’ ‘If you expect to get anything out of it right now is the time to put in your bid or you are out of luck.’ ‘All of the witnesses that testify for the state would get their share out of the colony property’ (4,495-4,496) and (4,516). “Crown of Thorns”, 1929, Francis Thorpe.
“John Hansel was involved in a conspiracy to take members and property of the House of David and establish his personal colony in Tennessee.Charles E. Dawson, an ex-member, testified that Hansel talked to him several times about starting a colony near Nashville.” Brother Benjamin”, Clare Adkin, 1990.
A conspiracy after the fact came to light in the sworn statement of Steve Staubach, a member of the House of David from April, 1917 until May, 1922. Staubach stated that on several occasions Russell Hansel and Bert Johnson solicited help in their plan to break up the House of David. According to Staubach, they needed his testimony that Benjamin had “ruined” several girls. Staubach told them that he did not know of any debauched girls.Then they wanted Staubach to go with them to Detroit to talk with their attorney, Walter Nelson, and Bert Johnson’s sister, Esther (Johnson Hansel), who was in charge of “working up” the case. Esther was to receive a good government position when it was over.” “Brother Benjamin”, Clare Adkin, 1990.
Because of Benjamin Purnell’s death, the High court “Decree” found it unnecessary to review much of the trial court record of 15,000 pages. In its brief resolution of just 14 pages, the language speaks both of “alleged guilt” and “findings of guilt”. Though the Court refused to re-hear the trial issues, they, in their final statement, stay the trial court findings, yet setting free the wife, Mary Purnell, chief officers ( Francis Thorpe, Judge Dewhirst, Silas and Cora Mooney, John Bulley, Joseph Sanderson, etc…..) alleged as co-operatives with Benjamin in defrauding colony members and covering his alleged immoral improprieties upon women and girls of the colony. The justice’s decision would influence the entire future of the colony in terms of property management (then decreed as held by the state in receivership), present and future members, the exile of Mary Purnell from association with the members and management, and dissolution, that was being asked for by the trial court.
The High Court realized and avoided the difficulties of an attenuated statement. The major issues were criminal upon Benjamin Purnell and his alleged co-operatives. The other complaints were in the realm of the civil issue that was before a civil tribunal. The High Court allowed for future legal process by individuals with grievances, in which the State would have no “paternal” interest.
This position set by the High Court, suggesting future litigation upon the surviving co-operatives, kept their ruling within the secure boundaries of a civil courtroom issue.
They were strongly hinting at the pursuit of criminal suits in courts appointed for those purposes.
Though the emphasis of the trial court findings was particularly focused on Benjamin, yet Mary Purnell, officers of the church and certain "leading" members were under the same listing as conspiratorial in concurrence with the supposed fraud, etc.
Benjamin's death, construed as a natural “abatement of the public nuisance”, the High Court now had convenience to reconsider the whole venue of the case from its beginning. By dealing with three major civil issues, they awarded a sweeping victory for the House of David and Mary Purnell.
The High Court (1929) viewed Benjamin's death (December, 1927) as the remedy for the immediate problem of the first two major complaints from the trial court. The findings of the trial court were denied for review. Judge Dewhirst had asked for and filed a “Motion for Rehearing”, which was denied.
The High Court never addressed the issue of officers of the church and leading members that were indited as co-defendants. The exile ruling of Mary Purnell (even though "the suit was tried practically as though Benjamin and Mary Purnell were the only defendants"), still urged by the State's counsel at bar, was rescinded without comment. "It is true that the other defendants may attempt to continue the religious system and faith" etc.
Thus, a major portion of the House of David's appeal was simply set aside, not to be reviewed nor amended, and more importantly, precluding any chance for the desired overturn. However, in the State Supreme Court's "Decree", it states that the trial-court findings would remain on record (the desire for an abatement of a public nuisance) and serve as a basis for this final ruling.
Though clearly setting the perimeter of their judgement in terms of a Civil Court, setting aside the primary/ criminal pinions of the trial court findings, the contradiction within the 14 pages of this document, is Amazing.
1. A review and rehearing so asked in appeal, was denied.
2. The trial court record finding Benjamin and Mary Purnell, chief officers and members of the organization, guilty of fraud upon their own fellow members, through the immoral practices of Benjamin Purnell, will not be re-heard, but remain as stayed.
3. Mary Purnell, all of the officers and chief members found guilty of fraud and collusion with Benjamin Purnell in immoral practices "in the guise of religion", are now set free to “continue their expression of religious belief”.
Where is the justice, denying to review the record of the lower, trial court decision, so appealed ? To dismiss the askance of rehearing, being the main focus in appeal. And without review or rehearing, to base a final decision upon the findings of the trial court, being contested, and the very purpose of the Appeal ??
Benjamin Purnell's death allowed the High Court a convenient avenue for dismissal of an embarrassment concerning Mary Purnell, the officers and leading members, who were co-defendant, and upon whom there were obviously no grounds for further litigation; even though they were supposedly enjoined in the alleged fraud and immoral behaviors.
The High Court chose, after looking at the voluminous trial court record, not to try and determine whether there was equity unprejudiced in the findings of guilt. They saw there were no evidences upon the co-defendants that were found by the lower court as participants in fraud and immoral conduct, constituting a public nuisance.
Though indited by the trial court, it was not a possibility for the High court to find collusion in the person of Mary Purnell, the church officers, nor the leading members; supposedly in conspiracy to defraud their own members while supporting immoral practices. The findings in the trial court remains to this day, unproven. The colony’s appeal was for a re-hearing; hoping for justice;………. was denied.
It is curious that the death of Benjamin Purnell would free Mary Purnell and all of those indicted in the alleged fraud and cover-up of immoral practices. In the final decision, the High court said that they were allowed, without obstruction or supervision, to continue.
The Original motion to hear allegations of immoral practices, a criminal court issue, were first introduced in a Civil, Federal District Court at Grand Rapids in March,1923, and was allowed. It took the rest of the decade and several further Civil trials for the State Supreme Court to finally separate out the criminal allegations from the Civil issue.
Concerning the Hansel case of 1923: “Benjamin was assumed guilty by the Federal court of debauchery of young girls, a criminal offense, and thus found guilty of defrauding the Hansels of their property and labor, a civil offense. Clearly, this was an illogical conclusion based upon irrelevant information. The federal court’s assumption was confirmed when the Appeals Court (Cincinnati, 1924) found Benjamin guilty of the “most disgusting and revolting crimes against the chastity of young girls.” Criminal acts that had not been charged against him.” Clare Adkin, Brother Benjamin, 1990.
The Supreme Court ruled upon the Civil issues remaining at Bar, and allowed further litigations to which they (“the State” ) would have no interest. Intimating the use of criminal courts for criminal issues.
It would certainly be reasoned that if there was guilt and a fraud perpetrated, that the co-founder (Mary) and co-defendants along with all indicted would be pursued the same in the absence of the primary defendant.
There is no financial awards in criminal justice cases. Thus no further litigations from the 1927 trial court.
Dissolution and receivership were adjudged to be "vacated".
All of the 13 minor issues were "disposed of somewhat summarily" based on two sightings. That the alleged villain was dead and the complaints were "inconsequential" or so "remote" as to "have little bearing, if any, upon the plaintiff's right to the relief claimed upon the ground of an alleged public nuisance."
How simple and quickly these absurd charges were disposed of as not being of any consequence to the proof of guilt or innocence of any defendant.
Let us review the prophetic significance in the light of the prophetic statements from the top of this aticle.
Alleged and found by the trial court: fraud, cover up, immoral behaviors perpetrated due to positions of power and influence.
Sound familiar ?
Chappaquiddick, Water Gate, Justice Clarence Thomas, O. J., and Bill Clinton, that has left the legal system in America with little credibility in the eyes of the world.
Immorality in high places, both secular and clerical; or just simply in general. The sad Reminder that yielded a cartoon a few years ago, depicting school children standing in front of their teacher, and the teacher replying to them, you can ask me for a condom, but you cannot ask me for a Bible.
Numbers 3 and 4 of the major issues in complaint were false, and seemingly interpreted poorly in regards to defendant testimonies.
Benjamin was never in hiding; during the hype of a 3 continent manhunt, he was seen daily on his rounds at the new construction site of Mary's Hotel in down town Benton Harbor(1922-1925). The people of the House of David were not taught to lie, however, no one was going to give the kiss of Judas, either.
As Benjamin stated at a colony meeting:” It has been reported that I have taught you to lie, and if I did, you shouldn’t.”
A small publication was issued from within the colony (“To Whomsoever This May Concern”) to alert members, particularly those having contact with patrons/visitors outside the community (i.e. colony members that worked in the Eden Springs Park, working with the general public), to be aware of inquiries that were more than ordinary in nature.
The State found the publication to be teaching perjury. Strange to say, in today's legal morass, any defendant first has a right to silence and conference with an attorney before any interrogation is legally begun. And beyond that, defendants and witnesses are carefully counseled as to proper wording and what to say as well as what not to say in their own defense. Sounds just like an attorney’s Preparation of witness defendants for their own protection.
Let us review the 13 minor complaints that were summarily discharged in the Supreme Court decision:
1. "That home life is frowned upon and families broken up."
Look now at today's world of broken families and the vanishing quality of family time.
2. "That faith requires celibacy and prohibits reproduction of species."
Yes, condemn and close down with a sweeping action all monasteries and convents in America, and prohibit freedom of religious expression………. immediately. This was written in a court of law in America of the mid 20th century.
3. "That husbands and wives and parents and children are separated and made to live apart."
From my own family experience, my grandparents and my father all shared a living accommodation together, always. This was not uncommon. There were instances of larger families with great age differences in children, where living all together was not possible.
4. "That children do not receive an adequate education."
This was cited because of an unfounded complaint of teaching Bible lessons in classrooms. Should we talk about Christian church run schools, or home schooling in response to the deterioration of today's public schools, where Bible study and prayer are forbidden ?
Recent findings within our archival collections reveal an 8th grade promotion diploma from 1918 in the House of David School. The pupil had successfully completed 12 courses of studies (much more complete than today's curriculum) under the license of the State of Michigan. None of which were religious studies or Bible studies. Truth is that the Israelite children were taught the faith at home, not in the classroom. It is also proper to note that the schoolteachers were all professionals from within the Israelite community and so licensed by the State. The children's studies did not stop in the classroom; they went out into the real world of trades and skills, which they had ample opportunities to learn from the many trades and arts that were abundantly represented in the colony. Arts and music were taught and encouraged as well as culinary arts and all studies and aptitudes that would be necessary for a next generation to sustain a large and vibrant community of intelligent people. The House of David schooling/education that extended to the real world was actually far advanced for its time.
A Columbine student’s prayer to God, asking why He did not stop what happened there. God's response: I am not allowed in public schools.
5. "That disloyalty to the government is taught and, during the World War, ( WW1) fictitious dependencies were created to mulct the government upon military allowance."
This is total ungrounded, our draftees served as non-combatants. The false military allowances issues have since been disproven.
The country certainly came to its own by mandating an end to the useless carnage in Vietnam.
Or perhaps, if more people adopted our policy of objection to war, the Economic Powers That Be, might not have armies of pawns to command into their economic strategies.
6. "That members are held in peonage."
A ridiculous finding by a supposedly intelligent court of law.
As an observance of today's replica, we have a world strapped to a killing pace, where responsible married couples with a family have to have 2 pay checks, leaving them no time to raise their children, having no time to take care of their elders in family, and virtually having no quality time to live and enjoy family, friends or special interests. Strapped to the debt payments that all are in peonage to, as the economic polarities widen between the haves and the have-nots. Actually, the colonies were places of safety, shelter and plenteous to eat during the subsequent Great Depression era.
7. "That the colony is set up as a kingdom not subject to civil law."
There is noted only one arrest at the House of David in 100 years, and that was Benjamin Purnell on an expired warrant. In the 1927 trial, the State had to obtain witnesses to create their case, none of which was from Berrien County; they simply could not find a local citizen to testify against the House of David.
8. "That members are forced into marriage to subvert justice and hide crime."
In the record of the defense are found no such instances, but to the contrary, complete objection. There was no one ever forced into marriage. There were arrangements for marriages that solely depended upon both the set of parents approval and their children’s consent.
9. "They are not provided with sufficient food, clothing and shelter."
Interestingly enough, the complaint within the colony was that because of such plenteousness, there was little to overcome, saving personal habits or inter-personal problems.
10. "That High Island, a possession of the cult in Lake Michigan and off the coast of Charlevoix, is used as a place of punishment and exile."
From 1912 through 1929, over 500 members had lived in or visited the Israelite lumber camp. Strange to think that at its peak in numbers (150 around 1919-20) that anyone was imprisoned or constrained at a location that the State had supervision over, particularly the island school house that was used in conjunction with the native American and Israelite children. Actually the Island community was a favorite vacation spot for parties of members after the work of the summer season in Benton Harbor.
11. "That Sunday is not observed as a day of rest but used as a particular profitable business day."
Well, Call out the Seventh-Day Adventists ... you are to rest on Sunday. And this was such a travesty of American principles, to accommodate the thousands of Sunday, after churchgoers, with a health some and wholesome, family kind of park.
Not only will we slap your hands for so doing, but take the idea into the greatest telemarketing day of the year, Super Bowl Sunday ...
12. "That the members are required to vote as ordered on order of excommunication."
The membership was asked to "block vote" for issues and candidates that were compatible with our views and concerns. It is not, nor ever has been a commandment to follow suit, or to vote at all.
So today, coalitions are created and districts/precincts are redrawn to politically secure the desired political seats so that the democratic process can be the way we want it. This is quite the norm today ... another great idea for which we were chastised and then our ideas used commonly.
13. "That the property is held by Benjamin and Mary in fraud of the other members and should be declared to be a charitable trust."
As Francis Thorpe points out in his 1929 book, The Crown of Thorns, "It is an anomalous proceeding indeed that would permit the attorney-general as a real estate agent to prosecute an action whereby the property may be decreed by the court to be confiscated and a receiver appointed because of fraud perpetrated upon the present members of the House of David, who have never made any complaint, and who are at the same time made parties defendant to the action. Also, it is a particular circumstance to note that Benjamin and Mary (defrauders) as alleged and found by the "decree”, are made co-defendants with the members of the association (the defrauded). And this, not withstanding, no present members have complained.
The Trial Judge found that the party perpetrating fraud upon the members (the defrauded) are all on same team as co-defendants.
RESULTS: Dissolution intended (prayer for relief) by the trial court, set aside; dissolution of the House of David, interpreted as, not intended.
Receivership of properties and intended governing by the State was thrown out. "The State had no right to institute this litigation for the purpose of securing an adjudication of issues in which it had no apparent interest."
Mary Purnell's exile, as decreed, was lifted without comment (tip-toe quickly and quietly away from this one). And silence upon the officers and leading members, who, "to some extent, were instrumental in creating and perpetuating the conditions which constituted this nuisance."
The colony divides into two communities over Mary Purnell's rightful stand in authority (co-founder), and her desire to reorganize.
Both Israelite communities prosper and grow with new growth in membership and rise to become the economic power of SW Michigan through tourism, agriculture and industries, as both the largest property owners and tax payers in the region for the next 30 years. The “golden years of Berrien County history” is now seen to coincide with the golden years of the colonies (1910-1970).
One individual within the State Attorney-general's team of prosecutors would soon after become the youngest governor (Greene) elect in the State's history.
Judge Louis Fead, the specially chosen one-man grand-jury (1927), received an appointment to the State Supreme Court bench in Lansing before the time of the appeal was heard (1929), and therefore could not sit on the tribunal.
The Detroit Free Press and numerous other newspapers and tabloids from that day to this have used the mythologies generated by this trial to sell papers. Sensational misinformation continued to attract attention, regardless of the facts.
Truth is, the newspapers not only spread the fallacies but helped fabricate them and were deeply inve$$ted in the legal process. The Detroit Free Press put up $5000 for the capture of Benjamin Purnell in 1925-6. This paper is primarily responsible for the subsequent irresponsible pulp journalism which successfully created an extremely perverted cult; a "King Ben"; and a society of dim-witted dupes in following. None of which ever existed outside of these publications, nor can they, in the furthest dimensions of imagination, be proven.
“The title “king Ben” was solely the fabrication of the press and was vigorously adopted by the public until it became commonplace. Clare Adkin, Brother Benjamin, 1990
The Crown of Thorns
For a further study of this subject, a suggested text would be the 1929 writing by Francis Thorpe, assistant secretary for the colony, and part of the legal team through the whole catalog of legal troubles during the 1920s. Mary's City of David still stocks and sells original imprints in our Gift Shop.