Crime novelist Olsen (Heart of Ice) paints a disturbing portrait of a community undone by its appealing young pastor. On Washington State's Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle, the fundamentalist Christ Community Church employed youth pastor Nick Hacheney, a charismatic if not attractive young man who'd grown up in the area. Hacheney was interested in counseling troubled married couples, but paid inordinate attention to the wives. On December 26, 1997, while Hacheney was out hunting, a fire consumed his house, killing his wife, Dawn. After this tragic accident, Hacheney sought comfort from the community—particularly the women. Soon he was involved in affairs with five women, one of them Dawn's mother, telling each that the sex was part of God's plan. Hacheney's conviction in 2002 for the murder of his wife came only after several of the women confided in others about their liaisons. Using firsthand interviews with members of the community, Olsen tells an unsettling story of a man who committed murder and then used his charm and his power as a man of God to exploit his congregants and satisfy his sexual obsession. Map. (Apr.)
How one minister sowed heartbreak and homicide in a tiny community. True-crime vet and novelist Olsen (Heart of Ice, 2009, etc.) follows Nick Hacheney, who was convicted in 2002 for killing his wife, Dawn, the day after Christmas 1997. That year Nick was a minister at Christ Community Church, an apostolic congregation on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, where he served as a youth pastor and marriage counselor. In the latter capacity he spent far more time with the wives than the husbands, growing close to Sandy Glass, who claimed to have visions from God about the fates of members of the church community. Such pronouncements were common at the church, whose lead pastor regularly led sessions in which congregants were browbeaten into confessing the smallest moral transgressions. (One woman was ostracized for allowing her children to view an Ace Ventura movie.) Yet not only did Nick evade suspicion for nearly four years after Dawn's death-she was given an overdose of Benadryl and the house was set on fire-he also juggled relationships with no fewer than four parishioners, at one point drawing even Dawn's mother into his web. What made Nick so attractive? Olsen, who conducted interviews with dozens of people involved, is surprisingly at a loss to explain. Indeed, he often stresses that this would-be lothario was a pudgy, ungainly man. The book is structured like a crime thriller, and though the author's reporting on specific events is solid, his simplistic characterizations of the major players make the circumstances seem just as baffling by the book's end as its beginning. The squabbling between a long-term pastor and a newcomer is pitted as a battle between a milquetoast and a holy roller;the women Nick seduced and victimized are described nearly interchangeably, with little color outside their roles as mothers, wives and Nick's toys. Using original documents doesn't help. As pious churchgoers, their letters, e-mails and diary entries are filled with cliched pieties. Olsen's prose too often fails to improve on it. A sordid but strangely bland tale of cold-bloodedness. Agent: Susan Raihofer/David Black Literary Agency
From the Publisher
“A disturbing portrait of a community undone by its appealing young pastor…Using firsthand interviews with members of the community, Olsen tells an unsettling story of a man who committed murder and then used his charm and his power as a man of God to exploit his congregants and satisfy his sexual obsession.” Publishers Weekly
“Olsen takes readers behind the scenes of this fascinating case.” Tucson Citizen
“A harrowing tale of betrayal from a masterful storyteller.” Jeanine Cummins, author of A Rip in Heaven
“Olsen weaves his story deftly, managing to bring alive a wide cast of characters, all headed for and contributing to a tragedy driven by faith.” Stephen Singular, New York Times bestselling author of When Men Become Gods
“A fascinating exposé of sexual obsession and murder, a cautionary tale of innocence and virtue manipulated and destroyed by the vilest of mortal sins… Great true crime from one of the greats in the business.” Kathryn Casey, author of A Descent Into Hell
“An insightful exposé of a man of God and a woman of prophecy who manipulate God's will to justify adultery, treachery and even murder.” Diane Fanning, Edgar Nominated Author of Mommy's Little Girl
“Olsen writes the way a surgeon cuts--precisely exposing the personality riddles that lie concealed within each of the players.” Anthony Flacco, author of The Road out of Hell
“A horrifying tale of spiritual and physical seduction, and murder…[A Twisted Faith] draws it's power from the strong and subtle hand of a master storyteller.” Kate Flora, Edgar-nominated author of Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine
“A very strange but fascinating journey into the heart of a religious community torn asunder by sex and murder.” Harry MacLean, author of The Past is Never Dead
“Everybody should read Gregg Olsen's book…What an eye-opener!” Book Reporter
“I was hooked on page one…An extremely difficult book to put down.” True Crime Book
New York Times bestselling author of When Men Beco Stephen Singular
Olsen weaves his story deftly, managing to bring alive a wide cast of characters, all headed for and contributing to a tragedy driven by faith.
Edgar-nominated author of Finding Amy: A True Kate Flora
A horrifying tale of spiritual and physical seduction, and murder…[A Twisted Faith] draws it's power from the strong and subtle hand of a master storyteller.
Read an Excerpt
BY THE MID-1990s, BERRY PATCHES AND CREOSOTE-CURED pilings protruding from the waters of Puget Sound were no longer the prevailing features of Bainbridge Island, Washington. Faux châteaus and gargantuan Craftsman-style homes had arisen, as ubiquitous as strawberry farms and shorefront sawmills had once been. For the old-timers, it was a time of boom and bust. Property values had made rich people out of mobile-home dwellers on forested acreage. Weekend beach cottages had long since been razed by Seattle yuppies with lots of money and a scant sense of proportion. Those who grew up on the island lamented that though their property values had skyrocketed, the friendly rural character of their community was fading. Long gone were the days when everyone knew everyone and chatted while they waited for the ferry to Seattle, just across Puget Sound.
Connected by Agate Pass Bridge to the Kitsap Peninsula to the north and by the state ferry system to Seattle to the east, Bainbridge was isolated and insular—which was a blessing, as far as newcomers were concerned. Islanders hated being part of Kitsap County, the poorest of the major counties around Puget Sound. To resist the influence of a county that allowed chain stores like Wal-Mart to take root like so many scattered weeds, the entire island incorporated as a city in 1991.
It was that kind of insularity and attitude that brought members of Christ Community Church close together and, ultimately, set tragedy in motion.
Many of the Christ Community Church faithful were part of the island’s old guard. Families like the Glasses, Klovens, LaGrandeurs, and Smiths were of somewhat-modest means. While some were ferry ticket-takers, checkers, housecleaners, or baristas, several, like building contractor Einar Kloven, had their own businesses. Dan Hacheney ran an auto repair shop a few doors down from the ferry landing with service to Seattle. Dan and Suzy Claflin owned a restaurant. James Glass and his son Jimmy were skilled carpenters.
Some congregants, like the Andersons and the Mathesons, lived off the island on tribal land in Suquamish, the birthplace and final resting place of Chief Sealth, for whom the city of Seattle was named. Suquamish was a quick drive over the Agate Pass Bridge. A few miles down the road was Poulsbo, an orderly enclave best known for its Norwegian bakeries and a marina that on a summer’s day boasted a rainbow of spinnakers from one side of Liberty Bay to the other.
RAISED MOSTLY ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF POULSBO, NICK HACHENEY came from a troubled family. Observers would later suggest that Nick had been somewhat neglected as a child in a chaotic household, and that it was that lack of attention that had shaped him more than anything else. He was the fat kid without many friends. He was the one who always tried to be outgoing but still managed to be a loner. It wasn’t until he picked up a Bible and dug deep into the meaning of God’s Word that he seemed to find his place. It was God’s calling, he insisted, that gave him strength and shaped every bit of his character. In his family, he became the rock, the point person for every family calamity. When his brother Todd, a drug addict, was rendered brain-dead after being hit by a car on Bainbridge Island, it was Nick who instructed his parents to remove Todd from life support.
“My parents didn’t have the stomach for it,” he told a friend much later. “But I knew what God wanted.”
Nick was seen as the strongest and most responsible member of his family. Nick’s mother, Sandra Hacheney, was a fiercely independent woman who ran a home day care and took in foster children whenever the spirit moved her, which was quite frequently. Nick would later gripe that his mother favored his brothers, his sister, and even the foster kids over him.
“I don’t think she ever loved me,” he told a friend. “Actually, I think she hated me.”
For her part, Sandra Hacheney seldom said a cross word about her youngest.
Dan Hacheney always knew his greatest legacy would be his children, especially Nick. Even when he was a little boy, there was no doubt among the Hacheneys that Nick was the golden child. He had a backstory that confirmed it. Dan and Sandra Hacheney told the story often. Nick recited it too, albeit with a sheepish sense of burden.
“You have no idea,” he told a friend, “what it is like to be handed over to God.”
IT WAS 1970 AND DAN AND SANDRA HACHENEY WERE IN A STATE OF terror. Nicholas Daniel was turning a deep shade of blue. As the auto mechanic and his wife jumped into the car and drove to a Bremerton hospital, they were sure the youngest of their four children was going to die.
At twenty-eight, Dan was a rare combination of toughness and gentleness. His hands were never clean, always stained with motor oil from a job that kept food on the table and Sandra washing coveralls. A year younger than her husband, Sandra could be a somewhat sullen figure, given to what some believed were long bouts of depression. She had dark eyes and hair, like Dan and their baby.
Nick gasped for air in his mother’s arms and Dan knew only one thing to do. So convinced was he that he couldn’t get to the hospital in time, he parked the car on the edge of the roadway.
He began to pray.
“Dear God, don’t let him die. If you let him live, I’ll give him over to you right now, forever. Please, God, you raise my son! You be his father! Please, God, don’t let this boy die.”
A moment later, the blue cast on his son’s face was transformed to the rosy flush of a healthy baby.
“Thank you, Jesus,” Dan said.
BREMERTON, THE BLUE-COLLAR HEART OF KITSAP COUNTY, HAD its positive attributes: decent-paying jobs, cheap housing, mountain and water views at every turn. Kitsap County’s largest city was home to a U.S. Navy shipyard, submarine base, and port for aircraft carriers, and for many years that meant nothing more than topless bars, tattoo parlors, sailors on leave, and the women they left behind on the prowl when ships and subs departed for tours of the Pacific. Things had improved somewhat in Bremerton, though it was still “Bummertown” to many, the butt of Seattle jokes. But in 1990 a great irony came to pass when Money magazine named Bremerton “America’s Most Livable City.” Even locals, proud as they were of the completely unexpected designation by a well-known publication, wondered out loud if Money’s editors had bothered to visit the town in person.
Dawn Tienhaara had been raised in Bremerton. Her father, Donald, was a shipyard worker; her mother, Diana, a homemaker. Dawn was the oldest and the only girl in a brood that included three brothers—all named with the initial D. She was a honey blonde with pretty green eyes, a tiny birthmark above her upper lip, and a knack for memorization that, when she was a schoolgirl, took her all the way to the Rose Garden of the White House and a meeting with President Ronald Reagan when she competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Diana Tienhaara was an anxious woman who by her own admission required more love than she could get from her husband, Donald. Diana wanted a happy marriage, but she didn’t quite know how to achieve it. Her search for affection and acceptance sometimes brought turmoil. In February 1980, Diana left her husband, daughter, and son, Dennis, to live with the father of a baby she named Daron, whom she conceived during an extramarital affair. after some soul searching and a flood of tears, she returned to the family home on Rimrock Avenue in East Bremerton. She didn’t tell her youngest son about his true parentage until he was a young adult. During the difficult times, Dawn lent her mother as much support as a child could. Sometimes Diana would find small notes from her daughter under her pillow. You are great, Mom! I love you.
THAT NICK AND DAWN WOULD FALL IN LOVE AT NORTHWEST COLlege of the Assemblies of God—known informally as Northwest Bible College but celebrated and mocked by some as “Northwest Bridal College”—in Kirkland, Washington, was hardly a foregone conclusion. Those who attended the east-of-Seattle college with the young couple were surprised by the relationship. Dawn was an achiever, after all. She wasn’t gorgeous, but she was pretty in a girl-next-door way. Her roommates at the time saw Nick, on the other hand, as a loser—a guy “who tried too hard” and was clueless about it. He was brash and pushy, but Dawn was no match for his everlasting persuasion. Always a little overweight and with his hairline starting to recede while he was still in his teens, Nick was more concerned about the spiritual than the physical. No one would have said he was handsome. And yet, he had a kind of magnetism that some couldn’t resist.
Nick proposed marriage to Dawn over Oreo cookies and milk on Alki Beach, not far from her grandparents’ home in West Seattle, and the two married soon after, on April 20, 1991. They moved into a place in Bremerton; Dawn found work at the credit union and Nick set his sights on his long-held dream: to be a youth pastor under the tutelage of his beloved pastor, Bob Smith, at Christ Community Church on Bainbridge Island.
Despite being so capable—she was, after all, her high school valedictorian—Dawn surprised many with how quickly she abdicated all decision making to Nick. She appeared to go along with the fundamentalist edict that submitting to her husband’s authority was God’s plan and the greatest gift a woman could give him. When Nick’s decisions seemed foolish, Dawn backed him all the way. If he wanted to take in a troubled congregant, she agreed, although she longed for privacy. When he charged hundreds of dollars in music CDs for church friends on his credit card, Dawn shrugged it off, even though she’d had her eye on a new Jaclyn Smith outfit for work.
YEARS LATER, A WOMAN WHO LIVED WITH NICK AND DAWN IN THE early days of their marriage stumbled onto a cache of dildos and other sex toys in the master bathroom of a house they were remodeling on Nipsic Avenue in East Bremerton. Crystal Gurney, a twenty-year-old church member going through a bad patch with a new marriage at the time, wasn’t horrified by what she’d discovered. She’d lived a tough life of her own and had seen plenty. Long after her friend’s death, though, Crystal grappled with her observation. “It just didn’t seem like Dawn at all. Not the girl I knew. I wondered how it was that Nick got her into that.”
Excerpted from A Twisted Faith by .
Copyright © 2010 by Gregg Olsen.
Published in April 2010 by St. Martin’s Press.
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