Posted in the Brevard County Forum
Neighbors of a rural Ozarks church community were tightlipped Wednesday about allegations that the pastor, his wife and her two brothers sexually abused young girls from their congregation for years, sometimes as part of a religious ritual.
Felony complaints including child molestation and sodomy were filed last week by the McDonald County prosecutor against the Rev. Raymond Lambert, pastor of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church; his wife, Patty Lambert; and her brothers, Paul and Tom Epling.
Prosecutors alleged that Lambert, 51, helped by his 49-year-old wife, repeatedly molested and had sex with two underage girls,“as part of a ritual or ceremony,” according to the court filing.
The alleged abuses took place over a 10-year span until 2005, prosecutors said.
Lambert told the girls,“We are preparing your body for service to God,” according to the complaint.
Separate felony complaints against the Epling brothers – Paul Epling is 53 and Tom Epling is 51 – allege that each repeatedly had sex with girls as young as age 4 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Also on Wednesday, The Joplin Globe reported that Newton County authorities were seeking a missing pastor of a church they believe is affiliated with Grand Valley Independent Baptist.
Felony warrants charge the Rev. George O. Johnston, 63, pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, with eight counts of statutory sodomy involving the children of church members, the newspaper reported.
The Globe also reported that authorities removed four children Monday from that church’s compound near East Newton High School.
Lambert’s church is on property owned by the Epling brothers and houses up to 100 people on a 100-acre farm in western McDonald County, Sheriff’s Deputy Michael F. Le Seuer said.
“They refer to it as a compound,” Le Seuer told The Associated Press.
An attorney for the four said they denied the allegations.
The compound is behind a high gate marked “Grand Valley Farm” on a gravel road about 13 miles west of the small town of Washburn. The gate was barred with “No Trespassing” signs on Wednesday, and attorney Robert W. Evenson said the four would not speak to reporters.
“This is a matter of facts for the court, not of public opinion,” Evenson said.
Most neighbors on the remote country road declined to talk to reporters or would not give their names.
One neighbor who did talk, Jack Gordon, said children from the church community have come to his property about 1 mile away for years to collect walnuts.
“They were very well disciplined. I never saw anything that looked like that,” he said, referring to the abuse allegations.
Gordon, 69, said he has lived along the road since the 1970s and frequently sees people from the church community on the road, although they do not visit each other often.
“We are a pretty close-knit bunch out here,” Gordon said.
A lifelong member of one of Atlanta's largest and best known churches, the Cathedral at Chapel Hill, filed suit this week charging founding pastor Bishop Earl Paulk with child molestation. The charges are the most serious yet in a string of sexual misconduct allegations against Paulk and several other male members of his family that span decades.
Jessica Battle, daughter and granddaughter of prominent members of Paulk's staff, said in her suit that from the time she was 7 until she was about 11 years old, Paulk "engaged in a pattern of conduct ... that included caressing her, fondling her sexual organs, performing oral sex on her and having sexual intercourse with her." She also charged that five years ago, when she was 17, Paulk had forcible intercourse with her. Some of the acts occurred on church property or during church-sponsored events, according to the suit, filed Wednesday in DeKalb County State Court.
The family of 15-year-old murder victim Cassandra Blondheim has filed a wrongful death suit against evangelist Ernest Angley and his various ministries. The suit says that the man accused of the murder, Shane Partin, was retained as a volunteer at the Cathedral Buffet despite repeated warnings about his behavior.
Partin has been charged in the Jan. stabbing death of Cassandra at the Cuyahoga Falls restaurant, which is own be Angley's ministries. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Cassandra also was a volunteer there, and the suit alleges that she complained repeatedly to Angley and other ministers that she had been harassed and stalked by Partin.
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