For I Have Sinned: True Stories of Clergy Who Kill

For I Have Sinned: True Stories of Clergy Who Kill

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by John Glatt

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They went from praying to preying...

Priests, pasters, ministers, and nuns: they are the men and women of God. We trust them unconditionally, tell them our darkest deeds, turn to them in our most desperate hour. We would never, in our wildest dreams, expect them to be...cold-blooded murderers. Now, peek into the confessionals of eleven clergymen and


They went from praying to preying...

Priests, pasters, ministers, and nuns: they are the men and women of God. We trust them unconditionally, tell them our darkest deeds, turn to them in our most desperate hour. We would never, in our wildest dreams, expect them to be...cold-blooded murderers. Now, peek into the confessionals of eleven clergymen and -women who did the unthinkable-- who broke the most sacred commandment: Thou shalt not kill.

Pastor Edmund Lopes could bring a congregation to its knees. Little did they know that years before, after murdering his wife and stabbing his girlfriend, he had found religion in prison and jumped parole to become a Baptist minister-- until police caught up with him, ten years after his escape.

Sister Sheila Ryan De Luca, having left her Franciscan convent after allegations of a lesbian affair with another nun, stands accused of brutally murdering a man who she claims raped her. Ultimately she served ten years in prison until her conviction was overturned.

Reverend Freddie Armstrong heard the voice of God telling him to "kill the Antichrist," so the schizophrenic ordained priest took a sharp butcher's knife and proceeded to stab and decapitate 81-year-old Fred Neal, a beloved local minister who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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“A shocking expose of clergymen who kill.” – National Examiner

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For I Have Sinned

By John Glatt

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1998 John Glatt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2442-9


The Sacrificial Lamb

He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

— Exodus 21:12

The murder plot was as elaborate and gruesome as a classic Alfred Hitchcock film. Yet with all the bizarre twists and turns of a film noir, the case of Pastor John David Terry was far darker than anything a horror writer could have dreamed up.

Desperate to start a new life, the Reverend John David Terry murdered his handyman, cutting off the victim's head — and, to avoid proper identification, his tattooed arm — in the hope of having the body mistaken for his own. For good measure he set his church on fire with the mutilated corpse inside.

The Nashville minister decided to walk out of his life in late February 1987, after being turned down for a long-awaited promotion to bishop. His late father, Bishop John C. Terry, had once held the same position, so the younger Reverend Terry, who was known as David, had taken it for granted that he would get the job. Apart from seeking the prestige of being a Pentecostal bishop, he was eager for the new job's $75,000 salary, a fortune compared to the meager $35,000 he was making as pastor of the Emmanuel Church of Christ Oneness Pentecostal.

When the reigning bishop, Rob Roy Banks, decided the ambitious young pastor was not worthy of following him, the Reverend Terry decided to get even by embezzling $50,000 realized from the sale of a parsonage. And when he thought he might be caught and shamed in front of his congregation he decided to fake his own death and start a new life away from the church — and his devoted wife and children.

"I reached a point in my ministry where I felt like a complete failure," Terry would later say in a futile attempt to explain and justify his bizarre plan. "The church wasn't growing and I thought it was my fault."

The Reverend John David Terry was just forty-three years old but he looked at least ten years older. His thick, metal-framed spectacles weighed heavily down on his wide nose, giving him a haunted look. And in the months prior to his crime the greedy clergyman had ballooned up to 220 pounds, a gain of at least thirty pounds, and was very self-conscious about the weight gain. In an attempt to look younger, the vain minister wore a thick black toupee to conceal his baldness.

Following in his tyrannical father's footsteps, the introspective young David Terry had joined the Pentecostal church after failing to get a college degree. At his 1962 graduation from Nashville's East High School, his year book motto had eerily predicted, "Life is short; death is at hand. I'll enjoy it while I can."

Growing up, Reverend Terry lived in fear of his father, who constantly criticized him, saying he would never amount to anything. So the wounded, timid youth turned to his mother, Pauline, to confide his growing insecurities. When his first marriage ended in divorce, his choice for a second wife, Brenda, had to be approved by his mother prior to the marriage.

The Southern Pentecostal church offered a ready-made career and safe haven to the insecure young man, who fed off the congregation's respect to bolster his self-confidence. For fifteen years he served the eighty-member congregation faithfully and was popular among parishioners for his hard work. But he was living a lie, projecting a self-confidence he didn't feel.

"He was the beloved David," said Reverend Terry's church colleague and friend, Reverend Ronnie Banks, who would eventually take over from his father as bishop. "Brother David had real charisma and the people would melt in his hands. But the truth was that he had extremely low self-esteem and no confidence in himself."

The Reverend David Terry compensated for his perceived inadequacies by deliberately trying to impress his blue-collar flock. Putting enormous stock in keeping up appearances, he always made sure his yard was spotless and his four young children were always clean and well-dressed. He liked to reward their good grades with little cash presents, believing their success at school directly reflected on him. His wife Brenda was a meek but faithful homemaker who would never dare to question him.

The behavior Reverend Terry employed to impress his congregation led his colleagues and neighbors to regard him as eccentric. He always refused to wear shorts during the steaming hot Nashville summers, insisting on wearing long pants even to cut his lawn.

As his strict religious beliefs disavowed any kind of sport, the Reverend Terry would not attend games to watch his eldest son, John David, Jr., who was a star high school football player.

Strangely, he did not forbid the boy to play, again thinking his son's success reflected on him. Even more embarrassing for the young boy was the minister's refusal to attend the school's father/son football banquet.

The seemingly pious minister gave far more of himself to his congregation than he did to his own family. He was always on hand to lead the singing at weddings, hold expectant fathers' hands in hospital hallways and be supportive at funerals.

When his mother died in the mid-1980s, Reverend Terry lost his emotional anchor and began to drift badly. He felt he couldn't talk to his wife about the increasing chasm between his deep feelings of worthlessness and what was expected from him as a church leader.

Deeply depressed after his mother's death, Reverend Terry turned to his friend Reverend Banks for advice when they traveled to Memphis together to visit a Bible college.

"He shared his problems with me," said Banks, who is now a bishop. "He just didn't have anyone to talk to. I didn't understand what was happening to him at the time. In hindsight I see that everything stemmed from when my dad did not step down as Bishop in favor of David. Even then David was plotting and scheming to be free."

Secretly ambitious, the pastor had expensive tastes and found it a constant struggle to survive on his salary. To supplement his income he dabbled in selling real estate and worked part-time as a butcher, which was his trade prior to taking up his ministry.

His downward spiral truly began when he secretly sold the church parsonage. His fear of being caught — not shame over the deed itself — gave birth to desire.

One day in a magazine shop near his east Nashville home, he happened to pick up the mercenary-warriors magazine, Soldier of Fortune, and started thumbing through it. Suddenly he noticed an ad explaining how to disappear and find a new identity.

"It just jumped out of that page," he would later explain. "How to get lost ... how to disappear."

The preacher became obsessed by the idea of staging his own disappearance and adopting a new identity — a new persona. He could think of nothing else, with the idea becoming more and more seductive. He started spending days in the library going through old newspapers to research possible candidates for his new identity.

Initially Reverend Terry had planned to become Ronnie Alderson, a childhood friend who had drowned at the age of six. But he abandoned the plan when he ran into difficulties obtaining the personal details needed to secure a birth certificate.

Then during a visit to Mount Olivet Cemetery he noticed the tombstone of a young boy named Jerry Milsom, who had drowned at age seven on July 23, 1951. Terry was struck by the fact that the dead boy had been born on July 8, 1944 — just three days before Terry's birth.

Going back to the library the minister found a newspaper account of Milsom's tragic drowning, which had also claimed the life of his father, who had tried to save him. The pastor carefully photocopied the story and obituary and used the dead boy's personal details to get copies of his birth certificate, which he used to obtain a Social Security number and a driver's license. It occurred to him that there was something almost Christ-like about his resurrecting this tragic young child.

By the beginning of March 1987, the Reverend Terry had a new identity. Now he needed a body to stand in for his own. He could not merely disappear. No, he must appear to be dead, and he needed a victim.

James Chester Matheny, Jr., was drifting through life on a wave of alcohol. With limited intelligence, the thirty-two-year-old tousle-haired, mustached young man had landed in hospital rehab as an alcoholic after his wife Theresa had left him, taking their young son, William, with her, because of James' heavy drinking.

Grossly overweight at 260 pounds, Matheny, who had been in and out of jail for everything from pimping to street robbery, used to attend the Emmanuel Church and was well-known to Reverend Terry. One day Theresa was visiting him in General Hospital during his five-month detox stay when Matheny asked her to call Reverend Terry to invite him to come and pray for him. When Theresa telephoned the preacher he readily agreed.

"He told me, 'Sister Theresa, you're not going to believe this, but I was just thinking about Brother Jim,'" she would later recall. "I thought, wow, the Lord is really working in our lives."

Pastor Terry, too, felt as if his own prayers had been answered.

James Matheny was the perfect victim for the minister's murder plan. Heavy, like Reverend Terry, the tattooed loner had few friends in Nashville who cared — or would even notice — if he lived or died.

In the first of many hospital visits the pastor acted like Matheny's long-lost friend, pledging to help him get his life together after his discharge. He gave Matheny three hundred dollars to pay six weeks' rent in the nearby Nashville Union Rescue Mission and agreed to hire him as his church sexton and handyman at ten dollars an hour — more than twice the going rate for the job.

"The minister became a big brother to him and baptized him into the church," said Nashville Assistant District Attorney John Zimmermann. "He gave him the first meaningful job in his life and led him around like a puppy dog for three months. It's obvious that extraordinary steps were being taken to endear this guy to the minister. It was like leading a lamb to the slaughter."

It was a busy time for Reverend David Terry as he began putting all the pieces of the puzzle in place for what he envisioned would be a heroic martyr's death.

Sometime in March, Reverend Terry persuaded the buyers of the parsonage to pay him $50,700 directly for the mortgage-free house. He used this money to put his murder plan into high gear.

On April 24, 1987, he paid $4,950 for a used Suzuki Cavalcade in the name of Jerry Milsom, using a check designated for a church missionary program. He was served by Suzuki district sales manager Steve Williams, who thought it strange that the bulky man with the bad toupee refused to give him a telephone contact number.

"I asked him for a business number, and he said, 'That's about to change,'" Williams would later recall.

Three weeks later the minister purchased a $100,000 life-insurance policy, naming his three sons, John David, Jr., 22, Joel, 21, and Jason, 18, as the prime beneficiaries.

Insurance agent Wade Punch, who had dealt with Reverend Terry for many years, said the pastor explained his need for extra coverage, saying, "I'm getting on and I need to start thinking about my family."

It was a hot, humid morning on Monday, June 15, when the Reverend David Terry left his 1713 Lawncrest Drive home to "die" and start a new life as Jerry Milsom. He'd hardly slept that night after saying goodnight to his sons and kissing his wife for what he thought would be the final time.

He arose at sunrise to make his final preparations, leaving $10,400 of the parsonage money in crisp one-hundred-dollar bills in a dresser drawer for his wife, and placing a single hundred-dollar bill in each of his three sons' billfolds. Then he left a letter to his wife with instructions on how she should pay the monthly bills with a special note on car maintenance.

He also packed his butcher's knives in a canvas mail bag along with a new set of clothes and the birth certificate, Social Security card and driver's license he had obtained in the name of Jerry Milsom.

At about 8:30 a.m. his eldest son saw him leaving and asked him where he was going. The Reverend Terry smiled and replied that he was meeting his handyman James Matheny to go fishing. Then, with the most cursory of good-byes, he exited his family's life.

A few miles away in a Madison boarding house, an excited James Matheny prepared for his long-awaited fishing trip with his new friend and benefactor. Since Reverend Terry had baptized him back into the church, Matheny felt renewed and proud of finally having a real job. Now he hoped and prayed for a reconciliation with his family.

While he waited impatiently for the pastor to arrive he called his ex-wife Theresa to tell her about the trip. At 9 a.m. the Reverend David Terry pulled up outside in his brand new light-blue Hyundai car and collected Matheny for the short drive to Nashville.

In the car Pastor Terry asked Matheny to help him move church furniture before they went to the lake, saying it would only take a few minutes. The fat preacher seemed jollier than usual, making small talk about the weather during the drive to his Emmanuel Church.

When they arrived Terry asked the handyman if he could help him bring down some furniture from the sanctuary. Unknown to Matheny, Reverend Terry had carefully prepared for this visit the night before, hiding a gun, an ax and a home-made fuse in the church attic.

Reverend Terry followed Matheny up the thin, winding stairs, past the baptistery, where the minister had baptized him a few weeks earlier, and into a small attic. Gritting his teeth, Reverend Terry may have said a silent prayer as he watched his victim bound up the stairs, all innocence and enthusiasm.

As the unsuspecting handyman bent down to pick up the furniture, the pastor reached for the hidden 38 caliber pistol and fired point-blank into the back of Matheny's head. Matheny instantly fell to the ground dead and the preacher was ready for the next part of his macabre plan.

Placing Matheny's body on a green carpet, he stripped him down to his underpants, placing a belt around his waist, the buckle of which bore a large letter "T" — an easily recognizable Father's Day present from his wife Brenda the previous year. Then he rubbed Matheny's lifeless hands over two beer bottles which he planned to leave in his own car, in an attempt to incriminate Matheny in "his" own murder.

Reaching for the canvas mail bag, the Reverend Terry pulled out his butcher's knives and began to remove Matheny's head. The trained butcher sawed in a criss-cross motion, cleanly severing Matheny's head from his body.

He no doubt complimented himself on the neat job he had done, taking professional pride in his work, as he picked the head up by the hair and put it in the bag. Then he began cutting off the right arm just below the elbow to eradicate a large tattoo on the forearm.

After completing his bloody work the Reverend David Terry was sweating profusely and stopped to catch his breath. Regaining his composure he rolled Matheny's torso up into the large green carpet, which had a religious design, and picked up the heavy canvas bag containing the head and arm. He felt strangely elated as he walked out of his church and carefully locked the door behind him.

Everything was going according to plan when the Reverend Terry found the Suzuki bike he'd hidden in some bushes near the church and drove east to Old Hickory Lake. He slowly drove around it but was unable to find a suitable spot to dump the body parts where he could be sure they wouldn't be found. Then the pastor remembered an isolated spot he'd visited while making meat deliveries the previous year and turned back toward Nashville.

Although Lake Barkley was another fifty miles west of Nashville on Route 79, it seemed a more suitable spot to get rid of Matheny's head and arm. Once there Terry rented a small boat at the Bumpus Mill Marina and rowed out to the middle of the lake. When he was fully satisfied no one was looking he dropped the weighty canvas bag with its grisly contents over the side and into the water, breathing a sigh of relief as it slowly dropped to the bottom of the deep lake. He then returned to the shore.

It was almost dark when the Reverend Terry parked the Suzuki behind his church and sneaked inside. He walked slowly up the aisle, past the altar to the stairs, going up to the attic where he had left Matheny's headless body. Unrolling the carpet he turned over the body and noticed another tattoo, the size of a compact disc, across the corpse's back. Taking his fish-scaling knife the pastor sliced off the tattoo, threw the blood-soaked skin in a paper towel and flushed it down the toilet.

Rolling up the torso in the green carpet once more, he covered it with some lumber and placed a large ax by the side of the body. Now he was ready for the final and most dramatic part of his plan — his own martyr's death.

After locating two cans of gasoline he had previously stored in the attic, he made the sign of the cross and said a silent prayer as he began pouring it over the body. Then he poured gasoline all over the attic and down to the baptistery before dousing the folding stairs that led to the first floor. Walking up and down his church aisles, he drenched the entire church in gasoline, finishing by the altar where he had delivered so many sermons over the years.

Going back up to the attic, the Reverend Terry took the fuse he'd made from a candle and a piece of cloth, set it by the body and struck a match — but it refused to ignite. Again and again the home-made fuse failed to catch and the preacher cursed as he ran out of matches. Frustrated in his attempts to burn down his church, Pastor Terry had no alternative but to go out to a nearby convenience store and buy a lighter.


Excerpted from For I Have Sinned by John Glatt. Copyright © 1998 John Glatt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

English-born JOHN GLATT is the author of seventeen books, and has over thirty years of experience as an investigative journalist in England and America. He divides his time between New York and London.

English-born John Glatt is the author of Lost and Found, Secrets in the Cellar, Playing with Fire, and many other bestselling books of true crime. He has more than 30 years of experience as an investigative journalist in England and America. Glatt left school at 16 and worked a variety of jobs—including tea boy and messenger—before joining a small weekly newspaper. He freelanced at several English newspapers, then in 1981 moved to New York, where he joined the staff for News Limited and freelanced for publications including Newsweek and the New York Post. His first book, a biography of Bill Graham, was published in 1981, and he published For I Have Sinned, his first book of true crime, in 1998. He has appeared television and radio programs all over the world, including Dateline NBC, Fox News, Current Affair, BBC World, and A&E Biography. He and his wife Gail divide their time between New York City, the Catskill Mountains and London.

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