The 1926 Disappearance of Aimee Semple McPherson

Lodi News-Sentinel – Nov 20, 1976, p. 5
(Info-ad placed there by The Foursquare Gospel Church
regarding the 1926 disappearance of Aimee Semple McPherson)

IT’S TIME THE TRUTH BE TOLD
The Disappearance of Aimee

For many years publicity-seeking writers have been producing articles about the kidnapping of Aimee Semple McPherson.  Their stories, almost always based upon exaggerated, fictional and unresearched material of former authors, serve only to compound the distortions and inaccuracies of earlier compositions.  In most instances the source of the writer’s material has been over-dramatic- and publicity-baiting newspaper articles.  Like the childhood game, each time the story is told, a little more fiction is added and more of the truth deleted.
To set the record straight, let’s return to the people who were there, who were involved, let’s review the true facts.

First, may we recap the prevailing political situation then current in the City of Los Angeles.  High in administrated circles were corrupt officials.  Throughout the city gangland conditions existed.  Prostitution, gambling, bootlegging, dope peddlers and crime flourished with political payoffs and blessing.

Aimee Semple McPherson publicly took a firm stand against these prevailing conditions.  Over radio Station KFSG, she constantly decried and revealed these deplorable situations.  As a result, she was considered a very serious threat by these undesirable leaders of crime and vice.  It was common knowledge that they desired to “get rid” of her.  In spite of the threats she persisted in her efforts to see Los Angeles cleaned up.

Public, as well as court records, prove that her efforts were not in vain. A recall election removed these leaders from office.  Legal action sent many to prison, including the very leaders who prosecuted Aimee Semple McPherson.  It’s time that the truth be told.   What are the facts?

On May 18, 1926 Aimee Semple McPherson and her secretary pitched a tent on the sands of Ocean Park beach.  While Sister worked on her Sunday message prior to a swim(she was an expert swimmer)–the secretary went to phone the Temple.  Upon her return Sister was missing.

Earlier a call had come to Angelus Temple from professedly distraught parents desirous of having Mrs. McPherson pray for a dying child. The callers were advised of Sister’s whereabouts.  The couple approached the evangelist on the beach and and begged that she go tho their car and pray for the child.  This was a plea Sister could never resist, for children held a special place in her heart, as any who grew up under her ministry will remember.

At the car, the door was flung open and Sister forced inside.  A cloth was pressed to her mouth.  Probably it was wet with chloroform.  The auto sped away.

Meanwhile the Temple authorities supposed Sister had drowned.  They dismissed as pranks ransom demands.  A memorial service was held.  But no body was found.

Instead of hunting for the kidnappers, officers tried to pick flaws in in Sister’s story

Then late June an exhausted woman arrived across the border from Agua Prieta, Mexico into Douglas, Arizona, and proved to be Aimee Semple McPherson.  Subsequently she told a story of abduction which she was called upon to repeat scores of times and pressed to change.  But she protested, “I will take this story to my grave.  It is the truth!”

Instead of hunting for the kidnappers, officers tried to pick flaws in in Sister’s story.   They concocted a tale she had spent some of the time she was missing with a former KFSG radio technician in a cottage in Carmel, California.

Deputy District Attorney Ryan, armed with a sheaf of photographs of the Evangelist, endeavored to persuade witnesses that Mrs. McPherson was in fact the woman who occupied the Carmel Cottage.  Several testified concerning his attempts to badger them into identifications, for example, Henry C. Benedict, owner of the Carmel cottage, who swore “Ryan tried his d-ndest to get me to say that I could identify her, and I said I could not.”

The Los Angeles District Attorney who directed the case against Mrs. McPherson was noted for a passion in pursuing his prosecutions.  Indeed, as he prepared to go to trial against Mrs. McPherson, he was shaken by a scathing rebuke by California’s Governor Richardson because the Governor had been called upon to issue his sixth pardon to a convict convicted by Keyes whose innocence subsequently had been established. [1]

The testimony against Mrs. McPherson collapsed in a babel of contradictions; meanwhile, a parade of witnesses testified in court that the woman at Carmel was not Aimee Semple McPherson.  Jesse Williams testified that he delivered a telegram to the cottage on May 28, 1926.  The district attorney pointed out Mrs. McPherson and asked if she was the woman who signed for the message.  He stared at her for a moment, then growled, an eloquent, “Naw!”   William McMichaels, a carpenter who worked at the property line and saw the woman in question several times at close range, when asked in court to identify Mrs. McPherson as that woman, exclaimed about the evangelist, “Never saw her before in my life.”  The Town Marshall of Carmel, Mr. August England, testified that he had been as close as eight feet to the woman and that Mrs. McPherson was “positively not the woman.”

Meanwhile, other witnesses furnished expert testimony tending to corroborate Sister’s account of her ordeal and escape in Mexico.  Lt. Leslie Gatliff and officer O.E. Patterson of the Douglas, Arizona police department, and Deputy US Marshall Sims of Arizona, testified they saw tracks, presumably the evangelist’s, throughout the area Sister stated she trekked to freedom[2].

It is noteworthy of how many Douglas people went out of their way to demonstrate their faith in Sister McPherson

Sister McPherson received fair treatment from most of the Douglas citizenry and officials and remained grateful for their help and support through the trying ordeal.  For that matter, when she stumbled into the little Mexican town of Agua Prieta and sought shelter and help in the first respectable looking house she encountered, it was the Gonzales Family who very likely saved her life.  There follows the affidavits of Mr. Gonzales and Douglas Police officer, G.W. Cook, who was on duty at the Police Station when Mrs. McPherson reached Douglas from Agua Prieta.  These affidavits are presented because of press-circulated rumors that Sister arrived in Douglas in a physical condition not compatible with her story of her desert wanderings.

It is noteworthy of how many Douglas people went out of their way to demonstrate their faith in Sister McPherson,  as following testimonial voluntarily prepared by those Arizonians at the time indicates:

AFFIDAVIT OF R. R. GONZALES ESTABLISHING TRUTH OF HER EXHAUSTED PHYSICAL CONDITION UPON REACHING AGUA PRIETA.

“My name is R.R. Gonzales.  I live in Agua Prieta, Son., Mexico.  I am forty-five years old.

“On the night of June 23, A.D. 1926, at about 1:50 A.M. a woman came to my house in said town and called out hello three or four times.  I then told this woman to come into the house. I asked her what she wanted, if she wanted to telephone and she replied, “Where is the police station?”  I did not know who she was.  She was very much excited when she came into the house.  I went to put my clothes on and when I returned she had gone out of the house and I went out looking for her and found her lying on the ground unconscious or fainted, in the gate, with her feet inside and her head out in the street.  My wife was with this woman at the time and told me where to find her.  I thought she was dead at the time, she was cold.  I got a flashlight and looked her over , saw her eyes were moving and myself and wife picked her up, carried her into her into the house and put her in bed. I did not know who this woman was at the time but since then she visited my home and she was the same woman that calls herself Aimee Semple McPherson and her pictures were in all the papers.  When this same woman came over to see my wife a few days later her mother and a Douglas, Arizona officer was with her.

it was the Gonzales Family who very likely saved her life

“After carrying this woman into the house and putting her to bed and realizing her condition, myself and wife rubbed her arms and head with alcohol.  A little later she showed some life and my wife gave her a drink of water.  I asked her from where she came and she answered, Los Angeles, Calif.  I asked her if she had a husband and she replied not now, and she said she had two children.  I asked her where she came from, I could not understand so very well, but she said she had walked some distance, several miles; she had been in a car with two men and a woman by the name of Rosa. She told me a lot more but I could not understand everything she told me.  After bathing her head with alcohol and giving her water she seemed much revived.  The Presidente of Agua Prieta lived just across the street from me and at about three (3) o’clock AM I called said Presidente and he came over to my house. I asked him what we should do with this woman and he said hunt some American who could talk Mexican good and bring him there.  I went , also the President, to a saloon owned by Danny or known as the “Gem Saloon.”  I found a fellow named Anderson who drives a car for hire and he went to my home with us.   Anderson could not speak Spanish so we could learn no more about this woman and we figured it was the best thing to send her to Douglas, Arizona.  We put her in the car and she thanked us for what we had done and the driver took her away for the American side.   This was near four (4) o’clock AM, June 23rd, AD. 1926.
R.R. Gonzales.
Subscribed and sworn to before me, at Douglas, Arizona
this the 14th day of July, A.D. 1926
WM. C Jack
Notary Public in and for Conchise
County of Arizona.
My commission expires, July 31st, A.D. 1926

———

AFFIDAVIT of G.W. Cook, Police Officer
“G.W. Cook, being first duly sworn, says that on the early morning of June 23, 1926, he was the police officer in charge of the police station of the City of Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona, that at approximately 3:45 A.M. of said  morning, one John Anderson, a taxi driver, brought Mrs. Aimee Semple McPherson to said Police Station in his car; that affiant then and there observed her condition and that in affiant’s opinion she was then in a state of complete physical exhaustion: that because of her said condition afiant immediately took said Mrs. McPherson to the Calmet & Arizona Hospital at Douglas, Arizona; affiant further states that he examined the condition of the clothing and shoes, which Mrs. McPherson was wearing at the time she was brought to said Police Station, immediately after the same were taken from her by the night nurse at said Calmet & Arizona Hospital ; that affiant has examined the country directly east of the town of Agua Prieta to the mountain known as ‘N—Head,’ a distance of approximately nine miles; and that the clothing and shoes of a person walking from said ‘N– Head Mountain,’ to the town of Agua Prieta would not show any more wear than those worn by Mrs. McPherson at the time she was brought to said police station.”
(Signed) G.W. Cook,”

there has been no iota of proof adduced here that would in any way tend to disprove any of the statements made by Mrs. McPherson regarding her reappearance

TESTIMONIAL FROM REPRESENTATIVE CITIZENS OF DOUGLAS
“This was not gotten up with the purpose of a large number of names, but those of representative citizens.
” We, the undersigned residents of Douglas, Arizona, who have been greatly interested in the mass of charges and countercharges regarding the truth of Mrs. Aimee Semple McPherson’s story with regard to her abduction and subsequent reappearance in Douglas, believe:
“That the statements of Mrs. McPherson with regard to her reappearance here, after an escape from her abductors and her consequent walk into Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, as a consequence of her being forced to flee on foot, are true, so far as we have been able to ascertain;
“That there has been no iota of proof adduced here that would in any way tend to disprove any of the statements made by Mrs. McPherson regarding her reappearance, and that as citizens of Douglas, in which city she appeared, and interested in righteousness and truth, we again affirm our belief in the statements she has made.”
(Signed):
A.E. Hinton, Mayor
Geo. E. Buxton, Pres . Southern Arizona Traffic Assn.
Fred D. Hubbell, Pres. Douglas Chamber of Commerce.
Rex Rice, Rice Company.
James Logle, Publisher Douglas Dispatch.
Alex Baird, Jr., British Vice-Consul, Douglas.
Conrad Kaiser, Bakery.
J. McKinnan, Vice-Pres, and Cashier Bank of Commerce.
Chas K. Foster, Post Master.
John B. Krowell, Cashier Bank of Douglas
R.K. Hanson,  Cashier First Nat. Bank
J.P. Ferguson, Prop. Ferguson Drug Store
H.E  Alexander, Bootblack.
Wm Alberts, See-Treas Stafford -Alberta Auto Co.
Albert Stacy, Mgr. Bassett Lumber Co.
H. H. Johnson, Studebaker dealer
W. F. Thompson, Special Agent, Standard Oil Company.
A.I. Massy, Dentist.
R. L. Hoyal, Jeweler.
J. Hollomon, Hollomon Bros, Hardware Co
G.I. Rosie, Electrical Shop.
J. D. Cacper, Piggly Wiggly Store.
Adolph Stvurru, Sanitary Cash Market.”

Sister McPherson swore she had been kidnapped.  “Had I gone away willingly, I would not have come back,” she told the Grand Jury.  ” I would rather never have been born than to have caused this blow to God’s work.”  Later she told reporters, “As God is my judge, I am innocent.  As I expect to meet my God, my story is true.”  And her story was never shaken.  A the time most Californians, according to journalist H.L. Menckin, believed her[3].  And no wonder! Those who testified against her proved to be most untrustworthy characters.  At one time witnesses placed her in 16 places at once!  The case against Sister sounded like a modern Babel, as God seemed to confuse the tongues of her attackers.  Each told a different story.  The “star witness” changed her tale so often she got the reputation as “the hoax woman.”  Investigation revealed she had been committed to a Utah insane asylum for ungovernable lying.   The district attorney who prosecuted (persecuted would be a better word) subsequently was sentenced to San Quentin over irregularities in his office which the conduct of the McPherson case brought to light. The careers of both investigators who tried to link Sister with the Carmel cottage were ruined in shambles.  But Sister’s work continued.  The conspiracy collapsed.   The case against her had to be dismissed because the witnesses kept changing their stories.  “Extra! Aimee Wins! Case Dismissed!”  the newsboys shouted.  Headlines blared, “Mrs. McPherson Cleared!”

On that night in early January, 1927, a scene took place in Angelus Temple which surely never occurred in any church before.  As Sister swept down the rampart a tumultuous ovation which continued, some say, for more than twenty minutes greeted her.  Thunderous applause almost always hailed her entry into the Temple.  But this time horns of all descriptions, whistles, drums, tambourines even tincans, made one sound to cheer the vindicated evangelist.  It was the only time in her career that Aimee Semple McPherson failed to control a crowd, her gestures for silence were long ignored.

The case against her had to be dismissed because the witnesses kept changing their stories.

From a legal standpoint, Aimee Semple McPherson stood fully vindicated by the District Attorney’s dismissal of all charges against her. This conclusion was at the time eloquently urged by a distinguished jurist and lawyer, Jacob B. Denny, ex-judge of the 58th Judicial Circuit of Indiana and a member of the California Bar.  Here is Judge Denny’s statement:
“The vindication of Mrs. McPherson could not be more complete.  It is infinitely stronger than if it had been determined by a jury after hearing all the evidence and resulting in an absolute acquittal.  A jury passing on the case would naturally be supposed to be unbiased and to give as unprejudiced decision. But in the present case, the State of California, with all its machinery, power and prestige, spent many thousands of dollars[4] in the investigation of the truth of the charges which it  made against this woman. These charges they admitted were all false.

“In addition to the ordinary investigation which is made by state officials, this case, by reason of its having excited nationals interest, was given special attention.; for more than half a year the entire resource of the State of California was devoted to the unearthing of evidence against Mrs. McPherson, special agents were employed in great numbers to trace down every remote rumor that might throw light on the case.

“All of this evidence collected was reviewed by the officers themselves most interested in procuring a conviction and naturally supposed to be highly hostile to the defendant.   The tribunal themselves determined that there was not sufficient evidence against the defendant even to justify placing her on trial before an unprejudiced jury.

“Seldom, if ever in the history of American or English jurisprudence has so signal a vindication been achieved without a single gun being fired by the defendant in her own defense.”

Had the officers concentrated their efforts on a search for the kidnappers, the case conceivably could have been closed in a relatively short time.

The Los Angeles newspapers had a vested interest in prolonging the story.  And while neither the papers nor the courts could prove any discrepancy in Sisters story at the time, the press has continued to reap profits form reprints and enlargements of the story.  Most people who research the incident today confine their investigations to studying those press clippings.

our message is JESUS CHRIST and
not the personality of our Founder

There is no reasonable alternative, when all the evidence is weighed, to Mrs McPherson’s account of her ordeal. It happened as she described it.  Not one point of her story was ever refuted.   The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel would prefer that the incident be left buried in the archive of the past, for our message is JESUS CHRIST and not the personality of our Founder[5].  But because the constant rehashing of the event by the press creates questionings in the minds of those who have never heard the truth concerning the kidnapping, this explanation has been prepared for distribution.  It does not profess to answer all the questions broach-able about the incident, but it does embrace the the salient issues.

—Adv.


Errata (not part of the original info-ad).

1. The San Bernardino County Sun (Associated Press) Saturday, September 25, 1926; Page 1 reported “For the sixth time, [California Governor] Richardson announces a pardon for a convict successfully prosecuted by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, but subsequently proven to be innocent.  That thing might happen once, It Is conceivable that it might happen twice in one administration, but when it happens six times under the same district attorney, impartial observer might conclude that District Attorney Keyes and his assistants are more interested in making a record than they are in acquitting the innocent. Too often the prosecution goes on the theory that an arrest is equivalent to a confession of guilt. Just now we are having another demonstration of the same policy in the unceasing effort to convict Aimee Semple McPherson instead of the kidnappers.”

2. According an Associated Press article found in various newspapers Internet searchable, ie The Independent Record; Helena, Montana · October 23, 1926 Page 1; add another witness, a reporter  Harald L. Henry.  They all corroborated each other’s testimony that footprints consistent with McPherson’s were found at least 15 miles out ( far more than the state’s contention of 3 miles from the Mexican border town of Agua Preita).

3. H.L. Menckin personally investigated the case, visiting Los Angeles in the summer of 1926.  Though he was critical of God, religion and her ideological foe, opposite her in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, he had a reputation for fairness. Later in 1931, he wrote in an article that since many of that town’s residents acquired their ideas “of the true, the good and the beautiful” from the movies and newspapers, “Los Angeles will remember the testimony against her long after it forgets the testimony that cleared her.”

4. An estimated $500,000, or about $6.7 million in 2015 dollars was spent investigating McPherson.  Most of this funding came from Los Angeles area newspapers because they found the story so immensely profitable

5. Nevertheless, her personality helped drive the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel’s vision of Jesus Christ.  One who was demonstrated, in part, through her extensive and widely witnessed successful faith healings, He is with the world today as He was yesterday and would continue to be there in the future. A compassionate Christ who was inviting people into Heaven rather than frightening them away from hell.

6. At a time when other Christian millennial movements  were primarily interested in distributing their end times message only, McPherson developed Foursquare Church’s institutionalized charity network to the point it influenced expansions to state-based benevolence systems.  She worked to break down barriers between Christian groups, fed and assisted up to 1.5 million persons, many in the depths of the Great Depression. Chances are if one needed assistance and lived in the Los Angeles area during the Great Depression, the Angeles Temple or branch was one to provide it.

By the end of 1931, The Angelus Temple  had emerged as the “best-known” source of relief for a suffering Los Angeles public (“A Multiplicity and Diversity of Faiths”: Religion’s Impact on Los Angeles and the Urban West, 1890-1940. Michael E. Engh  p.480).] McPherson’s brush with the police over her disappearance did not have lasting impact as officers of the law frequently directed persons in need to the Angelus Temple for needed help and support.

Suffice to say, the original author(s) might have heavily edited the latter paragraph about ‘legal vindication. ” While charges were dropped for lack of evidence, the 1926 Grand Jury did not indicate her story was true which would imply uncaptured kidnappers still at large. Nevertheless, this “info ad” is filled with numerous facts many McPherson biographers overlooked and can corroborate from various Internet searches of period newspaper articles and other sources.

External link disclaimer

 

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