Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult

Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult

by Susan Ashline


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The horrifying true story of a fatal encounter inside the secluded Word of Life Christian Church, a parish-turned-cult in upstate New York.

Teenager Lucas Leonard made shocking admissions in front of the altar—he’d practiced witchcraft and conspired to murder his parents, among other horrific crimes. The confessions earned him a brutal beating by a gang of angry church members, including his parents and sister. Lucas arrived at the hospital dead, awakening the sleepy community of Chadwicks, New York, to the horror that had been lurking next door.

Nine members of Lucas’ church would eventually find themselves facing murder-related charges. But how did they get to that point? And what made Lucas confess? The full story has never been told—until now.

Emmy-nominated journalist Susan Ashline delves deep into the Leonard family history, the darkness within the Word of Life Christian Church, and what led Lucas, his family, and his community to that fateful night.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781643130729
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 08/06/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 73,616
Product dimensions: 8.90(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Susan Ashline’s journalism career spans more than 25 years and her work has received numerous awards, including an Emmy nomination for a public broadcasting societal concerns program, a first place Associated Press award for general excellence in individual reporting, and a Gold Medal Award for Democrat and Chronicle online excellence. She lives in Rochester, New York.

Table of Contents

Name References xi

Part 1 Origin Of A Cult 1

Don't Go Inside 3

Smooth Pebbles in a Stream 11

Genesis 31

The Gospel According to Jerry 37

Children of the Flock 61

Demon Strongholds 73

Sarah Ferguson 89

Resurrection 95

The New Senior Pastor 105

They Could Leave 127

Exodus 139

A Shaking Is Coming 145

Repent 169

Break Away 177

Part 2 The Crime 187

Crapstorm Coming 189

Code Blue 209

Scrambled. Dead. Period. 221

Unveiled 263

Building a Case 273

Trial 295

Sentencing 349

Bruce Leonard Reflects 369

Afterword 377

Acknowledgments 379

Source Material 383

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Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
3CJ 8 months ago
Although an avid reader, this was my first journey into true crime and this was true crime and more! I was shocked and angry and sad - I just couldn't put it down. Truly fascinating and well-written.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Without A Prayer by Susan Ashline deftly broadens the scope of the true crime genre, delving into the intricacies of how and why noble people can become criminals within the confines of a religious cult. Readers must maintain an open mind throughout the book, giving attention to detail, as the author presents information that may appear convoluted at times, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. Readers will discover that going through the book a second time will afford even greater understanding, as many details will become incorporated to build the story. Without A Prayer has already received excellent reviews, including prestigious starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. I offer this review with the disclaimer that I am neither a professional writer nor an avid reader. However, I am keenly invested as one whose story is presented in these pages. Lucas Leonard was my little brother. I have read this book twice now, and I can say I have zero complaints. Susan Ashline immersed herself in the dramatic saga of the Word of Life Christian Church in Chadwicks, NY, enabling her to create an accurate, thorough account from its shadowy origins to its explosive demise. Truly, the author has accomplished an incredible task. From an overwhelming amount of information she compiled a comprehensive yet highly readable work. She wove a tangled mess of threads into a cohesive tapestry, where the whole picture is visible, while each thread remains crucial. Susan’s use of early sermon quotes to open chapters in part one of the book provides vital elements to set the mood and tone. The significant portions of actual dialog throughout the book deliver a frightening taste of the reality that existed inside the walls of Word of Life. The reader is offered a bird’s eye view and a zoom lens at the same time with perspectives from neighbors, acquaintances, former members, and words of inner-circle members plus the Irwins themselves. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” Susan Ashline’s Without A Prayer illuminates the evil that was hidden at the Word of Life Church, exposing the destructive mind control that resulted in the death of my brother. The tragic events of October 11-12, 2015, are unearthed as private communications are flayed for the world to see. The questions and suspicions long surrounding this story are addressed through the author’s skillful and persistent investigations. This heartbreaking tale garnered international attention and generated far more questions than answers. Without a Prayer provides many of those missing answers, while offering justice to the victims and closure to a distraught community near and far.